A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

 

UPDATED MONDAYS

Updated: November 20, 2017

NOTE: Due to some new equipment issues there maybe some typos involved and the archival sidebar that hopefully should be corrected in the next few months.So incredibly sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience and support. It is truly appreciated! - JB

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EDITION #157 - WEEK OF NOVEMBER 20-26, 2017

Beatles musuem upholds legacy

The Beatles Story, the world's first and only permanent museum dedicated to the Fab Four in their hometown; is an honourable tribute to their favourite sons

Arts Feature

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - While I was doing on a pop culture pilgrimage to the city that gave birth to rock's original and still-influential supergroup would not truly be complete without visiting the expansive The Beatles Story, which is not just compassed into one huge place alone. Opened in 1990, it sits along the impressively restored historical waterfront on the River Mersey, it's broken down into two venues: the main one at Albert Dock at Salthouse Quay and a secondary building a couple of blocks north at Pier Head, which opened in 2014; that holds temporary exhibits.

First things first: the Albert Dock building is a cavernous follow-through of the entire history of the Beatles in a series of large diorama sections of their career and beyond, when after passing through the admissions desk you're given a choice of a going through it with audio headset or without (I chose the latter); before getting a pretty good picture of what the Four Lads that Shook The World grew up in the post-World War II culture that would shape teen culture by the time John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr came of age.

An early incarnation of the Beatles, The Quarrymen with a young John Lennon (on microphone) in the opening section of The Beatles Story.

Starting off with showing off replicas of their birth certificates and explaining the rise of skiffle music in Britain by way of the American blues, due to its accessibility to the industrial working class masses that was the main populace of Liverpool and northern English cities; which actually came from America in the 1920s but experienced a brief but flourishing comeback by the 1950s.

Bits of paraphernalia to their origins are evident from their very first "gig" at a church dance on July 6, 1957 as The Quarrymen with original drummer Pete Best; fine tuning their sound in recreations of the legendary Cavern and their 292 performances there to a good section dedicated to their first manager Brian Epstein that made them superstars and moulded them to a more mature image.

A section of the museum with a lot of recreated moments of the Beatles' history. Seen here is their early touring days, including the historical Hamburg concert that established them in mainland Europe.

The sections dealing with the phenomenon that was Beatlemania in the 1960s from their mop-top "silly love songs" beginnings to the introspective psychedelic phase include actual stadium seats from the famous Shea Stadium concert; a walk through the interior of a Yellow Submarine -- with actual live fish in the porthole-like aquariums! -- and replicated displays of their Sgt. Pepper outfits are quite good and evenly lighted throughout.

Noel Howard's replicated Sgt. Pepper outfits, using the exact measurements from the originals, includes the exact materials and accessories (note the Ontario Provincial Police badge on the blue one worn by Paul McCartney).

In chronicling their break-up and concluding with moments from their solo careers and lives in fittingly separate sections. With McCartney, he extols the virtues of cinematic soundtracks during the making of the James Bond theme song "Live and Let Die" (and stating American cinema popcorn is better than European popcorn is funny as hell); Lennon's activism and poetry are the focus in his section from a seriocomic protest letter in returning his MBE for England's involvement during the Nigerian Civil War, America in Vietnam "and for 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts" to the famous orange-tinted glasses while composing "Imagine" and the tack piano he was using in the studio on his final album Double Fantasy just hours before he was murdered, mixes his sensibilities, droll cheekiness and sobering finality reflected after his 1980 death with these words: "But now I'm John. And so my dear friends, you just have to carry on. The dream is over."

John Lennon's orange-tinted spectacles made with 14-carat gold and early photochromatic lens technology, shown at his solo section of the Beatles Story Museum which he composed "Imagine" with. Note the nose pad on the left, which was dented during a heated argument between him and Yoko Ono and were tossed into a garbage bin, but later retrieved by an employee.

Harrison, the enigmatic spiritualist and hobbyist gardener, has song lyrics of "Far East Man" from his 1974 solo album Dark Horse on display and a clip from the BBC 1975 The Rutles Rutland Weekend Television TV special with Monty Python's Eric Idle as host and Harrison doing the closing song "My Sweet Lord/The Pirate Song" is hilarious; while Starr keeps it all simple, including the drum kit used in the Concert for George tribute show after Harrison's death in 2001.

Closing things out it seem to focus more on Lennon's legacy, complete with a series of Bob Green's photos of him in his final years in New York and the legendary "Imagine" piano on display and at its exit, a pretty interactive kids' area and a Fab 4 Cafe. When I was there, a section of the red Strawberry Fields fence was on display and Epstein's partner and business associate Joe Flannery (known as the "Secret Beatle") promoting his memoirs Standing in The Wings, one of the few surviving Beatles people still living in Liverpool.

A colourful mural of the Beatles late period era displays itself at the Pier Head venue.

The Pier Head building, which also houses the Jersey Ferries office; are auxiliary galleries as part of the museum hosting temporary exhibits about the Beatles and the 1960s era-related shows and much more freer in space. During my visit, they had in the main gallery The British Invasion, as presented in cooperation with the Grammy Museum Permanent Collection; explaining the history of British groups that stormed and influenced their American counterparts during the '60s from The Dave Clark Five, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and, of course the Fab Four; was highly informative and colourful.

In the Hidden Gallery section, retired British documentary filmmaker Paul Barriff's photo exhibit of personal photos he shot himself with unprecedented access to them at the height of Beatlemania of 1963 to 1964 when he was a sixteen-year old copyboy that he rediscovered in a tin box in his attic in 2010. Some of the granular pictures have a lot of character like Harrison in a pensive moment ("Don't Bother Me"), a out-of-focused Lennon having a bottled drink in the background with McCartney looking on backstage after a concert in Leeds ("Fade Out") and Starr posing in semi-comical preacher moment with raised hands in Manchester ("Starr Attraction").

And out front are the relatively new Beatles bronze statues created by Andy Edwards of the band in their prime as commissioned by The Cavern Club to fans worldwide, with an inscription that basically reflects on how the Liverpudians view their most famous and favourite sons: "Last played in Liverpool at the Empire Theatre on December 5th, 1965...but they never really left. They are synonymous with this city."

On the whole, The Beatles Story for both venues is a comprehensive and lovingly honourable tribute to the band together and apart with the displays and artefacts for newbies and long-time fans to delight in, even when it tends to get a little kitschy (that alley cat noise effect at the Cavern is a bit of an eye-rolling touch) in the Albert Docks venue.

And the confining space does feel restrictive when movement makes it slow on crowded days, in particular when listening to the audio headset tour, so it's not entirely for the impatient or claustrophobic. Yet, this is a total must for any Beatles and/or British pop culture fan to visit when they're in Liverpool as a complimentary start or finish after a completed tour of the city and the noted Beatles sites, which could leave you wanting more.

The Dazzle Ferry, which its exterior design created by the Pop artist Peter Blake, who also created the iconic Sgt. Pepper album cover; makes a sail around the UNESCO-designated World Heritage waterfront area that is the home to the Beatles Story Museum nearby.

***

The Beatles Story Museum is located at the Britannia Vaults at Albert Dock in Liverpool. Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day; please check times before visiting. For tickets and information, visit beatlesstory.com.

Homecoming for Baryshnikov

Dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov does a special solo performance run at the Winter Garden Theatre in January

Dance Preview

When a young and exceptionally talented Kirov Ballet dancer defected to the United States via the O'Keefe Centre (now Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) in Toronto during the Russian company's tour in 1974, few would ever figure out that Mikhail Baryshnikov would continue to be an effective figure in dance, then and now, with the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre and later on his own modern dance group The White Oak Dance Project, to expand his artistic palette that was denied him in what was once the Soviet Union during communism and the Cold War.

Now forty-plus years later, Baryshnikov comes back to the city that accommodated him for his flight to freedom with the Canadian premiere of Brodsky/Baryshnikov, courtesy of Show One Productions and Luminato; at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge Street) for a very limited run January 24 to 28, with a recently added January 28 matinee due to overwhelming demand for the poetry of Joseph Brodsky to the dancer's choreography.

Brodsky/ Baryshnikov, under the direction of noted European theatre director Alvis Hermanis of Latvia's New Riga Theatre and where it made its world premiere in October 2015; is an emotional journey deep into the Nobel Prize-winning poet's visceral and complex compositions.

Continuing to tour the world from New York in 2016 to more recent stops in Serbia, London's West End, Germany, Romania and Switzerland, Brodsky/Baryshnikov is performed in Russian with English supertitles, Brodsky's mother tongue; as Baryshnikov recites and dances to selections of his long-time friend's poignant and eloquent works while physically transporting the audience into Hermanis' reverent imagining of Brodsky's interior world.

A undated photo of Mikhail Baryshnikov with Joseph Brodsky (left), where he pays homage to his friend and fellow artisan in the upcoming solo production, Brodsky/Baryshnikov.

For those unfamiliar with Brodsky, he began writing poetry during his teenaged years in his native Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg). Charged with "social parasitism" by the Soviet authorities for his work and sentenced to five years of labour in 1965, he went into exile in 1972 and relocated to the United States where he lived and worked as a poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan, also served as United States Poet Laureate from 1991-1992 and remained there until his death in 1996. Winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, the Swedish Academy praised his work for its "all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity."

Show One Productions founder Svetlana Dvoretsky was equal in her praise for the critically-acclaimed show and in her company's latest coup in bringing it to Torontonian audiences: "We are extremely grateful and honoured to present the extraordinary Mr. Baryshnikov in Toronto in this unique theatrical production which unveils the beloved friendship between two great men of our century."

***

Tickets now on sale. For more information, visit the Winter Garden Theatre Box Office (189 Yonge Street), phone Ticketmaster 1-855-599-9090 or visit online showoneproductions.ca or showoneproductions.ca/ru.

Sutras, Sgt. Pepper and Suzanne served at Sony Centre

American dance troupe Mark Morris Dance Company returns to the Sony Centre with the Beatles-themed Pepperland as part of the venue's 2017-2018 dance season.

Dance Preview

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts' second annual International Dance Collection returns for a new season after last year's successful launch with a Canadian premiere and two Toronto productions starting next month with tributes to two iconic musical figures and one meditative look into the philosophy of faith found within the martial arts.

Montreal's Les Ballets Jazz du Montreal is back with Dance Me (December 15), their dance homage to their hometown and national hero Leonard Cohen and his beloved selections from his songbook and poetry into a spectacular multimedia performance that comes direct from its world premiere in Montreal earlier in the month.

Pepperland (February 24) is a unique interpretation of the Beatles' landmark album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that celebrated half a century this year, courtesy of the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group with characters and themes dancing to Ethan Iverson's original score intermingled with the arrangements of the original classic hits "Penny Lane," "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Within You Without You," "A Day in the Life," "With A Little Help From My Friends" and title track.

It was a hit over a decade ago at London's Sadler's Wells and now Sutra finally arrives in Toronto come May 12 to close out Sony Centre's dance season. The award-winning collaboration between choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, sculptor Antony Gormley and 19 Buddhist monks from the Shaolin Temple in China, this production is a breathtaking spectacle of athleticism, which explores Shaolin traditions and its relationship with kung-fu within a dance context.

From Gormley's striking design of twenty-one wooden boxes and Polish composer Szyman Brzoska's music performed live, Sutra is an incomparable work that has captured hearts and imaginations around the world as one of the stage's most sophisticated works of art which since its 2008 debut, has toured to over thirty-five countries worldwide to 200,000 people in seventy-one cities to high acclaim from audiences and critics alike.

***

For tickets and information, visit the Sony Centre Box Office (1 Front Street East) Monday-Friday 12-5 p.m., phone 1-855-872-7669 or visit sonycentre.ca.

EDITION #156 - WEEK OF NOVEMBER 13-19, 2017

VOLTA's wattage on medium

VOLTA (Cirque du Soleil)

Under the Grand Chapiteau, 51 Commissioners Streets, Port Lands

Wednesday, November 8; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

Trying to play up to a younger audience, Cirque du Soleil's 41st production VOLTA is an unconventional one in reflecting the need to find one's individuality in a conformist world to the tune of extreme sports and the lost spirit of adventure. While the show works on some levels when it does and provides much amusement, it sometimes kind of stumbles about in the process.

In the world of VOLTA, its leading character Waz (Joey Arrigo) is the megastar of the popular TV game show Quid Pro Quo (QPQ) where the contestants known as the Greys try to win the top prize of becoming elevated to the Elites, a materialistic group of high lifers and live a life of fame and fortune, accompanied by his flamboyant sidekick Shood Kood Wood (Wayne Wilson) as it marks its 1,000th episode.

However, he hides a painful secret: being born with blue feathers for hair and horribly taunted for it as a child, he retreats from the glamour in his Cube longing for those childhood days of wonder and wanting. Coming to his rescue is the roller-skating Ela (Paola Fraschini) and her cadre of liberated beings, The Free Spirits, who are quite content with their lot with their own talents as they teach Waz to finally be the person he was destined to become -- himself.

Writer/director Bastien Alexandre and his creation director Jean Guibert are what Cirque calls their next generation of creators in touch with the current trends, and for the most part they do reflect that in VOLTA. It's easily found in the sharp choreography of Julie Perron, as a group of Greys march in unison with their smartphones and selfies to the obvious satirizing of reality television that is QPQ all covered in LEDs and glitter from Bruce Rodgers' colourfully zippy set designs, Zaldy Coco's stellar costuming and Anne-Seguin Porier's props all to the pretty decent techno-rock/pop score by M83's Anthony Gonzalez.

Yet for all of that, it's a slow starter of ideas in the first-half starting with a bunch of dialogue -- which isn't very common in a Cirque show -- during the QPQ that throws away some of that mystique and some acts like the Parkour set that feels very restricted by its the stage size to be effective to the okay-ish Acro Lamp act of Pawel Walczewski and the acrobatic ladders in Act Two's opening.

But it's not a total loss. There's plenty of highlights like the highly unusual but brilliant BMX Flatland and Ballet duo by Takahiro Ikeda and Elena Suarez as a piece of Waz's childhood memory is very sweet; the Indo-inspired and stupendous Hair Suspension act (!); Wilson's clown acts are a delight (the first dealing with troublesome washing machines and the second involving a everlasting aerosol can are both a blast) and the BMX finale of cyclists flip-whip and 720 (a double 360-degree spin jump) into a frenzy.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with trying out some new ideas for a changing audience, which has been Cirque's credo since day one of operations and will continue to be so. It's just that VOLTA could have used a little more work in the plot and threw in some esoterical elements to balance it out. Might alienate some older fans, but will nonetheless keep you interested throughout in what is basically a good, if not great, performance.

***

VOLTA continues through to November 26. For tickets and information, call 1-877-924-7783 or cirquedusoleil.com/volta.

A delicious slice of dark humour in alternative 1970s Californian cafe tale

The Customer is Always Wrong

by Mimi Pond

448 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books

Hardcover, $32.95

Graphic Novels and Comics

Book Review

Following her widely acclaimed 2014 semi-autobiographical memoir Over Easy of her waitressing days at a trippy if hippy Oakland restaurant, Mimi Pond relives the countercultural late-1970s with The Customer is Always Wrong with the same wryness and exuberant war stories and motley crew of characters coming and going while she struggles to kick-start her cartooning career with a difference.

Madge (Pond's alter-ego) continues to sling hash browns while making her dutiful observances of the customers and staff members at the Imperial Cafe as the close of the '70s makes way into the early 1980s. A new love, a registered vocational nurse named Bryan, enters the picture and all is bright until patterns of breaking-up and making-up seem to take on a baffling level matching his constant mood swings, as her cartoons get some serious spotlight from the (long-defunct) National Lampoon magazine.

Meanwhile, fellow waitress Camille and her shady boyfriend Neville surprisingly move in next door to her place and it becomes a magnet for dope fiends to Colombian gangster heavies and their heroin addiction makes theirs and everybody else's lives more complicated than necessary; while her worldly poet-guru boss and best friend Lazlo Meringue has his own plate full when his teenage rebel daughter Persephone from his first marriage moves in with his family, coping with the death of his mother and personal health issues take their toll.

As she herself dabbles into recreational cocaine, gets into some naive adventurism into Oakland's seedier side with Lazlo in search of his wayward daughter and working to earn enough money to make the big move to New York to further her career, Madge feels a era coming to an end as her less-than-ambitious coworkers simply want to do is get high and drunk while the punk movement and counterculture she once embraced has waned and no longer holds the same significance it had when she was a art school dropout.

Pond creates a highly vivid portrait of the period where the tail-end of the Sexual Revolution (prior to the rise of AIDS) and drug turf wars in California ran rampant without much worry in the face of American neo-conservatism courtesy of Ronald Reagan, as a young woman's worldview coalesces into something more substantial, as neatly two-colour toned and inked by her along with a delicious slice of dark humour served up on the side.

Bigger and much heavier in composition than the previous book, The Customer is Always Wrong 's fictionalized atmosphere where colourful drag queen servers, wannabe pushers trying to make big scores and tough-taking bartenders in illicit bars holds its own about relationships, situations and characters that seem almost too good or too crazy enough to be true that it all (or some) in this alternative California actually existed once. A must-read.

EDITION #155 - WEEK OF NOVEMBER 6-12, 2017

Third Thor outing totally Ragnarok-s out

Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel Studios)

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba

Director: Taika Waititi

Producer: Kevin Feige

Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost; based on the Marvel comic books by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Larry Lieber

Film Review

There's a new outlook towards the familiarity in the third instalment of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)'s Thor trilogy that keeps Ragnarok on its edge in bringing in some slightly campy humour while action-packed on all levels of fun and excitement for their acquisitioned Norse god superhero and is the best one in its standalone series.

Whilst traversing across the Nine Realms of the universe for the Infinity Stones after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor (Hemsworth) stumbles upon and defeats the demonic Surtur (voice of Clancy Brown), an old enemy of his father King Odin (Anthony Hopkins); who's sworn to bring the prophesized apocalyptic destruction of Asgard, known as Ragnarok.

Upon his return home, he finds his adopted brother and god of mischief Loki (Hiddleston) who is now the ruler in the guise of their father who's in self-imposed exile on Earth. In going back there, the dying king reveals a new threat to their realm, the all-powerful goddess of death Hela (Blanchett) whom he imprisoned eons ago and now escaped from her confines, is out for revenge.

In a battle which they inadvertently bring her back to their home, the thunder god finds himself captive on the junkyard-ish planet Sakaar ruled by its colourfully eccentric dictator called the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and pits him in a gladiator arena against his undefeated champion -- old friend the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), also a accidental prisoner here.

As Hela sets out to solidify her rule in Asgard and brutally crushing any remaining opposition in the meantime, it's up to the brothers to put aside their past differences and team up with the Hulk and a former Asgardian royal guard Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in getting back home before her long-time ambitions to conquer the Realms becomes a unstoppable reality.

Acclaimed New Zealander filmmaker Taika Waititi (Boy; What We Do in the Shadows) tackles Thor: Ragnarok with deft ease in equally balancing the comedy, drama, thrills and fantasy in what could have been a throwaway piece under a hack journeyman director (plus check out his quite comical relief role as wannabe revolutionary stone alien Korg), thanks in part to the brilliant script and story scribed by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame with his hip retro-1980s score.

Hemsworth brings a more grounded and human, yet still gregarious Thor (along with a new look to go with it) and his bromance chemistry in reuniting with his Avengers team mate Ruffalo, who gets to do a lot more with his Bruce Banner/Hulk role than he's had in previous MCU outings other than just being the mean, green wrecking giant; including that ultimate clash of the titans arena scene.

Blanchett makes for a great supervillainess here worthy of going a few rounds with; Hiddleston's sides-shifting Loki is still fun to watch as ever; Thompson as the troubled, alcoholic amazonian bounty hunter does good looking for redemption as well as whoop some ass; Goldblum is absolutely priceless in every scene he is in as a comical baddie; Karl Urban as warrior Skurge who's questionable alliances keeps everyone guessing and the cameos by Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange and Matt Damon as a Asgardian actor make for deliciously delightful viewing.

For a grand finale to the series -- or, judging from its epilogue cliffhanging teaser, is it?? -- Thor: Ragnarok goes out with style and substance by the filmmakers gives it that 'oomph' a film of this magnitude deserves, as much as it does for its fans.

True North

Zacharias Kunuk: Dog Team

Venue: Ryerson Image Centre, 33 Gould Street

Dates/Times: Through December 10; Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesdays 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Weekends 12-5 p.m.

Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-979-5164 or ryerson.ca/ric

Gallery Review

The Cannes-winning and just newly-minted member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner ; Searchers) addresses his own commentary on the Inuit surviving what is now Canada after 150 years with a tributary video installation at the Ryerson Image Centre's Sarah J. Bascir New Media Wall, Dog Team, in focusing on the four thousand-year old tradition of dog sledding that has miraculously stayed into the 21st-century that is a quiet contemplation on indigenous cultural survival.

As curated by guest Ojibwe artist/activist Jesse Wente and in partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival, the seven-minute video loop documents the end tail of the annual Nunavut Quest Race between Arctic Bay and Igloolik, opening off in near-muteness from a lone dogsled racing across a frozen hinterland and endless slate blue-grey skies until it builds from the faraway crescendo of whistles, hoots and hollers from the gathering crowd at the finish line.

Looking deeper into it, the video explores on the changed landscape and culture, as seen in the Western encroachment of cookie-cutter housing and snowmobiles; Dog Team is a subtle if strong testimony to resistance in hanging onto these traditions that previous Canadian and Quebec governments tried to quash in order to deprive the Inuit of their mobility.

We must truly thank Kunuk for this honest and unscripted depiction of Inuit life that really doesn't need any narration or introduction, as well as Maia Iotzova's cleanly done editing work in an unrushed manner as it should be; the video documents of the North we mostly don't see too often. And less face it, dogsled are a lot more ecologically cleaner mode of transportation than even a snowmobile could provide. Hell, it looks a whole lot more fun, too.

Hot by association

International Festival of Authors 2017 Reviews

Part 3 of a 3-part series

Left-right: Richard Crouse, John Boyle and Emma Donoghue.

John Boyle and Emma Donoghue

Brigantine Room, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Thursday, October 26; 8 p.m.

It's almost every author's dream to get a screen (or stage) adaptation of their work and every nightmare when it doesn't turn out exactly as envisioned by themselves or their readership. Toronto film critic Richard Crouse brought this to the forefront in the roundtable discussion over showbiz politics to the art of compromise with two writers with international bestselling works: John Boyle, who had a 2008 film adaptation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Emma Donoghue, who adapted her 2010 Booker Prize-nominated Room that later turned into an acclaimed 2015 Academy Award-winning film and also took a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the effort.

"I was contacted by my agent from David Heyman, who was the producer for the Harry Potter movies and he asked me to have a meeting with him," Boyle recalled with some humour in his complicated Hollywood dealings for his 2006 World War II novel. "So I went over and met him in Hogwarts (film set), literally. Which I thought it was a great setup to play to get me interested, you know. And we had a meeting into this and always, I was told a few things...and I had a great day out there and I later told [my agent] Chester that "I'll never see that man again in my life!'"

"But I did hear from him a little bit. I did hear from Mark Herman who directed Hope Springs [in 2003] and he had also read (the book) and liked it and wanted to make it. So I went over to meet him and had a pint and a (pub) pie, so there's all the glamour there! After dinner he told me what he wanted to do and wanted to buy (the rights) as such. And so I went back to my agent and he made contact with David again, and they said yeah, they still wanted to do it, but nothing was coming forward.

"And then, a couple of weeks later I was in a restaurant in London and I saw David at the restaurant, so I went over to him and said: 'Hey, remember me?' -- that's a line I've used in a lot of places! -- and he said: 'Oh, yes! We're going to do it.' And I was like 'Well, this guy wants to buy it and if you don't want it, that's cool, we'd like to know.' And so anyways, to cut a long story short, a few days later the agent put David and Marc together, they put a bid for Mark to direct it and David's studio paid to produce it, signed a contract and that was that!"

"I was very proactive in (the script process)," said Donoghue regarding her own anxieties over how the film version of Room would turn out from getting the right filmmaker to doing a incarceration drama of a child growing up, in her own words, "in a rape dungeon". "Once the novel was sold (of its film rights), it was almost about a year before (the book) came out and instead of sitting around nervously, I felt: 'Well, it would be a good film' and I want to write it and I wouldn't have to get anybody's permission to do it. I had a draft waiting without telling anyone and nobody would be looking over my shoulder and sneering, saying: 'You can't do that.' So I had a script in hand and I waited for the right director.

"Sometimes you can tell it's the wrong person like some faceless (studio) executive and they ring you up and say 'We're interested in your property, The Room' and they don't get the title right! And then I got this genius letter, a ten-paged letter, from a brilliant Irish director Lenny Abrahamson whom I did know his work and he came from the art-house side of things. And he wrote me this ten-paged letter, he was picking up on the pace of the story; he was telling me what angle he would use in this one particular scene. And I agreed with everything in the letter and he completely understood the narrative. I thought 'This is brilliant, but I surely need a big-name director or we'll never get the funding,' so I didn't say yes to him and I waited.

"And about a year later, my agent said to me: 'That Irish fellow, he helped cast Michael Fassbender in one of his other films (2014's Frank), so he's hot (property) by association! So if he's hot enough by association with Michael Fassbender, you will get enough funding to make this film, so you can go with that Irish genius, so I did!"

Crouse asked Donoghue as to whether Room was a political story, she conceded on that particular note. "Yeah, it's been recommended by the book choice club by Amnesty (International) quite a lot because it's a prisoner's story. And one of my better resources was the genre of prisoners' memoirs...from South Africa and is also very much a story about patriarchy. When I was writing up the villain (Old Nick) I didn't want to make him a interesting quirky serial killer type, I wanted to make him the generic bad patriarch like I thought of him as every wife-batterer, every concentration camp guard, every nineteenth-century American Southern slave holder who thinks everything is fine until he says 'Why are the slaves get uppity every now and then?'. Like, I wanted to capture that mindset, that banal form of evil."

In giving advice in dealing with the possibility of turning novels into cinematic experiences, Boyle had this to say: "In the first instance, you just need to focus on the novel and just make it the best novel that you could possibly write. Like I said earlier, if you're writing with a view to adaptation, it's going to damage the book. It's a very different thing in translation, and some of the best bits perhaps in our movies or other brilliant (film) adaptations from books that it has been from different ways of telling it."

Left-right: Eleanor Wachtel and Colm Toibin

Writers and Company: Colm Toibin

Fleck Dance Theatre, Queen's Quay Terminal, 207 Queen's Quay West, 3rd Floor

Saturday, October 28; 7 p.m.

One of Ireland's celebrated contemporary writers Colm Toibin came to discuss not only about his latest work House of Names (Scribner), a modern-day retelling about revenge in Greek tragedies but also to talk about the testimony and art of storytelling, as moderated by CBC radio personality Eleanor Wachtel for her long-running literary radio program, Writers & Company.

"Part of the reasons I wanted to write in the (2012 book) The Testament of Mary and I worked with a good number of actresses in different productions [of The Trojan War], I became interested in the state of Johnny [in House of Names], you know one of those guys that come out and start hanging around theatres to see the actresses come out the door and drink with you," he said in the ninety-minute interview. "But because I attended so many rehearsals and because of so many rewrites and changes in the theatrical version, it got in my mind of the idea of what happens to powerlessness once you add voice, which you get a strange sort of heightened power. And those texts from Atreus and Madea and Electra, arise from that idea that somehow or another that a woman who may be silenced soon may not have spoken a great deal before. When she appears onstage now to speak, that speech will have so much texture and so much flavour compared to a speech coming from a king."

He also gave props to another inspiration from a rather surprising choice: a South African Nobel Prize-winning author. "I'd been on a (literary) committee with Nadine Gordimer and I'd spent a lot of time just listening to her and asking her questions. I'd read all her books, so with that idea of just her courage under pressure in all those years in South Africa [during apartheid]; the ferocity of her tongue, her fearlessness and how literate she was and how interested she was in telling a story."

"I come from a country which had two civil wars in the twentieth century and didn't take part with any great gusto in the First World War and was neutral in the Second World War," Toibin explained in exploring the theme of revenge in his works in comparing to the current state of the world. "We're living in a period not of world wars or big wars between countries; it hasn't come yet. We're living in a time where are factions within Libya, factions within Syria, factions within Iraq or drug wars or wars within families; it's wars within countries. So it's a contemporary novel that's trying to deal with sort of intimate hatreds rather than, say the large forces of good and evil. So it's very much a book of its time."

On his 2015 book on the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, he delved his appreciation since his teens of her Pulitzer Prize-winning work in connection with her troubled life that dominated most of her best poetry. "I didn't know anything about her when I came across her poems at first; I knew nothing about her life. And I found something not being said in her poems, but it was there in the rhythm. But somehow she managed, as poetry; to suggest something, to imply something without saying it.

"I found that what was there some kind of coiled pain, while sometimes she would write something that seemed just pleasant and easy and normal...there was an helplessness in her gaze and in a way of detaining something, as though she would lose it. And then, of course, I learned that her father died when she was a baby and her mother was committed to a mental hospital when she was five and she never saw her mother again, she was an only child.

"And in her orderly life of a poet, the word 'mother' doesn't appear in her poems. She tried, but there are scratches of poems that were unfinished where she tried to get to her mother to write about what happened (to her). Of all of the best poems that she published in her lifetime don't have that. It was a sort of a great withholding, in a time when poets would write only about their pain and suffering or write confessional poems. But Bishop kept away from that and she only wrote poems that would describe things. She managed to invoke whatever 'it' was that she wasn't going to tell you directly. She managed to put them into the poem that you felt it, you got a shiver from the poem and you think 'There's something here not being said here' and it's even more here than if it were stated clearly. I was fascinated by that."

In closing, Toibin discussed about the close relationship he had with his father who died when he was twelve and in the one thing he wished they would have debated on was about legalizing same-sex marriage during its referendum in 2015, which was approved. "Because he was a conservative and he was a practicing Catholic," said the openly gay novelist. "And he would have been shocked by these changes. But I've never got to do that and it's something that I miss."

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

I found this year's IFOA, solid as it was, a bit dressed down compared to past years in its context and content by focusing on the themes of ideas and discussion which there were plenty to talk (and read) about. But given that in an era where logical debates on truth are being drowned amidst in a climate of toxic shout-downs and accusations of "fake news" abound, it probably was the most mature and grounded IFOA I've covered that was most needed in these times.

EDITION #154 - WEEK OF OCTOBER 30-NOVEMBER 5, 2017

Quiet, but average Iraqi War returnee tribute

Thank You for Your Service (Universal/DreamWorks)

Cast: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Beulah Koale

Director: Jason Hall

Producer: Jon Kilik

Screenplay: Jason Hall; based on the David Finkel book

Film Review

The hubris of war in the return from battle lingers long after the final angry shot is fired and the conflict continues in the soldiers that mentally fight it on a near-daily basis, as it is witnessed in the factual-based postwar drama Thank You for Your Service. Adapted by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jason Hall (American Sniper) in his directorial debut is an above average effort at best, in going down the same path as other thematic films of the same nature as to how one copes in the peacetime of civilian life.

Three American comrades-in-arms Adam Schumann (Teller), Tausolo "Solo" Aieti (Koale) and Billy Waller (Joe Cole) demob from surviving the urban battlefields of Iraq in 2007 and try to catch up with the incoming realities in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas. While Adam reconnects with his wife (Bennett) and kids and Solo and his wife (Castle-Hughes) look to start their own brood, the re-entry into society becomes quite difficult for Billy when he discovers an empty home is too much for him to bear that drives him to extremes.

Facing down the usual governmental and military bureaucratic red tape in order to cope with their PTSD and employment chances, the weight of all this lays thick on Adam of survival guilt over fallen buddies who've taken the bullet for him and especially Solo, who's developed short-term memory and a addiction to return to combat; threatens their already-fragile family lives and to whatever chances they have at normalcy and learning to move on.

Hall's direction keeps it quite simple in pace and emotion as he does a fairly good adaptation from the real-life characters and their stories, as stated in the acclaimed David Finkel non-fiction book; in the script which isn't overlade with such jingoism one would expect from a film like this, which is a good and wizen avoidance after the flak he got with American Sniper. For his first-time behind the camera, it's a pretty good one that has future potential, including the downplayed tone aided by Roman Vasyanov's cinematography working in his favour.

Teller carries himself well in the lead of the young, capable sergeant coping with his demons on the battlefront and home front with honesty and grace as one can; Bennett may be laying it on just too easy as his understanding wife Saskia willing to see him through thick and thin, but at least it's believable. Koale playing the tormented American Samoan soldier (a rarity seen in American war films) is the film's noticeable and strongest asset with a possible nomination come awards time, just as much Omar J. Dorsey as shady Persian Gulf War vet Dante who attempts to lure Solo down an even darker direction.

While one can't put it alongside other war films of this catergory like the post-Vietnam classics Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, Thank You for Your Service keeps things in a subdued check of the returning soldier fighting an invisible war from within free from much cliches, if somewhat underwhelming for itself.

Feriocious to funny pulp monsters

PEN Canada's Empty Chair spotlight for the 38th International Festival of Authors (IFOA) was Azeribaijani writer/blogger Rashad Ramazanov, whose highly critical reporting on local authorities and liberal views on Islam have him currently serving a nine-year jail term for trumped-up drug posession charges since 2013.

International Festival of Authors 2017 Reviews

Part 2 of a 3-part series

Left-right: Andy McGuire, Andrew Pyper, Nick Cutter, Chris Brookmyer and Sarah Blaedel.

Dissecting the Villain

Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Sunday, October 22; 1:18 p.m.

The roundtable forum on how the composition of creating and writing up the literary bad guy is not exactly an exact science, as four notable thriller authors Sarah Blaedel from Denmark by way of New York City, Britain's Chris Brookmyre and Canadians Nick Cutter and Andrew Pyper brought into focus with moderator Andy McGuire, as to where do the pulp "monsters" come from their imaginations.

"I think, mythically, monsters are sometimes figments of ourselves," said the Burlington-based Pyper. "And they often suffer from emotional disabilities that are of human origin. They tend to be solitary, monsters tend to not socialize with other monsters -- like there's no 'monsters club' -- and their solitude characterizes them as well as it disfigures them. The longer you stay alone, if anyone who's been alone for a long time; the weirder you feel and the harder it is to be around people, perhaps more darker feelings invade your space...It's like loneliness defines them and creates them."

"In the monsters that we read," he added further, "I think monsters are hard to read about in any interesting way if we don't recognize any part of them in ourselves. Just of instead of some anonymous killing machine, which is instrumental to plot; there has to be something that we recognize in monsters that make them interesting. And what makes them interesting is the way that we secretly think to ourselves: 'I've had that thought; I wanted that thing.' Wanting that thing that we ought not to want, is central to gothic fiction but all villains have the capacity to show us how, like 'I'm doing it! I'm acting on all my desires!' and the reader thinks: 'Sometimes I wish I could.'"

"I think, naturally as you get older the things that [once] scare you change," said Craig Davidson a.k.a. Nick Cutter. "It's not always necessary going up to turning the dial up to eleven. Sometimes that's fun to do, but you don't do any of the gore stuff anymore. When you do it, it's very minute dollops, like some kind of expensive herb. So I think as I go on, naturally, I'm holding back but that's not to say that it won't come back to me somewhere down the road.

"Demons are characterized by where the very name comes from, 'from knowledge' and their arrogance and they do know a lot. There are ancient beings that are characterized by their intelligence. They know a lot and that's why they make such really good liars unlike, let's say, the current (American) president is a bad liar because he's so unconvinced that there is something called a 'search engine' and therefore, everything he says has no credibility."

"I do not create my stories around the villains," Blaedel explains in her work process and the duality of human nature. "I don't sit down and say 'oh, how do I build up this without the same kind of bad guys again and again.' I think about it, like who can be able to do this [misdeed], what if this happened? Over the years I think that, sorry to say but, I love people that don't expect that the bad side of that person is turning out to be that [particular] person. In the papers there's always some regular good people that turn out to be bad people. Some people lost their child in an accident or got killed, and it opens up the dark side in them. I find that much more interesting. I'm pretty convinced that almost -- not all of us -- but almost all of us have it within us, if something [bad] happened to us."

Seeing that the monsters in our lives have existed in every culture and religion that authors have drawn upon on in the past, today's digital technology that has spawned hacking, cyber-bullying and online trolls, plus the introduction of the smartphone has somewhat ended the 'solitude' of those real-life antagonists and have changed the thriller genre in recent years. But amongst this technology there have been benefits to how to write them like writer's programs and tools that have helped the authors organize and/or rearrange their plots...or befuddle them.

"The greatest definition of a writer's block is that it is the reluctance to make a decision," Brookmyer opined. "And once you understand that, it really doesn't take away the plot. [If] I stay back away from it for a few weeks and a much better idea that comes along, you really shouldn't rework the last ten chapters. You just come back to that idea and see where it takes you. It may not really take you where you want to go, but where you end up will give you a much better perspective and where you want to be."

Left-right: Immanuel Mifsud, Sylvain Prudhomme, Martha Baillie, David Machado and Nicola Lagioia.

EUNIC @ IFOA

Studio Theatre, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Sunday, October 22; 6 p.m.

To say that the European Union has had few chaotic years of late would be grossly understated, what with the overwhelming migrant crisis of 2015 that invoked continental xenophobia; a rash of terrorist attacks and a plague of economic crises to England's 2016 Brexit vote (and its ongoing debacle) that shook the core of the superstate and its uncertain future that once was the promising beacon of multination cooperation and stability.

If anything, culture survives and thrives on trying times. Through the European Union of National Institutes of Culture (EUNIC) in bringing in four authors representing the next generation of contemporary European writers, Torontonian author and visual artist Martha Baillie sat down with them to discuss the nature of their works and their home-grown cultures that have moulded them.

Portuguese writer David Machado read his The Shelf Life of Happiness, which was a cynical observation of the 2008 economic and housing meltdown versus life's simplicities; Italy's Nicola Lagioia had a more darker and metaphorical response in describing the corruption of a rich and powerful family in Ferocity, where he anthropomorphized the cycle of violence of a cat hunting down a rat; Immanuel Mifsud provided a lighter side of things with his romantic-fantasy poem "Black Bolt" reading it both in English and his native Maltese and from France Sylvain Prudhomme's The Greats read of his protagonist older musician somewhere in Guinea-Bissau, dealing with life and the death of his ex-lover.

"For me, literature has one purpose," said Lagioia in the closing Q&A. "First; it makes me think of what I write and for the reader to think the book has to give the reader questions. So when I'm reading a novel, I find more answers than questions. So any message that I put [in my work] on purpose would be [the reader to do] their own thing to do."

Mifsud summed up the aspect of writing with this theory: "Last week I'd come back home from this very beautiful international (authors) festival happening in (Timisoara,) Romania and in one of the events happened was on the day when the Nobel Prize [for Literature; which went to Kazuo Ishiguro] was announced. And there were two people who were being mentioned as possible winners of the prize and one of them was a Romanian writer named Nicolae Breban, a very important writer and there was also an English writer, whose name has slipped my mind.

"And we were discussing the Nobel Prize of course, and this guy writes very funny books and he said: 'Listen, I don't know if Mr. Breban will win the Nobel Prize, but I will not win it because I write very happy books.' So I think that many writers write sad books so they will have the hope that someday they will win the Nobel Prize!"

Left-right and seated (centre): Joel A. Sutherland, Charlotte and CBC Toronto's Dwight Drummond (holding book) surrounded by members of the local Children's Book Bank Club

The Children's Book Bank Club @ IFOA

Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Tuesday, October 24; 2 p.m.

For a more light-hearted aspect of the fest comes the literary advocacy organization The Children's Book Bank, which provides free books and support for Toronto's low-income neighbourhoods and its youngsters ages 9 to 12 to discover the joys of reading on a monthly basis and weekly Saturday morning story times (about 120,000 free books were donated by them last year). IFOA became the honorary meeting place for October where CBC Toronto personality Dwight Drummond hosted the event with the selected children's author of the month, Joel A. Sutherland.

The creator of the Haunted Canada series presented his latest spook-friendly story of the serial, The House Next Door (Scholastic Canada), which centered on a vacant house and its only occupant, a ghostly horse that both haunt the neighbourhood and its kids. Surrounded by the young book club members, the adults were pretty much enjoying themselves as much as the kids were on the seasonal-type story chosen for the month.

"To be honest, I always loved to write but when I was the age of my Book Club friends up here, I didn't think I would be a writer as a career someday," Sutherland admitted to his small audience. "It's something I really enjoyed to do, as well as riding my bike, playing baseball, dream of going to moon. I wanted to be an astronaut. And it really wasn't until I went to York University for film school, I worked in a book store and I asked myself those adult questions, 'What you want to do with your life?' And one thing I still like to do, was not dreaming of being an astronaut but I still love to write.

"I was doing it just for fun, and I thought 'You know what? I should try to send in one of my stories to see what other people think.' And it came back with a lovely rejection note! And it followed with another rejection and another and another, and many, many, many (more)! Until finally I got an acceptance (letter) and got my story published! And I think I got five whole dollars though that sale, but the thrill of seeing my name in print was unparalleled and I knew that 'Yes, that's what I wanted to do.'"

"I loved scary stories as a child," the Oshawa-based librarian and writer (which he describes living in a 'very, very scary suburb' east of the city) continued. 'I loved sitting around the campfire with a flashlight under my chin and freak each other out. I remembered doing that a lot with my friends in the summer trying to scare each other. And usually, although, I was a pretty happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but for some reason I can still freak people out when I want to and I usually tell the scariest story at those campouts."

"When I started writing the (Haunted Canada) series, I was shocked by how scary and terrifying Canada is!" Sutherland said. "I had this image that it was clean and pleasant; everybody says 'thank you' and 'sorry' many, many times throughout the day; there's a Tim Hortons on every corner and I could go on and on. I didn't think of it as being super-scary haunted place.

"The only concern that I had in writing the series was, did I have enough material to keep it going for one or two or three other books. But now I've gone beyond that unit. I have no shortage of stories to include, which are all true ghost stories, I just can't make them up. So with each book, I try to have a nice mix of such stories from across Canada, different types of locations and different types of stories, too. I don't want every book to be similar, I want them to be quite different like different types of ghosts and different types of settings and things like that, so a lot of planning goes into that. Like I said, Canada is a creepy place!"

***

NEXT: Part 3 -- John Boyne and Emma Donaghue, Writers & Company and festival summary.

EDITION #153 - WEEK OF OCTOBER 23-29, 2017

RIP Gord Downie (1964-2017)

Comic Strip Tribute

In marking the October 18th passing of Gord Downie after his yearlong battle with brain cancer, I present a Hounds of Love comic strip tribute to the Canadian singer/songwriter who usually sung and spoke about his home and native land through his music as the iconic headman for the rock group The Tragically Hip and our home on Native land as an Indigenous Rights activist.

True (if tough) patriot love

Salaam Fayadh accepts PEN Canada's One Humanity Award for this year's recipient Palestinian poet/visual artist Ashraf Fayadh on his uncle's behalf, who is currently incarcerated in Saudi Arabia for eight years for blasphemy-related charges; while PEN Canada President Richard Stursberg looks on.

International Festival of Authors 2017 Reviews

Part 1 of a 3-part series

Glorious and Free? Canada in 2017

Brigantine Room, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Friday, October 20; 8 p.m.

Left-right: Jesse Wente, moderator Jesse Brown, Desmond Cole and Rachel Geise discuss Canada's status on basic universal rights at the October 20th forum Glorious and Free? Canada in 2017

As the year of our sesquicentennial of Confederation winds itself down (and as well as all the euphoria) now brings the hard, uncomfortable question: how much of a "young" democracy are we as a nation compared to other places and to ourselves?

Bringing that to the forefront in the PEN Canada-sponsored roundtable talk were Ojibwe author and activist Jesse Wente, noted freelance journalist Desmond Cole and journalist Rachel Giese along with CANADALAND investigative journalist/publisher Jesse Brown moderating the talk to reflect with neither pride nor prejudice that brought a lot of thought to the topic at hand at the 38th International Festival of Authors (IFOA).

Firstly, PEN Canada President Richard Stursberg presented the writer's rights organization's ninth annual One Humanity Award to this year's recipient to Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, incarcerated in Saudi Arabia since 2014 for blasphemy-related charges based on his 2008 poetry collection Instructions Within that commented on that country and the Arab World's social issues (and later banned); which his nephew Salaam accepted on his behalf. Tried and initially sentenced to death for infidelity in 2015, a worldwide protest had Fayadh's sentence commuted to eight years' imprisonment and 800 lashes where he currently remains in prison.

Now while we thankfully no longer impose capital punishment for any crime in Canada, our freedoms and human rights record is hardly what one could call spotless. As introduced by Glorious & Free: The Canadians co-author Rita Field-Marsham that profiled 35 creative personalities about freedoms of expression, it turned out to be a lively and engaging forum, mainly led by an impassioned Cole in his critique on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's approach on the controversial First Nations ceremonial tipi erected on Parliament Hill on the eve of the "colonial" Canada Day celebrations.

"That's what Canada 150 is to me," he validly stated. "It's this back-and-forth about colonialism, how now colonialism comes with a smile; how colonialism comes with 'good hair'...it's clear to me how 'Good Hair' (Trudeau) has come a long way. It's a clear anxiety on the part of the government and more broadly on behalf of White Canada who says 'You can't have your own space on Parliament Hill; we have to assert our autonomy in this space.' And I thought that was a very sad moment to describe otherwise, so that's what I saw."

Putting his two cents in was Brown, who also commented on the celebrations. "Watching what happened [with Canada 150]; I assumed that there would be a very loud national narrative on our party celebration. There would be attempts to include some sense of reconciliation like 'okay, we're not perfect' as a footnote, and it would come out like some kind of celebration. But I felt like, it landed with a thud and no one was interested in art and it became a counter-narrative and I thought it would be louder still."

"I do think there was, what Canada 150 was to me was to have this desire to have a single idea of all of us to rally around at this point," added Giese. "And what I felt was how limited we are and how much complexity we have in this country. And this complexity about [us] being 'glorious and free' of what the complexity of what it is to be free. And that freedom comes with a sense of responsibility, it comes with a cost. I think they understand that it comes as the expense of others. And maybe the average person may not have the way to change that, but I think we have to begin by simply acknowledging it."

Probably the most telling moment of the talk was when Wente brought up the case of how some ancient Ojibwe petroglyphs going back 50,000 years were vandalized with the painting of the Canadian flag at Matinenda Provincial Park near Elliot Lake; that despite the progression in more recent years between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, Canada still has a very, very long way to go.

"When some of us in the community sort of pointed that out and said that we wanted to clean that off, [some of] the response was that 'well, we'll just come back and paint the flag even bigger and bigger,'" he explained to a totally aghast audience. "Now when you think about that, when (other) countries that usually preserve things like that are that old, like Werner Herzog made an entire 3-D movie (2010's Cave of Forgotten Dreams) about the Chauvet caves in France that you and I can't physically enter [any more], because that cave is preserved. Here these things (petroglyphs) are and it's just a hostile takeover. And that's erasure, now that is Canada. And the fact that we still say that now is, the larger issue is sort of just and coming to terms with that fact and it's not going to go away."

Adrian Tomine and Seth

Studio Theatre, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

Sunday, October 22; 11 a.m.

Left-right: Graphic novelists and cartoonists Adrian Tomine and Seth

Outside of Europe, IFOA was among the first literary festivals to embrace the graphic novel format as part of literary community and has been a healthy promoter of them since the mid-1990s. In a year when there's been an abundance of acclaimed titles, IFOA took a much smaller approach this time around with just an intimate sit-down with two of the best-known masters of the genre, Adrian Tomine from the United States and Canada's Seth, as the two friends and colleagues discussed their artistry, how the comics industry has changed in the last thirty years since they came on the scene and where its going -- or worse, disappearing -- in the age of the internet to changing artistic modes as one grows older.

In promoting his final collection of his Palookaville comics title, which took about twenty years to complete, Seth took a more light-hearted perspective on it all. "It's surprising that when you're on a budget for twenty years, it becomes pretty clear that after a certain point, they (the audience) gives up on you," he quipped. "No one stays to the end, because at a certain point a creep sets in where people say 'look, this is taking way too long, I can't even remember of what happened a year or two ago [of the plot]' and they'd bail.

"It still doesn't feel like any conclusion to it, because it wouldn't have been until the collection is published. Because of me going back over all this material and starting to fixing things which I'm doing right now; it's been an interesting experience because I looked over that material except to double-check certain points in the story...but trying to correct the artwork which was pretty clear that the first couple of chapters I couldn't correct any of it. It was so old and I draw so differently now, that it was impossible to add in another panel or page, so there was a couple of things like I did a few tricks like I'd Xeroxed a panel and fix up some errors. Like I waited to get to the middle point and just said, 'This isn't right' and I had a long time to think about it."

The same could be said for Tomine, who spend seven years assembling Killing and Dying that came out last year, where real life collided in getting the collection of past works into the volume. "I would love to give a class on how not to create a graphic novel. Because I did every thing wrong with this book, like taking an advance at the beginning of the process and blowing through it and spending all the money for the next seven years, having two kids in the process, (and) being married to someone who wasn't working and trying to write their doctoral thesis.

"All those things created a pressure situation for me, especially by the end that I was so behind schedule when it was supposed to come out, needing to make money and all those things like I just wanted it to get out. I even at one point considered in paying back all of the advance and then if I ever finished it, then they could pay me back that money. I felt so guilty in taking money and not completing anything, I mean it was just a matter of time to do it, but when you're in the middle of it and that situation, and like you've got a screaming baby in your lap and all that, you just think like that it's not going to happen."

It's an age-old argument of the changing times for the comic industry for the old-school that could produce one comic book title a month regularly like clockwork, where nowadays there are bimonthlies and even trimonthlies where it's all time-consuming, especially when you're a one-man band. Plus what with other side projects like illustration and smaller things, including the changing landscape of where they now look at the lucrative market of film and television versus how to maintain their vision in reasonable adaptation(s) they can live with from creative process to all the headaches around showbiz legalities.

"There's some writing I've been doing on my own for the last year for a hypothetical TV show that I completely came up with and wrote," Tomine discussed about a prospective comedy series he's been working on. "But I've really enjoyed it, maybe because it's different from comics and a change of pace. My wife never knows what I'm working on any given day like, 'Here's a book I've just finished' or something. But she's like, last year she was saying 'What are you working on this year? It's like so weird like it's you're so excited to get to work in the morning and when I come home you're having a good mood!'"

On the subject of online comics versus traditional print, Seth still questions the cons more than the pros of it. "The answer is, you can publish it on the internet and I always kind of forget that. You can publish anything you want online, but do people see it the same way? I guess you have to capture your own audience.

"If I were to do a two-page (online) strip, I'd feel it was wasted on the internet. It's inconsequential like, here's a little treat for you, like 'ping!,' it's on the screen and there's something about it like there's almost a no quality to it, like no effort was involved. It's just another thing coming down that pipe on the internet like, "I'm looking at memes of cats, now here's a strip by Seth' and you feel like, 'Hey, I put two weeks into that!' There's something very transitory about it, like it's like treating comics like a junk medium that you just threw out, but nothing feels concrete by putting it on the internet."

I Thought It Was A Deer

Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen's Quay West

The temporary commissioned art piece for IFOA, as created by Nicholas Crombach of a multimedia sculpture inspired by Ron Sexsmith's dark fairytale novel Deer Life (Dundurn Press) about witchcraft, bullying, revenge and a mysterious bowler hat that is just across from the Artport Gallery; makes a point about the physicality of a non-physical person haunted by a life-altering episode, a satire on hunting as a sport for the rich and speaking of loss is interesting in the materials chosen and interpretive of the book's content.

What I find more astonishing it that unlike past years, this is the only visual arts component for the fest when there used to be so much abundance of literary-themed artwork throughout the Artport. Uncanny!

***

NEXT: Part 2 -- Dissecting the Villain; EUNIC @ IFOA, Writers & Company and more. IFOA 2017 continues through to this Sunday (October 29). For tickets and information, call 416-973-4000 or ifoa.org.

The Big "It"

Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit

by Michael Adams

178 pp., Simon and Schuster Canada

Hardcover, $26

Non-Fiction/Political Science

Book Review

Trouble always seems to come in threes, what with the political landscape that has changed so drastically overnight worldwide from the rise of the U.S.' Donald Trump and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte's extremist moulding of foreign and domestic policies of their respective administrations (and even more recently, Austria's newly-elected chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his far-right Austrian People's Party) to the convoluted ironing out of how England's planned secession from the European Union, otherwise known as Brexit; after the 2016 referendum within a short timeframe.

After a period of progressive calm and reasoning during Barack Obama's 2008-2015 presidency, the 2015 election of Canada's Justin Trudeau and the democratic hopes (and misses) of the Arab Spring had wrought within this decade, Could It Happen Here? Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit, as examined by noted social values researcher and pollster Michael Adams; brings clarity to the question to whether such fractious policies and attitudes could affect Canadian society as a whole.

In a relatively short answer, it already had.

But no need to raise alarms though, as Adams points out in this compact and easy-reading book, for we as a nation which is generally considered -- at least on the surface of things -- as a more open, welcoming and accessible democracy than most places; has faced periods of rightist mood swings and episodes where it felt those values would get undermined and permanently lost the in the ether.

Looking at such historical examples like the Conservative back-to-back majority rules of Brian Mulroney of the 1980s and Stephen Harper of the 2000s on a national level; Ontario's Mike Harris and the so-called "Common Sense Revolution" to the Parti Quebecois' separatist charges in the 1990s provincially to the late Torontonian mayor Rob Ford whose behaviour and antics, along with his policies (remember his infamous reversal on the city's bicycle- and public transit-friendly plans with "the war on the car is over"?); were just as shocking as they were embarrassing to Canada's largest metropolis, as he points out.

Being the founder of the market research company Environics Research Group is a help, as the author notes that as our society changes in the natural course of time, from the acceptance of LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage, our acknowledgement of the importance of First Nations' founding contributions and the (near-future) legalization of recreational marijuana; he assures that values will always stick to the core of the national conscience, regardless whoever is in charge and whatever the current climate may be raging out there.

Two particular examples he gives is the attitudes towards Islam. In a recent (2016) poll, Canadian Muslims fair better in finding more tolerance from the general population from 49 per cent up from 35 per cent over a decade ago, compared to their American counterparts. Even in the post-9/11 era and the slight backlash of Bill M-103 that called on condemning "Islamophobia and all forms of systematic racism and religious discrimination" by Liberal backbencher MP Iqra Khalid in the wake of the Quebec City Mosque shooting in January 2017, xenophobia has, more or less; failed to take root when Harper's Tories used such scaremongering tactics in the 2015 federal election.

And in the another are the differing family values between Canada and the United States. While the basic attitude in America that the father should be the major head of the household has increased in a twenty-year period (42 per cent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2016), it's been in the modest lows here (25 per cent in 1992 versus 23 per cent in 2016 nationwide) including in the regional level (Alberta is the highest at 26 per cent, Atlantic Canada the lowest at 19 per cent in 2016).

Relying on the faith of human nature to elicit the better angels of ourselves is a fatally optimistic one. But with the backing information ranging from social and family values as thoroughly as Adams lays out in Could It Happen Here?, the author does assure that life is full of ebbs and flows but to remain true to those fundamental strengths that make up the national character, even in the endless storms of polarizing vitriol, is something we can take away with a sense of hope that comes with it.

EDITION #152 - WEEK OF OCTOBER 2-8, 2017

Totally amused over Victorian drama

Victoria & Abdul (Focus Features/Universal)

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith, Eddie Izzard

Director: Stephen Frears

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Beeban Kidron and Tracey Seaward

Screenplay: Lee Hall; based on the Shrabani Basu book

English and Urdu with English subtitles

Film Review

Recently screened at this year's TIFF, the British period dramedy Victoria & Abdul is abundant in riches with an exceptional cast telling the extraordinarily true story of a special relationship Queen Victoria shared with an commoner Indian servant and the upheaval it brought among the social mores of the day, also it corrects a past wrong even when it seems slightly too catering toward British imperialism.

In a bizarre twist of fate, a British Raj Muslim prison ledger named Abdul Karim (Fazal) is suddenly whisked away from his home of Agra in 1887 to be a presenter of a singular mohur (Mughal coin) to Queen Victoria (Dench) during her Jubilee celebration in England, along with a reluctant co-presenter Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) who's less than enthusiastic towards the British Empire that's colonized India for the last 29 years.

Through his humble, simple acts of loyalty, he awakens the aging monarch from her listlessness of her advanced age and rediscovers her zest for living again by making him her munshi or teacher in learning all about his distant homeland, including how to write in his native Urdu; thus becoming a official member of the royal household for what was meant to be just a temporary and ceremonial engagement.

Totally unsettled by this burgeoning friendship and the hold he has over the queen, her family members and inner circle led by her secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (Pigott-Smith), Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon) and most of all crown Prince Bertie (Izzard) who impatiently awaits to finally sit on the throne as Edward VII, do everything in their will to tear them apart much to the two's dismay and feel almost powerless against those who have their personal interests at stake.

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen; Dangerous Liasons) delivers a clean-cut, unrushed direction and pace for the film mired in both dramatic and humorous tones as fleshed out from Lee Hall's fine adaptation of Shrabani Basu's book that brought this story to light in 2010 after decades of hiding this particular truth from the public eye is enlightening and engaging on all fronts, including the lush cinematography of Danny Cohen, Consoletta Boyle's detailed costuming and vibrant score composed by Thomas Newman.

Dench, who's played Victoria before in Mrs. Brown back around 1997; puts on one of her best works in awhile as the ailing Queen who's often presented as a staunch bulldog, but with her she gives a rich human perspective of a woman bound, yet worn down by duty of her royal office and longevity is stunning to watch. Noted Bollywood star Fazal's exuberant performance as the Karim is decent enough to give him and the real-life figure justice, but sometimes he lays in the subservience and naivety a bit too thickly in a cloying sense of how really indentured a subject Karim was, since most of the British records were purposely destroyed.

The supporting cast with Pigott-Smith in one of his final roles (which the film is dedicated to), Olivia Williams as Lady Churchill, Paul Higgens as the Scottish physician to the queen and Izzard are brilliant as the spineless courtiers with their own agendas and Akhtar playing the film's acidic rebel element in tweaking the nose of the British Empire, adds a lot of intrigue here that is equally entertaining all by itself.

Victoria & Abdul sticks to its basic historical drama formula on the political, racial and class divides for both British and Indian societies and a relatively good account of two people from completely different sides of the coin and the world could find commonality in each others' company, but is never, ever dry and stuffy for it. Worthwhile watching.

True-life drug thriller scores a hit

American Made (Universal)

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Jesse Plemons

Director: Doug Liman

Producers: Ray Angelic, Doug Davidson, Brian Glazer, Brian Oliver, Kim Roth and Tyler Thompson

Screenplay: Gary Spinelli

Film Review

More than making up for the bitter taste he left in a lot of mouths with this past summer's flop The Mummy, Tom Cruise truly bounces back in the factual narco-thriller American Made based on the real-life exploits of a man unintentionally caught up in the guns and drugs that influenced American foreign and domestic policies in the 1980s with a hippy and very smartly made film.

Barry Seals (Cruise), a talented but rather bored TWA pilot who yearns for something more in life when his talent for smuggling illegal Cuban cigars into the United States catches the eye of CIA recruiter Monty "Schafer" (Gleeson) and gives him a low-level covert gig in aerial photographing revolutionary guerrilla movements in Central America in the late 1970s, which is right in his thrill-seeking wheelhouse.

When Ronald Reagan declares a personal war on the popular Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the early '80s, the CIA expands Seals' mandate by getting him to ship weapons to the counterrevolutionary Contras, that also gets the attention of the Medellin Cartel run by Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), Carlos Ledher (Fredy Yate Escobar) and Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) to sneak in their product into the States via Seals' growing squadron of flying drug runners.

As those drug and guns wars escalates, so does Seals' fortunes despite wife Lucy's (Wright) initial misgivings that eventually, like all things, slowly unravel with double dealings, unexpected surprises and allegiance shifts, growing suspicions from law enforcement agencies and the overwhelmingly maddening cash flow that becomes too much for just one man to handle.

Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity; Mr. & Mrs. Smith) masterfully helms a high-octane slickness and humour in every frame through Cesar Charlone's sepia-coloured cinematographic touches and animated segments without compromising the storyline fitting the mood and pace and metal-rock score by Christophe Beck tinges with a sense of nostalgic undertones that makes this film work effectively in Gary Spinelli's structured script.

Cruise is brilliant in his element, as the cocky daredevil ace pilot way over his head in being a (un)witting pawn of the era's geopolitical chess games run by the Reagan-Bush Administration and the regional despots and crime cabals; in every scene he's in with all his classic charm and frailties in reuniting with his Edge of Tomorrow director as this being one of his more better career choices.

Gleeson's semi-shady portrayal of Seals' CIA handler as being beneficent and underhanded all at once and kudos also go to Edda, Escobar and Mejia for convincingly playing the infamous Colombian coke kings. The only pity about this film is Wright's role as Seals' faithful wife feels very limited and could have been more expanded, but at least her ne'er-do-well brother played by Caleb Landry Jones and Jayma Mays as the tough Arkansas Attorney-General are brief but noteworthy performances.

American Made entertainingly sheds a critical light on the darkest side of the American Dream falsely propped up by the corridors of power which held political and social ramifications that isn't too far off from the polemic and toxic atmosphere in the world today.

Sleuth icon exhibit deductive

Left-right: Just a selection of Sherlock Holmes toys and collectibles and a Maneki-neko Sherlock Holmes that are on display at the Pop Sherlock exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library's TD Gallery

Pop Sherlock

Venue: TD Gallery, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street

Dates/Times: Through October 22; Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1:30-5 p.m.

Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-395-5577 or tpl.ca/tdgallery

Gallery Review

Little do most people know that the Toronto Public Library's Reference Library has one of the world's largest and foremost collections of library materials dedicated to the life and work of Arthur Conan Doyle with much of it centering on his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes, in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre on its fifth floor open to the public for the last two decades.

So it would seem apropos for them to have a exhibit about the World's Greatest Detective for Pop Sherlock, an examination of how influential the Victorian-era British sleuth has infiltrated into our conscience a century after his first appearance in 1884 in celebration of the collection that displays a wide array of items with a simplistic touch.

More than just theatre bills, film posters and scripts, books and film/TV stills from everyone who's ever played him in various mediums (150 films and numerous television shows, for example, have involved him or a reasonable facsimile make him the most-acted character in cinematic history, which includes Jesus Christ and James Bond together from actors like the most-remembered Basil Rathbone, Leonard Nimoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Charlton Heston to Robert Downey, Jr.), it provides some interesting facts on the Baker Street-residing master detective, like how stage actor William Gillette used the Calabash pipe that transfixed the image compared to the original tales stated he used various smoking pipes.

Or that it was not Doyle who coined the infamous catchphrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson" (they were always separate like "Elementary" and "My dear Watson" in the original stories), but it was P.G. Woodhouse who satirically put them together in his 1909 novel Psmith, Journalist and officially on film by Clive Brooks in 1929's The Return of Sherlock Holmes; and that he lifted the other catchphrase "The game's afoot" from another author, William Shakespeare from his play King Henry IV Part 1.

In the modern-day influence of Holmes around the world, you can check out the display of a sexy and stylish cover of a Brazilian Portuguese novel that has him situated in Rio de Janeiro in Jo Soares'A Samba for Sherlock to Shrine of The Ancestors, a 1957 Swahili tale from Tanzania by a Mohammed Said Abdulla that won first prize in that country's story-writing competition. It also has a bit of a Canadian connection with Universal Studios' 1944 film The Scarlet Claw whose original title was Sherlock Holmes in Canada, complete with a preproduction script and press book for good measure.

It's not all Holmes as the exhibit also looks at other characters from that universe taken up by other authors like Sydney Hosier and Barry S. Brown making his faithful landlady Mrs. Hudson also a master sleuth in her own stories; plus M.J. Trow who spinoffs one of the mentioned Scotland Yard inspectors in the Doyle tales and a rival of Holmes, Inspector Lestrade.

Pop Sherlock is quite kid-friendly, from its easy graphics and low-keyed interactive exhibits, not to mention toy figurine and plushie collections inspired by the detective like Raggedy Andy, Snoopy, the 1970s Sesame Street Muppet Sherlock Hemlock to Japan's Pusheen; and animated cels from Walt Disney's The Great Mouse Detective to the classic 1958 Daffy Duck/Porky Pig short Deduce, You Say! as directed by Chuck Jones. And never a miss with teaming up the world's greatest superheroes, Holmes gets guest star and solo treatments from both DC and Marvel universes.

And he's also been an unknowing pitchman for corporate interests capitalizing on his image, whether he's promoting Australian cigarettes, Kool-Aid and even Labatt's 50 Ale, the exhibit provides a smallish, but fun trip about Holmes throughout the ages and beyond. And since there are two Holmes films in preproduction as of this writing, the iconic crime-solver isn't going to disappear anytime soon.

EDITION #151 - WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 25-OCTOBER 1, 2017

Diversity and discourse makes lit-fest list

Irish literary giant Paddy Clarke, best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, The Commitments and The Snapper ; will be among one of the returnees to Harbourfront Centre's 2017 edition of the International Festival of Authors to discuss his latest book, Smile on October 21

International Festival of Authors 2017 Preview

Harbourfront Centre's International Festival of Authors (IFOA) goes cover to cover on the topical issues its literary line-up aren't afraid to put to print and in discussion as the 38th annual fall classic brings the city's and the world's bookworms out running October 19 to 29 with one hundred authors of local, national and international flavours and genres will converge by the lakeshore.

Among the illustrious wordsmiths coming this year are Mireia Calafell, David Coventry, Hideo Furukawa, Mary Walsh, Norbert Gstrein, Nicola Lagioia, David Machado, Eduard Marquez, Clemens J. Setz, Maja Vidmar, Rohan Wilson, Nicola Lagioia, David Machado, Immanuel Mifsud, Cara-Lyn Morgan, A.F. Moritz, Elizabeth Ross, Sylvain Prudhomme, Sara Blaedel, Chris Brookmyre, Nick Cutter, Seth, Adrian Tomine, Naomi Klein, Roddy Doyle, George Elliott Clarke, Jacob McArthur Mooney, David Seymour and Bardia Sinaee, among others.

In these polemic times comes the panel discussions ranging from global democracy seemingly under attack with "Art and Politics in the Age of Resistance" with award-winning author Andre Alexis with Kia Corthron and Eileen Myles on October 19 to asking ourselves that same question in the PEN Canada-backed "Glorious and Free? Canada in 2017" to be debated October 20 with authors of the book Glorious and Free: The Canadians' Jesse Wente, Desmond Cole and Rachel Giese with Jesse Brown moderating the forum.

To reflect on Canada's diverse society in its modest look at our sesquicentennial year, IFOA dedicates its opening weekend to a multicultural of riches beginning with Kobzar@IFOA (October 21) on the Ukrainian-Canadian experience as read by finalists of the biennial Kobzar Literary Award offered by the Shevchenko Foundation; the West Indian-centred Come Rhyme with Me (October 21) of Afro-Caribbean authors, rappers, poets and singers are showcased along with a traditional West Indian meal; Cary Fagan & the Koffer Vine Awards@IFOA (October 22) with shortlisters Eric Beck Brodoff and Danila Botha up for the Koffler Centre for the Arts' literary award for the best Canadian Jewish literature in discussion with jury member Fagan and the European Union of National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) presenting the newest crop of the continent's authors at EUNIC@IFOA (October 22).

Left-right:Cary Fagan, Danila Botha and Eric Beck Rubin will discuss their 2017 Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature-nominated works at this year's International Festival of Authors on October 22

CanLit showcases include The Basement Revue @ IFOA (October 21), the Toronto-based indie house of their unique blend of Canadian music and literature and their secret (for now) line-up of musical stars on the cabaret roster; GGBooks@IFOA (October 23) as host Carol Off introduces this year's Govenor-General's Literary Award for English-language Fiction shortlisted writers; A Celebration of 45 Years of Dundurn Press (October 24) as the publishing house hits a milestone in promoting and printing Canadian authors; Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize Finalists In Conversation (October 25) with host Becky Toyne talking with its shortlisted finalists; We All Begin in a Little Magazine: A Celebration of 10 Years of The Puritan Magazine (October 26) where its editors and staff discuss their first decade in promoting new Canadian writers, the new trends and also looking into its and their own futures and A Celebration of 10 Years of The Best Canadian Poetry (October 29) with a small sample of the 90 poets who made the cut in the anniversary edition.

As part of being industry development player, IFOA also marks ten years of their highly-successful The International Visitors (IV) Programme running October 19-29, with a new focus on celebrating the long history and innovation of Canadian publishing, the (IV) Committee welcomes delegates from many of Canada's provinces and territories this year, for the first time, in 2017. The goal of this initiative is to infuse the Programme with a Canadian focus, to impart knowledge of Canada's diverse publishing markets to international guests, and to increase the inclusiveness of the Programme at the national level while building awareness of regional markets among Canadian participants.

Highlights of the 2017 session will be a full schedule of publisher-hosted events and receptions, a mini rights-fair and an industry-focused keynote address by Jeremy Trevathan, Publisher of Britain's Pan Macmillan.

"We are so pleased to welcome a wonderful group of publishers, editors, scouts, agents, rights managers and festival directors to Toronto to meet their Canadian colleagues," says Iris Tupholme, Senior Vice-President and Executive Publisher of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. "The IV Programme has welcomed more than 125 Fellows and Guests over the last ten years. In this anniversary year, we are especially pleased to include publishing delegates from across Canada who will participate in industry meetings and dialogue. The goals of the Programme remain the same: to introduce our guests to the Canadian publishing industry and to sell international rights to Canadian authors. We are looking forward to an exciting week."

The October 24 afternoon event has IFOA welcoming the Toronto kid-literary advocacy group The Children's Book Bank for children of all ages.

And hoping to bud the next generation of bibliophiles, the local children's literary advocate The Children's Book Bank provides free books and literacy support to children living in low-income neighbourhoods across Toronto. The Book Club attracts kids ages 9-12 to a monthly afternoon meeting where kids engage in lively conversation. October's meeting takes place live on stage, with Dwight Drummond moderating a conversation between the kids and the author of the month's featured read on its October 24 event at the Lakeside Terrace.

***

Tickets for IFOA 2017 are now on sale. For more information, call 416-973-4000 or visit ifoa.org

AGO's Monster Marathon

The Art Gallery of Ontario brings celebrated director Guillermo del Toro's At Home With Monsters exhibit on his life-long fascination with the horror and fantasy genres that has made his career

Gallery Preview

If one were to visit the Los Angeles home of Guillermo del Toro, one of this generation's innovative filmmakers; you'd think you have just entered some antiquated house of horrors with statues of weird creatures and monsters galore, some of them classic and others from the figment of Del Toro's tortured imagination he's had since his boyhood days in Guadalajara, Mexico that he's infamously dubbed, The Bleak Room.

Fresh from debuting his latest film The Shape of Water at TIFF earlier this month and taking selected items from his personalized man-cave on the road, At Home with Monsters makes its exclusive Canadian stop at his "unofficial" second home of Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street West) from September 30 to January 7 accompanied with a slew of activities based and/or centred around on Del Toro's worlds of science-fiction, fantasy and horror.

Organized by the AGO in conjunction with Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the exhibit gives his and genre fans a really rare glimpse into the creative process of the famed filmmaker, revealing his influences from the Medieval era to contemporary culture and paying particular attention to his fascination with the Victorian era.

Events include a special public book-signing session with Del Toro this Wednesday (September 27) at the AGO from 4-9 p.m. of the exhibit's illustrated companion catalogue Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters (Insight Editions). The 144-page volume, available in shopAGO; is edited by Britt Salvesen, Jim Shedden and Matthew Welch with contributions by Del Toro, Keith McDonald, Roger Clark and Paul Koudounaris.

The popular art parties AGO First Thursdays have two themed events both starting at 7 p.m. with Enter Darkness (October 5) to mark the fifth year of AGO First Thursdays, this supersized party explores Guillermo del Toro's obsession with monsters. The immersive AGO takeover features a headlining performance by avant-garde legend Peaches, artist Tasman Richardson and other macabre-inspired artists; and in November, The Victorian and the Dead (November 2) falling precisely on the Mexican Day of the Dead and will be guest-curated by the Toronto-born, New York City-based performer, nightlife personality and party producer Ladyfag.

Couldn't do this film-centered celebration of Del Toro without cinema with a retrospective on his film works at the Jackman Hall starting October 11 with The Devil's Backbone (October 11 and 13), his Academy Award-winning masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth (October 25 and 27), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (November 1 and 3), Pacific Rim (November 15 and 17) and Crimson Peak (November 22 and 24) and Nightmare on Dundas Street, a personally selected filmography of his horror favourites from Psycho (October 6), Carrie (October 13), Night of the Hunter (October 20), Silence of the Lambs (November 3), Rosemary's Baby (November 10), The Exorcist (November 17), The Shining (November 24), Repulsion (December 1) to The Haunting (December 8).

And to show that it's not all macabre, the AGO fits their family programming with a one-day monster party for families just in time for Halloween, with the Halloween Family Monster Bash (October 29) with families invited to wear Halloween costumes and join a dance party led by Miss Fluffy Souffle and the local kids' band Space Chums. Other ghoulish art activities include a candy booth, special effects make-up, Gallery tours led by monsters, and hands-on slime art activities. This event is free with general admission and AGO Family Sundays return every Sunday in November and December, offered up free with admission. The fun begins with Snips, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails in November, taking inspiration from Guillermo del Toro's passion for collecting. Children will be painting sticks and rocks as well as making objects from scratch to create a collaborative Cabinet of Curiosities that accumulates throughout the month. Sundays in December explore the idea of fandom in kids' culture with SuperFanz where children create fictional super-hero costumes like capes, masks, wands and shield and then "fly" through the clouds installed throughout the Weston Family Learning Centre.

***

At Home with Monsters opens this Saturday (September 30). For tickets and information, call 416-979-6648 or visit ago.net/guillermo-del-toro-at-home-with-monsters

EDITION #150 - WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 18-24, 2017

Resonating restorations to raging, polemical Billboards

Toronto International Film Festival Artistic Director Cameron Bailey introduces the world premiere restoration screening of the 1932 Chinese romantic-drama Struggling on September 16 at TIFF 2017.

Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Silas

Wednesday, September 13; 11:30 a.m.

Liberian English, Kru Pidgin and Liberian Kreyol with English subtitles

Deforestation is a major concern in where it contributes to global warming as the documentary Silas brings to light by the efforts of award-winning Liberian environmental campaigner Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor and his grassroots organization the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) go out of their way to expose not only illegal logging by foreign multinationals that go under the guise of development, but also the long-standing rot of government corruption hand-in-hand with them.

Directed by Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman and executive co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Zwick (the star power team behind the 2006 Sierra Leone Civil War thriller Blood Diamonds), the 95-minute film follows the hard-working eco-activist who's just as dedicated to his family as he is to the cause, by using current social media tools including a pretty cool user-friendly app named TIMBY (This Is My Backyard); for mobile citizen reporting everything from ill-gotten land grabs from rural villages to clear-cutting rainforests into virtual wastelands.

The filmmakers also peel back Siakor's personal side from being a serious workaholic who gets frustrated and stressed out at times from the loopholes his opponents try to work around in getting the natural resources they want, despite his usually optimistic and gregarious nature and his highly supportive wife Marlay and young family by his side, especially with one village facing a serious displacement by a palm oil giant that SDI spends three years in helping.

Most of his disillusionment comes from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom he knew personally in her days at the United Nations before becoming the first democratically-elected president of Liberia (and the first African woman, also later winning a Nobel Peace Prize for it) and voted for without regrets only to find that the nepotism and corruption that's plagued his country for decades has also effected her government, family members and the political elite in the same manner that he's now fighting against.

Quite a very informative and inspirational film, Nayar and Essuman make Silas just a little too clean and prettied-up in the presentation that does help sometimes for the average layperson to understand the topic at hand. Yet its slickness tends to take away some of its character and feel, but never the man behind his selfless efforts to save Liberia's natural beauty that has already lost a quarter of its rainforests to the corporations.

And it's shockingly revealing how foreign aid over the years have seemingly been funnelled into Johnson-Sirleaf's pockets, especially when its already-weakened healthcare services was made even worse with the death of 10,000 people during the 2013-2014 Ebola outbreak to how one youth community centre still looks rundown despite getting a sizable government grant via the international community that contributed to help rebuild Liberia after a devastating 25-year civil war that led to the downfall of dictatorial warlord Charles Taylor, now serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

After the September 13 screening came a special Q&A session with the filmmakers and Siakor himself discussing the film and his current plans to run for office as a independent Member of Parliament in the elections to be held this October with Johnson-Sirleaf willingly stepping down after over a decade in power this coming January, the articulate activist does have hope for the future and looking to change the political process, as well as informing us on individual consumer responsibility and personal waste as Silas demonstrates there are victories to be had for the little guy, no matter how small they may seem.

Struggling

Saturday, September 16; 6:30 p.m.

Silent; Mandarin Chinese placards with English subtitles

Pre-revolutionary Chinese cinema probably doesn't hold for much outside its own borders, but TIFF snagged the world premiere rights from the Beijing-based China Film Archives to screen the fully-restored 1932 silent film Struggling digitally-restored to its near-pristine beauty of this romantic-wartime drama from the Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement of the 1930s that breaks the mould of conventional Chinese films of that period that didn't feel out of place here in the West among our own silent classics.

Written and directed by Dongshan Shi (and whose great-granddaughter was also at the premiere screening) starts with two engineering factory workers in a industrial town Xiao Zheng (Zheng Junli) and Xiao Yuan (Yuan Congmei) who are friends and also semi-bitter rivals for the heart of the lovely Sparrow (Yanyan Chen), which they share the same boarding house along with the kindly and wise teacher Mr. Liu (Liu Jiqun).

When Sparrow's abusive adoptive father wants to marry her off to a rich man for money, she ends up eloping with Zheng to a peaceful and happy life in Liu's rural village. After Yuan manages to find them in the vengeful hope of shattering their wedded bliss, only to find himself and Zheng thrown in prison and later the call to arms against the invasive forces of Japan reluctantly separates the couple apart and the longing to be together again.

A quaint love story it may be on the surface, Struggling does carry itself in movement and plot of pre-World War II China, with a humble proletarian theme running in the first-half of the film to a rally-around-the-flag patriotism running undercurrent in the latter-half that would be appealing to its current Marxist leadership in preserving the film; as Dongshan's direction having a unique flair in executing panning interior shots and battle sequences that's almost reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and even adding a little Hollywood-inspired slapstick comedy thrown into the hour-and-a-half film.

The live music score accompaniment from pianist Jordan Clapman had its peaks and quiet contemplation like old-time movie houses of yore made this exceptional film even more exceptional in viewing and composition. A gorgeous success.

Sheikh Jackson

Sunday, September 17; 9:30 a.m.

Arabic with English subtitles

In 2009 Cairo, a young imam named Khaled (Ahmad Alfishawy) lives the pious life with his family under the influence of his clerical guardian uncle and becoing a rising star among the Salafism circles until he hears the death of Michael Jackson over the radio that unexpectedly triggers a flood of memories going back to his boyhood days in 1990s Alexandria when he idolized the megastar to the point of emulation in styling and moves.

This creates an unexpected inner conflict stemming with his late mother (Basma), also a secret Jackson fan; against macho father's (Maged El Kedwany) disapproval regarding Jackson's "effeminateness" and a teenaged crush (Shahira Fahmy) to the present and a certain obsession on death and visions of his idol's spirit that seemingly haunt him almost everywhere makes him question his faith on the path of righteousness versus trying to be that free youngster (Ahmed Malek Mostafa) he was and his sense of true happiness.

A modest dramedy from Egypt that swept that country's equivalent of the Academy Awards and an official Best Foreign Language Film Award selection for the Oscars, Sheikh Jackson weaves the delicate balance on the secular and the sacred from director Amr Salama and co-writer Omar Khaled as an honourable love letter to the Gloved One's music and influence on how far-reaching he was on a global scale, as well as presenting itself an story of self-reconciliation and father/son relationships.

Alfishawy gives a humanistic performance of a holy man torn between two worlds in a society also on the edge between Western culture and values versus the enforced conservative modes of Islam that isn't as compatible to them, giving this film a metaphoric look at contemporary Egypt on where it stands in the Arab world, especially in its post-counterrevolution period of where to go from here.

Plenty of subtle and non-subtle MJ references abound here, including a pretty neat hallucinatory dream sequence mash-up of his iconic music videos; Sheikh Jackson goes for that sweet tribute to the showman without drenching into any hackneyed nostalgia of not having to give up one thing completely to be the person you are.

North of Superior

Sunday, September 17; 2:30 p.m.

A Canadian classic returned to the screen at the (soon-to-be) resurrected Cinesphere at Ontario Place (955 Lakeshore Boulevard West) with North of Superior as Graeme Ferguson's sweeping examination of northwestern Ontario gets a vibrant digital restoration in vision and sound in the world's first permanent IMAX cinema, and it's just as exhilarating to watch now as it did when it first screened at the very location back in 1971.

From the opening panoramic vistas of near-skimming the surface of Lake Superior and millennia-old cliffs and forests in aerial swoops, swerves and soars giving the feeling of flight (courtesy of pilot Fritz Meier) to the ruggedness of lives in small northern towns and First Nations reserves, the film may seem a tad outdated by modern standards to some yet it hasn't lost any of its touch in its unfettered and unrushed cinema verite that Ferguson, who was IMAX's cofounder and co-inventor of the film stock; and editor Toni Myers put together in the 30-minute documentary.

Want proof? Try and not to feel almost frightened through the up-close crackling flames and smoke of a raging forest fire feels so real to almost deafening to its quiet aftermath as firefighters dig through the scorched earth to plant seedlings show of fire's destructive and creative power keeps it more than centered on the cycle of nature.

Having seen this film as a kid back in the day at Ontario Place (yes, I am that old), North of Superior sure takes one back to those days when the unspoiled land and simplicity of community with Bill Houston's folksy theme "Ojibway Country" ringing through your brain in experiencing life, death and renewal of the human and natural environs was enough to want anything more out of life itself.

People's Choice Award: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Sunday, September 17; 6 p.m.

Once again, TIFF filmgoers pick another gem for the People's Choice Award and it's a doozy of a selection with the dark comedy-drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is more like a critique on the atmospheric boilover of today's America still looking and choosing any reason to justify itself as raw and unflinching an analysis the cast and director can get.

Almost a year after her teenaged daughter's brutal rape and murder in a backwoods clearing near three decaying billboards outside of the titular small town, grieving divorced mom Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents out the same billboards with some provocative signage in order to get the local constabulary off its butt with the unsolved crime, mainly at its Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

Raising ire with Willoughby and his redneck Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) drunk with power and on booze, Mildred's hardcore actions creates an unsettling and divisive pall among its citizenry and with her family who just wants to move on, including her son (Lucas Hedges) and ex-husband (John Hawkes); as things between all parties involved spiral into more caliginous and unexpected consequences, including unexpected allies.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) creates a larger-than-life story replete with colourful characters to be concerned over, that's a rarity in American cinema of late; in his cracking script and salty dialogue that I haven't seen or heard much in an indie release since Pulp Fiction. He certainly does bring out some very powerful performances in the cast that includes McDormand as the hardboiled and raging Mildred agonizing over the violent loss of her child is as moving as it does devastate; Harrelson being the harried top cop battling both her and terminal cancer and Rockwell as a mama's boy with a hair-trigger temper longing to become something better than the man he is.

Expect to hear a lot from this film come its slated November 10 wide release and during the awards season as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri highly reflects the blunt American anger, discontent and disconnection that's been going around, its pro-feminist feel and unwavering questioning on the behaviour of police authority to raw justice as the direct answer(s) to everything they don't seem to have under control -- or likes to think they do.

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

There certainly was a lot to deal with at TIFF 2017 in keeping it under a lighter schedule regarding their "shrunken" line-up for this year made the fest a bit more streamlined than usual, thus making it a bit more fun and simplier in keeping it concentrated in the downtown core's Entertainment District area and putting the freebie films in the single tickets orders instead of having to spend much time waiting in line-ups for them was a excellent idea.

My only pet peeve? There wasn't a concrete visual arts programme (minus what was on during the first weekend's Festival Street festivities, which was very little), but at least made up for it with the free screenings like North of Superior, Rude, The Truman Show and Struggling. Hopefully that segment will return for next year's Wavelengths series and will be just as exciting as previous years had provided.

EDITION #149 - WEEK OF SEPTEMBER 11-17, 2017

Golden rules

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

380 pp., Knopf Canada/Penguin Random House Canada

Hardcover, $34.95

Fiction

Book Review

For his twelfth fictional work, Salman Rushdie makes an indictment on Western pop culture, modern Indian history and the current American landscape in The Golden House that is vibrant and mesmeric in a (literally) cinematic manner with his masterful prose and compatible wit he is well known for while miring it in a Roman tragic structure made for these times of discontent.

The Golden House regales about an elderly Indian real-estate billionaire calling himself Nero Julius Golden, who moves to New York's Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in Greenwich Village on the day of Barack Obama's inauguration date in 2008 with his three adult sons in tow, the eldest agoraphobic idiot savant Petya, middle son and rising star artist Apu and the youngest who simply calls himself D and grappling with a identity crisis; who all settle themselves into a palatial mansion to start a new life in America and quickly rises to the top.

Told mainly through the observer narrative of a young filmmaker, neighbour and family friend Rene Unterlinden, he sees them as the epitome of the American Dream and a curious subject case for a possible film project over the next eight years. Becoming engaged and unexpectedly entangled in their household dramas that erupt from time to time, he slowly but surely learns about the Goldens of their complicated and quite dubious past that have brought them to the land of opportunity.

As these dark forces follows them from afar like a bad stain, their world collapses into a series of misfortunes that involves one Vasilisa Arsenyeva, a Russian ex-model who enters their lives and becomes Nero's new young wife whose ambitions are as calculated as a manipulative politico running on an presidential campaign and agenda of hate and egotism that surprisingly elevates himself to the highest elected office in the land at a alarming rate and takes the whole country with him.

The story takes on about how one's avidity and reinvention in society can have an effect, as it does about regret and mistakes made to reach to the higher echelons in this contemporary mash-up of literary greats The Great Gatsby, Bonfire of The Vanities and The Godfather rolled into one, where Rene exposes the facades of the book' s antagonists and their tarnished glitter, love, the human condition, as well as his own and others' failings proportionally.

Rushdie fully redeems his other New York-based tale the weak 2001 novel Fury with The Golden House for its better balanced storyline and worldly and satirical stabs in particular to the superhero genre, Bollywood and Hollywood cinemascopes, corruption and mobsterism, social media to the gangrene politics of the right and left spectrums that now grips post-election Trumpian American that satisfactorily winds towards its gripping and tragic conclusion. This season's sweeping yarn.

***

Salman Rushdie makes a Toronto appearance for a Q&A/book signing event at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street) on September 22 at 7:30 p.m. NOTE: This event is SOLD OUT, however a very limited number of FREE RUSH SEATS will be made available on the day of the event at 6 p.m. on a first come, first serve basis. Rush seat ticket holders are not guaranteed admission to the event, but will be admitted at 6:50 p.m., pending seating or standing room availability. For more information, visit torontopubliclibrary.ca.

Blazing Bantus and an eccentric Short Cuts

"

Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Five Fingers for Marseilles

Saturday, September 9; 9:45 p.m.

Sotho and English with English subtitles

Once an exclusive staple of Americana, the cinematic Western took on a more global perspective at this year's TIFF entries but none more so than Five Fingers for Marseilles, the brilliantly gritty neo-Western from South Africa that roots itself in the traditions of the subgenre as well as metaphors of the colonialism of its own personal history (and echoing the Americas' treatment of indigenous populations) and post-apartheid society.

After twenty years of self-imposed exile, Tau (Vuyo Dabula) returns to find that the desolate Eastern Cape township of Marseilles, once a vibrant farming community for white settlers; and the hillside slum of Railroad where he grew up in has now fallen into the hands of a gang called the Night Runners controlled by their ruthless half-blind leader Sepoko (Hamilton Dhlamini).

None of his childhood friends, except for the town preacher; who once ran around as the Five Fingers as defenders for their hometown, at first don't recognize Tau including the ineffective and cowardly mayor Bongani (Kenneth Nkosi), a physically- and psychologically-broken police chief Luyanda (Mduduzi Mabaso) and ex-sweetheart Lerato (Zethu Dtomo) who now has a adult son Sizwe (Lizwi Vilakazi) with his late brother, a angry young sheepherder with a itchy trigger finger.

Suddenly forced to take up arms against the Night Runners as they become bolder in terrorizing and extorting the citizens of Marseilles, including an seemingly out-of-place Asian store clerk (Kenneth Fok), Tau looks to exorcise the demons of his and their troubled pasts that led to his longtime absence and their changed lives that he hopes he can make peace with.

There's a lot said here in the debut feature direction of Michael Matthews channelling masters John Ford for panoramic vistas and Sam Peckinpah for gunfight scenes with well-used momentums and nuanced silences in the film's two-hour run that doesn't feel like it does take up that much time with writer/producer Sean Drummond's tightly paced and toned script, the hardscrabble feel brought on through the compositions of cinematographer Shaun Lee and ominous-sounding score by James Matthes.

The cast play their roles with exceptional gravitas, especially Dabula's semi-pacifist antihero Tau trying to keep his estranged nephew away from the choices he made in life, as Dhlamini is one totally menacing villain as the enigmatic gang boss with a guttural dialect that chills and adds greatly to his mystique; while Dean Fourie as a half-drunken white travelling salesman, plays the alien outsider (and comical relief), along with Fok's straighter Wei; are interesting character studies here who are both dropped into this world where they unexpectedly become part of the fight.

Powerful in bringing all these themes of violence, antiviolence and the search for redemption much like the Eastwood classic Unforgiven, Five Fingers for Marseilles is the best South African-made film I've seen since 1986's A Place of Weeping and has all the potential of being the country's official Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film. It'd be a shame if it didn't get nominated either way, let alone not win it.

Short Cuts Programme 6

Sunday, September 10; 9:40 p.m.

Clearly TIFF's Short Cuts Programme 6 was a completely eccentric affair as any of the series I've checked over the years that ranged from the polemic to the cataclysmic by Canadian and international filmmakers; starting off with Canadian-made Latched, a horror-com by Justin Harding directing his real-life wife/dancer Alana Elmer and infant son Bowen both playing a single nursing mom spending a week up at a lakeside cottage with her child as she plans her next choreographing project, when she comes across a fairy-like monster (Jarrett Siddall) in the woods that gets resurrected from her breast milk and goes to great lengths to obtain it in order to live.

The premise is may seem bizarrely on paper, however Harding and Rob Brunner's script is intensely sharp and receptive on survival and maternal instincts between the monster and mother respectively and the mini-cast, including a doddering elderly neighbour (Peter Higginson) who seems to keep abreast with Elmer is titillating creepily-silly (and sorry for the breast puns). Love to see what this creative team will come back with next.

Catastrophe isn't so much as that concerning a cat being given the riot act by its owner to leave the pet bird alone in her absence, until a list of Murphy's Law disasters occur in sequence that puts the cat in a snit of how to get out of its impending predicament. Funny as it is, Jamille van Wijngaarden's 3D-formatted animated film from the Netherlands is way too fast and furious in pacing and too simple and super-short on plot that you kind of scratch your head and ask yourself: okay, what just happened here??

Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of The Month is a madcap Filipino dark comedy on the complacency of society where two employees (Angeli Bayani, Ross Pesigan) and their last night on the job at a closing gas station and doing about anything to make sales and keeping boredom at bay, even at their own risks. Bayani as the titular character and Pesigan's co-worker roles both conveys the pent-up emotions of facing unemployment and devil-may-care spirits which keep this film's edginess intact blunt, courtesy of writer/director Carlo Francisco Manatad and his cinematographer Teck Siang Lim.

Montreal animator Matthew Rankin puts an avant-garde twist for the live-action/animated Tesla World Light on the visionary early-20th century inventor trying to get tycoon J.P. Morgan to fund his own idea for the light bulb and in bringing the world together through illumination. Told like a fever dream through black-and-white 16 mm stop-motion and light painting techniques, Rankin handles this quasi-experimental romantic-fantasy about the concept of failed utopias in an interestingly and commendable old-school manner.

The avant-garde romantic-melodrama Mobius handles the grief of teenaged Stella (Caley Jones) over her missing and now-presumed dead boyfriend Sebastian in moody flashback vignettes and learning how to pay tribute is a bit more compelling examination on loss and letting go is deeply felt all under 15 minutes, well done by director Sam Kuhn and Jones as the girlfriend puts some pretty emotive displays in sombre nuances.

There isn't a better example on how celebrity-obsessed a society we are than in seeing Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas' Roadside Attraction where a gathering of onlookers at Palm Beach International Airport take pictures and selfies of the American presidential Air Force One jumbo jet whenever the current sitting leader of the so-called free world drops into his Mar-a-Lago Resort retreat in Florida on most weekends.

Mainly shot in muted silence in capturing rubbernecking motorists and photo hounds simply taking pics of the First Airliner all day until the police arrives to disperse the modestly smallish onlookers (and some even help a few take the photos too!) for security reasons, plus Melania Trump was arriving to board the plane. The imagery the filmmakers' statement makes on voyeurism and status truly speaks for itself here.

The Swedish stop-motion animated The Burden pays tribute to the film musical and those who must work menial graveyard shift jobs through anthropomorphic animals is hilarious and sad in expressing their longing desire for a better life, be it lonely minnows manning the night desk of hotels, janitorial mice tap-dancing on fast food restaurant counters or telemarketing primates in call centres are cleverly parodied by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, including the aching, melancholic songs of Hans Appelqvist that rings throughout the apocalyptic-atmospheric short.

And from Quebec comes the closing tragicomic Creme de menthe, as a young musician Renee (Charlotte Aubin) comes to terms with the recent death of her musician father while sorting out his junk-cluttered apartment that she must have cleared out within a week's time and the memories that come flooding through in their connection through music, as directed by Philippe David Gagne and Jean-Marc E. Roy; doesn't lay too much on the sentimental in coping with grief brings out its own subtle charm. And shout-outs to Canuck prog-rock gods Rush and their instrumental chestnut "YYZ" adds to it, too.

***

NEXT: Part 2 - Silas; Sheikh Jackson; Struggling and more. TIFF 2017 continues through to this Sunday (September 17). For tickets and information, call 1-888-599-8433 or visit tiff.net.

EDITION #148 - WEEK OF AUGUST 28-SEPTEMBER 3, 2017

Less is more for TIFF 42

Black Kite, a drama of about a young girl who defies gender oppression by flying kites in Taliban-era Afghanistan, makes its way into the roster for the 2017 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Preview

Expect a star-studded 42nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that will heavily focus on women in film as well as our own home-grown film industry in regards to Canada's 150th. But also prepare to see a slimmer film fest from the 339 films participating on the roster down from 20 percent, retiring the beloved Vanguard and (often-controversial) City to City programmes and dropping outsource cinema venues Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and Isabel Bader Theatre to concentrate traffic in the Festival Village a.k.a. the Entertainment District area along King Street West.

Why all the cutbacks? Like they say in showbiz: it’s all about the numbers and generational gap. Despite having drawn a considerably healthy 2.89 million filmgoers in 2016, attendance also dropped to 2,800 that was a semi-serious bite of the 383,970 people from 2015, including attendance at their hub TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West) and they’ve had to halt, for now, those high-profiled film/pop culture exhibits that used to grace their exhibition space like Stanley Kubrick, Grace Kelly, James Bond, Tim Burton and David Cronenberg that, while quite popular, cost TIFF C$1 million each to host.

Then there's the medium shift of how cinema is viewed now. Millennials and post-boomers mainly stream their films on PDAs and laptops nowadays than they do at the old-fashioned movie house that the fest arrangers have conceded to, plus this summer’s expected box office contenders, more or less, fell below their studios’ expectations contributed to the "blockbuster fatigue" that has been prevalent over the last couple of years.

But TIFF has risen to the momentum as they've always done, from the rise of the home video revolution of the 1980s to the dominance of the internet at the turn of the 21st century. "We actually challenged ourselves," said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey. "We said, 'What do we mean by that? How do you transform?.' Film is still the prime object. That's the art form that we love, that's what we present to our audience. But what is the process of transformation? It's when you learn more when you come out of the experience of the film with more knowledge, more interest, more curiosity, more passion, more empathy, than you went in. And that is the transformative experience."

"Whether you're a festival veteran seeing thirty films or a first-timer, you'll still be able to see a wide range of movies, and trust in our tighter curation," Bailey added further. "We're keeping all our largest venues so you won’t see any reductions for our most high-demand films. We'll also keep encouraging people to seek out the hidden gems we’ve chosen from around the world. That sense of discovery is one of the most exciting parts of the festival, and you can often score tickets faster."

Left-right: Canadian-made films get a shot at TIFF with Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts based on Richard Wagamese's award-winning novel on residental schooling; the Tragically Hip's farwell tour concert doc Long Time Running and Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner, which was executive-produced by Angelina Jolie

For its Galas and Special Presentation line-up, biopics are the mainstay with two tennis battles holds the court with The Battle of The Sexes, based on the infamous 1973 Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match and Borg/McEnroe, the fest's opening night film; on the 1980 Wimbledon showdown of between legends Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe; Darkest Hour on Winston Churchill during the World War II years; political-drama Chappaquidick on the scandal that permanently sunk Ted Kennedy's presidential chances; Stronger, about the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings to Liam Neeson again playing the another whistleblower in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House as Watergate's "Deep Throat."

Also on the list is Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D also with its newly-digital remastered making-of doc; Darren Aronofsky's disturbing new psycho-thriller mother!; George Clooney directing lead Matt Damon in the period dark comedy-crime drama Suburbicon; Ruben Ostlund's Palme d'Or-winning art-world satire The Square; John Woo returning to the action genre in Manhunt; Lynne Ramsay's sex-trafficking thriller You Were Never Really Here; comic Louis C.K.'s latest directorial black-and-white shot I Love You, Daddy; a remake of the Steven McQueen/Dustin Hoffman prison classic, Papillion to the French wedding party comedy C'est la vie! that will close out TIFF's Gala series.

As stated earlier, women get a spotlight at TIFF in the filmmaking process behind as well as in front of the camera with Indian superstar actor/activist Priyanka Chopra hosting the annual fest fundraiser TIFF Soiree September 6 in support of their newly-formed Share Her Journey campaign for women auteurs; Telefilm Canada Talent to Watch series with a topical "In the Director's Chair: Lady Boss" on September 7; ex-Family Ties star Justine Bateman's directorial debut short, Five Minutes; Canada's Brie Larson doing double duty acting in the indie-com Unicorn Store with Samuel L. Jackson that also marks her directorial debut and Angelina Jolie delivers a triple threat directing the Cambodian Killing Fields biopic First They Killed My Father, executive producing the Canadian/Irish/Luxembourgian animated feature The Breadwinner and is part of the In Conversation…line-up along with Helen Mirren, Gael Garcia Bernal and Javier Bardem at CBC Broadcasting Centre (250 Front Street West).

From Indonesia comes Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, Mouly Surya's feminist revenge neo-Western for TIFF's 2017 Contemporary World Cinema programme

The Industry Conference series (September 8-13) will discuss matters in the business from dealing with filming in post-Truth America in regard to possible changes to NAFTA and obtaining work visas for actors; three intimate onstage Guardian TIFF Talks and Q&As will be hosted by Benjamin Lee and Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian: Luca Guadagnino, Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet discuss one of the year's most acclaimed films, Call Me by My Name; Working Title Films producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and the legendary Glenn Close; the Dialogue series welcoming the African-American Film Critics Association with the "At the Table" forum on screen diversification, "Building Canada's Indigenous Screen Office" to "2001: An Immersive Odyssey" on how science-fiction cinema will be adapting to the new immersive technologies on the horizon.

"The importance of compelling, original storytelling lies at the heart of our programming, and we are privileged to have some of the most renowned artists and practitioners in the business, onstage at the Conference," said TIFF Industry Director Kathleen Drumm. "Cinema is a powerful medium. Witnessing other realities opens borders and exposes truths, leading to transformative experiences for audiences. We also want to unpack a film's traverse from script to audience, wherein industry veterans candidly address inequality in decision-making and discuss solutions for change."

Making the cut in the Short Cuts programme of international titles are Niki Lindroth von Bahr's award-winning The Burden (Min borda); The Death, Dad & Son by Denis Walgenwitz; the animated Winshluss, Ifunanya Maduka's heartbreaking Waiting for Hassana, which shares a brave teenager's devastating account of the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping to Mahdi Fleifel's A Drowning Man, the dramatic story of a young immigrant trying to survive in a new and strange city; and Canadian offerings include Michelle Latimer's Nuuca; Sol Friedman's An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking, a hilarious black-and-white animation right out of a parallel universe; Caroline Monnet's Creatura Dada, which stars Alanis Obomsawin and is Monnet's first project since becoming the first Canadian filmmaker to be selected for the prestigious Cannes Cinefondation Residence program; and Naledi Jackson's The Drop In, at Toronto-set SF immigration thriller that takes place entirely in a hair salon; Molly Parker's Bird; TIFF Rising Star alumnus Connor Jessup's Lira's Forest; Matthew Rankin's Cannes selection The Tesla World Light (Tesla:Lumiere Mondiale), a luminescent black-and-white animation and live-action mix centred around the famous inventor; and Gabriel Savignac's Stay, I Don't Want to Be Alone (Reste, je ne veux pas etre toute seule), a touching, beautifully crafted portrait of a pastry factory worker with an intellectual disability at a difficult moment in her life.

TIFF Docs brings back newcomer and veteran documentarians onboard with Sophie Fiennes' Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami, a film that captures the iconic pop performer on and off stage; Morgan Spurlock reigniting his battle with the food industry again in the sequel Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!; Brett Morgen on famed primatologist Jane Goodall in Jane; Greg Barker brings unprecedented access into President Barack Obama's foreign policy team in The Final Year; Frederick Wiseman, who takes us behind the scenes of a New York institution in Ex Libris - The New York Public Library; Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who follows three Hasidic Jews who attempt to enter the secular world in One of Us and the Lady Gaga Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Moukarbel, that will also have a onstage performance from the pop starlet herself on its opening night.

TIFF scores a coup in snagging the world premiere of the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, where pop superstar Lady Gaga allows a unfiltered yearlong look at her life up close and a post-screening onstage performance on September 8

"Moukarbel's (cinema verite) documentary offers an unprecedented look at Lady Gaga in full creative mode: the ideas, the emotion, the sheer work it takes to do what she does," said Bailey in announcing this exclusive world premiere. "We're thrilled to be bringing this film to audiences in Toronto, and even more excited that Lady Gaga will follow the screening with a performance. This one is for all her fans, [the] Little Monsters, and movie lovers alike, who want to share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Other docs include the Drake-produced The Carter Effect on NBA superstar Vince Carter's time with the Toronto Raptors; Jed Rothstein's The China Hustle which confronts a new era of Wall Street fraud; Matt Tyrnauer's Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, which profiles the sexual taboo breaker Scotty Bowers; Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman's Silas, which portrays Liberian eco-activist Silas Siakor on saving his country's rainforest; Erika Cohn's The Judge, which follows the first female shari'a judge, Kholoud Al-Faqih, in the West Bank; Chris Smith's Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond - the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, which examines Jim Carrey's portrayal of the late funnyman in 1999's Man On the Moon; Lili Fini Zanuck's Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars; Jason Kohn's Love Means Zero, investigating the controversial tennis coach Nick Bollettieri's relationship with Andre Agassi and films looking into major African-American cultural figures including Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me; Kate Novack's The Gospel According to Andre on fashion writer Andre Leon Talley; Sara Driver's BOOM FOR REAL The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat on the formative years of the acclaimed graffiti artist and playwright Lorraine Hansberry featured in Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.

What would TIFF be without its Midnight Madness series of the weird and eclectic for all its glory with the Enimen-produced rap battle satire Bodied; The Disaster Artist directed by James Franco, based on the making of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 cult film The Room; Canadian musician Seth A. Smith of Dog Day's acclaimed short-film Great Choice which will precede the world premiere of Brian Taylor's horror-com Mom and Dad, starring Nicholas Cage and Selma Blair; and introducing two new feature filmmakers with Coralie Fargeat's Revenge and the section's Closing Night presentation of Soichi Umezawa's Vampire Clay.

Riding on the runaway successful streaming series The Handmaiden's Tale, the CBC/Netflix series Alias Grace finally brings Sarah Polley's long-gestating adaptation of the 1996 Margaret Atwood period novel into TIFF's Primetime programme of its first two episodes

Hoping to draw in the 'net streamers with the TV-based Primetime series that will bring several two-episodic packages each of The Deuce starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, a gritty new drama from David Simon and George Pelecanos, creators of The Wire and Treme; tracing the evolution of the 1970s porn industry in New York's Times Square; season two of The Girlfriend Experience, executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, a reimagining of his 2009 critically-acclaimed movie of the same name that explores the relationships between escorts and their elite clientele, for whom they provide far more than just sex; Dark is a supernatural family saga set in a present-day German town where the disappearance of a teenager exposes the double lives and long-hidden secrets of the local families and is also Netflix's first-ever German production; Brazilian medical procedural Under Pressure chronicles the daily routine of a medical team at a under-equipped and understaffed guerrilla hospital in a poverty-stricken Rio de Janeiro favela and two episodes of the new CBC/Netflix original production Alias Grace, based on the award-winning Margaret Atwood classic novel.

Plus, catch the free screenings of North of Superior, the 1971 IMAX film in the world's first permanent IMAX cinema at Ontario Place Cinesphere where it first premiered with free shuttle service from Lightbox to Ontario Place (955 Lakeshore Boulevard West) and the People's Choice Award Winner at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe Street) on September 17 and the freebie Festival Street (September 7-10) taking over King Street East between Peter Street and University Avenue again with food trucks, activities, concerts by Jillea, Kayla Diamond to Liam Russell, viewings of the VR collection, 2167, of works created by First Nations filmmakers that envision a futuristic Canada 150 years from now and Canada Can Act! shining a light on memorable performances that have become iconic moments for Canadian actors with nightly screenings which will feature Mean Girls, The Truman Show and Wayne's World.

***

Tickets go on sale September 4 at 10 a.m. (with TIFF Member pre-sale on September 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). For information call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net.

A real-life Million Dollar Baby (just don't call her one)

Canadian boxing pioneer Savoy Howe returns for another K.O. at the stage with the remount of her one-woman show, Newsgirl,in September

Theatre Preview

Anybody who says that the boxing ring is no place for a woman obviously never met Laila Ali, former professional boxer and daughter of the legendary Muhammad Ali, Indian Olympian boxer "Magnificent" Mary Kom or Toronto's very own Savoy "Kapow!" Howe, as her real-life story gets a ringside view for an encore presentation of Newsgirl, as created by Howe and SOULO Theatre Artistic Director Tracey Erin Smith for a four-night run next month (September 21-24) at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club (388 Carlaw Avenue, Suite 108), owned, operated and performed by Howe herself.

Howe, who's also a graduate of Calgary's famed One Yellow Rabbit Theatre company; tells her personal stories on the founding of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club she started in 1997 as the world's first boxing gym exclusively for women and the transgendered and her own five-year struggle in coping with violent past that also included the local underworld that taught her to fight back at the risk of her life, achievement empowerment and one broken nose to prove it.

Premiered last May at the SOULO Theatre Festival to a one-night, sold-out crowd in a actual boxing ring, the company provides a tragedy-to-triumphant story of a one-woman Rocky underdog going against the sports world's sexism and machismo that still hasn't fully embraced women's boxing, even with today's Olympics that has had in its roster since 2012. Portions of Newsgirl's ticket sales will go to sending boxing supplies to women who are now taking up boxing in Kolkata, India as a self-defence method.

***

Tickets now on sale ($20 advance/$25 at the door); for information, visit soulo.ca/newsgirl/.

EDITION #147 - WEEK OF AUGUST 21-27, 2017

Emboldening quest for gender equality

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

63 pp., Knopf Canada/Penguin Random House Canada

Hardcover, $18

Non-Fiction/Feminism and Social Sciences

Book Review

When her best friend gave birth to a daughter a couple of years back, noted author/activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by her on how, in a predominately patriarchal society, can she raise her to be a feminist and she responded with a letter after some thought.

Now herself a mother to a young daughter, Adichie had a serious rethink on that correspondence and what motherhood now means to her and has composed an extended version in book form in Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions that is insightful as it is powerful for mothers and for fathers as well.

Women have come a long way in the last half-century in the rise of the women's liberation movement that kind of petered out by the 1980s and gained an resurgence in these most recent and volatile of times, and this book couldn't have come at a more convenient moment when every progressive thing that had been hard-won for women nowadays is in danger of being rolled back.

Compact and simplified, Adichie focuses in reaffirming that one's gender should not be an excuse or reason to achieve whatever life goals a girl wants to attain and also to respect others regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, age, religious belief and of course, gender.

While at the same time, she also warns about the rise of gender-neutrality as something outdated and troubling in neutering a child's fullest potential in life from the colours of children's clothing to toys and also to what she calls "Feminism Lite" for being patronizing to women in order to achieve in areas that had been considered in the past male-dominated when history otherwise has proven wrong time and again, especially in the fields of science and politics.

Mostly,Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions encourages the mother-daughter relationship to be nurturing, loving, encouraging and empowering in order to survive and prosper in an oftentimes unfair life not just in her native Nigerian and adopted American homelands, but for the whole world in general.

Exhibit relies on sentimental re-Leaf

Maple Leaf Forever: Toronto's Take on a National Symbol

Venue: Market Gallery, St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East, 2nd Floor

Dates/Times: Through November 25; Tuesdays-Fridays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-392-7604 or visit toronto.ca/marketgallery

Gallery Review

The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear

The Maple Leaf forever

And proudly wave from sea to sea

The Maple Leaf forever!

- "The Maple Leaf Forever," 2003 version of the chorus

A symbol that is so commonplace in our everyday living that we oftentimes overlook it, the maple leaf is a cherished part of the Canadian experience and almost recognized the world over from our national flag to the ubiquitous natural liquid sweetener. As part of the city's Canada 150 and Ontario 150 celebrations, Maple Leaf Forever: Toronto's Take on a National Symbol at St Lawrence Market's Market Gallery takes a look at how the country's largest metropolis has embraced the maple leaf into its own local culture and contributed to the national conscience all from the city's historical collection.

Being in Eastern Canada, the tree is almost everywhere in this town which five different types of maple species exists, including the long-extinct Toronto Maple (Acer torontonensic) that was the ancestor to the common sugar maple dating back from 80,000-125,000 years ago, found in fossilized remains in the Don (Valley) Formation in the 1920s.

It's surprising to learn that before Confederation it was Quebec - home to most of the country's maple syrup industry - who first used the maple symbol in the 1830s and Torontonians wouldn't adopt it until about a decade later, as well seen in a reproduction of a linen badge and a print sketch commemorating the Prince of Wales' Toronto visit in 1860 where his one of his official duties in opening the Horticultural (now Allan) Gardens was planting, of course, a maple tree.

Left-right: A commerative brand on a wooden plank that was part of the now-fallen "Maple Leaf Forever" Tree and a lantern made from the actual tree are just a couple of examples of the 3,500 items made from the salvaged tree as part of the Maple Leaf Forever exhibit.

Dubbed as Canada's unofficial national anthem, Alexander Muir's "The Maple Leaf Forever" has its connections in Toronto where the legendary silver maple tree that inspired him to write the song-poem in 1867 has been immortalized with a photograph of said tree at 62 Laing Street, which fell during a wind storm on July 19, 2013 but had been salvaged and turned into 3,500 items including gavels for City Hall meetings and four community councils that are also on display, as well as a reproduction of the sheet music used in a Eaton's (remember them?) 1907-22 promotion.

Souvenirs are the mainstay of the exhibit with stuff collected over the last century from spoons to stickers promoting local tourism to patriotism during times of war and peace from the sweetheart pins of World War I from the 216th Battalion to the current "TO Canada With Love" campaign and, no surprise, our local sports franchises.

It also shows some pride that graphic designers from the local area have contributed on the maple identity from the city flag designed in 1974 by design student Renato De Santis with the leaf blazoned with the "T" formed from the City Hall towers and the designer of the Canada 150 logo by Ariana Cuvin, a third-year graphic design student that beat out thousands in a nationwide commission from the federal government.

Artists have a further play in Maple Leaf Forever from Charles Pachter's famous 1981 Pop-Art "The Painted Flag" and his most recent piece, a 2013 pun-tastic graphic of leaf emblems shaped into a car tire and entitled "Canadian Tire." The only offsetting item here is a digital repro of A.Y. Jackson's classic oil painting "The Red Maple" is plastic-looking, but at least it slightly retains the natural beauty of red leaves against a brook's background the Group of Seven painter was trying to capture, if only.

It wouldn't be a complete exhibit without mentioning the Toronto Maple Leafs where a sketchy archival video loop of a CBC broadcast of the last Maple Leaf game played at Maple Leaf Gardens on February 13, 1999 when former Leafs reunited on the ice while Anne Murray, wearing a Maple Leaf hockey jersey, sings "The Maple Leaf Forever" and some audience getting all misty-eyed does tend to lean toward unabashed sentimentality (and for once, if only for a fleeting moment, our hockey team doesn't suck). Yet, for what Canadiana is for what it is, Maple Leaf Forever is a relatively nice slice of it, provided one can see the lighter side of things being the quiet patriots we Canadians truly are.

EDITION #146 - WEEK OF AUGUST 14-20, 2017

Sturdy Horses and an ungainly Gaines

SummerWorks Festival 2017

Theatre Reviews

Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua (SummerWorks)

Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman School of Ballet and Creative Movement, 6 Noble Street

Saturday, August 5; 8 p.m.

Rumbling under a white tent in the great indoors of the Pia Bouman School of Ballet and Creative Movement's Studio Theatre came drag performer Justin Miller a.k.a. Pearle Harbour out to counter the current climate of the world with Chautauqua, working her sauciness through humour and her brand of Ol' Time Revival while trying to reach out to find whatever goodness one can find it.

Greeting like a good hostess would accompanied by her guitarist Brother Gantry (Steven Conway), the 75-minute show preached on having unity during troubled times with a little bit of social commentary, folksy hymnals by Tom Waits and The Original Caste to personal stories in a seriocomic manner, whilst lamenting the lack of human interaction and dreaming of bygone days involving childhood memories, one problematic tent light bulb, a campy melodrama involving hand puppets, yoga breathing and Creamsicles.

Revamping the adult edutainment movement of the late-19th to early 20th-centuries derived from the Iroqois word meaning "where the fish was taken out/the place where one is lost," Harbour's Chautauqua tickles that funny bone and renews the spirit under Bryon Laviolette's direction that allows Harbour to be Harbour who knows how to work her audience and stuff in getting that life balance back, you betcha.

The Principle of Pleasure (SummerWorks)

Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 5; 10 p.m.

A cocktail of voyeurism, sensuality and homoeroticism, dancer/choreographer Gerard Geyes dives The Principle of Pleasure into the nadir of butch discotheques, Euro fetish parties and other sensually dark corners of love, lust, bondage, promise and despair in this highly-charged solo dance production.

Writhing to the classic remixed songs from the Janet Jackson catalogue mainly in a mesh catsuit and spiky high-heeled boots (how does he do that??), he manages to maintain the momentum through in the hour-long show and breaks quite a few conventions of audience participation that I've ever seen adds to the atmosphere's mystique and sexual posturing whether it's bravado or masking sovme real feelings under the surface.

Thumping and throbbing into the night, Geyes amazingly beckons those who dare to come along for The Principle of Pleasure's semi-erotic moves when it makes it all though through the peaks and valleys of relationships of whatever stripe suits you. Ms. Jackson would be most pleased.

Rootless (Red Orange Projects/SummerWorks)

Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

Monday, August 7; 3 p.m.

For the interdisciplinary production Rootless from Red Orange Projects about the flipside of societal multiculturalism and assimilation, it seems to bob in and out of a unpolished storyline in the 60-minute run that needed more work that what could have been a promising theatre piece.

A young woman from the Polynesian Mafui'e community, Royu (Saba Akhtar), lives in an nameless country of a society hostile to her peoples and yearns for life experience away from them decides to return to her ancestral homeland, only to find more disillusionment when the memories of her guardian aunt don't exactly match to what she'd been told to, other than the fantastical creatures that help her along the way to understanding her heritage.

The same could be said in Ximena Huizi's directing of the play of a sluggish, sophomoric script from Tijiki Morris that does touch base on the issues of cultural appropriation, isolation and racism when it does, but it fails to gel under the vein of magical-realism and the elementary school-like set by Christine Urquhart trying to evoke a innocence-lost world isn't too convincing.

In all fairness, Michelle Bensimmon's score is pleasing to the ear and some of the shadow puppet designs are okay, especially with the scene involving a customs agency run by overzealous murder of crows is an amusing ribbing on government bureaucracy and security measure overkill. Otherwise, Rootless is lackadaisical in presentation and performance that seemingly had a good concept at hand that didn't germinate beyond its incubation period.

Mother Sea/Manman le Mer and what do you see? (Crick Crack Collective/Jasmyn Fyffe Dance/SummerWorks)

Theatre Centre Incubator, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

Monday, August 7; 5:15 p.m. (Mother Sea/Manman le Mer) and 6 p.m. (what do you see?)

Leaning on the immigrant/returnee experience is the focal point behind the trilingual Mother Sea/Manman le Mer as performed by Djennie Laguerre in a lively and animated fashion she brings to it less than thirty minutes on how the tides of nature are so connected to us and how to re-embrace them to find wholeness.

Spending her formative years in her adopted home of Montreal, Laguerre describes her upbringing after her family relocated from their native Haiti and having to repress her visionary childhood drawings that slightly disturb her mother and their semi-unhappy home life becomes a burden. A return visit to Haiti after a nervous breakdown in adulthood to see her sweet and caring grandmother, an emotional awakening occurs and a cleansing spiritual rebirth of her storytelling talents commits itself.

Laguerre paces herself, along with accompanying percussionist Loucas Cafe; in an easygoing manner about her healing process that director Rhoma Spencer allows to flow from her in English, French and Haitian patois that makes this performance all the more enjoyable and consistent on how one cannot escape from their roots. But if you let the right ones in, they can be as rewarding as this short play is.

For the theatrical dance double-bill follow up what do you see?, dancer Jasmyn Fyffe puts questions in her solo dance work on the nude body and the politics involved in concerning the African experience in the Americas in a sequence of interpretative dances that are stark and directive.

This is more evident in the game show parody segment where audience members are invited to stuff Fyffe's buttocks with padding as a way of revealing ugly stereotypes and objectification of the ideal female image that should make one uncomfortable, and it does rightly so; towards her own self-dignity and personal emancipation.

Amplified by the lighting/video designs of Trevor Schwellnus, John McLean's avant-garde industrial score and Jessica Bernard's visual art/props, what do you see? makes the watcher question in how one see nudity in other people before we see it in ourselves and how to liberate our own thinking on these issues.

Reality Theatre (Question Mark-Exclamation Theatre/SummerWorks)

Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

Monday, August 7; 7 p.m.

Slapping around pop culture, disconnected human interaction and our technological interdependences, Reality Theatre is a thought-out funny anthology of three stories borne out of a staring contest between two people (Akosua Amo-Adem, Andy Trithardt) on how truly (and quickly) disconnected we've become as a society within a generation span that comes to us as a cautionary tale even the ancient Greeks would have agreed on.

The first story takes in regard to an ageless man (Krista Morin) who no longer wants the gift of immortality and goes on a journey with his slightly naive best bud, Bud (also Trithardt) to the international headquarters of Starbucks in Seattle to undo the "contract" she made with the Devil's dealer/receptionist (also Amo-Adem) centuries ago.

Second story is a Beauty and The Beast actress (also Morin) who gets hopelessly typecast in constantly playing part of The Spoon and getting into character so much to a point that reality and fantasy no longer separates herself; and the third story has three people (also Amo-Adem, Trithardt and Morin) getting their humanity completely drained as they're sucked into cyberspace with each passing advancement via social media habits and virtual reality.

First-time theatrical director Rebecca Applebaum truly handles playwright Julia Lederer's brilliant social satire on relationships and the grip technology has on us that she instils on the trio of actors pulling off this comedy of human errors rightly. Amo-Adem, Trithardt and Morin competently take their multiple roles into their own respects, but they work even better in the third story like a Greek chorus echoing the pitfalls and practicality of the internet yet are unable to break themselves free from said technology they and ourselves ironically grumble about.

Set designer Christine Urquhart does much better here than she did in the other SummerWorks offering Rootless with her style fitting into the play's dynamics and Brandon Kleiman's costuming are whimsical in nature, as Reality Theatre's message tries to reach out to us not to lose our sense of communication with each other as Amo-Adem's staring character rings out true in its opening scene: "You should try it - it's better than TV. It's pure!"

Nashville Stories (SummerWorks)

Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

Friday, August 11; 4 p.m.

Comically reimagining of country legend Garth Brooks' infamous reinvention of himself with Garth Brooks in...The Life of Chris Gaines, that 1999 ignoble rock experiment; seemingly repeats itself ironically in Nashville Stories as co-conceived, directed and starring David Bernstein doesn't do quite the justice as it would like to.

After six years of rocketing into superstardom on the so-called "new country" genre back in the '90s, Brooks (Bernstein) hits a new high in lows when his marriage falls apart, affecting plans for his next album and falls deeper into a mid-career meltdown and identity crisis.

Supported by colleagues Shania Twain, Dolly Parton and her rising protege (and his future second wife) Trisha Yearwood in trying to keep him on the level, Brooks runs into Ryan Seacrest who invites him to his recording studio and there he takes the David Bowie route in coming up with this Australian rock alter-ego one-shot wonder that befuddles his fans and friends further, let alone himself.

While the cast puts a lot of effort into this production from their roles to good vocal ranges, Nashville Stories ' incoherence throws it off completely in trying to throw a hodgepodge of ideas around and not sticking to anything in its loose direction and sometimes hard-to-follow dialogue going at a madcap pace.

The only things going for it are the cabaret-like setting it delves into and the live bluegrass band that oddly plays a lot of pop chestnuts and fewer country tunes (since when were Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Taylor Dayne's "Tell It to My Heart" country songs?) in this manic showbiz and celebrity culture satire, despite everything going for it in a semi-surrealistic manner that could have been an amusing gem in its own right.

Are We Not Horses - The Sci-Fi Summer Musical (Small Wooden Shoe/Nakai Theatre/SummerWorks)

Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street

Friday, August 11; 10 p.m.

Marking the tenth anniversary release of the cult concept album Are We Not Horses (Yep Rock/Outside Music) by local indie folk-rock group Rock Plaza Central, it gets a fantastical remake as a two-hour stage show musical of sorts by the band as part of its backup to a trio of performers and live screen puppet projections on its sly and biting commentary on capitalism and socioeconomics.

Set in a dystopian Canada one thousand years from now, sentient robot animals dream of a better life and freedom as they work for a corporation simply called The Company run by its owner Proffy and his board executive Tears. Looking to raise its profits and undercut their labour force from unionization, they lure robot worker horse Eli and his goat robot spy friend Cheese with false promises and plot their downfall in an upcoming merger that can only be thwarted by older and wiser supply worker horse Courage and Cat the aloof feline.

Elley Ray Hennessy, Nicole Stamp and Liz Peterson do great in voicing the characters and singing along to the album's solid show tunes from its opener "I Am a Excellent Steel Horse," "How Shall I to Heaven Aspire?," "My Children, Be Joyful," "Anthem for the Already Defeated" to the rousing anthem of "Our Hearts Will Not Rust," among others.

The illustrative video puppetry of Lorena Torres Loaiza and Trevor Schwellnus with Rock Plaza Central's energetic and kinetic performances under the gallant direction of Jacob Zimmer and Vicki Stroich's fully well-translated dramaturgy to the theatrical stage has a whole lot of zest to go around.

And while sometimes the sound level did drown out the vocalists and how some things never change for our heroes, the album and the musical's message is very clear on how important is it to fight for democracy and workers' rights, as complacency and apathy are worse inactions that are needed more than ever in today's world.

White Man's Indian (WMI Collective/SummerWorks)

Theatre Centre Incubator, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 12; 7 p.m.

Adolescence is never an easy phase to go through when trying to find your own identity in that period. When it comes to being a First Nations person stuck in a white-dominated world, the task is even more difficult as demonstrated in Darla Contois' one-woman show White Man's Indian in her thoughtful and provocative story of personal survival in trying to fit in and facing the inner demons.

Working out on a semi-autobiographical narrative, Cree teen Eva (Contois) endures the ups and downs residing in a Winnipeg high school from her fair-weather best friend Nicole who's on the hideous side of snotty, patronizing school teachers, boys, dealing with an alcoholic father still on the reserve and missing her late mother and absentee brother. Also born with a spiritual sense, Eva confronts some highly unpleasant memories and looks to break free from assimilating herself for acceptance from her peers and being true to oneself.

As bittersweet White Man's Indian is (and even a bit disturbing) as a stage memoir, there is some sentimental going for it as Contois revs up the emotional levels director and dramaturg Ed Roy leaves to settle with in the performances and the roles she carries away with and are very much engaged into (her portrayals of Nicole and Mother are highlights) all compacted in its hour-long show.

***

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

It's been a pretty good edition with the organizers introducing the Pay What You Decide system in settling theatregoers' budgets whatever their sizes are and the creators still netting a fair percentage at the box office from ticket sales and making venues more physically accessible, plus most of the fest's line-up did offer some good productions.

My personal favourites were (in no particular order): Are We Not Horses - The Sci-Fi Summer Musical ; Reality Theatre ; Mother Sea/Manman le Mer ; The Principle of Pleasure and disappointments go to: Rootless ; Nashville Stories ; the pre-cancelled performances of Bodies of Water due to technical difficulties (plans to be rescheduled at a future date) and the lack of a visual arts program this year.

As previosly stated, it has been a better year than most in showing that independent theatre is as vital as ever to the local scene that can be equally rewarding as larger-scaled productions worth seeing and investing in.

EDITION #145 - WEEK OF JULY 31-AUGUST 6, 2017

One Atomic Blonde bombshell

Atomic Blonde (Focus Features/Universal)

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman

Director: David Leitch

Producers: A.J. Dix, Eric Gitter, Beth Kono, Kelly McCormick, Peter Schwerin and Charlize Theron

Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad; based on the Oni Press graphic novel series The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart

Film Review

Look out, action heroes and heroines of late � there�s a new badass onscreen and she comes out fighting good and rocking hard in the neo-noir Atomic Blonde, which honours the old school while breaking in some new rules (and few bones) along the way as a serious contender in content and concept of the traditional action-spy thriller genre.

In the closing days of the Cold War, an East German Statsi officer codenamed Spyglass (Marsan) sees the end coming for his regime before the Berlin Wall literally comes crashing down, and he�s got a microfilm of every undercover agent in the Soviet Union to secure his defection to the West with everyone wanting it from the CIA to his former KGB allies that involves one brutish agent Yuri Bakhtin (J�hannes Haukur J�hannesson) and an equally ruthless billionaire arms dealer (Roland M�ller).

Britian�s MI6 sends in one of their top operatives, the gorgeous but steely Lorraine Broughton (Theron), into the divided Berlins after one of their agents (Sam Hargrave) gets murdered before completing said mission. Reluctantly teaming up with fellow colleague David Percival (McAvoy) and running into a novice French agent (Sofia Boutella), it becomes an anxious game under a shortening timeframe in getting Spyglass and the goods out while being hampered by a mystery double agent only known as Satchel.

Director David Leitch (John Wick) gives a highly polished direction by keeping Atomic Blonde all gritty and monochromatic in tone, which is also solidified by its efficient and fitting 1980s-peppered soundtrack (trust me, you�ll never listen to George Michael�s �Father Figure� the same way again in one particular scene alone).

Learning her lessons in her first attempt at being an action star with that flop Aeon Flux and the triumphantly-acclaimed role in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron was born to play the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, salty-tongued superspy Broughton who can hold her own in a fisticuffs-and-gunfight with brains as well as brawn, as seen in a climatic apartment staircase escape echoing Bond and Bourne can attest.

McAvoy is great being the semi-questionable Percival as an agent and his backstreet black marketer cover that also plays as the film�s comic relief to Theron�s icy exterior, as Boutella earns some points as the ing�nue caught up in the moments with a sense of innocence and worldly knowledge. J�hannesson is a nastily good antagonist here and while Toby Jones as Broughton�s boss and John Goodman�s CIA observer are somewhat very limiting roles for them, yet they serve the film�s purpose in any case.

Thanks in part to Jonathan Sela�s cinematography of a semi-colourless Berlin and its tightly kinetic action sequences with layered plot twists from Kurt Johnstad�s fine adaptation of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City it�s based upon stays true to the period and feeling, Atomic Blonde explodes in a way that The Bourne Identity redefined cinematic espionage thrillers way back and if they play this right, this too could be a worthy franchise for Theron in the making.

Dignity among the downtrodden

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

by Arundhati Roy

449 pp., Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Random House Canada

Hardcover, $35

Fiction

Book Review

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy�s first fictional work in over twenty years after mostly dedicating her time and writings to environmental and human rights causes; is a far cry from her debut The God of Small Things which made her name in global literature weaves a complex if compelling tale of relationships, class divisions and geopolitics.

Five characters anchor the story of a past and present India: an aging Muslim hijra (transgender) named Anjum who spends her days residing in a New Delhi graveyard after the fall of her hijra residency and hanging out with a not-so centered jack-of-tradesman calling himself Saddam Hussein, yet manages to build a life and gathering place for the city�s disadvantaged and social castaways.

Then there�s Tilo, a graphic artist trying to search for some sense of stability with her own life as she deals with two former college beaus � one being an intelligence officer known as The Landlord (who actually is her landlord) nervously taking on a government posting in Afghanistan and Musa, a family man turned militant in the disputed region of Kashmir; for which she accidentally gets caught up in its bloodied tug-of-war between India and Pakistan raging for decades since Partition.

And also involved, as innocent victims of circumstance, are two young girls both named Miss Jebeen, one an unexpected martyr in the Kashmiri conflict and the other an abandoned orphan who will unknowingly unify these parties together in love and hope for a better tomorrow.

Roy shows she hasn�t lost her touch in all that time, even if Ministry tends to get weighty under its own story at times involving her activist politics almost reminiscent of Tasalima Nasrin�s Shame, which gets almost hard to digest in one reading. However, her artistic approach involving human relationships as seen through the bellicose contemporary politics of India and its society, as well of the heart overcomes the book�s stumbling block, as interesting a read it is.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness isn�t light reading as such, but it least it�s engaging enough for readers to care about the characters, storyline and themes the author maintains throughout the book and gives considerable pause of what personal happiness is and how to obtain one�s sense of dignity against the overwhelming everyday odds of life.

Madness on the Mediterranean

Othello (Driftwood Theatre)

Amos Waites Park, 2441 Lakeshore Boulevard West

Thursday, July 27; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

Driftwood Theatre�s seasonal Bard�s Bus Tour goes the rounds with Shakespeare�s Othello reset into more contemporary modes in a revisionist backdrop against the Cyprus crisis of the 1970s while putting a focus on divisionism and racism that is more than a fitting topic to discuss in these polarizing times, while realizing that things haven�t really changed all that much.

Late July 1974 sees the Canadian contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Force on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in the midst of unrest between its Greek and Turkish populace, as Turkish forces invade the northern part thus creating a flood of Greek refugees. The Canadian Armed Forces send in one of their best battalion commanders, General Othello (Jordan Hall), to handle the situation where he executes his duties diligently.

This doesn�t sit very well with aide-de-camp Iago (Christopher Darroch), consumed by jealousy and bigotry after being passed over for the position as second-in-command to Othello�s friend Cassio (Shelly Antony). Plotting both their downfalls, he finds it by getting to his general�s weak spot: the lovely Greek Cypriot photojournalist Desdemona (Fiona Sauder) whom he secretly wedded prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

Iago�s web of deceit is spun by getting Cassio into a drunken brawl that leads to a demotion from the general, then instigates rumours of Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair which drives Othello into inconsolable despair and madness with rash decisions being made that brings everything spiralling toward a series of tragic outcomes.

Director D. Jeremy Smith makes an interesting adaptation set within a long-forgotten conflict few Canadians recall, which is supplemented by the nearby multimedia installation The Cyprus Project (more on that later) to educate the unfamiliar; accompanied by the pretty imaginative set designs of Nancy Anne Perrin�s usage of sandbags to denote a stage presence and prefab barracks, the lighting by Michael Brunet to give firefights aglow and Tim Lindsey�s most effective use of archival audio bytes of the conflict interplayed within the 90-minute running time.

Hall plays with graceful gravity and na�vet� all at once of the tragic war hero caught between duty, honour, pressure and insecurity of the times he�s placed under trying circumstances and Darroch�s Iago is done with seething blind ambition in character and feeling as well as in the offside narration throughout. Sauder and Antony are okay in their respective roles but sufficient enough to be convincing, including Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves as Iago�s wife and Desdemona�s confidant Emilia, yet it is Helen King who nails her minor roles as Greek Cypriot civilian Defence Council member Brabantio and the resident prositute Bianca with a highly effective accent to match them both.

Helping audience members to understand the Cyprus conflict is local-based multimedia company FIXT POINT Arts and Media with The Cyprus Project, a mobile four-part interactive video documentary on the roots of the conflict is informative, but it seemed to focus-heavy more on the Greek side of the story than the Turkish viewpoint and could have been more properly balanced, even if in recent years the possibility of reunification of the island, as of this writing; had become more optimistic in spite of current events regarding post-coup attempt Turkey may state otherwise. Driftwood again puts on with blaring if steady clarity in observing how jealousy, prejudice and selfishness can tear people and societies apart as wars often do in proving how Othello �s message still rings true throughout the ages.

***

Othello continues through August 13 in various communities throughout Southern Ontario; some performances are PWYC (suggested $20) or FREE. For information, call 416-501-6532 or visit driftwoodtheatre.com

EDITION #144 - WEEK OF JULY 24-30, 2017

Naughtily sorority comedy unbridled

Girls Trip (Universal)

Cast: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Producer: William Packer

Screenplay: Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver; story by Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinoja

Film Review

Get ready for the raunchiness of Girls Trip in going full throttle as the most unconventional chick flick one ever filmed in recent memory for this ensemble project under the direction of Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man series and Barbershop: The Next Cut) in getting its laughs totally out loud and unbridled.

Four college friends maintain a tight sisterly bond through the thick and thin of each ones� lives in calling themselves the Flossy Posse are the bestselling motivational novelist and guru Ryan Pierce (Hall), journalist-turned-celebrity gossip blogger Sasha Franklin (Latifah), straight-laced nurse and divorc�e mother Lisa Cooper (Pinkett Smith) and shamelessly irresponsible Dina (Haddish).

When Ryan gets a invite to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Music Festival weekend down in New Orleans � for uninitiated, Essence is a lifestyle/fashion monthly magazine geared towards African-American women since 1970 � to hopefully cut a lucrative multimedia deal arranged by her agent (Kate Walsh), she also invites the Flossy Posse down for some fun and old times in the Big Easy for the first time in five years due to their busy lives.

Despite their camaraderie, there�s a awful lot of tension going on with each other, what with Dina�s crazy party-girl antics in getting smashed, high and/or lucky with almost every male that crosses her wake; Lisa being too rigid to enjoy life and love again; Sasha under serious pressure and temptation to get a major scoop for her blog and topping above all things, Ryan�s perfect marriage to her college sweetheart and dashing retiring quarterback star Stewart (Mike Colter) is about to get a very rude awakening.

There�s enough slapstick and innuendo going all around Girls Trip, not to mention celebrity cameos by the dozen from Terry McMillan to New Edition (sans Bobby Brown); to make comedy mayhem as these ladies do while giving a sense of empowerment for women of all walks of life as scripted by Kenya Barris, Karen McCullah, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinoja with razor-sharpness and delightful sass.

Hall and Latifah are the nuclei of the cast with their issues on clashing morals while coping with their own personal crises; Pinkett Smith gets to play the straight-woman of the group learning to get her groove back that�s a treat, yet Haddish chews up every scene that she�s in providing the film�s biggest laughs with such profane (and man, do I mean profane) proficiency.

Girls Trip is the summer�s sorority road trip of road trips on friendships, career and having each others� backs with an adult theme under a conventional pace delivered from director Lee with a talented and fun cast, especially one hilarious scene involving an encounter with a desperate hobo looking for cheap thrills at a fleabag motel.

The Time Lady for our times

Jodie Whittaker breaks convention in becoming the first female lead as the titular character of the long-running BBC-TV science-fiction series Doctor Who this Christmas

Arts Commentary

BBC Television�s best known export, Doctor Who, has taken audiences and fans in its native England and worldwide for over 54 years through galaxies, planets and aliens of the unexpected and unknown in the twelve actors who have played the time-travelling Gallifreyan Time Lord generally known as The Doctor, with his sense of justice and setting the space-time continuum correctly (most of the time) in its proper place. Little did the fandom knew what the unexpected would bring in regards to who would be the next Doctor � and the aftermath that followed.

On July 16, Chris Chibnall, the show�s new head writer and executive producer; announced to the Whovian (Doctor Who fans) fandom who would replace current Doctor Peter Capaldi, who will be stepping down from the role at year�s end; to whom would play the thirteenth Doctor: �After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we�re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

�I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman and we�re thrilled to have secured our number one choice. Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.�

Whittaker said: �I�m beyond excited to begin this epic journey � with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet. It�s more than an honour to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can�t wait.�

The 35-year old actor may not be known to many outside of Britain, but her roles on British television range from her critically-acclaimed role of a mother grieving over the murdered young son in the 2013-17 ITV crime-drama series Broadchurch and cult SF series Black Mirror to film work starting with her screen debut in the 2006 Peter O�Toole comedy-drama Venus and the 2011 SF cult hit Attack the Block (see that one if you can, it�s a real blast) with co-star Star Wars� John Boyega, who tweeted his approval: �So proud of Jodie Whittaker. She�s going to be awesome.�

While the consensus of Whittaker as the new owner of the TARDIS has been highly approved from its fandom from The X-Files� Gillian Anderson, renowned for her role as Agent Dana Scully; tweeting her joy at the news with: �Yes! #breakthemold #13thDoctor� to average fans like Simon Tucker stating: �It�s great mate. My nieces can grow up in a world with a good Wonder Woman, a female Jedi, female ghostbusters & a female Dr Who� and even former Who companions Billie Piper tweeted the word: �YES� with a red rose emoji and Freema Agyeman tweeted: �Change isn�t a dirty word!!!!�; all were not at all pleased with having the role which had been dominatingly male in its five-decade run.

Some went the sexist route with one Twitter commentator TechnicallyRon infamously stating: �Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras� and another Twitter user @LukeCSGO_ saying: �The doctor is a time LORD. Not a time LADY,� while others questioned the BBC�s motives behind the move ranging from Facebook writer Nicki Murphy: �I like Jodi, I think she is a terrific actor but I�m sorry, this is an exercise in pleasing the PC brigade. How about writing some new, quality roles for females... this is an attempt to meet some quota!!!� to one Londoner Paula Hollings saying in The Guardian Online : �It�s an absurd mistake arisen out of muddled thinking around gender equality, and I am a former radical feminist. It could have been fun to see a female Doctor written into the script as a totally separate character. There would have been plenty of space to show how you don�t need to be male to become a world saviour.

�In fact, the BBC has missed a great opportunity here to show gender differences in a real way. Equal gender opportunities do not mean a woman and a man have to become interchangeable in every single way. There are so many other ways to break the boundaries, why uproot the origins of one of the most iconic figures on TV? Did the BBC run out of imagination to create female characters who might rival the Doctor�s heroic nature?�

Anyone who has been a longtime Whovian � including yours truly � would and should very well know that Doctor Who and science-fiction has always been about change and a groundbreaking series, even in concept. The very first Who episode in 1963 with �An Unearthly Child� was directed by a (then-closeted) gay Muslim Indian-Briton named Waris Hussein who was born in Mumbai and the founding producer was a woman, Verity Lambert, which in both cases were considered highly unusual way back during the early days of television that was ordinarily dominated by white men.

Since the early 1980s, the idea of having a woman taking over the role has been floating around for many years ever since the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker had partly-quipped to a journalist on which actor would be taking over from him on the eve of his departure from the show: �Well, you�re making an assumption that it�s going to be a man.� Then-producer John Nathan-Turner encouraged the idea amongst the fans, but never brought it to fruition during his time on the show. Even the show has mentioned that Time Lords could change gender and even species in regeneration, most notably in the 2011 award-winning episode �The Doctor�s Wife� written by Neil Gaiman when the Doctor talked about an old friend named The Corsair who �didn�t feel like himself unless he had a tattoo, or herself a couple of times. Oooh, she was a bad girl.� (Note: Third Doctor Jon Pertwee also had a real-life tattoo as briefly seen in his debut episode �Spearhead from Space.�)

Beforehand there had been Time Ladies during the show�s 1963-1989 golden period with Romanadvoratrelundar or �Romana� played by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward respectively, only they were just companions to the Doctor than anything else. And then there was the first Time Lady villainess The Rani, played by Kate O�Mara to those that were on the Gallifreyan Time Council with Chancellors Thalia (Elspeth Gray) and Flavia (Dinah Sheridan) and the Inquisitor, who was played by Lynda Bellingham who kept the Doctor in check with his activities. Outside of the canon, the first �unofficial� female Doctor was played � for laughs and charity � in a telethon sketch for the 1999 Comic Relief TV special �The Curse of Fatal Death� by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley.

So why are some so sceptical of a woman now taking over one of the most coveted roles in British television and an admired character in modern British pop culture, even now in the twenty-first century? If the Doctor�s immortal nemesis The Master could be a woman as was briefly portrayed by Michelle Gomez as Missy � short for The Mistress � and dressed up like Mary Poppins� evil twin sister, why can�t Whittaker be the good Doctor?

Ahead of the backlash she would have to face from the haters and those unwilling to accept her in the role, Whittaker offered these words to heed on: �It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves and not be boxed in by what you�re told you can and can�t be.� And she told fans not to be �scared� by her gender because �this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that�s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.�

Science-fiction, as I�ve said, is about change and looking at the wider perspective of the universe in general and all of its endless possibilities out there. So a female Doctor should not be such a hindrance to the series or the genre but a contributing asset to its long, proud history of actors that have played the do-gooder time traveller scientist/hero(ine) and the ideas it represents, especially in emboldening role models for both sexes.

And do remember, the word �doctor� is gender-neutral.

Birth pains of a Nation

Confederation Part I: Confederation & Riel/Part II: Scandal & Rebellion (VideoCabaret/Soulpepper Theatre)

Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Thursday, July 20 (Part I) and Saturday, July 22 (Part II); 8 p.m.

Theatre Reviews

Nations are born and baptized by the blood of its patriots and Canada was and is no exception to this rule through the ballot box and with bullets. Michael Hollingsworth and his VideoCabaret ensemble�s ongoing The History of the Village of the Small Huts play cycle continues with its most ambitious season ever in our sesquicentennial year in presenting back-to-back plays on how we became a nation with the two-part Confederation courtesy of a Soulpepper Theatre residency that holds its own.

Part I: Confederation & Riel has John A. Macdonald (Richard Clarkin) scheming in 1861 to unite Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Qu�bec) Canada with the neighbouring Atlantic colonies into a nation in the hopes of staving off a possibly future American expansionism, now distracted and embroiled in its own Civil War.

Conspiring with corporate interests to build a railroad out west to connect another potential province in the waiting with British Columbia with cabinet minister/train tycoon Alexander Galt (Linda Prystawska) and with Lower Canada governor Georges Etiennes-Cartier (Greg Campbell), Macdonald�s secret plan to becoming the country�s first Prime Minister has begun.

Meanwhile in Montr�al, law student and future prime minister Wilfred Laurier (Jamie Cavanagh) is caught up in the endless debates of whether the French should join as a English protectorate, as they listen to anti-confederates like �ric Dorion (also Clarkin) and a M�tis seminary dropout named Louis Riel (Michaela Washburn) leaves the Catholic Church to take on a higher calling in leading one�s people into rebellion in Manitoba over basic rights to become part of this new country called the Dominion of Canada.

Continuing onwards with Part II: Scandal & Rebellion, it takes on a more personal touch with Laurier getting into an affair with his law partner�s fianc� (also Prystawska) due to boredom with his wife Zoe (also Letwin) and being stuck as MP of a rural Qu�bec backwater; Riel reveals divine intervention to lead a second rebellion in Saskatchewan with Cree leader Big Bear (also Letwin) and fellow M�tis Gabriel Dumont (also Cavanagh) after his attempt to take his properly elected seat in Parliament is blocked by a boozy Macdonald knee-deep in a kickback scandals and determined to make a comeback.

Hollingsworth and co-director Deanne Taylor again brings the chockfull of little-known and near-forgotten nuggets of our history alive in what was really behind in getting the British North America Act and the National Dream together through backroom deals and double-crosses; temptations of the political, personal, financial, racial and religious boil over ranging from broken friendships to assassination and insurrection with humour, drama and some modern pop culture snippets.

Part I lays down the layers quite evenly throughout, yet Part II does get a little sluggish during the first-half �Scandal,� however it all rebounds quickly in second-half �Rebellion� to bring Confederation to a satisfying finish as well performed by the cast in multiple roles of the major historical figures. But credit should go to the smaller players of history with Bundy doing a hilarious turn as a Qu�b�cois seminary bishop caught up in his own self-righteousness and Campbell�s pompous British general sent to quell the Second Riel Rebellion with relish.

All of this done under black-light conditions with Andrew Dollar�s lighting enhancing Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill�s day-glowish costuming in the two 120-minute productions that seem to go by all too soon and wanting more from these fractured history lessons that couldn�t all be taught in a high school class alone � and more interesting.

***

Confederation Parts I and II continues through August 19. For tickets and information, 416-866-8666 or visit soulpepper.ca.

Of identities and iPods

Left-right: Native eco-activism from The Chemical Valley Project; the mother-child issues of SPAWN to Nocturne�s awareness of exiction via podcast are part of the lineup of the indie theatre festival of Summerworks for 2017, starting next month.

Theatre Preview

In their twenty-seventh season, the independent theatre Summerworks festival running August 3 to 13 brings a couple of new things with the fifty-plus local, national and international projects that focus on the future with the First Nations communities in a few line-up offerings in regard to 150 years of Canadian nationhood as well as the future of theatre itself with three podcast productions involved; plus introducing a new sliding scale ticket payment system. Called �Pay What You Decide,� single tickets can be purchased for $15, $25 or $35 (all seating is general admission and there are no limits on any price level), and many events are either free or pay-what-you-can donation.

Starting with indigenous theatre projects, first up is The Chemical Valley Project (August 3-13) at Pia Bouman � Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble Street) where two Native sister activists from Aamjiwnaang fight against the Canadian petrochemical industry against eco-racism and protecting their community of 800 right to land and water, along with preceding magic show Perfection with illusionist-comedian Mark Correia; GHOST DAYS (August 13) has internationally-celebrated performance artist Terrance Houle working in residence at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) throughout the festival, culminating in a final performance that combines video, performance, photography and music to conjure spirits and ghosts as audience and collaborators in evoking our colonial and non-colonial histories that exist in the light of night as in the darkness of the day; playwright Cheyenne Scott offers her latest, SPAWN (August 3-13), where a young Coast Salish woman faces impending motherhood while coming to terms with the drowning death of her mother years ago and the Salmon Spirit in order to find reconnection to her dysfunctional family, culture, land and community for the sake of her unborn child at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) and White Man�s Indian (August 4-13) is the story of Eva, a Cree teenage girl facing the emotional journey of youthful angst and racism while attending a white-dominated high school from emerging First Nations artist Darla Contois at the Theatre Centre.

For the theatrical podcasts available through the festival app at certain venue beacons for the fest duration are the interactive text-based Going&Coming, the companion piece to 2014�s Audience Handbook of the pre- and post-show analyses of the role of theatre audiences at Factory Theatre; the threat of extinction in Nocturne at Pia Bouman where creator Jordan Tannahill asks one to listen to the first two hundred musical notes of Chopin�s Nocturne series in relation to the two hundred species of plant, animal and insect continuously disappearing every day on Earth and the last chance you�ll ever have, Contois� other online perspective on what it means to listen to the world around oneself at the Theatre Centre.

Other offerings in the fest come in the form of Reality Theatre (August 3-10), a fast moving collection of short, interwoven plays that explore our anxieties about change, the acceleration of technology, and maintaining human relationships in a world quickly becoming less human at Factory Theatre; dancer-choreographer Gerard Reyes forges intimate connections with the audience by breaking the rules and conventions of these spaces to the music of Janet Jackson in The Principle of Pleasure (August 4-12) at Theatre Centre; performance artist David Bernstein and writer-performer Jake Vanderham conjure up a surreal hoedown in Nashville Stories (August 5-12) at The Theatre Centre, loosely based on new country legend Garth Brook�s infamously-flopped �90s pop reinvention album The Life of Chris Gaines to playwright/performer Chantria Tram chronicles her struggle to balance the traditional values of her Khmer parents after surviving the killing fields of Cambodia in Someone Between (August 3-12) at Factory Theatre.

Red Orange Project uses a blend of physical theatre, shadow puppetry and projections for Rootless (August 3-13) at Factory Theatre, where it traces the path of a young woman cut off from the land she loves through worlds of dreams, fantastical creatures and all the way to the moon; Justin Miller returns with his drag alter-ego Pearle Harbour in the post-truth tragicomedy cabaret Chautauqua (August 4-13) at Pia Bouman - Scotiabank Studio Theatre and Mother Sea / Manman la Mer is a one-woman show by Djennie Laguerre and three generations of women trying to find redemption through love and magic with the dance double-bill what do you see? from dancer/choreographer Jasmyn Fyffe at Theatre Centre.

And dystopian science-fiction comes alive with the all-female production DIVINE (August 4-13) where the search for water in a near-futuristic drought-stricken Ontario becomes the ultimate fight for survival; the eight-episode project Crush on Humans (August 8-13) has a robotic boy with a human heart out to save humanity from the machines and Are We Not Horses � The Sci-Fi Summer Musical, where worker robots dream of a better tomorrow at Factory Theatre for a one-night only stand come August 11.

***

Tickets now on sale. For more information, visit summerworks.ca.

EDITION #143 - WEEK OF JULY 17-23, 2017

Queenly King Lear

King Lear (Canadian Stage)

High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West

Thursday, July 13; 8:15 p.m.

Theatre Review

Any of Shakespeare�s dramas are ripe examples for examining dysfunctional families and King Lear tops amongst them in Canadian Stage�s mounting for their two-billed seasonal Shakespeare in High Park season with such a flourish in flair and fashion, as done through a female perspective as being their one of their best in the last couple of years.

Aging Queen Lear (Diane D�Aquila) on her final days decides to divvy up the kingdom amongst her three daughters in order to maintain it under the pledge of loyalty to her. Elder daughters Goneril (Naomi Wright) and Regan (Hannah Wayne-Phillips) flowerily submit to their mother�s whims, but the youngest Cordelia (Amelia Sargisson) protests in having to make such a concession under such conditions with love and respect being enough as proof.

With their favoured sister punished by the queen into French exile for her perceived insolence, the duchess sisters� new inheritances corrupt them into plotting against their mother for more of the empire for themselves. With the help of their husbands the Duke of Albany (Richard Lee) and Cornwall (Kristiaan Hansen) along Goneril�s secret lover the Duke of Burgundy (Peter Fernandes) and Edmund (Brett Dahl), the illegitimate son to the Earl of Gloucester (Jason Cadieux) who himself is looking to usurp his father in framing elder half-brother Edgar (Michael Man) for treachery for the title, Lear finds herself bearing the dire consequences of her hasty actions that may or may not change the course of destiny when dealing with a court full of conspirators.

Director Alistair Newton handles this one with such deftness in the plot and double-crosses of the play placing it through an Elizabethan era-meets-The Handmaiden�s Tale setting as composed by Carolyn Smith�s costuming and the cold, greyish fibreglass �metallic� set design of Claire Hill to bring in the mood, as well as Lyon Smith�s compositions from its opening Beatlesque introductory tune toward the tonal closing outro.

Putting the best of Shakespearean companies to shame with the company newbies and seasoned players, veteran D�Aquila totally reigns supreme as the beleaguered and ailing monarch learning the bitter lesson of what loyalty truly is with emotion and gravitas. Newton � who directed CanStage�s first Shakespeare in High Park production thirty-five years ago � plays the riddling saucy, if darkly wise court jester in place of regular Robert Persichini as her only confidant with aplomb in their dialogues together; supporting members Dahl, Wright, Wayne-Phillips, Sargisson get into their roles and Jenni Burke as Cordelia�s ally Countess of Kent becomes the play�s (near-) comic relief in her performance and interactions that make this King Lear carry a certain regal weight around about power and ambition that totally amazes.

Twelfth Night Fever

Twelfth Night or What You Will (Canadian Stage)

High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West

Friday, July 14; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

It�s mirrorballs and mayhem as Canadian Stage goes totally retro with Twelfth Night in their Shakespeare in High Park under the direction of Tanja Jacobs� 1970s refit of the popular romantic-comedy of the Bard�s usual swipe at the universal social mores of society that entertains well enough to keep its audience sated.

A young noblewoman Viola (Amelia Sargisson) washes ashore on some Mediterranean shoreline after surviving a shipwreck along with its captain (Kristaan Hansen) near the swanky Hotel Illyria. Fearing that her twin brother Sebastian (Brett Dahl) had perished on the seas, she disguises herself as the humbled male bellhop Cesario and comes under the service of Duke Orsino (Richard Lee).

Lovelorn over the Lady Olivia (Naomi Wright) who is deeply aggrieved over the death of her own brother and vows eight years of chastity, Orsino sends Viola to relieve Olivia from her grief to only backfire on him when Olivia falls for �Cesario� instead and Viola finding herself attracted to her employer. To make matters even worse, Olivia�s drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (Jason Cadieux) and his polyester-suited comrade Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Peter Fernandes) engage in a series of trickeries involving Olivia�s personal entourage to setup her stiffly steward Malvolio (Tanja Jacobs) and the chaotic mess also unknowingly drags Sebastian into the m�l�e when he finally shows up in search of his sister.

Like its dramatis companion King Lear, the company�s adaptation of Twelfth Night puts on a fun play with all the periodic lingo, behaviour and dance moves of the �70s in a more tongue-in-cheeky styling and giving it to the establishment looming large with Jacobs doing double-duty as director and briefly substituting as understudy to Robert Persichini as straight-man Malvolio done up like The Incredibles� Edna Mole, especially in the timing played in her soliloquy.

Sargisson steps up as the heroine as a sense of innocence and intellect, but really stealing the show here are Cadieux, Fernandes, Diane D�Aquila as Olivia�s chain-smoking beautician and Jenni Burke as a hippie Fool providing the most laughs with their boundless antics at their targets� expense. Victoria Wallace�s costume work and Rebecca Picherack�s lighting make a dynamic duo in putting in plenty of atmosphere for the 90-minute run. The only downside is that sometimes the said era-tinged soundtrack tends to drown out the actors� dialogue at times, but it�s a minor inconvenience to an otherwise lively production worth seeing.

***

King Lear/Twelfth Night continues through September 3 on alternative dates (King Lear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; Twelfth Night on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, weather permitting). Attendance is PWYC ($20 suggested donation). For tickets and information, call 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com.

EDITION #142 - WEEK OF JULY 10-16, 2017

Despicably good 3-quel

Despicable Me 3 (Universal)

Voice Talents: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove

Directors: Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin

Producers: Christopher Meledandri and Janet Healy

Screenplay: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio

Film Review

For the fourth instalment in the Despicable Me series, including its 2015 prequel-spinoff Minions; Despicable Me 3 explores a deeper and funnier side of the series than its predecessors have done despite having a faster pace that�s almost hard to keep up with at times, but nonetheless hilarious at best.

Just as he had fully settled into his new life as an Anti-Villain League super-agent along with his partner/wife Lucy (Wiig), Gru (Carell) suddenly is raked over the coals when their new director of operations Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) after failing to once again capture former 1980s child TV superstar-turn-master thief Balthazar Bratt (Parker) in a recent operation and promptly gives both of them their walking papers.

Worried that they won�t be able to support their adopted daughters tween Margo (Cosgrove), tomboyish Edith (Dana Gaier) and sweetly-innocent Agnes (Nev Scharrel) and the majority of the Minions (Pierre Coffin) walking out on him for refusing to go back to their bad-guy status, he suddenly learns that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), whom both their parents secretly separated them from birth; and is living large on the cheese-loving Mediterranean island of Freedonia as a rich pig breeder.

With a sunnier disposition and more hair than him, Dru also reveals that they both come from a long line of criminal masterminds including their now-deceased father, and now wants to learn the ropes. The reformed supervillian is reluctant to teach him his former ways for the sake of his family at first, until Bratt steals the Dumont Diamond in a nefarious revenge scheme against Hollywood for ditching him when he hit puberty that now becomes a mission to redeem himself with his ex-employers, even at the risk of damaging his newfound relationship with his �ber-eager and -hapless sibling.

Along with subplots of Lucy uneasily getting the hang of the stepmom role, Agnes engaged in a obsessive hunt for a �unicorn� on the island and the Minions getting involved in a crazy series of misadventures as usual, Despicable Me 3 manages to bring out the main characters� vulnerabilities not seen in previous films, as it touches on their human sides of being a family unit more concerned with their wellbeing than their own devices and agendas is a sudden mature step to give them more fuller dimensions the screenwriters get more credit for with such a ingenious script.

Carell unexpectedly surprises with expanding the emotional traits in his dual role of two brothers finding themselves and each other as a personal best, including Wiig�s Lucy trying to grasp what her role of being a parent is truly about and Parker is the best supervillian rival in the series since Victor �Vector� Perkins from the first film as a moonwalking, bubblegum-popping spoiled brat with a robot sidekick (Andy Nyman) providing the majority of the laughs.

Despicable Me 3, so far, is the best animated comedy of the summer full of �80s-referenced nostalgia, showbiz satire and slapstick humour to keep adults and kids truly entertained and hopes that there�s a lot more for the franchise�s future in store.

Southern Gothic�s genteel gasp

The Beguiled (Focus Features/Universal)

Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell

Director: Sofia Coppola

Producers: Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola and Youree Henley

Screenplay: Sofia Coppola; based on the Thomas P. Cullinan novel and original screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp

Film Review

Earning the Best Director award at this year�s Cannes Festival,The Beguiled offers a quiet if unsettling resolution in writer/director Sofia Coppola�s remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood-Geraldine Page Southern Gothic drama classic, in enhancing a female empowerment theme throughout the period piece showing the true signage of a mature director at hand.

At the close of the American Civil War, a lone schoolgirl named Amy (Oona Laurence) goes mushroom-picking in the woods at a nearby battlefield in West Virginia when she comes across a wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Farrell) and decides to bring him to her all-girl boarding seminary school to recover, run by its prim-and-proper headmistress and proprietor Martha Farnsworth (Kidman).

McBurney�s presence has a profound effect on the school that has fallen on hard times since the war erupted with a only a scant amount of students left, including on her, her remaining teacher Edwina Dabney (Dunst) and bored teenaged student Alicia (Fanning). With the girls left with nowhere to go and the possibility of having him being discovered by passing Confederate units, Farnsworth is given more worries as what to do with the affable young combatant when his stay becomes longer than anticipated and is contributing to the raging hormones and jealousy belying the sexual tension running rampant on her premises that could compromise everything.

Coppola�s steady and tense direction and script and Philippe Le Sourd�s darkened and subdued cinematography and natural lighting adds greatly to the atmosphere, much as its soulful innocence amidst in a time of war as a neat attention detail and so well paced within her seasoned and young cast.

Kidman puts on a strong conviction as the schoolmarm that is way more believable and earthy than her last Civil War role with 2003�s Cold Mountain and Farrell performs brilliantly in his best performance in years by being seductive without trying to be wholly convincing on the surface. While the other younger actors do quite finely throughout, Laurence is a most exceptional case in her weighty role and is a future talent to watch out for.

Expect this film to be a real potential contender come awards season time, as the film makes for a compelling compositional study than in any of the director�s previous works since Lost in Translation made her a cinematic force to be reckoned with (and it still remains so). Coppola�s gives The Beguiled remake a full-bodied treatment in reflecting the last gasp of genteel American Southern hospitality and elegance countered up against the film�s ugly realities of war.