Culture Week in Toronto and Stratford

It was a very enjoyable week that included a terrific book talk with one of my favourite thriller writers and a 2-day escape to the Stratford Festival to see 3 plays. I had to squeeze in my TV and movie addictions in the remaining available time:

Live on Stage at the Stratford Festival

Rocky Horror Show This wonderful musical has never been presented with more life and spirit. Great performances abound from all the major characters. The dance sequences are spectacular and the stage settings are great fun as we experience a rainstorm, bumpy car rides, a Transylvanian castle, mad scientist’s lab, etc.
An Ideal Husband This Oscar Wilde play is a little more serious than many of his comedies as it deals with a politician’s ethics as he is being blackmailed for using insider information to enrich himself. Beautiful costumes and terrific sets and set changes that are so magically done that the audience applauds.
The Music Man This wonderful Meredith Wilson musical from 1957 is given new life by a black leading man who manages to bring real soul to the part. Incredible dance numbers accompany each big show stopping number. Virtually every song is melodic and memorable. A tremendous salute to a simpler time in a simpler place (small town Iowa at the turn of the century).
Here’s what the NYTimes had to say about both the musicals:

Big Screen

Ocean’s 8 (feature film, 1 hr 50 min); delightful caper flick starring Sandra Bulloch, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, etc. Richard Armitage (Berlin Station, Strike Back) is the villain. James Corden makes a very humorous appearance as an insurance investigator.
Missionary Impossible: Fallout (feature film, 2hrs 27min); non-stop action as Ethan Hunt fights to stop an anarchist from destroying the world with a nuke. Great music and effects. Tom Cruise looks awfully good for a 59-year-old. Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan, and Vanessa Kirby are the three femmes fatales. Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett are all involved. Henry Cavill is big and muscular as the CIA agent Ethan is forced to partner with.

Book Talk

Daniel Silva at the Beth Tzedec. This wonderful evening at one of Toronto’s biggest and most beautiful synagogues featured a terrific interview with Silva conducted by the Toronto Star’s books editor and attended by 1000 admiring fans. Silva has written 18 novels featuring art restorer/Mossad agent Gabriel Allon as the hero. The novels are fast paced but also great character studies. They deal with situations torn from the headlines of terrorism, Russian espionage, etc. As a bonus for attending the Silva session, we all received copies of The Other Woman, his latest novel.
The Other Woman novel by Dan Silva; we’re back in the world of intrigue with Gabriel Allon and the Mossad. I have dived into the latest novel and am devouring it as Gabriel fights to clear his name after being framed by the Russians for murdering a defector.

Audible.com

Kompromat by Stanley Johnson We couldn’t resist ordering this comic political espionage novel when we found out it had been written by Stanley Johnson, father of Boris. Johnson has published 25 various fiction and non-fiction works and was an EU diplomat for much of his career.  The novel is a hoot to listen to as the narrator, Richard Attlee, manages to do a myriad of accents representing all the countries in the European Union plus Russian, American, Australian, etc. The novel deals with Russian interference in both Brexit and the US election. It is extremely silly in its farcical elements. Who would believe a US presidential candidate cozying up to the Russian president and having a listening device implanted in his body as a result? A real roman a clef that has great fun with all the politicians involved. Johnson pokes fun at his own son Boris as he describes his extreme ambition to become Prime Minister. A rollicking satire of current events.

My usual addictions

The Affair HBO
Dietland AMC
Preacher AMC
Succession HBO
Pose FX
Younger Streaming
Animal Kingdom Streaming
Queen of the South Bravo
Colony Bravo
Outcast HBO
The 100 The CW
Nashville W
All of the above are available on demand for catching up with your viewing.

Streaming

I Feel Pretty (feature film, 1 hr 30 min) This very silly movie stars Amy Shumer as an overweight young woman who bonks her head and becomes delusional about how ravishingly attractive she is. Cringe inducing comedy ensues. Kind of an interesting companion piece to Dietland  which is a much darker comedic look at issues of body image and fat shaming.
Blockers (feature film, 1 hr 30 min)Extremely silly teen comedy with a great cast (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) that unfortunately is built around a painfully unfunny plot about parents trying to prevent their daughters from losing their virginity on prom night. Ouch! I’m still cringing with embarrassment for all the actors involved.
Junun (feature film, 54 min) This documentary from director Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread, Inherent Vice, The Master, There Will be Blood, etc.) is mesmerizing as it shows a collaboration between an Israeli composer, an Indian band and Radiohead musician Jonny Greenwood filmed in a historic fort in Jodhpur, Rajahstan, India.No narration, interview questions, or captions. Very little dialogue. The focus is on beautiful photography of the area and the power of the music.

Netflix

Binged on Seasons 1 & 2 of Bonus Family, a wonderful Swedish series about the joys and sorrows of blended families. Touching and funny.

Comic Relief

I am still glued to my political satirists including Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Jim Jeffries, Samantha Bee, Sacha Baron Cohen (Who is America), and returning from hiatus tonight on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Moment of Zen

I’ll be recording my Sunday morning ritual, CBS Sunday Morning, today as we are headed out to meet longtime friends for breakfast.  I find this show both soothing and inspiring with its gentle profiles and human interest stories. Be sure to stay tuned for its final moment of nature to get your week ahead off to a great start.  It will make you feel happy to be alive.

Closing Words

It should be a great week to stay up at our place in Thornbury for our usual golf, mahjong, etc.  A dear friend’s band is playing at one of the local concert halls and we will attend a dinner there as well.  Stay cool and hydrated wherever you are.  Warm hugs to our friends who are dealing with medical issues.  Enjoy the week ahead.

 

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Good weather for bingeing ahead…

Oops, I forgot my laptop…

Closing Words

It’s been another beautiful weekend in Thornbury where we saw good friends, entertained our younger son, and had some terrific meals.  The week ahead contains golf, mahjong, a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit with my fitness ladies and then a trip back north to Thornbury.  Shout out to my friends facing serious medical issues.  Enjoy another beautiful week, wherever you are.

Weekend in Toronto…

Although I love spending most summer weekends in Thornbury relaxing by the water, this has been a very special weekend in the city. We spent Friday evening in the home of a very generous patron of the arts. He hosted an evening in his home where we enjoyed the music of a string quartet that he sponsors along with some friends of ours. The music was divine and we were wined and dined in splendid style in his penthouse apartment with a rooftop terrace. We spent Saturday evening exploring our old haunts in the Bloor and Bathurst area, dining at the last remaining schnitzel house in the area, Country Style, and then seeing the documentary film Always at the Carlyle at the HotDocs theatre.

House Concert

The Eybler Quartet. What a treat to listen to a string quartet playing chamber music in a private home setting, which is the way chamber music was originally performed. Three of the quartet members perform with Tafelmusik and the fourth member performs in Boston. They performed pieces by Haydn, Beethoven and some of their lesser known contemporaries. The four virtuoso musicians performed with incredible energy and spirit. George and I subscribed to the Toronto Symphony for many years but never experienced musicianship at this level at such close range. A very special evening.

On the Big Screen

Always at the Carlyle (2018 documentary 1 hr 32 minutes). George and I have had an infatuation with the Carlyle Hotel in NYC since we spent a memorable evening there in the 1970’s listening to singer/pianist Bobby Short in the Cafe Carlyle. The documentary is very affectionate in its compilation of interviews with incredibly loyal staff and clientele. It depicts the grand hotel as a symbol of a level of service and elegance that hearkens back to a more genteel age. There are interviews with George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Elaine Stritch, Jeff Goldblum, Piers Morgan and numerous other famous and not so famous guests. There is touching archival footage of JFK and Jackie, Princess Diana and Will and Kate. It is a glimpse of a rarefied style of life that few ordinary people get to experience.
Here’s what the Globe and Mail had to say:

‘Always at the Carlyle’ Review: How This NYC Hotel Became a Timeless Hot Spot

Doc on famed, expensive Gotham-deco stop for one-percent recruits a who’s-who of celebrities to pay tribute to an institution

We know what you’re thinking: Why see a movie about a posh Manhattan hotel that most of us could never afford to stay in even for one night? It’s not just the fascination of watching how the one-percent lives; it’s because this storied 88-year-old hotel, filled with impossibly glamorous ghosts from the past, radiates an elegance that seems like an anomaly in this shallow age of Trump-style glitz. The POTUS has been spied on the premises, only to be overheard saying, “This place is a joke.” Unless style, sophistication and grace make you double over in laughter, that’s just more of his typical #FakeNews.

Always at the Carlyle, the dazzling, sometimes hilarious and surprisingly emotional documentary from writer-director Matthew Miele (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, Harry Benson: Shoot First!), is not some advertorial to persuade suckers to blow their stash on the chance to rub elbows with kings and rock stars. It’s a look at the hard work of maintaining refinement in a world that increasingly fails to see the point.

Miele takes us right through those revolving doors on Madison Avenue, letting a host of boldface names – George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Anthony Bourdain, Roger Federer, Lenny Kravitz – weighing in on why the hotel is the Gotham-deco lodging of choice. The former Han Solo is a particular hoot, claiming to be amazed at the luxury on view when he paid $1100 a night for a room with a peeling radiator. That’s a far cry from the opulent splendor afforded Prince William and Kate Middleton on their first visit trip to New York in 2014 when the Carlyle – a favorite of the Prince’s mother, Diana – became a must stop.

Still, it’s the institution’s staffers, many of whom have been serving their guests for decades, who provide the most delicious fun. Pay close attention to long-time concierge Dwight Owsley, bellhop Danny Harnett and Tommy Rowles, who’s been tending bar at Bemelmans for half a century. Named after Ludwig Bemelmans, the artist who drew the Madeline books for children, the hotel’s in-house drinking establishment has become a global attraction just to see the Bemelmans drawings on its walls. And the Café Carlyle, where singer-pianist Bobby Short entertained sophisticates from 1968 until his death in 2005, is still a haven for performers; Alan Cumming talks of breaking the rules by posing nude for an album cover outside the Cafe’s doors.

Wickedness, in fact, remains an integral part of the Carlyle mystique – famous for its discretion, the staff insists that nothing will be revealed. Still, the doc lets more than a few naughty details sneak through about such favorite guests as Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger and Naomi Campbell. And what of those alleged secret tunnels through which Marilyn Monroe was reportedly swept before arriving at JFK’s 34th floor suite after his 1961 inauguration? If only those walls could talk.

Happily,
in this movie they do, thanks to Miele’s personal touch that blends a scrappy, playful
style with unfakeable affection. And the gifted director of photography Justin Bare
lights each room and glittering interviewee with the burnished beauty befitting
an iconic subject. In the end, Always at the Carlyle not only captures the intangible essence of a
one-of-a-kind hotel but the soul of a
time and place, a piece of Manhattan that literally and figuratively reaches
for the stars. The Carlyle is more than a hotel made of brick and mortar – like
this indispensable movie, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

Thursday Night Movie Group
I started a movie group this past winter with my Florida neighbours and we watched Loving Vincent, The Florida Project and Isle of Dogs. So far in Thornbury with my local friends, we have watched The Band’s Visit, Queen of Versailles, The Big Sick and now Faces Places (Visages, Villages 2017 1 hr 34 minutes) . This documentary film is about a project led by renowned French film director Agnes Varda and her colleague, photographer/muralist J.P. As they travel through rural French villages turning photos of the villagers into large murals, the two unlikely partners form a real friendship. The movie is incredibly touching and positive as it shows the power of art to enrich lives.

Binge Watched

La Foret (Netflix 6 episodes) I can’t understand why people in crime thrillers insist on going into the woods where terrible things happen to them! Anyhow I did watch this miniseries about three teenagers who disappear in the woods and the unravelling of what happened to them. Many twists and turns in the script kept me watching. Incredible surprise ending!
Goliath (Amazon Prime Season 2, 8 episodes) Despite not being one of Billy Bob Thornton’s biggest fans, I got sucked into this one on a friend’s recommendation and managed to watch 6 episodes in one day. Insanely entertaining. Corruption in LA as lawyer Billy goes up against big business, a drug cartel and a ruthless politician.

New Programming Alert Tonight

Sharp Objects (HBO 8 episodes, debuts tonight) Adapted from a novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), and starring Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson, a reporter confronts violent incidents from her past when she returns to her hometown to cover a murder.
Here’s what the Globe and Mail had to say:

Sharp Objects is gripping, grim and unsettling

Amy Adams (center) and Patricia Clarkson (right) in Sharp Objects.

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

Anyone who watched and admired HBO’s Big Little Lies, and many did, noted the emphatic style that Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée brought to it.

The manner in which he contrasted the soaring vistas of Northern California with the tight spaces in which the characters mainly existed. The elliptical way they perceived reality, from the numerous scenes of characters watching through car windows and seeing others in mirrors. The technique and flair he brought to it was subtly key to the intensity.

Well, Vallée isn’t directing the second season of that show. Instead he’s done another miniseries mystery.

Read more: Jean-Marc Vallée dives deeper, and darker, into prestige TV with new HBO limited series Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects (starts Sunday, HBO, 9 p.m. ET), heavily promoted by HBO, is a murder mystery but not really about cops finding a killer. It’s mainly about a self-destructive, damaged female reporter doing the leg work. She’s played by Amy Adams and this strange, very slow-burning production belongs almost entirely to Adams and Jean-Marc Vallée.

Based on Gillian Flynn’s gothic murder-mystery novel (published years before her Gone Girl), Sharp Objectsis a summer indulgence of sorts, but far from light. In fact it’s a strain at times: opaque, disorienting, with a very dark erotic charge, and at times a descent into hell. It’s admirable in many ways but vexing as it pokes away at the layers of deep, perverse debasement of its central character.

That’s Camille Preaker (Adams), who is dishevelled from the get-go, barely hanging on to a job as a reporter at a city newspaper. Why she’s mostly drunk, chain-smoking and seems to live in the same clothes, day after day, goes unexplained for a long time. You just know there’s some fierce hurt there and it isn’t a failed romance.

Her editor (Miguel Sandoval) tells her to go to tiny Wind Gap, her hometown, because a young girl has gone missing. The previous summer there was another missing girl, found murdered. He tells Camille to visit, portray the town and dig around. Wind Gap, in Missouri and with a population of 2,000, is a dying town. Industries have failed but the town clings to hope (there are strategically placed political posters for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to give you an economic backstory) and it has its little local aristocracy, of which Camille’s mother Adora, (nicely played by Patricia Clarkson going into Tennessee Williams-gothic mode) is one.

Camille’s ragged path into the town’s heart and the mysterious murders of two young women goes through Adora and Camille’s half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), the latter reminding Camille of herself. Part of the slow-burning quality is the drop-by-drop revelation of the twisted mental state of a teenage girl trapped in a small town, her sexual presence an energy force that disorients her and disturbs many men.

Not that it is easy to get the picture. Vallée uses every possible film and editing technique to blend the past and the present. A character opens a door and enters a room, but is actually entering time past. Camille looks down a familiar back alley from her youth and the viewer isn’t sure if we’re seeing the present or the past. You need your wits about you watching this one.

The only thing that is crystal-clear is that Camille has major demons in the baggage she carries around. You may wonder at first why she wears the same jeans and sweatshirt all the time. And then you figure out there are scars, literal and figurative, that are being hidden. Long ago experiences, that might be a dream or distortion, seem to haunt her but, at the same time, arouse her. There is an awful lot of deep-layered female self-hate and doubt under the surface here. This is very much an intensely female-centric mystery. The showrunner is Marti Noxon, and there’s a team of mostly women writers, including Gillian Flynn, and the story is, eventually, firmly fixed on three generations of small-town women, as the male characters fade into the background.

Adams is excellent and there is already Emmy talk about this performance. But she is almost matched by Sophia Lillis as the young Camille, who enters the drama often, as sharp memories cause Camille to confront the young woman she was. There’s trauma there, in what happened to Camille as a teenager and what drove her to endless drinking as an adult. Vallée lets the trauma twist in the wind for ages, carefully unsettling the viewer with the confusion of past and present.

Sharp Objects is gripping enough but requires patience. It’s non-linear in structure, and be prepared, because while it’s a murder mystery on the surface, it’s about the exploitation and manipulation of women and the self-damage that results. Summer popcorn entertainment, it ain’t.

Still watching

CB Strike, The 100, Animal Kingdom, Preacher, Pose, Humans, Colony, Younger, Queen of the South, Nashville, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Affair, Succession, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Deep State, etc. It’s been an exhausting summer. The Sunday night offerings alone are almost impossible to keep up with.

Comic Relief

My favourites have been on vacation this past week, but I’m looking forward to the return of Samantha Bee, Jim Jeffries, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, and Bill Maher.

Inspirational Fare

As always, I look forward to my Sunday morning ritual of CBS Sunday Morning and its
fascinating segments on style, popular culture, current events, etc. Informative and inspiring.

Closing Words

Monday we are headed to an installation of graffiti art by the street artist Banksy (Subject of the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop). Wednesday we have a family birthday celebration for George at the brand spanking new Black Angus restaurant in our apartment complex. We will head back to Thornbury for mahjong, golf and relaxation for the remainder of the week. Warm hugs go out to all my friends who are dealing with medical issues. Enjoy the week wherever you are.

Heatwave for Canada Day!