Friday, September 23, 2011

Seven Quick Takes Friday


  1. It's been a tough week. I surrendered our dog, Wilson, to Toronto Animal Services yesterday after a biting incident earlier this summer. He's a terrier mix, with a lot of Jack Russell in him, and he charged and bit a letter carrier after he got off-leash. It was a horrible accident (although the bite was a minor injury), but I realized that his behaviour was too unpredictable for us to manage. Every visitor to our house was a stress. We have no yard at our current home, unlike when we adopted him in Georgia, and even with 3-4 walks a day, we were unable to provide him with sufficient opportunities to burn off energy. I've been weepy all week, and broke down at the shelter when I took him in. My greatest hope is that they can find a home for him where he will be able to be the dog that he is. I can't really say any more.
  2. I got my hair cut after my trip to Animal Services yesterday. It felt kind of like mourning, but at the same time a fresh start. It's shoulder length and layered a bit. And I feel so silly writing about it now.
  3. Last night, we attended the Season Opener for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a wonderful program including Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, and a commission from Toronto Composer Larysa Kezmenko called Behold the Night, based on a Midsummer's Night Dream. The second half was William Walton's Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario featuring actor Christopher Plummer (who also arranged this work) reciting parts of the play from memory. Walton scored Larurence Olivier's film Henry V, from which this work is derived. It was spectacular, and great finish to what had been a very sad day. The evening was capped by the TSO's after party featuring the Heavyweights Brass Band in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall.
  4. Z and I head to Orlando on Sunday where he is attending a conference and I will take five days to relax in the sun. I was able to score a very cheap flight and there's no upcharge for me to stay at the (very nice) hotel hosting the conference.
  5. Michael auditioned for and was accepted into the Hannaford Youth Band and Youth Big Band, both of which he played in last year. These ensembles are wonderful ways for him to get experience performing repertoire on both the tube (Hannaford) and bass trombone ( and I'm pleased that he'll be playing with them again this year.
  6. While we were downtown yesterday, we picked up tickets for Noel Coward's Private Lives, now in previews at the Royal Alexandra. Starring Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall, it's been getting a lot of positive buzz. Mirvish is also bringing War Horse to Toronto in the new year and I'm looking forward to that as well. 
  7. Friends from our parish were featured on the front page of the Star this week. John and Kathleen Rudolph are both professional musicians.  John is Principal Percussionist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Kathleen teaches flute at the Glenn Gould School and University of Western Ontario. Kathleen and I are altos in the parish choir, and Kathleen often fills in on the organ. Their daughter, Theresa, was just hired by the TSO, their first parent-child pair. The piece in The Star is lovely and worth a read.

More Quick Takes over at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

TIFF roundup: Tuesday and Wednesday

The Lonliest Planet (Dir. Julia Loktev, USA/Germany)

This quiet, emotional film follows an engaged 30-something couple as they trek through the Caucausus mountains of Georgia with a local guide. Very little dialogue or real action in many parts, the film hangs on the relationships within this triangle and an event that happens half-way through that disrupts them. There was a lot of negative buzz around me as I was leaving the theatre: "no dialogue", "nothing happened", "I don't get the point", but it completely worked for me. Not a date movie. (5/5)

(Screening Saturday Sept 17)


The Oranges (Dir. Julian Farino, USA)

Fantastic ensemble is much of what makes this film terrific. Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Oliver Platt star as two couples who live across the street from each other. The daughter of one couple has an affair with the husband of the other, and everyone's life is changed. A sort of anti-morality play wherein the end justifies the means makes it less than satisfying. (4/5)

(Screening Friday September 16)


W.E. (Dir. Madonna, UK)

A dsappointing look at the Wallis and Edward story, this is Madonna's attempt to tell the story from Simpson's point of view. Running parallel to this arc is a modern day tale of a Wally Winthrop who is trapped in an unhappy marriage and obsessed with the Wallis/Edward tale. The story lines alternate frequently, and the historical story is also split into glimpses into Wallis' first marriage as well as that with Edward. Great fashion and sets/props, but the music was leaden. Not recommended (2/5)

Damsels in Distress (Dir. Whit Stillman, USA)

Entertaining and smart, this movie looks at a posse of fashionable women at a just-gone-coed private college. It's quirky and wierd, with stellar performances particularly from Greta Gerwig as the alpha-female, Analeigh Tipton as the transfer student taken under her wing, and a bunch of frat boys who are just incredibly funny. (4/5)

Café de Flore (Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, Canada)

A beautiful film from the director of C.R.A.Z.Y., it tells two stories, one set in Paris in the 60s in which a mother (Vanessa Paradis) is raising her Down syndrome child on her own. The other story is set in modern day Montreal and involves a divorce and remarriage of a successful DJ/electronica musician (Kevin Parent). We don't find out how these stories are related until the very end of the movie. Moving with strong performances. As in C.R.A.Z.Y., music is a strong force that ties people together. See it if you get a chance. (5/5) (official site)

Americano (Dir. Mathieu Demy, France)

Son of filmakers Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, this is Mathieu Demy's directorial debut. With a stellar cast including Geraldine Chaplin, Selma Hayak, Carlos Bardem, and Chiara Mastroianni, Demy plays a restless 30-something who travels from Paris to Los Angeles to settle the estate of his mother, who has lived in the US for most of his life. Demy integrates footage taken by his mother when they lived in LA in the 80s and incorporates it into this work as flashbacks. He discovers things about his mother, and himself, that affect him profoundly.  Well worth seeing. (5/5)

(Screening Friday September 16)

TIFF roundup: Monday

I'm (obviously) quite far behind on my mini-reviews, but a day of film-screening leaves me wiped by the end of the day. I've been tweeting some thoughts, but here are my capsule summaries.

Rampart (Dir. Oren Moverman, USA)

Woody Harrelson stars in this rogue-cop drama set in LA. A masterful performance with strong support from the actors playing his ex-wives (who are sisters in the film and live together) and daughters. The twist (for me, who's not really a rogue-cop-film viewer) is that this guy is very articulate and wraps his crap in big words and charming delivery. (4/5)

(One more screening Sunday the 18th)

Behold the Lamb (Dir. John McIlduff, UK)

A small film (budget $200,000 and filmed in 20 days) it stars a young actress who had only done stage work and a lorry driver and amateur theatre actor. This is a gritty but somehow charming story of two people whose lives intersect over a 24 hour period. It involves a car theft, the transport of a lamb, a foster child, and a lot of beautiful, grey Irish scenery. And a lot of Catholic imagery that the director said was not originally part of the story, but was pointed out to him part way through the writing of the screenplay. (3/5)

(One more screening on evening of Friday the 16th)


Anonymous (Dir Roland Emmerich, Germany)

This is soon-to-be-released in theatres (Oct 28) and there's been lots of press about it. The premise is that there was no-one names William Shakespeare who actually wrote the plays and poetry attributed to him. Good performances and terrific cinematography. My ignorance of British history made it a bit difficult to follow the family/dynastic relationships. (4/5) ( The Official site has lots of good info that I wish I'd read before seeing the film.)

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th, but save your cash and see it in commercial run.)

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés) (Dir Christophe Honoré, France)

Starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, this musical(!) set in France, spanning decades from 1964 to the 90s, was extremely enjoyable. When asked "why a musica'l in the Q&A, Honoré claimed that he is not comfortable writing about love and it was easier for him to have his characters sing during the emotional moments of the film. Not a typical musical, there are no big theatrical moments, or much dancing. Just characters, walking down the street (or playing billiards) and singing about their feelings.

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th)




Sunday, September 11, 2011

TIFF roundup: Weekend 1

Well, things are off to a great start.  I saw four films this weekend and here are my thoughts.

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized (Director: Gary Hustwit, USA/UK)

This was the world premiere for this film and the Ryerson Theatre was filled with Jane Jacobites and other #TorontoElite (to use a hashtag favoured by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.) Inspiring and uplifting, this is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in the future of our cities, how to make them more liveable and sustainable, and how to improve the lives of even the poorest of slumdwellers by thoughtful, citizen-centric design. A survey of cities from around the world, this film calls us to action, even in the face of a city government that seems intent on turning the clock back. Official website.  (5/5) 

Saturday Morning: Ides of March (Director: George Clooney, USA)

We attended the second (and last) screening of this film at the festival.  Clooney plays a presidential candidate during the Ohio primary and Ryan Gosling is his media guy. The story is good, well-paced, and interesting, and the film was very enjoyable. Clooney was fine, but I thought Gosling was slightly miscast for the part. His character didn't come across as bright enough for the role, but I'm not sure whether it was the casting or the writing. The big buzz should go to Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei for their supporting roles as campaign managers for the opposing candidates and a NY Times reporter. It was their performances that really carried the film. Official website. (4/5)

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance (Director: Bertrand Bonello, France)

A languid, sensual, two-hour film about a fin de siecle brothel in Paris, this film was carefully researched and brought to being with great care. It's a frank look at the lives of these women, at the same time enslaved and surrounded by opulence, at the risks they encountered and the friendships they formed. There was a good Q&A with the director after the film and I asked about the use of music behind some key scenes. The opening credits have a kind of 60s blues thing (see trailer), and a climactic scene close to the end is scored with The Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin. Bonello did not see this as any more anachronistic than using opera music not coming from a gramaphone. This was also a subject of great discussion after the premiere at Cannes. (4/5)


Sunday noon:  Take this Waltz (Director: Sarah Polley, Canada)

This was a stunner of a film. What hits you right from the beginning is the warm, vivid, palette she has chosen for the film, representing female desire (as Polley remarked in the Q&A after the screening.) Very well cast with Michelle Williams as a twenty-something woman Margot, married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen). When Daniel (Luke Kirby) enters her life in one of the many comedic scenes in the film), her previously domestic situation starts to unravel. This is a film with both intense drama and high humour, handled deftly by Polley and woven into a dreamy yet realistic portrayal of what happens when the gleam starts to go off a relationship. Sarah Silverman plays Lou's sister, a recovering alcoholic, and had vocal coaching for the film to "speak Canadian". See this movie! Official site. (5/5)


Here's a shot from the Q&A after the screening.  From L to R: Sarah Polley, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Listening to Shhhhh in the City. WSJ quotes me in recent article

White noise and other soothing sounds, once mainly played on machines to aid nighttime sleep, are increasingly helping make daytime hours more serene.

Sound is classified by its audible frequencies and associated with a color based on where it falls on the spectrum of high to low frequencies. White noise is unique in that it's random and includes all frequencies—akin to how white light has all the colors in the spectrum—and sounds like a hissing noise.

Janet Berkman, a 51-year-old retired project manager, in Toronto prefers the sounds of storms, wind, rain and running water when she is on the subway or trying to read in busy surroundings. Ms. Berkman started listening to the sounds late last year after she realized it helped her focus and concentrate. "Life is getting noisier," she says, and listening to these sounds "kind of empties out my brain."

To make the soothing sounds, developers take computer-generated sounds or sounds recorded in nature and make an audio file that usually is "looped," or repeated. These digital files are then available at the iTunes store and on other websites.

I was interviewed by phone and then "fact-checked" a week later. I use the app by TM Soft called "White Noise".

Click the link to read the whole piece.

Times have changed, but the messages still apply.


Check out these early 20th C productivity posters. Click on the link to see more. There are a few I'd like to post in my home!

It's Monday....what am I reading?

I've got four books on the go right now which is a lot.  But so far it's working for me.

  • What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Nestle is a big-wheel nutritionist and from what I've read so far, sensible, straightforward, and no-nonsense. The book is rougly organzed by food group, starting with fruits and vegetables, then dairy (and non-dairy substitutes) and now I'm on the chapters on meat. The only quibble I have so far is the dietary-cholesterol-raises-blood-cholesterol story, which I'm not sure is still considered a given, at least based on what I've read in Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories and the associated research. I would be in interested in Nestle's take on that book. While I'm only a third of the way through Nestle's 600 page book, I'd recommend it. I'm also planning to check out her newest book on feeding pets.
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson.An at times heatbreaking graphic novel about a young man growing up in Wisconsin, his difficulties with his family, faith, and friends. I've been on the hold list at the library for ages for this novel and am reading it slowly, savouring it. Am about two-thirds of the way through this 600 page tome.
  • The Good Guy by Dean Koontz. I picked this up specifically for a Seasonal Reading Challenge task and have never read anything by this author before. It's a crime/thriller novel and I am very much enjoying it. The premise is interesting, if somewhat implausible, but the characters are engaging. I'm listening to this on audio and the production is excellent. 
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I read Morton's The Forgotten Garden last year and very much enjoyed it. I've had this novel on my Kindle for some time, but just started reading it when I finished the paperback I had in my purse while I was downtown and needed something else to read. Also set in England, Kent to be precise, I'm not very far in but loving it already. I suspect I'll keep my Kindle in my bag while I'm attending TIFF, for all the lineup-and-waits, so this will be a good novel to have on the go over the next couple of weeks.


Friday, September 2, 2011

A road map for Focus.


Babauta blogs at Zen Habits and I find his work unfailingly helpful and thought-provoking. He wrote an eBook called Focus and this illustration summarizes some of his key points for managing distraction (and may print out a copy for my university-aged son.)