Dilettante's Diary

Dec 17/09

Home
Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
Restaurants
SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
Aug 3/17
June 16/17
Mar 21/17
Feb 26/17
Feb 9/17
Jan 30/17
Dec 19/16
Dec 11/16
Nov 20/16
Sept 17/2016
Aug 21/16
July 17/16
June 29/16
June 2/16
Apr 23/16
Feb 28/16
Feb 1/16
Jan 27/16
Winter Reading 2016
Dec 15/15
Nov 19/15
Fall Reading 2015
Oct 29/15
Sept 16/15
Sept 4/15
July 29, 2015
July 1, 2015
June 7/15
Summer Reading 2015
May 19/15
Apr 30/15
Apr 19/15
Spring Reading 2015
March 23/15
March 11/15
Winter Reading 2015
Feb 20/15
Feb 8/15
Jan 29/15
Jan 20/15
Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
Aug 8/14
July 11/14
June 16/14
May 28/14
Apr 30/14
Apr 16/14
Apr 2/14
March 21, 2014
March 13/14
Feb 11/14
Sept 23/13
Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
MIMC
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Housekeeping
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date above is the date on which the page was started. As new reviews are added, they will appear towards the top of the page; the older reviews will move further down.

Reviewed here: A Single Man (Movie); Julie and Julia (DVD); Ontario Society of Artists New Members' Show (Art); Shift with Tom Allen (Radio)

A Single Man (Movie) written by Tom Ford and David Scearce; based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood; directed by Tom Ford; starring Colin Firth, with Nicholas Hoult, Matthew Goode, Jon Kortajarena.

At the outset, this movie looks great. In the starring role, we have Colin Firth. You can usually count on the fact that he only gets involved in quality material. Here, he plays George, a forty-ish gay professor in Los Angeles in 1962. In a flashback near the opening of the movie, we see George receiving the bad news by phone that his lover has died in a car accident. A cousin of his lover has called. See, the funeral is going to be a private family affairs and George isn’t invited. That’s the way things were in the 60s. We can feel George’s pain.

Looks like a sensitive, touching drama shaping up. Then what goes wrong?

Could it be the hokey emphasis on the 1960s setting? Surely there’s a way to present the styles of an era without making it look ludicrous. When I revisit family snapshots from those days, everybody doesn’t look as though they’re stuck in a Mad Magazine version of the times. One has to wonder whether the unreal look to this movie has anything to do with the fact that it's the directorial debut of a well-known designer. And the frequent references to bomb shelters and the Cuban Missile Crisis sound forced, given that they don’t have much to do with the main theme of the movie.

Or is it the arty touches? Those flashes of a naked male body swirling in deep water, for instance. Apparently, they’re supposed to indicate something about George’s unconscious. But what? It never comes clear. And why the frequent close-ups on people’s eyes? Is that supposed to say something about the way George sees people? The Philip-Glass-type music hammering at us all the time raises suspicions that the film-makers felt the script needed a hell of a lot of help to catch our attention. (Like the preacher who pounded the pulpit hardest when his argument was weakest.)

Or could it be the blandness of the young men embodying George's sex interests? Matthew Goode was fascinating in the new Brideshead Revisited  but here, as George's lover appearing in flashbacks, he seems shallow and stilted. So does Nicholas Hoult as a student apparently coming on to George. Is it the directing that makes these guys look so inept? The dialogue? The only one among this crowd who doesn’t appear superficial and uninteresting is a Spanish hustler (Jon Kortajarena) who eyes George as a potential client.

Is it the miscalculated tone of some scenes? Like the one where you have a guy trying to shoot himself: he keeps bungling the job in a way that begins to look farcical. If that were the intent, however, why would you have "Ebben? Ne andr lontana" from Catalani’s La Wally wailing to heart-rending effect in the background?

Or the sound of crickets outside on New Year’s Eve in LA? (I know the weather's better there but I strongly suspect the local crickets’ life cycle hasn’t evolved to be so drastically different from that of their more northerly cousins.)

Or the fact that the actors in the crowd scenes have been so poorly directed that they end up looking like extras standing around on a movie set?

No, it’s not really any of these things that scuttles the movie. What does is the fact that our friend George, even with masses doses of viewer sympathy directed towards him, turns out to be more than a tad boring. Let’s face it, to watch a guy moping for an hour or so doesn’t make for gripping drama. Even as gifted an actor as Mr. Firth needs something more than that to work with. (I’m reminded of Love Liza in which Philip Seymour Hoffman was left high and dry by the script. Come to think of it, that movie too was all about grieving.) When Mr. Firth does eventually have an opportunity to do his patented grin, it looks more like a reflex action than a revelation of character.

The one exception to the general ennui comes in the person of Julianne Moore as an old girlfriend of George’s who lives nearby and who still obviously has a thing for him. Ms. Moore strikes the note of a genuine person from the moment we first see her in a brief phone call. This is the kind of rich divorce who spends most of the day lying around, who drinks too much, takes hours to get herself dressed for dinner and complains about her lot in life but who has more vitality and personality than anybody else in the movie. We’ve all known women like her, or at least, met them or heard about them. For me, her raucous laugh and her smutty sense of humour go a long way to making her endearing. It’s only when he’s with her that George becomes interesting.

Are those fifteen minutes of viewing worth the price of admission?

Rating: E (as in the Canadian "Eh?" i.e. iffy)

 

Julie and Julia (DVD) written and directed by Nora Ephron; based on the book by Julie Powell; starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina; with Linda Emond and Helen Carey

This is one of the rare cases where I heard a lot – and even read a bit – about a movie before seeing it (because I wasn’t planning to). Given all the buzz, everybody knows the premise now: Julie Powell, a real-life office worker, created a popular blog about working her way through Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The consensus about the film, which inter-weaves the two women’s stories, was that the Meryl Streep part of the movie was good and the Amy Adams part wasn’t.

That's about it. But since you expect something more in the way of erudite comment from Dilettante’s Diary, here goes...

With Meryl Streep as the Childs character, we learn how, as the wife of an American diplomat, she found herself in Paris with time on her hands in the late 1940s. Millinery classes didn’t quite cut it for her, so she enrolled in a Cordon Bleu school. The experience brought to the fore her innate feel for cuisine. Hence the classic text. Along the way, we learn about the vicissitudes of the publishing business. The relationship between Julia and her very supportive husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) is touching and, by way of an extra frisson, the threat of McCarthyism impinges on the couple’s contentment.

If Ms. Streep’s performance were not based on a real person, you’d have to say that it’s too broad, almost a caricature: a strange mixture of patrician and goofy – Princess Margaret meets Lucille Ball. Not to mention that weird, flutey voice. Not knowing much about Mrs. Childs, I'll assume this is what she was like. Any admirer of Ms. Streep's oevre (incling me)  has to marvel at her impersonation of a character so different from any of the other’s she has played. And yes, she, as a relatively small person, does a great job of making herself seem to be a large woman.

If Ms. Streep comes off as larger than life, Ms. Adams seems smaller than life in the role of Julie Powell. When her blog about the cooking project leads to a tiff with her husband (Chris Messina), the idea is floated that Ms. Powell is bitchy. If only! On the contrary, Ms. Adams gives us nothing but winsome vulnerability.

What’s with this actress? In Junebug (see Dilettante's Diary Nov 4/05), she gave us a startlingly fresh and authentic character. Is she stuck now in the stereotype of innocence? By way of an improvement on her  clich of a young nun in Doubt (D's D Dec 24/08), her character in Julie and Julia at least seems like a real person, but not one who offers any interest in dramatic terms.

Towards the end, the movie offers one flicker of an interesting idea: the futility of modelling yourself on someone you naively imagine to be perfect. That theme barely gets any attention, though. To focus on it too much would point up just how foolish Julie’s infatuation with Julia Childs is.

Instead, we’re supposed to get hooked on this simpery person’s urge to become famous through her blog. When it comes to the ambitions of movie characters that are likely to strike a sympathetic chord, Julie’s quest doesn’t quite rank up there with Billy Elliot’s trying to make it to the Royal Ballet or even Elizabeth Taylor’s gearing up for the big race in National Velvet. Besides, movies shouldn’t be encouraging people to write up their mundane thoughts in the hopes of attracting readers to their blogs. We at Dilettante’s Diary don’t need the competition.

Rating: D minus (Where D = "Divided" i.e., some good, some bad)

 

The Ontario Society of Artists New Members Exhibit 2009 (Art) John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto; until January 8, 2010

This show puzzles me.

The Ontario Society of Artists, founded in 1872, is Canada’s longest continuing art society. With membership strictly controlled by jury, it’s reputed to be very hard to break into the ranks. So you would think that this show of works by new members would be dazzling.

However, I found much of it commonplace and banal. Not to say that there isn’t a certain competence demonstrated by most of the artists, but much of the work looks as though it could have been created at the turn of the 20th century rather than of the 21st. As for the more contemporary-looking work, some of it struck me as being of the whee-look-how-I-can-throw-paint-around school of mucky canvases and lurid colours, without much sense of composition.

In the more traditional vein, there are some pleasant landscapes by Sam Paonessa, Doug Purdon, Mary Ng and Cai Kui. Lynda Cunningham and Paul Magowan offer some well-executed takes on horses. A somewhat more modern feel comes through in Cathy Groulx’s crisp, sharp forest scene at the edge of water.

Reaching for an almost abstract approach to landscape, Sheila Macdonald Roberts captures the chilly effect of a jagged patch of open black water lurching through an expanse of white ice, with greyish shapes looming on the horizon. Another painting, not quite abstract, but drawing on some of the effects of that genre, is Valerie Ashton’s large painting, with dramatic lighting, of a coffee mug.

Of the complete abstracts, the one I liked most is Songryan Moon’s painting of greyish shapes, with some blue blobs, on a red background. This one, unlike some others, seemed to me to have a composition that held it together. There was even, somehow, an evocation of rain as suggested by the work’s title.

Iftikhar Uddin Ahmed’s abstract, featuring some circles and angular shapes, suggests some vaguely industrial theme. At first, it struck me as being of the unappealing school of mucky painting. Gradually, though, a thread of yellow, against the more earthy colours, drew me into the painting and made me appreciate the whole.

I have admired Peter Barelkowski’s odd little humanoids in previous shows. Here, he shows one large figure with its torso opened to reveal a chair, a ladder and such workings inside. On the exterior, pipes connected to the body, as if by way of plumbing, add to the thought-provoking effect.

Happily, the two watercolours in the show pleased me. Clarence Titcombe’s simple depiction of straw-coloured reeds in a snowbank, although hardly revolutionary in theme or technique, conveys a tranquil, contemplative appeal. Joanne Lucas Warren’s more innovative mountain scene captures a unique effect with her daring use of free-flowing watercolour.

[Disclosure: I know some of the artists involved in this show.]

 

Shift with Tom Allen – CBC Radio Two

It’s good to have Tom Allen back talking about classical music, as he does in the first part of this early afternoon program on CBC’s Radio Two. The man has an amazing amount to say about music in a friendly, relaxed, spontaneous way. Surely, he should stand as a model of the ideal radio host – in a certain vein.

Too bad we don’t have him any longer in the early morning when we really needed him to help us into the day. Nothing against Bob Mackowycz, his replacement, but the time slot is pretty much a wasteland now in terms of the music – as is the second half of "Shift", in spite of Mr. Allen’s company. Why do the decision-makers at CBC think any listener could possibly want this "shift" from the sublime to drek?

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com