Dilettante's Diary

March 14, 2013

Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
MAY 27, 2024
Nov 3, 2023
Aug 2, 2023
July 4, 2023
Apr 21, 2023
Feb 10, 2023
Jan 24, 2023
Jan 11, 2023
Dec 2, 2022
July 26, 2022
July 4, 2022
June 2, 2022
March 25, 2022
March 11, 2022
Feb 14, 2022
Nov 19, 2021
Oct 2021
Sept 16, 2021
July 21, 2021
July 15, 2021
June 11, 2021
Apr 23, 2021
March 12, 2021
Feb 13, 2021
Jan 5, 2021
December 2020
Autumn Mysteries 2020
Aug 12/20
May 25/20
Apr 30/20
March 12/20
Dec 6/19
Jan 29/20
Nov 10/19
Oct 24/19
Sept 30/19
Aug 2/19
June 22/19
May 26/19
Apr 22/19
Feb 23/19
Jan 15/19
Dec 20/18
Dec 3/18
Oct 3/18
Sept 9/18
Aug 9/18
July 19/18
June 2/18
May 14/18
Apr 23/18
Feb 22/18
Dec 13/17
Nov 22/17
Nov 3/17
Oct 5/17
Sept 21/17
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
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
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
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
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here:  Quartet (Movie); Side Effects (Movie)

And: Van Cliburn (Tribute)

Quartet (Movie) written by Ronald Harwood (based on his play); directed by Dustin Hoffman; starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith, Dame Gwyneth Jones

There was one question in my mind on approaching this movie: would it be anything more than a pleasant outing for some of Britain’s most distinguished actors?

It’s more – and less.

A charming mansion in the English countryside functions as a home for retired musicians. They’re busy preparing for the annual gala to raise funds for the institution. We hear bits of chorus numbers, arias, quartets, chamber music, even tinpan alley tunes, coming from every corner of the elegant old building. Meanwhile, there are rivalries, flirtations and secret indulgences: booze, cigarettes.

Into the mix comes Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), a newcomer, who was one of the great sopranos of her day. Only problem is, one of her former husbands, a tenor (Tom Courtenay), is also a resident. He’s not happy to see her, given some bad stuff that went down between them. But he and she were famous, along with another two residents (a baritone and a mezzo), for their performances in Rigoletto. The big hope is that they can persuade the haughty Ms Horton to join in a performance, for the gala, of the opera’s famous quartet.

She’s having none of it. The attempt to persuade her takes up the rest of the movie. (Sorry to reveal that much plot, but there’s nothing else.) Thus we get the old chestnut of the build-up to the big game, the big race, the big contest....or whatever. But it was rather difficult for me to get on board because I felt the Maggie Smith character was quite right to refuse. Opera singers in their seventies and eighties – especially sopranos – do not and should not perform demanding operatic repertoire in public. It’s ridiculous to think that anything admirable could be accomplished, given the inexorable decline of the human voice, due to physical factors. That’s a sad fact of the artistic life and any movie that tries to fly in the face of it has a hard time winning my respect.

By way of any other plot element, it looks sometimes like there could be some drama developing between Ms Horton and her former husband. There are a couple of moments of awkwardness when they’re first encountering each other and you think: ah, this is going to be interesting! But the issues between them are resolved – like everything else in this movie – with no more than the equivalent of a flick of a lace-trimmed hankie. Mr. Courtenay, with his wounded pride, is very good. And Maggie Smith, of course, can’t be faulted. Except that I think the script doesn’t show her at her best. In trying for a reconciliation, she makes one very affecting speech: "I’m sorry for hurting you. Please be kind to me." That’s a stunner. But you can’t help wondering if Ms. Smith is the right person to be saying it. Maybe she’s not at her best when it comes to beseeching. Maybe she’s better at maintaining an aristocratic disdain. Or is this simply a case where my impressions of an actor in another role – let’s say, the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey – are bleeding too much into my impressions of her in this role?

As for the other two members of the quartet, the actors are hampered by their roles. The simpering and slightly demented prattle from Sissie (Pauline Collins) goes on too much. But it’s not as tiresome as the constant sexual innuendo of Wilf (Billy Connolly). At some point, it’s suggested that this unfortunate tic has something to do with damage to his brain. But that doesn’t make it any more palatable. Are we supposed to find it cute or entertaining that this geezer can’t stop making sexual remarks to women? I find it nauseating.

And yet, there is undeniably, a kind of beauty to the film. Everybody’s photographed with loving attention to glowing eyes in wrinkled faces. The interiors of the mansion are enough to make lovers of wallpaper and upholstery drool. We get lots of romantic, wistful vistas of the gorgeous countryside. And there’s the music. How could a movie fail completely when it’s packed with so many of the highlights of classical – and especially operatic – music?

Still, you have to wonder why Dustin Hoffman would be interested in taking on a trifle that makes The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel look Shakespearean in its complexity and profundity. Surely Mr. Hoffman can’t be desperate for work at this stage of his life. My guess is that the attraction of the material for him was that it offered a chance for a fond, sentimental tribute to the veterans of the performing world. The movie gives you the feeling that he loved working with them. Real-life opera star Dame Gwyneth Jones shows herself to be a good sport in playing the part of a posturing diva who’s emphatically up-staged by the Maggie Smith character. During the credits, we see vintage photos of many of the people who did bit parts in the movie and we learn that they were actually once celebrated opera and theatre stars. What fun it must have been for them all to be performing again.

Capsule comment: All frosting, no cake.


Side Effects (Movie) written by Scott Z. Burns; directed by Steven Soderberg; starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones; with Polly Draper, Michael Nathanson, Sheila Tapia, Ann Dowd

At first, this one looks like nothing but a documentary on the dangerous aspects of anti-depressants. We’ve got this young woman, Emily (Rooney Mara), who seems very depressed. Jude Law plays Dr. Jonathan Banks, the psychiatrist who encounters her in hospital after her apparent suicide attempt. You can tell he’s a good guy by the sympathetic tilt of his head when he’s listening to her. But he keeps putting her on one drug after another and they all have terrible results. Meanwhile, he’s recruited to take part in a lucrative (for him) drug trial. What is this movie trying to tell us? That you should be wary of the chicanery of psychiatrists? Do we movie-goers really need this message?

But then something terrible happens and the real story clicks in. (Most reviews will probably tell you what happened but we don’t do spoilers like that here at Dilettante’s Diary.) It seems that Dr. Banks is to blame. The media are after him. His partners in his medical practice are enraged. Issues of patient/physician confidentiality arise. After a while, you begin to wonder who’s conning whom. A courtroom trial looms. In other words, what’s evolving is a medical-financial-legal mystery. To tell the truth, your humble reviewer wasn’t able to catch all the implications of the complicated turn of events but they were entertaining.

At the centre of the storm, Jude Law’s thoughtful, professional and attractive, with just enough of an undercurrent of anxiety about his own professional status to make him interesting. Rooney Mara’s lean features are like a blank sheet on which Emily’s wildly-swinging moods are written. There’s not much for Tatum Channing, as Emily’s husband, to do. Almost any mildly studly actor could have filled the bill, as there’s little opportunity to show any of the charm and humour that have marked Mr. Tatum’s appearances in other movies. I found Catherine Zeta-Jones, as a shrink who’d previously treated Emily, odd. There’s a slow, languid quality to her performance that makes it seem affected. We eventually find that there may be reasons for her seeming a little strange. Still, I’m not sure that what we were seeing wasn’t simply a case of bad acting. Someone who made a much better impression was Ann Dowd. As Emily’s mother-in-law, Ms Dowd gave us touching glimpses of a very ordinary woman struggling to respond decently to troubling situations.

The movie as a whole is sleek and stylish. All the Manhattan interiors are modern and gleaming. (Dr Banks has wonderful paintings on the walls of his consulting room.) A slightly sci-fi sound to the music keeps reminding us that there’s something weird going down. There’s a good rhythm to the movie: many short, fragmentary scenes overlapping each other with, occasionally, the insertion of a long scene. I think there’s an attempt to convey a certain existential angst but none of the dialogue is particularly engaging or thought-provoking. By way of profundity, all the the shrinks – or their scriptwriters – can come up with is banal stuff along the lines of: "The best prediction of future behaviour is past behaviour."

Capsule comment (instead of a "rating"): Sleek, entertaining and superficial.


Van Cliburn (Memories)

Although Van Cliburn had retired from public performance long before he died yesterday, at age 78, his star still shone very brightly around here.

Who could forget the hoop-la surrounding his 1958 Gold Medal win at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow? Given that it was the era of the cold war, it seemed that he had accomplished something miraculous in winning the hearts of the Soviets with his artistry. We all felt we were there in the crowd at Manhattan’s celebratory ticker tape parade for him. It was impossible for the thrill of all that to fade completely over the following decades.

Besides, I had special personal memories of him.

In the mid 1960s, I was a student at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ont. Van Cliburn was performing at the university’s brand new Alumni Hall. During the intermission, a friend suggested that we go backstage to meet the star. Such a thing would never have occurred to me, but I tagged along as my brash pal found a route to penetrate behind the scenes.

To my amazement, we were greeted cordially. Throughout the intermission, it was mostly Van’s mother who chatted with us. (Her name, as I subsequently learned, was one that nobody but a Texas belle could have borne with dignity: "Rilda Bee.") She was telling us about the time when Van phoned her from the Julliard School in New York, where he was studying, to ask whether he should enter the Tchaikovsky competition. She told us that she said: "You put the phone down right now and you go over and kneel down in the corner and ask the Lord Jesus what you should do."

Apparently, the Lord gave the go-ahead for Moscow.

The only thing I remember Van saying to us directly had to do with the opening of the concert at UWO. In those days, it was customary for concerts to begin with the national anthem. The idea was that it emphasized the solemnity of the occasion. But Van had played God Save the Queen instead of O Canada. When we asked about that, he told us that he had suddenly panicked in the limo on the way to the concert hall, when he realized he couldn’t remember the tune of O Canada. "I asked my momma, I said ‘Momma, how does it go?’" But Rilda Bee couldn’t remember either; so we got God Save the Queen.

While we were standing there chatting, someone gave Van the signal to start the second half of the program. He strode out on stage, elegant and confident, as ever. Only trouble was: nobody had informed the audience that the intermission was over. There was Van, standing on stage, facing an audience milling around and talking in the full glare of the house lights.

Showing himself to be the supreme and gracious showman that he was, he simply launched into a little lecture about the piece he was going to play next. He turned to the piano, while still standing, to demonstrate a few phrases. When the audience had settled and the house lights had dimmed, he sat down and began to play.

We stayed backstage for the entire second half of the concert. Rilda Bee and Van seemed to accept us as if we were part of the family. After the thunderous ovation that ended the concert, people were bringing their kids to Van to introduce them as hopeful pianists. He’d grab each kid’s hand in his own enormous paw, turn the kid’s hand over and examine it as if to see whether it showed any pianistic potential.

Of course, such an examination doesn’t reveal anything. But how else was a star going to show an interest in the kids presented to him?

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com