Dilettante's Diary

Apr 21, 2023

Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
NOVEMBER 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.

Reviewed here: The Whale (Movie); The Fabelmans (Movie); Everything Everywhere All at Once (Movie)

The Whale (Movie) written by Samuel D. Hunter; directed by Darren Aronofsky; starring Brendan Fraser, Hong Chau, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Samantha Morton, Sathya Sridharan.

Who knew that Brendan Fraser was capable of such a sensitive, touching performance? Until now, I’d thought of him as a good-looking goof, not much more than a Ken doll with a bit of a knack for humour. But here he portrays a man who’s facing very difficult circumstances with courage, hope, optimism and love. The character knows that some people see him as disgusting (even some movie viewers may find his appearance off-putting). You can see in his face that he’s gone through a lot of suffering even though he’s trying not to show it. In spite of his disastrous situation, he’s trying to show kindness and good cheer.

As you probably know by now, Brendan Fraser’s character in this movie, Charlie, is an excessively obese man (a lot of ingenuity on the part of the prosthetics department there), so obese that he can hardly move around his home without huge effort. He earns his living by teaching college writing classes online – with his camera carefully turned off. He has congestive heart failure and it appears that he’s close to dying.

Among the other people who feature in this one week in his life, there’s Liz (Hong Chau), a friend who is a nurse, In her time off work, she comes to see if she can help him. She’s trying desperately to get him to go to hospital but he claims he can’t afford it. Then there’s Ellie (Sadie Sink) , his seventeen-year-old daughter, who shows up to have a reckoning with him. When she was eight years old, he abandoned her and her mother to live with a man partner. Thomas (Ty Simpkins), a fresh-faced young evangelist, turns up at the door with his gospel message. In spite of Charlie’s resistance, Thomas keeping coming back. And there’s Mary (Samantha Morton), Charlie’s ex-wife, who decides after all these years, to see what’s happening with him.

You can clearly see the movie's origins as a stage play. There’s just one set: Charlie’s living room. Each character arrives with a set of problems to be worked through. The dialogue is crafted and concise. Every line makes a point. In this respect, a comparison to Shakespeare’s writing would not be amiss. The language may not be quite as lofty here but the writer’s ability to capture an audience’s attention is keen. Some situations may be a bit contrived, though. For instance Liz, the nurse, and her deceased brother, had a regrettable connection with the church that the young evangelist is promoting. That seems a bit too coincidental but it makes for stirring drama.

Many ideas are thrown around . The evangelist’s involvement raises questions about God, religion, the bible, and whether or not the world coming to an end. One theme that comes in for a lot of emphasis – this in Charlie’s advice to his students – is the importance of writing what you really feel rather than bullshit. But I don’t think the point is followed through sufficiently. Can’t you be writing what you truly feel but the writing can still be bullshit? Charlie makes a big deal about an essay that somebody wrote on Moby Dick. We don’t know where the essay comes from but he keeps asking people to read from it. To me, what we hear of it isn’t all that impressive.

In terms of the conflicts, I wasn’t sure if it ever came clear whether it was Charlie’s fault for not keeping in touch with Ellie or whether it was because her mother wouldn’t let him. But never mind, all these issues flying around make for engaging theatre. It’s one of those pieces that’s a bit stagey in that it’s all about big things. There’s hardly any ordinary, everyday element in it. Except, maybe, for the guy (Sathya Sridharan) who calls out a greeting when he delivers Charlie’s pizza every night.

One over-the-top aspect of the movie that’s hard to come to terms with is the character of Ellie, Charlie’s daughter. Being angry, vituperative, wily and manipulative, she’s almost impossible to understand or sympathize with, Even her mother deplores what has become of Ellie. Charlie keeps saying that she’s amazing. On what grounds, though? Is it just that he’s so nice? There’s nothing wrong with Sadie Sink’s acting but it’s hard to imagine an actor who could make this character more recognizable to an audience. Ms. Sink is beautiful, though. Maybe that’s to offset the venom?

The mother, appearing to be an alcoholic, veers from one emotional extreme to another. I’m not sure exactly why she shows up or what she feels about Charlie, but she has one of the best scenes in the movie. There’s a hardness to her that clearly shows how difficult is for her to show a bit of gentleness and compassion. In the process, she says some unforgettable things you’ve never heard in a movie or on stage.

As for the other two characters, the boy’s sweetness and his invincible innocence are what first come across, but we eventually learn he has a back story that makes him more interesting. (Here again the plotting seems a little hokey.) The nurse friend –loyal, steadfast, dedicated – acts as a kind of anchor to all the turbulence, although she, too, has her angry outbursts.

There’s so much going on that the piece threatens to fly off track at times, but Charlie’s ingenuous kindness and his quiet dignity hold it together.

The Fabelmans (Movie) written by Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner; directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch,

The first part of this movie didn’t grab me much. So this kid is interested in making movies? So he likes to film crashes of his toy trains? So what?

That’s the problem with a movie or a play that’s essentially autobiographical. In this one, the celebrated director, Stephen Spielberg, tells us about how he got his start in movies. It’s interesting if you’re interested in him, in his art, and you want to know about its origins, but it’s not what I call theatre or drama. Those art forms, it seems to me, need to be about the conflicts among human interactions, how people deal with them, how they resolve them or don’t.

So this movie became more engaging for me when we started to find out about the problems with the hopeful movie-maker’s parents, about the trouble that was simmering under the surface with them, about how it was going to come out, how they were going to deal with it and how it was going to have an impact on their son. All of this made great movie fare, in my opinion.

But I did have a problem with Michelle Williams as the boy’s mother. Ms. Williams’ beauty is so striking that she never seemed like an ordinary mother, rather than a movie star. She always seemed a bit too dazzling, too glamorous to fit into the domestic scenario. Mind you, her character in the movie has aspirations of becoming a famed concert pianist, and, in fact, she has already achieved some success on that career trajectory. But, for me, her artistic ambition never seemed to fit into the story. It didn’t seem to have repercussions of much consequence. Maybe this is another case where a writer feels a need to include autobiographical details whether or not they form an integral part of the drama.

For the role of the father, if you want a nice middle-aged man who hangs around as a bland, inoffensive, mild-mannered presence, then you can’t do better than hire Paul Dano who started off in movies as a nice, bland, inoffensive, mild-mannered teen. Which is not to under-estimate his contribution here. He offers the character with admirable dignity and reserve.

Seth Rogen deserves a special Oscar for not being Seth Rogen. Even if you know he’s in the movie, it takes a while before you can convince yourself that this kindly, polite, decent man is Seth Rogen. None of the self-deprecating joking, none of the chuckling at his own humour, none of the goofing off, none of the being a jerk. In one of his earlier movies, This Is the End, one of the best lines in the movie is when one of his buddies begs him to stop doing his Seth Rogen thing – the snuffling laugh and all that. Well, here he has finally stopped it, to marvellous effect.

Although the autobiographical stuff about the young man’s development as a film-maker didn’t interest me so much, one scene that touched on that was fascinating. The young man (Gabriel LaBelle), as a high school student, has a private encounter with a Type A student who’s been bullying him. Some amazing things are said, the dialogue takes a turn that you’d never expect, and the bully reveals a vulnerable, emotional side to himself. Then he insists that this breakdown remain a big secret between the two of them. Our young Spielberg alter ego, replies: “Yes, of course. Unless I make a movie about it. But I never will.”

Nice irony there!

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Movie) written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert; starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong and Tallie Medel.

I approached this movie knowing almost nothing about it, except that some people loathed it and others (the Academy Awards voters for instance) loved it. So what you’re getting here is one person’s attempt to come to grips with a bewildering movie without having had any preparatory explanation.

We start off conventionally enough, even if the goings on are pretty frenetic. Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese American couple, live over the laundromat that they own. Things are going wrong with the machines; customers are complaining. Meanwhile, Evelyn and Waymond are trying to plan a birthday party for Evelyn’s father (James Hong), a demanding elder. Their daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), wants to bring her girlfriend (Tallie Medel) to the party but Evelyn isn’t sure how the cranky grandfather will take to that. Another major complication in their lives right now is that they’re in trouble with the IRS. An agent (Jamie Lee Curtis) has summoned them to her office regarding questionable business expenses that they’ve claimed, e.g. a karaoke system. Turns out that Evelyn has a bit of trouble separating her hobbies from her business. Oh, by the way, one other thing: according to some papers Evelyn sees, it looks like Waymond wants a divorce.

So far nothing incomprehensible. But then Waymond introduces a bit of new-fangled technology involving an earpiece and a little screen like the one on a smart phone. You activate this device and it opens a portal to another universe that’s called the Alphaverse. Almost anything can happen in this Alphaverse. Alternate paths and different possibilities appear. People experience scenarios from their earlier lives. At times, people aren’t sure who they are; there seem to be different identities inside them. They wonder about whether or not they should have made the choices they made. Would it have been better if Waymond and Evelyn had never married?

All this is conveyed in a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic fast-paced blur: brilliant colours; bizarre costumes; elaborate, eye-popping sets. Many scenes consist of nothing but violence and mayhem. Bodies hurtle through the air like leaves in a windstorm. Kung fu is mentioned; it looks to me like jujitsu is in play too. At times we’re in an elegant ballroom where Evelyn’s gussied up like a movie star. We even find ourselves, along with the other characters, in a movie theatre, watching the end of a movie about them. There are times when peoples’ fingers turn into hot dogs. A chef gets help from a raccoon perched on his head. The grandpa says it’s time for a family discussion and, to launch it, he brandishes a gun. Joy, Evelyn and Waymond’s daughter, turns into a gaudy malevolent force who threatens everybody’s well being in a way that has something to do with a giant bagel.

Probably all of this would be appreciated much more by people who are more familiar with sci-fi and fantasy than I am. The movie likely includes a lot of satirical references to tropes found in those genres. But there are a few echoes of a culture that I’m more familiar with. Someone sings a few phrases of Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. Another person’s toes on a piano keyboard play a few bars of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

People say things like: “The universe is so much bigger than you realize.” And “When nothing matters, the guilt that you feel for not making anything of your life goes away.” And: “Everything is just a random arrangement of particles.” But “This feels like it’s all my fault" is offset by “Regret is a tiny box invented by people who are afraid.” Here’s one that would certainly be echoed by many viewers: “We’re just going around in circles.”

All this falderol was quite a test of patience for somebody who prefers more realistic fare. But I hung in. Partly because I liked the two main characters. Evelyn seemed like a good, warm person, trying her best to maintain some kind of sanity in the midst of all the shenanigans. She says “I’m not good at anything,” but she clearly is good at being human. Waymond tells us that someone once said he was too sweet; there’s a touch of naivete about him. I cared about these two and wanted to see how they got through the maelstrom. Also, there was a hint of humour running through it all. You were never quite sure whether you were supposed to be taking it all seriously. Evelyn and Waymond did, no question about that. In doing so, maybe they were demonstrating the best approach to comedy: the actors have to take it seriously.

My favourite scene – unquestionably – was an oasis of tranquility in the midst of the chaos. Evelyn and Joy have become two boulders perched on the top of an arid canyon in a universe that has no life. (Mars, maybe?) Their dialogue, appearing in text on the screen, treats us to a bit of cosmology, with the observation: “We’re all small and stupid.” If there were Oscars for bit parts, those two boulders would be major contenders in my view.

Eventually, I came to see the whole thing as a kind of nightmare in which the characters’ worst fears were being acted out. Sort of a thought experiment along the lines of: how bad could things actually get??? And: could we survive it all??? I was reminded of W.H. Auden’s line: “a crack in the teacup opens a lane to the land of the dead.” Indeed, there are tiny fissures in life that give us hints of quite other realities. Early on, Waymond says there were tiny portents that something like this could happen: didn’t the coffee taste wrong? Somebody sums up all the turmoil in the statement: “The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind, especially when we don’t know what’s going on.” And one of the most touching moments in the movie is a simple shot of two people from opposite sides of the conflict now holding hands.

What you’ve got here, then, is a movie that reiterates one of the most venerable, most reliable dictums of all literature. So the movie is worth all the fuss because it hands on such a well-known message in such an original, unconventional way. Perhaps the only difference between my guarded appreciation of the movie and the rampant enthusiasm of those who really love it is that they enjoy the fireworks, the battles, the catastrophes more than I do.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com