Dilettante's Diary

March 9/06

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Highs 'N Lows of 2014
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Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
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May 10/13
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The Artist Project 2013
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A Toast to 2012
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Art Toronto 2012
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
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La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
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Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
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Toronto Art Expo 2011
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The Artist Project 2011
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The Shack
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The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
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Notables of '09
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How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
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Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
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Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
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Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
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July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
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Head to Head
Feb 26/08
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Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
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Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
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Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
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Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
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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
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Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
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Sept 7/05
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Sept 1/05
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July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
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April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
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Feb 4/05
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Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

On this page:  Nine Songs (DVD); Too Close to the Falls (Memoir); Our Town (Play); Academy Awards Afterglow (Essay); If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Novel); The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Movie); I Am My Own Wife (Play); The Secret to the Academy Awards (Essay); Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Movie); The Pink Panther (Movie)

Nine Songs (DVD) directed by Michael Winterbottom

There was a lot of talk about this movie when it was playing in the theatres. It made quite a splash at Cannes, I understand. The big deal is that it’s supposed to show more explicit sex than any other mainstream movie. The very simple story tells about a brief affair between a young man and woman, as seen in retrospect by him. Their private times are interspersed with footage of some rock concerts that they attended. In an interview that comes with the DVD, Mr. Winterbottom says that he wanted minimal dialogue and action (other than in bed) because he was trying to see if he could tell the story of a relationship through sex, without words. Certainly a noble artistic goal. But I’d have to say the experiment fizzles. You end up with a lot of sex by two young people who aren’t very interesting no matter how many different positions you see them in.

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


Too Close to the Falls (Memoir) by Catherine Gildiner, 1999

In the years after it first appeared, I was avoiding this book. Word was that it was a huge hit with the women’s book clubs. I was dreading some moody, soul-searching Chick-Lit sort of thing: you know, the hardships of being a shy, misunderstood, sensitive child in some dreary one-horse town. Little did I suspect that the chick in question is about as shy as a character combining the gutsy qualities of Lucy, Eloise and Pippi Longstocking.

Catherine Gildiner’s hilarious account of her childhood adventures made me think  she must be the funniest woman writer since Jean Kerr. Of course, it helps that Ms. Gildiner was blessed with the kind of odd childhood that’s a heaven-sent source of material for a writer. She was working in her dad’s drug store before she went to school. Her parents were intelligent and independent-minded. One of their most striking eccentricities: they never ate a meal in their own home. And the greatest gift of all was the child’s companionship with illiterate Roy, the black man who drove the car when the two of them did the drugstore deliveries. He acted as guardian angel, guru, and buddy throughout her childhood. Their fascinating relationship works like a springboard that launches the memoir into orbit.

Part way through the book, though, I began to feel uneasy. The tales started taking  on a too-structured quality. I kept flipping back to the front of the book to make sure that it was catalogued as biography rather than fiction. But the fictive quality loomed larger and larger, as the story led ultimately to a huge disillusionment and a loss of Catholic faith on the part of the author. (Sorry, it’s impossible to discuss this without giving that much away.) By this point, the contrived plotting and the iffy quality of many of the Catholic details led to a sad loss of this reader’s faith in the writer.


Our Town (Play) by Thornton Wilder, directed by Joseph Ziegler, Soulpepper Theatre, Toronto.

Do we need a Soulpepper production of Our Town? All you have to do is phone your local high school to find out when they’re doing it. Drama classes love the play because it offers so many parts – most of them quite small and manageable – for budding actors. Still, those of us who are interested in recent developments with the fantastically successful Soulpepper company sooner or later need to check out their new home at the Distillery. Besides, the word on this production has been pretty good.

Some signs at the main entrance to the Distillery would be welcome in order to assure us that we’re headed in the right direction before we trek down that bleak cobblestone path to the far end. Once you get there, though, the set-up looks like any theatre director’s version of died-and-gone-to-heaven: a number of theatre spaces of different sizes opening onto a central lobby, with offices on upper levels and busy-looking theatre people bustling around. (Good on you, Albert Schultz.) The space where this production takes place is comfortable and cozy (seating about 350) in the renovated warehouse style characteristic of so many venues today: bare brick walls, lofty ceilings, minimal decor. The seats are firm and posture-friendly, the only problem being that the rungs of the chair in front of you make it a bit awkward finding a place for your feet if they’re on the somewhat larger end of the scale.

No problem with any of the performances. Soulpepper turns in a clean, crisp professional production. Albert Schultz’s amiable, chatty stage manager conveys a rather contemporary charm but the audience laps it up. Don’t take this the wrong way, but Nancy Palk makes a dazzling corpse in the cemetery scene. If you want a figurehead for the prow of your yacht, you couldn’t do better than model it on her sculpted face with its high cheekbones. As the two young lovers, Martha MacIsaac and Jeff Lillico do very well but it would be better if they didn’t give the impression at the curtain call that they loathe each other.

On this viewing, though, the piece itself strikes me as a little short on drama. The message seems to be that we should enjoy life while we have it – no argument there. And that we should really look at people; that's something I always try to do. But I prefer such messages in a play with more to offer than a couple of tender scenes that predictably call up a tear or two. Apart from a bit of a story about the young lovers, the rest of it is more like a pageant than a play – generic characters in stock situations. The two sets of parents are practically interchangeable. As for all that business of the stage manager addressing the audience and interrupting the actors, it must have seemed terribly exciting to people seeing such a radically new type of theatre for the first time in the late 1930s. To me, it’s a bit of a yawn.

It happened, however, that I was attending what was announced as a historic occasion for Soulpepper: its first student matinee in its new home. That meant suffering through a lot of screaming as each school was welcomed from the stage before the show. But I noticed throughout the performance that the students were enjoying it enormously. They picked up every nuance of humour or irony. The fact that these young people were having such a good time seemed to suggest there’s hope for the future of theatre. So you might say that my enjoying of the kids’ enjoyment sort of made up for the fact that I wasn’t thrilled with the show.


Academy Awards Afterglow (Essay)

How gratifying to have the Academy Awards prove that we at Dilettante’s Diary are dishing out discerning, intelligent opinion. Of the six big "best" awards (movie, director, actress and actor, supporting actress and actor) our reviews touted only two of the official choices: best actor (Hoffman) and best actress (Keener). That doesn’t mean, though, that we think like the Academy. I’m no statistician but given the limited field of nominees, chances are, anybody would be bound to hit on a couple of the Academy’s choices. If you refer back to my original reviews, you’ll find that I particularly dissed the performances by the winners of best supporting actress (Weisz) and actor (Clooney). But the real clincher is that best movie accolade for Crash -- our most-hated movie of the year. In his acceptance speech (as heard on this morning’s news), Paul Haggis said something about using movies as a hammer to make a point. Maybe it was the feeling of being hit over the head that put me off this movie. At any rate, you now know for sure that reading Dilettante’s Diary confirms that you’re a sophisticated person looking for alternative views.

As for the ceremony itself, I was only able to watch until about 10:30. Everybody always complains that it was dull but I found that it clipped along at a pretty good pace and I actually enjoyed the montages that everybody’s maligning this morning. Not much of the attempted comedy worked very well: those fake blurbs for some nominees, the guys with the botched makeup, Ben Stiller’s "green man" routine. The scariest moment of the evening was Lauren Bacall’s appearance. It’s nice when these living legends can still walk and talk but I think the producers should make sure beforehand. Prize for the best recovery goes to that actress (can’t remember her name) who nearly fell on her entrance and quipped, "I do my own stunts". I thought Jon Steward did very well as host. He seemed to be enjoying himself and he came up with some pretty good lines, lots of which looked spontaneous. Overall, I was struck by the rather sweet attempt of the members of the profession to make us like them. I suppose we have to grant that even fabulously rich and famous people need a bit of affirmation at times.

I was very glad to see the salute to Robert Altman – probably the most deserving of anybody who’s ever received one of those special awards. He was charming and funny, as old guys should be, and it was gallant of him to salute the thirty-five-year-old woman whose heart he now carries. How inspiring to hear him say that he never takes on a project that he knows he can do and that he always pushes actors to show him something that he's never seen on screen before. Many people probably don’t know of the Canadian connection with him. In the late 1960s, he filmed "That Cold Day in the Park" in Vancouver, starring Wendy Dennis, and employing lots of local actors. To this day, several of my west coast actor friends have among their most treasured possessions a personal letter signed by Robert Altman telling each actor that his or her bit was the great man’s favourite part of the movie.


If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Novel) by Jon McGregor, 2002

When a pile of books arrives from the library, my custom is to pick up one, read a few pages, set it aside and go on to another. The point of the experiment is to see which writer has come up with the opening that appeals to me most. Usually, there’s one that grabs my attention fully, pushing all the others out of the way.

After a brief read, this one went to the bottom of the pile. The writing struck me as strange and arty. The writer seemed to be talking about something tragic that had happened. But you didn’t know what it was, none of the people had names and it was damn hard to tell which way was up. The book lingered in my possession through two renewals and by the time the library demanded it back, I’d only read 100 pages.

So I returned it, waited a few days, then ordered it again – because now I was hooked. Somewhere in those 100 pages it had dawned on me that this was one of the most beautiful books I’d read in ages. True, the writing style takes getting used to and you never fully figure out everything. Punctuation and even page formatting are eccentric. Most of it is written in an omniscient third person but the narrative voice switches to first person in some instances. We seem to be dealing with a neighbourhood of row housing in a working class district somewhere in England.  We’re frequently told about what’s going on in the street, as seen from the windows. But sometimes we enter the houses and the minds and souls of their occupants.

The unnamed thing that happened at the beginning of the book – which we don’t fully understand till the end – binds these people together and makes the smallest details of their lives stand out like etching in glass. This author has an almost god-like compasssion for people. That’s the most striking quality of the book – the writer’s empathy for human beings. But it’s very understated, all told in very plain language; the vocabulary wouldn’t give a moderately literate grade eight student any problems. The power of the writer’s feeling for these people builds very slowly, more by way of simple observation than by authorial effusion.

I kept thinking of great works like The Wasteland – but without the cynicism and pessimism – works where an unseen observer glides through a city, collecting bits and pieces of people’s lives and presenting them for our consideration. Among several unforgettable ones in this novel, there's the young woman who finds herself pregnant and frightened, trying to present a brave face to the world. Her encounters with her parents are as poignant and meaningful as any human interaction you can find in literature these days. A guy seems to love her but something’s blocking him. There’s the single dad whose hands are burned very badly and when we find out why, it’s almost too much to bear – which is why he doesn’t think about it much himself. I especially loved an elderly couple. The man is trying to hide from his wife the fact that he’s dying but she probably knows anyway. His memories of his return to her after the war tell you just about everything you need to know about being married. And who could not cheer for a young couple who, in a rare break from their rambunctious twins, manage a couple of hours in bed one afternoon?

These bare bones of the story make it sound like soap opera but it’s the opposite. Whereas the soaps (I gather) are all about melodrama, exaggeration and cloying emotionality, this book gains its power from its simplicity, its believability and its ordinariness. Even the odd style comes to seem just right. For instance, the lack of punctuation for the dialogue makes it natural and spontaneous. Inchoate phrases often bump into each other. But isn’t that the way life comes at us much of the time? By comparison, dialogue with quotation marks looks old-fashioned and stilted. As for nameless people being identified as "an old man with thinning hair and a carefully trimmed moustache" or "the boy with the white shirt" – isn’t that the way we know most of the people in our neighbourhoods? And when the narrative switches to first person for the pregnant girl, there seems to be some inherent – if inexplicable – logic to the change.

I’m not sure that it all comes together perfectly. The ending may be a little contrived. There are some characters whose place in the scheme of things never quite comes clear. The book certainly won’t satisfy if you’re looking for a speedy read with a forward-driving narrative. But I am in awe of Jon McGregor’s depth and wisdom as a writer. And I’m positively enraged when I find out that he published this book when he was 21 years old.


The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Movie) Written by Guillermo Arriaga, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones

In the wasteland near a Texas border town, coyotes are eating the body of a Mexican wetback cowboy who was shot dead. Nobody seems to know how he was killed. Or care. This is one of those appallingly bleak towns where everybody lives in a mobile home or a flimsy prefab. The local big shots are the border patrol guys. A young wife has nothing to do but sit in a caf smoking and swilling coffee. Lingering shots establish the monotony of it all: a fat woman sunbathing, kids wandering aimlessly in the dusty road.

It so happens, though, that the dead wetback was a buddy of cowboy Pete, played Tommy Lee Jones. So Pete takes the law into his own hands. When his quest turns into a journey to Mexico, the movie nearly succumbs to the episodic weakness of all road movies but there’s just enough tension to sustain the on-going drama. At two hours, the movie’s too long and stretched out but we get some great vignettes. A scenario with an old blind man could make a one-act play on its own. One of my favourite bits features some Mexican honchos in the desert watching an American soap opera on a tv connected to the battery of their pick-up truck. And then there’s the dingy bar out back of beyond where a woman thumps out the Chopin tude in E (Opus 10, #3) on a decaying piano.

Near the end, the movie takes an expected turn. For a few minutes, it feels like we’ve been cheated. But then we realize we’ve been watching a morality tale with a message far more interesting than the one we thought we were getting.

The real point of the movie, though, is Tommy Lee Jones’ performance. I’m not an expert on these cowboy roles. I vaguely recall enjoying James Garner in "Maverick". Must have seen John Wayne lots of times but never noticed any acting. Clint Eastwood was always too grim. If we’re looking for a manly hero who can set things right, my vote goes to Tommy Lee Jones. What I especially like is that he shows that geezers can be wise, tough, warm, affectionate, funny and sexy.

Rating: C (i.e. "Certainly worth seeing")


I Am My Own Wife (Play) written by Doug Wright, directed by Robin Phillips, starring Stephen Ouimette. (Canstage, Toronto, to March 4)

While I try avoid reviews beforehand, it was hard not to pick up the bad vibes about this production. Still, I’m keen on one-actor plays in which that actor plays several roles, having written and performed a couple of those plays myself. And after a while, catching this play became a matter of satisfying my curiosity about the unfavourable reviews. After all, there’s a lot of talent involved. Could the critics be wrong? Could there be any reason for the negativity?

In this case, there are three.

First – the play. Not that the true story of Charlotte Von Malhsdorf lacks interest. A transvestite Berliner (man to woman), she miraculously survived the Nazi era, up to and including the Second World War, then the repressive Communist regime in East Berlin. Gradually, she reveals that her huge mansion, ostensibly a museum of old German furniture and artifacts, actually functioned as an unofficial club for gays and lesbians. Just before the end of the first act, there’s some suggestion that Charlotte was an informer for the authorities.

But somebody standing on stage telling about her life – no matter how fascinating that life was – doesn’t amount to a play. Drama (according to me) happens when characters are inter-acting on stage and we see them changing before our eyes. So what does the writer do here? He drags out the old gimmick that you fall back on when you can’t decide how to dramatize a story: you make a play about getting the story. Thus we get Charlotte's story by way of interviews with the American gay man who discovered her in the 1990s. Mr. Ouimette handles the transitions between characters well and he has some lovely moments when Charlotte recoils at the Berlitz German that her guest is offering her. But there’s precious little interaction between them. We’re left with very long stretches of a person talking about her life. And if somebody’s going to be talking at me for two hours, that person had better be pretty damned engaging.

Which brings us to the performance. Stephen Ouimette is a very accomplished actor. Almost too good for this material. He under-plays it so much – will you forgive me for saying he plays it "straight"? – that the character lacks any theatrical charisma. If this lengthy talking at us was going to work, Charlotte would have to be the kind of person who would grab us by the throat and never let us go. Mr. Ouimette, to my taste, was far too subtle and restrained. It didn’t help that the costume made him extremely unattractive. The script says Charlotte felt she didn’t need fancy clothes or make-up to create her femininity. Fair enough. But the production saddles her with an ugly black sack of a dress and matching kerchief – somewhere between a nun and an Amish granny – that, to put it kindly, don’t add much visual interest to Mr. Ouimette’s male physicality.

Ah yes, the visuals: black, white, drab, grey, empty, cold. Charlotte’s house is a cavernous, empty space with a curved ceiling, like an abandoned arboretum with the heat turned off. Occasionally lights come up behind a scrim and we glimpse jumbles of exotic furniture lovingly mentioned. For the most part, though, the production (the first act at least)sadly lacks colour and joy even though the script insits that Charlotte was a vibrant, exciting person. Would it be too totally camp on my part to say we could have done with just a touch more gaiety?

By the end of the first act, I was feeling sorry for all the nodding grey-heads around me. Presumably, they were struggling to keep their eyes open in the attempt to get full value for their subscriptions. Having bought a rush ticket, I felt no such compunction. So I gladly moved on to the next stage of my life journey.


The Secret to the Academy Awards (Essay)

What the average movie-goer doesn’t realize is that there’s usually a secret ingredient to a movie that gets it included among the notables in any given year. One year I noticed that all the important movies had a nice grand piano. Another year it might be a famous painting.

This year, it’s the "difficult dinner". By this I mean a grouping of major characters around a dinner table where something very significant is going on, something that provides a key to the theme of the whole movie. Take that scene in Brokeback Mountain where Jake Gyllenhaal’s family gather for Christmas (or is it Thanksgiving?). There’s a lot of tension between Jake and his father-in-law, who is being a real prick. This is the scene where Jake’s attempt to seem like a good family man nearly unravels. You can see him squirming under the pressure. Thanks to this great scene, Brokeback will surely win the award for best picture and Jake will win best supporting actor. Sad to say, in spite of Heath Ledger’s great performance in the movie, he won’t win the Oscar because he doesn’t appear in this scene.

Another great dinner scene comes in Capote. Chris Cooper, the local lawman is entertaining the sophisticated New Yorkers, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine Keener (Truman Capote and Harper Lee) at his family table in Kansas. You can see how awkward everybody feels about the enforced sociability. There’s some minor conflict with Cooper’s son – trivial domestic troubles intruding on the life-and-death business that has brought these people together. It’s a good enough dinner scene to win Hoffman the best actor award.

It could also win Catherine Keener best supporting actress. She’s up against Michelle Williams in Brokeback, with its own spectacular dinner scene but Michelle will probably lose out, like her partner Heath, simply through not being written into the scene. Amy Adams is also nominated for best supporting actress in Junebug. As I recall, it has breakfast scenes and a lot of mucking about in the kitchen preparing meals but, unfortunately, that doesn’t quite qualify as the difficult dinner required to create a winner this year. And speaking of supporting roles, there's some strange stuff going on around the family table in A History of Violence but the scripwriters forgot to invite William Hurt to the party, thereby nullifying his nomination for best supporting actor.

In Munich we get that amazing scene around the table where Eric Bana, the head hit man, holds a getting-to-know-you party for the rest of his team. Turns out Eric is a dab hand at the stove when he’s not killing people. Again you get lots of tension: the conviviality versus the deadly intent of the group. More like a sinister supper than a difficult dinner, but close enough. So there you go – another nomination for best picture.

I can’t recall a great dinner scene in Good Night and Good Luck – which is probably why it won’t earn the Oscar. Lots of sitting around tables in bars, carping about everything, some eating going on – what you might call supercilious snacking. Barely enough to merit a nomination, so it’s obvious that this movie won’t win the award.

Another movie that earned nominations this year on the basis of its great dinner scene is Walk the Line. That scene where the repentant Johnny Cash invites his alienated family for a holiday dinner totally rocks. All the years of stored-up resentment between father and son come spilling out, threatening to ruin Johnny’s recovery. The scene gives Joaquin Phoenix the opportunity for some of his best acting, which explains why he’s nominated, even if the movie isn’t. And Reese Witherspoon, quite rightly, is nominated for best supporting actress thanks to this really difficult dinner.

Then there’s Transamerica – that scene in the restaurant, after she bails him out of jail, where she’s pumping him for information and he’s so disdainful. She doesn’t eat much but the scene certainly qualifies as a bummer banquet. An even better one comes with the ghoulish gathering with her family in another restaurant. Given these two miserable meals in Transamerica, Huffman is a sure bet for best actress.

In Mrs. Henderson Presents Judi Dench invites the Lord High Chancellor to share a repast in a tent on the spreading lawn of some palatial abode. While eating, she tells him the details of the nude shows planned for the Windmill Theatre, causing his Lordship to choke on his wine. This is really more of a lascivious lunch than a difficult dinner – enough for a nomination but not an award.

As for Pride and Prejudice, these Jane Austen things always feature some fine dining among the gentry. But no one meal stands out -- no award, I’m afraid.

North Country is the only one of the major nominees that I haven’t seen, probably because it never struck me as very appetizing. So I think we can safely rule it out. Can’t recall any great gourmandizing in Syriana. Ditto for The Constant Gardener. Scratch those two.

Crash was my most-hated movie this year, so much so that it marked a historic event for me – the first time I ever left a movie half an hour after it started and asked for my money back. It seemed to me that it was all taking place on a night in LA when everybody screams at everybody else and indulges in a lot of over-acting. Something to do with the phases of the moon maybe. But people have been saying that the movie’s worth seeing if you can stick it out. I’m beginning to get curious. So maybe I’ll check out the DVD. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll supply my own cutlery.



Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (Movie) directed by Michael Winterbottom

A British film crew is attempting to make a low-budget movie of Lawrence Sterne’s 18th century novel Tristram Shandy. What little we see of their efforts looks like a Masterpiece Theatre production of Tom Jones as done by Monty Python trying to be Peter Greenaway: barnyards and bosoms, lopsided wigs, and a grown man speaking to us from inside his mother’s womb. But the off-screen life of the actors constitutes the main story. We get the petty rivalries, the love affairs, the flirtations, the fussing over costumes, the compromises forced on the company by budgetary constraints. There are lots of precedents for this sort of thing. In the fictional line, one of the great ones is Truffaut’s Day for Night and more recently there was the American State and Main starring Alec Baldwin. In the documentary vein, Terry Gilliam’s fascinating Lost in La Mancha tracks his failed attempt to film Don Quixote.

I love actors with all their foibles. And the problems they encounter in Tristram Shandy certainly make you feel sympathy for them. So why didn’t I love the movie? I think, in part, because everything is so fragmented. There’s a sort of Robert Altman thing trying to happen, with various stories criss-crossing, but we never follow any one of them long enough to get involved. Even more bothersome is the self-conscious cleverness of it all, particularly the lead actor’s annoying habit of popping up continually in front of the camera, interrupting scenes and hitting us with his voice-over narrative in a too-effortful attempt to seem funny. It’s all very post-modern, very de-constructionist and all that, but what’s the point? Maybe they’re trying to show that the life of the movie-makers is just like the novel they’re filming – unmanageable and not amenable to a coherent art form. You can admire that concept in an intellectual way but it doesn’t make you love the film.

But there are some good scenes. It was fun to watch these Brits inviting Canada’s own Gillian Anderson (well known for her work in The X Files, they tell me) to join the cast on a minute’s notice. The two main actors, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, do some neat riffing that looks like improv. At the opening of the movie, they’re assessing the colour of Mr. Brydon’s teeth, while trying to decide whether he is a supporting player or a co-lead. During the final credits, each tries to top the other guy's Al Pacino shtick.

My favourite scene of the whole movie takes a break from all the film shenanigans. Mr. Coogan comes into the suite where he is staying with his girlfriend and he’s confronted by his infant son crying desperately. There in the dark of night, we get a quiet, intimate scene with the dad picking up the baby and changing his diapers, complete with close-ups of the baby’s poopy bum. Then the dad carts the baby around the room, very quietly crooning a basso-profundo version of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." To me, that was a touch of reality that the movie needed a lot more of. Or maybe I’m just one of those guys who goes all soppy and sentimental at the sight of baby pooh

Rating: D (i.e. "Divided" i.e. some good, some not so good)


The Pink Panther (Movie) directed by Shawn Levy, starring Steve Martin, written by Steve Martin and Len Blum

Sometimes you’re so tired and fed up that it seems a real silly movie is what you need. Being something of a Steve Martin fan, you think this one might be just the thing. But when you enter the theatre and find that the average age of the twenty audience members is thirteen, you have doubts. And your hopes plunge even further when all the previews feature scenes with elderly ladies getting decked by projectiles of some kind or other.

In this throwback to the Pink Panther series of movies, Steve Martin plays Inspector Clouseau, the dumbest and most incompetent cop France has ever seen. Kevin Kline, the Chief Inspector, assigns Clouseau to a celebrated murder case as a decoy to distract the press so that he, the Chief, can solve the crime secretly. As I don’t remember much of the original Pink Panther movies, it struck me that the model for this kind of thing is the Naked Gun. In that movie, though, Leslie Nielson was simply a journey man actor at the service of a story. Here, the plot seems totally at the mercy of Steve Martin’s vanity. (The credits list about five assistants for him, including a "hair consultant".) Like a clown desperate for our love, he passes up no opportunity for cheap gags – be they flatulence, pratfalls, puns, sexual innuendo, etc. You know that slightly faggy way that Steve Martin has of extricating himself from an awkward situation – the raised eyebrow, the prissy expression and the pivoting exit from the scene? Well, I kept wondering how he was going to extricate himself from this movie.

By all measures, I should have hated it. In fact, I’m not really in a position to judge it because I never see this kind of thing. I suspect it’s a very bad movie. I loathe slapstick but the quanitity of it in this movie wore down my resistance. With the result that I laughed laugh a lot, sometimes quite helplessly. (The twelve year old girls in front of me were in ecstasy.) In the afterglow, I’m feeling sort of comforted by Steve Martin’s apparent belief that nothing is sacred, that everything is risible. After all, this is the man who published a brilliant essay in The New Yorker on the question of whether or not there is a God – from the point of view of a horse. His portrayal of Clouseau as the bad joke who somehow stumbles through makes me think there may be hope for me too.

Rating: Given the mood I was in, the movie felt like a B (i.e. "Better Than Most") but my real self – the sophisticated, intelligent cultural critic -- tells me that it was probably an E ( as in "Eh?" i.e. iffy).




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