Sunday, December 19, 2010

Manhattan Transfer Concert at Koerner Hall

Manhattan Transfer, the 70s jazz, swing and R&B band played a Christmas concert at Korener Hall in the Royal Conservatory of Music. The songs ranged from christmas standards such as Sleigh Bells, The Christmas Song, White Christmas, to past greatest hits such as Route 66, Tuxedo Junction and Birdland. Their voices blended beautifully in harmony, throwing in the occasional scat or vocal imitation of instruments.

Korener Hall is a beautiful venue for a concert with great sightlines and excellent acoustics. The music rang out clearly throughout the room, all the way to the back row where we sat. We were first in Koerner Hall a couple of years ago during Nuit Blanche where musicians sat in the rafters and in unison played a single note all night long.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tirza at TIFF and How We Inadvertently Watched the Santa Claus Parade

Got tickets from a friend to go to the TIFF Bell Lightbox Sunday morning to see a movie that was part of their World Cinema series. You are shown a foreign film that is not announced until you get there, followed by a discussion and Q&A about the movie. Our movie was Tirza, a tense drama about a father searching for his missing daughter that is Netherlands' 2010 submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The movie was full of political messages and symbolism and required you to pay close attention since things are not as they initially seem. This generated very interesting dialogue between the host, the guest film critic and the audience.

To get some exercise, we decided we would try to walk home from King & John St to Yonge & St. Clair. We knew that the Santa Claus parade was happening some time during the day but were not sure of the schedule or the route. We first ran into the parade at Yonge & Queen, in front of The Bay and tried to avoid it by walking through the Eaton Centre. Coming out at the SW corner of Yonge and Dundas, we were met by a mob of people that blocked our path. We considered trying to dash across the parade, but didn't like the prospect of trampling on some little kids just to get mowed down by a bunch of dancing penguins.

In trying to escape the crowds but unable to cross the streets to go in the direction that we wanted, we inadvertently ended up following the entire parade route backwards - west on Dundas to University, north on University to Bloor, and then west on Bloor to Bathurst where the parade started. It actually turned out to be a very efficient and warm way to watch the parade quickly, walking towards the approaching parade rather than standing in the freezing cold waiting for the parade to slowly come to you. We got to the end of the parade just in time to see the big man himself. If you're wondering where Santa Claus lives, I'm convinced it's in Honest Eds. At that point, we were so off course that we gave up on the walk and hopped on the subway, which we were now finally able to reach once the crowds dispersed.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Art Gallery of Ontario Membership

Rich and I became members of the Art Gallery of Ontario at the end of last year since it seemed like the most economical way to see the King Tut exhibit. Having the membership allows us to drop in regularly for a few hours to see the new exhibits, without having to feel like we need to spend the entire day there to make the admission worthwhile. You also get 10% off at the gift shop, the Frank restaurant and the excellent cafeteria in the basement that serves the most delicious soups.

We've taken all the regular guided tours, such as the architectural tour of the newly renovated Frank Gehry design featuring the Galleria Italia, and the tour of the AGO's most prize possessions, highlighted by Ken Thompson's donation of Peter Paul Rubens masterpiece "Massacre of the Innocents" as well as an over-abundance of Krieghoff paintings which all start to look the same after wandering through 4 huge rooms full of them. There are also great "mini-tours" that focus on either the Canadian, African, European or Contemporary collections.

Taking a tour of the Contemporary collection (which changes quite frequently) is the most fun, since you have someone explain to you why you are admiring a pile of rocks or a totally black canvas with a single dot just off centre. We witnessed quite a surreal scene at our visit this weekend. There were a group of "paintings" by Agnes Martin on the wall, each one basically a white canvas with horizontal lines of varying thickness running across them. Seated in folding chairs were a group of art students(?) sketching these paintings. I stared at them, and then back at the paintings for a while wondering if I was missing something. Perhaps they saw something deeper and more meaningful that what I did? Perhaps the point was to imagine what could have been? I sneaked up to one of the sketchers and peeked over his shoulder at his pad, and there was a drawn a rectangle and some carefully shaded horizontal lines. I still don't get it...

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical

Absolutely loved watching Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Musical which is playing at the Princess of Wales.

Based on the campy 1994 movie "The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert", the musical is about 3 drag queens (Mitzi/Tick, Bernadette/Ralph and Felicia/Adam) on a road trip through the Outback in Austrailia driving a bus named Priscilla, enroute to meet Tick's son Benjamin. The musical features disco music from the 70s and had too many costume changes to count, each one stunningly colourful, extravagant and outlandish.

Where the movie used songs mainly to show the performances of the drag queens, the musical did a great job of incorporating extra songs to advance the story, picking songs that blended well with the overall genre and era of the rest of the music. The best addition was the tear-inducing Elvis Presley ballad "You were Always On My Mind", sung by Tick to his son Benjie. It perfectly reflected the thoughts and emotions of the character in that moment and was my favourite song of the show. Other songs that made you want to get up and dance included "I Will Survive", "MacArthur Park", "Boogie Wonderland", "It's Raining Men". The entire last song, "Finally" and following bows and encores were performed to a standing ovation.

The musical first premiered appropriately in Austrailia (where the movie is considered a cult classic), then moved to London, and is now showing in Toronto as a warmup for a run on Broadway. It is interesting to note that as the show moved through each continent, the music was changed slightly to reflect the popular music of the new locale. By the time it hit North America, songs by and references to Kylie Minogue were replaced by Madonna.

Some of the scenes and costumes, especially earlier on in the show, might be a bit risque for young children or elderly patrons, but the show is so much fun and full of energy that hopefully no one will mind. It was fun to see people in the audience decked out with souvenir feather boas and martini glasses, both of which were featured prominently in the show. I need to go out and rent the movie again!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Theatre: Forever Plaid at Calvin Presbyterian Church

Watched a stellar performance of the musical Forever Plaid at the Calvin Presbyterian Church, presented as a fund raiser for a new roof for the church. Forever Plaid is about 4 members of a 50s band called "The Plaids" who return from the dead to perform a final show. It featured 3 cast members of the show from the Thousand Islands Playhouse, plus a special guest star from The Jersey Boys playing the 4th member.

The fifth member of the ensemble was the piano player that provided musical accompaniment for songs such as Three Coins in a Fountain, Chain Gang, Sixteen Tons, Day-O and the grand finale Love is a Many Splendored Thing. Audience participation was courted on the songs Matilda, as well as Heart and Soul where they got a woman to play half the tune on the piano. The funniest skit was a fast-paced montage of acts that could be seen on the Ed Sullivan show that involved a slew of props and costume changes.

It was a unique experience to sit in a church pew and watch these talented actors singing and dancing on the altar. The show was modified to fit the limited space, lighting and sound that could be provided within the church.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Eiffel Tower Soup Can Scuplture

This Eiffel tower sculpture made totally out of soup cans and jello boxes was on display in front of the Yonge Eglinton Centre. It was supposed to celebrate the launch of the American Express Gold Rewards card. I could not figure out the relationship between the card and the soup cans, except maybe that after spending on this card, this will be all you can afford to eat??

Anyways, it was an interesting sighting ... hopefully the soup will go to the homeless shelter afterwards.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nuit Blanche 2010

Nuit Blanche, the all night art exhibition got off to a slow, uninspiring start for us this year. We saw a bunch of exhibits that sounded very lofty and meaningful in the writeups, but just didn't measure up when we saw them, mostly because we didn't understand the point. For example, there was the the big log fire at Yonge Dundas Square as well as a large burning metal acorn at Campbell House. There were the "interactive" lights in the lower Bay subway which didn't really do anything. It was cool to see the secret second subway platform where many movies have been filmed, but not worth the huge lineup. At Atrium on the Bay, we watched either 3 people and a dummy (or 4 people with one in a very suffocating mask who didn't move) sitting around not doing too much while a video screen showed upside down images (intentionally or not??)

From our early viewings, I liked "Smile" - the collage of faces broadcast on the Holt Renfrew building while the jazz song of the title played. Rich liked the visual display on the ROM crystal. I didn't really understand what I was looking at there either, but I find anything displayed on the ROM crystal to be interesting since it is such a unique structure to begin with.

While walking away from the ROM, we came across the ultimate of street foods - a stand selling "Cheese burger Spring rolls" by no less than Chef Susur Lee. Although we're both supposed to be on diets, this was too special an offering to pass by. We rationalized it with the fact that we had been walking around since 1pm that afternoon (having gone to the ROM to see the Terracotta Warriors on free ROM day for AGO members), and would continue to walk until 1am.. that should be worth splitting of a spring roll! And as expected, it was extremely tasty!

Two of my favourite experiences of the night were not even officially part of Nuit Blanche, but just choice to display at the same time to take advantage of the huge crowds passing by, without having to go through the selection process of being chosen for the event.

The first was the art exhibit in the Church of the Redeemer at Bloor and Avenue Road which displayed these beautifully painted spheres with chains attached to them, leading to a series of keys. The balls and chains represented our daily burdens and the message was that we held the key to unlocking them and reviewing the beauty of life - or at least that's what I got out of it.

The second was "Shorts under the Stars" ( where a set of Canadian short films were being shown in the parking lot of the CTV (and new Chum) building at Queen and John Street. The screen was erected underneath the iconic sculpture of the car crashed into the wall. We sat down and watched about 8 of the 12 movies being shown and loved most of them. They ranged from comedy to drama, live action and animation and were all very unique in story, style and tone. We walked in just in time to hear the final line of the film called "Family First" where some dark secret was told to the family at the dinner table and they all sat around stunned and devastated until someone decided that what was told had to be a joke. The two secret tellers looked at each other and decided to lie in order to spare their family.. I never found out what the secret was and it's driving me crazy! Our favourite film was a funny and sexy teenage vampire spoof called "You're so Undead" - a play on the phrase "You're so dead" that teenagers use when they're in trouble with their parents. The final line caused a gasp and burst of laughter. We would have stayed to watch them all except we didn't know how many were left and it was freezing to be sitting still outside at almost midnight.

So we left and got to the Bell Lightbox just in time for the last showing of "clean version" of Singing in the Dark, a sing-a-long to famous movie musicals led by comedian Shawn Hitchins, who was hilarious and a dead ringer for Conan O'Brien, although he claimed he was always mistaken for Tilda Swinton (a joke Conan makes as well). As we all sang lustily to songs like Summer Nights from Grease, Do Re Mi from Sound of Music, Day-O from BeetleJuice and so forth, the host pranced up and down the audience making funny quips, singing at the top of his lungs and passing the microphone around for the audience to sing into.. Luckily we were safely sitting in the middle of a row where he couldn't reach us! People were getting up to dance and act out parts of songs, and then the entire crowd got up to do the Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is not easy to "Jump to the left, and take a step to the right" while standing in a packed theatre.

Then after midnight came a new round of darker movies such as Reservoir Dogs (singing Stuck in the Middle with You while cutting off a guy's ear), Clockwork Orange (singing Singing in the Rain while violently beating up on a couple), and more explicit lyrics (Team America, F**k you, South Park's Blame Canada). The night ended with a rousing rendition of Life of Brian's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. The two sing-a-longs were the highlight of the evening for us. All in all, it turned out to be a good Nuit Blanche year after all.

Bell Lightbox - Essential Cinema Top 100

The Bell Lightbox is a wonderful new addition to Toronto, especially for film buffs like Rich who like the old classics. It has 5 regular movie screening theatres and an entire floor of smaller theatres to be used for educational purposes.

The ground floor is currently hosting an exhibit called "Essential Cinema Top 100 Movies" where the movies were selected in a very unique fashion - TIFF program directors were polled to pick their top 100 films, while at the same time the general public was asked for their picks. The public list is as to be expected with Citizen Kane, Casablanca, etc at the top. The expert list was vastly different with Citizen Cane being #15 and most of the 14 previous movies were ones I've never heard of before! The two lists were combined to form the Essential Cinema Top 100, and the Bell Lightbox is showing all of them between September and December. Some will have special commentaries before or after the film and some of the silent films will be accompanied by live musicians. The exhibit, which is on display until Oct 23, 2010, has movie posters and other memorabilia from the 100 movies. There are also selected videos, movie artifacts such as Darth Vadar's helmet and the dresses from the Leopard and some other movie, the model ship from Videodrome, toy tank from Life is Beautiful, etc. Iconic soundclips from movies such as Jaws and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly play occasionally.

As one of the free events for Cultures weekend (Sept 25/26), there was a showing of the 1924 Buster Keaton silent film called Sherlock Jr, about a young film projection operator who wants to be a detective. While courting his girlfriend, he is framed for a burglary by a rival suitor and is unable to solve the case since he is a bungling inept dectective. Back at his real job, he shows a movie about Sherlock Holmes and dreams himself into the role. There was a 6 piece live band who composed a brand new modernized score and played it in time with the movie. It was rather surreal to watch, since we were watching a movie with a live band, that depicted the showing of a movie with a live band.

In addition to the Essential Cinema series, upcoming showings at the Bell Lightbox include a Tim Burton festival and a special Halloween series of movie showings. For Nuit Blanche, they held sing-a-long movie clips all night. There are several hot new eating spots within the Lightbox including The Canteen for casual dining/quick meals and Luma for more upscale dining. The Bell Lightbox is quickly establishing itself as a happening place in Toronto and will probably be the new central location for future Film Festivals.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Ultimate Jane Walk to Jane Jacob's Annex Neighbourhood

Participated in what I thought was the ultimate in this year's Jane's Walk offerings - a tour of the annex where Jane Jacobs lived. Since I grew up in the annex, it was a bit of a homecoming for me too. Started in 2007 as the perfect tribute to this iconic woman, Jane's walks are led by local tour guides through neighbourhoods across Toronto and other Canadian, US and international cities.

We learned to look out for buildings of red brick from the Don Valley Brickworks and turrets that are scattered through the Annex. We were shown beautiful churches which have now been re-purposed into other uses such as theatres, schools and multi-dwelling units. And the grand finale of the walk took us to view a small, hidden and extremely innocuous plaque in tribute of Jane, and then finally her house. Along the way, we were given some insight into this amazing woman, her passionate personality, and her fight to stop the Spadina expressway.