Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nuit Blanche 2013

Reviewing the map to plan for this year's Nuit Blanche, it seemed to me that the events were much more concentrated than in the previous years.  Many of the exhibits were positioned in a direct route following the path of the U-shaped Yonge-University subway line.  This made for a much easier journey than in the past, when our route involved zig-zagging between streets and doubling back multiple times.  There also seemed to be fewer exhibits in the areas away from the downtown core, such as the Distillery District, Queen West, Wychwood Barns, 401 Richmond, making it less worth while to travel the distance to get there.

There were also many more large installations that could be seen from a distance, thus reducing the number of times where endless lineups scared us off from trying to view an exhibit.  My favourite of these was titled "Monster Child" and consisted of a huge spider-like balloon float with bright yellow legs that swayed in the wind.  Each leg is attached to a long ribbon that spectators were encouraged to pull, in order to make the monster bob up and down.  Attached to the back of the monster was another large float that might have been a pink bunny.  I guess this represented the titular "child".  A bit further down was a "wheel of fortune" which apparently was supposed to be the real focus of the attraction.  You were supposed to spin the wheel to pick a question from choices such as "Are We Happy", "Should I Believe",  "Can I Trust You", "Can I Help" and then apparently, the "oracle child" will provide you an answer through a headset that you wear.  Unfortunately the audio was broken when we passed by, so the spinning the wheel component was temporarily suspended.  That part sounded hokey anyways, but the visual spectacle of the inflatables was great. 

The installation that generated the most anticipation and buzz was Ai Weiwei's gigantic Forever Bicycles, 2013 sculpture set in Nathan Phillips Square.  This work expands on the piece that is currently on display at the AGO Ai Weiwei exhibition, which featured 42 bicycles melded together in a circular formation.  Both sculptures reference the Forever Bicycle Company and comments on its waning dominance in providing China's primary mode of transportation.  The bicycles in the Nuit Blanche installation are more stylized than those at the AGO.  They are mounted in such a way that the structure appears fuzzy or blurry when you look at it from a certain angle. This piece is also unique in that it can be touched and interacted with by the public.  There are pathways through the structure that you can walk through to view it "from the inside", and the wheels of the bicycles can be spun.                                            

The exhibit called Little People was not only cute and whimsical, but it actually had a strong political message as well.  The toy protest march, aptly held inside Toronto's City Hall, is in support for a similar event held in Russia to protest "alleged local election corruption".   The Russian toy protest was held after live protests were banned by authorities, but was also banned.  It reminds us of how lucky we are to live in a country where free speech is protected. The plastic toys held signs that read "Not Good Enough".  I asked my Ukrainian friend, who grew up near the Russian border, what wasn't good enough.  She answered, "Whatever people are upset about at the time - jobs, economy, political corruption, etc." 

As we strolled through the night, we were passed multiple times by the roving Renegade Parade, which was not even an official Nuit Blanche 2013 event.  But that did not stop the procession from swelling in the numbers.  Revelers danced and followed behind the blaring music and glowing lights of the parade truck that led the way.  The parade has become a yearly themed event. This year, participants were encouraged to dress up in animal costumes.  Through social media, they were pointed to the Japanese costume store Kigurumi, that was offering a discount on their plush, full-body animal suits.  The parade truck was made to resemble a zoo cage with bars to keep in the animals.  We saw young people, dressed as lions, leopards, lizards, foxes, unicorns, bears and pink bunnies, all having the times of their lives.

The exhibit at Yonge Dundas Square was called the (Re)Generator Project, but I remember it as Toilet Paper Art.  Multi-coloured rolls of toilet paper were used to create a sphere, a pointed hat, a rose and strategic covering for on photos of some otherwise nude men.  I’m sure there was a loftier message to the pieces that speaks to saving environment, reuse, and recycling.  But by the time we got to this exhibit, I was too tired to read the writeups and just enjoyed looking the pretty, vibrant works.

The food trucks were out in droves and making a killing during Nuit Blanche. There was a truck selling Tiny Tom Donuts, that reminded me of visiting the CNE.  We decided to try a unique spin on French fries called the Tornado.  It looked like a bunch of Pringles chips on a stick, but was actually slices of potato joined in a long spiral, deep fried and seasoned with a choice of sea salt, dill pickle, sour cream and onion, or buffalo wing spices.  This made for an awesome late night snack and was as fun to eat as it was tasty.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Movie: TIFF 2013

When you watch 24 movies in 11 days, picking them based only on a short and not always accurately descriptive synopsis, there are bound to be "the good, the bad, and the ugly".  But when after 3 days at the Toronto International Film Festival, we still did not see any movies that we thought were more than mediocre, we started to worry about our film selection skills.  Luckily things picked up by the fourth day and by the time the festival was over, we ended up watching quite a few excellent movies.

The movie that might have been a candidate for our favourite was unfortunately jinxed with technical problems. The Indian romantic comedy "The Lunchbox" is a delightful film about the complex lunch delivery service that is most common in the city of Mumbai. Suburban housewives prepare cooked lunches for their husbands and place them in tin containers called "tiffins".  The lunches are picked up by "dabbawalas" who deliver them via bicycle and then train to the husbands' offices in the city.  The dabbawalas are known for an amazing success rate for delivery.  This movie focuses on a misdelivered tiffin which leads to a touching relationship that develops via written notes sent between the neglected wife and the lonely widower who unintentionally receives her delicious meals.

About 10 minutes before the end of the screening, something broke down and the movie went black.  The poor director and lead actor, who were waiting to participate in a Q&A after the viewing, sat on the stage and told jokes and quips to kill time while the movie was fixed.  Eventually they started in with the Q&A, speaking mostly about the very interesting lunchbox tradition, while carefully not spoiling the end of the movie. After 45 minutes, the movie was canceled and we had to leave without seeing the end.  As it turns out, there were problems during the gala screening the previous day as well.  The subtitles stopped working for a while.  Both these issues hurt the movie in terms of buzz and film favourite voting.  Now we will have to wait until the movie comes to the theatres so we can find out the ending.

Our actual favourite movie is Sunshine on Leith, which was originally a Scottish stage musical based on the songs of the 80s pop duo, the Proclaimers. In the same vein as Mamma Mia, this heartwarming, feel-good movie seamlessly weaves the songs into the plot so that it seems like they were written specifically for the story.  The title of the movie is based on a Proclaimers' song of the same name and provides the setting of the movie in the district of Leith, Edinburgh.

The story follows the joys and tribulations of three couples.  Married couple Jean and Rab are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary when they find out that he has a daughter from a goodbye fling he had just after their wedding.  Their daughter Liz and longtime boyfriend Ally are not on the same page regarding marriage.  And their son Davy is starting a new relationship with Yvonne who has just moved to Scotland from England.

The mother was named Jean so that the Proclaimer's song "Oh Jean" could be included.  Other plot points make use of songs such as "I'm On My Way", "Over And Done With", "Then I Met You", "Let's Get Married", and "Letter From America".  You can almost work out the storyline just by following the song titles.  The grand finale features the Proclaimers' most famous song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" and is used to highlight Davy's devotion to Yvonne, since he would agree to leave his beloved Scotland and follow her to England if necessary.  This declaration of love results in a huge flash mob dance in the town square and led to a several minute standing ovation at the end of the movie.  The director, several of the actors and even the Proclaimers themselves were on hand after the movie for the Q&A.

Labour Day is a very different type of movie for  Canadian director Jason Reitman. His previous films including Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up In The Air, featured quirky concepts and smart, snappy dialogue.  This one is full of beautiful scenery shots, long looks and subtle acting, bringing to life the heart-rendering story from the book of the same name.  Kate Winslet plays Adele, a severely depressed divorcee with a teenage son Henry, who are "taken hostage" by an escaped convict Frank, played by Josh Brolin.  The affection-starved mother and son quickly bond with the congenial Frank, who becomes a father figure for Henry and a suitor for Adele.

Philomena is based on a true story about an Irish Catholic woman's search for the son she was forced to give up as an unwed teenager in the 1950s after being sent to give birth at the convent of Roscrea.  After years of being stonewalled by the convent that handled the "adoption", she is aided by former BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith in finding the truth.  It turns out that the Church sold her baby and many others to the USA and tried to cover it up ever since.  This could have been a very sad and maudlin movie had it not been for the witty script by comedian Steve Coogan and the exceptionally sardonic performance of Dame Judy Dench.  Just when things start to get too depressing, Dench would deliver a pithy jibe to lighten the mood.  It was difficult to watch this movie without feeling outraged at the cruelty and hypocrisy of the nuns in this convent.

Cold Eyes is a taut, stylish Korean thriller about a crack police surveillance team on the hunt for a gang of bank robbers led by a cut-throat mastermind.  The movie starts with an exciting cat and mouse game that turns out to be a job interview for new recruit Ha Yoon-joo, who needs to prove her skills of observation and memory while following her assigned mark on the subway and through busy streets and shops.  This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

The directors and all the major stars of the movie were on hand for the Q&A, even though this was the second showing of the film.   Much of the discussion by the actors seemed to revolve around how much they drank and partied while in town.  The audience was filled with Korean fans of Jun-Ho Lee, who played one of the members of surveillance team in the movie, but is better known as being a part of a Korean pop idol band called 2pm.

The Blind Detective is the latest hilarious Chinese romantic comedy/action thriller movie by director Johnnie To.  The titular blind detective is a former cop who lost his sight through retina damage and now works as a freelance detective, solving cases for the reward money.  Without his sight, he compensates with his sense of smell, deductive wit and his ability to empathize with the victims and perpetrators.  When he pairs up with a female inspector to work on a missing persons case from her past, both chaos and romance ensues.

Grand Seduction is an almost frame by frame remake of an excellent French Canadian film called "La Grande S├ęduction", moving the action from a small fishing village on an island off the coast of Quebec to a small fishing village on an island off the coast of Newfoundland.  Unemployment is rampant in the village, since the fishing has dried up.  In order to attract a factory to be built there, the residents must lure a doctor to take up permanent residence.  The people go to uproarious lengths to make their candidate doctor feel at home, including bugging his phone to find out his preferences, planting money for him to find and faking enthusiasm for his beloved sport of cricket, even though none of them know anything about it.

We were pleasantly surprised that the director and two main stars showed up for a Q&A session for a 9am viewing of the movie.  The doctor was played by the extremely handsome Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch. The lead fisherman was played by burly Irish actor Brendan Gleeson, who remarked on the difficulty of turning off his Irish accent and adapting a Newfoundland one.  There was an extended discussion about why early on in the film, the doctor talked about how much he missed his dog that he left back home, but a dog never showed up afterwards.  The director blamed the producers for nixing the ideas of either hiring of a "dog actor" or creating a CGI dog, since there was not enough money in the budget.  The audience agreed that it would have been a better ending with a dog by the doctor's side.  If anything, I would have eliminated the extraneous cat at the beginning of the movie.

We ended up seeing an eclectic selection of movies of different genres from different countries .  Despite our slow start, we ended up with quite a few good ones.