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Wild about WEIRDOS

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Bruce McDonald’s 2016 TIFF offering, Weirdos, is the kind of film that makes you glad you went to the movies.

The title is a flashback to ‘70s jargon, where ‘weirdo’ was a common expression used to describe anyone who wasn’t like everyone else.

Set in 1976 Cape Breton, the principle weirdos in this magical collaboration by McDonald and playwright Daniel MacIvor are two teenage misfits, Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone,) who are desperately seeking to bring some colour into their black-and-white lives. Together they hitchhike their way to the big city – in this case, Sidney, Nova Scotia – where Kit plans to live with his glamorous mother (Molly Parker.) And although at first glance Weirdos resembles a teenage road movie, Kit and Julia soon learn that sometimes the destination is the journey.

Regardless of the size of their roles, McDonald has a wonderful way of giving his actors their moments to shine. Molly Parker should be a shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her tempestuous portrayal of Kit’s unstable mother. Allan Hawco offers a stellar, close-to-the-bone performance as Kit’s struggling father. Cathy Jones is heartwarming as Kit’s stiff-upper-lip grandmother. Rhys Bevan-John intrigues and entices in a high-risk cameo role that happily pays off. And thanks to McDonald’s light touch and MacIvor’s justifiably celebrated way with words, young scene-stealers Dylan Authors and Julia Sarah Stone win and keep us rooting for them from start to finish.

Given the lavish natural beauty of Cape Breton, Becky Parson’s soft black-and-white cinematography keeps us focused on story, not scenery, McDonald’s ‘70s soundtrack is a lyrical blend of rhythm and nostalgia, and all of it makes for  outstanding viewing. Weirdos is anything but weird, but it sure is fun to watch.

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Today’s Special: An elegant collector’s-items feast for your eyes, before the curtain goes up at Shaw

                                                                                                                                                                    If a picture paints a thousand words, Emily Cooper’s photo illustrations are frequently too marvelous for mere nouns or verbs. The talented Ms. Cooper, daughter of renown dance and stage photographer David Cooper, is the artist  behind this year’s stunning Shaw Festivalshow posters, capturing the essence of each Festival entrée about to be served up in Niagara-On-The Lake. Extra-Hot dishes on the 2012 Shaw menu include next week’s opener, Terence McNally’s stirring Ragtime, birthed right here in T.O.  16 years ago by Garth Drabinsky and Hal Prince; Githa Sowerby’s A Man And Some Women, which opens at the end of this month; Terence Rattigan’s French Without Tears, which opens next month; and Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble In Tahiti and John Guare’s adaptation of His Girl Friday, both slated to open in June. And if these productions are even half as stylishly elegant as Ms. Cooper’s photo illustrations, already regarded as collector’s items, the Shaw Festival may be about to enjoy its best season ever. For the full festival line-up, click here; for tickets and how to get ‘em, click here. And enjoy this poster parade!

Well done, Ms. Cooper.  Well done, Shaw!

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Still goofing off. Back tomorrow. Maybe. Probably.

What can I say about Jann Arden’s new memoir? As Ms A. might say, “I can’t really describe it but I’ll try”

“Life will shoot you out of a cannon where you want it or not. The universe is a cannon and we are the balls.”

Okay, I admit it. My copy of Jann Arden’s memoir, Falling Backwards, is a bit of a mess. But at least I have an almost acceptable excuse. As I started to read it I started turning down the top right hand corner of a few pages which contained remarks that made me laugh out loud. And then I turned down the corners of a few more pages. And one or two more. And now that I’ve finished the book it looks like it’s been chewed up by the Arden family attack dog, Aquarius. Who, as Ms Arden properly points out, was not really a guard dog, especially since he “licked complete strangers like they were cheeseburgers.” ‘Nuff said.

Arden’s memoir is a fascinating flashback to a childhood unlike yours and mine, because all her experiences are recreated through the uniquely humourous filter of her mind. And her considerable gifts as a writer only serve to make Falling Backwards more magical. She is still haunted by memories of childhood “and its boundless, heartless atrocities.” She flashes on piles of dead birds and gophers, the prey she stalked with neighborhood buddies Leonard and Dale. “I see their little faces, I really do, and am instantly ashamed.” She says she would not have wanted to be a gopher or a magpie between 1971 and 1976 in Springbank, Alberta. Nor, she assures you, would you.

As a child she was also an aspiring arsonist. One time she dropped about five hundred lit wooden matches down a heating vent one at a time; “I just liked striking the matches and seeing them burn. You could strike them on anything: a zipper, your two front teeth, your Levi’s jeans back pocket, the wall, the floor, your forehead. Any surface could light an Eddylite match.”

She and the two brothers she adored attended a rural school where “if you came to school and didn’t smell like some farm animal, you were considered weird.” And her parents literally built the family house, a process that kept them living in a trailer during a long. hard Canadian winter. How cold is winter in rural Alberta? “You can freeze your nose off in about three minutes if you’re not careful. I know a lot of people without a nose – they just have the nostril holes. [Okay, no I don’t.]”

When her father was unable to deal with his alcoholism, her mother told him he had to leave. He did. To keep the family afloat her mother took a number of odd jobs, including a job sorting eggs at a chicken farm. “When the wind blew in the right direction, the smell of chicken shit was so bad it could almost peel the red paint off a barn. I can’t really describe it but I’ll try; if you put a loaded diaper in a pot of boiling sock juice with goat balls you’d be about halfway there.”

Years later her mother and father, now reunited, opened a video store, where Arden remembers working long hours. “My mother tells me I was the worst employee they ever hired. I probably was.” She watched eighteen hundred movies the first year she worked there. “I was like Roger Ebert on crack.”

Falling Backwards is also a revealing history of the food and drink she consumed in her formative years. She and her brothers Duray and Patrick were raised on Crock-Pot dinners. Pop Shoppe soda, Old Dutch salt and vinegar chips, and Wagon Wheels. “A Wagon Wheel,” she informs the uninitiated, “is a godawful chocolate-covered cookie thing filled with marshmallow. We ate them by the millions even though they taste like used sports socks.” Her mother sent them to school with sandwiches. “We went through nine gallons of Cheez Whiz every week, I’m sure. I can’t wait to see what the long-term health effects of that will be.” But then cooking was not her mother’s strong suit. “We had some very well-done spaghetti over the years. A single noodle was usually about an inch in diameter. Italian folks would have lit themselves on fire if they’d had to eat my mother’s pasta.”

She saw what alcohol could do to her father and her older brother Duray. “It was almost a given that there would be confrontation if drinking was involved; you cannot reason with rum.” But that didn’t stop her from skipping math class to drink Lonesome Charlie by the river. “Lonesome Charlie,” she explains, “was a very cheap, incredibly crappy pink wine that was basically a headache in a bottle but was also sweet and bubbly and therefore very popular.”

Aside from some mesmerizing family dynamics and her own struggle to find herself, what makes Falling Backwards so memorable is Arden’s dry western wit — “One year I got jumper cables in my stocking for Christmas. It doesn’t get more Canadian than that” — and her consistently engaging use of language, whether she’s sharing her first experience with Grand Marnier (“That stuff could give a headache to a tree”) or describing a character named Colette,  “a real firecracker” who “could talk the leg off the lamb of God.”

The first song she ever wrote, Paradise, was about her parents dying. Adds Arden: “I set the bar very high early in my career to write the most depressing songs possible.” Eight albums, eight Juno Awards and 17 top-ten singles later, Arden is living proof that “You are not what you did, but what you will do.” In Falling Backwards she revisits her triumphs and tragedies without fanfare, making her personal defeats all the more touching, until our eyes mist over. But after surviving a unique detox regimen, which really must be read to be believed, she emerges dry-eyed and strong and ready for her next tour.

“The things we choose to remember,” she notes, “say a heck of a lot about us.”

Wow. You can say that again.

Lots to dish about tomorrow — especially Jann Arden’s stunning new memoir, Falling Backwards. Stay tuned!

All at sea today, literally — and far too lazy to type. Soooo, a demain! (Maybe)

Carol has her night on screen, Jian takes his show on the road, and Evan proves he’s a Prince of dance

HELLO, CAROL:  Broadway devotee Dori Bernstein’s new documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life opened the 12th Floating Film Festival last night, and Channing is such an irresistible presence on screen that we couldn’t help wishing the 90-year-old musical comedy legend was with us on board the Seabourn Sojourn as we sail into Caribbean waters. Bernstein, with Channing’s blessing, gently reveals the forces and conflicts and inner turmoils that drove Channing to succeed in show business in a way few others before her have achieved. The star studded cast of characters who share Channing anecdotes includes Lily Tomlin, Tyne Daly, Bruce Vilanch, Barbara Walters, Loni Anderson, Tommy Tune, Chita Rivera, JoAnne Worley, Rich Little and Tippi Hedren. And Carol’s first roommate Betty Garrett (whose last interview appears in the film) points out that their first screen kisses were with Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood. The film is a delight, full of insight and

THE NEWLYWEDS: Harry & Carol

inspiration. At times almost hypnotically fascinating, it also captures a bonafide love story when Channing, who has no illusions about her failings as a wife and mother, is reunited with her fist love, old school beau Harry Kullijian, after 70 years. In her late ‘80s, Channing marries for the fourth time, and together they launch the Channing-Kullijian Foundation to support arts education in schools. What the film doesn’t share with us is the touching real-life epilogue to their December-December romance. On Boxing Day they were at their desert home in Rancho Mirage when Harry, by now 92, suffered an aneuryism and died.       Small comfort, perhaps, but at least Kullijan had the pleasure of seeing Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, not to mention marrying the original, before his untimely exit. For which Carol, I’m sure, is genuinely grateful.

GHOMESHI: Montreal-bound

GOES TO QUEBEC: Host with the Most Jian Ghomeshi is admittedly “stoked” by plans to broadecast his top-rated CBC Radio show Q from Montreal on March 1. His live sold-out gig at the historic Le National theatre features some of Quebec’s leading cultural figures from the worlds of music, dance, comedy and film, including electronic music maestro DJ Champion and his band the G-Strings, who will perform live throughout the show;

LECAVALIER: high Q

comedian Sugar Sammy, dance great Louise Lacavalier, singer-songwriter Ariane Moffatt, and web TV star Simon Olivier Fecteau. Ghomeshi, who has previously taken to enthusiastic audiences in New York, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Chicago and Salt Lake City, says he’s super-excited about going back to Montreal with the show – and we believe him.

DIAMOND: sparking OCAD

MARCH BREAKS: Select nominees for the 32nd annual Genie Awards will be grilled on stage at TIFF Bell Lightbox on March 7, the night before the awards telecast on CBC. The special  In Conversation event will take place from 6:30-8pm. Seating is limited, so contact the TIFF Box Office sooner than later for tickets …  OCAD University prez Sara Diamond will host renowned digital culture theorist, data visualization artist and educator Lev Manovich on Friday, March 23. Manovich will give a free practical workshop and lecture exploring the dynamic field of information and scientific visualization. Both events are open to everyone … Goodmans’ good guy David Zitzerman is once again co-chairing the 12th Annual International Film & TV Finance 

McKIE: home town high

Summit sponsored by Bloomberg BNA/CITE on March 22-23rd  at the Luxe Hotel in L.A. … National Ballet guest artist Evan McKie has danced the role of the Prince in Sleeping Beauty before, but never on his own turf.  The Toronto-born Stuttgart Ballet star will dance the role here on March 11, his first performance in his hometown since training at the National Ballet School.

NO PEOPLE LIKE SHOW PEOPLE:  .. Next big film for Viola Davis is Won’t Back Down, a new drama about laws in California and a handful of other states that allow parents to dump bad teachers and overrule administrators in bottom-ranked schools. Davis plays a teacher who risks career and friendships to join the revolt. Maggie Gyllenhaalplays the single mother who sells cars, tends bar and rouses parents to take charge of their grade school. And Holly Hunter plays the union rep who fights the takeover.  Sounds like a natural for next September’s TIFF …  Rick Mercer goes skate to skate with the Winnipeg Jets tonight on The Rick Mercer Report at 8 pm on CBC … nominees for the 2012 Rose d’Or

MERCER & WINNIPEG CHUMS: When you're a Jet / You're a Jet all the way ...

Awards will be announced at a gala tonight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the first time in its 50-year history that the Rose d’Or has held an event in Asia … and author Lawrence Hill will be presented with the Writers’ Union 2012 Freedom to Read Award tonight at the Book and Periodical Council‘s Freedom to Read event at the Gladstone Hotel. Union chair Greg Hollingshead said the Union chose Hill for “his reasoned and eloquent response to the threat to burn his novel The Book of Negroes.” Roy Groenburgof The Netherlands, taking offense to the use of the word “Negro” in the title of Hill’s novel, burned the cover and publicly threatened to burn the book. Hill responded that burning books “is designed to intimidate people. It underestimates the intelligence of readers, stifles dialogue and insults those who cherish the freedom to read and write. The leaders of the Spanish Inquisition burned books, Nazis burned books.” Too true.


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