Dilettante's Diary

Feb 14, 2022

Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
MAY 27, 2024
Nov 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
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July 19/18
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Apr 23/18
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Dec 13/17
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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: Yearbook (Memoir); Spencer (Movie); The Plot (Mystery/thriller)

Yearbook (Memoir) by Seth Rogen, 2021

This memoir is obscene, offensive, scurrilous, narcissistic, silly and shallow. Swear words are more common than commas. The author can't offer a single sentence without falling back on some gross term. Is this all intended to show us how hip he is? Could it be that his fans expect this kind of gutter language from their hero? The pages overflow-- like a plugged toilet -- with bathroom humour. Do we really want to have our noses rubbed in his fondness for pornography? In his participation in a live sex show in Amsterdam's Red Light District? And how many of us are thrilled with the book's over-riding theme: marijuana (affectionately known as "weed") and acid are good for you and everybody should be free to enjoy them as much as they want? Clearly, this sort of book is intended to make a reader like me aim it at the nearest garbage pail.

But I was laughing so hard in places that I probably could not have thrown it accurately enough to hit the barn door, let alone the garbage pail.

Mr. Rogen learned well the lesson that the instructors taught him when his parents let him attend a stand-up comedy school in Vancouver at the age of twelve. Nobody wants to hear about the things you like, the things you enjoy, the teachers said. Audiences only want to hear about the things that bug you, the things you hate. So young Seth's first stand-up routine lambasted his awful grandparents who seemed to love his sister more than him "mostly because their words and actions made it wildly clear that they did."

From that promising start, he goes on in this book to talk about one disaster after another. (In that respect, this is more of a collection of humorous essays than a memoir.) There's the time when he was a teen stand-up and a mohel asked him to write some jokes for circumcision ceremonies. The time when he lost control of his bowels on a date that looked promising. When he had to pee in a bottle on the path leading into Tom Cruise's mansion. The calamity around an accident at a Jewish teenagers' camp. His terror at working with a live tiger for a scene in The Interview. Fleeing for his life from the burning sculpture scattered by the wind at the climax of Burning Man in Nevada. Not to mention the convoluted hassles of getting movies made and the international kerfuffle about his take on North Korea's supreme leader in The Interview.

Mr. Rogen doesn't come across as a connoisseur of literature but he shows that he does understand the art in that he makes fun of it at times. At one point, for instance, he says: "I will now switch to PRESENT TENSE because books about writing say it 'adds immediacy to the story'." And later: "I will now revert back to past tense. Thank you for going on this amazing literary journey with me."

Occasionally, Mr. Rogen does allow hints of more serious purpose to peek through. In the midst of many tales of youthful drunkenness, he'll mention -- almost parenthetically -- that he doesn't drink any more. He advises against the use of cocaine, presumably because he feels it has ruinous effects that other drugs don't have. His love for his wife, Lauren, and his commitment to her come through clearly. And there are a few times that he abandons the comic voice and lets real grievance be heard. One example being his outrage at the anti-Jewish sentiment that Twitter tolerates. Some grudges against other actors and comedians aren't completely stifled. He does frankly admit that negative criticism of his work hurts, particularly when it comes from other comedians as it did in the case of The Interview. And the book's cover blurb does let us know that he and his wife have established a non-profit organization to help families coping with Alzheimer's.

So even a curmudgeonly reader can't write the guy off completely. But all that emphasis on the joy and pleasure of recreational drugs gives this reader pause. Mr. Rogen makes a pretty good case that they're a lot less harmful than alcohol and yet there's no social stigma around alcohol. Is that because drugs are thought to be associated more with marginal, racialized people, whereas alcohol is championed by society's elite? Or is it more of a generational thing? Are we geezers simply incapable of appreciating the merits of a practice that has been demonized for most of our lives?

Hard to say what the good or ill effects of the practice may be. Except that it certainly hasn't inhibited the creativity and productivity of one notoriously stoned stoner.

Spencer (Movie) written by Stephen Knight; directed by Pablo Larrain; starring Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Stella Gonet.

Okay, we know this isn’t meant to be a historically accurate document. In fact, it opens with a statement something like: “A fantasy based on a real tragedy.” We can accept, then, that this is an attempt to show what it might have been like for Princess Diana to spend a few days of the Christmas holiday with the Royal family at Sandringham. It’s presented as having taken place about ten years into her marriage, at the point when it was seriously unravelling.

But can the members of her husband’s family have been anything like as stiff and formal as they’re presented here? Would they all – about ten of them – sit in absolute silence at the dinner table, until the Queen picks up her spoon and takes a sip of her soup, whereupon they all pick up their spoons in unison and take sips of their soup? Would they pose for the official family photo without anyone saying anything? Didn’t they ever engage in casual, spontaneous conversation? The Queen (Stella Gonet) only has one brief speech. Apart from one significant scene, Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has only peremptory mumbles here and there. All of which is to say, this isn’t a movie for royal watchers. They’d be sadly disillusioned by the marionette quality of their idols.

Granted, the movie may be trying to convey Diana’s impression of the royal world, the sense that there was an enormous gulf between her and the royal way. But it’s a little hard to take her situation seriously when her opposition is presented as being so inhumanly regimented.

As is everything around her. In the opening of the movie, some army trucks are driving up the long, majestic entrance to the palace. About eight soldiers alight from each truck in lock step formation, take chests from the vehicles (what are these chests? children’s coffins?), turn, march into the kitchen, deposit the chests and withdraw, all in lock-step formation. Then the kitchen staff, again in perfectly synchronized unison, step forward and open the chests and begin to deal with the food in them. I suppose it’s reasonable to assume that the groceries couldn’t be handled in a higgledy-piggeldly manner, but would they really be processed in such a rigid way?

I was never a particularly devoted follower of Princess Diana but, as far as I can tell, Kristen Stewart conveys a reasonable likeness of Diana (although Ms. Stewart is more beautiful, I believe, than the princess was). Sally Hawkins, in her slightly oddball way, brings a note of humanity to the part of Maggie, one of the few servants Diana feels comfortable with. Ms. Hawkins’ character gets one of the few lines that offers any compensating view of the royals. Regarding a decision that Prince Charles makes in Diana’s favour, Maggie opines: “They’re not all bad.

And when it comes to oddballs, nobody surpasses Timothy Spall in the role of an army officer who’s supposed to be overseeing security arrangements at the palace. His strange uniqueness brings a depth and complexity to the role that a more ordinary actor probably couldn’t offer. In one attempt to reach across the official divide towards Diana, he tells her about his best friend’s dying in his arms during a skirmish in Northern Ireland. When people die heroically like that, it’s for the crown, he says, not for the personalities of the individual royals.

We all know now – better than we did a few decades ago – that life can be very difficult for a young woman who marries into the royal family if she’s not adequately prepared for or temperamentally suited to the role. But Diana’s plight isn’t explored thoroughly enough here; we don’t get much sense of her inner world. Yes, there is mention of the “other woman” and we can see how that is troubling for Diana. And she can't help occasionally comparing her situation to Anne Boleyn's. For the most part, though, she wanders through the movie as a kind of moody enigma. All that comes really clear is that she wishes she could revert to her pre-royal life, to her carefree childhood. Hence her blurting out “Spencer” with a burst of joy when, in the final moment of the movie, she’s asked to give her name on a visit to a drive-in restaurant with her two sons.

The Plot (Mystery, Thriller) by Jean Hanff Korelitz, 2021

Jake Bonner, our progagonist here, is a writer whose first novel was hailed as a very promsing debut by a young author. Since then, he hasn't accomplished much by way of follow-up: a couple of small literary efforts that didn't measure up to his earlier promise. He's currently biding his time teaching creative writing at various institutions. But suddenly, he gets a really good idea for a thriller. Its publication brings him huge success: fame, money, lots of media attention. The life every hopeful writer dreams of.

Except that he's starting to get messages from someone who threatens to expose him as a corrupt fraud. Clearly, the anonymous messenger's intent is to ruin Jake's career. Other reviewers will no doubt tell you the exact nature of the charge against Jake. We at Dilettante's Diary, however, believe in the inviolability of a writer's narrative process, so we won't jeopardize the author's intentions in that regard.

The tension builds to an almost unbearable level as Jake is showered with more and more of the spoils of the successful literary life while the threats from his tormentor are becoming more and more imperative [intense, frightening, scary]. As Jake begins to figure out what's going on, the outcome of the drama -- the resolution of the mystery of his tormentor's identity -- is truly amazing. This is one of those books that comes to such an astounding conclusion that it makes you want to go back and read it again, just to make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together as well as the author claims they do. After some thought on the matter, though, I decided to trust Ms. Korelitz on this point, rather than delve into the book for a second time.

Just two complaints about a book that makes for such a compelling read.

From time to time, we get short excerpts from Jake's phenomenal best-seller: something about a young woman who has grown up in a strained relationship with her single mother and the consequences through the daughter's life. To me, these excerpts did not sound at all like a best-seller. The text is, for the most part, dull narrative, a lot of telling and explaning, hardly any dialogue. In fact, the first excerpt started out so boringly that I skipped most of it. It was only later that I went back to read the whole excerpt, since it turned out that I needed to know how what had happened in the first part of Jake's opus retated to the real life around him.

My other caveat about the book concerns the depiction of the literary and publishing world. Writers are depicted in the most scathing terms. As this book sees them, they're all a bunch of venomous, jealous, conniving egotists. (Not to mention the ridicule heaped on the legions of would-be writers.) In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Ms. Kurelitz makes a sort of apology for that in acknowledging that writers are hard on themselves. "In fact, you couldn't hope to meet a more self-flagellating bunch of creatives anywhere." Well, that may be; we'll have to take her word for it. But's not easy for those of us who stand outside the writers' circle to lose the sour taste that her picture of them leaves in our mouths.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com