Dilettante's Diary

Sept 18/07

Home
Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
Restaurants
JUNE 16, 2017
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
MIMC
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
HIGHS 'N LOWS OF 2010
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
Housekeeping
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
MOVIES
BOOKS
RE-READINGS
MYSTERIES/CRIME books
VIDEOS and DVDs
PLAYS
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date above is the date on which the page was started. The most recent reviews will be found towards the top of the page.

Reviewed here: The Hunting Party (Movie); An American Childhood (Memoir); Will This Do? (Memoir); Two Days in Paris (Movie); The Do-Gooder's Diet (Health, Wellness, Fiction)

The Hunting Party (Movie) written and directed by Richard Shepard; starring Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg

Richard Gere, a washed-up war correspondant, teams up with a buddy (Terrence Howard) who was his camera man in Bosnia. They return to their old stomping grounds to flush out the world’s most wanted war criminal. Sounds like a great movie. In some ways, it is – which is what you’d expect from the guy who also wrote and directed The Matador. There’s a similar brash, in-your-face spirit to this movie. But I would have enjoyed it a lot more.....

.....If it didn’t all seem so fake. We get prolonged voice-over narrative, then clumsy expository dialogue. People keep changing their minds without any plausible motivation. The heroes keep getting get their asses saved in the nick of time by mere coincidence or luck

....If there was one speck of believability about the bonding between the heroes. Richard Gere does great work as the boozy newshound but there’s no chemistry between him and the bland Terrence Howard. Despite strenuous sessions of bad language in an effort to pump things up, the relationship never catches fire. Nor are matters helped much, except in a cosmetic way, by the addition to the team of Jesse Eisenberg as a wet-behind-the ears young journalist who staggers around with his mouth open, constantly in fear of messing himself. Not that it’s his fault. The script saddles him with a one-note role – except for one cool scene where he gets to show another side.

....If they didn’t keep resorting to tricky camera angles: shots of rooms from what would be the point of view of a spider in an upper corner; shots looking up at people’s chins from the level of their belly buttons. You keep wondering: are they trying to make this all more interesting? don’t they trust the material?

....If the uneasy mix of comedy and evil, fact and fiction worked better. In the midst of the three-stooges bumbling on the part of the reporters, a flashback tells us what motivates the Gere character’s search for the arch villain. For a few moments, we’re bathed in nauseating, mawkish, sentimental melodrama – complete with sobbing violins.

.....If I weren’t so cynical. But that’s the way it is. At least, I’m real. Or I think I am – more real, at any rate, than this movie.

Rating: D (i.e. "Divided" = some good, some bad)

 

An American Childhood (Memoir) by Annie Dillard, 1987

I'm reading the newspaper and I notice a quote from Annie Dillard. She’s saying something about the time of life, around age thirteen or fourteen, when you begin to see the world on your own terms. I’m like: is that how it goes? Then Martin Levin, the books editor of the Globe and Mail raves about Annie Dillard’s books in a recent column, so I figure it’s time to start reading her.

The introduction to this memoir made me a bit wary – a poetic geographical/historical evocation of her hometown of Pittsburgh. Eventually, though, she started talking about how her parents would sit around analyzing jokes with their kids, experimenting with more effective ways of telling the stories. Who could not love such a family? Her mother comes off in this book as a particularly colourful character. And there’s a very loving portrait of a kindly, rich grandmother.

At its best, the memoir has a kind of Dylan-Thomas quality in its evocation of childhood. You have to give Ms. Dillard credit for her powers of observation. What other writer has noted the way the corners of a book make dents in the palms of your hands? On the whole, though, there’s a lack of specificity in the book. We get a lot of rumination but not many facts. In a chapter about boys in her dancing class, we learn nothing about any one boy; instead we get the likes of this: "Ah, the boys. How little I understood them! How little I even glimpsed who they were. How little any of us did...." I kept wishing Ms. Dillard would give us some flesh-and-blood individuals instead of this woolly speculation.

Worst of all, I never seemed to grasp her main point – that business of seeing the world and your place in it on your own terms, even though she reprises the theme again and again. For instance: "I never woke, at first, without recalling, chilled, all those other waking times, those similar stark views from similarly lighted precipices: dizzying precipices from which the distant, glittering world revealed itself as a brooding and separated scene – and so let slip a queer implication, that I myself was both observer and observable, and so a possible object of my own humming awareness."

Huh? Either I’m too obtuse to experience the rarefied delights of a consciousness like Ms. Dillard’s or she’s indulging in some mighty fine writing that doesn’t mean much.

 

Will This Do? (Autobiography) by Auberon Waugh, 1991

I discovered the novels of Auberon Waugh (son of the more famous Evelyn) while living in Fort St. John, British Columbia in the 1970s. By some miracle, the little local library had copies of these hilarious samples of British wit at its malevolent best. You might say, then, that Auberon Waugh saved my life by getting me through a bleak winter in that isolated outpost. You might also say that he nearly brought my life to a premature and tragic end. On a car trip in the interior of BC that year, I was regaling my companions with some of the best bits from the Auberon Waugh novels; our driver was laughing so hard that he nearly put the car up a telephone pole.

Jump forward several decades. The New Yorker reviews a book by Auberon’s son Alexander. The article mentions that three generations of Waugh’s – from grandfather Evelyn to grandson Alexander – have written memoirs, but that Auberon’s is the best. So I'm keen.

Will This Do?, published in 1991, ten years before Auberon died at the age of 61, serves up the stuff of many Brit boy memoirs: growing up in lordly country homes, enduring the trials of beastly public schools, suviving the farcical stint of military service. One of the biggest surprises for me was the discovery that the first of Auberon’s outrageous novels, The Foxglove Saga, was written in six weeks one summer when he was nineteen years old and had nothing to do. But the memoir’s juiciest stuff – for anybody who has a taste for celebrity gossip – has to do with the bizarre relationship between distinguished author Evelyn and his progeny. It’s always comforting to know that a much-revered artiste isn’t as nice as you or I.

The latter half of the book details Auberon’s highly celebrated life as a journalist, chiefly as a writer of scabrous satires on public figures. Auberon comes off as a pretty urbane and genial fellow but you have to accept that you’re dealing with a right-wing snob who rejoices in anything that weakens – preferably crushes – the unions. The barrage of name-dropping and score-settling is, I’m sure, delicious for people in the know. For the rest of us, the mention of so many unfamiliar personalities and publications doesn’t mean a whole lot. In spite of occasional flashes of mordant wit, one can’t help feeling that the writer saved his best efforts for his newspaper columns and novels.

 

Two Days in Paris (Movie) written and directed by Julie Delpy; starring Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Marie Pillet, Albert Delpy.

There’s so much to hate in this movie. Let’s start with the voice-over narration and the hand-held camera. Not sure why I’m so opposed to voice-over narration. Could it go back to some childhood trauma about being tied in a chair and forced to listen to stories? At any rate, on the conscious, adult level of aesthetic appreciation, voice-over narration always strikes me as a lame fallback when a script writer can’t manage to dramatize a story through dialogue and action. As for the hand-held camera, that has become, for my money, a really tiresome clich that film-makers trot out whenever they're trying to make the proceedings seem more exciting than they are – a device which is, for me, literally nauseating.

Then there are the characters. Julie Delpy plays a French woman, now living in New York. She and her American boyfriend (Adam Goldberg) have been travelling in Venice and she has brought him to Paris to meet her family. I could find nothing to like or identify with in these vapid, stupid people. He’s a neurotic, narcissistic hypochondriac. She’s a flakey, hysterical liar. Her parents (Marie Pillet and Albert Delpy) are idiots and every taxi driver is psycho. Plus, every man they meet is a former sex partner of hers and they’re all creeps. (We’re supposed to believe Paris is that small? Besides, the joke worked much better for Catherine O’Hara in Best In Show.)

But the worst thing about the Delpy and Goldberg characters is that they bicker constantly in a way that is meant to be witty and clever but is, in fact, just grating. This kind of kvetching can work in the hands of a writer who can make the characters real and their bitching interesting. Granted, there’s a sort of relentless Edward Albee/David Mamet intensity to the dialogue here but the characters don’t for a minute display any viability; they're mouth-pieces for a movie star who wants to create a pseudo-sophisticated vehicle for herself as writer, star and director. It all comes off as one prolonged acting exercise -- see how long you can keep up the stream of complaints without faltering.

Apparently, Ms Delpy is trying to re-create the miracle charm of the little movies by Richard Linklater in which she starred with Ethan Hawke – Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) – both of them talky two-handers. Trying to overlook the fact that her script has nothing like the magic of those earlier ones, I was beginning to think maybe her character had something going for her (she’s pretty, after all) but then she created a horrible scene in a restaurant with yet another former boyfriend. Never mind that she had political correctness on her side, her behaviour was gratuitously ugly. By which time, I was beginning to hope that the two lovers would have a fatal confrontation with one of those terrorists that the Goldberg character kept worrying about. It looked like the safest thing for all of us would be for me to get out of the theatre, even though the movie still had about twenty minutes more of bitching to go.

Rating – Since there weren’t even any decent scenes of Paris, this movie doesn’t rate the "E" rating, as in the Canadian "Eh" (i.e. "iffy"). Rating: F (i.e. "Fergedddaboudit")

 

The Do-Gooder’s Diet (Wellness/Health/Fiction) by Norma Vale, 2007

No chance of my getting away without full disclosure on this one: my name appears in the acknowledgements. If some moral support was felt from this department, it was meant wholeheartedly. However, having had no in-put as to the contents of the book, I feel free to comment on it.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a devotee of diet literature, just a guy who keeps hoping that his second trimester look doesn’t suddenly blossom into full term pregnancy. So any well-presented information about healthy eating is welcome. In the presentation of her material, Ms. Vale has done something highly original: she has combined a book about eating wisely with a novel. We get Julia, a weight loss coach, communicating by email with six clients. Through their mutual exchanges, we follow developments in the lives of the clients and of Julia. This helps to keep you reading; the 400 pages fly past quickly while you’re wondering what’s going to happen next.

Unlike lots of diet books, this one doesn’t offer some magic bullet for rapid weight loss. Rather, Ms. Vale (who is, in real life, a trained wellness counsellor and an award-winning journalist) encourages her clients – and us readers – simply to adopt healthier ways of eating, along with exercise. There is necessarily a certain amount of repetition as, in her coaching role, she keeps having to reiterate the basics. But you’ll be skimming along thinking you’ve heard it all and suddenly she’ll hit you with a brand new fact. (Did you know that if you start adding more vegetables to your diet, you may need to drink more water to avoid gas problems?)

So what’s with the "Do-gooder" part of the title? Ms. Vale tells her clients that one of the best ways of getting their minds off unhealthy snacking is to reach out to other people: make a phone call, write a note, visit somebody who’s sick, take up some volunteer activity. Hence the book’s subtitle: How to lose weight and keep it off (and make the world a better place). I, as someone who has never done anything nice for anybody, can only point to the testimony of Ms Vale’s fictional clients who claim that it works.

For me, one of the best things about the book is that you get to see how weight management plays out in the ups and downs of everyday life. Instead of some guru who’s constantly preaching at you, we get people coming back with questions, problems and even complaints. This shows you that, in anybody’s real life, the attempt to make important changes is always a mix of progress and setbacks. Which is not to say that ultimately the benefits aren’t real. In fact, Ms. Vale almost makes it sound like it could be fun taking control of your eating and working out how you can get the most enjoyment out of the healthiest choices. Now if only I could be convinced about that business of doing something nice for somebody.....

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com