Nuit Blanche: Once More With Feeling (Zone C)

For the past several years we’ve missed Toronto’s version of Nuit Blanche (now called Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, I guess) because we’ve been travelling. This year we deliberately avoided trips in late September/early October so we could attend. Well, fine, okay, we also did it to avoid the opening of the NHL season, but that doesn’t seem so relevant now, does it?

So after spending the day yesterday cleaning the condo we settled into art & food mode: we ate dinner (filet mignon, Beringer cab sauv, and Portuguese tarts for dessert), threw back some double shots of espresso (made from Fahrenheit‘s Diablo beans), and joined the overnight art fray somewhere around 11PM.

The forecast had been warning of showers, but — apart from a tiny spit of drizzle at one point — the weather cooperated nicely. We were able to walk to all the exhibits we wanted to see, though we mostly focused on Zone C since it’s close to home (and also because the Zone C curator seemed to be getting the most nods).

We ended up seeing twenty projects. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Top Down, because we could see it being built practically below our balcony. It was fun to have a perspective no one else had.
  • Earth-Moon-Earth, a flawed rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata constructed by beaming morse code translations of the notes to the moon and back, and playing the notes (or altered versions thereof) which had reflected back to earth on a player piano. Very cool.
  • Smells Like Spirit, a lo-fi “séance” about Kurt Cobain. Basically it was a loading dock filled with amps, mixers, lights, etc., just as it might look the night of a show as the crew loads into a new venue. Feedback and swelling noise build up in the little space, and occasionally random Kobain vocal tracks. The best part was the endless flow of people who walked to the end of the space, declared it empty, and left, complaining as they went. All they had to do was listen. It wasn’t about the space.
  • Young Prayer, in which an electric guitar hung from a church ceiling rises into the air, slowly descends, and then drops a few feet onto the floor, causing distortion and feedback through the amps piled on the floor, which continues to ring and squall through the next climb back to the heavens. Repeat. Like Townshend + Mogwai + Ambien, viewed from a church pew. Amazing.
  • The Day After, Tomorrow, 2012, which felt worryingly like the beginning of 28 Days Later in that the installation was simply nine large TV screens showing scenes of apocalypse from thousands of movies. I expected to be infected with rage at any minute. It was fun though, and for whatever reason probably the calmest area we hit all night, so we were really able to engage with the piece.
  • The Evening News (small craft warning), which I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand, but which gets massive points for the following: ambition (an all-night radio show about the end of the world, conducted from a plywood box fitted out like a radio booth), interactivity (headphones playing the broadcast were strung from surrounding trees, and they posted a number you could call with discussion topics), and venue. I wish I’d brought a proper camera so I could have captured the full beauty of the booth, spewing wires into the trees overhead, with the towering downtown bank towers looming and intruding just behind.
  • Ensemble For Mixed Use, which didn’t seem remarkable at all until I got to end, turned around, and saw what ended up being my favourite visual of the night: giant Zildjian hi hat cymbals hovering over the heads of shadowy onlookers.
  • Cent Une Tueries des Zombies, a looped film staged at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, pulling all the tropes from zombie films of the past (good and bad, and shockingly terrible) into a fairly cogent narrative. Lots of humor, especially dubbing the “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” dialogue from Night Of The Living Dead over the scene from the “Thriller” pre-video vignette where Michael Jackson dances alongside his girlfriend.
  • Beacon, a simple and practically deserted project in Brookfield place. The vaulted ceilings there allow for some interesting installations (like Longwave a few years ago) and this year’s Beacon — a thirty-foot steel frame tower, roughly in the shape of an old lighthouse, and bearing a rotating spotlight — was no different. The simplicity of the metal structure, the juxtaposition of this signal which couldn’t be seen outside of the ring of huge bank towers it was nestled in, and quite frankly the calm of the venue made it a nice way to end our adventure.

With the time closing on 3AM I was getting hungry (and Nellie was getting sleepy) so we pushed through the hordes on Yonge Street and swung up to the Zone C rest station. I bought a porchetta sandwich from the Per Se food truck, which hit the spot nicely.

We felt like we’d done a pretty good swath of Nuit Blanche, and had the sore feet to prove it. While we enjoyed much of the art, by far the most exasperating part of the night is dealing with all the drunk idiots. It’s an unavoidable element on a Saturday night, certainly, but the sheer volume — I’d say 75% of the people out were more interested in a street party than in art of any kind — changes the feel of the event. It’s hard to process the images and ideas evoked by the art you just saw when, upon exiting the venue, you see two guys holding up a young girl desperately trying to make herself vomit on the sidewalk, or when the clubgoers spill out into the installations at 2AM and add their yell-y insight, or when the security guys have to yell at some self-styled ninja to get off the elephant statue in Commerce Court. It really takes you out of the experience and doesn’t allow you to get caught up in the art itself. I’m beginning to think the only way to really connect with the art is to go out early before the crowds really descend, or to wait until 4AM when the 905ers have gone home and the Ry High kids have passed out. Or just get wasted ourselves.

Photo by onebadpenny, used under Creative Commons license

“It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself.”

A quick note on two books I read recently:

  • The Psychopath Test (kobo | amazon) by Jon Ronson was funny, sort of useful, and a little worrying. You might recognize the author’s name — he’s the guy who wrote The Men Who Stare At Goats. This book is just as filled with odd characters and gentle mysteries. Amusing, if a little too light with the subject matter, but still made me snicker out loud a couple of times.
  • And then there was Unbroken (kobo | amazon) by Laura Hillenbrand, the mesmerizing story of Louis Zamperini. I’d link to his Wikipedia page but it gives away too much. I found myself ignoring other important things to go lie in bed and read this book. There was no fiction or elaboration to it…just a story that would be unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened. I’m not usually one to recommend biographies, but I’d recommend this book to anyone.

.:.

Photo by onebadpenny, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by pgaif13, used under Creative Commons license

On buggy whips, rogues, and stoned cabbies

Anyone following my Twitter feed or spending a moderate amount of time with me lately would have seen my rant about Uber. I was intrigued by the idea because of the potential for technology to disrupt a long-standing, stagnant industry: taxis. And, as someone who’s spent a little time over the years thinking about corporate strategy, I always have a morbid curiosity to see the next buggy whip industry begin to rage against the dying of the light.

Usually, when an industry is caught with their pants down and eventually admits to themselves that they see the end coming, you’ll see a variety of tactics by the incumbents. Some companies resign themselves and try to adapt, while  others try to hold their ground, usually out of cultural stubbornness or an outright inability to make the change. In the latter case, companies will try to appeal to any existing sense of nostalgia for their products (see: Kodak). In other cases, they’ll fall back on regulation — either saying the threatening companies don’t comply, or trying to ensure they’re included in the regulation, knowing that burden placed on a small company with no industry lobby/alliance would crush them. Often the regulations are valid, but in the cases where the incumbents invoke arcane and irrelevant regulation, or make attempts at scaremongering, then you know they’re in trouble.

Hence, the taxi industry has begun railing at Uber in its various cities, saying it doesn’t met regs. Last week the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association sent a document to media outlets in Toronto making their case against “Rogue apps” like Uber. Speaking of scaremongering, note the title and subtitle of the report: words like “rogue” and “threat to public safety” are classic examples, meant to scare the townsfolk. Taxi associations in Washington, D.C. started pushing back earlier this year as well.

Really, though, the buggy whip is the wrong analogy. That was an example of an industry failing to adapt to the advent of replacement technology — the car — which quickly became the decided preference of most customers. But Uber isn’t that. The core product remains the same: a car takes your from point A to point B. There are two ways in which Uber differs from regular cabs: 1) the smart phone app used to summon Uber cars, and 2) the quality of the service itself. Let’s examine those:

The technology

Sure, it’s slick that smart phone users can summon a car from their iPhone, get an ETA, see the assigned car on a map as it approaches, easily call the driver if plans change, get an email receipt upon arrival, and rate their driver. But most of those things are nearly as simple with a traditional cab: you call a number, you give the dispatcher your address (I’ve not stumped one yet), and you can get a (paper) receipt on arrival if you need one. Seeing the car inching across a map is nice, as is getting an email receipt, but they’re not game-changers. To me, the two key features are being to rate your driver (and knowing those ratings inform future drivers, and knowing the reverse is true), and another one I didn’t mention: convenience of payment. With Uber you simply have a pre-loaded credit card that’s charged when you arrive. You don’t have to fumble for cash. You don’t have to linger in the cab while the cabbie rummages for correct change (which they often don’t have), while the irate drivers behind you honk incessantly. I like all the features of the technology, but the ease of payment is a killer feature. Still, it’s not enough to scare the taxi industry, and it doesn’t play much part in their complaints to regulators.

The service

This, to me, is the key. This, not the technology, is what creates Uber devotees. When I hail a Toronto cab, the very best I can hope for is an experience that’s not terrible. That’s it. That’s the bar. If you’re lucky you’ll get a cab that isn’t a mess, doesn’t stink of cigarette smoke (like the one I was forced to take yesterday) or something worse, runs well, and is temperature-controlled (I’ve had cabbies refuse to turn on the AC on heat-warning days). Meanwhile, Uber cars are immaculate, spacious, and comfortable. Sometimes they provide free bottled water, though I suspect that’s something the drivers pay for themselves.

The TLPA warned against the inaccuracy of the GPS in Uber cars. Personally, I’ve never had (or heard of a problem), unlike Toronto taxis where I have on countless occasions been forced to give my driver directions after he has started driving in the wrong direction, even though I live at major downtown cross-streets. Moreover, I’ve caught two deliberately taking longer routes; when I challenged them they claimed it was faster, which was patently false. Upon arrival I asked them to adjust the meter. Both times they refused; one threatened to call the police. All I could do was refuse a tip; even then, one claimed he didn’t have change. I called the cab company to complain, but the driver wasn’t displaying his medallion or cab number. Conversely, with Uber I’ve had only one incident where a driver missed a turn, got confused and took a roundabout trip to our destination, for which he apologized. When I provided my post-trip rating to Uber along with the explanation for the low rating, Uber instantly took $5 off my fare and apologized again.

Never, in my dozens of Uber rides, have I witnessed unsafe behaviour on the part of their drivers. Meanwhile, since moving to Toronto I’ve been a passenger in a taxi which drove through a red light and ran into a dump truck (I wasn’t seriously injured, but the driver couldn’t have cared less anyway; he was only interested in the damage to his car, and didn’t so much as apologize). I was never contacted by the cab company for an apology. I’ve been stuck inside a taxi as he chased a car — at higher speeds than were prudent on city streets — which had cut him off earlier, and refused to pull over. I got out at a light as he got out to confront the driver; he told me to get back in the cab as I still had to pay. I’ve also been hit by a cab driver doing a rolling right turn at a red light. He was on his cell phone and didn’t notice me on the cross-walk. I wasn’t hurt, but I fell on the hood of his car. He simply kept driving and talking on his phone. I recently took a taxi driven by a man who clearly hadn’t bathed in days. I took a cab (with my parents, no less) driven by a guy who had just smoked a joint. I could go on and on and still not recount all the poor experiences I’ve forgotten over the years. I’ve had good cabs/drivers too, but they’re the distinct exception. Like I said, the best I can hope for when hailing a Toronto cab is a not-terrible experience. When an Uber cab shows up, I expect a superb experience. And I get it. For a 10-15% premium (not the laughable 40-60% premium the TLPA claims) I’ll take that option whenever I can.

Taxi companies have begun to copy the technology side of  Uber’s offering. Interestingly, Uber now allows you call a regular cab from their app too, suggesting at least some cab drivers are willing to work for/with them. Perhaps replicating Uber’s service will be cost-prohibitive for traditional taxi companies under their current regulatory requirements, though that doesn’t seem to be the thrust of their complaints, and I’ve certainly not seen taxi companies make a move in the better-service direction. If the playing field is to be evened, then the regs should be applied fairly to Uber, not in a punitive manner resulting from their lack of  safety-in-numbers the taxi industry enjoys.

Even if the TLPA and others do manage to temporarily impose limits or regs on Uber, it won’t kill the idea. Buggy whip manufacturers likely raised issues of public safety concerning the automobile. The ice delivery industry probably declared refrigerators safety hazards. The music industry wailed and gnashed their teeth at Napster ostensibly on behalf of poor starving artists, but really on behalf of their profits. Uber found a way to deliver a better product. That scares the people who’ve made a lot of money (I mean the taxi companies, not the drivers) delivering the bad product, and so they’ll rail against the progress.

But that never lasts long.

.:.

Photo by pgaif13, used under Creative Commons license. And I was by no means trying to single out Beck Taxi in relation to my story — I just liked the picture. Beck is actually one of the better companies in Toronto…though that’s not a high bar.

Époisse: French for "Your hands will smell like a marathoner's feet for the next several hours"

Last Wednesday, as part of Toronto Beer Week, one of our favourite beer places in the city hosted a special dinner. Beerbistro was pairing ten courses with Rogue beer, brought to Ontario on draft for the first time. For serious North American craft beers fans, this was not to be missed.

Good: the Dead Guy ale paired with bacon & eggs; the Yellow Snow IPA paired with duck salad; the Hazelnut Brown Nectar paired with quail; the Double Dead Guy ale paired with bacon-glazed pork tenderloin; the single malt whiskey paired with crême brulée

Not so good: the Brutal IPA paired with the mini wild boar burger (the stinky Époisse cheese ruined it); the Dirtoir Black Lager paired with seafood boil (the seafood was very unpleasant)

Anyway, with all the talk amongst tables of how Rogue draft compared to in-bottle, and of how it stacked up to Dogfish Head and Allagash and the like, by the end of the night I (and everyone around us) probably deserved one of these:

(via Kaylea McCarron, who probably wanted to say this to me many times)

 

Niagara part II: in which service wins the day

Having the Gardiner Expressway closed for repairs is a mixed blessing. It makes the trip west out Toronto much more painful (Lakeshore can just suck it) but it appears to make the QEW less clogged. At least, that was our working hypothesis last Saturday.

And why were we heading west on the Gardiner and QEW last weekend?

Wine.

Obviously.

This wasn’t an overnight trip, this was a day trip. A quick down-and-back to fill the rack, driven in no small part by the release that day of Hidden Bench’s 2009 Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay. We made return trips to 13th Street, Foreign Affair, Hidden Bench, Stratus, Tawse, and Thirty Bench. We also tried three for the first time: Di Profio (which now hosts Nyarai), Marynissen, and Organized Crime. I must say, for all I’ve heard about Marynissen, I wasn’t very impressed. It had a very ‘fire sale’ feel inside, possibly because the new owners have told them to have one. Not sure. None of their wines jumped out at us, but the deal for two cases of Cab Franc — $140 — was decent value.  $5.83/bottle of (admittedly, a very weak) Ontario Cab Franc is a decent option for everyday house wine.

The real highlights of the day were Hidden Bench (where I was selling fellow tasters so hard I might as well have been wearing an “I ♥ Felseck!” tshirt), 13th Street (where the awesome Lindsay looked after us, and whose winery should probably coin the phrase “pastoral cool”), and Tawse (where we expected to run in, grab two bottles, and run out, but instead spent time in the cellar with the delightful Catherine serving us all kinds of interesting pours and eventually up-selling us on their wine club). The service really stood out on this trip, but I expect nothing less of those three locations.

We even managed to squeeze in a lunch at Stone Road Grille. We probably should have stopped at Southbrook for a Treadwell pizza, or had a bite on 13th Street’s deck, but it’s hard to pass up the grille.

Here are the friends we brought home with us to live, less the two cases of Marynissen:

And here it is in word form:

  • 13th Street 2010 ‘Essence’ Syrah
  • 13th Street 2008 Premier Cuvee Sparkling
  • 13th Street 2011 Viognier
  • 13th Street 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Di Profio 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon (x2)
  • Foreign Affair 2009 ‘Abbraccio’ Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Hidden Bench 2010 Felseck Riesling
  • Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Caché Red Blend
  • Hidden Bench 2009 Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay (x3)
  • Nyarai 2010 ‘Cadence’ Red Blend
  • Nyarai 2011 Viognier
  • Organized Crime 2008 ‘Download’ Red Blend
  • Organized Crime 2011 ‘The Mischief’ White Blend
  • Organized Crime 2010 Fumé Blanc
  • Organized Crime 2008 Syrah
  • Stratus 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Tawse 2003 Bench Reserve Chardonnay
  • Tawse 2009 Laidlaw Pinot Noir
  • Tawse 2010 Laundry Vineyard Cab Franc
  • Tawse 2009 Spark Chardonnay
  • Thirty Bench 2011 Steel Post Riesling
  • Thirty Bench 2011 Triangle Riesling

That should last us a week or two.

Photo by Let Ideas Compete, used under Creative Commons license

TIFF reviews: The Hunt, Sightseers

I must say, it feels weird to have wrapped up our 2010 TIFF on Tuesday, just five days after it opened and three days after our first screening. It was a strategic move, of course, and a wise one, but I’m having trouble processing all the #TIFF12 tweets when — in my mind — it finished days ago.

4. The Hunt

There was a lot of buzz around The Hunt (tiff) following Mads Mikkelsen’s best actor award at Cannes. For the most part I’d say the film lived up to it. Mikkelsen was the best part about it, though I found all the others actors — especially the marvellous young Annika Wedderkopp — to be outstanding as well. The film was rather emotionally manipulative, but in this case I think that wasn’t without a purpose…there’s never any ambiguity about Mikkelsen’s character’s innocence — and I think the raw emotion was meant to drive the viewer toward feelings of empathy rather than suspicion.

Mikkelsen, writer Tobias Lindholm, and director/co-writer Thomas Vinterberg stuck around for a long, honest Q&A after the film. There was a slight air of anti-Americanism in their comments, but only as it related to American filmmaking. Methinks an American studio has pissed off one of Mikkelsen or Vinterberg in the past.

Whatever the studio issues, this was the (co-) top film of the festival for me: 8/10.

5. Sightseers

Sightseers (tiff) made it into our schedule pretty much on the strength of the one-line description: “a frumpy Bonnie & Clyde”. There was no way to avoid it after that.

It was a dark, dark, dark comedy. Kind of a murderous love story set against stunning English vistas, if that makes any sense.

Also, the film was followed by one of the best Q&A’s we’ve ever seen…an even mix of cheeky, hilarious questions and serious film backstory/genesis questions. Which were, in turn, met with consistently hilarious responses from director Ben Wheatly and actress Alice Lowe, who was a revelation. I would have stayed there and listened to them answer questions for another hours. Stupid next movie.

This was, then, the other top film of the festival for me: 8/10.

.:.

Photo by Let Ideas Compete, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Thalita Carvalho, used under Creative Commons license

TIFF reviews: No One Lives, Much Ado About Nothing, I Declare War

And thus endeth this year’s sprint: three films in 18 hours. I understand that’s not much of a sprint compared to some TIFF schedules — or even our own from past years — but in a year where we only see five films, it’s about as sprinty as it gets.

1. No One Lives

We began our festival (if you don’t count the Jason Reitman live read of American Beauty) with a Midnight Madness screening: No One Lives (tiff). As with many films in the MM programme, it was insanely, almost comically violent. The plot was…well, basically, it did what it said on the tin. It killed a lot of people without a whole lot of backstory, and provided the kind of over-the-top kill methods and lazy dialogue you expect from a genre film.

6.5/10

2. Much Ado About Nothing

Since we didn’t get home until 2AM and didn’t get to sleep until after 3, we were a little tired this morning when we rolled out of bed 9AM. Still, there was nothing keeping Nellie from a screening of a Joss Whedon film. Personally I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see this one — Much Ado About Nothing (tiff) is far from a favourite Shakespeare play — but since the premiere was only yesterday there was still a chance Whedon would stick around to attend today’s screening and answer some questions, I had to go along with including this in this year’s picks. When we arrived an hour before showtime we found a long line disproportionately populated with Serenity t-shirts.

So, the film itself was fine. Like I said, I’m not particularly in love with that play, and Whedon didn’t adapt any of the language, but he did a good job of adding to it with little bits of physicality — fist bumps, a girlish lounging pose, a long tumbling scene, Nathan Fillion (full stop) — that cracked the audience up. The black and white looked great too, though I admit the sameness numbed me a little and I drifted off for a few moments through the middle.

Happily for Nellie, Joss Whedon was indeed there. He said a few words before the film, and returned at the end, both times to standing ovations. Also, a surprise: many of the cast members were in attendance. They answered questions, told funny anecdotes, and were probably delighted that the Whedonverse references to kept to a minimum (only one guy made reference to another show/film, leading into his question by stating “Browncoats forever”). We also learned more about how this was filmed: just after finishing The Avengers he invited the cast to film this in his home; they did so, over twelve days (afternoons, really; he edited The Avengers during the mornings) just two and a half weeks after he approached the actors. That’s not much time to get ready for a Shakespeare play set in someone’s house. And, apparently Clark Gregg was a last minute fill-in (after initially declining) and had only a day to prepare. I’m glad we got to hear those stories and learn a little more about the film and how it was made.

All in all, while I can say that I didn’t love it, I certainly didn’t dislike it either. For sheer effort of getting it made, I’d give it a 7.5/10.

3. I Declare War

I Declare War (tiff) was a film populated entirely by kids. No adults, just kids. And, sadly, it wasn’t quite what Nellie or I were expecting: there was more fantasy and less actual escalation than we expected. It was decent, but not great.

6/10

.:.

Photo by Thalita Carvalho, used under Creative Commons license

Order

So, for some reason Nellie was all worried that’d not officially celebrated my birthday this year. Birthdays are a big deal to her, and she had a pretty awesome one this year. Meanwhile, I kind of don’t care about birthdays, and anyway we spent my birthday in Amsterdam, so I don’t feel as if I got robbed somehow. Nonetheless, she was determined to impose at least a minor celebration on me. She asked me to pick out a place for a good dinner. I chose Bestellen.

First though: a drink. Or two. We stopped at Loire, another first-time visit for us, for a little wine. We were actually really impressed with the menu; if we didn’t already have reservations elsewhere we’d have stayed for dinner. But we did, so we didn’t, and instead ordered some charcuterie and a little wine: sparkling rosé and Chablis for Nellie, and Sancerre, Vouvray, and a white Côtes du Rhône. We summoned an Uber car and made plans to return to Loire for dinner some night.

We pulled up to Bestellen right on time, and liked it immediately: laid-back vibe, friendly greetings, good music (Radiohead, Dan Auerbach, Oasis, early Dylan, etc.) and a giant painting of meat on the wall. That’s right: a meat mural.

We settled in to our table and our server Chris began leading us through the evening. We started with cocktails:

  • Nellie: The Scarlet (white wine, elderflower liquor, cucumber, mint, lemon)
  • Dan: The Hunter (Buffalo Trace bourbon, cherry heering, moonshine cherry)

With those gone the first course arrived:

  • Nellie: heirloom tomatoes and watermelon (with purple basil, garlic chips, and chili oil; paired with a a white whine that neither of us can remember)
  • Dan: seared scallops (in parsley root puree, lobster mushrooms, and brown butter; paired with a Muscadet)

Then, the main event: we shared the 32oz côte de bœuf (accompanied by string beans, lentils, shallots, and mint, as well as ontario corn, crispy shallots, and tarragon) which came with two huge bones full of roasted marrow.

Hard to believe we were both vegetarian not so long ago.

Anyway, at Chris’ recommendation we’d decided to pair this with a 2002 Nichols “Whispering Pines” Pinot Noir. Much like the Sea Smoke Pinot we’d had in Arizona, we discovered that an older vintage of tougher, coastal-California could stand up to a hunk of meat like this one. It was a splurge, but it was worth it.

We opted to take much of the steak home, partly so that we could enjoy it again the following day, and partly to leave room for dessert: sticky toffee pudding. Nellie got a glass of Bugey-Cerdon bubbly to go with it; I ordered the barrel-aged Negroni.

We also ordered a menu item we’d only ever seen on Stone Road Grille‘s menu before:a six-pack of beer for the kitchen. Being where we were (on College, but with more of an Ossington feel) it was a sixer of PBR, but the guys in the kitchen gave us a happy wave as they downed their cans.

On my actual birthday we toured Amsterdam, tried some fantastic beer places, and met a crazy/eccentric American ex-Senator, and I thought that made for a pretty goddamn good way to celebrate. But last night was pretty good too.

Photo by Profound Whatever, used under Creative Commons license

"Brad, for 14 years I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing."

We just came from one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen at TIFF. As Cameron Bailey (who kicked off the evening) said, it was truly an unrepeatable event.

A couple of days ago director Jason Reitman, who’s gotten into the habit of staging live readings of scripts of great movies (he’s done The Princess Bride, Reservoir Dogs, The Apartment, and others) with actors who weren’t in the actual films, announced that he’d be putting together a live reading to kick off this year’s film festival. It may sound like a boring concept, but it actually seemed like a completely different thing for us to try at TIFF in this, our eleventh year. So we bought tickets.

The film he selected? American Beauty (imdb). The participants? None other than George Stroumboulopoulos, Paul Scheer (who was a last-minute stand-in for Woody Harrelson), Mae Whitman, Nick Kroll, Sarah Gadon, Adam Driver, Christina Hendricks, and (as Mr. Reitman introduced him) Bryan motherfucking Cranston. That’s right: the lead parts were read by Joan Holloway and Walter goddamn White.

It was fantastic. Just, just, just wonderful to watch. I’ve watched American Beauty many times, but I think I only realized tonight how funny it was. And seeing the actors live, especially the ones who could crack the audience up just by adding a look or a nod or a gesture to their reading, added a new texture. Adam Driver (if you watch Girls you know who he is) was great as an understated Ricky Fitts, and the others did a great job (poor Strombo was rather out of his league but stayed in the game), but the true stars were Hendricks* and Cranston. They were so expressive and emotive that I could have watched them do it again just for fun. What a treat.

It was very nearly the perfect TIFF evening, except that when we left a thousand people were losing their tiny little minds because Kristen Stewart was walking down the red carpet outside our theatre for the premiere of On The Road (tiff). It’s the creepy, eNowbsessed part of TIFF that I know is a necessary evil, but to step into the middle of it immediately after took some shine off of what had been an almost transcendent festival moment.

Still, I forget the red carpet bullshit pretty quickly, while that table read will absolutely stick in my favourite TIFF memories ever.

*And I’m not just saying that because I’m deeply in love with her

.:.

Photo by Profound Whatever, used under Creative Commons license