Lively weekend in downtown Kingston Ontario

Have I said how much I love living in Downtown Kingston?  All these photos were taken within a 5 minute walk of where I live!

This weekend had perfect end-of-summer weather and  the downtown was full of activity ranging from Bollywood to jets to skydivers to a wonderful multicultural arts festival.

Here’s a five minute taste of how the weekend unfolded.   Never a dull moment…or a quiet one.

TIFF 2016 Day 2

When I saw that Christopher Guests new film Mascots was opening at TIFF it was at the top of my list. Never mind that it will be available in a few weeks on Netflix (it is a Netflix-produced film).  I was quite willing to pay the Premium dollar to see the world premiere with a theatre full of Corky St Clair fans and with Christopher Guest, Parker Posey , Bob Baliban and Jane Lynch sitting three rows behind me. 

But there was some risk. Could this film hold up to the high expectation I had given that Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show  are two films I have laughed through maybe 15 times each. 

The verdict? I loved it. Using his  proven “monumentally” formula,  Guest has created another winner based on a convention for mascots with a competition to win the coveted Fluffy.  A few times,  I had to wipe away tears of laughter . The usual troupe of Guest’s favourite actors create new characters and improv their dialogue through a hilarious collection of vignettes. There is even a surprise appearance that delighted the audience. No spoilers. 

If you like Christopher Guest’s quirky previous work, you won’t be disappointed. I can hardly wait for its appearance on Netflix so I can watch it again.  It gets four stars.  I am waiting for the five star film.

Within half an hour of watching Mascots I was back in line under an umbrella to see Queen of Katwe, another African-themed film shot in Uganda, directed by a Ugandan, Mira Nair, starring  black actors, including  David Olyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and banked by the Disney corporation. It is a wonderful movie about a young illiterate Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi, from the Katwe slums of Kampala, who becomes an international chess champion.  A feel-good true story of someone rising from obscurity through hard work and intellect.  And as a treat, the real Phiona was at the screening of the film. 

Unlike the Nigerian film I saw yesterday, the direction was impeccable, and the soundtrack was much more representative of good quality modern Afican music.  The kids in the film, and there were lots of them, were wonderfully naive and natural.  I have been in these streets and communities and that, too made the movie more meaningful to me.   Nair said that she jokes that this is the first African movie made by Disney without animals in it but Africa is more than giraffes and AIDS and she welcomed the chance to have Africans make a movie about the Africa they know.  One of the young boys who has a major role in the movie is a kid who lives in Nair’s neighborhood in Kampala. 

This film will be released this fall and anyone who has an Africa connection will relate to it and love the  message that genius is not owned by any one race or gender. Of course all the analogies between the game of chess and this game of life are not lost.  I give it four stars of five, knowing that my delight in revisiting Ugandan streets and people prejudices me.  The premiere audience gave it a standing ovation tonight, an indication that they liked it, too.

TIFF 2015 – one last film

Unfortunately, Julianne Moore stood me up. As Moore’s go, I had to settle for Michael. I had hoped she would at least show up and smile at the showing of Freeheld today. Maybe we would have a moment of eye contact. But no, she didn’t. Nor did Ellen Page or the director of the movie. I know they are in town as the were photos in the papers of them at the premiere of the film last night. Maybe they were too hung over today. But really, a few moments at two in the afternoon to acknowledge the enthusiasm of their movie fans? Not too much to ask in my opinion.
This film was the last of seven I have seen over the past few days. A touching but somewhat melodramatic documentary about Laurel Hester’s struggle to get her pension benefits transferred to her partner when she inevitably dies of lung cancer. Based on a true story, the film chronicles a significant piece of LGBT history in the U.S. to achieve equality for same sex couples.
Ms. Moore (we are no longer on a first name basis) walked her way through the role as a maltreated lesbian detective dying of cancer. I did not feel that her heart was in it. I actually wondered if she and Ellen Page got along when the camera was not rolling. I found the dialogue a bit trite and mechanical and there was nothing special about the cinematography. Steve Carrell brightens the film up as a self-described “very gay Jew” who leads the protests and public outcry to reverse the decision of the Freeholders.

This film felt  more like a made for TV movie than one for the big screen. It also dawned on me why I have found Ms. Moore so attractive in the past. If she had brown eyes instead of blue, she would bear some resemblance to my late wife. Watching her dying of cancer, losing her hair, becoming pale, losing control of her life…well maybe it was just a bit too close for comfort.

The bottom line is that I didn’t find anything special about this movie other than the historical content. It was kind of a love story, sort of a documentary, partly a celebration of movement toward equal rights for same sex partners, partly about a woman dying of cancer. Lots of parts but for me it missed the whole. Wait for it on Netflix. Won’t be long. 3 out of 5


I am on the train on my way home. TIFF shows over 300 movies. I only saw 7 so my sample size is pretty small. Of those I saw, I would recommend seeing Youth and The Danish Girl. And please see both of them in the theatre to appreciate them best. I will likely go to them again when they are released.

After 5 or 6 years of TIFF, I think I have the hang of it now. It would be fun to have company at movies and in line but when I go alone there is always someone to chat with. (I had a great conversation with a woman from Texas this morning in line, touching on politics, film, travel and in the theatre beside me was a fellow from New York City and originally from China.) TIFF recharges my extravert batteries. Lots of vitality in the city, people around, enjoying a movie in a packed theatre in the dark with others who are doing the same thing.  Join me next year?

A Kick and Push Grand Slam

The lead line in the Kingston Kick and Push Festival programme booklet says “This will be no ordinary theatre festival…”  They were right! I was excited earlier this year to see that Kingston was to host a summer festival of five theatre pieces scattered I both time and venue around the downtown core.  I vowed to see them all and this weekend I fulfilled my goal.

All of the theatrical events (not quite right to call them all plays) had interesting production features and all told stories in varied ways.

A Chorus Line is a fairly typical Broadway-type musical that lends itself well to be presented by young aspiring singers and dancers.  I have always enjoyed the productions mounted by Blue Canoe, the company that put this show on at the Grand Theatre in mid-July and this was no exception.  Lots of enthusiastic talented young folks giving a polished set of personal vignettes as they audition for a dancing role in a show.  A most enjoyable evening.

Jacob James and Sophia Fabiili in a scene from Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

Jacob James and Sophia Fabiili in a scene from Shipwrecked! An Entertainment.

Shipwrecked is a three-actor tall-tale about an adventurous life on the high seas.  I really liked the imaginative presentation that immersed the audience in the story.  The audience was literally washed over by a huge wave,  flooded with ping-pong ball pearls, taken to meet south seas natives and introduced to a very friendly dog named Hugo.  Kudos to Brett Christopher who directed this show for his creativity and to the small cast that included my friend Jacob James who returned home to Kingston for this show. A delight.

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Zahshanne Malik, Audrey Sturino and Zachary Arndt in a scene from Totally Nana’s Ride – one of the Autoshow playlets.

Autoshow was a series of ten minute short plays that happened in and around cars in Market Square.  I particularly like the one called Totally Nana’s Ride that happened by an old Dodge parked beside the Bank of Montreal.  Some of these playlets were better written than others. Three of them ended with death, which was a bit of a downer.  The street noise sometimes made it hard to hear the dialogue sometimes.  Some of the plays actually had one or two people get right into the car where the action was happening.   At one point a homeless woman passing across the square wandered into the middle of the action and for a couple of minutes actually joined our small audience  group to peer into the back of the car where the action was happening.  This, of course, added to the whole presentation, rather than take from it.

IMG_8008Tall Ghosts and Bad Weather is a play with some historical background and was presented after dark outside in the graveyard beside St Paul’s Church on Queen Street – the same graveyard where Molly Brant is buried.  It was a curious mix of modern day and a hundred years ago, all intricately entwined as actors from both vintages came in and out of the mix, sometimes almost bumping into each other as they moved past one another, seemingly oblivious to the presence of each other.  The atmosphere was great and the actors did a good job of presenting the story.  A particular credit to them was that, despite three of them being in Autoshow, which I had seen an hour earlier, I did not recognize them in their transformed characters in the graveyard.  The Stone Cellar group that produced this play is a local troupe that specializes in historical dramas.  Will look for more from them.

My favorite, however, was Ambrose, a personal journey through nooks and crannies inside and outside the Grand Theatre, once again with a series of vignettes all revolving around the theatre magnate Ambrose Small, who disappeared mysteriously in 1919.  His ghost, it is said, still haunts the theatres he owned, one of them being the Kingston Grand.  In this theatre adventure, audience was taken one at a time through one of two tracks of stories.  I spent ten minutes alone with a psychiatrist, lying on a couch and answering questions about my deepest secrets, had a drink at an abandoned bar in the lobby with a sexy distraught woman who managed the theatre, read love letters with one of Ambrose Small’s showgirl paramours, watched as a young masked woman talked with me about taking risks then proceeded to scale part of the wall inside the theatre, huddled under a blanket with a slightly crazy recluse in a creepy dark machine room, and got tied up by three young phantoms after climbing down a fire escape into the  alleyway outside the theatre.   Could you ask for more in an interactive theatrical production?  I understand that some folks actually bailed out at some points, finding the personal involvement too intense.  But if you were willing to immerse yourself in the improv nature of this show it became just so much fun.

Earlier in the summer I also enjoyed the Salon Theatre’s Walking in John A’s Footsteps that runs twice daily downtown throughout the summer.

I was disappointed to see  the audiences for these many fine productions so small despite the most expensive ticket being $25.   How can we expect to have this wonderful, creative, immersive theatre in our community if we don’t support it.  I didn’t see anyone I knew in the audience any of the five nights I attended the different shows. Where were you?

With photos shamelessly lifted from the Kick and Push Facebook page!

Big week for movies coming up

I am excited for the upcoming week. And not because of the Oscars on Monday night. I wasn’t nominated for anything, despite my dramatic background performance in Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming thriller Crimson Peak. My role in that one may be a bit like Where’s Waldo. But I did get paid $141 for getting up at 2am and doing several retakes while tending chickens in the market and hanging out between takes eating a hot dog with Mia Wasikowska.

No, my excitement is for two premieres happening later in the week. The first is an invitation-only first screening of Nightrunners -the Movie in Toronto on Thursday night. This thriller was shot in Kenya in early 2013 and I was lucky enough to be there for most of the shoot, filling a number of roles from looking for locations to putting on bandages and taping iv’s in place on the actors. I even had one scene in the movie with a few lines.

Unfortunately it ended up on the cutting room floor. The director claims that it was not due to my acting but maybe she was being kind. The scene was shot in a real hurry as rain clouds threatened and the light from sunset was quickly dying. The intent was that I carried the leading lady from the lake something like King Lear and Cordelia and then we had a bit of dialogue. Because the rain threatened to damage lights and equipment and the schedule was running tight, we did this scene three times with no rehearsal. Prior to each take the director poured a pail of water over me and we then managed through our lines in the sand on the beach, having never even read them together before. It was fun but we had to pack up quickly to save the equipment ( I was already drenched) and I have never seen the takes. I am wondering if they even filmed anything or if it was just fun dumping water on me as a joke.

A consolation could be that it is one more thing that I share with actor Chris Cooper. Last year with King’s Town Players I had the role of Charlie Aiken in August, Osage County, a part played by Cooper in the movie. I also learned that he had been totally cut from scenes in The Ring. Apparently he had a part early and late in the film but the test audiences wanted more of him and as a result his entire part was cut out. Maybe director Neilson was concerned that the Nighrunners audience would want more of Heinrich.

Nevertheless, the movie will premiere on Thursday night and I will be there to enjoy it. I can hardly wait for it to be shown to the folks in Kenya who had significant roles in it. Will it be worth a 35 hour trip both ways for the 2 hours of sharing this moment with my Kenyan friends? We will see.

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On Saturday night at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, Leigh Ann Bellamy’s movie, Fault, will be shown for the first time at Memorial Hall. I was present for much of this movie shoot doing the still photography. I saw a rough cut and my right arm appears twice (unless Leigh Ann has cut those scenes, too). At least there were no pails of cold water for this one. It will be a real pleasure to enjoy this evening with my friends in the cast and crew. So proud of them for this production.

It has been great fun to be associated with these movies and watch them take shape. It has given me a totally new perspective when I see a film as I am more aware what goes into each take.

Who knows where these two films will end up being shown. Watch for them. And will you be able to find me in Crimson Peak? I doubt it, but I will know that I am there.

Go fly a kite

April 25 is a national holiday in Italy commemorating the liberation of Italy from Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s fascist regime in 1945.

What better way to spend the day than to go to Pinarella, a little town on the Adriatic coast and join thousands if others on the beach to wade in the water, walk the beach and fly a kite?

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Forgiveness…

I didn’t know when I booked the movies I would see at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past weekend that there would be a common theme.  Basically the ticket-buying process is a bit of a crap-shoot.  I had a large list of movies that I thought would be interesting but there were time conflicts and availability issues to negotiate.  In the end I got seven of the movies on my list so I was happy.

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I knew that the film Something Necessary, shot in Kenya was a fictional story but based on the post-election violence there in early 2008.  I also realized that the film shot in Bosnia – FOR_THOSE_WHO_CAN_TELL_NO_TALES_Trailer_109306676_thumbnailFor Those Who Can Tell No Tales – would have a post-war theme.  I knew very little about The Railway Man,  the Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena other than that they had great acting performances by well-known actors. And I threw in two comedies to break the tension – The Grand Seduction (Directed by Don McKellar) and Bad Words (Directed and starring Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame}.images-1

It was somewhat surprising to me that all the dramas were based on real events.

The characters were fictional in some, but the events were real.  In three of the movies,  the main characters were people who had actually existed and struggled with torture, illness or were horribly mistreated in other ways.

In all the films – even the comedies – someone was wronged. The wrongs varied from being lied to or manipulated to having their child taken away from them but they all revolved around people who  suffered some badwordsrepercussions of having been wronged by someone else.

The dilemma for all the protagonists, that was the force that became central to the film,  was how to deal with the past.  How do you interact with your abuser?  How do you overcome being a victim? Do you look colin-firth-the-railway-manfor revenge or do you give in? Ultimately,  do you forgive?

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It all came together for me in the last five minutes of those seven movies when Philomena elects forgiveness.  Without giving away the story, she confronts someone who has wronged her badly, ruined her life, in fact. Her companion is angry and wants an apology or some sort of revenge.  But Philomena quietly says something like this. “Yes I have something to say to you. I forgive you for what you have done to me.”

Her angry friend is astounded and asks “Is that all you are going to say? Is that it? Just that simple?

Philomena responds with (and I paraphrase – the screenwriter found just the right words to make it powerful)  “It was not simple. It was very difficult. But ultimately i could live with hate in my heart and be miserable. Or I could forgive.

QUAD_PHILOMENA-1024x768In the other films, the victims responded with everything from trying to get even, to exposing the others for their evil ways, to forgiving in one way or another.

Is this a choice we all have to make at some point?  Will we burn ourselves up with anger, rage and the need for revenge or can we honestly forgive on some level and move on.

The movies I saw at TIFF 2013 not only entertained me last weekend, they gave me lots to think about. I just may have also learned some valuable life lessons.