A Visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Whenever I’m in Toronto, the AGO is a must-see. Over the Christmas holidays I had the chance to catch the last few days of an awesome exhibition there: Early Rubens, plus some impressive works from other artists.

I use the word ‘awesome’ not casually, I mean exactly as the word is originally intended. Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577-1640) paintings are huge, depicting Biblical characters and narratives in epic scale. On a wall I read this Rubens quote:

I confess that I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities. Everyone according to his gifts; my talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.   –  Peter Paul Rubens, Letter dated 1621

Glad he mentioned ‘Everyone according to his gifts’, or else those who are afraid of heights would never be able to score any artistic achievement.

Anyway, this one in particular haunted me, The Massacre of the Innocents, around 1611-1612. Mothers try desperately to protect their sons against muscular men:

Massacre of the Innocents

Those entangled, near-naked bodies are men following an order from King Herod to kill all babies under the age of two after hearing that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph took their baby son Jesus and fled to Egypt to escape a ruler’s jealous rage and his desperate cling to power. Yes, Jesus and his parents were migrants, one of the early political refugees escaping from a ruthless government.

Fast forward several centuries to 1903, and in contrast to the massive scale of human tragedy of the above painting, I was drawn to this very quiet, seemingly simple painting of a mother giving a bowl of soup to her child. The mother looks unwell and seems to give away what she needs to her child. This poignant and sparse scene entitled The Soup is Pablo Picasso’s social statement of poverty and homelessness:

Pablo Piccaso The Soup

A more relaxed social scene. This painting from the 19th C. French landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Beach Near Trouville, linked my thoughts to a movie scene right away. Boudin’s work is dated 1864, that’s around the same period as Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. Boudin depicts Parisian high society mingling on the beach town of Trouville. Notice the women’s dresses:


My mental association was naturally the Greta Gerwig directed Little Women beach picnic scene. I couldn’t help but compare their formal attires even at the beach and the actual chairs they sat on in Boudin’s painting with the beach scene in Little Women, so free and casual (not displayed in AGO):

Beach Scene in Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Don’t you want to fly a kite with the March sisters on that sandy beach?

From the historic to the futuristic, the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) has invented visions of infinity with her experimental installations for three decades. Her work was exhibited at the AGO in 2017 and now the Gallery has a permanent set up Kusama called The Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever. I had to reserve a time slot ahead for my visit. At my appointed time, which was another hour later, I still had to wait in line to go into the room.

It’s a room of silver spheres suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor set against mirrors. A person standing in the room will see seemingly infinite reflections:

Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room

Here’s the image of one silver ball in the middle of the room. I didn’t do any colour changes, so just interesting to see what looked to me was a silver ball came out green in the photo:

One silver ball

You can actually see me taking the picture. What does this all mean? According to Kusama, the room gives a person a sense of infinity and limitlessness.

Only two visitors were allowed inside the room at one time. And how long could we spend in there? One minute. A staff with a timer in hand monitored the flow of visitors. When our time was up, she knocked on the closed door for us to go out and another two would go in. Call it a visual oxymoron if you will: A one-minute taste of infinity. O the limits of our human experiences.



Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Alex Colville and the Movies

Bernini’s Corpus and Modern Movies

My review of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women




Toronto International Film Festival 2019

In the coming weeks, I’ll be in Toronto covering the 44th TIFF taking place Sept. 5 – 15. TIFF is my annual destination away from the Pond, my chance to immerse in the celebration of film arts, world premieres of new works, festivities on King Street, and be swept up by the excitement of crowds catching a glimpse of the talents and filmmakers converging there.

For those inclined towards numbers, here are some figures: TIFF19 will screen 333 titles in total, including 245 features, 86 shorts, and 6 series, selected from 6,866 international and 1,059 Canadian submissions. There will be 133 World and 71 North American Premieres. 84 countries are represented with 36% of titles directed, co-directed, or created by women.

It’s a major task to organize one’s own viewing schedule. Films that I want to watch have time conflicts. After several days of juggling and regretful eliminating, I’ve finalized my list, more or less.

The following are some of the feature films on my To-Watch List (All images courtesy of TIFF):

A Girl MissingA Girl Missing directed by Koji Fukada (Japan) North American Premiere. Fukada’s previous film, Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner Harmonium (2016) grabbed me as a concoction of Hitchcockian suspense and poignant family drama. Excited to see his newest work at TIFF.

A Hidden Life (1)A Hidden Life directed by Terrence Malick (USA, Germany) Canadian Premiere. Based on the true story of Austrian farmer and conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to join the German army in WWII. I expect this newest Malick film to be another soul-stirring work.

The AuditionThe Audition directed by Ina Weisse (Germany, France) World Premiere. Women play major roles in this production as director, screenwriter and cinematographer. But the main attraction for me is actor Nina Hoss, whose riveting performance won her high acclaims in the German films Phoenix (2014) and Barbara (2012).

Coming Home AgainComing Home Again dir. by Wayne Wang (USA/Korea) World Premiere. Wang brought Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club to mainstream cinema in 1993, telling generational stories of Chinese-Americans. His newest is based on a personal essay by acclaimed writer Chang-rae Lee about a son coming home to his ailing mother. 

David CopperfieldThe Personal History of David Copperfield dir. by Armando Iannucci (UK) World Premiere. As a book-to-movie enthusiast, I won’t miss this one. What more, the cast looks impressive, and postmodern. Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) fame will play Davy, Tilda Swinton as Betsey, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, and Ben Whishaw the villain Uriah Heep. Turning a 800+ page classic into a two-hour movie is as daunting as Davy’s life journey. But I reserve my judgement.

THE GOLDFINCHThe Goldfinch dir. by John Crowley (USA) World Premiere. The adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is helmed by the same director as Brooklyn (2015), with adapted screenplay by Wolf Hall and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy scribe Peter Straughan. Looks like a top-notch collaboration.

Hope GapHope Gap directed by William Nicholson (UK) World Premiere. This is Nicholson’s second directorial feature which he also wrote. His other screenplays include Les Misérables (2012) and Gladiator (2000) among many others. But what draw my attention are the duo who play a couple at the brink of a marriage breakdown, Bill Nighy
and Annette Bening.

Parasite (1)Parasite directed by Bong Joon-ho (S. Korea) Canadian Premiere. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. From the description, it echoes Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, last year’s Cannes winner. But Bong’s audacious and creative styling could make this a fresh approach to the subject of social inequality. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning (2018) also comes to mind.

Varda by Agnes (1)Varda by Agnès directed by Agnès Varda (France) Canadian Premiere. After watching the late French New Wave auteur Agnès Varda’s documentary Faces Places (2017), I’d been looking for this, her last work. Excited to know there will be a special event at TIFF 19 with the screening of Varda by Agnès plus a bonus post-film discussion by a panel of filmmakers.


For the full lineup, schedule, and tickets go to tiff.net

My reviews of the above plus other TIFF titles will be published on the websites Asian American Press, Vague Visages, and here at Ripple Effects.


Wintry but not bleak

Extreme cold warnings greeted the New Year in Toronto. A record low temperature was recorded on January 5, a frigid -23C (that’s -9.4F). I’m happy to say that I was there to experience such a newsworthy occasion during my stay over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Here are photos I took on that very day, January 5, 2018, witnessing an awesome sunrise over Lake Ontario. Wintry but not bleak:


Sunrise over Lk Ontario Jan 5.jpg


Inside it’s always warm. And on a cold day, looking out the window can be a meditative respite:



Artist and writer William Kurelek (1927-1977) knew how to find pleasure in the cold. Why of course, he was born in Alberta, and spent his childhood years on the prairies:



As well, Shelley’s positivism is always a boost for me. No need to wait for the groundhog. “O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

No matter what the weather, it can still be it a worthwhile year.




Establishing Shot

What is a film buff, avid birder, and nature lover going to do in Toronto during TIFF, torn between so many attractions?

Well, one has to stay grounded first. So here’s the establishing shot. Indeed, it’s Toronto. And a memorable date it was when I took this photo of the early morning cityscape. My computer told me it was Sept. 11, 2016, at 6:38 am:


I was fortunate to be able to shoot these pics from a high-rise building with magnificent views. Here let me call this one Urban Canadian Sunrise. Yes, see the flag in the foreground? Can’t say it’s just another city:


And from the balcony above looking down, my birding instinct was gratified as I made my first sighting of a Mute Swan taking in the early morning air:


A stone-throw away was a park where I made this other first-time encounter. I had no clue what it was until I looked it up in a bird book after I’d come back home:

Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron

Know what it is? A Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Several other first time sightings awaited me as I went on the ‘Marshwalk’ at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, 57 km (35 mi) southwest of Toronto a few days later. The Great Egret and some juvenile (brownish colour) mute swans:



Yes, TIFF16 was a cinephile fantasy. And the people there were overflowing with enthusiasm to make your visit memorable:


More posts coming up on that main event.

Conversation with Juliette Binoche

The highlight of my TIFF14 experience is attending the Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche.

Conversations with Juliette Binoche

Director of TIFF Piers Handling structured the conversation in three sections preceded by showing excerpts of Binoche’s filmography in chronological order. Thanks to these visual gems, the audience got the sense of the actor’s wide repertoire. At fifty, Binoche has had more than thirty years of acting experience, and 50 feature films under her belt.

Juggling with my iPhone for photos, a pen and a small notebook, keeping my eyes on the maverick on stage, looking through photographers and audience sticking their hands out into the aisle and midair to take photos, I managed to jot down some sketchy notes.

Juliette Binoche knew she wanted to act at age 15 when her mother brought her to Paris to see a stage play. After she had made up her mind, “I was unstoppable.” She went to drama school in Paris, from the stage she soon landed film roles, and the rest is history.

Binoche had worked with numerous legendary directors who are cinematic icons themselves. Here are some samples:

The first director she worked with was Jean Luc Godard in Hail Mary (1985), later André Téchiné in Rendez-vous (1985), Krzysztof Kieslowski in Three Colours: Blue, White, Red (1993-94), Hou Hsiao-Hsien in Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), Abbas Kiarostami in Certified Copy (2010), Olivier Assayas in Summer Hours (2008), and now Clouds of Sils Maria at TIFF14, just to name a few.

But she has also said no to others. Stephen Spielberg came to her three times to no avail. “I don’t want to be in any system. Hollywood is a system. Not even in French system.”

Director she likes to work with: Michael Haneke (Amour, 2012; The White Ribbon, 2009) Binoche worked with him in Hidden (2005) and Code Unknown (2000).

Juliette Binoche

North American audience might have known some of her more popular works like her Oscar winning The English Patient (1996), or Chocolat (2000), but I was gratified to see clips from her lesser known works like:

The Unbearable Likeness of Being (1988, adaptation of Milan Kundera’s novel, with Daniel Day-Lewis), or Three Colours: Blue (1993, Krzysztof Kieslowski directs, the first of the Trilogy)

But the stage is still very much on her mind. “I love the theatre.” She was in August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and soon a new production of Sophocles’s Antigone on the London stage.


Some more sketchy notes:

On long takes: “fantastic, close to life, liberation, freedom, trust, thrilling.”

On aging: “It’s truth”

On the relationship between the director, the actor, and the script:

“The actor and director are one in the film. Nothing about me. It’s the director bringing out [the script] through me. Words are written on the page then you live it, like an incarnation. You live it, bring the script to life.”

“Trust is what makes the miracle… trust between actor and director.”

On actors:

“We are incarnated philosophers.”

On genres:

“I never divide. You cannot divide things. The comic side of life and the tragic side come together… connected. I never divide into genres.”

When asked about “failure”:

“What does ‘failure’ mean? You learn about yourself through extremes, over obstacles. How you see success depends on your point of view. To me it’s a journey… taking risks, facing the unknown. That’s the joy of it.”


Of all the film clips, one struck deep in me with inexplicable resonance. And that’s from Binoche’s Oscar winning role as the WWII nurse Hana in The English Patient (1996). For me, that was one of the most memorable movie moments of all time.

Here’s that tender scene when Hana is led by candles on the path to Kip, who then takes her to the Medieval Chapel. He harnesses and raises her up to look at the frescoe paintings on the walls. Holding a flare for light, she dangles from the ceiling, immersed in pure delight. And the music, composer Gabriel Yared’s Bach-like melody has remained in my mind ever since:

On her role playing Hana:

“She has to start from scratch. I like people who have to start over again.”

On director Anthony Minghella: “friendly and loving.”

And Michael Ondaatje’s reaction to that mesmerizing cinematic moment: “I wish I had written this scene in my book.”


The conversations were just a little over an hour. The standing in line waiting for 90 minutes in front of CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio to get in (for a good seat to take my photos, but as you can see, still not close enough) was worth it. I likely won’t have another chance to see and hear Juliette Binoche in person again.




Alex Colville and the Movies

“It’s the ordinary things that seem important to me.” — Alex Colville Whenever I go to Toronto, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is always a must. As if to correspond with The Toronto International Film Festival, the current exhibition of more than 100 pieces of works by Canadian artist Alex Colville is a timely offering. Before my visit to AGO I’d looked up some info on Toronto born Alex Colville (1920-2013) who later moved to Nova Scotia and became an icon of Canadian art. His “Man on Verandah” (1953) set the record as the highest auctioned price recorded for a living Canadian artist in 2010. He was then 90 years old. The realism of Colville’s paintings at first reminded me of the American painter Edward Hopper. But a closer look at his meticulous renderings and precise details, I had the feeling that I was looking at a photograph, but the dramatic depictions made them look more like movie stills. As I walked through the exhibits, my inkling was confirmed. The quote on this banner may well set the tone as one enters the exhibition hall: EnteringAs soon as I stepped into the gallery, I saw this familiar work but only then did I find out its title: “To Prince Edward Island” (1965):

Alex Colville

Adjacent to the painting is a movie clip projected on the wall, showing Colville’s influence on the director Wes Anderson. Of course, that’s Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom (2012). The ever watchful female gaze through the binoculars. Both works exude mystery and nostalgia:

Moonrise KingdomApparently Colville’s influence can be found in several other filmmakers. In the exhibitions I was led to view samples of some close associations.

Artists influence each other. Colville’s “Target Pistol and Man” (1980) could be the inspiration for the Coen brother’s imagery of the psychotic and sinister character Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007). But of course, one could argue that the movie was based on Cormac McCarthy’s book (2005). So it could be McCarthy being first spooked by Colville’s depiction of this cold, hard, and unpredictable character in the painting:

Pistol and Man

Further down the exhibits, I was confronted with a set of four Colville paintings in the scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror film The Shining (1980), adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Too ‘in-your-face’? Some critics think so. No matter, I’m not posting them here to avoid sensationalism.

However, as I walked through the exhibits without any explicit prompting, I could indeed draw connections between some of them and the movies I’ve seen. Here are a few more examples:

Just when you think you’re going to have a good time taking the children on an outing, maybe a swim or a picnic, and then you see the rainstorm approaching.

Family and Rainstorm (1955):

Family & RainstormJust like the ending scene of A Serious Man (2009) by the Coen brothers, impending storm in the school yard. The unpredictable and precariousness in everyday life.

Or, how about this, which movie does this painting “Seven Crows” (1980) lead you to think of:

Seven CrowsOr this one, “Soldier and Girl at Station” (1953):

Soldier and Girl at Station“Anxiety is the normality of our age,” Colville had said. I could totally feel it while looking at his works.


To correspond with my weekly photo meme, I’m linking this post to Saturday Snapshot Sept. 27 hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.


Some related post on Ripple Effects:

Art Gallery of Ontario

AGO Exhibition: Terror and Beauty

Bernini’s Corpus and Mordern Movies

Edward Hopper, William Safire: The Visual and the Word


Saturday Snapshot September 20: Ward’s Island

My ten-day trip to Toronto was not only about films. I brought along my camera and my ‘birding lens’, hoping to catch some birds in migration. Before I left, I read about  the hotspots for birding on Ward’s Island, and printed some pages off the Internet.

Ward’s Island is just a 15-minute ferry ride south from the Toronto Harbourfront. As soon as I got off the boat, I realized I’d forgotten to bring along the birding pages. Why was I not surprised? No matter, without the guide sheets, I was in for a fresh exploration and a mental exercise in information retrieval. So much the better.

It turned out that the first week of September happened to be a little too early for bird migration. Temperature is also a factor. The day I visited the island, it was 30C (86F). But instead of birds, I did take some photos on that piece of tranquility a stone throw from the busy metropolis.

The Toronto skyline viewed from Ward’s Island:

Toronto Skyline

The Boardwalk along the periphery of Lake Ontario:

The Boardwalk

House boat or was it boat house on the canal… serene and reclusive:

House on the Canal

I’ve never been to Monet’s flower gardens at Giverny, but I can imagine it looking at the canal. Just like to name these photos the Monet Effects:

Monet Effects

Monet Effects 2

Ok, don’t rub it in. I appreciate the irony. But here’s the interesting thing: Look carefully and you’ll see the reflection is sharper than the subject, use ‘Chaos’ as the guiding light.


When I was just about given up on photographing birds, I sat down at the outdoor garden of The Island Café near the pier and had my breakfast. And what did I see? My very first sighting of Monarch Butterflies!

The Monarch Butterfly


Monarch 2


The Monarch 3

The Monarch, more than enough to compensate for my lack of bird sightings. A new burst of enthusiasm led me to retrace my steps along the canal to look more carefully for birds, but thanks to some overzealous fire ants successfully targeting my feet, I had to retreat after spending a fruitful four hours on Ward’s Island. A half day of total serenity.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

Photos in this post taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, September, 2014.


Tuffing it out at TIFF14

Attending TIFF is always a memorable experience. The tough part, I’ve to admit, is the constant waiting in line to enter the theatre even when you have a ticket. It’s all for your advantage of course, with the general seating, the earlier in line the better seat you can find. Hundreds of ticket holders queuing up around the block is a typical TIFF sighting in downtown Toronto every September.

But waiting in line for over an hour to see a 70 minute film? That was for the screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s newest work Goodbye to Language 3D. Was it worth it? Let’s just say, it’s an existential experience. And we even had the privilege of sitting down, albeit in the rain, Waiting for Godard:

Waiting for Godard

As expected, Godard himself didn’t show. But I got to experience his latest work wearing 3D glasses. Never imagined the legendary French New Wave auteur whose first works date back to the 1950’s, and who had made such iconic films like Breathless (1960) and Vivre Sa Vie (1962), now at 83, would be stirring up a newer wave of postmodern, visual fragments in 3D. The concept of ‘film’ just might need to be redefined with his Goodbye To Language 3D.

I’d seen twelve films over the ten-day film festival, purposely skipping those which I think would likely be released in our theatres in the next few months. So no, I didn’t watch the Grolsch People’s Choice Award Winner, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. All the buzz surrounding it points to the repeat of previous People’s Choice winners like 12 Years A Slave (2013), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The King’s Speech (2010), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), with a trajectory towards the Oscars.

Nor have I seen other more popular productions like Black and White, Mr Turner, The Judge, The Theory of Everything, While We Were Young, Whiplash, Wild, Hector and the Pursuit of Happiness, which I just might have the chance for a free promo ticket coming up in our city soon.

The highlight for me has to be the Mavericks Conversation with Juliette Binoche. The 1.5 hour standing in line outside CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio was worth it. Juliette Binoche is one of my all time favourite actors. So this 90 mins. of conversations, retrospective film clips of her works, Q & A is one of the gem of TIFF14 for me. A more detailed post will come later.

In chronological order over ten days, here’s the annotated list of my viewing, for now. Detailed reviews might follow:

Clouds of Sils Maria — Clouds appear like a slithering snake at the top of the Swiss Alps. They silently creep in, wrap the mountains and disappear just as you begin to marvel. Apt metaphor for aging, fame, and the ephemeral. While Juliette Binoche always delivers, it’s Kristen Stewart that had my full attention and respect. Kudos to acclaimed French director Olivier Assayas.

Winter Sleep — Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, three hours of incisive and meditative exploration into the human soul. According to IMDb, Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has won 62 times. But this my first taste of his work and yes, that’s the kind of films I look for in a film festival.

Force Majeure — A loving married couple bringing their two young children on a ski vacation is confronted with a most unexpected and testing scenario. Should the husband’s spontaneous response to a near accident be the gauge of his love for and loyalty to his wife and family? A stylish and at times very funny, well crafted film.

High Society — Not all festival films are created equal. Here’s one that, alas, is a waste of my time standing in line and sitting through. The topic is interesting enough, albeit has been dealt with countless times: a love (or lust?) affair shattered by class and social differences. Well intentioned, but just another cliché riddled with flaws.

Still Alice — Julianne Moore is very effective in portraying a Columbia U. linguistic prof afflicted with early onset Alzeimer’s, adapted from the popular book by Lisa Genova. This might just be Moore’s chance for another Oscar nom. Can a film be too loyal to the book? Yes, I think it is here. While the movie is well executed, I think the director could have taken a little more liberty in using the medium for more cinematic moments.

Maps to the Stars — Nom for the Palme d’Or, and Julianne Moore winning Best Actress at Cannes this year, Canadian director David Cronenberg’s newest feature is a bold, dark, and wild satire of the celeb life of Hollywood’s rich and famous. Problem is, maybe it’s the public who’d like to see Hollywood glamourized. They want to follow the maps to the stars. So, would they want to see a film that shatter their fantasy? And, would Hollywood insiders like to be depicted as thus?

Goodbye to Language 3D — See my opening paragraphs

Seymour: An Introduction — Ethan Hawke’s documentary on the once prominent concert pianist turned inspiring piano prof at NYU. Quiet, gentle and full of wisdom, Seymour Bernstein imparts not only musical knowledge and skills to his students, but changing their perspectives on life as well. The film also explores the interface between talent and craft. A classical music lover’s film. Pure joy.

Miss Julie — Jessica Chastain is Miss Julie in this newest film adaptation of August Strindberg’s play. Screenplay written and directed by the legendary Bergman actress Liv Ullmann. Beautiful set design and cinematography. The opening leads me to reminiscence of Fanny and Alexander. Chastain offers an exquisite portrayal of the messed up and very lonely Miss Julie; Colin Farrell is surprisingly good, while Samantha Morton has a strong supportive role.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet — An international collaboration of animators crafted this beautifully rendered story embedding sayings from Kahlil Gibran’s classic The Prophet. Liam Neeson is the voice of the Poet. Beast of the Southern Wild‘s child star Quvenzhané Wallis is Almitra. The end credits lead me to a surprise finding: With thanks to the government of Alberta and B.C. Now I’m intrigued.

My Old Lady — Playwright Israel Horovitz wrote the screenplay from his stage play, came on stage to introduce the film. Mentioned Maggie Smith was willing to be part of it because she didn’t die at the end; Kevin Kline took up the role because “this could be my last chance to get the girl.” The girl? The ever beautiful Kristin Scott Thomas. A charming film.

Time Out of Mind — If there’s any major disappointment at TIFF for me it’s this one. If as some say, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is Ben Stiller’s vanity project, then Time Out Of Mind is Richard Gere’s. First off, spending some time on the street digging inside garbage bins, sleeping on park benches, or not shaving for a few days don’t make one a homeless man. A homeless man lives a homeless life, and that’s the essence of the being. A Hollywood celeb’s portrayal by Gere is putting on make-up to look like one, pretentious, exposing the inauthenticity. Even his gait gives him away. The camera work and sounds are showy and contrived; trying to be naturalistic, they present a flashy and artificial rendition. To capture a day in the life of the homeless, go do a documentary. Yes, I’m afraid I totally disagree with the critics on this one.


Is This A Library?

(Title inspired by Stefanie of So Many Books)

I gasped and asked myself this question. For Saturday Snapshot Sept. 21, here are some views:

Indoor pond at entranceIMG_1170IMG_1174IMG_1175IMG_1173The answer to the question of course is Yes. It’s the Toronto Reference Library. I was most excited to have made a serendipitous find in there too.

There was a gallery in the library. Its current exhibit was entitled

Human has long been mesmerized by the idea of flight.

From Daedalus:


to Da Vinci:

Leonardo Da Vinci and FlightFrom Jules Verne:

Jules Verneto Audubon:


Yes, it’s a library all right.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. Click Here to see what others have posted.


TIFF 2013: Books into Films

Have been in Toronto all week for the Toronto International Film Festival. Taken a lot of photos but these few I’m going to share with you first for Saturday Snapshot Sept. 14, for they are what Ripple Effects is all about: Books and Films.

Saw this sign in a major bookstore beside a TIFF screening venue:

Hey Hollywood

The movie is in the book.

Indeed, many of this year’s TIFF selections are based on literary sources.

Film Adaptations at TIFF 2013

Books to filmsFrom biographies to biopics:

Biographies into BiopicsIf you or your book group are starting a new season of reading, you may find some interesting titles in the following list of films screened at TIFF this year (click on link to the film adaptation):

12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

August: Osage County by Tracy Letts (Pulitzer Prize-winning play)

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Double by Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago (Film: Enemy)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (Film: Hateship, Friendship)

Horns by Joe Hill

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin

Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld (Film: The Unknown Known)

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Mary Queen of Scotland by Stefan Zweig (Film: Mary Queen of Scots)

The Railway Man by Eric Lomax

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salemo

The Sea by John Banville

The Switch by Elmore Leonard (Film: Life of Crime)

Under the Skin by Michel Faber


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. Click here to see what others have posted.


Roger Ebert in Toronto: A Close Encounter

Thanks to the Toronto International Film Festival, I have the chance to encounter the legend. It’s only natural that wherever there are films, there are film critics. But I never would have thought that I would see Roger Ebert in person and shake hands with him.

It was pure serendipity. While browsing in Indigo on Bay Street, I noticed a sign saying Roger Ebert would be in that store signing his memoir Life Itself a few days later. I’d followed his reviews since his “Siskel and Ebert” days, the two-thumbs-up duo. By the way, Ebert’s right thumb up had been trademarked. Reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, Roger Ebert was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism (1975), prolific all the way till his last two days.

Roger Ebert autograph Life Itself

This was not just about an autograph, or seeing a celebrity up close. It was about seeing a man who after torturous cancer treatments and surgeries for his thyroid, salivary gland and jaw, had lost a part of his face and the ability to talk and eat, and yet still maintained his humor and passions, who continued to press on to new ventures… this was about seeing life itself.

In the late afternoon on September 14, 2011, at the signing area in Indigo Books on Bay Street, people had been lining up for over an hour. I was one of them. At 7 pm, Roger came in walking slowly and with aid. He came on stage and faced the crowd. Together with his wife Chaz, they gave us a wave. Then he sat down and began signing. Photographs were allowed except for the rule of no posing. The Q & A session also began.

Chaz was his voice. She was personable and a film lover herself. She shared some of her views of the TIFF selections. As executive producer of “Ebert Presents at the Movies”, Chaz answered some questions without consulting Roger. But for most questions addressed to Roger, he would write on a small spiral notebook, handed it to Chaz to read out his answer.

Here are some of the notes I’d taken:

* Who influenced you the most?
He pointed to his wife standing behind him.

* Which decade is your favorite?
The 70’s… where you had The Godfather, Raging Bull…

* Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin?
Buster Keaton, albeit both are great.

* 3D?
Don’t ask. Story is number one.

* CGI (computer-generated imagery)?
Movies with CGI are soulless.

* All time best?
Citizen Kane.

* Favorite actor?
Robert Mitchum.

* Contemporary?
Al Pacino, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tilda Swinton

* Favorite Canadian directors?
Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Norman Jewison, Guy Maddin (thumb up)

* James Cameron?
Is James Cameron Canadian? Chaz asked in surprise.

* Favorite book?
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (Canadian! A voice came from the back)

* Any pressure from movie producers to write a good review?
No, he hasn’t been pressured. He was beyond reproach, Chaz answered.

* Any movies you haven’t seen?
The Sound of Music

* If there’s a movie made about you, who’d you want to play you?
Philip Seymour Hoffman. Chaz added, Oprah to play me. Diana Ross would be good too.

* Advice for potential film critics?
Do you want to get paid? Roger answered with a question.
Yes and no. The questioner covered all bases.
Start blogging. Roger replied.

* How does your life influence the way you review a film?
It generates every word.

Definitely more than just an autograph. What an encounter. What a night.


CLICK HERE to listen to an interview of Roger Ebert on CBC Radio during TIFF. Roger used a text-to-voice software as his speaking voice.


The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Hemingway’s voice has been heard the world over. His persona and perspective reflected from his prolific writings. Now fifty years after his death, Paula McLain has gleaned through facts and whatever that’s true to create the novel The Paris Wife, revealing the point of view of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.


Hadley’s voice speaks from the shadow. It reflects the thoughts of one who had seen it all from the beginning. Within seven short years, she had witnessed the transformation of a disgruntled journalist into a promising, full-fledged novelist. And she was the one who, after only three months of marriage, sailed with Hemingway to Paris and began her fateful role of the ever supportive and loving companion. How we need to listen to her side of the story.


There are those who have read The Paris Wife and then want to read more of Hemingway’s works.  For me, after reading the book, I want to read more of Paula McLain’s.  It’s interesting that her MFA is in poetry, and that she has published two volumes of poetry collections before this novel. I wonder if it takes a poet to write prose like this, highly sensitive and nuanced, while surprisingly void of ornaments. I find the no-frills narrative style of McLain’s a bit like Hemingway’s, spare and direct, like his memoir A Moveable Feast. Consider something like this as Hadley recounted her earlier life:

And everything was very good and fine until it wasn’t.

What wasn’t fine is an understatement. It’s ironic that what happened to both Hadley and Ernest was quite similar. A domineering mother and a depressed father whose fate led to suicide by a self-inflicted gun shot wound. We know now that Hemingway himself could not escape such a fateful end himself.

But from the start, it was love at first sight for Hadley and Ernest as they met in a house party in Chicago, after Ernest returned home from the war. He was 21, she 29. A year after they met, on September 3, 1921, they were married.

Hadley’s voice captured me right away from the very beginning. I like her down-to-earth persona, her self-deprecating anecdotes as a simple American gal in Paris among the ‘lost generation’. I like it that she played Rachmaninoff and Chopin and not jazz-savvy. I like her ignorance in fashion and avoidance of the dazzling Parisian glitz and glamour:

 If the women in Paris were peacocks, I was a garden-variety hen.

It’s interesting too reading how other writers advise Ernest. They point to the bare essentials, as Hadley recalls Gertrude Stein saying:

Three sentences about the color of the sky. The sky is the sky and that’s all. Strong declarative sentences, that’s what you do best. Stick to that.”

As Stein spoke Ernest’s face fell for a moment, but then he recovered himself. She’d hit on something he’d recently begun to realize about directness, about stripping language all the way down. “… leave only what’s truly needed.” She’d said.

Or this from Ezra Pound:

Cut everything superfluous… Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t tell readers what to think. Let the action speak for itself.

Hadley was with him all the way. When she was later pregnant, Hadley felt the need to go for better birthing care in Canada to deliver her child. I was amazed to read about such a currently hot issue in their time. They sailed to Canada in September, 1923. One month later, Bumby was born.

They lived on the fourth floor of an apartment on Bathurst Street. And since I’m in Toronto now as I write this review, I’m able to go over there and take these photos for my readers. Currently, the building at 1597-1599 Bathurst Street is a comfortable and elegant looking five-storey apartment aptly named The Hemingway.

A plaque is placed at the entrance to mark this historic site:

It reads:

Ernest Hemingway

American-born Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), internationally renowned author, lived in this apartment building 1597-1599 Bathurst Street, in 1923-24, while working as a journalist for the Toronto Star, where he became friends with novelist Morley Callaghan and writer/broadcaster Gordon Sinclair. He returned to Paris, France, where he began his career as a novelist, producing such masterpiece as “The Sun Also Rises”, “A Farewell To Arms”, & “For Whom The Bell Tolls”

Toronto Historical Board

Ernest had worked for the Toronto Star before, and had developed an amicable working relationship with his boss John Bone. But this time he encountered tumultuous problems with his new boss, causing him to shorten his stay. This is what I found a block away from The Hemingway apartment:

Four months after their son Bumby was born, in January, 1924, the Hemingways sailed back to Paris. Upon seeing Gertrude, Ernest said:

I know we meant to be gone a year, but four months is a year in Canada.

I just can’t help but smile upon reading this. Interpret whatever way you will.

Once back in Paris, Ernest discarded his journalist hat and went all out to pursue his dream of a published writer, encouraged by his mentor Gertrude Stein. He began to be noticed and gain publishing success. And with success came fame, and fame, a different circle of friends, richer, more glamorous and drunk. Within their group of acquaintance, people were falling for each other’s spouses, messy and totally lost.

Hadley began to fall out of it all. One time at a tense exchange among the group, she was so fed up that she had to excuse herself and left early with Don Stewart, their writer friend. And here’s the sentence that leaves such an impression on me:

“Before we’d even gotten to the door, the gap had closed around the table and you couldn’t even tell I’d been there.”

The American journalist for Vogue magazine Pauline Pfeiffer soon became Ernest’s new preoccupation. She had not only won his heart, but Hadley’s trust and friendship. But the balance was bound to tip. Hadley’s innocence was soon shattered by betrayal from both her friend and her husband; her naivety ebbed away as she watched helplessly the painful disintegration of her marriage and small family.

I’d chosen my role as supporter for Ernest, but lately the world had tipped, and my choices had vanished. When Ernest looked around lately, he saw a different kind of life and liked what he saw. The rich had better days and freer nights. They brought the sun with them and made the tides move. Pauline was a new model of woman and why couldn’t he have her…

When I think back on Hemingway’s memoir of those Paris years, A Moveable Feast, in which he writes about his early love with Hadley, I can’t help but feel for both of them. How can we command our own feelings, passion, love? The bull fighting scenes in Pamplona which mesmerized Ernest so had become such an apt metaphor… the bulls charging madly through the narrow streets towards the ring, aroused by a mere spot of red, driven by brute instincts and raw impulses, yet all come to the same gory end in the ring.

In the book, McLain has their writer friend Don Stewart declared:

I can take the bulls and the blood. It’s this human business that turns my stomach.

You might ask: “But is this all true?” After all, this is only a novel. From his notes on A Moveable Feast, Hemingway stated that all was fiction. Conversely, in McLain’s The Paris Wife, she has this quote from Hemingway:

 There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.

Looks like it’s for us readers to pick and choose.


~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, published by Bond Street Books, Random House, 2011, 314 pages.

You might like to read my review of:

A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) by Ernest Hemingway.

Midnight In Paris, a film by Woody Allen.