Sunday, January 18, 2009

Igloo Fest

Montreal seems to have a never-ending supply of weird things to do that I have never quite gotten around to checking out. Case in point: Piknic Electronik. While Anglos and people who like to beat each other up while wearing Renaissance Faire gear go to the Tams, Francos and Raver Kids go to Piknic Electronik every Sunday to dance to beats from some of the hottest DJs worldwide. Having never been to a Piknic Electronik event in person prior to last night, I can't confirm if the linguistic split is true for the Sunday parties. Last nights event was sort of Franco-UN, with French dominating and every other language of the world flying off the tongues of those present. Ah, we can all unite under 150 bpm.

So, Igloofest is Picnik Electronik's winter slamdown. Every weekend for a three week period from 6 p.m.-midnight, the Jacques Cartier Pier is transformed into an igloo park on one side and a large party hall on the other. Almost the entire venue is outdoors, including the DJs who wear huge jackets to keep warm or look cool, or a bit of both. The igloo part includes an igloo bar for energy drinks and a lounge igloo. SInce staying warm is very important at Igloofest, people do not spend a good deal of time around the igloos, except to gawk.

The dance hall is true Canadiana. The walls are lit up with screens and lightboards. Speakers make sure the sound is heard throughout the hall at a not uncomfortable but loud volume. The snow is packed down from the feet of those dancing. And I tell you, people are dancing. You have to or else you will freeze. People come out in their snowboarding and winter gear, big down jackets, ski masks, snow pants, boots. A few get a little funky with care bear outfits or crazy hats. Somehow, even in all that clothing, people manage to move. You can't see every shimmy and shake, but you can see arms and legs in all directions as bodies go with the beats. Also striking... the smokers. For all those people deprived of the right to smoke at their favorite venue, they smoke freely and incessantly as they dance, which is intolerable for someone like me who doesn't smoke. Also in the dance hall is a bar with a variety of drinks that include the Caribou... a whiskey-maple combination.

The atmosphere is fun, jovial, but perhaps not conducive to making chit chat since you have to keep on moving to stay warm. I wasn't too impressed with the DJs, but Skratch Bastid has a set next weekend and if I knew a thing or two about the international techno scene, I'd probably have a better sense of who was worth checking out. As for Igloofest, it was worth the gander, but as soon as my sweat started to cool in the -19 temperatures, I left the party for other activities.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Last Chance Harvey is Decent British Rom-Com

The English have a knack for making romantic comedies that are neither too saccharine nor too pessimistic. The list in my mind goes back quite a few years now: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and About A Boy. Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey is very much in the same vein. Two middle aged people who have fallen short of their respective dreams meet and find the beginnings of love and the promise of a new beginning together.

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is down on his luck and something of a black sheep. He’s about to lose his job writing jingles for commercials. His white suit (in a sea of black ones) still has the plastic anti-theft device attached. His daughter wants her stepfather to give her away at her wedding. Harvey is bitter about his failed marriage and looks unkempt, short, and unsuccessful next to his ex wife (a fine job done by Kathy Baker). In the major areas of his life, he is being edged out by what seem like better men. At work, he is being replaced by young experts in digital media. As a husband and father, he was replaced.

Hoffman gives a fantastic nuance to Harvey. He is uncomfortable in his skin, awkward with people, but not a jerk or a creep. He has difficulty making himself heard or even conversing. He tends to make a poor first impression, but his second impression is charming. Hoffman allows us to feel sorry and empathize with this character for his mix of pride and humility.
Kate Walker, played by the airy Emma Thompson, is less developed than Harvey. It is never clear why she has stumbled into the single life, except perhaps she is a tad unfriendly and busy. Early on, a failed blind date implies that her greatest fault is that she is middle aged while the men in the dating pool appear to be about ten years younger.

Nonetheless, Kate’s reason for singledom is not essential. The pair match well as an awkward duo, with Thompson towering over Hoffman, and showing him London’s less obviously romantic side.

The film doesn’t break any boundaries or challenge conceived notions. It doesn’t tread on new ground. It isn’t outrageously funny with situational toilet humor (that would be an American film) or have an ending in which every character is alienated and sad (that would be a French film). It is a very gentle look at how two people who can’t fit perfectly into the world alone manage to fit better into the world together.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Old Montreal's Happening Gourmand

Food is an art, and for the next two weeks, Montreal's Old Port area is having a dinner special. Some of the top tables are offering a prix-fixe well worth checking out if you have a few twenties to spare.

Clocking in at $17, we have Italian restaurant Galianos, Suite 701, and Narcisse.

For just five bucks more, $22 will give you a meal at Restaurant Du Vieux Port, Modavie, and M├ęchant Boeuf.

And $27 will let you dine at Verses or Aix Cuisine Du Terroir.

Now, back in the day, I was a foodie, so I can safely recommend those restaurants in which I dined. Galianos is much loved by some of my friends, including some old school Italian cooks. Modavie has a great ambiance and some fine lamb (not that they are offering lamb). Verses is one of my favorite places to eat in Montreal. As for the rest, I think I may try them out at these prices...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Concerts You Don't Want to Miss

January is cooking in Montreal when it comes to concerts. I wanted to give a heads up for two of them.

Tomorrow, at Il Motore (179 Jean Talon Ouest) get ready for the Phonopolis and Pome Record's kick butt little party. On the billa re the Handsome Furs, Julie Doiron, MIracle Fortress, the Luyas, Elfin Saddle, Adam and the Amethysts, Shapes and Sizes, Snailhouse, Special Noise, Nut Brown, and Patrick Gregoire. YEOW.

On January 25, my birthday, my favorite band is coming to rock you where it counts. The Jimmy Swift Band will be playing Petit Campus. This is a concert that you don't want to miss and... hey... there will be cake.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Boring

Did you see Forest Gump? If you did, there's almost no reason to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Granted, Benjamin is ever so slightly racier and he seems to avoid stumbling into Watergate. But, then again, Benjamin isn't retarded. He's got a strange disease where he progresses from old age to childhood in his physical body, but mentally develops as a normal human does. So, he is born an old man with arthritis and the helplessness of a baby, spends his 70s learning the read and be a boy, and at the end of his life, suffers from dementia, but looks about 2 years old. Like Gump, though, Benjamin is a man of few words, a passive observer of life, swept up in the tide of what goes on around him. Both stories share the same nostalgic view of the American century, the same folksy approach to race relations in America (as if there were never any problems between blacks and whites), the same narrated voice-over humor, and the same life is like a box of chocolates message.

Did I mention it's also 3 hours long? and boring?

While moments of the film are genuinely charming, such as the old-style film "strips" inserted into the picture to tell stories, other moments are downright awful. In particular, the story of Benjamin Button is framed by a girl who reads to her dying mother from Benjamin's diary during the events of Hurricaine Katrina. This story line does nothing for the narrative except ruin whatever momentum Benjamin's life has gained.

Worse, this film is a tear jerker of the most shameless kind, swelling the music to highlight every death and disappointment that shakes Benjamin's eventful life. The characters reflect -- no, they do not reflect... they make trite statements about the passage of time and the importance of savoring the moment.

Overall, this one is a big loser that has no business sitting beside films such as Slumdog Millionaire and the Reader in the march to the Oscars.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Art and Love in Renaissance Italy at the MET

Paolo di Stefano Badaloni, Inner Lid from a Cassone with Venus Reclining on Pillows, ca. 1440-1445.

The New York Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit Art and Love in Renaissance Italy would probably be a hit in almost any other museum in North America, a big show with interesting, intellectually challenging pieces. Many of the objects are drawn from the every day life of Renaissance Italy’s wealthy elite and represent courtship, marriage, pornography and eroticism, and even the birth of children. However, as far as “big” pieces in the exhibit go, only a few are drawn from the familiar art media of painting and sculpture. In fact, most works are pedestrian, lacking grandeur. However, what constitutes pedestrian “art” for the renaissance elite is still extraordinary by most critical standards.

The exhibit works best as a historical, anthropological study, a true art historical journey into an idea and its historical importance. The diary entries, belle donne jugs, maiolica ware, birth trays, and guilt girdles are not masterpieces. But they are artworks. More importantly, they reveal the complex ideas that pervade attitudes towards love, marriage, and sexuality at the time. The re-attunement to the Classical past is evident, but so is competitiveness among leading families to out-do one another. The ubiquity of art and the humanist themes in the lives of Renaissance people is well demonstrated by this exhibit.