Saturday 4 August 2012

Fantasia's short film festival a definite highlight

The Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal will wrap up proceedings on Friday, August 9 and by all accounts the 2012 edition has been pretty successful. I have been to the venue, Concordia University's downtown campus,  several times in the past week and there is indeed a lot of energy there. Clearly, the making Concordia the headquarters was a good move. The  Henry F. Hall building and the J.A. de Seve Cinema across the street are well suited to showcase the many dark feature and short films.
Mark Hamill

Among the 150 plus  feature film lineup, Fantasia  presented the international premiere of Kern Saxton’s hotly anticipated crime thriller Sushi Girl,  featuring Mark Hamill  in a startlingly sinister lead. Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker in the originating Star Wars  trilogy is one of the most iconic performances in Fantastic Film history and remains among the most beloved screen characters in the annals of pop culture. Hamill was actually in Montreal for the  Fantasia launch 

The popular “Documentaries From the Edge” section returned to Fantasia’s 2012 lineup, larger and more compelling than ever. WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS (Quebec Premiere)  was part of this group, tracing the history of hacktivism and explores the motives and missions of Anonymous, veritable superheroes of digital activism who’ve taken on everything from oppressive dictatorships to Pay Pal and the C urch of Scientology and have recently been making significant headlines in Quebec.   There was also the world premiere of  MY AMITYVILLE HORROR. For the first time in 35 years, Daniel Lutz recounteds  his version of the infamous Amityville haunting that terrified his family in 1975, when he was only eight years old. 

I particularly enjoyed the Seduction Fertile presentation of short films on August 4 (exept for the fact the young man running the box office the previous Tuesday was telling everyone admission was free when in fact it was $10). The de Seve Cinema was packed as 12 locally shot films were screened: Chevelure de la vie; Être humain; Evil James Bond vs. Jaws; Un film avec Jean-Paul Belmondo, Une nuit avec toi; Parparmane; Phase; Une porte sur Élise; Score; Sonya; Tale; and Tengri. We can go see a full length movie at the theatre or watch one on TV pretty much anytime we want. Such is not the case with shorts. To see an even dozen over a two hour period is interesting. Most of them are in French, but if you are living in Quebec you should be able to understand the language well enough to sit through a movie.
Guillaume Cyr
Quebec actor Guillaume Cyr appeared in two of the shorts: Une nuit avec toi and Score. In the former, he plays a swimming pool cleaner who gets a little bit friendly with a girl, thinking that because both she and he are on the heavy side she'd be interested in some intimate relations; in the latter, he and his girlfriend go to a laundromat where they air all of their dirty laundry. Paperman showcases a man and his cat, both depressed. He works at the entrance of a very empty La Ronde parking lot, lives alone. His mother has just died of cancer, putting both and he and the white kitty in bad emotional shape. The only customer in the La Ronde parking lot, a gal in a van who delivers singing telegrams, comes to the rescue. Well it seems that way at least. Être humain is a poor knockoff of the Dawn of the Dead series. Evil James Bond vs. Jaws is a clever two minute mashup of Agent 007 doing the work of the killer shark on the beach. Tale is a dark version of Little Red Riding Hood, directed by Ragnar Keil and starring Alexandra Cohen.  It definitely ranks as one of the better shorts in the festival.

Ragnar Keil
Fantasia is indeed a well oiled machine. One just has to look at their program book - all 398 pages. Wow! It took me a few days to read it.

Mitch Davis, Fantasia's co-festival director and co-director of international programming, promised filmgoers an opportunity  to be "electrified, challenged and inspired by some of the most individualistic and imaginative filmmaking you will encounter anywhere this year." On that front, Fantasia has delivered.

You can read a lot more at


Thursday 2 August 2012

Wicked at the Place des Arts: Absolutely Spectacular

It is highly unlikely that Montrealers have ever been exposed to a musical as spectacular as the Tony Award winning Wicked, which will grace the stage of the Place des Arts until August 26.  Evenko chose wisely following last summer’s Lion King blockbuster. Thanks to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra finding its own home, the PDA became more available. Rather than bringing in a show for six days, as has been the case here for the past few decades, we can now experience our own taste of Broadway for a bit of an extended period.

Evenko Vice-President and General Manager Jacques Aubé recently shared his strategy with me on this and other projects. Here is my video interview with him.

I attended the formal opening of Wicked on August 2. It was the second time I saw the musical, the first being five years ago in Chicago. This untold story of the witches of Oz has it all: comedy, drama, great music and superb dance numbers.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West and her relationship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Their friendship struggles through their opposing personalities and viewpoints, rivalry over the same love-interest, their reactions to the Wizard's corrupt government, and, ultimately, Elphaba's public fall from grace. The plot is set mostly prior to Dorothy's arrival from Kansas, and also includes several references to well-known scenes and dialogue in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.

I am always amazed how the PDA can transform itself. In this case, the set was equally impressive to one  I saw in Chicago---a place where Wicked had a very extended run.
Christina Dwyer as Elphaba
Actresses Christina Dwyer and Jeanna De Waal were extraordinary as Elphaba and Glinda while kind words must be reserved for Michael Wartella (Boq), Marilyn Caskey (Madame Morrible), Billy Harrigan Tighe (Fiyero) and Paul Kreppel (The Wizard).
I spoke to a number of people at the show who had never seen Wicked before. They had no idea what to expect. Did it exceed their expectations? The answer was “yes” in every case. Personally, I’d go back and see the show a few more times this month. You cannot grow tired of the script or the music.

Concession stands at intermission were lined up knee deep, with folks snatching up souvenir programs, t-shirts, towels and other Wicked stuff. At a pre-event VIP cocktail, the theme was naturally a Wicked “green.” The green cupcakes were delicious. Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo and his beautiful wife were among those spotted.

If you have not made plans to buy tickets yet, check out this day-of-performance lottery for a limited number of orchestra seats.. Two and one-half hours prior to each performance, people who present themselves at the Place des Arts box office will have their names placed in a lottery drum. Thirty minutes later, names will be drawn for a limited number of orchestra seats at $25 each, cash only.  This lottery is available only in-person at the box office, with a limit of two tickets per person.  Lottery participants must have a valid photo ID when submitting their entry form, if chosen, when purchasing tickets.

Wicked,  with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Academy Award winner for Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt) and book by Winnie Holzman ( My So Called Life,   Once And Again  and  thirtysomething) is based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire.

It is the winner of 35 major awards, including a Grammy  and three Tonys. 
After seeing Wicked in Chicago, I requested and was granted an exclusive interview with  Academy, Tony and Grammy award-winning  songwriter Stephen Schwartz, who told me how he wound up turning the 1995 novel into a spectacular musical.  There is no better time than the present to share his comments. A friend of Schwartz had read the book and told him about it. Schwartz subsequently got a copy and was immediately convinced that he could make music out of this untold story of the Witches of Oz.
Stephen Schwartz

 “I was on a snorkeling trip in Hawaii with some friends,” Schwartz recalled. “One of them was folksinger Holly Near. On the boat Holly happened to say that she was reading this book called Wicked. She both described and recommended it to me just to read. I was immediately seized with enthusiasm. The next day I got the book and called my representative indicating that someone must have the rights to this. I urged him to find out whom.”

As Schwartz explained, he got very lucky. Universal Pictures had the rights and Schwartz arranged a meeting with studio head Marc Platt, who would end up producing the stage production.

“Marc was not adverse to the idea of turning the book into a stage musical,” he said. “But it still took me about a year to get the rights and for Universal to abandon the idea of making it into a dramatic film. I then met with Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, just to make sure he was amenable to Universal abandoning the film project. He was on board as well.”

Schwartz had  indicated to me at the time that if Wicked ever came to Mointreal he would try and be  here. Thus far, his officials have indicated no such visit is planned. I still hold out hope of meeting this musical genius in person. 

 For ticket information, contact  the Place des Arts box office  at (514) 842-2112,   1-866-842-2112 or via

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Will Le Bifthèque rise from the ashes in Montreal?

Judging by the reaction to my last two columns, it is pretty clear that readers of The Suburban like to be kept up to date on the local restaurant scene. Which dining establishments have closed? What kind of new developments can we expect? What particular restaurants would readers like to see here?
Michael Seltzer
Le Bifthèque: In my July 18 column I lamented about the closure of Le Bifthèque on Cote de Liesse in St. Laurent and the other restaurants across Quebec and Canada which carried the same name. Well, numerous sources have since told me that original owner Michael Seltzer has purchased the name and property from the trustees handling the bankruptcy. The owners of Madisons New York Bar and Grill were the last to run the popular steakhouse, but shut down operations more than a year ago. Seltzer is currently the co-owner of Gamaroff’s Bar and Grill in Hallandale, Florida.
Burger Bar Cresent: Morrie Baker, who cut his teeth in the business by operating two Ben and Jerry’s locales, has made a success of Burger Bar Crescent. Is expansion in the cards? Will we see Burger Bar Taschereau, Burger Bar Des Sources or Burger Bar Laval?
Krispy Kreme: The Greater Montreal area has only one Krispy Kreme donut shop in South Shore Greenfield Park. There were short lived experiences in Laval and at Marché Central, but I continue to receive calls from readers who wish to bring back at least one to central Montreal. I would not hold my breath on this one.
Dennys: Reader  Frances Legault is a big fan of the Denny’s Restaurant chain.  Every year I go to Toronto and always stop in Kingston on the way to and from and go to Denny's,” she says. “A few years ago, I asked them if they thought they would be opening in Quebec, and the answer was they had no plans to do so. The closest Denny`s to Montreal is in Cornwall.”
Arby’s: I got this email from a reader named Charles. He wants Arby’s locations in Montreal, praising their curly fries, shaved beef burgers and  great sauces.  Well Charles, I just had some Arby’s roast beef in Maine and loved it. They did give it a try in Montreal many years ago and the experiment failed.
Friendly’s:  On July 25 I suggested Friendly’s set up here. Beaconsfield travel guru Stephen Pickford notes that the 76 year old  chain is under bankruptcy protection and currently shutting down franchises across the States.

More Appetizers: Just back from my holiday in Maine and New Hampshire, one chain that would be a good fit here is Chicago Uno. There were also a lot of Cold Stone Creamery locales. We have about half a dozen cohabitating with Tim Horton franchises...Reader Rosemary Warren discovered Great Harvest Bread across from what used to be the Greyhound bus terminal in Burlington, Vermont...I received lots of suggestions for TheCheescake Factory. We already have somewhat of a clone of that chain – Elixor in Laval and on the West Island... Some more to consider, include Gus’ Redshots, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Olive Garden, Applebees, Swiss Chalet, Fuddruckers, Johnny Rockets, IHOP,  The Outback, Ponderosa and The Works Burgers from Ottawa. Red Lobster left town well more than a decade ago for reasons I still do not understand, yet it continues to thrive elsewhere in Canada, including Ottawa and Toronto.
Great Harvest Bread across from what used to be the Greyhound bus terminal in Burlington, Vermont...I received lots of suggestions for the Cheescake Factory. We already have somewhat of a clone of that chain – Elixor in Laval and on the West Island... Some more to consider, include Gus’ Redshots, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Olive Garden, Applebees, Swiss Chalet, Fuddruckers, Johnny Rockets, IHOP,  The Outback, Ponderosa and The Works Burgers from Ottawa. Red Lobster left town well more than a decade ago for reasons I still do not understand, yet it continues to thrive elsewhere in Canada, including Ottawa and Toronto...