Letter from Joy
November 11, 2018
It appears that my intention to start each new letter at the beginning of the month didn’t last very long. It’s already almost mid-November. But I have a good excuse. We were in Florida with my daughter and grandchildren, and I honestly didn’t have a minute to myself. Not that I’m complaining - I loved every minute of it. But I had to let certain things wait - my monthly letter included - until I returned home. Now that I’m back, I can take some time to fill you in on what was a very busy past month.
In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in early October. This year, it fell on October 8th, and I had a lot to be thankful for: everyone in relatively good health, and my latest novel completed, save for some final editing. I still have a final read-through on the edited manuscript as the publishers ready it for print, but hopefully I can get that done this week. Unfortunately, at this stage, I’m always pretty sick of whatever book I’m working on. I’ve read it over so many times, and made numerous cuts and changes, so that I no longer have any feel for how it comes across to someone reading it for the first time. Also, I can no longer remember what I’ve left in or cut out, so it gets very confusing. My good friend, Bev, who is a literary agent (although not mine) tells me that all authors feel that way at this point, so that’s somewhat reassuring. Everyone who’s read the novel is very excited about it, so that’s another positive. Hopefully you, my readers, will be just as enthusiastic.
I also had a couple of speaking engagements, with regard to THE BAD DAUGHTER. Both were part of Toronto’s International Festival of Authors. The first engagement took place in Woodstock, Ontario, and was terrific. Well-attended and enthusiastically received. I was speaking with two other authors, Mojca Kumerdej, from Slovenia, and Dr. Brian Goldman, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto. I had the pleasure of being driven to Woodstock with Mojca, and we got along famously. It’s a more than two-hour drive and we talked pretty much for all of it. She’s a lovely, intelligent woman, as well as an author whose books I’m looking forward to reading. We were first taken to dinner at a fabulous restaurant in Woodstock called SIXTHIRTYNINE, located at 639 Peel Street, and if you’re ever in Woodstock, I highly recommend you go there. The food is fantastic, and the atmosphere is lovely. Our hosts were terrific, and I can’t say enough nice things about the entire experience. After dinner, we were taken to the venue - a lovely old church - where each author read for approximately ten minutes. Since we went on in alphabetical order, I was first, then Brian, then Mojca. Unfortunately, just as Mojca began her reading, one of the men in the audience passed out, and Dr. Goldman rushed to attend to him. (It wasn’t enough he’d spent the whole day in the ER before driving himself to Woodstock!) An ambulance was called and the man taken to the hospital. His wife returned later to say he was okay! Mojca proved to be a real trooper, and after the delay, continued with her reading, but Dr. Goldman had to catch a late-night flight to Vancouver and because of the delay, couldn’t stick around to answer audience questions later. Mojca and I carried on without him, and then were driven back to Toronto.
The next day, I had brunch with another spectacular woman I met last month in Lethbridge, Alberta. She’s a writer for the Young Adult market, and her name is Lorna Schultz Nicholson. She was in Toronto to run a marathon and we had a great time together. We also met the next night, along with my friend Bev, to attend an industry event. And the following night was yet another industry party to celebrate the Festival of Authors, which I attended with my new friend Mojca. Then the next day, I took Mojca on a tour of Toronto. It was a gorgeous fall day and I drove her all over the city, pointing out our major tourist sights as well as showing off some of our more beautiful residential neighbourhoods. We had a lovely lunch, then walked all the long way back to her hotel. I was so exhausted when we said goodbye that I hailed a cab back home.
The following Friday, I made another appearance at the Toronto International Festival of Authors, this time on a panel with my friend Linwood Barclay and Shari Lapena. We each read for five minutes, then took part in a free-wheeling discussion led by Toronto Star Book Editor, Deborah Dundas. It was lots of fun, and I even got to meet the former Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, who was kind enough to buy a book and wait to have it autographed. Very sorry she was defeated in our last election. I think she did a lot of very good things that people either forgot or chose to ignore.
The next day my husband and I left for Florida. We drove, this time taking three days and two nights, rather than two days and one night. It’s just too much driving. So this was a much more reasonable pace, although we probably added about four unnecessary hours to the drive by taking several wrong detours. Oh, well. At least the second two days were nice and sunny, and my husband enjoys driving. One of the detours wasn’t our fault. Our GPS led us astray, taking us off our preferred route down I-75 over to I-95 at Ashford. On the plus side, we got to drive through the scenic Carolinas before hitting the boring highways of Georgia and Florida.
Florida was a bit of a mixed bag. The weather was mostly spectacular - very hot and occasionally stormy, but luckily, the storms happened either in the early morning or at night, and didn’t interfere with our plans, save for one tennis lesson for the grandchildren that had to be cancelled due to the wetness of the courts. And the grandchildren were fabulous, as always. Skylar is a natural athlete, and Hayden is very artistic. And they adore each other, which is so nice to see. We didn’t get a lot of golf in - only three games - but I broke 100 each time, so that’s a plus. And we saw our good friends there, and made some new ones. But we had a few problems with the house. There was a leak into the bedroom where the kids were sleeping and we noticed the carpet bubbling and rising. We called a plumber but he couldn’t determine the source of the leak even after tearing up the carpet and cutting into the wall. Ditto the leak expert we called in next. Finally, someone discovered the source of the problem and it’s being fixed, but we had to turn off the water for several days, which made showering and doing laundry, etc. virtually impossible. You don’t realize how much you use water until you can’t! In the middle of all this, our alarm system went haywire and started beeping incessantly, so we had to turn it off until we could get it repaired. Apparently our system has to be updated, so we’re doing that. Lovely. The joys of home ownership!
Back in Toronto now, and the weather is sunny but cold. I’m almost finished reading WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS by Lauren Weisberger, and have to admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Next up is ALL WE EVER WANTED by Emily Giffin, then a whole slew of other novels that have been piling up on my shelves. And there are lots of movies to see and friends to call and catch up with, so I better get to it. And that’s about it for now.
It’s Remembrance Day today, and along with remembering our veterans and the solders who gave their lives in defence of our democracy, please be mindful of how tenuous that democracy can be, and how easy it would be to let it slip through our fingers. Remember the ideals the country was founded on. America was always great. It’s time to MAKE AMERICA MORAL AGAIN! I wish you a happy - and thoughtful - Thanksgiving. See you next month.
Movie Reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)
As promised, here is the list of the movies I saw at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and a short review of each. I’m listing my favourites first. Before I begin, I’m happy to say that this year’s lineup was one of the very best in years. Either that, or I just chose particularly well. But from the comments I’ve heard from others, most people seem very pleased with their selections. I have a few caveats about the festival in general: ticket prices are becoming ridiculous, especially when many of the movies - way too many - are opening within weeks of the festival, and in some cases, during the festival itself. I really think that movies opening within a month of the festival should not be screened. Why pay double, even triple and more, to see a movie you can see a week later at its regular price? I did like the prior seat assignments at some of the theatres, although not the extra cost involved, especially when some of the seats I paid more for weren’t any better - and in some cases, worse - than the ones I didn’t pay extra for. (Also, when I complained that I hadn’t actually wanted to pay extra for three of the movies I selected - there were all sorts of computer glitches - I was told there were no refunds!) And speaking of computer glitches, the voting for the People’s Choice awards was especially frustrating, as after I made my selection, there was no SUBMIT button to enter it. I’ve heard many people complain about the same thing. Some people had no trouble; other people, like me, weren’t able to submit our votes. Get it together, people!
And now, the films:
- GREEN BOOK: the story of a black classical pianist and his white limo driver traveling through the Southern U.S. in 1962. This movie was satisfying on every level. It was wise, funny, touching, beautifully written and acted, and an absolute joy to watch. Viggo Mortensen deserves the Oscar. I predict this movie will be nominated for lots of awards, and was my choice for the People’s Choice Awards.
- NEVER LOOK AWAY: a truly transformative film from Germany that should win the Oscar for Best Foreign film. (I admit I didn’t see many of the other obvious contenders, such as SHOPLIFTERS.) It was directed by the man who did win the Oscar for best foreign film a number of years back for The Lives of Others. This movie starts in 1940, Nazi Germany, and continues to 1960, and follows the life of a young boy as he survives the horrors of his childhood and grows into a gifted artist. The larger themes involve the nature of art and truth, and the story itself is never less than involving, despite its three-hour running time. I loved this movie. A true masterpiece.
- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: Adapted from the 70’s novel by James Baldwin and directed by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins, this is a beautiful love story involving a young black couple whose lives are turned upside-down by a racist cop. It’s a story that rings only too true today, but what stops it from being unbearably sad is the love the characters all feel for each other, and which we feel as well. More than a film about hate, it is a film about love. It’s beautiful, sad, and wonderfully acted by the entire cast. Another movie I predict will be nominated for a lot of major awards.
- MONSTERS AND MEN: A small first-time effort by a supremely talented director, this movie was a revelation. Similar in theme to many of the movies at this years festival, it tells the story from three different points of view, woven seamlessly together, of the police killing of an unarmed black man. The characters are all extremely well-drawn, the acting couldn’t be better, and the suspense at times is almost unbearable. Definitely a director to watch.
- GIRLS OF THE SUN: From France, this is the story of a unit of female fighters who were former captives and sex slaves of Daesh now fighting their former oppressors in Iraqi Kurdistan. This movie is exciting and suspenseful and timely, and the lead actress, Golshifteh Farahani, is as terrific as she is gorgeous.
- WIDOWS: a super slick caper story with racial undertones from the director of Twelve Years a Slave, it stars Viola Davis and the luminous Elizabeth Debicki, as members of a group of women who turn to crime after their husbands are killed during a robbery. It’s clever - if more predictable than it thinks it is - and absorbing. More than a little improbable but a fun ride. And Daniel Kaluuya, last seen in GET OUT, is fabulously evil.
- WHERE HANDS TOUCH: An engrossing and intriguing movie about a little explored subject: what it was like to be a black person in Nazi Germany. This is the story of a young, bi-racial woman in the Third Reich. The product of an Aryan mother and a deceased black father, she is initially spared because she isn’t Jewish, and is able to obtain phone papers claiming she’s been sterilized and therefore can't reproduce. She attracts the attention of a young Nazi soldier and their relationship soon blooms into love, a love that obviously will not be tolerated.
- A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: I read the book by James Frey years ago, and this is an excellent and faithful recreation. You may remember the scandal that resulted after Oprah discovered that the so-called memoir she’d chosen for her book club was actually a work of fiction. Frey admitted that while some of the book was true, other parts had been embellished or hadn’t actually happened. It was still a good read, and it makes an excellent film.
- DESTROYER: With Nicole Kidman in a terrific performance. This is the story of a burnt-out cop (Kidman) on the hunt for a killer/bank robber, whose gang she infiltrated as an undercover officer many years earlier. The movie was always watchable, and was surprising on a number of levels. I didn’t see the resolution coming, which is something I always appreciate.
- THE MOST BEAUTIFUL COUPLE: Another movie from Germany, this one is about a married couple whose lives are upended when a trio of young men beat up and rob the couple while they are on holiday. The most repulsive of the young men also rapes the wife. But this isn’t just another story of revenge. It’s partly that, and excitingly so, but it’s much deeper than that, exploring the aftereffects of the trauma. Very well observed and acted.
- HOMECOMING: Starring the always watchable Julia Roberts, this was the first four episodes go a series made for Amazon Prime. Even though it started as an episodic podcast, not everything deserves to be strung out for hours on end. While it was engrossing and well-done, I think it would have made a great two-hour thriller instead of a prolonged series.
- THE WEDDING GUEST: Starring Dev Patel as a man who is hired to kidnap a reluctant bride and spirit her out of Pakistan before she can be married, this was an interesting failure. I enjoyed it, especially seeing India, but the plot never really hung together. It never seemed to make up its mind what it wanted to be, and the motivation - why the kidnapping when the bride was more than eager to flee? - and the ending was less than satisfying. Still, it was enjoyable.
- RED JOAN: the mostly true story of an old woman, played by Judi Dench, who is arrested for selling nuclear secrets to the Russians during the second world war. I wasn’t bored, but neither was I thrilled. A solid effort, and never boring. Just not as interesting as it should have been.
- SKIN: A difficult film to watch about a group of Neo-Nazis and the young, multi-tattooed skinhead who wants to break free of their grip. Jamie Bell is terrific, as always, and Vera Farmiga is fantastic and incredibly seductive in her role as Nazi den mother. But we’ve seen this film before, and this doesn’t say too much new.
- DRIVEN: the true story of John Delorean and his (arguably) criminal attempts to finance the making of the Delorean automobile, and in particular, his association with the con man who is his neighbour. I found Jason Sudeikas, as the con man, very irritating, but Lee Bice as Delorean was both gorgeous and terrific.
- THE FRONT RUNNER: another true story, this one about Gary Hart’s run for the presidency, which was derailed by his affair with Donna Rice. This is engrossing and earnest, but not terribly exciting, and I wondered how those too young to have been around then would find it. It feels a little dated, especially in light of the current situation in the U.S. Still, I was never bored, and it’s well-done.
- DOGMAN: From Italy. Horrible. The story of a moronic dog groomer who gets involved with gangsters, this was a total dud. When you can’t make a man who risks his life to save a small dog sympathetic, there’s something wrong. This movie even manages to make Italy looks ugly.
- THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: Robert Redford’s last movie as an actor, and it’s a shame he picked this turkey. Supposedly based on fact, it’s just stupid, not nearly as engaging as it thinks it is. Redford is his charming self and Sissy Spacek is terrific, but the movie is a real disappointment.
- ASH IS PUREST WHITE: From China. A mess that makes no real sense and only comes alive for about twenty minutes of its more than two hour running time when we concentrate on the heroine, and leave all the men out of it. Not remotely believable.
- THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS: A Netflix film that is a bore from start to finish. Totally unlikeable and unsympathetic characters. Couldn’t stand any of them. A waste of time.
The top four:
The excellent: (in no particular order)
The good but not great: (again, in no particular order)