The best and worst films of 2018

What to watch for the meme and what to watch for the movie

The best and worst films of 2018

Attention cinephiles! Here’s the lineup of Hollywood’s cinematic hits and misses:

OSCAR-WORTHY:

ROMA

The brilliant Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) delivers yet another masterpiece shot in 4K black and white. A salute to his childhood, Cuarón presents the life of a wealthy Mexican family surrounded by political turmoil in the 1970s. The plot is driven by the mother and nanny who strive to keep the family together. A strong contender this Oscar season, Roma is a beautiful story of bravery and unconditional motherhood with no shortage of Cuarón’s classic breathtaking landscape shots.

THE FAVOURITE

The Favourite succeeds in reinventing the period genre, delivering a work that is both extremely entertaining and incredibly humorous. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) does an impressive job of illustrating his quirky style with use of unique camera angles and elaborate images. The epic combative lesbian love triangle between Emma Stone, Olivia Colman, and Rachel Weisz makes this film worth watching.

BLACKKKLANSMAN

Legendary filmmaker Spike Lee’s adaption of the true story about Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the courageous African-American detective who aided in exposing the maniacal behavior of the Ku Klux Klan, is impactful and consistently funny. BlacKkKlansman will leave you just as Do the Right Thing did ­— with goosebumps and a reflection on the still relevant oppressed Black experience in America.

GREEN BOOK

It makes perfect sense that this film was the Grolsch People’s Choice Award winner at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Green Book is a charming feel-good movie done in the vein of Hidden Figures, communicating an important lesson on segregation and racism in the United States. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali make a fantastic duo for this road trip that tests the limits of the Jim Crow South. The Varsity loved it so much, we reviewed it for TIFF.

SHOPLIFTERS

Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda presents an incredible narrative about a complex and mischievous family struggling to make ends meet. The only way the family succeeds is by the children shoplifting. The Palme d’Or winner grabs your attention from the opening scene and does not let go until the credits roll, leaving film-goers in a state of satisfied shock. When surveying this year’s Oscar contenders ­— both foreign and domestic — Shoplifters is the pièce de résistance.

COLD WAR

This Polish film was shot in exquisite black and white 4:3 aspect ratio by Oscar-winning Pawel Pawlikowski. The passionate Shakespearean tale of two star-crossed lovers set during the spread of communism in Europe in the 1960s makes way for possibly the best film of the year. One knows you have seen a good movie when you don’t want it to end; Cold War portrays this phenomenon flawlessly. The Cannes Best Director Award winner leans heavily on its classical jazz score, contributing to the pace and brilliance of the script. The last act is so profound it left TIFF-goers ominously quiet. Cold War is a definite must-see from this year’s lineup.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

Barry Jenkins’ (Moonlight) adaptation of the James Baldwin novel is the perfect example of cinematic excellence. He tells the story of a young Black couple struggling to survive in early 1970s Harlem. The magnificent auteur makes use of his whimsical mise en scène styled with unique editing and cinematic techniques. If Beale Street Could Talk is driven along by a euphoric soundtrack, peppered with artists forever linked to this period. When has a John Coltrane/Miles Davis-infused score ever disappointed?

PASS ON:

BIRD BOX

The psychological thriller promised potential but ended with far too many plot holes. The audience is left with questions like “Why did Sandra Bullock’s character name ‘Girl’ Olympia and not Ella, the birth mother’s dream name for her child?” and “Why are the mentally ill unaffected by the monster?” Watch it for the meme, not for the movie.

THE DEATH OF STALIN

With a promising cast featuring Jeffrey Tambor and Steve Buscemi, this one unfortunately drops straight to the floor. From the creator of Veep, Armando Iannucci, one would expect timely one-liners and dark witty dialogue. Instead, the political satire was awkwardly delivered and lacked timing. This disappointment has potential to become a cult classic similar to Tommy Wiseau’s The Room; it was so bad, it was almost good.

TAG

Based on a true story about a never-ending game of tag, this movie couldn’t end fast enough. Void of any characters worth investing in, I suggest you file Tag for a Netflix-and-chill session. Acute attention is neither necessary nor required.

I FEEL PRETTY

Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty is a failed attempt at a self-deprecating work of cuteness. The subject matter seems like low hanging fruit, but Schumer let the citrus rot before they got around to filming. It lacks, well, almost everything that makes me want to part with 13 hard-earned dollars. Trainwreck was somewhat bearable thanks to the eye candy John Cena provided where you can most definitely see all of him.

Honourable mentions: for the good or the bad?

1. Capernaum

2. Crazy Rich Asians

3. Black Panther

4. Eighth Grade

5. Mid90s

6. Free Solo

7. Isle of Dogs

8. Burning

9. Beautiful Boy

The Varsity’s 25 best albums of 2018

2018 showed that musical poetry is truly for the listener

<i>The Varsity</i>’s 25 best albums of 2018

2018 saw a fairly radical remodeling of the music industry. Promising talents solidified their names while countless established artists offered career-lows. This was a year defined by innovative ambient music, hypnotic art pop, and experimentations in hip hop album structures. Ultimately, 2018 provided representation to important voices, offering complex and profound commentaries on our ever-changing world.

25. OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE

Essential tracks: “Ponyboy” / “Faceshopping” / “Pretending”

24. TA13OO by Denzel Curry

Essential tracks: “SIRENS|Z1RENZ (feat. J.I.D)” / “VENGEANCE|VENGEANCE (feat. JPEGMAFIA & ZillaKami)”

23. Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington

Essential tracks: “Fists of Fury” / “Can You Hear Him” / “Street Fighter Mas”

22. Ordinary Corrupt Human Love by Deafheaven

Essential tracks: “You Without End” / “Night People”

21. Persona by Rival Consoles

Essential tracks: “Unfolding” / “Dreamer’s Wake”

20. 2012 – 2017 by Against All Logic

Essential tracks: “Some Kind of Game” / “Now U Got Me Hooked”

19. Sweetener by Ariana Grande

Essential tracks: “R.E.M.” / “Successful” / “breathin”

18. Room 25 by Noname

Essential tracks:Self” / “Blaxploitation” / “Don’t Forget About Me”

17. Twin Fantasy by Car Seat Headrest

Essential tracks: “Beach Life-In-Death” / “Sober to Death”

16. Power by Lotic

Essential tracks: “Hunted” / “Power” / “Solace”

15. Isolation by Kali Uchis

Like some sort of pop goddess, Kali Uchis burst into headlines this year with her show-stopping studio debut Isolation. Alternating between love songs and breakup songs, Uchis draws inspiration from jazz legends like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice is the centrepiece, but the elegant funk sounds are equally absorbing. Uchis sings of past conflicts and joys with sentimentality, blending memories of pleasure and pain. Isolation is an R&B/soul extravaganza rarely paralleled today. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Miami (feat. BIA)” / “Your Teeth in My Neck” / “Dead to Me”

14. All Melody by Nils Frahm

In All Melody, Nils Frahm immerses the listener in a mesmerizing mosaic of piano, beats, synthesizers, marimba, and various woodwinds. Frahm rarely deviates from a warm consonance that permeates the entire album. Within this framework, he is able to capture both surreal feels and complex interplays of rhythm and notes. While most of the tracks are marked by insistent, percussive arpeggios that contribute a sense of unwavering energy, Frahm also excels at pulling back into more introspective territory. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Sunson” / “My Friend the Forest” / “All Melody”

13. Historian by Lucy Dacus

It all begins with “Night Shift.” It’s the kind of indie rock showstopper that grips you with its first words and hurls you through the sky as the climax hits. Though the rest of the album never reclaims this peak, it offers a tender exploration of relationships and time. Lucy Dacus’ observant and witty songwriting is exceeded only by the sincerity of her voice. Between Historian and her work in boygenius (EP), Dacus has established herself as a vital presence in the indie world. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Night Shift” / “Timefighter” / “Nonbeliever”

12. KIDS SEE GHOSTS by KIDS SEE GHOSTS

Kanye West’s contributions to the world this year have been, at best, cringy and, at worst, intensely distressing. The sole exception to this standard is KIDS SEE GHOSTS: a 24-minute collaborative project with Kid Cudi. It serves as a reminder to the musical ingenuity that spawned his success. In the album opener “Feel the Love (feat. Pusha.T),” Kanye mimics a machine gun, his voice ricocheting across the song. Cudi is also in top form, with his emotional and haunting vocals contrasting Kanye’s hyperactive energy. KIDS SEE GHOSTS shows two of hiphop’s most gifted innovators embarking on a journey for inner peace. The result is unforgettable. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Feel The Love (feat. Pusha T)” / “4th Dimension (feat. Louis Prima)” / “Cudi Montage”

11. Lush by Snail Mail

Though only 18 years old at the time of Lush’s release, Snail Mail demonstrates the songwriting abilities of an experienced industry pro. On Lush, she effectively carries heart-wrenching and beautifully crafted melodies with her crystal clear voice. “Heat Wave” showcases the delightfully charming inflections in her voice while highlights like “Golden Dream” reveal Snail Mail’s affinity for building to triumphant, soaring endings tinged with melancholy. Snail Mail has solidly established herself as an artist to watch in the years to come. (KS)

Essential tracks:Pristine” / “Heat Wave” / “Stick”

10. Now Only by Mount Eerie

With his signature bleakness, Mount Eerie, also known as Phil Elverum, follows up last year’s A Crow Looked At Me with another album driven by fearless songwriting. Now Only broadens his thematic investigation, offering a sweeping probe into the nature of death. Naturally, he finds no answers. In “Distortion,” Elverum’s poetic stream of consciousness connect Jack Kerouac, a sexual encounter from his 20s, and his wife’s death into a grand tapestry. Drenched in morbidity and existential dread, Now Only is not an easy listen, but undeniably an essential one. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Tintin in Tibet” / “Distortion”

9. Konoyo by Tim Hecker

Even as a veteran ambient artist, Tim Hecker continues to find new ways to reinvent his sound. His ninth studio album release, Konoyo sets its gaze on the otherworldly. Konoyo is made up of synth-based soundscapes, marked by seering dissonance, and interspersed with slow-developing melodies that feel disconcerting yet bold. Inspired by his work with a gagaku ensemble in Tokyo, the album blends the artificial with the acoustic. In Konoyo, Hecker reaffirms his place as one of the most innovative electronic artists of the moment. (KS)

Essential tracks:This Life” / “Is a Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light”

8. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys have evolved from greasy Sheffield teens shredding gritty garage rock to international celebrities, producing suave lounge pop. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, the successor to the mostly vapid AM, shows frontman Alex Turner flexing unexpectedly toned songwriting muscles. Set on a luxury hotel built on the moon’s surface, their latest album blends science fiction tropes with cultural critiques. In a year where indie rock was plagued by the insufferable pretensions of The 1975 and Father John Misty, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino was a delightful alternative. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Star Treatment” / “Four Out of Five” / “Batphone”

7. 7 by Beach House

A new album by Beach House, dream pop’s finest sorcerers, is a musical milestone in any year. The duo offers some of their bravest work yet with 7, a spellbinding collection of psychedelic homeruns. Known for synth and guitar arrangements that sound plucked from alien planets, their latest album demonstrates a subtle shift in their signature sound. Tracks like “Lemon Glow” boom with pounding drum beats as Victoria Legrand’s magnetic vocals dominate the listeners’ ears. 7 superbly captures the catharsis of dream pop; “Last Ride” plays out like a passionate, tear-stained farewell. Few musicians can naturally cast magic with the ease of Beach House. 7 is another unbreakable incantation. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Drunk In LA” / “Black Car” / “Last Ride”

6. Your Queen is a Reptile by Sons of Kemet

With Your Queen is a Reptile, Sons of Kemet reject the British monarchy and, instead, proclaim nine black female leaders as the true monarchs. Led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, the jazz album is also inspired by sources across the African diaspora. The brass instruments weave in and out of urgent polyrhythmic beats, which imbue the album with persistent energy. Your Queen Is a Reptile calls for resistance and a reclamation of power in the UK, proving jazz is not a genre of the past, but of the future. (KS)
Essential tracks: “My Queen is Mamie Phipps Clark” / “My Queen is Harriet Tubman” / “My Queen is Doreen Lawrence”

5. Dead Magic by Anna von Hausswolff

On Dead Magic, Anna von Hausswolff invites listeners into a simultaneously beautiful and disturbing world. Her voice shows versatility, with its Kate Bush-esque tone. Though von Hausswolff has a gorgeous voice, she isn’t afraid to sound hideous, crying out in desperation. Von Hausswolff shows incredible depth, building up to almost apocalyptic moments only to draw back to sparser, minimalistic tracks. She adeptly straddles genres to create a sound that is uniquely hers. (KS)

Essential tracks: “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall” / The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”

4. In a Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls

In a Poem Unlimited, the latest release of U.S. Girls, the solo project by Meghan Remy, presents a distinctly female perspective on the current political climate. Remy sounds angry and defiant as she rejects the male domination pervasive in our society. Her focus turns both toward male-led violence in the home — singing about domestic violence in “Incidental Boogie” — or abroad, criticizing Obama for his expansion of the drone strike program in “M.A.H.” Drawing influences from funk, pop, psychedelic rock, and jazz, the album makes a statement both politically and musically as Remy’s distinct voice blends seamlessly into the fabric of distorted guitars and varied percussion. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Rosebud” / “M.A.H.” / “Rage of Plastics”

3. CARE FOR ME by Saba

Saba’s CARE FOR ME centres around the murder of Walter, his cousin, friend, and mentor. The album cover depicts Saba slumped forward, despondent and vulnerable; this is, more or less, the tone of the album. Irate and overcome by senseless violence, Saba navigates the terrain of his 24-year memory. With songwriting akin to Kendrick Lamar, Saba fashions himself as an Earl Sweatshirt-esque wordsmith, cleverly rhyming around morbid themes. CARE FOR ME is both a beautiful eulogy and a sincere celebration of life. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “LIFE” / “LOGOUT” / “PROM / KING”

2. Be the Cowboy by Mitski

Be the Cowboy is a work that defies expectations. Constantly oscillating between desperation and defiance, Mitski delivers an impeccably crafted indie rock album. Comprised of 14 short tracks evocative of fleeting moments, Be the Cowboy is an album about misleading appearances. On the surface, it offers catchy, seemingly impersonal vignettes cloaked in lightly distorted guitars and bouncy synthesizer riffs. Underneath, the work is exploding with emotion. For women — and especially racialized women — Mitski’s lyrics resonate in a deeply personal way. She finds power in singing out loud her insecurities and unbearable isolation. In this vulnerable yet dauntless work, Mitski lets listeners know that you can thrive in taking up the space you deserve in this world. (KS)

Essential tracks: “Geyser” / “Nobody” / “A Pearl”

1. I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma

I’m All Ears is an all-consuming art pop spectacle brought to you by two teenage girls from Norwich. With production from SOPHIE, David Wench, and Faris Badwon, I’m All Ears shakes with psychedelic euphoria. The album is a kaleidoscopic fusion of textures — all easily intoxicating. Early tracks like “Hot Pink” explode with experimental subversions of pop conventions. Later songs, like “Cool & Collected” or “Donnie Darko,” develop over the course of ambitious, quasi-epic structures. Innovation collides with technical prowess in a work that flirts with both minimalism and maximalism. This album is everything. Grand and concise. Danceable and heartbreaking. Yet despite its many variations and self-reinventions, there remains a love for music. Its undiluted and uncompromising passion makes I’m All Ears the album we needed for the year. (RAB)

Essential tracks: “Hot Pink” / “Falling Into Me” / “I Will Be Waiting” / “Donnie Darko”

Winterfest 2019: U of T’s drag show

Forget RuPaul, U of T’s drag kings and queens have all the glitz, glamour, and glittaaa that you’ll need

Winterfest 2019: U of T’s drag show

Pop songs, lip sync battles, and performances by drag queens and kings lit up The Cat’s Eye Student Pub and Lounge on the evening of Thursday, January 10. Part of the University of Toronto Winterfest’s annual charity drag show, donations went to The 519, a charitable organization that runs a Toronto LGBTQ+ community centre on 519 Church Street.

Wearing a conservative blazer, tie, button-up shirt, and slacks, U of T President Meric Gertler — or at least, his persona interpreted by a drag king — lip-synced to Brittany Spears’ “Circus” as he stripped off his layers of attire to reveal a white tank top, with the word “QUERCUS” emblazed on the front in blue.

“That’s my president!” cheered an audience member in the middle.

The audience was far from passive that night, with lively cheers, hoots, and clapping providing positive reinforcement for the performers, who responded well to the audience’s encouragement.

Juno, a self-described “lesbian drag witch just here to have a good time,” came twice on stage, performing “Potential Breakup Song” by Aly & AJ, and later “Primadonna” by Marina and the Diamonds. She later told me how receiving the audience’s supportive feedback onstage helped ease her tensions to thrive in her persona.

I definitely was nervous before,” she said. “But, once you get on stage and everybody’s cheering, it’s a very happy, energetic vibe. It gets more comfortable because you realize, even if you do make a mistake, everyone here is just here for a fun time. Nobody’s criticizing you very harshly.”

Another performer, Camila Toe, who was described as a “newcomer to the Toronto drag scene,” was met by cheers for making intricate movements on stage look lithe and effortless. A fourth performer, ZacKey Lime, who was wearing a glitter top with track pants and sporting an exposed midriff, elicited joyous laughter and cheers for creatively incorporating a baby doll with baby powder into a playful performance.

Interspersed between the performances were two lip sync battles between members of the audience who answered a call by lead organizer Jayde Jones, also president of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council.

The first battle comprised of two teams of audience volunteers trying to outdo each other in a lip sync dance to a song by Ke$ha. A particularly inspired audience member grabbed two artificial glittery bouquets on the stage and repurposed the props from stage decorations to chest decorations. Laughter and cheers at the creativity won the enterprising audience member a gift bag during the election of the battle’s winner, based on Jones listening to the loud, enthusiastic receptions of the observing audience to each teams.

During the intermission, Jones recommended that I participate in the second battle, citing it as an opportunity for “investigative journalism.” While I have too much respect for investigative journalists to claim this met that high bar, I did join a team onstage upon noticing there was a shortage of volunteers for the second round, in the interest of getting a better perspective on what it is like to perform.

I’m not the best at dancing, but I did vaguely know its general principles. Like how I kind of went along playing basketball in high school gym class by mostly focusing on positioning to compensate for a dearth of ability to handle a ball, I decided to make full use of the stage space, avoid being static, and let the star performers take the lead.

It was a showdown between two teams. Luckily for me, the two lead dancers Thomas Siddall and Trevor Fung, who had also performed in the first lip sync battle, had an excellent duo dancing performance that carried the team.

Afterward, I caught up with Siddall and Fung for an interview. Siddall revealed that this was his first lip sync on stage, though he regularly lip syncs in the morning and at friends’ houses. Fung recalled how he developed his skills by practising in his room for years, getting caught by his siblings.

Fung described how lip syncing can be empowering. It can let performers take on “the confidence of the artist and their whole persona.” Siddall mentioned that being absorbed in the music can make you “forget who you are.”

Siddall described how it can be healthy to feel empowerment in this way. He added that sometimes, being gay “can be a whole mess,” since his mom doesn’t accept his identity, often the case with families of Asian background. He recalled a stranger calling him a slur on public transit for just being on the train, and he also recalled feeling disturbed by the Church-Wellesley killings targeting members of the gay community.

“Honestly, all we want out of this is just for people to be like, ‘Yeah, they’re people too,’” said Siddall. Because, despite the progressiveness of Canadian society, there are still “hurdles” to get over, explained Fung. LGBTQ+ community events like this Thursday evening’s, then, can perhaps help people recognize the humanity of others, regardless of sexual identity.

Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ Pacamambo

Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart but it appeals to the human need to process trauma

Theatre review: SMC Troubadours’ <i>Pacamambo</i>

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

On the penultimate Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of November in the basement of Alumni Hall, led by director William Dao, the St. Michael College Troubadours staged a praiseworthy performance of Wajdi Mouawad’s Pacamambo.

Dao’s Pacamambo left the audience with much to contemplate on the nature of death, as well as the role of narratives in shaping subjective reality.

The constraints imposed by last-minute stage changes did not stop the crew — being confined to a small classroom — from creating an immersive universe for the audience to inhabit for the next hour and a half.

Under these impositions, their creative considerations only seemed to grow, resulting in a hypnotic setting that departed from the distance created by the traditional stage. By positioning the audience around the performance, the former were invited to act as jury for the interrogation to come.

The story focuses on a young girl named Julie (Eiléanór O’Halloran) as she attempts to make sense of the death of her grandmother (Rachel Bannerman). At the request of her therapist (Ahlam Hassan), the child guides us through her trauma and we come to understand why she was found three weeks later looking over the dead body of her grandmother.

“Tell me your story,” her therapist urges — and more importantly, what in the world is Pacamambo?

Julie intently informs the audience that Pacamambo is the question and it is the answer; it is the land where everyone is everyone, the land of universal empathy.

As the faint lights fade into silence, chilling vocalists vested in white gowns flood the quiet room. The irfinal notes echo through the room to set the tone for the sombre realities that follow. From her very first lines, O’Halloran’s delivery captivates the viewer and she aptly manipulates the stage through her portrayal of a young child processing trauma. She flawlessly captures the convictions of childhood and draws the audience into a nostalgic attentiveness. They wait on her every breath out of sheer curiosity — what could the young, vulnerable, and sad possibly have to say about grief?

Grief, trauma, and a child’s unwillingness to let go of the past: Pacamambo is not for the faint of heart. To alleviate the audience from the deeply emotive plot, Julie’s dog (Joanne Perez) appears from time to time to break the fourth wall, eliciting a few chuckles from audience members, and providing the rest with a chance to catch their breath and remember that with death, there is still life.

These brief moments are quickly set aside as the audience come to face Julie’s encounter with Death (Olivia Regimbal, Amanda Gosio, and River Pereira), whose authority can be sensed in its every sentence and through its every glance. As Death speaks, no one dares make a sound. At last, Death arrives, and perhaps will inform us too, of our own mortality, leaving us more confused than Julie, who at least holds an answer.

Dao’s portrayal of the incoming of Death, as well as an individual’s attempt to derive meaning from the incomprehensible is most remarkable as it brutally projects the latter upon the audience.

Pacamambo beautifully overwhelms. Our senses meet a cacophony of movement upon a layer of hollow lamentation; everyone speaks, yet not a thought can be heard. Chaos and panic find harmony within the small space.

Despite the team’s perceived necessity to intervene on the original text around the topics of anti-Black racism and mythologized trauma, Dao and his cast navigate the limitations of exploration and provide a platform for the discourse surrounding colonization in the land acknowledgement before the performance.

Dao and the Troubadours offered a memorable representation of Pacamambo to remind the audience that the land of universal empathy can be here and now, and that kindness and compassion can be found even amid these incessant winter days.

Theatre review: TCDS’ Art

Friendships are akin to art: they help fill the voids within us

Theatre review: TCDS’ <i>Art</i>

Rating: 3/5 stars

Last weekend, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) performed Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play, Art. The play, set in Paris and written in French, premiered in 1994 and was quickly adapted and translated, before making its way across the Atlantic and onto Broadway in 1998.

Performed at Trinity College’s George Ignatieff Theatre, curator Liana Ernszt made a conscious effort to integrate the performance with a gallery of boundary-pushing student artwork, providing an altogether more interactive experience.

By presenting opportunities for more direct engagement, Ernszt encouraged audiences to step outside of their comfort zones and provided a more visceral account of the play’s major themes: drifting friendships, weak bonds, senses of taste, and identity. This challenged audiences to consider the value and purpose of art and greatly enhanced the communication of Reza’s message in art.

Art follows three friends, Serge (Ezera Beyene), Marc (Kody McCann), and Yvan (Brendan Rush), who’ve unwittingly grown apart and suddenly find their friendship under considerable tension. Catalyzing the end of their friendship is Serge’s wildly exorbitant purchase of a painting that, rather humorously, is just a completely white canvas with white lines.

Marc disparages the painting, and it is this disagreement in taste between Marc and Serge that forces Yvan in the middle. Naturally, this devolves into a no-holds-barred contest of mockery, cynicism, and disillusionment, ultimately spiralling out of control and into referendums on taste, character assassinations, and a pervasive mood of indifference. Just when it’s most important for them to pull together, they instead push themselves even further apart.

The play, directed by Ryan Falconer, brought out a unified and true-to-form communication of Reza’s Art. The production was well-orchestrated with timely, effective lighting and use of the stage to entwine the audience in an intimate affair of theatre and drama. The band, with Shreya Jha on keyboard and Mira Riselli on bass, helped execute seamless transitions of scenes, building and releasing tension to complement the mood of the cast.

The cast succeeded in captivating the audience by effectively conveying the emotional rifts between their characters. Beyene’s performance of Serge as an eccentric art connoisseur left the impression of a focused approach to his role, by projecting his emotions not impulsively but sincerely. This was nicely juxtaposed by McCann’s performance of Marc, whose condescending demeanour and language really broadcast a sort of austerity that reached beyond the confines of the stage and into the minds of the audience. This contrast worked especially well in heightening the tension between the two characters. Rush’s performance of Yvan was ambitious and intense, though certainly not lost because his character was the most difficult to portray. Rush successfully supported the unfolding interactions between Serge and Marc, which would unravel even more to crash down like a game of Jenga.

The more salient point in Art and the blank canvas is not the trivial senses of taste, but the understanding that friendships are to be nurtured and not taken for granted. As with anything that is abandoned or neglected, if we lose sight, we also stand to lose clarity and, ultimately, the confidence of our friendships.

Friends are a sort of artwork in themselves; like art, friends help us overcome times of adversity and suffering by making light of dark situations. They fill the voids within us to cure our emptiness.

Ultimately, I wish to congratulate Falconer and the TCDS on a great show and laud their commitment and passionate dedication to storytelling, art, and the audience.

Book Club: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

A little girl’s life stolen and contrived for the illusion of a perfect Eastern beauty

Book Club: <i>Memoirs of a Geisha</i> by Arthur Golden

The only novel I’ve ever wanted to read twice in my life, Memoirs of a Geisha is considered by many to be a historical fairy tale that paints a breathtakingly exotic and beautiful world. Written by an evocative author, it tells the story of a character whom we learn to both love and hate.

Taking place in Japan, the novel spans from the early 1900s, when nine-year-old Sayuri is taken away from her family at the age of nine, to the 1950s, when World War II has left the country in shambles. Sayuri is forced to become a geisha: a female Japanese entertainer specialized in the performance arts. Not to be confused with prostitution, the geisha business is dignified and requires years of rigorous and expensive training.

For background, in the 1920s, there were over 80,000 geishas in Japan. Many of them started training at a very young age in a kaburenjo, a school that teaches girls how to sing, dance, play instruments, and perform tea ceremonies. In addition to becoming a skillful artist, the girls must learn how to carry themselves with grace and allure.

A geisha will spend hours getting ready for work. From lavish kimonos to extensive hairdressing routines, a geisha’s main purpose is to please and entertain men, to gain their liking. This is also so that they can earn a danna: a wealthy man who will pay for and take care of them in exchange for a more intimate relationship. The world of geishas is where the gender dichotomy manifests to its fullest, where women are presented as nothing more than an object of desire.

Through her struggles, young Sayuri takes us into a geisha’s world — one where she’s trained to enchant the most powerful men, yet bear no power in choosing whom she can love. Sayuri lives a life like water flowing down a hill, until she splashes into something that forces her to find a new course. Although she leads a glamorous life in the public eye, Sayuri is helpless to her own fate.

Arthur Golden wrote the entire story in the gentle and innocent voice of Sayuri. To create a narrative as historical and as niche as Memoirs of a Geisha, Golden conducted a lot of firsthand research. Golden interviewed Mineko Iwasaki, who became the biggest inspiration for the creation of Sayuri. Iwasaki was a geisha hersel­f — one of the most well-known in Kyoto in her time.

Iwasaki provided Golden with many rich details and insights about her life as a geisha. However, following the book’s publication and success, Iwasaki was enraged. She felt betrayed at the book’s open publicity of her most private matter — namely, her mizuage, which is a ceremony that auctions a girl’s virginity. In addition, there were details in the book that Iwasaki felt were not properly represented. They acted as nothing more than sprinkled glamour that Golden used to write a bestseller.

Whether the alleged mistakes were intended or accidental, it is undeniable that Golden cannot be a perfect writer of Japanese culture. Golden is a man born in America. He never grew up in an okiya or faced the desolation of losing his entire family to poverty. However, what he lacks in experience, he makes up for with imagination and craftsmanship.

If you’re looking for a precise historical account of geisha culture, this book will not be it. But if you’re looking to escape into a world both lyrical and sensual, a world that captivates and evocates, then this is your book.

This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Bah! Humbug! An alternative movie list for those not overly fond of the holiday season

This one’s for you, Mr. Grinch

Look, I get it, you don’t want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life again. You’re too alternative for Christmas now that you’re in university and learning big words like ‘hegemony’ and ‘postmodernism.’

Join the club. Be a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie watcher. Sip that eggnog and feel smug. Make a comment on your Instagram and Twitter that you, too, are resisting the commodification of Christmas.

So what is a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie? It’s a movie set during Christmas which goes against normative assumptions of Christmas. While a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life might not have anything to do explicitly with Christmas lore, it still captures the spirit of Christmas.

The following movies are the antitheses to our preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be. Here are the candidates for ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movies for this holiday season:

1. Instead of thinking about world peace, get your dose of unnecessary violence and action with Die Hard, 1988.

This one is the original ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie. There’s something so cheeky about watching Bruce Willis blow things up when your neighbours are singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” around the Christmas tree.

2. Instead of holding hands around the Christmas tree and singing songs, explore the deepest trenches of alienation and loneliness in Dekalog: Three, 1989.

Poland has never been so lonely in the third episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece Dekalog. Driving around the streets at night in a taxi, Dekalog: Three places us in the world outside of the brightly lit homes of the suburbs. Here, the inability to connect with other human beings runs rampant. Holiday depression is real, and Dekalog: Three sleigh rides deep in its depths.

3. Instead of enforcing heteronormativity, delve into the psychological tensions of a boy learning about his sexuality in The Long Day Closes, 1992.

Showcasing the pure poetry of subdued queer cinema, 11-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) sits alone on the stairs as his entire family eats a meal around the Christmas tree. His two brothers have recently gotten married, but Bud knows he does not fit in. He is becoming increasingly intertwined in a world of ambivalence and ambiguity as he discovers his sexuality in 1950s Liverpool.

4. Instead of romanticizing idyllic Christmas childhoods, dive deep into childhood trauma with Fanny and Alexander, 1982.

In lieu of the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebration of the Ingmar Bergman Centennial, I present to you Fanny and Alexander. This five-hour film — the theatrical cut is only three — is about the life of two siblings as they grow up in 1900s Sweden. Its colourful proclivity to red might appear in line with the Christmas spirit, but the way the film ruthlessly explores the inner traumas so often tucked away when representing childhood is what makes it so ‘not-Christmas.’ Seeing mommy kiss Santa Claus is the least of these kids’ troubles.

5. Instead of wholesome family fun, enjoy sex cults and spooky conspiracies with Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.

Stanley Kubrick’s last feature is so drenched in paranoia and weird sex things that it will make any family have a case of the fantods. But the film isn’t just purely decadent: deep down, it’s an authentic meditation on marriage that dares to go into the obsessional and unsettling elements of love.

6. Instead of going to your church’s yearly rendition of the nativity story, explore the most controversial telling of that story in Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary, 1985.

This film is set in 1980s France and was criticized after its release for telling such an untraditional narrative of Mary’s life. In fact, it was condemned by Pope John Paul II and banned in Argentina and Brazil. Hail Mary dares to offend. It features several nude shots of the virgin Mary — albeit stripped of sexual content — and forces us to rethink discourses of the holy by integrating the divine into everyday life. Hail Mary presents such radical claims of the body, virtue, miracles, and God that it transcends any simple understanding of the ‘Christ’ category of Christmas.

7. Instead of engaging in sprees of consumerism, embrace an ironic attitude to the dystopia of modern culture in Brazil, 1985.

You didn’t know Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was set during Christmas? Surprise! It even features a scene of a drunk Santa in a wheelchair. This masterwork in satirizing office life, authoritarianism, and late-stage consumerism is a hilarious political dystopia that becomes more relevant every day.

8. Instead of resting at home, venture into the cold, outside world of rural Québec in Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971.

Claude Jutra sets this revered film in the Canadian canon on December 24. While you’re snug at home with hot chocolate and all, watch as 15-year-old Benoît (Jacques Gagnon) and his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) wander around in the snow on a dead-body delivery. The movie is chilly and methodical. It’s a slow — or perhaps ‘snow’ — burner that gives you a picture of the delights and challenges of a world outside the comfy, heated city life that Torontonians associate with Christmas.

9. Instead of going on a holiday and taking time off work, climb the corporate ladder and achieve a state of late-capitalist loneliness in The Apartment, 1960.

Closing our ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas list is Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy The Apartment. Taking place during the holiday season, Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter, a lonely office worker who loans out his apartment to his superiors so they can have adulterous affairs. Baxter is determined to get to the top of the corporate ladder, but that all changes when he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).

Wilder understands that love shatters our expected course in life. He crafts a film where every line of witty dialogue is perfect in its place. The way Wilder plays with the corporate wishlist of success and the world-shattering gift of love perhaps, more than anything, captures the contradictory nature of Christmas. The Apartment is both one of the greatest ‘not-Christmas’ movies and also one the greatest Christmas movies.

Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Composer Ryan O’Neal’s household recognition begins and ends in the credits

Overlooked: Sleeping at Last

Ryan O’Neal has found great success in his relatively short career by creating music for the concepts of other artists. However, his own musical side projects are undervalued by comparison.

His scores can be found in motion pictures, car commercials, and music videos alike. Each one is unique, yet unified stylistically with a fondness of narrative and an emo tinge.

He wields his musical tools masterfully, carefully curating his music and lyrics for each project. These tools never appear predictably within his albums; they are as diverse as the topics he chooses to muse upon.

Every note, chord, and rest is specifically written to elicit a particular emotion or experience from the listener.

Precise and careful, yet eloquent and efficient, the Sleeping at Last project exemplifies everything music should do for its audience. Through beauty, and the expert use of the mechanics of song, Sleeping at Last seeks only to provide fundamentally universal experiences that everybody can learn from. Though his goal seems lofty, O’Neal achieves it splendidly.

You find yourself so comfortable in the worlds he creates that sometimes you forget the one you’re actually in.

He is captivating in the simplest sense.

His albums, aptly dubbed ‘atlases,’ begin describing our entire universe at its most basic level — light and dark — and move through increasing levels of complexity. His current project seeks to tackle the human psyche through the Enneagram of Personality.

Even though he has spent the better part of the last three years serenading objects from throughout the solar system and beyond, beauty is the string that ties his separate works together into a cohesive whole. His music allows the audience to discover, and constantly rediscover, the beauty in all things.

O’Neal asks you to feel the joy that simple sunlight shining through curtains brings; to exonerate the regret that comes from the “reckless and honest words” leaving our mouths. And at his request, on clear nights, you should take the time to look at the moon as if you had never seen it before.

O’Neal writes only for others. His music exists simply to gift others the beauty of the unknown.

For what greater gift can there be than to allow us to feel wonder for wonder’s sake?

No longer just in the background or periphery, O’Neal deserves every last ounce of recognition for his tireless, incredible work. And you, dear reader, deserve to see the beauty in everything, and possibly even yourself.

At last.