Writer/Director Whit Stillman Makes a Brilliant Match with Jane Austen in his New Film, “Love and Friendship”

Whit Stillman has been often called the Waspy Woody Allen. As in some of Allen’s earlier work, Stillman’s films are, at their core, autobiographical. Mostly taking place in New York, these films depict with clarity, intelligence, sensitivity, and gentle humour and irony the manners, mores, morality, and style of a certain subset of New York society. That is to say, waspy upper-class and upper-income preppies, trust funders, and Hamptonites — and the women who want to date them, bed them, and marry them.

In such terrific 1990s films as Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, Stillman, from an insider’s perspective, sets up the strict societal rules within which his characters must operate. Stillman then slyly comments upon and satirizes theses very same societal conventions, especially through his alter ego, played by the sardonic Chris Eigeman (who appeared in each of the aforementioned films).

In Love and Friendship, Whitman has rediscovered his unique singular voice. Stillman has taken Jane Austen’s pre-Pride and Prejudice minor epistolary novel, Lady Susan, her characters, and some of her very sharp observations, and has crafted a brilliantly funny and pointed comedy of manners … or ill manners.

Austen/Stillman’s dialogue sparkles and pops with cutting observations and insightful yet cynical societal comments.

It’s positively Oscar Wilder-ian.

Take, for example, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) describing an unsuitable suitor as “too old to be governed, too young to die.” Or when she positively describes her one true friend and confidante, American-born Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), as “an American who has none of the uncouthness, but all of the candor.” Yet another time, Lady Susan describes Americans (who at the time had recently became independent of England) as “ingrates,” and wisely states that “only by having children we can understand that dynamic.”

So smart!

The film is in part a late-18th century costume comedy set in various lavish English country estates, replete with servants and large estate rooms. In terms of setting, think Downton Abbey.

But instead of the moral and honorable Lady Mary, Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan is a totally captivating, cunning, scheming, and seductive widow, dressed in gorgeous, long and flowing black dresses. She exudes style and grace, and her manners are outwardly impeccable. But due to her unfortunate impecunious state, Lady Susan’s only goals goal in life are to secure a rich husband for herself and her only daughter, Frederica.

In my opinion, this is Beckinsale’s best film role. She is simply brilliant as the very strong, intelligent, and manipulative Lady Susan, who knows and understands the strict societal rules under which she must survive and attempt to succeed. And she does it all without losing her independent spirit or compromising her strong sexual desires.

Chloe Sevigny’s portrayal as Lady Susan’s co-conspirator in societal crime is also excellent. As is the role of the idealistic suitor for Lady Susan, Reginald. Played by Xavier Samuel, Reginald is totally smitten with the beautiful Lady Susan. This brings much horror to his wealthy sister and even wealthier parents, who rightfully fear that the conniving Lady Susan is only interested in Reginald’s bank account and material assets, not in his heart.

Comic relief is provided by the outrageous Sir James (Tom Bennett), a very wealthy and young(ish) land owner. His cluelessness about all things “normal” (describing peas as green little balls), his bizarre discovery that the estate Churchill is not a separate Church and Hill, and his off-the-wall commentary of the Twelve Commandments steal the show.

Ironically, the buffoonish Sir James delivers Whitman’s underlying core message that morality, or what is right, should supersede mere societal mores or fashion.

Throughout the screening, the packed audience at the Varsity Cinema chuckled and responded to every brilliant repartee and riposte. This is a film worth seeing more than once, chock full of witty lines and laugh-out-loud ironic asides. (Some of which I unfortunately missed on first viewing.)

I predict this brilliant script will be nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Welcome back, Sir Whitman of Stillman.   

“A Bigger Splash” is a Very Sexy, Erotic Thriller on the Sicilian Island of Pantelleria

Italian director Luca Guadagnino has taken the original 1969 French psychological thriller La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) and has, quite literally, fleshed out the main characters.

The film stars Tilda Swinton in the lead and Ralph Fiennes as her hot, younger lover Matthias Shoenaerts, as well as Dakota Johnson as Swinton’s former lover as the sexual ingénue. They spend most of the film naked, or semi-naked, in and around the villa’s sumptuous pool — swimming, sunning, fighting, and shagging.

Guided by a sexually charged screenplay penned by American writer David Kajganich, Guadagnino has helped Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes craft some of their best, most memorable, and, in my opinion, most Oscar-worthy performances in years.

Swinton (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Michael Clayton) is superb as Marianne, a female David Bowie-like rock star who is recuperating from throat surgery and chilling out in a gorgeous, sprawling villa in the island’s hills. Along with her is her bearded and brooding lover, Paul (Belgian actor Matthias Shoenaerts).

Under doctor’s orders, Swinton has been forbidden to use her voice, so she, as Marianne, must wordlessly express her feelings throughout the film: of love, anger, fear, doubt, confusion, jealousy, betrayal, contentment, and orgiastic ecstasy. To do so, Swinton draws upon all her formidable acting skills. It is truly a tour de force of artistic achievement.

In the past, Swinton has typically played weird, asexual androgynous roles. As rock star Marianne, who George (Ralph Fiennes) describes as someone who loves to “fu*k, fu*k, and fu*k”, she is very sexual and sensuous. In one of the opening scenes, she and her lover Paul are naked in the pool. Swinton’s back is against the wall, and Paul thrusts inside her with her fully exposed and wonderful breasts all ablaze. A great scene that perfectly sets the stage for the wild ride to follow.

Fiennes, normally known for his powerful and dramatic roles in The English Patient, Schindler’s List, and The Constant Gardener, lets it all hang out as the bearded, bombastic, and brash George Hawes. A wild and crazy music producer, George is a control freak with a devilish, snake-like smile. He is hedonistic, egotistical, sexist, selfish, narcissistic, abrasive, and, for most of the film, annoyingly obnoxious.

But he is very hard to look away from. He is, simply, captivating. George’s over-the-top, cock-walking, Jagger-like dance at poolside to The Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” is one of the true highlights of this film.

In other words, Fiennes, as George, is channeling the headline-grabbing Trumpster. I am not sure that this portrayal is by design or just mere coincidence.

Talk about art imitating life.

Seen through flashbacks, the viewer learns that years ago, George helped produce Marianne’s music. They were also coke-sniffing lovers. As George ruefully admits, he lost Marianne back then because he cheated on her. He was always “slutting around.” As a last attempt at controlling Marianne’s life and fate, George introduced his then-young documentary filmmaker friend, Paul, to Marianne.

Now fast forward back to the present. George invades Marianne and Paul’s idyllic and monogamous hideaway, nymphet daughter Penelope in tow. George has an agenda, and so does the sly Penelope. Both George and Penelope will force Marianne and Paul to deal with their respective addictions.

Ugly truths are revealed. Chests are bared. This story will not end well.

Interestingly, this story is set among the more serious and contemporary one of foreign migrants escaping the Middle East and trying desperately to reach Italy’s shores. And dying in the process.

As George tries to rekindle Marianne’s love for him during a shopping trip, the television in the background reveals that several migrants have drowned off the shore Pantelleria Island, the same on which the villa sits. Those who survived the voyage from nearby Tunisia have been penned in detention centres on the island.

Was the screenwriter and director trying to make a more important point? That the lives and loves of these languorous four do not amount to a Sicilian hill of beans in the greater scheme, or “Bigger Splash,” of things?

Or did the film director simply intend to take the original La Piscine and go deeper, bigger, and bawdier?

a bigger splash

The Incomparable Errol Fisher Brings His Great Jazz Act to Yorkville’s “70 Down”

As I have previously reported, the Seddiqi Brothers, Alex and Wally, owners of 70 Down, are gradually transforming their place from a very popular Thursday-through-Saturday urban-hip after hour’s club to a more mainstream Middle Eastern bistro.

Now, with the help of very talented local entertainers, 70 Down is also a jazzy, R&B dinner club on Friday and Saturday evenings. Just last night, I stopped by around seven-thirty and stayed to watch Errol Fisher and the Errol Fisher Band play a great set until ten.

Back in the day, in the 70s and 80s, Errol owned and operated a very successful dinner jazz club. Appropriately called Errols, it was located on Richmond Street East, near the then-legendary jazz place The Montreal Bistro. In my younger days I used to hang out at Errols, who of course would perform regularly at his own club.

Errol was awesome then. He is still awesome now.

It was great to see and hear the incomparable Errol Fisher go “old school” and sing some memorable James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Marley’s “Jammin.” Ya, Mon! Joining the party were some of Errol’s long-time woman friends, and we danced away the night to Errol’s voice, superbly backed by Larry Gould on guitar and Jeff Beauchamp on bass.

The evening was magic.

Errol and the Errol Fisher Band play every other Fridays at 70 Down. A very talented and amazing entertainer, it is a show definitely worth checking out.

Canadian Comic Genius Anne Marie Scheffler Goes Back in Time—From “MILF Life Crisis” to “Suddenly Mommy”—at the Social Capital Club on Toronto’s Danforth

I first experienced Anne Marie’s brilliant comic artistry a few weeks ago when she performed her new one-woman play, MILF Life Crisis, at the Red Sandcastle Theatre. (Read the full review.) In the show, Anne Marie finds herself suddenly divorced with two young boys in tow and is thrown back into the casual hookup/Tinder dating pool—with uproariously funny results.

In her original one-woman show, Suddenly Mommy, Anne Marie jumps back in time to the origins of her tragicomic journey. One moment she is a naïve, innocent young woman looking to “get lucky” with some handsome dude; the next she is pregnant with child (by said new guy), who is also moving in with his nasty teenage stepdaughter. Instant family. (Watch clips from Suddenly Mommy.)

Anne-Marie Suddenly Mommy

Oy Vey! Two years later, another baby boy joins this hilariously dysfunctional family

Anne Marie’s character (coincidentally called Anne Marie) is completely unprepared for motherhood: the late night feedings, the constant demands by her selfish kids to be fed at least once a day, the lack of sleep, the non-existent sex. Anne Marie comes to the funny yet sad realization that unlike her hero, Céline Dion, she cannot have it all. (That is, a kick-ass acting career and well-behaved, well-trained, and well-fed children.)

Some of the funniest, gut-busting, and heart-wrenching scenes involve Anne Marie channeling the great diva Céline as she advises her, in Quebecois-inflected English, how she navigates a fabulous Vegas career with raising her beautiful son, René Charles. It is, simply, comic gold.

In Suddenly Mommy, Anne Marie brings back her wise lesbian mother/friend Terry (we enjoyed her in MILF Life Crisis) who bluntly throws a lifeline to the drowning young mother. Terry wisely advises, “No matter what you do, Anne Marie, your kids will hate you.” While Anne Marie’s other close girlfriend, the super-hot supermodel Chanel, surveys the scene of Anne Marie’s mud-stained boys under foot and her expanding waistline says, “What happened to you, Anne Marie? You used to be a ‘small,’ now, you are (horrors!) a ‘medium’.” She absurdly advises Anne Marie to get out, before it’s too late.

Anne Marie also introduces us to her sister Belinda. She’s the perfect mom. Martha Stewart on steroids. The type who churns her own butter and feeds her perfect children wholesome and freshly prepared food, all from scratch.

In Suddenly Mommy, the jokes, sketches, and laughs come fast and furious. (They of course hit home to us married and single dads as well. You’re not the only one who is sleep-deprived and sex-starved, Missy!)

The show is a very smartly written, beautifully paced, and wonderfully acted piece of comic theatre. And the very sexy Anne Marie does a great impromptu striptease on stage, shaking her bodacious booty. Bonus.

Deep down, Anne Marie is a great mom with adoring kids and an audience that cherishes every step of her crazy journey. I, for one, can’t wait for the sequel when her oldest, Nathan, is now a strapping high-school senior who knocks up the head cheerleader … and Anne Marie is “Suddenly Grandmommy.” Epic.

But for now, Anne Marie is returning to the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto with her outrageous MILF Life Crisis from June 7 to 11. I am once again bringing my single, recently separated, sex-starved, angry, but fabulous-looking female friends. This show speaks to them and the horny men who harass them on Tinder.  I hope to see you there.

Toronto’s Multi-Talented Jackie English- Goes Nearly Full Brazilian

Jackie English is one of Canada’s rare quadruple threats in the entertainment world. She is a brilliant actress, dancer, director (film, theatrical, tv, online) and writer. Jackie’s the one with the glasses..

But don’t let those correct teacher-like glasses fool you. With Jackie, there is definitely more than meets the eye.

I first caught her act as part of the ensemble of Playboy Bunnies, in the very entertaining 2014 Fringe musical, “Hugh and I”, a bio play about the iconic Hugh Hefner, starring Daniel Abrahamson, as seen through the eyes of these women.

In 2015, Jackie was the writer, director and star of another successful Toronto Fringe musical, “Becoming Burlesque”, where Jackie transformed herself from mousy backstage assistant, to a gorgeous and erotic Burlesque diva. See photo on right.

Among her many other accomplishments, Jackie was production manager of a recently filmed full length indie theatrical film. She has written and directed numerous short films. Her most recent film directing gig, was helming

and producing the popular short film, “Duty Calls”, starring the real life husband/ wife team of Sean Cullen and Deb McGrath.

Jackie has also penned a thoroughly engrossing full length screenplay that is beautifully written. Very timely and provocative. I am confident it will be produced, very successful- and Hollywood will definitely be calling to lure Jackie away to the west coast.

Until then, you could catch her act and her fine-feathered Brazilian dance friends, most Saturday nights in the Greater Toronto Area.    On that note, check out Barry Manilow’s “At The Copa” musical video.

https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#q=barry+manilow+copacabana

jackie and mitchjackie english becoming burlesque

The Good, The Better and the Ugly of Prince’s Film, “Purple Rain”

On Saturday night, I was flying solo. I was about to head to the Four Seasons d/bar when

I noted on Bloor Street, that the local Bloor Street Hot Docs theatre was planning on showing Prince’s iconic

film. The 10pm show was fully sold out, but I had a shot at the later 12:45 am show. So I took it.

Like most Prince fans, I was caught up with the sadness and tragedy of his sudden death and I wanted to share the experience of watching Prince, at his peak, at his most Purpleness, in his well-known film, “Purple Rain”.

With fellow true believers.

You had to be a really hard-core Prince fan to wait in the friggin cold outside the Bloor Street theatre for about one hour to cop one of the 700 seats in that old theatre. I am such a crazy, irrational fan.

So here is my take on the film and the whole scene. Experienced through a purple haze of nostalgia, sadness, and heavy weed, man, that the majority of the fans were smoking and had been smoking prior to the show. One theatregoer, in line, shared with me, “It looks like this whole place is full of people, young and old, “fully ripped”. She then offered me “one toke over the line”. Purely medicinal, I was assured. I declined, but appreciated the offer.

I suddenly realized I was in Justin Trudeau territory. Oy Vay!

The Good: the extreme, unshakeable loyalty to Prince, and love of Prince, the artist, the man and above all, his music- by his fans. I was standing in line for an hour talking to all sorts of Prince fans- aging 60ish rockers, 50ish Italian suburban types having made the long trek down from Woodbridge, hipster college dudes in hoodie, baseball caps and requisite beard, hot yuppie Annex couple, a whipsmart 40 something black woman, Lina and her multi-ethnic friend, Riva.

Lina has been following Prince for years. She had been to multiple concerts. Had most of his records and CDs. She could sing out all his top hits. She said that Prince’s lyrics and music got her through some tough times in high school, in college and in life. Most of my fellow Prince lovers shared those same heartfelt sentiments. She was a true believer as were most fans in the cold that night.

The Better: The penultimate moment of “Purple Rain”, loosely based on Prince’s life, is of course at the end of the film. Prince has gone through all kinds of shite with his family. His father, in the film, a songwriter and pianist, frustrated by his life and his failed dreams, was physically abusive to Prince’s mom and to Prince himself. (In real life Prince’s father, a songwriter and pianist had separated from his own mother at an early age and Prince was shuttled between two homes for years)

Prince, in turn upset by his girlfriend, Apollonia, joining a rival girl group, hits her ( shades of his abusive father) and thoroughly alienates her. Prince also alienates his own band and refuses to consider their own material for the band.

After his father’s attempted suicide, Prince seeks redemption, he adapts his band members’ work. Hence the song Purple Rain, whose lyrics deal astutely and sensitively with his father, Apollonia and his band mates.

See the full lyrics below.

This song and the whole score won the Academy Award for best original score, that year. And rightfully so.

It is powerful. It is moving. It is timeless. And its lyrics resonate. This song became Prince’s signature song in most of his future concerts.

The Ugly: my major beef with the actual film is the writing is boring, predictable and derivative.

Prince was a brilliant composer, singer, musician, and performer, but his screen acting is mediocre and weak.

And Apollonia’s acting is worse. The love and sex scenes between these two are cringe worthy.

The chemistry between them is non-existent. Their love and lust- unbelievable.

Prince was a unique genre-bending and gender-bending phenomenon. More Michael Jackson, then Action Jackson.

His slight 5’2” frame did not lend itself to leading man/romantic/lover status. Perhaps that is just me.

Lina, a die-hard Prince fan, admitted much the same. The music was memorable in the film, “Purple Rain”, but the rest, including Prince’s acting, was lame. She astutely observed the film was produced to promote and support the music.

Bang on.

I don’t mean to purple rain on Prince’s eulogy parade. But Prince should be remembered for his great music and his amazing talent. His actual film career-not so much.

Purple Rain

(written and performed by Prince and his band, Revolution)

I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted to one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you
Laughing in the purple rain

Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
I only wanted to see you
Bathing in the purple rain

I never wanted to be your weekend lover
I only wanted to be some kind of friend
Baby, I could never steal you from another
It’s such a shame our friendship had to end

Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
I only wanted to see you
Underneath the purple rain

Honey, I know, I know
I know times are changing
It’s time we all reach out
For something new, that means you too

You say you want a leader
But you can’t seem to make up your mind
I think you better close it
And let me guide you to the purple rain

Purple rain, purple rain
Purple rain, purple rain
If you know what I’m singing about up here
C’mon, raise your hand

Purple rain, purple rain

I only want to see you

In the purple rain.

Kelly Simpson Broadhurst: Leaside Super Mom and Kick Ass Entrepreneur

I must admit, in my many prior lives, I had never met a woman quite like Kelly Simpson Broadhurst.

I had occasion, as a young parent, with elementary school age kids, and later as a single parent with very challenging teenage young adults, to hang out with many wonderful stay-at- home moms whose children were the centre of their lives. And for the most part, their entire lives. My own mother, was such a mom. May she rest in peace.

As a Bay Street guy, I was fortunate to interact professionally with some very impressive female lawyers, bankers, and consultants who were first and foremost successful careerists. But the role of loving, warm, supportive mother-  for them, was just not in the cards. These women could not physically or emotionally make that role a primary priority. No judgment here. But those are the facts. My first wife was in this latter category.

Ms. Broadhurst is that rarest breed of woman (or man for that matter), who, on one hand, is a very warm, loving, supportive, fully committed parent to her four children; ranging in ages from the ages of nine to twenty-one. (there are three daughters and one son. There was a fourth daughter, who tragically died at a very young age).

But on the other hand, Ms. Broadhurst has also impressively developed a very successful home-based marketing business, involved with health, wellness and wealth creation. She has personally recruited, currently supplies and oversees a growing empire of thousands of customers and a sales force of many hundreds of people.

As a single mom, Ms. Broadhurst is the “go-to” parent for her four children, one of whom is studying abroad in the nation of Quebec. ( as a former Anglophone Montrealer, born and raised in La Belle Province, I think I am entitled to the odd Quebec shot)

Kelly’s typical day starts way before sunrise and she goes non-stop until she crashes late at night. Her day is chock full of making breakfasts, lunches and dinners, driving kids to early morning dance/gym classes, parent/teacher meetings, doctors’ appointments, afternoon pick-up and driving children to post-school tutors or classes or appointments or play dates.

Evenings are spent overseeing homework, editing papers, watching films for school and dealing with the emotional roller coasters of pre-teen and teenage angst, worry, frenemies and boyfriend and girlfriend issues.

When not dealing with these multiple day- to- day parent/kid issues, Ms. Broadhurst is otherwise constantly on the phone or online or in face to face meetings- helping people lead better lives by assisting them in becoming healthy and fit and staying healthy and fit.

As Ms. Broadhurst has said to me on many occasions, “She views her job as wanting to put the sizzle back into people’s lives.” Note that Ms. Broadhurst’s customers also include high performance athletes who are looking to increase their strength, endurance and improve on their personal best.

Ms. Broadhurst is one of many key players in a very successful international supply, distribution and marketing company, which develops and supplies a whole range of healthy products for men and women -from the young to the young at heart, as well as the highly competitive athlete. What distinguishes her from many in the health and wellness field is her commitment to her customers and her incredible work ethic.

(Trust me, I can vouch for Ms. Broadhurst’s very hectic schedule. I have tried to arrange a business conference call with her (as we are talking about my advising her on her growing business) and there are very few windows of opportunity in Kelly’s day.

I have also seen Ms. Broadhurst in full- out business mode, dealing with potential customers and salespeople. She has a very honest, sincere way about her. She genuinely cares about helping and assisting people with their lives; whether it be relating to health and wellness matters or wealth creation.

Ms. Broadhurst not only talks the talk, but she walks the walk. She and her whole beautiful family consume on a daily basis the very same healthy products, she promotes. And clearly, the proof is in the protein shake.

Her whole family appears very fit and healthy. So these protein shakes, protein bars and vitamin supplements are clearly working. But in addition, the whole family is clearly very athletic, smart, happy, loving, mutually supportive, ambitious, educationally-oriented and highly motivated. And that is all Kelly Simpson Broadhurst’s doing.

Yes, Virginia. Wonder Woman does exist. And she is alive and well and making a difference in Leaside and throughout the province of Ontario .

Kelly 9kelly broadhurst10