Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Fashion Revolution: An Interview with Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney (PA Photos)
Stella McCartney is today as much a household name as her famous father, Beatle Paul. As the director of her eponymous Stella McCartney label, a global fashion brand whose annual profits are estimated to be around $7-million, the 42-year old fashion designer has attracted her own international following since starting her own business in 2001. Her fans – and they include A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss to everyday consumers who shop her stand-alone boutiques and websites – love her because no matter what it is she does, from women’s and children’s clothing to eco-friendly sunglasses and athletica for Adidas, McCartney comes across as straight-forward and honest, a woman designer proudly designing for other women, their real shapes and lives. Like her father and her late mother, the vegetarian activist and photographer Linda (nee Eastman), McCartney is also a keen environmentalist who has managed to create a 21st century luxury fashion brand without using leather or fur in any of her designs. 
She is not disposable fashion. She is fashion with a cause, winning three British Fashion Awards, an OBE and the honour of designing her nation’s Team GB Olympics uniforms in 2012. Besides edgy, sexy, uncomplicated design, what gives McCartney an edge is her commitment to sustainable fashion which, as she describes it on her site,, is a trend as important as recycling: “It’s really the job of fashion designers now to turn things on their head in a different way, and not just try to turn a dress on its head every season. Try and ask questions about how you make that dress, where you make that dress, what materials you’re using. I think that’s far more interesting, actually.” When not helping to lead a fashion revolution, McCartney is a busy mother of four young children and wife to Alasdhair Willis, the recently appointed creative director of British brand Hunter. She is also the devoted daughter of you-know-who, actively supporting Sir Paul in her fashion, like wearing a t-shirt of her own making emblazoned with the words, About Fucking Time, at Sir Paul’s induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1999. They remain close. When Sir Paul married Nancy Shevell in 2012, the bride wore a dress custom-made by her new daughter-in-law. Father and daughter have worked together only once, for the making of a ballet. McCartney describes what that was like, and more, in the following interview.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Getting Real: Hot Docs 2014

In its early years, if the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto had been something of an industry event that gave filmmakers a chance to find a wider audience for their work, over two decades later, it's safe to say the audience is now there and continuing to grow. That growth has led to having their own movie house (The Bloor), which presents documentaries all year round. The Festival each year also showcases various themes such as Docs at Dusk, which shows free films every evening at 8pm with live music following, Hot Docs Talk, a seminar where this year social science experts and film-makers discuss the impact of agenda-focused documentaries, and this year, provide a welcome tribute to veteran documentary director Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., American Dream) whose early films certainly helped popularize smart and engaging work on important social themes. Since technology changes as rapidly as the weather, it has also allowed for documentaries to be made on the cheap – often digitally –which have helped create wider definitions of what constitutes a documentary film. Part of the new shifts in technology even include the expanding use of social media, which not only makes possible the expansion of the audience (through Skype), but the technological shifts can also provide subject matter for any number of films including this year's opening night film, The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, which examines the tragic life of the freedom of information activist who helped develop Reddit and RSS and was ultimately hounded by the U.S. government on outdated computer fraud laws.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Keeping It Real: David Gordon Green's Joe

Nicolas Cage (right) and Tye Sheridan in Joe, directed by David Gordon Green

For a guy who’s given a lot of pleasure to the world and who is in a risky, unstable profession where only John Cazale and possibly Maria Falconetti can claim to have achieved a perfect batting average, Nicolas Cage sure does take a lot of shit. When Cage was still in his twenties and sufficiently unguarded to talk about his artistic ambitions in a way that sounded nakedly arrogant, entertainment writers scored off him by calling him an ingrate who didn’t know how lucky he was to have been a part of an Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser like Moonstruck. When, after winning the Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas, Cage recanted his expressed reservations about the mainstream and threw himself into the action-blockbuster marketplace with The Rock (in which he was very funny) and Con Air (in which he was less so), the wheel turned and it became fashionable to denounce the actor as a whore, and a hammy, eye-popping whore at that. Seriously, didn’t the world learn its lesson during that awful period when even the Bressonian purists at People magazine took to making fun of Michael Caine for his work ethic?

Cage, like Caine, clearly likes to work, and there are always too few worthwhile projects around. Just as clearly, the man has made some bad choices: say what you like about the very notion of a Ghost Rider movie, two of them are a lot. But compare Cage’s overall track record, and the jeering press he gets, to those of some other stars who the media treats reverentially, and you can see that not all bad decisions are regarded equally. Meryl Streep is supposed to be very intelligent, and after almost four decades of working in the theater and movies, she ought to have picked up on a few of the warning signs about which kind of plays transfer successfully to the multiplex and which ones don’t. Shouldn’t she have guessed how the film version of a stagebound scream-a-thon like August, Osage County was likely to turn out?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Deluge Delusions: Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Russell Crowe in Darren Aronofsky's Noah

If you want a spiritual understanding of the story of Noah and the Ark, I wouldn't recommend Darren Aronofsky's Noah any time soon – or any time at all, really. The mythical tale of the Deluge from Genesis communicates many truths, ultimately God's power over sin and saving of creation. Aronofsky grasps this basic idea, but then muddies it with New Age extra-biblical concepts, half-baked aesthetic choices, and excruciating melodramatic acting. Hollywood's track record with adapting the Bible isn't great, and Noah's not going to do much to change that. It's a missed opportunity that will leave many scratching their heads, believers and non-believers alike.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Songs We Continue to Sing: Rob Ford and the Culture of Corruption

The night Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto, almost four years ago, he had just won a bitterly fought battle to lead the city, and he did it by marshalling and manipulating a populist rage towards city government. Ford had warned us of a "gravy train" of bureaucratic waste depriving us of our hard-earned taxed dollars. While he positioned himself as city saviour, he also began targeting those he described as 'liberal elites,' a pampered, educated and entitled bunch, whom he saw as the true enemy of the hard-working individual. If Margaret Thatcher had once casually dismissed the notion that society actually existed, Ford went a step further. He talked about the city of Toronto only in terms of the taxpayer rather than in terms of its citizens. Since we all pay taxes – even when we're homeless and buy a cup of coffee – taxpayer was merely a code word for property owner. To Ford, Toronto wasn't a diverse and multiculturally vibrant urban community, made up of those who are privileged and those who aren't; it was instead a dysfunctional corporation he was about to restore to efficiency. His message to the city, where he alone could determine those he'd serve and those he wouldn't, was communicated with obscene clarity on the day of his coronation. CBC Television broadcaster and former NHL coach Don Cherry had arrived in his flamingo pink suit to drape the chain of office around Ford's neck. It was Cherry who helped set the new tone for the city in his opening remarks. "Well, actually I'm wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything," Cherry began with cheers from the crowd in the upper rotunda while city counsellors sat in shock. "I say he's going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever, ever seen, as far as I'm concerned – and put that in your pipe, you left-wing kooks." One thing certain in those tone-setting remarks: contempt was now public policy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another Heiress: Victoria Stewart's Rich Girl

Amelia Broome, Sasha Castroverde, Joe Short, and Celeste Oliva in Rich Girl. (Photo by Mark S. Howard)

Victoria Stewart’s Rich Girl, which is receiving its Boston premiere at Lyric Stage, is a contemporary version of The Heiress, Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s superb 1947 dramatization of the Henry James novella Washington Square. Standing in for James’s heroine, Catherine Sloper, a retiring, socially awkward young woman who falls for a fortune hunter, is Claudine (Sasha Castroverde), the titular rich girl who is swept off her feet by an actor and theatre director named Henry (Joe Short). Catherine’s brilliant, icy father, who sizes up her suitor – and whose wisdom about the match is inseparable from what she correctly assesses to be a contempt for her – has become Eve (Amelia Broome), who runs a foundation that employs Claudine and hosts a popular show about finance.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

FX's Fargo: Their Own Private Minnesota

Allison Tolman and Shawn Doyle in Fargo, now airing on FX

It's not a sequel. It's not a spinoff or a remake. Maybe it's more like a reboot? Right now I'm thinking of Fargo, FX's new limited-run television series, as falling into the "inspired by" category. My favourite theory is that its story is a riff on the same "true story" which playfully (and apocryphally) inspired Joel and Ethan Coen's feature. It shares a universe, an aesthetic of darkly comic, casual violence, and perhaps an area code with the Coen brothers classic 1996 film of the same name, but there is little other explicit overlap. (However, careful fans might observe a mysterious briefcase the show's opening scene.) Still, television viewers tuning in will be reminded of the film by the big skies, the unforgettable North Minnesotan dialect and exaggeratedly rounded vowels ("aw geez", "you betcha!"), and the signature pacing and tone. There are significant risks in toying with a beloved and critically acclaimed movie on the small screen, but so far, with nary a wood chipper in sight, FX's Fargo has already begun to stand on its own snow-booted feet.