Friday, September 17, 2010

Show Review - 'Bill Cosby, Master Storyteller'‏

The Comedy Festival came to a close in style, with
Bill Cosby, greyer and seated for most of the show.
Is he winding down? Probably, but he's still one of
the most gifted storytellers of all time. Cosby had
the audience, at Saturday night's show, at Place des
Arts, enthralled from the moment he casually stepped
on stage with no introduction. Like he needs one.
The man had a standing ovation before he even opened
his mouth, then proceeded to ramble for almost two hours,
with no intermission. Flanked by two huge video screens,
every roll of an eye, every raised eyebrow, every facial
contortion, gesture and grimace, were clearly seen by
the almost 3,000 people filling the seats of Salle Wilfrid
Pelletier, sending them into a thundering roar, at every
The show is probably scripted, but the Cos makes it
seem like he's an old uncle spinning yarns, getting sidetracked,
seemingly forgetting where he was in the narrative and
asking the audience to remind him. There's no way he was
lost. This is one sly and cunning comic who gives the
audience ruminations on his marriage, his grandchildren,
the ailments of old age and the never ending battle of
the sexes. The way Cos tells it, the winner is the wife.

'Wife and death are very similar, eventually they're gonna
get you in the end.'

Cosby has been married for 42 years. He and his wife,
Camille, had four daughters and a son. The boy, Ennis, was
killed in a drive-by shooting after his car broke down
on a California freeway. Crosby pays tribute to his son
in every show with a sweatshirt, draped over his chair,
which has the message 'Hello Friend', which was the way
he used to greet his son.
He had the audience screaming with his recollections of
his granddaughter's first birthday party and how all the
old people gathered compared medical ailments and the drugs
they took. Though Cosby is by no means a misogynist, and
by all accounts his wife is a wonderful woman, his hard
put-upon husband routine brought the house down, from both
men and women. This is my second time, watching him live,
in as many years, and had me and my companion, in tears
and stitches.

* Reviewed July 24, 2006

Restaurant Review - 'Leméac' ****‏

Leméac is a restaurant that throws you a loop. I first dined
at this Laurier Ave. 'bistro de luxe' shortly after its opening
in November'01. I was a guest of the man who did the design and
renovation from its earlier incarnation, as a 'librairie'. The
brainchild of two of the city's seasoned restaurateurs, Émile
Saine and Richard Bastien, Leméac had a winning formula, stunning
decor, fabulous location, a talented kitchen crew, and a menu
chock full of nouveau-bistro fare.
Now two years later, it has become even better. I can think
of no other establishment where the majority of the appetizers
are priced under 10$ (and main courses under 20$) yet are served
on Swiss china with high quality flatware and stemware on starched
white linen. The luxury doesn't stop there, plate presentations
are fancy, and the bathrooms are some of the most chic in the
city. The dining room is supremely handsome with tall arched
windows facing Laurier and Durocher. The wine-colored, wood-panelled
room creates the illusion of a fashionable fishbowl, where you're
sure to spot swank patrons, the upper crust of Outremont society
and celebrities. Case in point, two tables down, was a group
consisting of Luc Plamondon (producer, songwriter for Celine Dion)
and André Gagnon (pianist). Wouldn't of noticed except for the
fact that he does the Jack Nicholson thing, wears sunglasses
indoors, at night. Bombshell, being a French-Canadian and who
is familiar with this man's work, got up to greet him, has he
walked by us, returning to his table. Nice fellow!
Leméac is in the family of bistros like 'L'Express', and is
a swank restaurant like 'La Chronique'. The chef de cuisine,
Jean-Philippe St.Denis, has kept the original menu intact. The
food is fulfilling and in most cases surpasses our expectations.
The 'torchon de foie gras' was at par with that 'Au Pied de Cochon'.
The 'steak tartare', velvety and accompanied by a generous mound
of thin, crisp and delicious fries. The scallops, were pan-seared
to perfection. One of the other dinner companions had a delightful
goat's cheese salad. Unlike your typical bistro 'chèvre chaud',
this elegant starter consists of a galette of golden, pan-fried
goat's cheese paired with a tangle of frisée lettuce and green
Though main-course selections consist primarily of bistro classics,
everything is given a fresh approach. Given this novel treatment
is the veal liver, which is served in a thick fillet coated with
a minty herbed crust and paired with mashed potatoes mixed with
caramelized onion. The 'cerf de Boileau' (deer meat) topped with
a disk of 'maitre d'hotel' butter and cooked juicy-rare. In most
cases when asked how I'd like my meat cooked, I reply, 'Let the
chef decide', but in a handful of higher-end establishments, they
don't ask, they do it the way it's meant to be, Leméac is one
of those.
Desserts, simple and creative concoctions whipped up by the
pastry chef Julien Guillegault, end the meal on a high note. In
a city starved for good desserts, Guillegault's offerings, though
far from elaborate, are among the best. The wine list includes
a fine selection of predominantly French wines, though there's
a good selection of Australian, Argentinan and Chilean, fairly
priced. I would highly recommend the 'Deigar Estate' shiraz.
Though Leméac continues to market itself as a bistro/café with
the requisite steak/frites and confit de canard, there's a lot
more to it than that.

* Leméac café bistro
1045 Laurier Ave. W. @ Durocher St.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Movie Review - 'The American'‏

Crisp, compact and cryptic, 'The American' is a standard-
issue hit man thriller tailor made for George Clooney. Filmed
not too far from his Italian home, anchored firmly to his
performance and his star presence, it works its way past
'formula' by the manner in which it builds its suspense.
The film, directed by Anton Corbijn (famed rock photographer
and director of the excellent 'Joy Division' bio 'Control'),
makes brilliant uses of its rural Italian silences as well
as its gun-barrel silencers. Its quiet is its most unnerving
ingredient. The most American thing about this superb suspense
thriller is its title. True, Jack (George Clooney) is legally
a citizen of the United States, but as a trained assassin he
is a man without a past. He has no home, no family, no friends.
He cannot afford them, when his own life could end without warning
at any time in any part of the world his work takes him. For
the purposes of this elegant, sophisticated, draining redemption
drama, work is in the rugged, empty, mountainous Italian region
of Abruzzo.
Based on a character in a Martin Booth novel 'A Very Private
Gentleman', Jack is a man of few words. He is proficient, but
not Jason Bourne superhuman. He knows his trade, alone among
assassins, Jack is a master craftsman, and in odd, private
moments, he betrays the way it has made him paranoid, given him
a lifetime of guilt.
We meet Jack in snowy Sweden, sharing a rustic idyll with Ingrid
(Irina Björklund) a tall, thin lady friend, with a delicious
derrière. Within moments, as they are strolling on a frozen lake,
shots ring out and there's blood on the snow. When he finally
gets to the safety of a truck stop, he telephones his control
agent Pavel (Johan Leysen), and vows that his next assignment
will be his last.

"I've got a job for you, custom fit."

"I'll think about it."

And Jack is on the run, and he is asked to lay low. Pavel
sends him off to a tiny, ancient hill town in the boondocks
of Abruzzo with a warning;

"Don't make any friends, Jack. You used to know that."

Their terse exchanges give away no warmth, little history and
almost no trust. Jack has been told to go there and await for
the assignment. He poses as a photographer, covers his tracks
and keeps his guard when, as the guy the townsfolk quickly call
'The American', he is sought out by a chatty, elderly priest
named Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli 'Mission Impossible III').
Surprising himself, Jack seeks out the friendship that this man
of the cloth brings him. But don't expect any confessions here.
Clooney carries this with little dialogue.

Jack finally meets his client, a lovely Belgian woman named
Mathilde (Thekla Reuten 'In Bruges'). His assignment is to assemble
a weapon for someone else to use, a welcome change from firsthand
violence. Jack gives precious little away to anyone, including
the audience, but there is a sense he's had enough of the profession
of cold-blooded killer. It's just possible he may want to let
someone into his heart.
The other person who cracks his armour is a classic Italian beauty,
who happens to be the local prostitute. He joylessly enjoys the
pleasures of Clara (Violante Placido 'Fade to Black') and likes
her because she knows their physical intimacy is just business.
But because of the agitation in his dreams and in his soul, he will
develop a fondness for her that could turn to love, if he's not
careful. By stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.
But he is a man, and has to eat, after sizing up the waiter or the
couple at the next table. And despite his best efforts to blend in,
we know trouble is going to come looking for him.
Jack is nothing if not careful. He sees potential trouble everywhere.
He never lets down his guard, never relaxes. A strange man seen
once is marked. The same man seen twice is an enemy, and not without
reason. Though there is relatively little violence given the genre,
violence is a constant, unnerving threat. It's almost enough to put
you off the stunning scenery and Martin Ruhe's breathtaking widescreen
cinematography. The camera often sits on his shoulder and follows him
through the empty streets. He's alert, and this manner of moviemaking
makes us alert, too. We expect violence. So does he. We become as
jumpy as Jack must be. I had a few jolts of my own!

It sometimes seems that movies are overrun with hit men. The standard
way of portraying them is people who feel little, collect their cash,
do their dirty work and try to get out with that 'one last job'.
There's a bit of that sort of melodrama in 'The American'. Clooney's
moments suggesting Jack has regrets and fears are interesting, but
the film is very much caught up in the tradecraft. It takes its own
sweet time advancing Rowan Joffe's economical screenplay adaptation
of the novel. It is as though, everyone involved is seduced by nature
and the pace of village life, but inevitably, forces gather and Jack
is compelled to deliver on his promise of a weapon.
Corbijn plays his own cards close as this controlled exercise in
applied tension unfolds. 'The American' is a study in stillness. It
finds everyone at the top of their game. Clooney, as usual, is suave,
smooth, unassuming, rock-solid and entirely believable, while the
European cast, crew, writer and director deliver a genuine thriller
with all the high polish and intelligence of an art film.

* Reviewed September 5, 2010
w/help from I.M.D.B