All stories by Emily Landau

The Informer

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #8. Because Claire Danes Is Just Another Toronto Stroller Pusher

(Image: Sean O’Neill/Pacific Coast News)

We thought it was a mirage last fall when we saw Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy having dinner at Woodlot, basking in a beatific glow. Then we spotted them again, walking with their baby down Queen West, and caught Danes head-bobbing to Arcade Fire at the ACC. Danes and Dancy are new Torontonians, living several months of the year here while Dancy films his CityTV series Hannibal, a prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Apart from being the grisliest show on television—in one scene, Dr. Lecter, played by the hollow-cheeked Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, sews together a pile of naked, still-twitching victims—it’s also thrilling and suspenseful, beloved by critics and obsessively anatomized online. Hannibal is one of several Toronto shows contributing to the box’s golden age. Among the new crop of hits is Orphan Black, the creepy Space sci-fi series about a troupe of clones, which films all over the GTA and sells out auditoriums at ComiCon. On CTV, Reign, a moony, Toronto-shot soap about Mary Queen of Scots’ teenage love life, has amassed a rabid fan base who call themselves Loyal Royals. And then there’s The Strain, an apocalyptic vampire show from weirdo director ­Guillermo del Toro, which films near Queen and Church. (Del Toro loves shooting in Toronto so much that he’s made his last three projects here, including 2013’s Mama and Pacific Rim, and next year’s Crimson Peak, a haunted house story starring Jessica Chastain, Tom ­Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska.) The Strain is the summer’s most anticipated series, set to debut in July on FX, a ­network that’s rivalling HBO in quality cable programming. Toronto’s TV industry is finally something we can brag about: last year, TV productions poured nearly $730 million into the local economy. Spotting Claire Danes at the AGO is just an added perk.

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #15. Because We Make Room For Artists

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #15. Because We Make Room For Artists

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

It’s ironic that Trinity Bellwoods, the city’s artsiest neighbourhood, is too expensive to accommodate artists themselves: on average, commercial rent for a studio-size space in the area shakes out to a pricy $41 per square foot. Artscape, the utopian NPO known for creating artists’ colonies, is helping out with the price of admission. For their latest miracle makeover, they bought the Shaw Street School, a 100-year-old institution that the TDSB closed in 2000, and revamped the classrooms into bright studios. Artscape Youngplace, as it’s now called, opened last fall, offering artists the chance to rent workspace for around 50 per cent below area rates. Among the current inhabitants are sound artist Eve Egoyan (Atom’s sister); the Koffler Centre, a Jewish arts institution that occupies the old library; and the Small World Music Centre, which has a miniature concert hall. The building is buzzing with energy and optimism—kind of like the first day of school.

The Goods

Stores

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #27. Because the Department Store Wars Just Got Interesting

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #27. Because the Department Store Wars Just Got Interesting

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

A pair of lavish newcomers are challenging Holt Renfrew for luxury department store supremacy. Last summer, Hudson’s Bay ­Company purchased the high-end American retailer Saks Fifth Avenue in a $3-billion takeover. To showcase its shiny new holdings, HBC will open a 150,000-square-foot Saks store inside the existing Queen Street Bay flagship, specializing in exquisite brands like Gucci, Prada, Givenchy and Céline. Across the street, in the old Sears space where we used to buy cheap tube socks and Tempur-Pedic mattresses, Nordstrom will sell Stella McCartney streetwear, Christopher Kane cocktail dresses and Lanvin gowns in a 213,000-square-foot, three-storey department store scheduled to open in 2016. It’s no surprise that these posh emporia have targeted Toronto: the city’s median household income hovers around $70,000, compared to $57,000 in New York and $53,000 in Chicago. Factor in the downtown density and influx of single, spendthrift professionals in condos, and it’s a vortex of free-flying disposable dollars. Two weeks after news of Saks’ arrival broke, Holt’s announced it would create a lavish men’s-only shop on the Mink Mile, in the space recently vacated by Roots. The new retailers have created a spirit of healthy competition in the city’s luxury landscape, and while Saks, ­Nordstrom and Holt’s fight their retail wars, we’ll be looting the spoils.

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Culture

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #12. Because Guillaume Found Heather

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #12. Because Guillaume Found Heather

(Image: Marlee Maclean/Roots Canada)

Guillaume Côté and Heather Ogden so fully embody the romance of ballet that they may well have hatched from a life-size Fabergé egg. The couple met at the National Ballet School when they were teens. They started dating in 2006 and married in  2010—their Instagrams capture starry-eyed beach strolls and ­Valentine’s ­celebrations over pizza and House of Cards, and their real-life romance seeps into their stage roles. Côté leaps and lunges with the controlled energy of a flexed piano string. He’s also a promising choreographer—he’s created several short pieces, including one for Ogden called Lost in Motion II, and will debut his first full-length ballet, based on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, in 2016. Ogden is the quintessential fairy princess: so lithe, light and elegant that she practically floats across the stage. When Côté and Ogden dance together, they generate an electricity that thrums all the way up to the fifth ring.

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Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #5. Because These Pound Dogs Found New Homes

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #5. Because These Pound Dogs Found New Homes

(Image: Fred Ni)

The folks at Toronto Animal Services have many virtues, but they can be strangely inept when it comes to promoting adoptable animals: the low-res, anemic photos on their site, often taken in cages and kennels, make the dogs look sick, sad and skittish. The organization found a terrific unofficial publicist in Fred Ni, a computer animator who volunteers at TAS. While walking dogs on his lunch hour, Ni realized that the ones that seemed stressed and jittery in the shelter would loosen into furry fun bundles as soon as they were out in the park. To prove that shelter dogs can be as cheery and well adjusted as any pet, Ni began shooting the pups on their walks, bounding into leaves and burying their faces in snowdrifts, eyes bright and tongues wagging, and then posted their backstories and photos to his blog, IWantAPoundDog. The blog has become a  viral phenomenon, attracting more than two million page views since 2009. To date, Ni has featured more than 600 shelter dogs—large breeds and lapdogs, purebreds and mutts, puppies and seniors. Many of them are adopted within days of appearing on the site. One dog, a one-year-old Lab-husky cross named Basquiat, had spent his entire life in a Quebec pound. The morning after Ni posted his photos, there was a line out the TAS door to meet him—and a High Park couple adopted him within the hour.

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Culture

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Stage Fight

After his messy breakup with the Factory Theatre, Ken Gass has rebounded with a star-studded new company. How a shy indie producer became one of the most powerful players in Toronto theatre


Stage Fight

In June 2012, the harmonious Toronto theatre community experienced its first juicy scandal. That month, the Factory, one of the most storied players in the city’s indie drama scene, fired Ken Gass, their long-time artistic director—he founded the company in 1970, rescued it from financial ruin in 1996, and introduced Canadian theatre­goers to nascent dramatic giants like George F. Walker and ­Tomson Highway. At the heart of Gass’s dismissal was a scuffle so mundane it could’ve been a Slings and Arrows spoof. He wanted to transform the haunted ­mansion of a ­theatre into a sparkling modern arts centre. The board refused, claiming Gass’s plan would have cost $13 million—about 40 times the yearly fund­raising amount.

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The Dish

Must-Try

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Must-Try: junky movie snacks get an elegant upgrade at Richmond Station

(Image: Jackie Pal)

(Image: Jackie Pal)

No one has more fun in the kitchen than Farzam Fallah, the wildly inventive pastry chef at the Financial District hangout Richmond Station. To wit: the cryptically named Movie Snacks dessert, which turns out to be a quenelle of crunchy, buttery popcorn-rippled ice cream surrounded by weightless Coca Cola meringue, sticky almond brittle, fudgy chocolate cake and a tart cranberry-Pernod purée that tastes uncannily of Twizzlers. Like all Fallah’s plates, it comes arranged like an artful crime scene, splayed with pools, smears and crumbles that blend into a superfecta of salty, sweet, spicy and tangy. The dish is a refined riff on those nostalgic, junky flavours—yet somehow cheaper than a Cineplex Combo. $9.

Richmond Station, 1 Richmond St. W., 647-748-1444

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Features

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In Lurv With Lainey: Elaine Lui’s rise to the top of the gossip pantheon

Elaine Lui became one of the world’s most influential celebrity gossips by exhibiting a bratty disregard for the pieties of showbiz. What happens now that she’s nearly as famous as the stars she skewers?

In Lurv With Lainey: Elaine Lui's rise to the top of the gossip pantheon

Elaine Lui, who has cultivated a vast network of Hollywood sources, claims she’s never paid for a tip

Elaine Lui is 40 but has the bearing of a 16-year-old, boundless and brash, her body language filled with aggressive eye rolls, giggles and wild gesticulation. Sitting in a green room at the CTV studios on Queen West, writing a post for her blog, ­LaineyGossip, she takes a long drag from her e-cigarette, a bejewelled bauble that looks like a tube of lip gloss and emits a trail of vanilla-scented vapour. Then she resumes clacking away at her keyboard. It’s a busy day for Lui. The Golden Globe nominations have just been announced, and she’s struggling to keep up with the ­Sisyphean celebrity news cycle. In an hour, she’s scheduled to shoot an episode of her daytime talk show, The Social, and tape interviews to be banked for eTalk and CP24. She takes another hit from the e-cig as her stylist douses her with hairspray, engulfing Lui in a toxic cloud of chemicals.

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Culture

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Sondra Radvanovsky’s current obsessions: five things the superstar soprano is loving right now

Sondra Radvanovsky's current obsessions: five things the superstar soprano is loving right now

Technically, the virtuosic Verdi soprano lives in Caledon, but she spends 10 months of the year travelling to the Met, La Scala and the Paris Opera. In April, she’ll sing in Toronto for the first time in four years, making her debut in the role of the aging, angry Queen Elizabeth I in the COC’s production of Roberto Devereux, an opera by the Italian composer—and Verdi progenitor—Gaetano Donizetti. We asked Radvanovsky what’s inspiring her, culturally speaking, outside the opera house.

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Politics

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Six things we learned from Olivia Chow’s new autobiography, My Journey

(Image: Olivia Chow/Facebook)

(Image: Olivia Chow/Facebook)

The best way to declare your mayoral candidacy without actually declaring it? Write a political memoir. My Journey, the new autobiography from Toronto MP Olivia Chow, doubles as a campaign pamphlet, articulating her key issues—women and children’s rights, the environment, immigration—and recounting her very public personal life with late husband Jack Layton. Much of it covers familiar territory, but Chow manages to drop in a few genuine surprises along the way. Here, the most tantalizing tidbits.

1. Chow came from a troubled family
While she was growing up in Hong Kong, Chow’s father, Wai Sun Chow, used to beat her mother and brother regularly. Olivia, the favourite, was spared, but almost hit her father with a lamp once to protect her mother. Wai Sun also kept a second household, with another woman and a daughter Chow’s age. When Chow’s family got to Toronto, Wai Sun suffered a nervous breakdown and was temporarily committed to a psychiatric ward.

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Mommy Porn Goes Global: with 50 Shades of Grey and Gabriel’s Inferno, BDSM-tinged bodice-rippers are changing the way we read

Mommy Porn Goes Global: with 50 Shades of Grey and Gabriel's Inferno, BDSM-tinged bodice-rippers are changing the way we read

In September 2009, a serialized novel called The University of Edward Masen debuted on Twilighted, an online fan fiction forum devoted to the teen fantasy franchise. The author, an unknown Toronto writer who goes by the frilly pseudonym Sylvain Reynard, had airlifted Twilight’s two main characters—the moody, marble-jawed vampire Edward and his timorous teen girlfriend, Bella—into the department of Italian studies at the ­University of Toronto. He reimagined Edward as a brooding Dante professor and Bella as his mousy grad student, and transformed their chaste YA courtship into an X-rated affair. It was a bizarre premise, but the novel became a fan fiction phenomenon, garnering more than a million hits.

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The Dish

Restaurants

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Flavour of the Month: The holiday season’s eight best sweet treats

Flavour of the Month: The holiday season's eight best sweet treats

Christmas cookies make fun party snacks and charming gifts, but not everyone’s cut out to be a baker. With Toronto’s pool of professional talent, it’s easy to throw together a slaved-all-day style cookie spread without breaking out the mixer. Here, eight holiday treats that are scrumptious and readymade—not that anyone has to know.

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Must-Try

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Must-Try: Rhum Corner’s surprisingly autumnal sno-cone

(Image: Renée Suen)

(Image: Renée Suen)

Jen Agg, best known for her eye-glazing bourbon cocktails at The Black Hoof, has switched liquors at Rhum Corner, her new Haitian spot next door. The place is styled like a Port-au-Prince patio, with lights strung across the ceiling, Jimmy Buffett on the boombox and a short, rum-centric drinks list. Our favourite is the Fresco, a blend of Wray and Nephew rum, pomegranate juice and falernum (a traditional Caribbean syrup made from cloves, ginger and lime), all poured over a mountain of crushed ice and served in a chilled pewter mug. The drink is an ingenious hot-cold hybrid that delivers fruity sweetness, core-warming spice and a Sno-Coney texture. Sipped in the summery room on a cold night, it’s just about perfect. $10.

Rhum Corner, 926 Dundas St. W., 647-346-9356, rhumcorner.com

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Culture

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Edward Burtynsky shares the stories behind his giant new photographs of dams, wells and other drippy things

Rice terraces in Western Yunnan Province, China, 2012

(Image: © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz, New York)

Edward Burtynsky: Water 
Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King St. W.
To October 12

For Edward Burtynsky, bigger is always better. The Toronto photographer has shot vast Carrara quarries in Italy, collapsing factory ruins in China and cavernous mines in Australia. For his gallery shows, he blows up his photos as large as the Bayeux Tapestry, magnifying each speck, crag and shadow. It’s an approach that’s earned him international stardom—his photos hang in the Tate, the MoMA and the Guggenheim, and sell for as much as $40,000 apiece.

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The Real World: how Toronto is cashing in on the reality TV boom

Reality television is booming in Toronto; nearly 100 shows are made here every year—some of them drawing more viewers than (gasp) hockey. Call it an affront to good taste or appointment TV, it’s the future of Canadian entertainment

The Real World
Every Wednesday last fall, a friend of mine invited a bunch of us over to her Front Street apartment to watch The Bachelor Canada. The star was Brad Smith, a broad-shouldered himbo tasked with choosing a wife from a harem of 25 tanned, bleach-toothed beauties, including a former Playboy bunny and a Miss Universe contestant. We rated the questionable appeal of the contenders and cringed as they performed awkward cabaret routines or competed in lumber­jack competitions to prove their marriage potential. During the solemn rose ceremonies, when Brad sent home our favourites, we shouted expletives at the TV. My friend also hosts parties for a handful of other reality series. We consume these shows the way sports fans watch Leafs games—screaming “Oh my god!” in glorious, cathartic unison.

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