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Hot Stuff: cultural picks for August from five local luminaries

Hot Stuff

August is peak season for beach reads, Netflix binges and patio playlists. We asked five local luminaries to share their cultural picks for a summer heat wave.

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The Drake Effect

The Drake Effect

Photographs: Drake by Jess Baumung; Others by Getty Images

The rap superstar has amassed a flock of musical disciples who guest on his albums, record on his label and perform at OVO Fest, his annual hip-hop blowout, which takes place this year on August 3 and 4. Here, a taxonomy of Drake’s most prolific protégés.

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One guy found the whole world in Toronto, and has the photos to prove it

(Images: Colin Boyd Shafer)

(Images: Colin Boyd Shafer)

One man’s mission to find a person from every country on earth within the Greater Toronto Area is almost complete. Starting in June last year, Colin Boyd Shafer, a photographer and high-school teacher, started Cosmopolis Toronto, a blog of intimate portraits of people from all but ten of the world’s recognized nations, and several disputed territories, too. “As a geography teacher, I’m comfortable with talking about countries,” Shafer told us. “So I figured tying that to portraiture could work.” The numbers certainly suggested that the project was possible. In 2011, Statistics Canada calculated that almost half of the Toronto-area population—about 2.5 million people—was born overseas, most of them in Asia or the Middle East. The same year, Canada had a foreign-born population of about 6.8 million, or just under a quarter of the country.

A little over a year after starting the blog, Shafer has interviewed and photographed people born just about everywhere, save for a handful of Pacific nations and Monaco, San Marino, and East Timor. Surprisingly, even people from countries as mysterious as North Korea and remote as Tonga were to be found living in Toronto or its suburbs. Each subject was photographed once in a GTA location where he or she felt at home, and then a second time holding an object with sentimental value. Many chose photographs of loved ones, while others chose food, clothes or a diary kept since moving to Canada. The photos, especially those of people from places riven by conflict, are powerful. “Many of [the subjects] do not fit within the majority ethnicity or religion of that particular country, which I think is really important—that these people are not chosen based on anything other than where they’re born.” Shafer said. “That was something I felt really strongly about and I kept it consistent throughout…this is not a bunch of individuals representing countries, but instead where they were born.”

We asked Shafer to select ten photos that he felt best represented the series. Click through the photo gallery to see them, with his commentary. A book featuring all of the pictures in the Cosmopolis Toronto series is currently in the works.

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The Toronto International Film Festival announces its opening-night film for 2014

The lucky flick is The Judge, a David Dobkin movie about a big-city lawyer with daddy issues who returns to his hometown to find said daddy, a judge, accused of murder and in need of legal defence. Convenient! If the trailer (embedded above) is anything to go by, lots of heartwarming family drama ensues. In past years, TIFF’s opening-night selections have been hit-or-miss (2013’s selection was The Fifth Estate, a critical flop), but often they have big names attached, and this one is no exception. The cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga and Billy Bob Thornton.

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Sharknado 2 includes a Rob Ford death scene

whos-noticing-us-nowRob Ford’s mayoralty may soon be over, but an American cable channel has just ensured that he’ll always be in our discount DVD bins, selling at two-for-$5 with copies of Dinocroc vs. Supergator. SyFy, a U.S. sci-fi channel, has given Ford (or at any rate, an actor dressed sort of like him) a death scene in the upcoming “film” Sharknado 2, finally linking the mayor with a pop-cultural force that has overstayed its welcome at least as much as he has. The Post reports that the scene will be included only in the Canadian version of the film, airing on Space on July 30. But why watch the whole thing? The Ford clip is embedded above.

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Here are five trailers for films we now know are coming to TIFF

This morning, the Toronto International Film Festival made its first in what will certainly be a long series of programming announcements leading up to the September 4 commencement of this year’s event. Today’s unveiling consisted of 13 “gala” films (meaning, big-deal premieres) and 46 “special presentations” (meaning, almost-as-big-deal premieres).

Despite having lost some major debuts to rival festivals in places like New York and Venice, TIFF’s initial offering comprises some legitimately exciting titles, including David Cronenberg’s latest, as well as a comedy with Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, and the world premiere of a new Jake Gyllenhaal movie. Here are trailers for those, and a few other movies included in today’s reveal.

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People are confused by Drake’s new album name

(Image: musicisentropy/Flickr)

(Image: musicisentropy/Flickr)

On Tuesday, Billboard revealed that the name of Drake’s still-unrecorded next album will be Views From the 6—and then confusion set in. Unlike the rapper’s previous album titles, which have been intelligible if slightly cryptic (Take Care, Nothing Was the Same), this one is so open to interpretation that even Billboard didn’t know quite what to make of it. And that’s despite a preponderance of evidence that it’s just a sly reference to the last digit in Toronto’s area code.

Even so, not everyone is convinced.

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Monster Mash

On Guillermo del Toro’s gruesome horror series The Strain, vampires are the new bioterrorists

Monster Mash

A panel from The Strain’s graphic novel edition (Illustration courtesy of Dark Horse Comics)

The vampires on the new series The Strain are a novel breed. When they’re changed, their hair falls out. Their skin turns a vomitous shade of greenish-grey. Their veins fill with white slime. Instead of growing retractable fangs, they get a stinger—a huge, Alien-esque proboscis that shoots sticky, worm-infested bile into all mortals in its path, draining the victims’ blood and infecting them with a virus that mutates their genes. The show’s radical revision of vampire mythology (and physiology) subverts everything we’ve come to know and love about the pop culture anti-heroes. These vamps aren’t brooding, studly teens. They don’t leap through trees. They’re not lustful de­flowerers of virgins. Where Twilight describes its vampires as “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful,” The Strain turns them into indistinguishable drones. Instead of glamouring humans, they’re terrorizing us.

The ghastly creatures—recently seen prowling through Toronto’s downtown core while the show shot its first season here last spring—are the latest in a string of new monsters invading the small screen. Most of these horror series tap into archetypes that have fuelled the genre for eons: the savage cannibal in Hannibal, the Victorian demons in Penny Dreadful, the serial killer in Bates Motel, the asylum patients and witches in American Horror Story.

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Famous people spending the summer in Toronto: a field guide

There are a few celebrities who have permanent homes in Toronto, but how many times can you spot Claire Danes walking down the street with her stroller before the novelty is gone? Fortunately, the local film industry is constantly bringing itinerant superstars to our city, where they take advantage of our studios, streets and tax credits to shoot their fighting-robot movies and romantic comedies. Here, a guide to this summer’s crop of visiting celebrities, the films they’re shooting and where you need to go if you want to score an autograph.

peter-dinklageName: Peter Dinklage
Movie: Pixels, Adam Sandler’s new comedy about 1980s video game characters that come to life and attack New York.
Where: The movie is filming all around the financial district.
When: July to the beginning of September.
Best bet for an autograph: Dinklage has been spotted throughout Yorkville, particularly outside of Bacio Restaurant and near Whole Foods.
What not to say: It’s probably a good idea to avoid height-related quips. Other no-nos: gushing like a crazed fangirl over Lord Tyrion.
Friendliness rating: 8. Everyone’s favourite Game of Thrones actor usually stops for a selfie or two with fans when he passes through LAX.

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Alec Baldwin may play a “Rob Ford–like mayor” on TV

whos-noticing-us-nowHaving decided not to retire from public life after all, Alec Baldwin is reportedly developing a new role that will allow him to get a little more mileage out of the gleefully sociopathic persona he honed on 30 Rock: Rob Ford. Or at any rate, a character very much like Rob Ford. According to Deadline Hollywood, Baldwin is working with NBC Productions on a pilot for a one-hour cable series in which he would play “a Rob Ford-type Mayor of New York City.” This could be Ford’s big chance to break out of live theatre.

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Women on the Verge

In his new book, Seconds, graphic novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley tackles the latest pop culture archetype: the successful, single hapless heroine

The Argument: Women on the Verge

(Image courtesy of Random House)

At a moment of unprecedented female success, when women run mega-­companies like Facebook, Yahoo and GM, the funhouse mirror of pop culture is reflecting a new image: the intelligent, talented, capable, well-respected spaz. Liz Lemon was one of the first. She blerged her way through seven seasons of discombobulated bossdom on 30 Rock. The lovably delusional Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation soon followed, along with the accident-prone, man-crazy ob-gyn Mindy Lahiri of The Mindy Project, and the narcissistic, OCD-twitching ­Hannah Horvath of Girls. Even Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, who ­shatters glass ceilings in plaid pants, seems to have become a 21st-­century punchline of pratfalls and gloomy masturbation.

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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: #3. Because the City Puts On A Nightly Light Show

Reasons to Love Toronto 2014: #3. Because the City Puts On a Nightly Light Show

(Image: Daniel Neuhaus)

Over the past few years, as a forest of condos and commercial towers grew in the core, the nighttime skyline began to shimmer and twinkle. ­Torontonians are the happy beneficiaries of a kind of artistic one-upmanship among developers, who are commissioning light installations to lend other­wise inter­changeable glass towers some ­personality. The biggest concentration is in the 21 CityPlace condos, between Bathurst and the ­Rogers Centre, where the Ottawa-based artist Adrian Göllner used thousands of multi­coloured LEDs to highlight the nooks, parapets or angles of each building. (He says his project, titled Warm by Night, is a reaction to the cold glare of the financial district.) Another 17,200 lights illuminate the RBC Centre on Wellington in the bank’s signature blue, and 19 strips of LEDs programmed to shift through a range of colours make the Arcade Building, at the foot of Yonge, seem to dance. ­Perhaps the most dramatic is at the Corus Quay complex, right on the lake, where the prestigious British art collective Troika installed a 12-metre-high polycarbonate lightning bolt–like sculpture covered in 35,000 lights. Each addition to the nightly show is another beacon drawing us to a new, vibrant downtown.

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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.

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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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