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Boomtown: a visual history of Toronto getting blown up in movies

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The White House was blown to smithereens by aliens in Independence Day. Michael Bay has let the Transformers and other astral forces wreck Chicago and Hong Kong. New York City’s Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and other landmarks have been flooded, hit by asteroids, abandoned to ravenous vampires and left half-buried in post-nuclear, ape-controlled wastelands. You might think Toronto, perennial Gardiner construction and Rob Ford’s mayoralty notwithstanding, has been spared its own apocalypses—but we’ve had our share, too.

The recent release of the trailer for Adam Sandler’s new flick, Pixels, gave us a chance to see Pac Man, Donkey Kong and other video game villains wreaking havoc on the downtown core, albeit thinly disguised as a Manhattan city block. It may have been jarring to see split-second clips of Pac Man hanging out outside First Canadian Place, but this isn’t even remotely the first time Toronto has been blown up—blown up real good!—for the sake of cinema. Here, a rundown of a bunch of times Hogtown has been laid to waste by special effects.

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Not Your Grandma’s AGO: how a century-old museum became the city’s hippest hangout

Not Your Grandma’s AGO

On a frigid February evening, 2,500 party­goers descended on the Art Gallery of Ontario for First Thursdays, the museum’s monthly late-night party. This edition, celebrating a massive new exhibit devoted to the street-turned-pop artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, had sold out in under an hour. It featured panel discussions, food stalls, cheap cocktails and a performance from the hip hop DJ (and Basquiat contemporary) Grandmaster Flash. While the tipsy throng swirled in a frenzy under Frank Gehry’s spiral staircase, nightclub reps lurked outside the gallery, greeting passersby with flyers for upcoming events. “I tried to get a ticket for weeks, and this is the closest I’m going to get,” one told me. I asked if she’d ever hustled outside a museum before. “I go where the party is,” she said. “And this is the hottest party in town.”

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Disabled Theater stars actors with intellectual disabilities—and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen

The Argument: Centre Stage

(Image: courtesy of Harbourfront Centre)

Live performance can feel starkly, claustrophobically intimate. In Disabled Theater, a strange and stimulating new Harbourfront production, that closeness is cunning, because it forces the audience to look at people we might typically turn away from. The production is composed entirely of professional actors with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. If you are like me, you have deliberately trained yourself to ignore their difference. But Disabled Theater gives you no choice: the performers speak, dance and engage the audience directly without the filter of characters, telling you who they are and how they see the world.

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How the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s latest piece of interactive art hypnotizes kids with moving light

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca)

Click to see a larger version. (Image: Kayla Rocca)

Every March, the TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts digiPlaySpace, an exhibition of kid-friendly interactive art. This year’s marquee installation is Forest, a co-creation of new-media artist Micah Elizabeth Scott and 26 students from Ryerson University’s new-media program. It’s a massive digital canvas made up of over 7,500 LEDs and controlled by software Scott developed herself. Young visitors interact with the piece by turning wooden spinners with their hands. “I designed something that wasn’t a screen,” Scott explains, “something that has a lot of real, tactile sense to it, and isn’t just fingers sliding against glass.” Here’s an annotated look at how it works.

1
The sculpture is 16 feet wide and eight feet tall, and it weighs over 600 pounds. It took about six weeks to build and two days to install.
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The body of the installation, including the spinners, is made of medium density fibreboard. “It’s literally from the Home Depot,” says Steve Daniels, a Ryerson professor who helped coordinate the project. He used a CNC router at Ryerson’s Maker Space to cut it into shape.

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Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage battle Pac-Man in Toronto: a breakdown of the Pixels trailer

Last summer, Toronto was abuzz with news that the Waterboy himself, Adam Sandler, was shooting a film in and around our beautiful, characterless, can-pass-as-basically-anywhere downtown core. Even more exciting, for fans of a certain bosomy high-fantasy HBO series, was the presence of Sandler’s costar, Peter Dinklage.

Now, we all can witness the fruits of their labour. (Or, I guess, the promotional teaser for the fruits of their labour.) Which is to say, the trailer for the new Sandler/Dinklage joint, the shot-in-Toronto Pixels, was released on Tuesday. (It’s embedded above.) Here’s our second-by-second breakdown:

0:08: This is already the most boring kind of movie trailer. You know: the ones where they set it up like it’s going to be a serious drama only to reveal that it’s a stupid comedy? One of those. The premise is that, in 1982, mankind sent a time capsule into space in hopes of connecting with alien life. It included “examples of our life and culture.”

0:24—0:29: Examples of our shared cultural heritage circa 1982, apparently: a video of Ronald Reagan’s 1981 presidential Christmas speech, a Rubik’s cube, and footage of both Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

0:30: Is this really how NASA would try to connect with alien life? Send a bunch of garbage into space, without any context, and hope they just innately make sense of it? You’d have to imagine there’s a potential for some kind of humungous, potentially world-shattering miscommunication, no?

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See a strange, secretive, practically silent opera

The Whisper Opera

(Image: Armen Elliot)

It doesn’t feel like an opera at all. Instead of a palatial hall, The Whisper Opera is performed in the Theatre Centre for an audience of 52 people. The stage juts out into the crowd, draped in boudoirish ­curtains. The musicians ply their instruments gingerly, making faint melodies that sound like they’re coming from another room: the percussionist, for example, rubs two cowbells together and hits a glockenspiel with his fingers, and the cellist plays with a toothed mute stilling the strings. The soprano Tony Arnold doesn’t sing her words so much as breathe them. If you’re sitting more than five feet from the stage, you might not hear anything.

The Pulitzer-winning ­American composer David Lang has made a career of minimalist mischief. He conceived The Whisper Opera as a kind of unrecordable, sacrosanct event—something that could only be experienced live, in a theatre, in person. For the libretto, he cobbled together Internet secrets, googling phrases like “When I’m alone, I…” and “I wish I wasn’t so….” There’s no plot, just an impressionistic collection of ghostly phrases too private to be spoken at full volume.

The effect is as much performance art as it is music: the performers sit cross-legged on the stage, so close you can touch their shoelaces; the hushed music requires active listening to pick up; the singer practically murmurs secrets in your ear. It’s gimmicky, but it works. The piece is strange, singular and jarringly intimate. That’s something you can’t get on YouTube.

Feb. 26 to Mar. 1. $67.50. The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St. W., 416-534-9261, tickets.rcmusic.ca.

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Started from the bottom now we sad: a second-by-second breakdown of Drake’s new short film

(Image: OctobersVeryOwn/Vimeo)

(Image: OctobersVeryOwn/Vimeo)

Yesterday, mayor of Toronto Aubrey “Drake” Graham released a 15-minute short-film thing called Jungle that we now know was a cryptic promo for his new surprise album. Mostly, though, the video (which you can watch right here) is like a glossy ad for Drake’s persona, as he struggles with the wages of superstardom and tries to stay true to his roots in Toronto (aka “The Six,” aka “The Bottom”).

In order to help us all understand what, exactly, is going on in Jungle—if anything’s going on other than Drake stomping around looking sad—here’s a second-by-second breakdown:

0:00:08: “How was your night, pop?” asks Drake’s driver. Drake, or “pop,” is a sort of patriarchal figure, a primal father of commercial hip-hop.

0:00:13: Our hero struggles to respond, practically choking as the words escape his mouth: “It was arrrrrrr…it was alright.” You get the sense that his night wasn’t alright. Not at all.

0:00:23: The car drives on ceremoniously, like a reflective chrome casket carrying Drake’s artistically compromised soul into the next life.

0:00:45: Drake begins describing his apparent melancholy. “The whole energy out here is just changing, you know?” As a successful rap mogul, merchandiser and courtside Raptors sycophant, yes, I do know.

0:00:43–0:01:30: Drake is venting about his problems. Is this Drake’s Birdman? He’s “drinkin’ more, smokin’ more.” Why is it that every time Drake mentions—or even suggests—that he smokes weed he sounds like a hunched uncle raising his eyebrows mischievously and asking if anyone at the Red Rider concert wants to “do a doobie”?

0:01:55: There it is. The title: JUNGLE. A staple of rock metaphor: the jungle, that tangle of trees and brush and growth signifying…I don’t know, like an emotional tangle I guess?

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Magical Mystery Tour: a map of Toronto’s fictional murders

Dead bodies are turning up all over the fictional cityscape. We’ve mapped out the grisliest murders in 10 titles

Magical Mystery Tour

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See Douglas Coupland’s futuristic pop art at MOCCA and the ROM

Tomorrowland

(Image: Rachel Topham)

Douglas Coupland’s art dwells on the same subjects as his novels: urbanism, technology and a culture accelerating toward uncertain ends. He distills loaded ideas into supercharged symbols, like the colossal toy soldiers at Fleet and Bathurst commemorating the War of 1812, and an orca sculpture in the Vancouver Harbour that resembles a pixelated JPEG. His work over the past two decades has been poppy and prescient, forecasting Internet ubiquity and commodification. Yet despite his skepticism, Coupland is a diehard utopian, energized by the knowledge, innovation and communication that technology affords us.

The new exhibit Everywhere Is Anywhere Is Anything Is Everything is the first major retrospective of Coupland’s visual art, divided into themes like “Pop Explosion,” “21st-Century Condition” and “Growing Up Utopian.” The ROM and the MOCCA have transformed into helter-skelter funhouses, filled with Coupland’s candy-coloured painted panels, towering Lego cities and an installation he calls “The Brain”: a room of 5,000 toys and trinkets he’s collected over 20 years from Craigslist and garage sales. The show swamps your brain with pop culture references, optical illusions and politicized polemics. His message? For all the fear and frenzy, there’s still plenty to be hopeful about.

Jan. 31–Apr. 26. Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park) and MOCCA (952 Queen St. W.), couplandto.ca.

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Mama’s Boy: brazenly bratty, 25-year-old filmmaker Xavier Dolan is Canada’s next great auteur


Xavier Dolan

When the lineup for the 2014 Cannes film festival was announced last April, the Canadian media transformed into a patriotic hype machine. The reason? Three Canadian directors had films in competition: the Academy Award–­nominated Atom Egoyan for his thriller The Captive, the body horror auteur David Cronenberg for Maps to the Stars and, sidling uncomfortably up the flank, the 25-year-old Quebecer Xavier Dolan for his family drama Mommy.

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Heroine Chic: the problem with feminist fairy tales

The Heart of Robin Hood, a new feminist fairy tale from Mirvish, morphs Maid Marion from a prissy damsel into a spunky swashbuckler

Heroine Chic

(Photograph courtesy of Mirvish)

For little girls, the most indelible image of 2014 was that of Frozen’s Queen Elsa, shimmying and shimmering as she discarded the manacles of her regal existence. At that moment, Elsa became an avatar of tweenage girl power, trumpeting the virtues of self-expression, pragmatism and independence. Frozen, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, is the latest fairy tale to be ­reimagined as a badass feminist manifesto. We’ve also seen Snow White and the Huntsman, which recast the porcelain princess as a ­hard-core warrior played by Kristen Stewart; ­Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as an evil fairy turned motherly martyr; and Wicked, which transformed Elphaba, The Wizard of Oz’s reptilian witch, into a sensitive victim of bullying. After centuries of docile damsels and nefarious crones, the new fairy-tale heroines have pluck. They fight battles, stand up for themselves and belt out the swelling go-girl anthems that inspire millions of ­YouTube covers. As female role models, they form an unimpeachable sorority.

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See a radiant retrospective of Art  Spiegelman’s comic (and not-so-comic) art

House of Maus: the irreverent cartoonist Art  Spiegelman gets a radiant retrospective

Art Spiegelman never wanted a retrospective. “It feels like walking around among a bunch of tombstones,” he recently pronounced. It’s no surprise the famously anti-establishment cartoonist would be ambivalent about hanging his work in museum halls: he’s a cultural heretic who got his start scribbling satirical cartoons in the early ’70s as part of an underground comics ring in San Francisco. In 1991, he completed his Pulitzer-winning Maus, a disturbing parable based on his father’s experience in the Holocaust, that reimagined the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.

Just as Spiegelman inadvertently elevated comic books into literature, he also transformed cartoons into high art. His new AGO show, which opens on Saturday, documents every stage of his creative ­trajectory: his earliest comic strips, the discarded drafts of his 1993 New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man kissing a black woman, and studies for a stained glass panel he designed for his alma mater, New York’s High School of Art and Design. Most affecting is the ­section dedicated to Maus, plastered with character studies and family artifacts, where a sound system plays recordings of ­Spiegelman interviewing his father. Click through the gallery for a look at some of his most iconic comics.

Dec. 20 to Mar 15. Included with general admission, $19.50. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas, St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.

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World of Wonders: the Aga Khan brings his treasure trove of Islamic artifacts to Toronto

The Aga Khan Museum

Click to see more of the museum. (Photograph courtesy of The Aga Khan Museum)

Anyone who drives in Toronto knows about the kink in the DVP—that bend below the Eglinton off-ramp where, however swiftly cars have been moving away from downtown, they inevitably slow to a crawl. It’s a pain if you have a pressing engagement north of the 401, but the spot affords a terrific view of the Aga Khan Museum, which hovers over the highway. Each day, thousands of captive drivers will turn their eyes to the gleaming white structure and think: hold on, when did Toronto get a castle from the future?

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How do movie crews make Toronto look like New York? One fake police car at a time

(Images: Christopher Drost)

(Images: Christopher Drost)

Film is a billion-dollar business in Toronto. Lured by favourable exchange rates and tax credits, American companies come here to shoot TV shows and blockbuster features full of clones, serial killers, giant robots and smaller robots.

Unlike inwardly focused Hollywood, though, Toronto rarely plays itself on the big screen. Our standard North American streetscape and convenient cluster of downtown skyscrapers make the job of disguising the city relatively easy. Completing the illusion, though, requires work. As a result, filmmakers spend millions dressing our streets to look like other places. Much of that money goes to a network of local businesses that exist to serve whatever movie crews pass through town.

When film productions want to make Toronto look like New York—or any other city, for that matter—one of their first calls is to Peter Cullingford, who specializes in movie vehicles. His workshop, near Warden and St. Clair, is home to a fleet of about 180 vehicles, including imitation New York police cars (Cullingford makes them using decals and standard rooftop lights) and real New York City taxis purchased at auction. All of it is in demand, thanks to a recent boom in the local film industry. Each car can rent for hundreds of dollars a day.

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Twelve visions of post-apocalyptic Toronto

Fallen Toronto

(Image: courtesy of Mathew Borrett)

Toronto sci-fi mastermind Jim Munroe’s new project, Haphead, is an eight-episode webseries set in a near-future Toronto, where a subculture of teenagers learn lethal skills by playing a new breed of highly immersive video game. To pay for post-production, Munroe and friends have set up a Kickstarter campaign where one of the rewards for donors is Fallen Toronto, a month-by-month calendar full of richly detailed illustrations of what Toronto might look like after an apocalyptic event. Taken as a whole, the images make for an unusual—and unusually unsettling—imaginative exercise. We aren’t used to seeing Yonge-Dundas Square, Roundhouse Park and CityPlace used as settings for floods, epidemics or other disasters. (In movies and TV shows, it’s usually American cities like New York and Washington D.C. that get the end-of-the-world treatment.) We asked artists Mathew Borrett, Sanford Kong and Terry Lau to share the stories behind the dozen dystopian visions they created and how they made the leap from today’s crumbling Gardiner to tomorrow’s toppled CN Tower. Click through the image gallery to read what they had to say.