Unforgettable Ontario

I’m having a bit of a problem. But a good one, a fun one.

Shortly I will be entertaining a visitor from England for a few days. So where to take him, what sites to show him?

Help has arrived in the shape of a great new library book, Unforgettable Ontario: 100 Destinations by Noel Hudson. He previously wrote Unforgettable Canada: 100 Destinations in case you are looking for destinations farther afield.

I guess I’m a bit of a blase Ontarian. I tend to take my home province for granted. But flipping through this book, and looking at the gorgeous photos, it’s like, wow, there are a lot of amazing places to visit in Ontario, so much to see and do.

Unforgettable Ontario, with destinations arranged by region, is a wonderfully eclectic mix of big city/small town/rural destinations; well-known and lesser known sites; indoor stuff and outdoor stuff, as well as festivals galore.

A couple of selections grabbed my attention. For instance, the Bonnechere Caves in eastern Ontario look mighty intriguing. Or for a cheesy option, the nearby Oxford County cheese trail (with artisanal cheese producers listed) looks like a fun day trip. Apparently Oxford County has a long tradition of cheese-making. I did not know that. Or here’s something I’m all shook up about: the world’s largest Elvis festival held annually in Collingwood. Oh, yeah!

So borrowing heavily from this book I’ve come up with a tentative itinerary for my English visitor. I think we will head east, first to Prince Edward County to visit Sandbanks Provincial Park and maybe sample a few (?) local wines. Then on to Kingston and area to visit Fort Henry and do a Thousand Islands boat cruise. Problem solved.

-Penny D.

Unsung Heroes

Have you ever watched a deleted scene from a movie and felt that there was something missing? Chances are that scene didn’t have any music. Soundtracks often go unnoticed by people when they are present, but without them movies would be lacking a vital element to make the stories truly come alive.

Music plays many roles in the things we watch. It can identify a character, a setting, or a significant event. Throughout the film, that music will remind the audience of whatever has been associated with that theme. This can be useful in subtle ways, like when the protagonist is thinking about their love interest. We don’t need them to say who they are thinking about if the score for the love interest starts playing. Whether we pay attention or not, we will pick up on the auditory clues and intuitively know what is happening.

Another crucial aspect of movie scores is giving the viewers emotional cues. The music tells us how we are supposed to be feeling and plays a huge part in setting the mood. Can you imagine if fanfare was playing during a death scene? Or if a sweeping ballad was underscoring a series of prat falls? They just don’t work. Those scenes would become jarring and unappealing. The emotions that we feel while watching a movie are significantly enhanced with the right kind of music. Even scenes like in the Lord of the Rings movies when they are journeying across the mountains. The music makes us feel the excitement of adventure and the epic importance of the journey. Without the score to provide us with that emotional boost, watching people hike would not be nearly as exciting.

It’s not just scores that bring a movie to life, but soundtracks as well. What’s the difference, you ask? A score is orchestral music composed for the movie that is usually meant to exist subtly under the dialogue and action. Soundtracks are pieces of music chosen to be in the movie that are usually contemporary with lyrics. While they can be used under dialogue and action, they are more typically for montages and transitions.

The right choice of a popular song can perfectly encapsulate a moment or call forth an emotion for the audience. A lot of the music I enjoy, I first discovered from watching a movie or TV show. I would fall in love with the soundtrack music and have to look up what the songs were so I could buy them or borrow from the library!

Many movies use both scores and soundtracks to round out the storytelling of the movie. Take Guardians of the Galaxy as an example. We have an excellent score that is full of sweeping heroic pieces, tense escape music, and more poignant emotional pieces. Then there is the amazing soundtrack based on the main character’s cassette tape. These are all songs from the 1970s that are not only great songs, but are significant to the character. The audience knows that he has been listening to these songs all his life, and we are able to further identify with him through the soundtrack.

Movies just wouldn’t be the same without music. Scores and soundtracks are integral to the characters, story, and overall emotional depth. Movie music is one of my favourite things to listen to and fortunately the library helps keep me supplied with excellent score and soundtrack options. If you are interested in listening to some, just check out WPL’s collection!

— Ashley T.

Is the RomCom Alive & Well?

One of our daughters told me that she read an article online that the RomCom is dead and the author was blaming Tom Hanks. I was so horrified that I couldn’t even look it up. I mean, really? Did this person even watch You’ve Got Mail? How about Sleepless in Seattle? Romance galore. Then our daughter wondered if she was mistaken and it might have been Hugh Grant and I gasped out loud. Not the floppy haired star of Notting Hill? What about his wonderful role in Four Weddings and a Funeral? Hugh Grant? A killer of romantic movies? Never. I loved those movies. How could Hugh or Tom be to blame for the end of one of the most delightful genres of film ever? The absolute pinnacle of meet cute occurs in Notting Hill because Anna Scott casually enters Will Thacker’s travel bookshop and then meets him later – collides with him – and he invites her to his house with “the blue door” to clean up. Oh my. Can this glorious style of film truly be finished?

And then I thought about it and realized that I’ve never really been able to convince myself that showing these movies to my own daughters is a fabulous idea. They are very sweet movies and I love them nostalgically but they don’t show a version of romance or life that I want them to aspire to. We need more than a meet cute. Falling in love because you both like school supplies and bagels is not enough even if you do have the on-screen chemistry of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. The great news is that these cheerful films are still being made but in a more thoughtful way. Kumail Nanjani and Zoe Kazan wrote a semi-autobiographical film about their relationship that was so funny that I think we could call it a ComRom and I was just 100% swept away by their romance. It was beautiful, despite the fact that much of it was spent in a hospital, with Zoe’s character in a coma. We watched The Big Sick and loved it so wholeheartedly that we had to sit through all of the extra features because we didn’t want the magic to end. Okay, I was the driving force on that but it was a splendid film.

Fabulous news for fans of romantic comedies is that Kevin Kwan’s wonderful novel Crazy Rich Asians has been made into a film and will be in theatres to charm us all. It should meet the needs of both romantic and comedy perfectly but will be an updated take on this genre of film.

Main character Rachel Chu is an accomplished Economics professor who has been dating history professor Nicholas Young for a substantial amount of time when he asks her to go with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding (there is no meet cute in the book because they are set up by a mutual friend but in the book they are eating at Tea & Sympathy in an early scene so that is a lovely, romantic touch – maybe their delicious scones will feature in the movie?) and they pack their bags and fly together like a calm, normal couple. It’s the last average thing that they do together because Rachel is absolutely astounded to find that when she visits his grandmother for the first time she is living in a palatial home surrounded by what looks like acres of forest in the middle of a busy city. This where the comedy and the romance start to mix together in the most enjoyable way with fantastic pacing throughout the novel. I laughed and laughed and hope to do the same in the theatre.

Kwan wrote an outlandish but charming fish-out-of-water story with Rachel meeting the in-laws, going to Singapore for the first time, learning that Nick is from one of the wealthiest families in the country and participating in an almost daily battle with women who want to marry this most sought after bachelor and facing the knowledge that Nick’s own mother doesn’t approve of her. Honestly, if she weren’t perfectly sure that Nick was the first person she had ever considered spending her life with, I think she might have made a hopped on the next flight back to New York. See? New York, the home of the RomCom. Her awareness that she is the one making the decisions here, that Nick isn’t her only option for happiness, is what puts Kwan’s novel squarely in this decade and will make the screenplay a different animal from Romantic films of the past.

The first book in this trilogy (it is followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems) was so instantly likable that Kwan was approached to sell the film rights before it was even published. It has been reported that he turned down one of the first offers because they requested that he change Rachel Chu’s character to a non-Asian woman so that they could more easily cast the role. By taking on the role of executive producer on this film he was able to play a part in guiding the choices made in the casting of the parts and they are absolute perfection.

Constance Wu – of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat – has the part of Rachel and she will be a force to reckon with, exactly what is required to carry this film. She will play opposite a new actor, Henry Golding, as Nick. The director of the film, John M. Chu, wanted to be sure that the film had an outstanding all-Asian cast to match this incredible book so after they announced that they had signed Constance Wu for the main role he posted a video with an international open casting call. Who could resist this guy?

They received thousands of two minute videos with the hashtag #CrazyRichAsiansCasting and combed through them to find exactly the right actors to fill their cast. The social media accounts of author Kevin Kwan, the director, the principal actors and many of the creative leads were filled with colourful tidbits of news during the months leading up to the filming and once they were on set it was thrilling to see them post photographs of the actors together on location and in their glorious couture costumes. It’s really been a treat to watch everything come together. Check out this photo from one of their cast parties – so glamorous.

crazy rich

True to Kevin Kwan’s vision, the sets, flowers, food, cars, and dresses were opulent and vibrant. According to everything I have been reading even the soundtrack and orchestration will match his vision for the story – everything is absolutely over the top. Give yourself the treat of watching the trailer. Have you already seen it? Watch it again. Watch it for Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Gemma Chan and Michelle Yeoh – and that’s just in a two and a half minute trailer. That is just a fraction of what you will see in the theatre. Can you believe it? It’s stellar.

So, are Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant to blame for the death of the romantic comedy? I really don’t know because I was too much of an ostrich to look it up. I know that I wouldn’t read it even if I found the article. I do know that I look forward to seeing this film succeed and hearing all about how Constance Wu saved the romantic comedy. Long live the meet cute!

– – Penny M.

The Great Believers

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is getting major press in the US but for some sad reason, not so much here at home. So! That’s where I’ll step in because this is a novel I wish everyone would read. It’s a big one but it’s gripping, keeping you turning page after page after page. You know those books you can’t wait to get back to when you’re not reading it? This is one of those books.

The story moves between two time periods: 1985 where we follow and love a group of young men living in Chicago during the AIDS crisis and 2015, the story of a woman searching for her lost adult daughter in Paris. I love this sort of book! Reading and waiting to see just how and when the stories will intersect.

The subject of The Great Believers is serious but somehow never gets too heavy or too sad. There are funny moments and it is definitely not a slow read. Ultimately, The Great Believers is about the family we choose.  It’s a heartbreaking story, of course it is. So many young men die for no reason with no help except from each other. We don’t know how bad it was, how many people died, how many families were torn apart.

Makkai’s other books are gems as well. I remember falling completely in love with The Borrower when it came out. It tells the story of a young librarian who helps a young boy through major struggles in his life and it also is amazing.

The Great Believers will surely be on many awards lists next fall and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins. I’ve read in reviews that it is going to be this new book that will make Makkai a household name.

If my raving review of this book doesn’t draw your interest than read something from the author herself. This was a recent post she put on Facebook about writing a novel during such trying times.

This is a weird time to be releasing a novel, and I have a lot of other things on my mind.

Something that’s been hammered home for me in five years of work on this book: genocide does not always announce itself as genocide. It doesn’t always come in swinging machetes. It can be slow. It can be built of neglect. A lot of the time, it looks like bureaucracy. It’s going to happen again and again, in our lifetime: People in power are going to kill the people with the least power. Most often, they’re going to do it slowly and silently.

But here’s the other thing I’ve learned by writing a book about AIDS, and listening to survivors: You can fight harder than you think. You can fight when you’re sick, you can fight when you’re despondent, you can fight when you have nothing to lose, you can fight when you have everything to lose.

We don’t always choose the battles we’re conscripted into. I’m proud and honored to be in the trenches with all of you.

Yes, yes and yes! This leaves me jumping and fist pumping the air.

When I finished this book I just sat on my couch, holding it, not ready to let it go. This book, to me, is a heart that I want to hang on to and protect, but I would love to share it with you.

— Sarah C.