Mandy Patinkin’s family connections

Most of the time, as Mandy Patinkin talks, he does it with the air of a party guest in the middle of a semi-circle. He looks off in the distance just so, scanning the memory banks for that little anecdote; he runs his hands through his blue-ribbon beard, punctuating thoughtful stretches; his voice lilts, rising and falling, pushing and pulling, the rhythms of his long career on Broadway ingrained into his speech.

And then, all of the sudden, the cocktail casualness will stop. He leans forward, and that mellifluous tenor of his finds its lower register. His eyes focus dead on yours — anyone who’s seen Homeland, where he plays CIA section chief Saul Berenson, will recognize that stare immediately, and start to wonder what they might have done wrong — and

then there is nowhere else to look, nothing else to even ponder, except what Mandy Patinkin is saying, and what it means to him.

“In my mind, that guy was cancer,” he says, with the authoritative grace of a psychiatrist. “That guy” is Count Rugen, the six-fingered nemesis of Patinkin’s so-far most iconic role, Spanish sword fighter Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. The topic came up quite naturally, before slipping into the kind of intense anecdote you might normally save for, I don’t know, your son on his wedding day?

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On the town: At the barre with Guillaume Côté

Guillaume Côté and wife Heather Ogden share a moment at the barre.

Gingerly resting his Lululemon shopping bag on the floor —  a pretty inauspicious way to carry his workout clothes —  Guillaume Côté slips a loose-fitting hoodie over his torso, sits down with a smile and … sneezes. Then again. And maybe one more … no, no. He’s fine. He apologizes.

He is battling some kind of cold, evident in a slight nasal tinge to his speech and a few more scattered outbursts, but as he details a day in the life of a principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, it becomes pretty clear that the sniffles and a headache aren’t going to stop him. Hell, a bullet might not.

It starts at 9 a.m., when he typically arrives at the Ballet’s facility along Toronto’s waterfront. After his own personal warm-up, there’s company class, a ginger workout for all the dancers. After a 15-minute break — “The dancers are very territorial about that 15 minutes,” he explains with a mock-gravity —  it’s three hours of rehearsals, another slightly longer break, three more hours of rehearsals and then, if he’s not performing that night, probably a weight-lifting session. Lifting weights after an eight-hour day of intense physical activity is the best, Côté explains, because, “You’re all warmed up and loose; it’s perfect for building strength.”

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Solange: A Beyonce you think you can feel

The most Solange moment of the whole night came when the cooly ebullient singer asked Dancing Phil to come up on the Danforth music hall’s stage. She didn’t address him by name, but when she dropped some props for his scramble-crosswalk-dance to Losing You, and the crowd started pointing at and pushing him towards her, she swept him up there with a beaming smile and basically made 2013 for a would-be viral video star.

It would be silly to suggest that Solange, especially the Solange of True, doesn’t stand on her own casually choreographed feet as a performer, but it would be even sillier to suggest that part of her charm doesn’t come from the shadows she peeks out from. The chatter in the spilling-over lobby as the show let out confirmed: she is the closest you can be to Beyonce while still being human, the everywoman who drifts through rarified air in an unpretentious bubble, and pops in our face when we get in close.

Read the full review here.

Charlie Sheen’s melt-up

From National Post illustrator Richard Johnson

If you’re looking for a microcosm of the kind of absurdly charmed life that Charlie Sheen has led, his starring role in Roman Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III is a fine place to start. And not solely, or really even at all, because the eponymous character shares the appetites and problems of its star.

No, the background story will do just fine. Sheen met Coppola when the pair’s fathers were filming Apocalypse Now, the kind of ambitious, generational comment that is light years away from their current collaboration. That friendship has endured to the point where Coppola’s only stated anxieties about working with Sheen — who had possibly the most public meltdown of a very public-meltdown-y era — was the fact that some investors got cold feet. Their bond even encouraged Coppola to turn those faults into a ridiculously apologetic character study, as though acting like an ass is the birthright of the rich and famous. Those are less pre-production details than a scene from a modern update of The Great Gatsby.

Now, it’s not terribly likely that Charles Swan III is going to do much for the reputation of Charlie Sheen, if only because it’s not terribly likely many are going to see it, much less be swayed by it: It’s a calculatedly esoteric but curiously charmless movie, as though Coppola was so concerned with doing something that had never been tried before, he never stopped to consider why exactly that was. (And it’s not helped by the rampaging egos of more or less all involved.)

Read the full essay here.

The men who talk about women’s bodies

Lena Dunham and Melissa McCarthy

It was a pretty bad weekend for any women who were hoping to have a healthy body image, or really any body image that wasn’t Man-ApprovedTM.

First came Rex Reed’s semi-ridiculous screed against Melissa McCarthy in his review of box-office topper Identity Thief, wherein he off-handedly referred to her as a “hippo” and then dismissed her as a “gimmick comedian” who has got by on “being obese and obnoxious with equal success.” After the totally predictable backlash hit, Reed more or less doubled-down on his comments, with a healthy dose of self-righteousness added in, telling New York’s WOR 710 AM that McCarthy “is basing her career on being obnoxious, and being overweight, and I don’t think that’s funny. I have too many friends who’ve died [from obesity-related issues].”

Then, on the off chance there were any less-than-obese women feeling good about themselves, HBO’s Girls went and had an episode that involved more than the average amount of star Lena Dunham being naked and having sex with a hot guy (Patrick Wilson, who you might remember as Nite Owl). Because Lena Dunham’s boobs have the mystical power to create 100 blog posts every time they are captured by a digital recording device — I think it’s because she was born around that whole Chernobyl thing — the Internet more or less immediately started wondering how an earth Lena Dunham — LENA DUNHAM, FOR GOD’S SAKE — could ever have sex with anyone ever, let alone someone as basically attractive and fictionally doctor-y as Patrick Wilson playing a rich doctor.

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Into the void, with open arms

Frightened Rabbit
Pedestrian Verse
(Atlantic)

As Scott Hutchinson tells it at Clash Music, the phrase “pedestrian verse” was written on the front of the notebook that held the lyrics to his band’s latest album as a kind of totem to ward off the evil spirits of lazy songwriting. This is probably a case of neurotic vigilance: if you’ve already managed to transpose “bad lyrics” into “pedestrian verse,” it’s not likely you’re writing a lot of them, and Frightened Rabbit’s output up to this point bears that out. Yes, the band has been known to tread in a lot of familiarly sad waters — if Scotland isn’t currently surrounded by the Sea of Male Melancholy, it’s only for lack of cartographic imagination — but they’re at least doing it with the grace of synchronized swimmers.

Still, Hutchinson’s amulet has done its trick: Pedestrian Verse is far ahead of work that’s been fairly impressive even to now. Lyrically, it seems less an album than a Jonathan Franzen novel, where every narrative choice, every descriptive line, spirals up to cling to bigger and deeper things. We don’t have to look much beyond the song the album’s title appears in, State Hospital, a broken biography of a woman wheeling under forces well beyond her control: how about the description of her childhood, “Brought home to breathe smoke in arms of her mother with a blunt kitchen knife / Who just lays in a submissive position / beneath the national weight and the slow arc of a fist”? The entire mood of the song, and the whole panoramic scene of this girl’s life, is laid out in three lines.

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The Indepedents: Our socially austere age

There is a certain kind of autism that permeates a culture when we can look up everything but how to actually interact with another human being. Sure, we can know their job and their interests and come armed with appropriate anecdotes and related stories, but as anyone who has ever dated online will tell you, there’s simply no replacement for the chemistry of common life.

Andrew Szymanski doesn’t address technology head-on in The Barista and I (Insomniac Press, 160 pp; $19.95), his debut collection of short fiction, but his characters very much live in a world where everyone has a profile pic obscuring their face. Frequently, the men (they are nearly all men) in his stories can only see others around them as kind of living synechdoches, some (often trivial) aspect of their personality coming to define the whole thing. It simultaneously works as a comment on the inherent narcissism of being a self-aware person and our recently augmented ability to fit complex people into discrete packages.

The best example is, naturally, the title story, a seeming reminiscence wherein the narrator’s lover is identified only as “my barista.” It’s discombobulating, stacking a job description next to intimate, downright romantic details, but it works as the kind of elaborate daydream of a man in line for his coffee, spinning one-sided stories in his head about a person he’d have trouble recognizing outside the apron. Something similar is at work in “The Recruit,” about a man who presents himself as a spontaneous romantic solely for the purposes of roping a woman into helping him track down his erstwhile real lover. It’s a clever literalization of our tendency to pick a new partner as a reaction to the last one, and the extent to which any relationship has a fiercely selfish component.

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