January 29, 2010

Last week I spent a glorious fifteen minutes on the phone with Will Arnett for this profile in the North Toronto Post. He told me all about the terrible bars he used to drink at, and then he laughed when I told him I once saw a girl vomiting on the sidewalk while in line to get into the Brunny. Classiest bar in Toronto.

But you don’t just get to talk to Will Arnett on the phone without jumping through a few hoops first. The main hoop is watching the terrible movie that he happens to be shilling right now. I had to see his movie before speaking with him; this was insisted upon by Disney. The easiest thing to do when one writer needs to see a movie is to courier out an embargoed screener copy. But this is not good enough for Disney. When Disney wants one writer to see a movie, they prefer to rent out a whole movie theatre. Which is how I came to be watching When in Rome in an otherwise empty AMC auditorium at ten a.m. on a Monday morning.

Until that morning, I thought that in order for a situation to be awkward, there had to be at least one other person present. After all, awkwardness is a social construct, right? Shouldn’t it take two to awkward? Not always. There is a way to feel awkward when you are all alone, and that is watching When in Rome all by yourself in an AMC auditorium at ten on a Monday morning.

When you watch a bad comedy in a full theatre, some of the badness is absorbed by the foolish guffaws of your fellow audience members. But when you watch a bad comedy all alone, every terrible joke is magnified, landing like a stone and then reverberating its badness outward. You can’t laugh. You can only cringe.

When in Rome is one of those insulting romantic comedies where no one ever behaves like any normal socialized human would. Instead of character development or actual jokes, everyone just falls down and walks into things a lot. And then a bunch of people cram into a tiny car, except you can tell it’s digitally altered and it just looks plain stupid. This would be a dismissable, if not forgivable, crime if it weren’t for the cast that is totally wasted here. How dare you cast The Piemaker as the cardboard evil ex-boyfriend with only one line? Poor Veronica Mars is doing her best, and at least she gets a cute monologue about art in the single decent scene in the movie, but she’s better than this. Anjelica Huston and Danny DeVito must owe someone a favour or something and our poor pal Will is stuck in the grossest wig ever. Ugh, and that terrible Napoleon Dynamite dude is there too and he brought Pedro with him, because apparently this movie is actually an SNL sketch from 2004.

And even though they apparently did shoot on location in Rome, it still looks like they filmed it on a sound stage. And the career-making art exhibit the main character curates looks like a Hollister display. Blech.

But maybe I just don’t understand romance.


Everything: The Musical

January 22, 2010

It was bound to happen sooner or later: A Spice Girls jukebox musical. Really, they should just stage Spice World. That movie is a gem – an underrated tribute to Hard Day’s Night, and so shamelessly silly and fun that it would make a considerably better musical than Mamma Mia or (ugh) We Will Rock You.

For a less silly and more interesting piece of theatre, someone has been working on a multimedia stage adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s creepy and amazing novel The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. This could be a great thing. Murakami’s books read like David Lynch movies play, but the creep factor (for me, anyway) comes from the matter-of-factness of his prose coupled with sometimes horrifying surreal events. There’s a bit of a noir detective tone to The WInd-Up Bird Chronicle, as well as a lot of crazy dream stuff that I have no idea how they’ll stage. For example, there are several key scenes that take place in total pitch black darkness, and the dark is part of the dramatic and metaphorical power of the scenes. The photos on the site seem to indicate a lot of shadow puppetry-type stuff, which could be very evocative, or it could just look cheesy. Either way, I wish I was in New York this week to see it.

Instead, I’m here in Toronto where I am secretly excited to go see this production of the baffling flop High Fidelity: The Musical. I love flop musicals anyway, but High Fidelity strikes me as a particularly odd choice for musical adaptation. Just because music is significant to the plot of a book and movie, does not mean it will make a good musical. Aesthetically, High Fidelity (both the book and the movie) is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of musicals. It’s about cynical uncommited hipster slackers – can you imagine how horrified any of the characters in High Fidelity would be if they realized they were in a musical? They get hives just saying the word “musical”. It’s such a poorly thought out choice for musical adaptation, that it’s gotta be worth seeing!

Rock out with your uke out

January 21, 2010

Last week I hit one of the weirdest parties in town, the Corktown Uke Jam. Here is my story in the National Post about this joyful collection of uke enthusiasts. The jam is a lot of fun, and I may go again some night with my boyfriend’s ukelele. (He inherited a cheap baby blue ukelele covered in stickers bearing swear words from his friend who is in a punk band. This punk band friend loves the ukelele, and had just bought a much fancier model, so he gave Justin his old ukelele when we were visiting them in Berlin two summers ago.)

Nerd alert.

Went shopping at a Scottish boutique up in the middle of nowhere with actor/writer/former Avolea busybody Maja Ardal a couple of weeks ago, and wrote about it for the National Post.

The Scottish Company is a nice place, if you’ve got kilt and/or haggis needs. I don’t, but Maja seemed to (she was very excited about buying a frozen haggis).

Bite Me

January 15, 2010

This week’s Popcorn Panel is about Daybreakers, which was gross and full of dumb plot holes. But it was fun to talk about it with my buds Peter Kuling and Mike Kiss. Bad movies are always more fun to talk about than good movies, and you don’t have to feel guilty about revealing plot points, because really you are doing everyone a favour and saving them $12.

However, I can’t believe we made it through the entire panel with someone mentioning Willem Dafoe’s insane portrayal of Nosferatu in that kooky Shadow of the Vampire movie with John Malkovich. That was the best!

I’ve never been into vampires. I’ve never been into horror anything, and when I was a kid, I was terrified of everything from aliens to vampires, so I couldn’t sleep unless I had my blankie arranged to cover my neck just so to prevent me from potential vampire bites in the night (obviously, blankies are impervious to vampire bites). So I avoiding any books and movies that smacked of the supernatural for a very long time. Then when I was a bit older, I had this weirdo cousin who was a goth: between her and SNL’s amazing Goth Talk sketches, I figured vampires were for losers (note: I haven’t necessarily changed my mind about that).

Then, while I was in university, my younger sister became obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and bought the entire series on dvd. Since I had a lot of essays to avoid writing, I started watching it with her and was pretty into for awhile, but not because of the vampires. It was a smart and funny show, for the most part, and even though it peaked in its third season, it was still reliably entertaining (and totally heart wrenching, season five) until it completely lost the plot in the last season. I remember having a lot of dreams about the series while I was watching it – I wasn’t a hardcore fan or anything, but something about that show really got into my head.

Sometimes my friends and I play a game where we assess what kind of monster you would be based on personality type, and I’m usually a vampire (it fits – I am pale and snobby, after all), but aside from that I don’t really care about the metaphorical importance of vampires (personally, I find zombies scarier and more evocative, even though they are so overdone these days HOW MANY ZOMBIE WALKS DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE EVERY YEAR SHEESH!) So when I was ambushed by a Global reporter in line to see Daybreakers, I really didn’t want to talk to him about vampires. But he seemed so desperate, and I know first-hand how frustrating it is to be out getting man-on-the-street interviews, so I complied and pulled some nonsense out of my butt. So, yes, that was me on the Global news last Friday night talking incoherent nonsense about the enduring appeal (barf) of vampires. NO, I am not linking to a video. I make a fool of myself enough as it is, without any help from Global tv and stupid immortal bloodsuckers.

This might explain a couple of things about me: When I was growing up, Pee Wee was big in our house. Really big. My dad loved Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and taped every episode on our BetaMax for repeat viewing. My 5-year-old sister loved Pee Wee so much she went around proclaiming he was her 16-year-old brother. We had the Playhouse playset, complete with a wind-up Conkey 3000. We practiced our Pee Wee laughs at the dinner table. We felt validated by Miss Yvonne’s big hair. (We were a household of big hair, and thus felt a kinship with the Most Beautiful Woman in Puppetland.)

You get the idea. Start a Pee Wee quote, and a Broverman will jump in to finish it before you can say “It’s not for sale, FRAN-CIS!” (We even had the talking Pee Wee doll, though it stayed locked in the basement where it couldn’t kill us in our sleep. I wouldn’t learn the expression “uncanny valley” until many years later, but I knew, I knew.)

We loved Pee Wee’s joyful absurdity, the awesome claymation sequences that occasionally verged on disturbing, the gleeful participation of Phil Hartman and Laurence Fishburne, the unbridled zaniness, and the fact that someone had thought up a living piece of furniture called Dogchair. (Dogchair!) Sometimes it was even educational (who else would have taught us a recipe for ice cream soup, or that if you are a nasty snoop you will get yours by unwittingly sitting in a chocolate cake).

So I really wish I could be in Los Angeles this winter to bear witness to this triumph of pop culture. Pee Wee is back on stage in his crazy kid’s show for adults, adapted from his original 1981 stage show.

In the meantime, here are some excellent dating tips:

Click click click

January 7, 2010

In an attempt to improve my meager photography skills and also to justify renewing my Flickr Pro account, I’m attempting a photo-a-day challenge on Flickr.

January 4, 2010

I never got around to the best/worst theatre of the decade list I was going to write last week, but now I have an excuse to talk about the gloriously worst show I’ve seen, not just this decade, but ever. Here is a small taste of the admirable dreadfulness:

I was privileged enough to witness this hot mess in the flesh, thanks to my friend Sam who scored us some cheap tickets and e-mailed me saying “I hear there are dancing clowns and trampolines. We can’t possibly miss this.” And oh, there were dancing clowns and trampolines. And oh, we couldn’t possibly miss it.

You know how when you’re a kid, and the height of choreography is to act out the lyrics from songs? That’s how Twyla Tharp choreographed The Times, They Are A-Changin’. See, for example, the black pilates balls that the clowns are rolling across the stage. Like rolling stones. Later on, during the song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, during the lyric “knock knock knocking on heaven’s door”, a group of clowns equipped with flashlights surround the villain (who – SPOILER ALERT – is about to die and is therefore knocking on heaven’s door himself) and make a door-knocking motion with their flashlight-wielding hands as they sing. Tharp interprets every single one of Dylan’s bizarre lyrical metaphors with straight-faced literalness.

Here’s what it’s about: The hero works for his evil uncle, who owns a traveling circus and wields a tyrannical fist over all his employees, including this one woman (I’m not sure what her actual job is, but she sweeps a lot and you better believe she breaks just like a little girl) whom they are both (evil uncle and heroic guitar-playing nephew) in love with her. Meanwhile, a bunch of clowns, acrobats, and people wearing dog ear headbands jump around on the in-stage trampolines to Dylan’s music. It’s so baffling it might just be a work of pure genius. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

I heard a rumour that it all came about because Dylan, having heard of Tharp’s massive success with Billy Joel’s songs in Movin’ Out (the most financially successful dance show of all time, I think?) approached her to do something similar with his own music (he is a greedy sell-out, after all). So maybe Tharp just decided to punk him with A-Changin’.

But why am I telling you now all about this terrible show I saw three years ago? Because Tharp is coming back to Broadway and she’s bringing Frank Sinatra down with her. I can only assume she’ll be doing it her way. And I can’t wait.

Of course I’ve been known to bawl on the couch for a variety of reasons, but last night the tears were caused by the wrenching 2007 doc Autism: The Musical, which was playing on TVO. The movie is about arts educator Elaine Hall‘s Miracle Project, a theatre workshop for kids with autism and other special needs.

From an arts education perspective, the movie is instructive and inspiring. Hall is an incredible force and it’s a gift to see her work and connect with these kids. There are many moments where you can really sense the effect she is having on these children, and the breakthroughs she is helping them achieve. I don’t know if I’d ever have the strength to work with special needs kids (regular needs kids are challenging enough!), but I would love to learn more about Hall’s program and teaching methods. There’s plenty of classroom footage in the film, but I want more!

More importantly, Autism: The Musical humanizes autistic children in a way that nothing I’ve seen or read before on the subject ever has. The parents of the profiled kids (including Hall herself) are surprisingly candid about their personal struggles in coming to terms with their children’s autism, and the toll it’s taken on their marriages. Each of the kids will break your heart, but Wyatt and Lexi got to me the most. Wyatt, 10, is so smart and perceptive – aware of his difference from other kids, but helpless to do anything about it. Lexi, 14, has a beautiful singing voice – it was her rendition of Wicked‘s “I’m Not That Girl” that first spurred the bawling. She is a mimic, and often repeats back whatever is said to her, but she has trouble generating original language. In one scene, Lexi’s mother is trying to get her to type her responses to her mom’s questions, but Lexi only types a jumble of confused sentences. Her mother looks disappointed. And maybe this is projection, but so does Lexi – like deep down she does understand, she’s just trapped underneath her layers of autism.

Ultimately, the film is about the power of theatre to transform – literally. You see the progression of these kids from the first class, where they’re running around in circles with their hands over their ears because everything too loud and bright, to the final show, where they sing and act and face the stage lights and the applause with pride. Theatre is a communal art form, and it’s wonderful to see it used to empower kids who spend so much of their lives locked inside their own heads.