Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Roger Toupin: épicier variété

Went to see this documentary -- about the long-time owner of a Plateau Mont-Royal dépanneur that closed down last year -- at Excentris today. It was beautiful.
I was under the impression it was about gentrification, but it was more generally about change and changing. (Background: Gazette; Voir; Voo.ca)

Réalisateur Benoît Pilon doesn't shy away from long, long shots. How nice to have a camera linger on someone's face for more than three seconds at a time. M. Toupin has the most gorgeously fascinating face and, like my father, has "atchaforia" eyes. (One eye's atcha and the other eye's for ya, as papa puts it...)

Quebec's contribution to 2003, which pundits across the continent are dubbing The Year of the Documentary...

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Follow-up on Crave

Frequent readers of this space may remember my comments on Temenos' production of Crave by Sarah Kane, which was presented at the Monument National in Montreal in November. Said readers may also remember my condemnation of Hour reviewer Jason Whiting's review, which was drivel and the only one that saw no merit in the production.

Well. Since then, a well-intentioned but clearly-written-by-a-friend-of-the-cast rebuttal letter has appeared in Hour [Dec. 4; not online, damnit], Amy Barrett at The Mirror has decided that the show was "controversial", and Whiting has left the building, retiring from Theatre Reviewing to return to producing theah-tah himself.

Is it coincidence that Whiting is gone from the Hour a little over a month after his Crave review? Yeah, probably.
Anyway, while I've always been critical of Whiting's critiques, I wish him the best of luck. It's a difficult transition for a critic to make, one ripe with peril.

Post-script

... all of which leads to the question, who will replace Whiting? I don't suppose there's any chance Gaëtan Charlebois could be lured back?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath the waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for here demon-lover!
And from the chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sand in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floatin hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close you eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

-Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Post-script

Happy Holidays. Smoke some opium and have a crazy dream. Or just have a glass of eggnog and tell stories 'round the fire.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The Nutcracker? Sweet!

Well, I saw The Nutcracker for the first time last night at the Hummingbird Centre performed by the National Ballet of Canada.

It's a tradition to have local celebrities play bit roles in The Nutcracker and James Kudelka's version is no exception. Last night the two cannon dolls -- they stand on either side of a cannon that is wheeled out and fires confetti and streamers into the first few rows -- were The Globe and Mail Review editor Elizabeth Renzetti and her husband reporter Doug Saunders.

Ms. Renzetti's performance, as the stoic cannon doll, was passable, if a bit bland. It was her husband who stole the cameo as the nervous cannon doll. He chewed the scenery like a real pro, ripping into it with his incisors and then chomping on it with his molars until it became indiscernible sludge. He rolled around on the floor silently screeching in staged stage fright. Pure brill. I will never read his weekend column the same way again.

A friend of mine suggested recently that it would be much more entertaining if they actually shot these pseudo-celebs out of the cannon in lieu of streamers. Tsk, tsk... How out of keeping with the spirit of the season...

Post-script

This week in blogging news: The Guardian has announced the winners of their second annual British Blog Awards. Of particular interest: The Diary of Samuel Pepys, a project to put the entirety of Pepys famous 17th Century diary online over the next 10 years.

Halliburton: For all your reconstruction needs. (Thanks Marci S.)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Theatre Thursday: I wanna be a Producer!

Well, Mel Brooks' megamusical The Producers opened in Toronto a week ago today. You either like it (Globe and Mail, National Post)... Or you kinda like it , sorta (Toronto Star, Eye, NOW).

Me? You want my little opinion? Well, it's fun and, yeah, it's funny. All the reviewers above are pretty much right in their assessments.

Moving on, there are two things people alwayswrite about the play that bug me to no end:

1) The Producers is "certain to offend everyone" and/or politically-incorrect, etc., etc.
-- Really, there ain't nothing offensive about it at all. I don't see anyone picketing outside the show. Maybe in 1968 when the movie came out. I guess, in post-9/11 America, The Producers is what counts as risque...

2) The Producers marks the revival of the Golden Age Broadway Musical.
-- No siree. If anything, it's a last hoorah. (Brooks should, by the way, not go ahead with his plans to turn Young Frankenstein into a musical. There's a misguided idea if I've ever heard one...)

Post-script

- Okay, I've really got to say, I'm not a big fan of Kamal Al-Solayee's theatre reviews in The Globe. Some of them are pretty well-written, incisive, etc. But every so often they're just humdingingly bad. Say what you will about Kate Taylor, she never would have started a review with: "Hooray to the American musical comedy!" Pure ugh!
- Casting for next year's West End production of The Producers has finally been set: Richard Dreyfuss as the bombastic Max Bialystock and -- more interesting to me -- Lee Evans as timid, mousy Leo Bloom.
Theatre Thursday: It's a Gass!

Well, the big debate right now is this: Is Ken Gass, artistic director of Toronto's Factory Theatre, a big ol' racist?

Latino-Canadian Playwright Carmen Aguirre's The Refugee Hotel, dealing with the arrival of Chilean refugees in Canada in the 70s, was supposed to go on at Factory in April, but differences between her and director Gass caused her to pull the show.

What she says: Gass refused to cast actors of colour and native actors in the role, insisting on casting white actors. Aguirre claims Gass said, "I want superb actors for your play, and actors of colour are not superb."

What he says: Gass, of course, denies he ever said such a horrid thing. As Gass's son writes in the NOW article on this, "If her quote is true, then Ken must have a passion for working with un-superb actors, since nearly half of all actors hired by Factory last season were artists of colour. " (Richard Ouzounian of the T-Star, concurs.)

Here's my take on the whole thing: Gass is overworked and underpaid. He teaches at U of T, runs Factory and works on his own plays, writing and directing. Casting outside the white bubble takes work and he was slacking off... Racist? Nope.

Aguirre is probably better off the way this has gone anyway: A) Gass's direction of The Tiger of Malaya earlier this year was pure horrible and she's better off finding another director; and B) Now more people know about her play than would have previously.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov reports

The best thing about the new HBO mini-series of Angels in America is the script. Tony Kushner's language remains fabulous on the screen -- and if you're watching on VHS, as I did, you have the added advantage of being able to rewind and listen to some of the denser bits of dialogue over and over again.

The worst thing about the mini-series is that it is a TV miniseries. Angels in America is a play for a good reason: it's theatrical. That theatricality just doesn't translate well to television.

Mike Nichols didn't develop a consistent vision for the miniseries. For instance, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Jeffrey Wright (the absolute stand-out here) are cast in several small roles in addition to their main roles. But other small roles are played by actors who aren't doubling. Why only partly mimic the stage production's conventions?

On stage, the practice of having actors play several roles within a play is necessary if you're going to have an extensive dramatis personae, which Angels does. On screen, it's just an excuse to show off your actors' talent... The double and triple casting of Streep and Thompson unintentionally makes one think of Mike Myers mugging in his Austin Powers movies or Eddie Murphy doing the same in The Nutty Professor.

And, gosh, it's not pleasant when characters speak through the screen to you in a TV drama. The epilogue of Angels in America, where that happens, feels like one of those NBC: The More You Learn spots. (I'm not a big fan of Part II's epilogue in any case...)

Point being: a play is a play and a tv show is a tv show. They aren't the same. Their scripts aren't interchangable.

Perhaps Angels in America could have been translated for the screen, but it would have involved a thorough reworking of the plays. But change (see below) is tough. (Heck, it would've just been better to shoot a stage production of the play and show it, like a PBS Performance special...)

At least the text remains...

Harper: In your experience of the world. How do people change?

Mormon Mother: Well it has something to do with God so it's not very nice. God splits the skin with a jagged thumbnail from throat to belly and then plunges a huge filthy hand in, he grabs hold of your bloody tubes and they slip to evade his grasp but he squeezes hard, he insists, he pulls and pulls till all your innards are yanked out and the pain! We can't even talk about that. And then he stuffs them back, dirty, tangled and torn. It's up to you to do the stitching.

Harper: And then get up. And walk around.

Mormon Mother: Just mangled guts pretending.

Post-script

- The first half of Angels in America was the highest-rated made-for-cable TV movie of the year, says Neilson.
- Dale Peck expresses my thoughts on the mini-series much more eloquently on Slate.
- Oh, by the way, Al Pacino -- as horrible McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn -- was good. THere were times when I forgot he was Pacino (no such luck for Streep or, especially, Thompson. But the best Made-for-TV-Movie Cohn was James Woods in 1992's Citizen Kohn. This movie, written by David Franzoni (Gladiator, Amistad), also features Cohn haunted by Ethel Rosenberg on his deathbed. Strange that it and Angels (the play) came out at just about the same time.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

There she is... Miscellanious...

Yes, more than a week without a post. I know. But, you see, I had a lot of articles to write this week. Like this, this, this and this. Also, I've been sick. A little flu-like ailment sapped any extra strength I had.

Excuses, excuses.

Anyway, this blog entry will pull together a few disparate items of interest that I haven't had time to put up over the last week. I'll be more cohesive next time.

December 6

I wanted to write a post on this day. It's my grandmother's birthday, yes, but also, of course, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.
It's a bit nebulous the concept of "violence against women." Sometimes one is tempted to say, "Yes, yes. But why aren't we concentrated on just stopping violence in general?"
This article by Kristian Gravenor in the Montreal Mirror was a good slap in the face.

Google Bombs over Bagdad

If you haven't done this yet, do it: Search for "miserable failure" in Google and hit "I'm Feeling Lucky." Heck, just search for "failure".

(On a more serious note: While this joke amuses me to no end, it's a little alarming how easy it is to totally fuck up the most important search engine in the world.)

On a similar subject: What the hell? (Thanks, P.T.)

Don Boudria

I had a dream about him last night. I know. It's weird.

Poor ol' Don. We hardly knew ya.

And on the topic of our new prime minister...

Boy, Paul Martin changed the PMO website fast. I wonder if this means that he's not going to update his blog anymore?

(Do be sure to check out this "Why Am I Keeping a Blog?" page on his site.
Answer: "Good question. One that I asked my staff when they first made the suggestion to me. After all, its not like I can pretend to be the kind of guy that spends a lot of time surfing the web. To be honest, until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know what the hell a blog was - I joked that I thought it was something that might climb out of a swamp.")

Now that he's PM, will PM fly our flag, or will he just clutch it under his arm like he did yesterday?

Post-script

Clearly, the comment thingie at the end of my entries isn't working too well. It looks like there are no comments to my posts, but, as it turns out, there are. Thanks to Amy H. for pointing this out to me.
For instance, I'm pleased that Maclean's scribe Paul Wells -- or at least someone pretending to be him -- responded to my post about him below. Writes Wells, "Infomart costs MONEY, Kelly. Even now, even at today's Post, you're shielded from this sad truth.... In other news, I secretly think Colby Cosh is swell. cheers pw."

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Oh, Canada, Oh Canada, How are thy leaves so verdant!

Up here in the Great White North, we just love it when Americans write about us. Any newspaper or magazine article that even remotely mentions Canada gets forwarded from e-mail inbox to e-mail inbox for weeks afterwards. Some suggest this means were insecure. I think it means we're vain, a nation of actors searching for our name in print each morning...

The latest specimen is a puzzling article in the New York Times [mirrored here without registration requirements] on Monday headlined "Canada's View on Social Issues Is Opening Rifts With the U.S."

What was puzzling about the article? Not its thesis that "A more distinctive Canadian identity — one far more in line with European sensibilities — is emerging and generating new frictions with the United States" thanks to the liberalization of drug laws and the introduction of gay marriage. That seems fairly obvious.

No, what was puzzling was the following statement in regard to outgoing PM Jean Chretien's (in)famous quote that he's gonna smoke a big doobie when he retires. "But in a nation where the dominant west coast city, Vancouver, has come to be known as Vansterdam, few Canadians blinked [at the Prime Minister's quote]," writes reporter Clifford Krauss.

What? VANSTERDAM? You've gotta be kidding me. Who calls it Vansterdam? I've never heard such a thing.

I mentioned this to my editor at work yesterday and he said that the Post's ed board had been discussing this at the morning meeting as well. No one says Vansterdam... Van City maybe...

That's what I thought anyway, so I did a Google search. Turns out there are a significant number of pot smokers who refer to Vancouver as Vansterdam. People like the folks at Vansterdam Comix and the Sativa Sisters Bed and Breakfast, which promises "a hemp friendly haven for travelers looking for the Vansterdam experience."

I guess pot smoking makes you think STUPID PUNS are clever. To further prove this point, I offer up the titles of a couple of marijuana magazines: High Times and The Hempire. *Shudder*

Anyway, a message for those of you who actually call Vancouver by that horrible nickname: Stop it! Stop it now! Just say no to "Vansterdam"!

Or, maybe, I just need to mellow out...

Post-script

Okay, one more interesting bit about the New York Times article: I think it's cool that the two professors Krauss interviewed were from McGill, my alma mater. But why did he only speak to right-wing professors: historian Gil Troy and economist Chris Ragan?

Don't get me wrong: I love Gil Troy. He is a great professor and I'm eager to read his new book about Reagan "Morning in America," which will hit the stands, rumour has it, as soon as the ex-president dies. (By the way, did you know that Troy consulted on the "controversial" mini-series The Reagans, while is was being shot in Montreal?)

But Chris Ragan? Ugh. That guy makes me shudder. Shudder like I'm being subjected to a really a bad pun.

His quote by the way -- "You can be a social conservative in the U.S. without being a wacko. Not in Canada" -- was the quote of the day in the NYT that day. (Thanks to Phil for pointing that out to me.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Outrageous (Good) Fortune

Just wanted to rave about Slings and Arrows, the Canadian mini-series that wraps up Monday on the Movie Network/Movie Central. Starring Paul Gross, Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney, Don McKellar, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette, Sean Cullen and Luke Kurby (to name just a few), the show is a real ensemble drama -- none of the cast are showboating. Slings and Arrows has the behind-the-scenes snarkiness of my fav CanCon series The Newroom, but has a bigger heart than that show did. It's my favourite non-Finkleman Canadian series ever, methinks.

Slings and Arrows was supposed to air on CBC, but the public broadcaster pulled out. Thankfully, The Movie Network and Movie Central stepped in.

In some ways it's unfortunate that the best shows on TV these day are only available to those who can afford pay-TV channels (or have access to promotional screeners), ie. Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. On the other hand, these shows all become available on VHS and DVD soon enough, which are arguably more accessible.

The final episode of Slings and Arrows airs Monday night at 10 pm on The Movie Network in Eastern Canada and Movie Central out west.

Post-script

Speaking of The Newsroom, 13 new episodes are finally hitting the air next year, six years after its first season aired. For those who were disappointed with last year's Escape from the Newsroom movie, no worries. I hear that the new episodes will be funny and less drenched in Fellini references.

Here's what I don't understand... Last I heard, the new Newsroom debuted in January, but there's no mention of it on CBC's website. What the hell?

Monday, December 01, 2003

Montrealers on the Loose in Toronto! (I)

If you're in Toronto and looking for something to do this Wednesday, why not check out Jessie Stein & Jason Bajada at the El Mocambo (494 Spadina Ave). Jessie Stein is a transplanted singer-songwriter Montrealer who now calls Toronto her home. I always think of Jessie as being, like, 15 years old, because when I first met her, she was still a high school student and kept having to sneak into Montreal bars to watch local bands. I don't think I've ever met anyone who was so dead set on making music her life.
Jason Bajada is another Montrealer, but he's still based there. Formerly the frontman of a band called Ocean Hope (which was basically a solo project), Bajada sold out his recent concert at Le Cabaret in Montreal. A great musician and one of the nicest, most laid-back guys I've ever met.

Montrealers on the Loose in Toronto! (II)

"In the same week that The Producers premiered in Toronto, a very different kind of musical theatre opened across town. On Tuesday, Montrealers Eli Batalion and Jerome Saibil reprised their roles as Biblical brothers MC Cain and MC Abel in Job: The Hip-Hop Saga, at the Tarragon Theatre, bounding onstage in their track suits and do-rags to rap, 'MC Abel and MC Cain / We've done it before, we goin' do it again / So throw your hands high like you's insane / It's the story of Job, allegory of pain.'" Full story (by me).
Job: The Hip-Hop Saga is a combo of Job: The Hip-Hop Musical and Job II: The Demon of Eternal Recurrence, both Fringe Festival hits. The shows feel a little different outside of the Fringe setting and seeing both of them in a row can be a little tiring; but if you haven't seen these guys do their thing, you should definitely catch them at the Tarragon Extra Space before they close on December 14. Details and such.
I knew these two way back in high school, when they were students at Bialik High School. We used to compete at debating tournaments. Uh, did I say debating tournaments? I mean, rap battle. Yeah. Rap battles...

Post-script: Montrealers on the Loose in Toronto (Bonus round)

Denys Arcand was here in Toronto a couple of weeks ago to promote Les Invasions Barbares a.k.a. The Barbarian Invasions. (My interview with him.) Have you seen it yet? Why not? It has subtitles now, you unilingual silly...