Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kevin Smith interview

I may have gotten the exclusive Kevin Smith interview for his Vancouver show tomorrow evening, and it was such an interesting conversation, I've decided to include the entire transcription of our interview below.

Kevin Smith Interview Transcription: The Director's Cut
By Andrea Warner

He describes himself as a “fat little douchebag from New Jersey,” but to his legions of fanboys (they almost always are male), writer-director Kevin Smith is the voice of a generational apex of intellectuals, miscreants, stoners, comic-book geeks, and romantics. Vancouverites have a chance to get up-close and personal with Smith when he descends upon the city for one of his epic Q&A evenings — his first here since his notorious four-hours-plus Q&A at the Vogue in 2006, for which he still feels “ashamed,” but more on that later.

Smith’s professional history is littered with happy accidents, and he’s the first to admit how lucky he’s been. The 38-year-old Vancouver Film School dropout inadvertently founded the indie-slacker film genre with his 1994 cult classic, Clerks (which he wrote and directed), heralding the cinematic dawn of the potty-mouthed existentialist. It’s a style that has continued to populate his movies, almost all of which take place in the ‘View Askewniverse,’ a bubble of Smith’s own making (named after his View Askew production company) resides in his native New Jersey. It’s a testament to his DIY ethic and savvy self-promotion: The View Askewniverse has spawned a website, an active fan forum, and a hugely popular podcast.
Now, Smith is readying to step outside his comfort zone. He left his longtime partnership with the Weinstein Company last year, and is set to direct a big-budget movie (one he didn’t write himself) starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan — although its title, A Couple of Dicks, proves he’s not about to completely abandon his old ways.

WE caught up with Smith over the phone from — where else? — New Jersey.


WE: You seem to have an awesome time doing your podcast.

Kevin Smith: I love doing it. It's funny, it's kind of interesting. I like doing it with Mose (Scott Mosier, his Coquitlam-born producing partner) and the various people who cycle in and out. It's taken the place of writing for me--well, writing blogs at least.

WE: Typing everything out just gives you carpal tunnel.

KS: There's that. And it's just, I don't know, there's something novel and yet not novel, because there's something time-honoured about sitting around some microphones...

WE: The internet gives you way more opportunity.

KS: You can basically find people who enjoy it. Can you imagine if we were doing it and we were the only two who knew about it, or a couple of friends at school. The internet allows you to put it out there for a bunch of people to find. And, when they do they hopefully pass on to someone else. Man, the pass-on rate on that podcast is pretty sweet in terms of the recommendations. You're always hearing about it from somebody who's friend told them about it. And, I think Scott Mosier's pretty funny. It gives me a chance to showcase some people I think are very funny.

WE: I think people get the chance to feel like they're getting to know you really intimately.

KS: Oh, God, yeah, there's that for sure. (Laughs)

WE: I remember particularly listening to the one your daughter co-hosted with you for Father's day.

KS: That was fun, but some people didn't like that. They were like, 'I'm glad you like your daughter, but that was fuckin' boring for me.' And you're like, it's a free podcast, dude. I did it with my kid. Are you really going to tell me that I wasted my time? That's the thing that kills you, you know, people who have tips and notes for you about how to improve the podcast and what you're doing wrong. And you're like, it's fuckin' free, dude.

WE: And, I mean, you can just turn it off.

KS: I caught some shit fairly recently with the podcasts because I've started doing them while smokin' weed. Boy, some cats got outta sorts about that. And there were all sorts of discussion about "Who's funnier? Stoned Kev or non-stoned Kev?" and you know, oh my God, it's the same fuckin' ramblings. It always sounded like I was stoned before, now I just am. So, that's been kind of interesting, watching people draw lines about that.

WE: People who like your stuff--are they really going to have their panties in a knot about weed?

KS: Well, that's the thing. Some cats yes, some no. That's from the same thread on the website, someone quickly pointed out, y'all are on the website of the guy who created Jay and Silent Bob, you remember that, right? But, that's always been the kind of interesting thing about the stuff we do. Some people kind of see it as Jay and Silent Bob and that's where it begins and ends, and that's fine, but those are the folks who see the shit we do as kind of intellectual and just masquerade as low-brow humour, and those are the kind of cats who get mad when people dismiss the fans as stoners, because they're like, 'I'm not a stoner' and then they object to my being stoned on the podcast, because they're like, 'fuck, now they're right, I do like a stoner.' It's a tricky wire sometimes, but ultimately I always fall down on the side of 'hey man, as long as I'm not charging for it, what do you care?' (Laughs) The SModcast is my favourite thing to do right now--actually, my favourite thing to do in the world, hands down, having sex with my wife. Second favourite thing is Smodcast. Third favourite thing is what I'm coming to Vancouver to do, the Q&A.

WE: We're really excited about it.


KS: Did you like that segue? Pretty sweet, huh? Been doing this a long time.

WE: Very nice. Why do you like doing the Q&As?

KS: This year I just had a slew of Canadian Q&As. Before Zack and Miri came out, it was Calgary and Edmonton, and then way after that, in February, it was Toronto for two nights at the Roy Thompson Hall. And then I did three nights at the Bloor where they were showing all the View Askew films. And, I haven't done a Vancouver Q&A since I was out there shooting Catch and Release in 2006. That was my lowest moment in a Q&A.

WE: Really? What happened?

KS: They were a great audience but low for me in that I was so ashamed. I had had some wicked Mongolian BBQ on Broadway and Cambie, fantastic stuff, but man, does it make you fucking gassy. It's the only time in my life that I've had to fart and had a fucking microphone in my hand, and so I totally rocked the mic and blew a fart, and it was so base and immature, but kinda fun at the same time, but boy there was some backlash. There were some cats who came to the website who were like, 'I didn't pay $50 to hear some fat dude fart in a microphone.' And, yeah, but that wasn't the only thing I did for fuckin' four hours. It was a little more substantial than that, but you can't please everyone, and I don't care, doin' Q&As are more masturbatory than anything else for me. It's not very hard when people are like, hey man, tell us about your stupid fucking life and you're like, "All right." It's very flattering and I always enjoy it, more so than the audience, and that's saying something because the audiences really seem to fuckin' enjoy it. A common compliment I've received is, 'Man, I haven't liked the last five movies you've done, but the Q&A is fantastic.' And you're like, "thank you, I think."

WE: Well, whoever the jackasses were with the "Oh, the fart ruined it all"...

KS: (Laughs) Oh, the fart ruined it all. I haven't thought about it in so long, I'm gettin' depressed all over again.

WE: I know that the Saturday night following your show, the Rio is doing a back-to-back midnight screening of Clerks and Clerks II.

KS: If I'm still in town I'll be there. Unfortunately I'm in the throes of pre-production on this movie I'm shooting in New York, but if I can stay one more night then I'm totally going to those.


WE: You're doing pre-production on A Couple Of Cops, right?

KS: Yes.

WE: I like the original title A Couple of Dicks better.

KS: That's what the title is! It's weird, the title is A Couple Of Dicks, and I'm just so used to saying A Couple Of Cops. Dicks is way better. When they announced it in Variety for some reason--we had been tossing around a couple of different titles, but all of us involved like this title and we were going forward with it, and when it got reported they used Cops. But it's Dicks, trust me, it's Dicks. I talked to the head of the studio the next day and was like, "Are we Cops or Dicks?" And he was like, 'Well you're a dick, but the movie is Dicks.'

WE: Did you seek out a studio, or did they come after you?

KS: In a weird way they sought me out. I met with so many studio cats after Zack and Miri, the message became very clear that up until then they didn't think I could make a movie and now they think I can, so come work here.

WE: Was it the nicer lighting or...

KS: I guess they feel like all right, he's firing on all cylinders. And, for the first time I'd just gone free agent and what not. For years and years I'd been with Miramax or the Weinstein Company, and after Zack and Miri it was the first time where I was like you know what, I'm not going to have an over-all deal, I just want to change it up. And, for years and years I said I'm not going to direct somebody else's script, I'm just not that guy, not talented like that, and now I'm doing a 180 on that. That's kind of what that wandering affords you. You sit there going, 'Well, this is something I wouldn't normally do, but maybe I'll give it a shot.' And maybe that comes with age as well, in terms of like, you know, I'm 38, and I don't live very healthily, so some part of me is like, I'm probably going to die early, so I might as well do shit I enjoy now.

WE: And, it gives you a chance to try something outside your comfort zone.

KS: Totally! And, here's the thing: I know I can make a Kevin Smith movie. I've been doin' it for years. I don't know that I can do this, so let's try it. If it sucks, all right, I can go back and make a Kevin Smith movie.

WE: Will the script get the Kevin Smith treatment?

KS: Honestly, the script is so fucking good, it doesn't need it. I was attracted to the material by how familiar it was, the great dialogue between characters. The Cullen brothers wrote some wonderful back and forth and created a very real relationship between these two characters. It's a buddy-cop movie that I havne't seen in a long time. It's not like two guys meeting for the first time, we just hang out with them on one adventure. It reminds me of Freebie and the Bean from the 70s.

WE: And, Bruce Willis is actually pretty funny.

KS: Yeah! Bruce Willis was David Addison, and I grew up watching him on Moonlighting when I was a kid. I was a huge Moonlighting fan, and never dreamed in a million years that I'd work with him, and I did act with him in a film a few years back, and I never dreamed I'd direct him. I'm tellin' you, everyday I think, and it's such a weird life, 'wow, i didn't dream that either!' Every day great things happen.

WE: I had totally forgotten you were in Die Hard IV until I found that clip of you interviewing Bruce Willis on the set. Are you scared about directing him?

KS: He's a livin' legend, you know what I'm sayin'? He's one of the only true movie stars out there in the world. He's a guy like Nicholson, he had to give up being 'Bruce Willis' years ago so he could be Bruce Willis, you know? I think it's always interesting interacting with icons like that. Stan Lee is one of those guys. Johnny Rotten, I had him over to my house for a poetry reading once, he's one of those guys. Traci Lords even. People who are huge pop cultural icons who long ago had to accept the fact they couldn't be themselves anymore because they belonged to the world. And, it's kinda fun, because when you get to really meet a person, when you feel like you're getting to know them in a way the rest of the world hasn't, it's really satisfying.


WE: You've talked a little bit about Red State (Smith's much talked-about black comedy/horror script). Is it going to be your unfulfilled dream?

KS: No, man, we're gonna get to it after A Couple of Dicks. It's been tough to pull the financing together for it, you know, we're living in pretty harsh economic times, and this movie is not very commercial on the surface, so I can completely understand why it's tough to find cash for it. Hopefully while I'm off making the Warner Bros flick and the economy gets a little better we find an investor and then boom, we're off. The only thing holding that flick up is the cash. We're just starting to put the cast together. See if that helps at all.

WE: I guess a big name could help attract an influx of cash.

KS: Yeah, there's that, but I doubt we'll get a big name. I'm not looking for celebrity as much as I'm looking for a hardcore actor, 'cause it's kind of a juicy part.

WE: Who would be your dream for that role?

KS: Can't say yet, 'cause I'm going after him right now. (Laughs)

WE: All right, fair enough. I wanted to ask you a little bit about why you got back in to writing comics?

KS: I'd been away for a long time, and I guess there was a lot of Batman in the air, and my friend Walter Flanagan had been drawing some independent comic books with my other friend Wayne Johnson, and back in the day Walt and I had always talked about "Wouldn't it be great to do a comic book? You could write it and I could draw it and blah, blah, blah." And then my film career took off, so I was like, you know what? I'm in a position where I can call up DC and be like, "Can I do a miniseries for you that my friend can draw?" and they'll say yes or no right away. And it was so fuckin' satisfying you know. I was working really closely with a guy who got me back in to comics years ago, a dude who knows a lot about the medium, has the same reference points about things we like about the same comic books. It was a fantastic symbiotic relationship. And the great thing for me is that we both got so much better over the three issues. There were quite a few reviews that were like, 'some of these things don't sound like they could be said by a human being' or don't sound very natural, and I was like, 'hey man, he's right.' I went back, read some of my dialogue out loud, and I was like, all right, I was excited, let myself get carried away, I've never written Batman before. It was kinda cool, 'cause I got involved and stayed the fuck involved. And with Walt it's really satisfying because it was truly, literally a dream for him to draw Batman. And not one of those things, like I'm gonna work for that dream, but a dream like I always dream about the power of flight. You look at his art in issue one and then the art in issue three and it's a vast improvement, and then almost the same with the dialogue, too. And it informed this new thing we're working on together that we don't announce 'til July. This miniseries was prelude to what we're working on...sort of our Masterwork.

WE: I wanted to talk a little about Zack and Miri. I know you've said it should have been marketed differently. How should it have gone?

KS: It's so tough to say. Ultimately, I probably hurt the movie most by calling it Porno. That clearly hurt, there's no two ways about it in retrospect. I remember at Sundance there was a movie with similar subject matter called Hump Day, and I remember thinking, 'Fuck! I should have called mine Hump Day. What a genius idea.' And, the day it opened, I was like, man, I wish I called it Skin Flick. Fuck! That would have helped everything out. But, who's to say? The marketing campaign never got it figured out. We never knew what we were selling or who we were selling it to. It just kinda happened. I feel like I can't hang it on one person, it's a confluence of events. Everybody acknowledges the fact that we should have done better, but no one can really put their finger on why we didn't...Certainly not the cast. We had a likable cast who turned in great performances. And it turned out to be a really funny flick...but the marketing campaign...It seemed like an easy sell, didn't it?

WE: Well, it stirred up a shit-storm of controversy, so you think that aspect would draw more people to it.

KS: Or just the notion of Seth Rogen in an R-rated comedy. And it's about porn? Fuck, I'm going. So, yeah, it was a disappointing time. And man, I spent like, three months after that in just a fuckin' weed-induced coma just trying to get over it, 'cause I knew we had a hit this time. We were all firing on all cylinders, and the movie could have done double of what it did. People always wanna say the nice thing, like, 'Hey man, that movie shoulda done a lot better,' but that just hurts worse, you know, shut up. (Laughs). Ultimately it wound up being our highest grossing movie, which everyone said it would be. We just thought it would be by a substantial margin, not like, $500,000. More than anything else, once you get past it, you don't do it for the fuckin' box office number, you do it for the longevity. This movie will stand the test of time, and people will like it for years to come. That you gotta be happy with. And, I don't know any other way to be happy because it's a problem I always encounter: my movies top off at 30 (million). Naturally this all sounds like a bit of cognitive reframing, because I'm like, 'Yeah, the best I can hope for is longevity." Maybe Judd Apatow is like, "No, it's not. The best you can hope for is $100 million, which I've had and you haven't" but you know, for me the money comes and goes. It's been 15 years since Clerks came out and teenagers still come up to me, and I'm like you were not even born when this was made, and then suddenly the idea of longevity appeals to you more than anything else. And you hope that they just stand the test of time, like in 10 years people still like it. Because fuck now, you just move on to the next thing. And then it's like, why am I thinking about this shit? Is it 'cause I'm old, 'cause I'm gonna die? It's an existential conversation that usually concludes with me goin' 'Oh, I'm just kinda stoned.' (Laughs). I shouldn't be thinking this much about a bunch of dick and fart joke movies.

Sunshine Cleaning review

My review of Sunshine Cleaning appears in WE this week.

Two stars

By Andrea Warner

An affable but empty comedy, Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, both of whom are seemingly straining for indie cred after their respective big-budget smash hits, Enchanted and The Devil Wears Prada. The duo portray the screwed-up Lorkowski sisters, Rose and Norah, who start an independent crime-scene cleanup business in order to pay for Rose’s son’s private-school tuition.

It’s quickly established — mostly through heavy-handed dialogue and a slow-motion montage — that Rose (Adams) is the older, “responsible” sibling, a single mom who works as a cleaning lady and longs to get her real-estate license. Norah (Blunt), meanwhile, is the unemployable, heavily eye-lined younger sister who still lives at home with their dad, Joe (Alan Arkin), a big dreamer who invariably fails to deliver on his promises.

Adams is thoroughly winning, and nails perfectly the sad-but-still-hopeful traits of a former cheerleader/prom queen who’s resorted to an affair with her married high-school boyfriend, Mac (Steve Zhan). Blunt, who is British, struggles with her American accent periodically, but brings a lovely depth to Norah, who still mourns her mother’s death, and flirts with her unexpected feelings for new female friend Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Writer Meghan Holley seems to subscribe firmly to the ‘tell, don’t show’ school of screenwriting, but the actors rise well above the source material despite being forced to bluntly verbalize their relationships or feelings. Sunshine Cleaning is all over the map, desperately wanting to be a heartfelt, quirky comedy in the vein of indie smash Little Miss Sunshine (from the same producers) but coming off as a lacklustre imitation. Unfortunately, the only real similarities they share are confusingly parallel titles, a reliably charming performance by Arkin, and clunky endings.

Great Lake Swimmers

My interview with Great Lake Swimmers appears online at this week.

Great Lake Swimmers, led by Tony Dekker (left).

Great Lake Swimmers, led by Tony Dekker (left)

Tony Dekker, the whisper-thin singer-songwriter who has been the beating heart and tremulous soul of Great Lake Swimmers for seven years, has plenty of reason to feel celebratory nowadays. The Torontonian has seen his Swimmers swell from solo endeavour to full-fledged band, during which time he has shared the stage with some of Canada’s finest indie musicians, including Final Fantasy and Feist. And now, the Swimmers are about to embark on their first major headlining tour of North America and Europe. Plenty of the Canadian dates have been sold out for weeks, and fans are eagerly anticipating the band’s fourth album, Lost Channels, which comes out next Tuesday (March 31).

Recorded in the heady and historic Thousand Islands region that nestles the borders of Ontario and New York, Lost Channels doesn’t depart greatly from the atmospheric folk-pop gems Dekker is famed for crafting. When it does venture left, it’s to lightly embrace the roots and blues of Dekker’s countrified influences, as evidenced on the twangy guitars of “She Comes to Me in Dreams” or the gently confessional first single, “Pulling on a Line.”

WE spoke with Dekker over the phone, a few days before he hit the road.

You’re headlining your first major tour. Do you feel you’ve achieved a milestone?
Dekker: Sort of. It’s been a slow and steady build for us. It doesn’t really feel over the top or anything. (laughs)

You don’t have to put on dog-and-pony shows in the back room yet.
Exactly. We don’t have fire cannons. Yet.

Do you have a special relationship with Vancouver fans?
Well, definitely the connection to Nettwerk Records, our label. We’ve always been fortunate to play really nice shows in Vancouver, usually at Richard’s. I’ve never played St. James Hall before, but I’ve played in Gastown as well, and back when the Sugar Refinery was open — that was a really great spot.

You have a reputation for recording in unusual locations an abandoned grain silo, for instance. How were you drawn to the Thousand Islands region?
A local historian and photographer got in touch with us after hearing us on Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café radio show. He was really taken by the music, and sort of invited us to come to the region, and when the time came to record the new album, I gave him a call and brainstormed some great spots. It was just a chance meeting, but it turned into a really great connection with the region overall, and for recording and writing.

Was there a particular venue that stood out for you?
Being able to record in the Singer Castle was amazing. It’s just a full-blown turn-of-the-century castle that takes up almost an entire island, and we had to hire a boat captain to get us out there, with all of our gear and instruments. We were able to record in this really cool place with, like, secret passages and everything.

The word atmospheric gets used a lot to describe your music. Is that accurate?
I think so. I think that comes from recording in these places that have a natural reverb in them. It’s almost like the atmosphere of the place becomes another member of the band, you know? More accurately, I think it’s this acoustic space that’s a type of a canvas that all the songs are painted on, so it gives it that extra texture or sound that really adds another layer.

When you’re writing songs, are you looking to create a feeling or more of a story?
For me, it’s always about trying to find a balance between both. I’m trying to become more concise as a writer, but I think there’s a balance between delivering a narrative and a mood.

Was there an artist you wanted to emulate as a kid?
Not really. I was sort of into punk rock then, more so as a genre. My first foray into the world of music was kind of through that. The spirit of [punk] really mobilized people; it mobilized me to pick up a guitar and play. I guess the musicianship was secondary to expressing yourself. I think that’s really stuck with me to what I’m putting out now, definitely the DIY spirit and the energy of the thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


My review of Blackbird appears in this week's WE.

Scottish playwright David Harrower has often been labelled an exponent of “in-yer-face theatre,” a style of drama that emerged in 1990s Great Britain feature narratives unabashedly crafted to shock. Harrower’s Blackbird, on now at the Vancity Culture Lab at the Cultch (a well-designed and much-needed intimate new venue) easily falls in with this style. The one-act play pits the young, volatile Una (Jennifer Mawhinney) against the middle-aged Peter (Russell Roberts). Over the course of 100 minutes, they pick over the remnants of their ruinous sexual relationship, back when Una was just 12 years old.

Appearing out of the blue at his workplace one day, Una confronts Peter (who, having served his jail time, has changed his name from Ray) about the past. Facing each other for the first time in 15 years, there are land mines aplenty to navigate. Accusations and sad recriminations skim the surface of lingering lust, long-buried secrets, and the inevitable ‘ick’ factor of the incredulous question: Was it misunderstood love, or abuse?

Mawhinney’s characterization of Una seems drawn from a display case of standard damaged-goods affectations: lots of hair-twisting, face-scrunching, and bouts of overt sensuality offset by episodes of childlike naïvete. Mawhinney only shows what she’s capable of when she drops the victim’s-whisper delivery and gives Una the necessary depth to move from Lolita-esque caricature to traumatized, complex young woman.

Roberts’s role is the less showy of the two, and though he makes his contrite Peter somewhat sympathetic, the character’s inherently treacherous nature ensures nothing more than a lukewarm reception from the audience. Unfortunately, this is symptomatic of the entire production: Blackbird should, by its very nature, resonate, but this production ultimately proves relatively forgettable, and a far cry from in-yer-face.

The Real Thing

My review of The Real Thing appears in this week's WE.

Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale navigate a series of fractured relationships in playwright Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

Jennifer Lines and Vincent Gale navigate a series of fractured relationships in playwright Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.


Playwright Tom Stoppard’s affection for literature is evident in every carefully crafted word he commits to the page, be it the big-screen hit Shakespeare in Love or the kooky Hamlet coda, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. But the Tony and Academy Award winner proves he’s also a sucker for the seduction of his own hand, refusing to bring an editing eye to his bloated —-but, at times, brilliant — dramedy, The Real Thing.

Making liberal use of the play-within-a-play conceit, The Real Thing tackles the tangled and treacherous relationships between writer Henry (Vincent Gale); his tartly funny actress wife Charlotte (Jennifer Clement, Gale’s real-life wife); her co-star Max (Simon Bradbury); and Max’s own actress wife Annie (Jennifer Lines), who moonlights as a social activist fighting for the rights of imprisoned vandal Brodie (Charlie Gallant).

The first act is promising, if vaguely dispiriting, with high-octane verbal pissing matches that illustrate the familiar decay of a past-its-prime marriage (Henry and Charlotte’s hateful banter), the shallow impulsiveness of lust (Henry and Annie’s affair), and the cuckold’s heartbreak (Max discovering the affair).

The second act flashes forward two years, with Henry and Annie now married, and Annie asking her husband to ghostwrite Brodie’s play. Henry understandably balks, sparking dramatic fights between the two that allow Gale and Lines to gnash at each other beautifully.

Stoppard raises some wonderfully complex questions about love, fidelity and faithlessness, and is at times wickedly astute. But the good bits only account for about 70 per cent of the play. Far less interesting is the extended dialogue between Henry and his 17-year-old libertarian, free-love-enthusiast daughter, Debbie (Julie McIsaac), as well as several interactions between Annie and her young fling, Billy (also played by Charlie Gallant), a substitute for her imprisoned bad boy, Brodie. The performances are strong, the set fantastic, but at two and a half hours, there’s far too much of this Real Thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Final Fantasy interview

My interview with Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy) appears in the current issue of Naked Eye, on newsstands now!

If He Were a Rich Man

What would indie music geek Final Fantasy do with some free money?

By Andrea Warner

Fans of Owen Pallett think of him as a sweet and salty violin virtuoso who looks 12 and wears his geek-heart on his sleeve. After all, he did name his musical project Final Fantasy after the beloved video game, and his second album, He Poos Clouds, dedicates eight of its 10 songs to the schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons. But he’s more than the loner kid in his basement rocking out the NES.

Pallett’s musical pedigree dates back to his training in classical piano as a teen, and his ultimate graduation from U of T with a degree in composition. His collaborations are too numerous to dwell on, but one notable mention: he co-wrote the strings arrangements for The Arcade Fire’s Funeral and Neon Bible.

Famous friends aside, Final Fantasy enthusiasts mostly want to give Pallett a hug. His self-deprecating manner shines through in moments both funny and sad at every turn, and almost never more so than during his incredible live shows. Each one is a different sonic experience due to his mixing of violin with his trusty loop pedal. He’s usually modest and shy but endearingly cheeky behind his mic, and the front rows at his concerts, if Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival was any indication, are typically packed with awkwardly thin hipsters aching for a moment or two of eye contact, a joke, or a cute quip.

With all things Luxe in mind, Naked Eye asked Pallet to name his five “Rich Guy” fantasies–a task he was happy to indulge us in until the price got too high.

$1k. New clothes. I used to shop at Buy The Pound in Toronto and wear shawls and tights and flowery sweaters. I once went out with a pomelo skin as a hat. My favourite outfit was my Miami Beach-hoser-fag look. But I'm in my late-twenties now, so $1, 000 is like one or two new outfits. I know that big misshapen nylon items are really hot right now, but I'd probably buy a nice Irish woolen sweater that was a couple of sizes too big for me, and pair it with Rick Owens jeans.

$10k. A trip to Bhutan. Would you think I'd be stupid to take my $10,000 and go to Bhutan? You're like, “They don't have cell phone coverage or internet, just beautiful mountains, woven outfits and agriculture. I mean, couldn't you get the same thing from a trip to Terrace, BC?” Well, you're not alone. When I pulled up photos of Bhutan monasteries on the internet, Patrick (his boyfriend/manager) sighed and said, “Why do white people always want to go to remote places? It must be some ingrained colonialism or something.” He wants to go to Las Vegas.

$100k. Now we're talking. With $100,000 I could buy a Steinway [piano]. I could buy Kevin Shields' guitar rig. I could buy an Ondes Martenot, a Moog modular. I could hire an orchestra for 10 days. But not even the most beautiful instrument will give me a hit single. So I'd hire Kanye West to produce a track for me. Could you imagine if rich assholes, instead of buying up penthouse condos on the Toronto waterfront, would just hire Kanye West to produce tracks for them? Within a year, the charts worldwide would be dominated with number one hits like “Baked At The Drake,” “Sexy Spinning Instructor,” and “It Was The Worst Duck Confit I've Ever Tasted.”

$1m. In Toronto, I live right next to the Aston Martin/Rolls Royce dealership. This morning, as I walked by to get a muffin from Loblaws, in my pre-shower tank top and khaki shorts, I noticed that they'd put up over 100 signs in support of our local Conservative candidate. Seeing as I have $1 million, I have no problem with Conservatives. In fact, I love them. They're the best. But the placement of these signs was overbearing and tasteless. I saw a blue-haired man of luxury inside, trying to sell a Phantom to some asshole. I flipped them the bird as I walked by. What else could I do?

$10m. I'm so far out of my league here. $10 million? Are you serious? I'm happy in my relative squalour, thanks. Money makes you fat. Next time you take a flight, look at all the people sitting in business class. Fat, disgusting people. No spinning class, no tanning bed can fix the weight gain that money causes. I mean, I know this is an issue about luxury, but seriously, come over to my illegal tenement sometime. I'll make you pad thai, we'll play my upright piano and drink Pimm's, we'll watch America’s Next Top Model. And we won't have to worry about any of this shit. Make your next magazine about something important, like inner serenity. Or the occupation of Iraq. Or why all business models are bullshit. Make your next issue about the hundreds (or thousands) of people who have been (or will be) displaced from Vancouver by 2010. Luxe? Gimme a break. Give me $50 and I'll get you your Michelin star.

Bruce McDonald interview

My interview with Bruce McDonald appeared in WE this week. It was such a great time! Hope everyone enjoys it.

Pontypool director Bruce McDonald.

Pontypool director Bruce McDonald.

Bruce McDonald dives into Pontypool

It's 9:15 a.m. when Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, The Tracey Fragments) ambles in to a downtown café. He has a friendly smile underneath his sandy-grey beard, and his trademark Stetson-style hat (this time in black) and jeans make him look like a cross between a cowboy and a biker. He exudes a certain tough-guy cool — something one would expect from a man who has a reputation for making movies that typically feature sex, drugs, and/or rock ’n’ roll in varying combinations.

It’s the 49-year-old director’s second interview of the morning promoting the fantastic new thriller, Pontypool, his first foray into the blood-and-guts horror genre. Based on Tony Burgess’s 1998 novel Pontypool Changes Everything, it centres on a crusty, opinionated morning-show radio host, Grant Mazzy (played by the delightfully grizzled Stephen McHattie), who’s been exiled to the titular small town, broadcasting with his producer and assistant from a church basement. Suddenly, reports start pouring in that some kind of plague is taking over the town, turning people into zombies, and being spread through the English language.

Hard Core Logo, The Tracey Fragments, and now Pontypool — they’re all adaptations from books. Do you have an inclination toward reading something and then wanting to translate those images in your head?

McDonald: Maybe I read a little more than the normal guy. It’s a kick, you know — the heavy lifting is done, in a way. With a book, you don’t just crack it off in a couple months; it’s often years of work and thought... Not all books make great movies, but I do get a satisfaction in passing the torch. I have a great respect for writers — maybe because I wanted to be a writer myself. It also puts you in the unique position of being a one-man “Yay, CanCon!” advocate. And it’s a fairly exuberant “Yay!” because we have some fairly world-class writers. There’s something nice about when you discover there are these gods standing in your backyard.

What was your first reaction to reading Pontypool Changes Everything? Did you immediately want to turn it into something you could texturize?

Well, the book is a strange and mysterious beast; it’s a collage of a lot of different moments organized around the idea of a language virus. That was the thing that really grabbed me. I loved the playfulness of it, and I could see the real terror. Imagine something as familiar as your language turning against you. It reminded me of Hitchcock’s The Birds — something so ordinary, as opposed to the high concept of something from outer space.

There’s a lot to analyze in this film.

That’s why it’s such a good movie to see when you’re high. (laughs)

Almost the entire movie takes place in this underground radio station, in a church basement, and the characters have no visual proof of what’s transpiring outside at first.

Almost like Dr. Strangelove. That’s the whole thing: It was a bit of experiment, in that we thought we could maybe raise the stakes by making our audience cling to our characters. They don’t have the privilege of seeing the director’s cut outside. Just the fact that we stay there with the characters hopefully creates that same sense of unease and, like, What-the-fuck’s-going-on-out-there? feeling.

When you screened it for everyone, did it achieve what you wanted it to?

Making a movie’s kind of an act of will or an act of mass hypnosis, and you’re totally prepared to do it... and you’re like, “Okay, I know I can do this with four actors in a room with my sister’s camera.” So, that was my first imagining of the movie. All the other stuff that happened — the fact that we got Steve McHattie, this great location to shoot it in, that it was photographed so handsomely, that we could afford projectile vomit — we were like, “Holy shit, this is kind of a dream come true.” My original vision was so lame compared to what was actually done by the gang who arrived to do it.

Pontypool film review

My Pontypool review appears online at
Georgina Riley succumbs to a zombie plague in Pontypool.

Georgina Riley succumbs to a zombie plague in Pontypool.

Starring Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle
Directed by Bruce McDonald
3 stars (out of 5)

By Andrea Warner

Pontypool, the new horror/thriller/zombie mash-up from indie film auteur Bruce McDonald, is a remarkably intelligent, funny, and unsettling addition to the CanCon cannon.

For the viewer, it's total immersion from the opening credits: a simple but effective voiceover, eerily reminiscent of the great Vincent Price, menacingly foreshadowing the ripple effect of big events. The voice belongs to Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie), a disgraced DJ who's been exiled from the big city to small-town Pontypool, Ontario, where he broadcasts his neutered morning show from a church basement. Extra-grizzled and opinionated, Mazzy likes to stir up shit on the air, much to the consternation of straight-laced producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle, McHattie's real-life wife). In between Mazzy's rants, birthday announcements, and traffic updates, a frantic reporter calls in to say people are turning into zombie-like creatures.

McDonald chooses to build up the tension by having the majority of the horrors take place off-screen. Trapped in the basement with Mazzy and his crew, the audience is effectively held hostage as well. Unfortunately, screenwriter Tony Burgess (also the author of the book Pontypool Changes Everything, on which the movie is based) falls victim to the commonly held notion that audiences need the gift of a neat and clean solution tied up in a big ol' bow. As a result, Pontypool stumbles just short of the finish line, and rapidly devolves into sentimentality. Forgo the last 15 minutes, and Pontypool is the rarest of Canadian indie gems: quirky without being silly, intelligent but never elitist, and pretty damn scary.

Toronto, Mississippi

My review of Toronto, Mississippi appeared online at last week.

Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe in Playhouse's production of Toronto, Mississippi.

Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe in Playhouse's production of Toronto, Mississippi


By Andrea Warner

Vancouver-born playwright Joan MacLeod, who has nine plays and a Governor General’s Award to her credit, has lived, taught, and toiled from Toronto to Victoria. It’s no surprise, then, that Toronto, Mississippi, proves to be a tender and tasty slice of Canadiana.

Thankfully, there’s no maple syrup or hockey sticks to be found here — just a story about Jhana (Meg Roe), a mentally challenged 18-year-old attempting to navigate adolescence and impending adulthood. Jhana lives at home with her tightly-wound mother, Maddie (Colleen Wheeler), and their poet boarder, Bill (Alessandro Juliani). When King (William MacDonald) — Jhana’s father, a professional Elvis impersonator rolls back into town, everyone’s world turns upside down.

Thanks to MacLeod’s clever, humane writing, and Roe’s deft comic touch, the audience is fully immersed in Jhana’s day-to-day challenges and triumphs, from basic lessons in her life-skills classes to her first crush on a boy. Jhana’s interactions with Maddie are as real as any teenager attempting to exert her independence, and her reliance on Bill is evident: The warm exchanges between the two could melt even the iciest heart. It’s a perfect set-up whose future is threatened when King returns.

Juliani and MacDonald do cocky grandstanding incredibly well, their characters circling each other warily, equal parts awkward and amusing. Bill may be written as non-threatening (after all, he’s a grad student with one book of poetry to his credit, who considers himself a voice for women and minorities), but Juliani brings a subtle masculinity to the role that more than challenges King’s swaggering, virile persona. His chemistry with Wheeler is palpable, and the de facto family they’ve created for Jhana is nicely reflective of an era that ushered in new, non-traditional familial structures (Who’s the Boss immediately springs to mind).

Wheeler gives Maddie a tough protective exterior, which is a realistic defense mechanism for a woman who’s single-mommed it for 10 years, and defended Jhana from bullies and judgmental strangers for nearly two decades. When she says “I always hate the sound of my voice when I talk to you” during one of her fights with King, Wheeler nails the tone of a woman slipping back into bad patterns. But the talented actress brings so much intelligence to the character, it’s hard to believe Maddie would ever have fallen for a guy like King, let alone considered letting him back into her bed.

The only real misstep in the otherwise sparkling gem of a script comes about five minutes shy of the final bow, when the audience endures not just one ending, but three — which smacks of a writer who was just finding her voice (this is MacLeod’s second play). It’s a small complaint, but one that stands out, since everything else is so strong. That said, it’s such a rare treat to witness great writing fueling fantastic performances that Toronto, Mississippi ends up feeling like a warm hug on a cold night.