Wednesday, December 8, 2010


My review of Bruce McDonald's Trigger is in this week's WE (WestEnder)

Starring Molly Parker, Tracy Wright
Directed by Bruce McDonald

There’s an emotional weight on Trigger’s substantial shoulders that’s felt in every frame of this intelligent, contemplative mini-masterpiece: This is co-star Tracy Wright’s last film. The beloved Toronto-based actress was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in December 2009. By January 2010, director Bruce McDonald had assembled a cast and crew, and shot Trigger over just four weekends. Wright died that June.

Intimacy and urgency saturate every moment of this movie about former friends and bandmates reuniting for a tribute concert honouring women in rock. Over a decade ago, Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Wright) were Trigger, a wildly successful Toronto-based indie-rock band that, as explained through flashback, put the riot in the Riotgrrrl movement. Their artistic and personal relationships dissolved onstage in a massive blow-out, thanks to ego and addiction (Kat is a recovering alcoholic, Vic a former drug addict).

The tenuous reunion unfolds over one long evening as the pair rehash the minefield of their past while trying to make peace with who they have become. Kat, poised but insecure, left Toronto for a glamorous corporate job in L.A., while Vic, the more talented musician, continued to struggle with addiction but is finally recording again. They talk (a lot!), but there’s never a dull moment, thanks to a nuanced script by Daniel MacIvor, which negotiates the raw corners of regret with bitchy but funny frankness between old friends.

MacIvor, as ever, excels in communicating the complicated relationship between women (as evidenced by Ruby Slippers Theatre’s recent production of his play, A Beautiful View). He also provides some thoughtful commentary on aging, mortality, self-esteem, and reconciliation. Under Bruce McDonald’s surprisingly subtle direction, Parker and Wright play off each other beautifully, with Parker dutifully pulling back, letting Wright step into the spotlight one last time.

Monday, December 6, 2010


My feature on Bahamas is in this week's WE. His show is coming up this Thursday at St. James hall.

Bahamas frontman Afie Jurvanen.
Bahamas frontman Afie Jurvanen.
Credit: Supplied

Into the spotlight

Afie Jurvanen is just 29 years old, but he’s already seen the world, and from a very privileged vantage point: as part of pop chanteuse Feist’s backing band. A key part of Toronto’s close-knit music scene, Jurvanen also spent years playing with Jason Collett, Howie Beck, and Amy Millan. But a few years ago, he adopted the moniker Bahamas and released 2009’s Pink Strat, a startlingly thoughtful folk-rock album that’s propelled him from opening act to first-time headliner. WE caught up with Jurvanen over the phone during a rare day off at home in Toronto.

You’ve been a supporting player for a long time. Does this feel like the culmination of one part of your life and the beginning of the next?
Jurvanen: Yeah, sure, in certain ways. Like, up until this point [Bahamas has] been opening for other bands, and it’s such a different experience when you’re in that position. Really, there’s no pressure, generally, because nobody knows who you are. It’s a comfortable position... You can play a half-hour set, just play the best you can, and it’s comfortable being the underdog. But I also really welcome this new thing. I was kind of nervous before I started [headlining shows], but it’s such a nice thing to have people know the lyrics and know the songs and really participate in the show in a really different way. When you’re the headlining act, people are there to see you and they’re willing to engage in the show with you in a different way.

Is there an element of rejuvenation?
For sure. Some of the songs we’re singing, for me, they’ve been around for many years. So, to see them take on a life through other people — I mean, the space I was in when I created them is so much more different than what I’m in now, and the listener adds their own ideas, their own imagery, about what the song’s about. They have their own emotion attached to it, and it’s rejuvenating in that sense. I can see a song like “Hockey Teeth” take on new life just by people discovering it for the first time.

What’s the first thing you ever played when you were teaching yourself music?
From very early on, I gravitated towards the drums. There’s an immediacy: You hit something and a sound comes out... And when my friends started to get guitars and stuff, my mother couldn’t really afford to buy me a guitar at the time, so I had drumsticks, and I would just show up to my friends’ houses and be like, ‘Okay, guys, let’s jam.’ No one seemed to question the fact that I didn’t have a drum kit. Just, like, ‘I’m the drummer; I have drumsticks. Follow me.’

What are your plans for the next record?
I would love to put out a record in the early part of next year. It’s so hard to predict how that will all play out. There definitely will be another one. We’ve been recording on and off on little breaks, and I’m really happy with how it’s coming together. It’s a little more thought out than the last one. [Pink Strat’s] very much a document of us sitting down and playing together in a room, and this one started that way, but it’s taking on more elements, more singing and more electric guitar.

Will we get a sneak peek at the show?
Yeah, for sure. Just the fact that we have to play a headlining set. (Laughs) We only have one record, you know. We could either do all Alan Jackson covers, Vince Gill tunes, or play some of our new stuff, which is probably more likely. I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. Actually, it’s not a guilty pleasure — I’m fuckin’ damn proud of it. I like country music a lot, and these days I’m listening to Vince Gill and Alan Jackson, and I can’t get enough of it.

Bahamas play Thursday, Dec. 9, at St. James Hall (3214 W. 10th), 7pm. Tickets $18.50 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, Red Cat, and Highlife.

Cold War Kids

My feature on Cold War Kids is in this week's Charleston City Paper

Cold War Kids go to the deep end 

Nathan Willett gets personal with the Cold War Kids' latest disc

  Chilled out: The seriously sensitive and musically tight Cold War Kids

Californian indie-rockers Cold War Kids have come full circle with their upcoming third release, Mine is Yours. After their much-hyped 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards made them stars in the blogosphere, Kids took a risk with their second release, Loyalty to Loyalty. Though it wasn't entirely a sophomore slump, lead singer-songwriter Nathan Willett admits that even he was dissatisfied with the results.

"The time of making the second record was when we thought it only really matters if we were happy," Willett says. "After we made that album, we realized we wanted to be connected to fans. It's important to us that the record connects and there is an emotion that's expressed that's understandable.

"For me, just even writing for that album — it was something a bit more abstract and poetic, and I realized it wasn't as visceral to me, it wasn't as important to me as I needed it to be," he adds. "Spending so much time on it and touring for a year and half — that's what lead me to this album [Mine is Yours] and wanting it to be more personal."

For Willett and his bandmates — guitarist Jonnie Russell, bassist Matt Maust, and drummer Matt Aveiro — this meant taking time to reassess what went wrong.

"The second album, the ambiguity in it, I realized I needed to step up and have a stronger presence, connecting in an emotional way and lyrical way," Willett says.

Later in the conversation, he returns to this point, elaborating on how Kids has come to function. "Everybody feels that their style and approach and personality is essential to what the band is, and that's a really rare thing in any mainstream sense," he says. "[With Loyalty], when I realized I hadn't really lead the march, we all had to reassign our roles a little bit, so that everybody's personality would complement the song."

And in this way, Mine is Yours is the band's most truthful work yet. Thematically, it's a more emotionally complex and dense record than Robbers & Cowards, with Willett reflecting on his own little circle of life — his friends — for inspiration.

After returning home following 18 months of touring Loyalty to Loyalty, Willett just wanted to be a "normal person again." He got his wish, plus a chance to witness firsthand the normal people problems going on around him.

"I have a group of friends who went to college together, and ... I got married a couple years ago, and we have a lot of friends who are also in the same place," Willett says. "Some are doing great, but others are splitting up or have gone through crazy situations of diving into the deep end of relationships without looking around too much. It's also just the stage of life I'm in, getting past 30, and just a lot of change. I'm writing about what I'm seeing."

Watching friends struggle through relationship hurdles is a particularly common coming-of-age experience. What's unique about Willett's age group is they have absorbed the brunt of the tutelage from their parents' generation, which exemplified marital dysfunction.

"We grew up with the statistics that every other person who gets married is going to get divorced, and our parents having made those mistakes ..." Willett trails off for a moment. "All that stuff, when the rubber meets the road and you're not just sitting around and idealizing and talking about it, but actually seeing how you live. It's really hard."

At the very least, the pain has paid off artistically. Advance hype on Mine is Yours has been good, and fans eagerly awaiting the Jan. 15, 2011 drop are taking advantage of this "pre" tour that reaches the Music Farm this week.

For Willett, etching his heart on his sleeve in this fashion has meant another kind of reckoning as well.
"I feel like this record, for me personally, is the first time I've realized that this is what I want to do with my life," he says. "It's not just something like, we just started this band and put out a record and it's really fun, but now I can see myself doing this forever. I want to take this band to the extremes of what it can be."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bruce Greenwood

My interview with actor Bruce Greenwood, who will be at the Whistler Film Festival. 

Bruce Greenwood may not be a household name, but regular moviegoers know his face well.
Bruce Greenwood may not be a household name, but regular moviegoers know his face well.
Credit: Supplied

It’s that actor you know you’ve seen before

His name may not be familiar, but his face sure is. Over his 20-plus years in the movie business, Bruce Greenwood has evolved from a regular in Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s features to Hollywood go-to-guy when a commanding figure is needed. Be it presidential (Thirteen Days, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), corporate (Dinner for Schmucks), or captain (Star Trek), Greenwood has a knack for playing a man in control.

Greenwood spoke with WE just one day after wrapping work on the Vancouver-shot mystery-drama Donovan’s Echo, in which he stars alongside Danny Glover. He’s resting up for his mini-residency at the Whistler Film Festival (to Dec. 5;, where he’ll head the Borsos Jury (which awards the festival’s top prize for Canadian film), participate in a Q&A, and screen his new movie, Meek’s Cutoff.

I tallied up the roles in your recent films and you’re often cast as ‘The Man’ in one way or another. Do you think there’s something ultra-commanding about your presence? 

Greenwood: Umm. (Laughs) No, I’m just a schlub. Just a regular schlub... It’s funny — once you’ve done it a couple times and you get away with it, people tend to think that’s all you can do, and they want to know what they’re getting when they hire people. Now more than ever. It used to be you could just audition for something and they would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s figured this part out. Let’s give it to him.’ But it’s not really like that anymore.

Do you get frustrated by the type-casting? 

No. It’s just, I mean, the opportunity is there to allow yourself to be typecast, and if you’re not working and you feel like working or you’re hungry to work, you just do it in spite of yourself. Quite often I resist the urge.

What made you want to accept the position as head of the Borsos Jury? 

[I] went to a couple of festivals this year, Venice and Toronto — as [a contestant], as it were — and I’ve never been on a jury before, so I’m looking forward to that whole process. I’m really looking forward to what the other jurors have to say, and I expect I’ll learn something. That, on top of being able to go back to Whistler and spend a few days there at the beginning of the season — what more do you need?

You’re also starring in a film, Meek’s Cutoff, that’s being shown at the festival. That’s particularly exciting for fans of filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy). What made you sign on?

I thought the script was really interesting, and the chance to work with Michelle [Williams] was really appealing. I love the time period and the environment. And a couple of [Reichardt’s] other films I’d been quite affected by.

What was it like working with Michelle Williams? 

In this movie, she’s a very quiet actor; she does a lot with very little dialogue. She’s one of those people, you look at her face and you read on it a thousand things. She’s just got that ability to communicate without words. In a sense, it’s the definition of a film star.

You and Atom Egoyan, who will also be at the festival, have had a lengthy working relationship. 

Yep. We were both young once. (Laughs)

Do you have a favourite story about working with him? 

I remember when we were doing The Sweet Hereafter, at the time I had a front tooth I could remove, but he didn’t know that. We were messing around, doing screen tests with wardrobe and different amounts of whisker, because I’d come there with a lot of beard-age, so we chopped it off in bits and he’d go, ‘Yeah, maybe the sideburns smaller.’ We finally ended up keeping the big sweeper mustache, and I said, ‘Well, what if I take my tooth out? That might work.’ And he said, ‘What?!’ And I said, ‘I can take my front tooth out.’ So I popped out the little flipper I had, and he just goes, “Oh! Oh my God, oh!... Okay, yeah, let’s go for it!’ You could see him processing it and his initial horror, like, ‘Geez, are we gonna go that far? Okay, yeah.’ He’s just a really open guy, really fun to work with.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arcade Fire

My Exclaim cover story: an interview with Win Butler of Arcade Fire!

Features breadcrumbsplit YEAR IN REVIEW breadcrumbsplit Dec 2010

Pop & Rock: Year in Review 2010

1. Arcade Fire The Suburbs (Merge)
Anything you think is great, half the people think is bullshit." As the lead singer and co-songwriter of Arcade Fire, arguably the biggest indie band in the world, Win Butler knows a thing or two about maintaining perspective. "There's been backlash since we put out the first EP," he says. "It's been a normal part of my life for the better part of a decade. I think we learned pretty early on that the way people perceive you is outta your hands."

The few months have done nothing to quell the outraged masses. It's been a phenomenal year for the sprawling, Montreal-based outfit. Their third album, The Suburbs, debuted at number one on all the major charts following its August release, and earned critical raves for its compelling narrative structure and the surprisingly fun sonic left turn towards '80s influences like Depeche Mode. Now Arcade Fire find themselves poised to take the top spot on many year-end lists, as they do here, while on the receiving end of thinly-veiled potshots from bands like Kings of Leon, quoted disparaging large bands with members "doing everything but contributing musically" and being "dicks."

You know, go back and read articles on the Clash and people were slagging them," Butler says. "Almost every record I've ever loved, the band was already broken up or it was ten years removed from reading any press about them. Really, the music has to stand for itself. I love that idea that in ten or 15 years, you hear how it holds up and that the album speaks for itself."

The Suburbs could be one of those that stands the test of time. It speaks to generations of people who identify with the album's varying themes of isolation in commonality and loneliness in superficial communities. It's a perfect actualization of the suburbs as metaphor for the classic North American dream: a smoothly perfect veneer covering up the lush complexity of motivation. It's not just metaphor, but goes a step further to exemplify the quintessential Arcade Fire sound ― a controlled frenzy, pushing and reaching for something more.

The album's visceral qualities are no accident. Until the age of five, Butler lived in a small hippie town outside of Lake Tahoe, but the rest of his childhood was spent in a Texas suburb following his family's relocation to Houston. "I really remember being a little kid and getting off the plane in Houston and feeling this incredible heat," Butler recalls. "It was the summertime, and there it's always like 95 percent humidity and 100 degrees and I really remember ― just the landscape and the feeling of the town and the weather, it was so extremely foreign."

It was a feeling that came rushing back to him just a few years ago. "It would always rain a lot in Houston, but it was this warm rain that doesn't happen much in Montreal. We were down last summer in Louisiana and it started raining and all of a sudden these crazy memories came back that I hadn't thought about in a long time, just because of a similarity in weather. It's interesting, the things you hold on to."

Butler's reluctant to overanalyze his songwriting process, declining to say whether he and his wife and bandmate, Regine Chassagne, dug deep into their own suburban childhoods while writing the record. But he does admit that they found it "interesting" comparing their experiences of growing up.

"Regine grew up on the south shore of Montreal, and I've been to her childhood home over there, and it's dramatically different from Houston, but there are a lot more similarities than you would think. The emotional landscape is very similar at least," he laughs. "There's something similar about growing up in the suburbs. You can have your first kiss in a T.G.I. Friday's, but it's still your first kiss. There's a universality to it you can appreciate."

It's Arcade Fire's ability to capture and translate those moments meaningfully that recently sent fans into an early-grieving process when Butler was quoted saying he couldn't see himself doing "this" in ten years. Butler sighs.

"People take stuff like that pretty out of context," he says. "I can't see us doing exactly what we do indefinitely. Once you lose that connection to the songs, I don't think there's really any point to doing it exactly the same way. The reason people connect to this band is that when we play live, every night we really try to connect to the songs. If the audience connects to the songs, too, we kind of meet in the middle."

Butler alludes back to the Kings of Leon comment, a sentiment he's heard plenty of times before. "Sometimes we get flack for the kind of theatricality to the way we perform, but it comes from a very real place," he insists. "It comes from the music. Our band, we're like sprinters. We put this insane amount of energy into our shows. We can't really tour and behave exactly the same way as other rock bands often do, because it takes so much out of us to do the show."

Butler says he's excited to find new ways to relate to the material and the other musicians, evolving as they go. But, the longevity of Arcade Fire remains a question that's never fully answered. "It's not like there's an expiration date on doing it, but it's like being an athlete. People stop playing hockey at a certain age. You can't be getting punched in the face forever," he jokes. "That being said, it's been really inspiring seeing Springsteen playing and he's probably in the best shape of his life... But our band is busting our ass a lot harder than the E Street Band, you know what I mean?" he asks, laughing.

With no plans to call it a day in the immediate future, Butler hopes to spend the winter writing, giving Arcade Fire a chance to break up the touring cycle. "The greatest thrill in the world is the first time you play a new song, bringing a new song into the world," Butler says. "I'm really excited to get into that head space again." Excited but guarded, of course. Asked if he can offer a sneak preview of the fourth album's direction, Butler's reply is succinct but perfectly pleasant.

"Hell, no."
Andrea Warner

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Atom Egoyan

My interview with Atom Egoyan is this week's cover story.

Director Atom Egoyan returns to the Whistler Film Festival for its 10th-anniversary edition.
Director Atom Egoyan returns to the Whistler Film Festival for its 10th-anniversary edition.
Credit: supplied

Atom Egoyan — in praise of Whistler film fest

Atom Egoyan, one of Canada’s most celebrated filmmakers, never went to film school. Instead, he went to film festivals. “I wouldn’t have had my career if I hadn’t gone to film festivals,” he says, on the phone from his adopted hometown of Toronto. “That’s where I met the people who became my crew eventually, and the actors I work with... The festivals were my film school.”

It’s evident from the B.C.-raised Egoyan’s lengthy history of award-winning films that the decision to eschew traditional education for on-the-job learning paid off handsomely. He garnered international acclaim with 1997’s Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter, and has continued to craft intelligent, acclaimed art-house fare.

It’s Egoyan’s belief in the important role festivals play in fostering Canadian cinema that’s made him a prominent supporter of the Whistler Film Festival (WFF). Since its inception, he’s been a regular jury member and has used the fest to host advance screenings of new works, such as last year’s Chloe. Egoyan returns this year for WFF’s 10th-anniversary edition, facilitating a discussion with celebrated cult director — and Quentin Tarantino mentor — Monte Hellman, best known for early Jack Nicholson vehicles The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind, as well as the 1971 drag-race drama Two-Lane Blacktop, starring singer-songwriter James Taylor.

According to Egoyan, who calls Hellman “a hero of any independent filmmaker,” it’s these kinds of events, where emerging filmmakers can learn from pillars of the community, that make WFF uniquely positioned to pick up where the Toronto International Film Festival — which began as a scrappy upstart but is now a key part of the Hollywood mainstream’s social calendar — left off. “These [emerging Canadian] filmmakers get lost in the bigger events, where it’s about a certain type of glamour,” he says. “I’ve seen it happen over and over again in Toronto and the other big festivals: The young filmmakers get really excited to be invited, and then it’s not what they expected; they kind of feel lost once they’re there.

“There was a time when Toronto really served emerging filmmakers, but that was before Toronto became what it is now. Whistler has the opportunity to really brand itself where emerging filmmakers working in new technologies will have attention, will really feel they’re the focus.”

Egoyan has witnessed firsthand how TIFF has changed over the years, and his hope is that WFF stays true to its focus. “[WFF]’s been able to do an extraordinary job of keeping a specific identity, and my hope is that it doesn’t become a victim of its own success,” he says. “It’s kind of crazy now in Toronto. Because of the accumulation of press and attention here, it’s being used by the industry for junkets for films that aren’t even in the festival. It’s so absurd. There’s a whole buzz around films that haven’t even been invited into the [festival] that are just being screened at the same time!”

But TIFF has played a significant role in what Egoyan calls an “incredible revolutionary shift” in attitudes toward Canadian cinema over the last 15 years. With TIFF now taken over by bigger-budget fare, WFF is stepping up, but Egoyan knows there are still plenty of challenges facing Canadian films.

“There are a number of filmmakers who have established there is a Canadian identity, and when you look at our best films as a group, we’re as good as the output of any country, really,” he says. “If you make a list of the most important and most lauded Canadian films, it’s a pretty impressive list. And these are films that have been made under very difficult circumstances. We’re neighbours with the most aggressive film industry in the world, so for us to hold our own — and I think we have — I find it really astonishing.

“We have a great industry... but we will always have the problem of being able to create as much of a marketing presence for our domestic product as the American product that’s also being shown in our theatres. It’s something we’ll always have to contend with, and it’s a fight that becomes harder as traditional audiences have changed.”

Hopefully, this is what festivals like WFF will continue to do: help filmmakers find audiences. And if the past does in fact repeat itself, festivals will also help build beneficial relationships between emerging artists and influential people already established in the industry — the way Egoyan did over two decades ago. In 1987, filmmaker Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire won the top prize at the Montreal Festival for New Cinema. Wenders promptly insisted the cash be given to Egoyan instead, which allowed the budding filmmaker to create his second feature, Family Viewing.

“It changed my life,” Egoyan says, laughing like he still can’t believe it. “He was my mentor, and certainly kind of a hero. That’s the classic festival dream-come-true experience.”

The 2010 Whistler Film Festival runs Dec. 1-5. Visit for more details and a complete schedule, and see next week’s WE for more coverage.


My review of Burlesque is in this week's WE.

Christina Aguilera stars in
Christina Aguilera stars in "Burlesque."
Credit: supplied

‘Burlesque’ good, campy fun


Starring Cher, Christina Aguilera
Directed by Steve Antin

Those hoping for an epic Showgirls-meets-Glitter type of flop can move along. Like Cher herself, Burlesque is Teflon-smooth, buffed to a shine, and compelling beyond reason.

Fresh out of Iowa, Ali (Christina Aguilera) is a wannabe singer-dancer looking for her big break in L.A. Wide-eyed, she stumbles into the Burlesque Lounge, a financially troubled club owned by Tess (Cher). Ali talks her way into a job, and eventually moves into the spotlight, bumping out bitchy lead dancer Nikki (Kristen Bell). When Ali finally gets the chance to belt out her own song (rather than lip-sync like the others), a star is born.

Aguilera acquits herself well enough, particularly compared to the woefully miscast Bell. Cher is also well-served — and is obviously well-preserved. Her Tess looks barely 10 years older than Aguilera’s Ali, despite the real-life 30-odd years’ difference between them. The drawback, though, is that her face can’t register emotion, which is especially problematic when she acts opposite the great Stanley Tucci, who gets some fun moments as Sean, Tess’s longtime friend and stage manager.

Burlesque is director Steve Antin’s first major feature, and he also wrote it. He fares better as a director than as a writer: Some of the dance sequences are fantastic, while others are merely fun punctuation marks that relieve the often terrible dialogue. The plot is formulaic and chock full of contrivances, but Antin does one thing that feels almost revelatory: Ali wants to be on stage, so she doesn’t just practice her dancing — she studies the history of burlesque. It’s a short scene, but she reads. Moments like this ground Ali’s ambition in reality, even if Burlesque never goes more than skin deep. —Andrea Warner

Friday, November 19, 2010

Arcade Fire

My online news story on Arcade Fire can be found at

Win Butler Sheds More Light on Arcade Fire's "Expiration Date"

Win Butler Sheds More Light on Arcade Fire's "Expiration Date"
By Andrea Warner

It's been a big year for Arcade Fire. The Suburbs, the band's third album, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in August, and lead singer Win Butler immediate freaked out the masses with his Spin magazine quote about "pop being a young man's game," saying he couldn't see doing this in another ten years. But as Butler recently explained to Exclaim!, people like to blow things out of proportion.

"People take stuff like that pretty out of context," he says. "I think what I mean is that I can't really see us doing exactly what we do indefinitely. Once you lose that connection to the songs, I don't think there's really any point to doing it exactly the same way."

The physicality of Arcade Fire's live shows have won them legions of adoring fans, but it's that very factor that Butler's alluding to.

"It's not like there's an expiration date on doing it, but it is like being an athlete," Butler explains. "People stop playing hockey at a certain age. You can't be getting punched in the face forever."

Now Butler's looking back at the year that's passed, though one foot's already planted in the future.

Butler admits, "2010's a big blur. When I'm writing the date on a cheque, I still have to always check the year. This next year, I'm really hoping we'll do a bunch of writing this winter and break up the touring cycle a little bit. For me, the greatest thrill in the world is the first time you play a new song and bringing a new song into the world. I'm really excited to get into that head space again.

"We're writing all the time. If I get a couple days off, we've been kind of taking little chunks of time off in between tours, and usually the first couple days I just sleep all day and it's kind of like this recovery period. Then by day three I'm like, 'Okay, I'm bored now. Let's play music.' It's nice to still be bored."

The Suburbs is out now on the band's own Sonovox records in Canada.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dan Mangan

My feature on Dan Mangan appears in this week's WE.

Dan Mangan: “I feel like I wrote 100 terrible songs before I wrote anything that was worth keeping around.”
Dan Mangan: “I feel like I wrote 100 terrible songs before I wrote anything that was worth keeping around.”
Credit: supplied

Dan in real life

By Andrea Warner

Dan Mangan knows plenty of people were blindsided by the critical acclaim and popularity of his second album, 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Suddenly, the 27-year-old Vancouver singer-songwriter was virtually inescapable, on radio and in print. But in reality, Mangan’s been toiling at his craft for 10 years — essentially, this city’s version of an overnight success story.

“I can see that to someone just hearing my name, [my success] would seem very sudden,” Mangan says with a laugh, over the phone from his Kitsilano home. “But it’s the same with anything. By the time there’s a really hip, successful restaurant that everyone knows about, it’s been there for six years, or by the time you’re a really great plumber with tons of referrals... you’ve been at it for six to eight years.”

Mangan’s comparisons are perfectly in keeping with his reputation for being confident yet humble, with a good-natured streak of self-deprecation. These qualities have also helped shape his sound and his storyteller lyrics, though Mangan admits that developing his own musical identity was a lengthy process. “It took me a long time to really figure out what my voice was and feel like myself inside of the songwriting and performing,” he says. “I think for the first number of years anyone is a musician, they just emulate their heroes... I feel like I wrote 100 terrible songs before I wrote anything that was worth keeping around.”

Following the break-up of his high school band, Mangan played around town for a few years before deciding the solo route was his best option. He laughingly refers to the experience of recording his 2003 demos as “a humbling process,” after which he embarked on six to eight months of touring, every year for almost five years. Often it was just him, his train pass, a guitar, and his luggage. “I did tours through Europe, the States, across Canada, even Australia — and, you know, just barely scraping by, going further and further into debt,” he says. “But I always had this blind optimism, this naive confidence that if I kept going, the ball would start rolling downhill as opposed to being pushed uphill.”

Mangan’s first glimpse of success was breaking even on his debut album, Postcards & Daydreaming. He then decided to go for broke, extending his line of credit to record Nice, Nice, Very Nice. The result? A string of sold-out dates, an extended tour, awards, and a coveted spot on the Polaris Prize shortlist. And after years of struggling alone, he’s now signed to Arts & Crafts, longtime home to Broken Social Scene, Feist, Stars, and other indie-rock giants. It’s a move that means he can continue to stay true to his roots.

“I grappled with the idea of moving to Toronto for ages and ages, and always thought that eventually I’d have to,” Mangan admits. “I know tons of musicians who have all, one by one, moved to Toronto or Montreal... [Signing] to Arts & Crafts, which is based in Toronto, was a big sigh of relief, like, ‘Okay, I don’t need to go anywhere.’ They’re on the ground fighting for me in Toronto, so I can just relax in my temperate, beautiful, lovely city that I adore to no end.”

The affection is mutual. Hometown support has helped Mangan from open-mic nights to this week’s two sold-out shows at the Vogue, and his long-held dream of performing at the Orpheum is poised to become reality. And, come December, he’s set to begin recording his third album. According to Mangan, moments like these feel simultaneously earned, phenomenal, and bewildering — just how Vancouver likes its “overnight” success stories.

Dan Mangan performs Nov. 11 & 13 at Vogue Theatre (918 Granville), 8pm. Sold out.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Due Date

My review of Due Date appears online at


Starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis
Directed by Todd Phillips

The road-trip movie has been done to death, and yet with the right ingredients, two people confined to a compact space and forced to work out their issues can be great entertainment. It’s territory director Todd Phillips has mined all too frequently, with varying results, and his latest addition to the canon lands with a thud somewhere between two of his previous efforts, The Hangover and Road Trip.

Peter (Robert Downey Jr.) and Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) are total opposites who, of course, are thrown together through a series of unbelievable and ridiculous circumstances. The former is a straight-laced, tightly wound architect trying to get home to California for the birth of his child. Ethan is a flaky pot-head actor headed to Hollywood to try to make it big, carrying his recently deceased father’s ashes in a coffee tin in one hand and his French bulldog, Sonny, in the other. They both end up on the U.S. government’s No-Fly List and are forced to travel cross-country together. Hijinks ensue, as does the push-pull between Peter and Ethan as they plant the seeds for the inevitable friendship that blooms out of cinematic conflict.

Part of what prevents Due Date from triumphing over its tired plot conventions is its main characters. From the outset, Peter and Ethan are both fairly annoying dicks, thus negating the surface differences between them that are supposed to be the primary joke. And while there are a few hilarious moments, there’s a mean-spirited undercurrent perpetuating Due Date’s humour that falls a bit flat.

The movie’s advantage, though, is the somewhat inspired pairing of Downey and Galifianakis. They have a believable tension that gives way to a few genuinely touching scenes in which you may find yourself overcome with the sensation of actual tears. It’s director Phillips’s one new trick here, and it’s a clever one that staves off Due Date’s early expiration. —AW

Thursday, November 4, 2010


My review of Megamind appears in this week's WE and online at



Starring Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey
Directed by Tom McGrath

Following in the spindly-legged footsteps of Steve Carrell’s evil Russian genius from Despicable Me (an unexpected summer blockbuster) comes Will Ferrell as the titular anti-hero of the delightfully clever Megamind.

Megamind is a blue, bulbous-headed alien sent to Earth as a baby after his home planet implodes. His path to evil is paved by circumstance: he lands in a “home for the criminally gifted” and is raised by prison inmates. Conversely, another baby boy simultaneously launched from space lands in a wealthy, loving home and becomes Metro Man (Brad Pitt), Megamind’s lifelong rival, a square-jawed superhero adored by the citizens of Metrocity.

After Megamind realizes his dream and defeats Metro Man, he faces an existential crisis: What’s his purpose? To break out of his depression, he hits on the idea of transforming a down-and-out regular citizen, Hal (Jonah Hill), into a new superhero foil for him to fight. Also reinvigorating our anti-hero is his budding love for TV reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey).

The plan, of course, backfires, and Megamind must assume the role of the hero when his creation goes from good guy to thug. Under the glossy, wickedly funny veneer of sight gags and jokes both low- and high-brow. Megamind fully embraces its deeper philosophical theme of nurture versus nature. There’s also a tremendous amount of heart packed into a dense 90 minutes. Artistically, the flick’s animation is expressive and lively wrought, while the well-executed 3D effects integrate seamlessly into the action.
If 2010 is any indication, a new sub-genre of animated film is putting conventional cartoon heroes on notice: the bad guys are in it to win it. —AW


My review of Howl appears in WE this week, and online at

James Franco (right) takes on the role of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the biopic, Howl.
James Franco (right) takes on the role of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the biopic, Howl.
Credit: Supplied


Starring James Franco, Jon Hamm
Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

By all accounts, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s life was like his writing: rebellious, funny, and incisive. Howl, the highly anticipated quasi-biopic about the controversy surrounding Ginsberg’s most famous book of poems, attempts to pay tribute to its subject’s legacy. Unfortunately, it just can’t get past the roadblock that is its star, James Franco.

The story unfolds in non-linear fashion, bouncing between four distinct eras in the poet’s life: his student days at Columbia University; his debut live performance of “Howl” in 1955; the 1957 obscenity trial for his first published collection, Howl and Other Poems; and as the subject of an interview later in his life (the bulk of which narrates the film).

Franco’s take on the elder Ginsberg is restrained and relatively believable, unlike the hammy exuberance that threatens to derail the scenes surrounding the poet’s debut performance. Here, Franco seems to be doing an impression of Ginsberg, and a bad one at that. It doesn’t help that large sections of the actor’s reading are illustrated with an extended animated sequence. Poetry’s purpose is to evoke images. Someone else’s literal, visual translation is unnecessary and annoying.

It’s telling that the film’s most dynamic and interesting moments — the obscenity trial — don’t feature Franco at all. Instead, Jon Hamm and David Strathairn go toe-to-toe as opposing council, fully exposing the ridiculous nature of such censorship hearings. There’s an extra jolt of fun seeing the host of high-profile actors, from Jeff Daniels to Mary-Louise Parker, in cameos as experts testifying for or against Howl’s literary merit.

Ginsberg’s life is rich with cinematic possibility, but writers-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman sacrifice their subject for camera tricks and art-house indulgence that never feel genuine. If Ginsberg’s Howl was about a generation crying out, this Howl is a strangled whimper. —Andrea Warner

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Death of arts equals the death of communities

My cover story for this week's WE tackles the double impact of arts funding cuts and city bureaucracy on communities and their public events.

Public Dreams Society’s Parade of Lost Souls is dying a slow death. Despite once drawing crowds of up to 30,000 costumed revellers, funding cuts mean organizers can only accommodate 1,500 participants this year.
Public Dreams Society’s Parade of Lost Souls is dying a slow death. Despite once drawing crowds of up to 30,000 costumed revellers, funding cuts mean organizers can only accommodate 1,500 participants this year.
Credit: Larissa Sayer

Buried Alive!

It’s been 14 months since the death knell first sounded. Arts organizations that had been promised three-year gaming grants found their funds frozen and money already guaranteed by the provincial government would be pulled back.

That was just the first hint that the sky was about to fall. Following the initial shockwave, the province then threatened to cut up to 90 per cent of its arts funding (that amount has since settled at around 50 per cent).

It’s been suggested that the death of arts equals the death of communities. If this proves true, Commercial Drive looks to become the first casualty.

Small organizations like Public Dreams Society (PDS) are experiencing the one-two punch of funding cuts and City bureaucracy around large-scale gatherings in public, outdoor spaces. The result: two of PDS’s biggest events — long-standing annual community tent poles of the Commercial Drive area — have either left the neighbourhood entirely (as is the case with Illuminares, the annual lantern festival that helped reinvigorate Trout Lake in the ‘90s, which was relocated inside W2 Storyeum last year) or, experienced massive downsizing, as with the once 30,000-strong Parade of Lost Souls.

It’s all been a slap in the face for PDS, an organization that has spent almost 25 years contributing to the Drive’s transformation into one of the city’s most desirable neighbourhoods.

“[2008’s Parade of Lost Souls] was incredible,” says Laura Grieco, PDS general manager. “They shut down Commercial Drive, there were DJs up and down the street, there was an incredible street party,” she recalls. For the first time, she says, it seemed just as many people were there to watch as they were to participate. But organizers didn’t get much of a chance to imagine how the Parade of Lost Souls could continue to evolve. In 2009, having experienced the first wave of provincial funding cuts, they received a further blow from the City, a combination that forced the cancellation of last year’s parade.

“We were to the point where we were advised by the City that if we were to do another event [of the size of 2008’s Parade of Lost Souls], the costs we’d be incurring for policing — they suggested that it would be comparable to what they would allocate to the [Celebration of Light]. So, that’s huge,” Grieco says.

Muriel Honey, manager of the Film & Special Events Office, denies that the City conveyed the costs would be comparable. “Any comparison between the Parade of Lost Souls and the Celebration of Light would have been made to illustrate the range of services required,” she says. “In no way are the costs of civic services the same for these two events.”

Indeed, the costs aren’t nearly the same. While PDS would be on the hook for its policing costs, the Celebration of Light is actually City-funded. (It’s one of only two annual City-funded events — the other being the Remembrance Day ceremony.) According to a 2001 City Council report, Tourism Vancouver made a compelling argument that the Celebration of Light (then called the Symphony of Fire) become a civic event, due to substantial economic and cultural benefits to the city. Council agreed to cover the City’s services costs, provided other sponsors cover the remainder.

Almost a decade later, the City is still footing their part of the bill, which includes reimbursing the Vancouver Police Department for its policing costs. According to financial statements released to WE from the VPD, the price of policing 2010’s Celebration of Light was $604,000. In 2009, the first year the Parade of Lost Souls was forced to cancel, it was $690,000. And in 2008, when the City was desperately trying to clamp down on embarrassments like public drunkeness, homophobic assaults, and stabbings, the tally was $719,000.

Those numbers are eerily similar to the amount spent on crowd control for the Granville Entertainment District. In fact, policing the chaos of Granville Street could conceivably be seen as a twice-weekly public event, since it involves street closures, large crowds, and a heavy police presence. The cost of policing the GED (referred to as year-round “Liquor Deployment” in the VPD reports) has risen from $552, 223 in 2006 to $723,946 in 2009.

Without the benefit of municipal subsidies, this year’s Parade of Lost Souls has been officially scrapped, much to the disappointment of fans who hoped the parade could pull through despite the odds. In its place, PDS has created the smaller-scale Secret Souls Walk. Rather than taking place outdoors in Grandview Park (which is currently under construction), the Britannia gym (maximum capacity 500) will serve as a family-friendly open house for crafting. Additionally, organizers have arranged guided and self-guided tours through different neighbourhood streets, the locations of which won’t be disclosed until the evening of the event (Saturday, Oct. 30). At most, PDS estimates it will be able to accommodate 1,000-1,500 people — a far cry from the 30,000 participants who attended the event two years ago.

According to Grieco, PDS lost $35,000 in gaming and arts council money. Through additional fundraising efforts they’ve raised some of that money back, but not nearly enough to fund the Parade of Lost Souls.

“This year’s budget is under $10,000,” Grieco says, estimating that the cost of a parade the size of 2008’s would be between $50,000 and $60,000. “It would be a lot easier for us to just move on and say we’re a victim of our own success. But we have so many people who are just such hardcore supporters and it’s so distinctive to Public Dreams and so distinctive to the city. There’s so much support for it. We thought, OK, we don’t have the money, but how can we not do this? We just have to make it smaller.”

NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, Opposition critic for tourism, culture, and the arts, spent years working with arts groups on community engagement and has seen firsthand what PDS events can offer the area.

“Art sparks dialogue, debate, discussion — all those things that make communities healthy,” he says. “If you chomp away at what little funds go towards those kinds of things, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people out of their homes, or out from in front of their TVs, to talk to their neighbours, to have a laugh together. Illuminares and Parade of Lost Souls... put the arts into the hands of everybody. It’s not top down, sit and hide in a darkened room and watch. You’re actually an art maker.”

Steve Duncan, a long-time resident of Commercial Drive and founder of The Drive Is Alive blog, is also concerned about his community’s future.

“It was a shame to see Parade of Lost Souls almost disappear last year,” he says. “That had a big impact and people certainly felt a hole. Now that it’s coming back and it’s not in the same capacity, I think people really are feeling it.”

Duncan himself moved to the Drive nine years ago because of the neighbourhood’s reputation as a burgeoning arts and culture hub — a reputation built partly on organizations like PDS using outdoor public space in inventive and interesting ways.

“I think that it becomes a little bit more like Yaletown or places like that where we don’t have as much happening outside,” he says. “We don’t have as many large community events. People get turned off by going [inside]. If the weather’s good, they want to stay outside, and Halloween’s kind of traditionally an outdoor activity. I think people will start to go other places and find other things to do.”

Approximately two weeks ago, the City and PDS met for a last-ditch planning meeting. The City offered to offset policing costs after the event ends at 9pm. Despite the offer, PDS still doesn’t have the budget to pay for the policing necessary for a circa-2008 parade.

“There’s the desire there on our part and on the City’s part to keep these events going, but it is really hard without the infrastructure,” Grieco says. “When you start having that eroded by government funding being cut, it puts you on that precipice where you go the safe route rather than the more risky route.”

Commercial Drive is not the only neighbourhood at risk of losing a beloved and iconic public event. Terry Hunter, artistic producer of the Downtown Eastside’s Heart of the City Festival, (Oct. 27-Nov. 7) has also taken a wait-and-see approach.

“We’re taking it one year at a time,” he says, trying to remain hopeful that the province and the City will recognize the necessity of investing in arts in order to build thriving communities.

“Art gives people a sense of meaning, engagement, and hope,” Hunter says. “It can give them a sense of empowerment. And, it increases the livability of a community.”

That is, perhaps, the most frustrating part for neighbourhood arts groups. No one seems to want to (or know how to) factor in the intrinsic value of events like Heart of the City, Illuminares, and Parade of Lost Souls when it comes to a neighbourhood’s ability to flourish or flounder.

“We’re not to be credited wholeheartedly,” Grieco says of neighbourhood arts groups. “It’s the community that came together and really reclaimed that space. But, real estate values go up and gentrification happens, and there’s good and bad aspects of that. These kind of cultural events add value to the neighbourhood, and I don’t know if across the board that value’s being recognized by key people. I’m not convinced that everybody’s getting that clear equation.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sweeney Todd

I highly recommend Fighting Chance Production's Sweeney Todd. My review's in this week's WE.

Alex McMorran and Cathy Wilmot strike a devil’s deal in Fighting Chance Productions’ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Alex McMorran and Cathy Wilmot strike a devil’s deal in Fighting Chance Productions’ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Credit: Supplied

Up-and-comer gets deliciously down and dirty

Since making its debut in January 2007, Fighting Chance Productions has evolved from fledgling musical-theatre company to youthful powerhouse, with memorable offerings like 2009’s Rent and a campy production of Forbidden Broadway. Now, just a few short months after mounting an acclaimed production of Hair, the little company that could makes a bold play for a spot among the theatre scene’s heavy hitters (Arts Club, Electric Company, Playhouse) — but on a fraction of the budget. With its production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, it has scored its greatest triumph yet.

A gruesome tale of injustice, revenge, and blood-soaked madness, the Stephen Sondheim musical revolves around Sweeney Todd (Alex McMorran), an escaped convict who returns to London 15 years after being wrongfully imprisoned by the lecherous Judge Turpin (Arne Larsen). Todd returns to his former home above Mrs. Lovett’s (Cathy Wilmot) pie shop, where the pie-maker reveals that Todd’s wife went mad, took poison, and left their child, Johanna (Krista Gibbard), to be raised as the judge’s ward. Mrs. Lovett soon agrees to help Todd exact revenge on the judge, encouraging him to reopen his barber shop, thus kick-starting a ravenous murder spree and an ingenious, if revolting, method of disposing of the bodies.

Meanwhile, Johanna, now 16 years old, is a caged bird, locked away from society in Turpin’s house. From her window she catches the eye of Anthony (Chris Harvey), a boy incidentally indebted to Todd for saving his life, and they fall in love, much to Turpin’s chagrin. The old judge decides to marry Johanna, sparking a plot by the teens to escape his clutches. When it fails, Joanna is sent to an asylum.
Todd helps Anthony break her out, and subsequently lures Turpin back to his shop for a bloody climax, wherein all of the characters collide — some dead, some alive — in Mrs. Lovett’s basement.

Fittingly, McMorran and Wilmot command the audience’s attention at every turn. McMorran’s Todd has a crazed glee in his eyes; a hulking, haunted step; and a voice that sends shivers up the spine, especially when he’s reunited with his razors (“My Friends”) or recounting the horror that befell him at the hands of the judge (“The Barber and His Wife”). Wilmot neatly shifts from hilarious to hopeful, sharing her delusions about a future with Todd (“By the Sea”), followed by a heartbreakingly empty promise to protect her young ward, Toby (“Not While I’m Around”).

In addition to their individual performances, the duo are mesmerizing when they share the stage together, particularly during the hilariously grotesque “God, That’s Good!” They also amp up the sexual tension between their characters, adding depth to the depravity of their shared bloodlust.
Even the insta-romance between Anthony and Johanna, usually Sweeney Todd’s weakest element, gets a new lease on life. Harvey and Gibbard infuse their characters’ longing with a profound sense of urgency, elevating songs like “Kiss Me” from saccharine to substantive. Gibbard, particularly, is a revelation, hitting Sondheim’s difficult-to-sing syncopated notes with assured confidence.

Director (and Fighting Chance founding artistic director) Ryan Mooney challenges himself yet again with a small stage and an overflowing cast. And yet he has full control over the proceedings: the music, the set pieces (sparse and effective), and the actors move together in perfect synchronization under his watchful eye. His Sweeney Todd is a masterful marriage of music, melodrama, and the macabre. This young gun is blazing. Able to achieve so much with so little, Fighting Chance should have the bigger, more established theatre companies looking over their shoulders in admiration, for now, and with a little trepidation in the years to come.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs to Oct. 30 at Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery), 8pm (Wed-Sat). 7:30pm (Tues). Tickets $20-$30 from

Zooey Deschanel

My interview with Zooey Deschenal, actress/musician and one-half of She & Him, is this week's WE cover story.

“A lot of times people will just assume the guys write the songs and the girls sing them,” says Zooey Deschanel about She & Him, her collaboration with singer-songwriter M. Ward. In fact, she writes the duo’s music.
“A lot of times people will just assume the guys write the songs and the girls sing them,” says Zooey Deschanel about She & Him, her collaboration with singer-songwriter M. Ward. In fact, she writes the duo’s music.
Credit: supplied

Zooey Deschanel takes control in her music

Her long dark hair, framing a pair of piercing blue eyes, has inspired the hipster-chic look of countless aspiring, awkwardly cute ingenues the world over. Her starring role in (500) Days of Summer can only be described — in part, at least — as a love letter to her innate adorableness. She’s married to indie-rocker Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and her parents named her after a J.D. Salinger character. She’s even the face of a U.S. ad campaign for cotton, for Christ’s sake. There need be no more evidence that Zooey Deschanel personifies “indie darling.”

And yet, there is. Deschanel — best known as an acclaimed actress with roles in Almost Famous, Elf, and Yes Man — is also one half of She & Him, the Americana-pop-folk duo she formed with singer-songwriter and guitarist M. Ward. The pair released their debut, Volume One, in 2008, garnering positive reviews and a sizeable audience for its mostly ’60s-inspired ditties about love and life. They’re now on tour supporting Volume Two, which was released in March of this year. And even though it’s two albums and almost three years later, Deschanel is still forced to correct people’s assumptions that Ward — who, in addition to recording under his own name, has been a part of indie-rock supergroup Monsters of Folk — writes She & Him’s songs. He doesn’t. This is Deschanel’s baby.

“People are confused because I don’t play on every song... but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t write them!” Deschanel laughs over the phone from her L.A. home. It’s a frustrated laugh, and she brings up the topic herself — evidence, perhaps, that this is a method of self-preservation.

“I guess I just have to take it as one of those weird things where I guess I’m flattered?” Deschanel jokes. “They think, ‘Wow, she couldn’t possibly have done this!’ I’ve talked to female friends of mine who are singers. A lot of times people will just assume the guys write the songs and the girls sing them — which, you know, Matt [Ward] produces the stuff and that’s a really important part of the process, and we’re all doing important things within the process, but I’m not just showing up and being a puppet. I am writing the music.

“And a lot of times people think I just write lyrics. I wouldn’t ever want to just write lyrics... I’m no Bob Dylan, you know what I mean? It’s not like [my] lyrics are amazing. It’s a whole package.”
Thanks to her lengthy acting career, Deschanel has built up a tough exterior that makes her capable of withstanding the cheap shots she’s required to take.

She claims she was nervous the first time she sent her music to Ward, but that she wasn’t really worried. “I thought the worst that could happen is that he doesn’t like them, and that’s not so terrible,” she says, matter-of-factly. When it’s suggested that plenty of other people might become wilting flowers when putting themselves and their music out into the world, Deschanel is firm in her conviction.

“If you’re going to be a creative person, you have to put yourself up for rejection a lot... You have to accept you’re not everybody’s cup of tea. And I think the more you work and the more output you give to the world and the more successful you are, the more people will hate you and the more people will love you. It’s very polarizing. Just being creative in general — people have strong opinions about you, and you can’t let that affect your view of yourself. You have to have confidence that’s unshakable at the core... but, you know, [you can’t be] so open that you just let it completely destroy you. It’s good to be a little tough.”

It’s that toughness, ultimately, that gives She & Him’s shiny, sincere sound enough substance to resonate with modern audiences. Deschanel’s lyrics have a hint of girl-power-style affirmation about them, a coy sense of humour that’s defiantly at odds with the innocence the songs’ melodies evoke.
The She & Him sound was largely influenced by Deschanel’s lifelong love of the Beach Boys. But her relationship to the classic American pop band goes beyond an affection for surfboards and brilliant harmonies — they were a lifeline to her native California throughout a childhood riddled with lengthy sojourns around the world, thanks to her father’s work as a cinematographer and director.

It’s telling that, though her music could have plenty of international influences, she ardently favours vintage Americana. “We’d listen to ‘Surfin’ USA’ just to hear — ’cause I’m from Pacific Palisades and it’s mentioned in the song. I was so homesick and we were so far away,” she recalls. “We didn’t have the Internet; it was the ’80s. There just wasn’t a lot of connection. We were in Yugoslavia and on this tropical island, and just places where there wasn’t even a hint... of the world we were from, just completely culturally the opposite. So, it was really important to me to just listen to this tape and hear the name of my hometown. I think to me, yeah, definitely travelling — more than it exposed me to other cultures, [it] made me realize how much I love where I’m from and how much I am distinctly Californian.”

Deschanel laughingly admits that she’s romanticized her home state to the point where nowhere else will do. But with one foot in Hollywood and one foot in the music world, there’s not much need for her to leave California. With the ongoing success of She & Him, and the self-chosen infrequency of her acting gigs, the inevitable question arises: Will the day come when music eclipses movies as top priority in her life?

“I’ve always been sort of a doer, you know? I just wanna do things. I don’t wanna sit around, I just want to do creative things,” Deschanel says. She talks for a few minutes about her love of movies — going to them and starring in them ­— but counters this by acknowledging that She & Him is a more satisfying creative experience. She likes the control she’s able to exert in the band, and working with a few trusted collaborators. She articulates her ambitions and restlessness, eventually winding her way to an answer that satisfies her. For now, at least.

“Doing movies, you’re compromising a lot,” she says. “Ultimately, an actor is meant to trust their director. Your job is to go on set and bring a perspective, but ultimately, the director’s the boss, and you have to be a real serious team player, which I can do, but it’s not my nature. If I had to choose, I’d probably choose writing music and performing music, because I’m doing all of it at once.”

She & Him play Sunday, Oct. 24 at the Orpheum Theatre (Seymour & Smithe), 6pm. Tickets $35 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, Red Cat, and Highlife.

Monday, October 18, 2010


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


Directed by Robert Schwentke
Starring Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren

A comic-book adaptation catering to the over-40 crowd might not sound cool, but this newest addition to the over-stuffed graphic-novel film genre succeeds where others have failed. A grown-up action flick, Red layers laughs between the flying bullets and fierce blows.

The movie’s title stands for “Retired, Extremely Dangerous,” a code used to label former black-ops agents like Frank (Bruce Willis). His retirement is pure tedium, interrupted only by the bashful phone conversations with Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), the bureaucrat who processes the government pension cheques he tears up every few weeks, so he has an excuse to call her. When Frank’s house is suddenly shot to splinters by masked gunmen, he goes on the lam, dragging the reluctant Sarah along in an effort to protect her.

Frank regroups with his former covert team to topple his perceived nemesis, CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban), and take down the bad guys. The motley crew features Marvin (John Malkovich), a lethal, rightfully paranoid basket-case who suffers from flashbacks thanks to daily doses of LSD he was given as part of a CIA experiment; Victoria (Helen Mirren), a beautiful reservoir of icy calm who can fire machine guns without blinking; Joe (Morgan Freeman), a sly horn-dog suffering from stage-four cancer; and Ivan (Brian Cox), a former Russian spy who still carries a torch for Victoria.

The story unfolds in predictable shoot-‘em-up fashion, but Red’s draw is its strong cast, all of whom have great fun playing (mostly) against type. (Mirren and a machine gun? Brilliant!) And though this is a comic-book adaptation, there are no superheroes here, just plenty of delightfully implausible action sequences, sharp humour, and the visceral thrill of seeing actors dig in to elevate Red from merely decent to dangerously fun. —Andrea Warner

The Fantasticks

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


The Fantasticks is the longest-running musical of all time. Staged Off Broadway for 42 years, from 1960 to 2002, it was revived in 2006 and continues on to this day. And yet, having finally seen this theatrical mainstay, in the form of Vancouver Playhouse’s season opener, the resounding question I’m left with is “Why?” Why has this trifling endeavour endured? Mediocrity, thy reward is ever-lasting life — at least on stage.

Loosely based on the Roman myth of Pyramus and Thisbe, the action centres around two supposedly star-crossed lovers. Luisa (Bree Greig) and Matt (Colin Sheen) are basking in the glow of what they think is forbidden love. In reality, their fathers, Hucklebee (Mark Burgess) and Bellomy (Andy Toth), have built a wall between their properties and staged a long-standing feud to coerce the pair into marriage (because teens can’t help but do the opposite of what they’re told).

As if these contrivances weren’t enough, the last step in the fathers’ plan is to facilitate a reconciliation between their families by employing dashing and devious Spaniard El Gallo (Steve Maddock) to fake-kidnap Luisa with his two hired guns, over-the-hill and over-the-top theatre actors Mortimer (Simon Bradbury) and Henry (Christopher Gaze). The hope is that Matt will fight for Luisa’s honour, thereby becoming her hero.

Despite the efforts of a worthy cast, the Playhouse’s production proves oddly lifeless and flat. The convoluted book and lyrics by Tom Jones don’t help the cause any, but a good part of the problem here is the odd staging. Most of the action is confined to a 10-by-10-foot raised space in front of a background littered with fascinating props (like a merry-go-round horse) that have absolutely no context. But the worst aspect — at least from my seat in tenth row, stage left — was poor lighting that left the actors in shadows no matter where they stood.

The production’s one bright spot is Gaze, whose hammy thespian character literally demands the spotlight every time he appears onstage. In addition to being well-lit, he steals every scene, and his scenery-chewing as a slightly loopy, aging Shakespearean actor earns the biggest laughs (the in-joke here being that Gaze is the founding artistic director of Bard on the Beach). The rest of the performances fail to stir much in the way of response, but that’s not necessarily the fault of the actors. The show’s lengthy Off Broadway success isn’t indicative of its musical superiority — rather the opposite. The Fantasticks is the theatrical equivalent of a Twinkie: Just because you can still eat it after five decades, that doesn’t mean you should.

The Fantasticks runs to Oct. 23 at Playhouse Theatre (Hamilton at Dunsmuir), 8pm. Matinees: Wed & Sat, 2pm. $32-$59 from 604-873-3311 and

Greece Does Grease

My review of Greece Does Grease appears in this week's WE.

Cass King (left) and Melody Mangler (right) sing and strip in the burlesque mash-up, Greece Does Grease.
Cass King (left) and Melody Mangler (right) sing and strip in the burlesque mash-up, Greece Does Grease.
Credit: Supplied


The Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society has played a huge part in establishing Vancouver’s thriving burlesque scene. With its latest show, Greece Does Grease, company founder and artistic director Melody Mangler conceived of and then achieved the seemingly impossible: a mostly successful marriage of Ancient Greek mythology and the music of stage-to-screen musical Grease and its sad-sack cinematic sequel, Grease 2.

There are no T-Birds but plenty of togas in this burlesque parody. The story mostly focuses on Persephone (Miss Fitt), the doted-on virgin daughter of Demeter (Cass King, of the musical duo the Wet Spots) and Zeus (Bernie Bombay), who falls for bad-boy Hades (Basil).

Of course, liberties are taken with the ancient texts (Persephone was actually kidnapped by Hades back in the day), and the all-too-familiar songs have been loosely rewritten to suit the onstage shenanigans. It’s fun, however, to hear Grease’s campy ’50s-style classics reformatted and juxtaposed against such overtly sexual content. Bombay, who gets huge laughs with his portrayal of Zeus as an unrepentant pervert, has great energy in his ode to narcissism, “Greek Lightning.” Mangler, as bad-girl Hecate, cranks up the heat to seduce Demeter in the sexy girl-on-girl number, “There Are Bad Things You Can Do.” But it’s King, as a heartbroken mother at the end of her rope, who steals the show with her phenomenal solo, “Hopelessly Devoted to Genocide.” Infused with pain, longing, and heart, it’s the highlight of the evening.

The production, though original and creative, isn’t without its flaws. The humour careens unevenly from ridiculous to erotic, with the provocative occasionally derailing into the juvenile. The story is often stuck in exposition where a song would better bring the audience up to speed. And some technical snafus still need attention, particularly the microphones, which amplify the sound to almost skull-splitting levels whenever there’s a confrontation or a chorus of nymphs (pretty much every five to 10 minutes). But Greece Does Grease is never short on enthusiasm, triple-threat skills, or skin — a trifecta few other stage productions dare attempt, much less attain.

Greece Does Grease runs to Oct. 16 at Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright, Granville Island), 8:15pm. $23-$30 from

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Park

I really loved Studio 58's The Park, and I think you will, too.

Over-earnest environmentalists fight off unscrupulous politicos and developers in Studio 58’s original musical, The Park.
Over-earnest environmentalists fight off unscrupulous politicos and developers in Studio 58’s original musical, The Park.
Credit: submitted

Studio 58 pokes fun at Vancouver’s foibles

Writing a fully realized two-act musical in college takes hubris. Writing one that’s as winning and entertaining as The Park takes talent. The versatile young minds at Langara College’s Studio 58 have both.

Written by Benjamin Elliot, Anton Lipovetsky, and Hannah Johnson — all either students or recent graduates — The Park’s first incarnation was as part of last year’s STEW, Studio 58’s performance series of one-acts. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, so the trio went back to work, fleshing out what is ultimately the quintessential love letter to Vancouver, albeit one that wholly recognizes and pokes fun at the city’s quirky characters and archetypes.

John (Joel Ballard) is a disgruntled parks worker who gets a pink slip after six thankless years on the job. In a moment of self-indulgent fury, he lets slimy millionaire Gabe (Dustin Freeland) talk him into signing a petition to turn Stanley Park into Stan Park, a concrete parking lot. But John’s also secretly in love with Geena (Amy Hall-Cummings), a fiercely aggressive environmental activist, and vows to help her with her own petition to stop the destruction of the park.

The three leads display versatility, good comic timing, and varying degrees of vocal prowess. Freeland’s a gifted scene stealer, but Ballard’s performance is quietly appealing. And the supporting cast has plenty of opportunity to step briefly and repeatedly into the spotlight. Although each has moments worth mentioning, Kendall Wright, who plays park supervisor Patricia, deserves singling out. On paper, Patricia is annoying, hyper-sexualized, and supremely melodramatic. Wright takes those qualities and skillfully ratchets them so far over the top that she somehow moves the character from grating to ingratiating.

The songs are clever, paying tribute to everything from Sondheim to AM ’70s gold. Opening number “Springtime Happening” is well-executed, kicking things off neatly, efficiently, and most importantly, entertainingly. The characters are briefly introduced, we get a sense of what’s to come, and the song lets us in on the tone of the ensuing two hours: humour mixed with hope. “Chicken Waltz” is hilariously violent but sweet, a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of the crazy things we do for love, while “A to the Q to the Warium,” which features the juice-worshipping Vancouver “President,” is a great send-up of the city’s culture. Throughout, The Park’s style of gentle self-mockery proves endearing. The writers may make fun of their characters (and Vancouverites in general), but they never diminish them.

David Hudgens’s direction is lively and inventive, perfectly in keeping with Kayla Dunbar’s frisky but- fun choreography. The backing band, which includes Elliot, Lipovetsky, and drummer Spencer Shoening from local indie-rock band Said the Whale, keeps the momentum going. Taken together, the winning elements of The Park signal that a revolution is going on behind the classroom doors. Not content to merely produce the future faces of Vancouver theatre, by creating this homegrown musical and achieving a tricky balance of humour, heart, and social commentary, Studio 58 proves they are Vancouver theatre.

The Park runs to Oct. 17 at Studio 58 (100 W. 49th Ave.), 8pm. Tickets $10-$22 from 604-684-2787 and

The Salteens

My interview with the Salteens' Scott Walker.

Scott Walker (front) has resurrected his long-absent band, the Salteens, with more than double the members but without any guitars.
Scott Walker (front) has resurrected his long-absent band, the Salteens, with more than double the members but without any guitars.
Credit: Submitted

The Salteens scratch their seven-year itch

Seven years is a long time between albums. To wit: Not only did Facebook not exist when the Salteens, the Vancouver-based indie-pop group led by singer-songwriter Scott Walker, released its second album, 2003’s Let Go of Your Bad Days, neither did MySpace.

So, where did Walker & co. go? And how did they morph from a relatively traditional guitar-driven pop-rock band to the 10-piece chamber-pop collective that made the Salteens’ long-awaited third album, Grey Eyes?

I have a very soft spot for the Salteens — as, I’m sure, do many Vancouverites who are in their early thirties — so I’m happy you’re back.
Scott Walker: We talked about how... this record is so different, maybe it should have been a new band. Especially because we’re not teenagers — we never were — so the name’s getting sillier and sillier. But there’s still something about the aesthetic of what we’re doing, the group of people; we’re the same group of friends, still... It also seemed like the albums were natural progressions. The first album [2000’s Short-Term Memories] was more of A Hard Day’s Night — wait, I’m not going into a Beatles reference; that’s no good. (Laughs) The first record was very guitar-driven, and the second record we tried to incorporate more instruments, and this record it’s just all instruments — there are no guitars. We started the band as a bunch of music nerds trying to figure out how to play rock ’n’ roll, and maybe the less we play rock ’n’ roll, the better we’re getting.

What went on between the last album and this new one?
There was just a lot of growing up; a lot of the real-life things that happen take away from the time and energy you might have to be working on the things you might have been working on. We actually almost finished an entire album in that time span, but — ugh! — I just hit a writer’s block. The lyrics weren’t really all there, and the record just wasn’t coming together. And I’m kind of glad it all fell apart to some degree, because then we had to put it all back together.

Do you feel that this album is an accurate document of what was going on in the interim [during which Walker’s father died and his mother’s health declined due to Alzheimer’s]?
Yeah. I think lyrically it’s much more black-and-white. I used to be really obsessed with the grey area of relationships, constantly looking at two points of view and how do you know what’s right and what’s wrong... The band’s always been some kind of affirmation of trying to make life more interesting, or trying to do things that are more exciting or have more meaning, and that’s come under attack to some degree in my personal life. So, questioning myself and reasserting my position’s been an important thing for me.

Did you think at any point that you were done with music?
Yeah. It’s funny how you work a day job and you get home and you’re like, “Well, I could go out and make music or I could watch TV.” Now I know why people watch TV — they work all day and they’re tired, and it’s really easy to not try harder. But, ultimately, I realized that for those brief moments I was playing music, I was happier than when I was doing anything else, so that has to be there still.

Seven years is a long time and there have been some huge changes, be it in social media or technology or Canada’s place in the music industry.
I think any changes in technology, the music industry’s inherently closer to [them]. I don’t think they’re shocking or disarming. Bands and porn probably do more for how the Internet changes than anything else — and maybe people who make crafts at home.

The Salteens play Saturday, Oct. 9 at Biltmore Cabaret (395 Kingsway), 8pm. Tickets $10 from Ticketweb, Zulu, and Red Cat.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Still Here

My review of I'm Still Here is in this week's WE.


Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs
Directed by Casey Affleck

The cat came out of the bag two days prior to I’m Still Here’s Vancouver press screening. Confirming what many suspected after his infamous Late Night with David Letterman appearance two years ago, Joaquin Phoenix’s descent from respected actor to drug-addled wannabe rapper was all a hoax, captured on film by fellow actor (and brother-in-law) Casey Affleck and packaged as a faux-documentary that’s short on charm and long on self-indulgent wankery.

The mockumentary’s opening hints at its potential for clever social commentary: Phoenix making the press rounds, reminding the audience that famous people aren’t just making entertainment or art, but are subject to the relentless monotony of self-promotion. What unfolds from there is two hours of Phoenix fake-pontificating about the meaninglessness of everything (grand, sweeping, incoherent statements are Phoenix’s specialty here), spewing verbal abuse at his “friends,” snorting drugs, cavorting with prostitutes, and waxing fondly about “women’s butt holes.” The film’s central plot, with Phoenix desperately trying to get his terrible rap music heard by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, is sort of amusing thanks to Combs’s performance. (Was he in on it, too? Probably. His bewildered reactions feel genuine, though.)

At best, I’m Still Here is high-octane performance art fueled by ego and self-importance that exposes society’s obsession with unravelling the celebrities we create. At worst, it’s a costly two-year in-joke that derails Phoenix and Affleck’s careers and personal lives, making the movie a mind-numbing, oh-so-meta circle of a self-fulfilling prophecy. —Andrea Warner

Let Me In

My review of Let Me In is in this week's WE.


Starring Kodi Smitt-McPhee, Chloe Moretz
Directed by Matt Reeves

The titular difference between the exquisite 2008 Swedish film, Let the Right One In, and its American remake, Let Me In, is subtle but telling. Where the original tapped into the cruel beauty of vampires as metaphor for the everyday horrors of growing up, writer-director Matt Reeves’s version is Hollywood lite: metaphor-free and bereft of pesky nuance.

On the bright side, Let Me In couldn’t have better source material, which automatically elevates it well above most other unnecessary remakes. It also boasts performances by two powerful preteen leads. Owen (Kodi Smitt-McPhee) is a lonely 12-year-old kid ignored by his parents and bullied at school. When Abby (Kick-Ass’s Chloe Moretz) moves in next door, he thinks maybe he’s finally found a friend — even though she confesses she’s been 12 for “a very long time.” As their relationship progresses through a series of sweetly twee scenes — like their nightly ritual of communicating through their shared bedroom walls using Morse code — a string of unsolved murders leads straight to Abby’s door, and Owen’s bullies escalate their attacks, leading to a bloody climax.

The film starts strong thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser, whose opening scenes are among the most creatively filmed in recent years, and Michael Giacchino’s score is reminiscent of the brilliant tension Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind crafted for horror classic The Shining. There are good things in Let Me In, but fans of the original will resent Reeves’s decision to forsake storytelling in favour of amping up the gore, thereby diluting — but not extinguishing — the film’s power. —Andrea Warner.

Grant Lawrence

My interview with Grant Lawrence, about his debut book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound, is in this week's WE.

Rocker and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence has added writer to his resume with his first book, Adventures in Solitude.
Rocker and CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence has added writer to his resume with his first book, Adventures in Solitude.
Credit: Submitted

Finding the Humour in Desolation Sound

Grant Lawrence threw up a lot as a kid. This is one of the first things you learn about the long-time CBC Radio 3 host and former lead singer of defunct Vancouver-based indie-rock band the Smugglers in his debut book, Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound. The no-holds-barred memoir details Lawrence’s love-hate relationship with the titular enclave, a wild, secluded area of the Sunshine Coast where his family has spent their summers since his youth. Sitting in the sun at a picnic table in CBC Plaza, Lawrence spoke with WE about his first foray into writing.

WE: I’m a born-and-bred Vancouverite, yet your book is the first insight I’ve ever had into Desolation Sound.

Lawrence: That’s the weird thing about Desolation Sound. Very few people know anything about it, and its name is verboten! People don’t necessarily seek it out. There’s Clayoquot Sound or Nootka Sound or Howe Sound, and then there’s Desolation Sound. It sounds a bit frightening, and as you read in the book, there are frightening elements to it... It’s a bipolar place, which is fitting since it was never diagnosed, but it was possible that Captain Vancouver was bipolar, and a lot of the people up there are kind of bipolar. I swear, it’s like the island in Lost. (laughs)

So, the world’s possibly mentally compromised congregate there and find a home.

Yes, but to varying degrees of success. It could end in fiery suicide or years of summertime bliss.

Have you always written?

No, this is a new adventure. I’ve always wanted to be in the entertainment business, so I was in a band for a long time, and I do the radio thing. I always hoped I’d write a book someday, but I didn’t know what about or when I’d have the time. This one just kinda came out. It was part of the rediscovery of the place when I went back and thought, ‘How could I have ever hated this place? It’s really quite special.’ And once I started going up frequently as an adult, I realized that — I mean, there are characters everywhere in life, but the characters up there were so vibrant and on the edge on so many different levels, mentally and physically. I found all these stories on how everybody got to Desolation Sound, this bottleneck for those looking to escape or start over. I found all of that fascinating, and I just started writing.

That’s a good point about people looking to start fresh. Obviously, they have some pretty great stories to tell.

Yeah, and there’s kind of an outlaw vibe there; there is literally no authority. Every once in a while, a park ranger will come by because it’s a large marine park, the largest on the West Coast of Canada... Maybe once in a blue moon there’ll be a police officer down by the dock, the government wharf, but almost never. It’s interesting up there, where it’s kind of like ‘anything goes,’ and it’s a little bit Lord of the Flies, where there’s a tentative balance and everyone sort of has to behave and live by the rhythm of nature and not mess with each other’s shit.

Are you afraid of getting feedback from people whose stories you put down on paper?

A little bit. This is a fairly private place. I learned a lot about the words “truth” and “legend” and “myth” writing this book. There’s lots of history in the book as well, and I did tireless research. But when it came to writing anecdotes, whether it was the First Nations or just the local scallywag, everybody had a different version of what really happened. So, at a certain point, it just had to be — well, it’s my memoir, my memory. I guess I’m just picking the best version. There are some stories where I changed some elements, because this is an area I hold close to my heart, and as an artist I felt the need to profess my love for it. But I would hate that it [could have] any negative effect on anyone.

A release party for Adventures In Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound happens Thursday, Oct. 7 at the Museum of Vancouver (1100 Chestnut), 7pm. This free event features performances by singer-songwriter Jill Barber (Lawrence’s wife) and indie-rock band Said the Whale.