Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parlour Steps and OCW relaunch

My feature on Parlour Steps is in this week's WE.

By the book:  “Thought rock” practitioners Parlour Steps show off their cerebral side.

By the book: “Thought rock” practitioners Parlour Steps show off their cerebral side.

Credit: supplied

Parlour Steps move up to the next level

A few weeks ago, music-merchandise website released a survey confirming the worst-kept secret in music: Less than five per cent of independent musicians earn a living from their craft. Vancouver indie-rock group Parlour Steps is familiar with this reality. But finally, after five years, the quintet seems to be breaking out in a bigger way. Singer-songwriter Caleb Stull spoke with WE about Parlour Steps’ busy summer, which includes headlining local literary arts magazine OCW’s (formerly One Cool Word) relaunch party, winning a spot in the top 20 of the Peak Performance Project band competition, and scoring a coveted slot at Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival.

You once described the band as “thought rock.” Does that still apply?
Stull: It’s funny how we evolved with that one. I still write from a thoughtful, somewhat cerebral place, but I would venture to say our music is becoming less so. The grooves we try and incorporate — the dance numbers and ass-shakers — speak more to a love of moving the body and less to the intellect.

What’s the reality — both good and bad — of being an indie band in Vancouver?
Most of the good is everything that doesn’t have to do with the industry — namely, living in a clean, beautiful, mostly safe and healthy place, and having that inform the music. Also, this city has produced some amazing music; it’s been so inspiring to witness some of our hometown contemporaries getting some wider attention. The challenges are numerous, however. Geographical reality makes playing other, larger markets expensive and travel-intensive. Plus, our scene, through no fault of those in it, is lacking something... I know it’s a tiresome default to compare ourselves to other cities, but I always come home from Montreal, Toronto or Portland, say, and feel like there’s so much more we could be doing here.

What does being in the Peak Performance Project’s Top 20 means for the band?
Well, besides a chance at some very helpful dollars, it presents an unprecedented opportunity to cultivate one of the ingredients we may be missing here, as mentioned above, in creating community. There’ll be a lot of collaboration, plus some great cross-pollination of ideas and new ways of approaching this rapidly mutating industry... Along the way, we’ll learn a few things, make some videos, and rock the hell out!

You just filmed a music video on July 17, on the corner of Hemlock and West 8th, for “Sleeping City.” How’d it go?
The video shoot was a whirlwind — a sheer blast of creative, DIY craziness. We did it all guerrilla style, sometimes taking over an entire street to get a shot. We spend most of the video on bicycles, so traffic was an issue. We had to stop it sometimes to get our shot. We had no safety cones or vests or any sort of authority. We just got in the way of the cars, filmed a scene, and then left.

You’re playing the OCW re-launch. What motivated you to be a part of that event?
I like reading and writing a lot, and want to support any efforts on the part of younger, less mainstream, more risk-taking publishers to establish some sort of alternative literary scene here. I think the challenges in publishing in Vancouver parallel the music world in many respects.

Parlour Steps headlines the OCW relaunch party Friday, July 23, at the Rickshaw Theatre, 7:30pm. Tickets $15 (includes a subscription to OCW) from

Scott Pilgrim music news: Edgar Wright, Bryan Lee O'Malley, and Kevin Drew

My story appeared on yesterday!

Bryan Lee O'Malley, Edgar Wright and Kevin Drew Talk the Music of Scott Pilgrim
7/21/2010 By Andrea Warner

Comic book fans and music geeks, get ready to unite. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits theatres August 13, and we have a little under two weeks before we can snuggle up to the soundtrack, coming out August 10.

As previously reported, the compilation is a kick-ass assembly of specially penned songs for the film courtesy of such artists as Beck and Broken Social Scene, as well as previously released indie pop and rock songs, many of which appeared on mixtapes exchanged between Scott Pilgrim author Bryan Lee O'Malley and director Edgar Wright during their collaboration for the film.

When it came time to create the music for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Wright hired Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich as music supervisor. Godrich then recruited Beck, who wrote the music for Scott Pilgrim's band, Sex Bob-omb, while Wright tapped Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning to write the music for rival band Crash and the Boys.

"Someone arranged for Edgar and I to go have dinner, and we kind of went on this blind date,” Drew laughs in a recent Exclaim! interview. “Obviously I knew his films and told me about what he was doing with Scott Pilgrim and I wasn’t very familar with the books, but my brother was very much into graphic novels. Edgar said, ‘We’re looking for music and we hear that you’re Toronto,’ and he sent me all the books and that was how it started.”

BSS signed on, but had precious little time to create an impression, since Crash and the Boys’ signature songs are short bursts of violent, ironic punk. The longest song is under 50 seconds. Perhaps this is why Drew insisted that the actor who played Crash in the movie, Erik Knudsen, record the vocals.

“Because the songs were so quick and punk and fast, I knew he didn’t need to be a singer to pull this off,” Drew says. “It had to be the character’s voice. Eric was such a sweet kid and I called up Edgar and was like, ‘I’m just going to get this guy to come in, because spontaneity’s the whole point behind Crash and the Boys and what we were doing.’ We had 47 seconds. We didn’t have a lot of time!”

As Drew explains, he and Canning also ended up infusing a bit of Toronto into the film's second soundtrack, featuring Godrich's instrumental arrangements, which will be released as an iTunes exclusive, the same day as the song soundtrack.

"They were using stuff from [our album] Feel Good Lost, and Nigel wrote an email to us saying, 'Look, I'm writing the music right now, people are coming in and out, there's a whole bunch of Social Scene, so why don't you just come down? Why am I trying to get your vibe? Just come down,'" Drew says. "So we went for week and just jammed and it was amazing."

Like with Broken Social Scene, Beck’s Sex Bob-omb songs find him unleashing a pent-up garage punk sound that's like a vacation from his usual fare.

“I think it goes back to some of his earlier, more punky garage stuff,” Wright tells Exclaim! “He’d seen the books and the artwork and knew what Sex Bob-omb were supposed to be like. Here’s one of the things that inspired Beck: [in the book], Sex Bob-omb have a drum riser that says ‘the Archies,’ so Beck’s idea was, 'what would the rock version of the Archies be?' So they’re very much in that raw-sounding and rough-sounding garage bubblegum mode. Beck just wrote all of his songs in 72 hours.”

The most classic-sounding Beck song in the film is beautiful ode “Ramona,” which appears twice on the soundtrack, with Beck performing an acoustic version and a full orchestral version as well.

“I’m pretty sure the ‘Ramona’ acoustic track was not just the first take, but him singing it improv,” Wright laughs. “It’s definitely the demo track on the album, it just sounded so beautiful.”

O’Malley adds, “Neither Edgar nor I knew that he added words until we heard the soundtrack. It was amazing. Like, 'wow, he added lyrics.'”

As for the soundtrack’s selection of previously released tunes, Wright tells Exclaim!, "With the exception of Plumtree and Beachwood Sparks, which I had no knowledge of before Bryan gave them to me, four of the tracks are what I call 'crossover' tracks: ones that Bryan had on his list that I happened to be a huge fan of those songs. The Bluetones, who, completely separately from Bryan liking them, I happened to do two music videos for about ten years ago. And Frank Black; I was obsessed with the song 'I Heard Ramona Sing' back in art college. I absolutely loved that song. Then I saw that he had 'Under My Thumb' on his playlist, which happens to be my favourite Stones song; there was just a lot of great overlap.

“Some of the other tracks there are my picks, like the T. Rex track ['Teenage Dream'], but a lot of it is just the overlap between the two of us. Both of us are fans of the Black Lips and the Broken Social Scene song ['Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl'], obviously. The Blood Red Shoes song ['It's Getting Boring by the Sea'] was one I had sent to Bryan that reminded me of the books, in a way."

According to O'Malley, "I had more [influence] than I expected. The songs from my original mixtape just stuck in his brain, and I was really happy about that. I was never sure if my songs would make it in... Plumtree especially. It was an ongoing... well, I wouldn't say struggle, but I always wanted them on the soundtrack and I was never really sure that was going to happen, but Edgar wanted it too. I wasn't sure at first because he's kind of inscrutable, but it's really gratifying to have it there."

The Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack is due out August 10 via ABKCO. A deluxe version is due out on September 7 and will feature a selection of bonus material.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

My review of The Sorcerer's Apprentice is in this week's WE.


Starring Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel
Directed by Jon Turtletaub

Director Jon Turtletaub, über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and actor Nicolas Cage kicked off a blockbuster franchise with National Treasure, inspiring kids to seek anthropological action and adventure by playing fast and loose with history. The trio offer another unruly education, this time in history and science, with the occasionally magical Disney fantasy, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Cage plays Balthazar, one of legendary sorcerer Merlin’s three apprentices. He’s tasked with finding Merlin’s eventual heir, who will help defeat the evil sorceress Morgana, herself trapped in a Russian nesting doll inside the body of Balthazar’s love, Veronica. After roughly 1,300 years, and two tries, 20-year-old Dave (a reliably charming Jay Baruchel) proves to be Merlin’s successor and the only one capable of defeating Morgana. Of course, a few things stand in the way: Horvath (Alfred Molina), Merlin’s evil third apprentice, and Becky (Teresa Palmer) the blond bombshell distracting Dave from his magic training.

Sorcerer Cage and apprentice Baruchel have nice chemistry, riffing off each other with funny line deliveries and jolting physical comedy chops, but everything is strangely safe. Turtletaub shies away from letting his actors really go for it. In Balthazar, Cage could have created a character that rivaled Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. Instead, we get a 1,000-year-old wizard with a penchant for long, leather coats wearing a wig that resembles the unfortunate coif of Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger.

Many of the action sequences are fantastic, from a beautifully choreographed Chinese street festival where a dancing dragon transforms into a real dragon, to an array of magical tricks that prove genuinely thrilling (the so-called “mirror world,” though briefly seen, is brilliant). But the action stalls and starts with all the finesse of a birthday party magician. Turtletaub achieves some elements of wonder and wow, but his Apprentice never quite proves spellbinding. —Andrea Warner

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sarah Harmer

My interview with Sarah Harmer is this week's cover story for WE. She's a great incentive to check out the folk fest if you can.

Sarah Harmer may look cool and casual, but admits she feels out of practice after taking a break from performing to fight for the environment.

Sarah Harmer may look cool and casual, but admits she feels out of practice after taking a break from performing to fight for the environment.

Credit: Supplied

Sarah Harmer all ‘Fired’ up with edgier sound

Sarah Harmer arrives at Universal Music’s Vancouver office carrying a backpack and wearing a tired smile. She’s doing press for her fifth record, Oh Little Fire, and also her upcoming slot as one of the headliners at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 16-18). Harmer’s just come from an interview where someone asked her what kind of car she would be. Politely bemused, the avowed environmentalist guessed she’d be a Prius. In many ways, it’s been a long afternoon.

But the break between records for Harmer has been even longer. The singer-songwriter’s last album, 2005’s I’m a Mountain, marked her first foray into acoustic alt-country. It was a notable departure from the pop-driven indie-folk sound she’d cultivated so beautifully on her 2000 breakthrough debut, You Were Here, and the 2004 follow up, All of Our Names, both of which showcased her distinctive blend of thoughtful lyrics, layered guitars, and catchy melodies.

With Oh Little Fire, Harmer’s made some notable upgrades to her signature sound, including more adventurous production elements, indie folk-rocker Julie Doiron on backing vocals, and a star-powered duet with her pal Neko Case.

“[You Were Here] definitely felt like kind of a new mat I was rolling out in way,” Harmer laughs, tucking one leg under her and settling into the conference room couch. “I feel the same about this album. Maybe it’s just because it’s another new decade and I put out You Were Here in 2000. They both were made in kind of shitty warehouses spaces in Toronto with friends — there’s a real similarity.”

And, like her debut, Harmer also took her sweet time in getting the ball rolling. She cheerfully calls herself “lazy” when asked why she took five years to make Oh Little Fire. Truthfully, she admits she was a little burnt out and there were bigger issues calling her name.

“The last real show I did was in England and it was 29 shows in 31 days and it almost killed me!” she says, recalling the impetus for her self-imposed seclusion. On that tour she was also reading a book about climate change, George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, which made her reflect on her own carbon footprint as an entertainer.

“I just started to want to focus locally,” Harmer says. And she did, helping co-found the citizen’s environmental group Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL), in an effort to stop development on the Niagara Escarpment, which abuts Harmer’s backyard in Burlington, Ontario. Currently, PERL is fighting a company that wants to dig a quarry along a stretch of the 700-kilometre-long, cliff-like range, a home to fragile provincial wetlands and forest.

She’s been able to bring some celebrity power to the fight: Case called Harmer last year to see if she could help bring attention to PERL’s cause. The solo singer-songwriter and sometime member of Vancouver indie-rock band New Pornographers made the trek out to Burlington’s town hall for a fundraising concert. But, even with some high-profile names and lots of attention, the battle continues to be an uphill one. Though every level of local government has rejected the company’s attempts to excavate its new quarry, a final court decision is on hold until October.

Harmer sighs heavily about this latest development, but she’s not depressed.

“Ultimately, it’s really made a lot of people realize what can happen when you collectively come together,” Harmer says. “B.C. knows about this. There have been lots of examples here with logging and other community achievements. It enriches your whole life just to know [nature’s] there. People get kind of tiring after awhile. No offense,” she adds quickly, laughing.

Harmer’s recent trip to help friends Jim Guthrie and Brian Webb of indie rockers Constantines record a soundtrack in Haida Gwaii (part of a short film series for the Discovery Network) has reaffirmed for her the connection between nature and creativity.

“It’s amazing,” Harmer says. “I didn’t know what I was in for. It’s tricky because we did a lot of instrumental stuff. We were kind of recording on the fly, like on beaches and on a boat at one point. It’s hard sometimes to put words that reflect what you’re seeing without imposing something upon that that seems foreign, you know? And just poetic enough and open enough that the wind can blow through the words a little bit.”

That experience was markedly different than how Harmer ended up writing Oh Little Fire.

“It’s mostly about pain and heartbreak,” she laughs. “Yeah, that really hurt. My experiences — or, I should say, the experiences — there’s nothing in the record about me at all of course, it’s more human interactions...” She trails off a little ruefully, unwilling to say more about the actual writing process.

She’s full of praise, though, for producer Gavin Brown, a longtime friend who’s worked with a spectrum of Canadian indie bands from Metric to Billy Talent. She credits Brown for pushing her out of her comfort zone, adding unusual twists and turns in the studio to increase the album’s rock quotient.

“Gavin’s got a frenetic energy and is super decisive,” Harmer says. “He gets really worked up and makes decisions quickly and I’m a little bit more, ‘Yeah, that could work... Uhhh, I don’t know, let me think about it.’ Not having a boss on your ass to do things made me lethargic. I’m too ponderous.”

On Fire’s opening track, “The Thief,” Brown built the song’s dark mood by barking orders at Harmer and Doiron to layer every possible harmony imaginable. He then brought in an actual Soviet-issue tape delay to record multiple tracks, which adds a distinctively heavier backing beat throughout.

“He’d be like, ‘Yeah, Sonic Youth, watch out!’” Harmer recalls. The album’s biggest surprise might be the torch-burner quality on “New Loneliness,” which Harmer originally anticipated as sounding “natural, but eerie. It got spookier as we recorded it, but I love all the weird sounds coming out of it, like this kind of electric bog. The sentiment of the song has so many natural references and it’s kind of dry in some ways, it’s probably good that we made it a little weird. It’s referencing dragonflies and white-tailed deer, so it’s good we edged it up a bit.”

And while Harmer’s definitely embraced these sonic elements for her latest musical reinvention, she admits her down time has made her a bit apprehensive about touring again. “I don’t feel quite ready yet,” she concedes. “I’m definitely out of practice, so I’m a little bit like, ‘Oh, do I really wanna go away?’” She smiles and takes a deep breath. “But it’ll be fine.”

Winter's Bone review and Jennifer Lawrence sidebar

My review of Winter's Bone accompanies a brief sidebar interview with Jennifer Lawrence in Calgary's Fast Forward Weekly.

Winter’s Bone chills

Backwoods drama earns its Sundance-driven hype

Debra Granik’s art-house gem, Winter’s Bone, has amassed an impressive array of prestigious film festival awards on its way to the multiplex. And, while a film’s buzz is often just hype, occasionally the accolades are justified. Count Winter’s Bone, based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name, among those that have earned the praise.

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence, a wonderful discovery) is just 17 years old and a world away from those preening Disney teen queens. Instead of attending school, she’s tasked with caring for her young brother, sister and mentally ill mother. When Ree finds out her father has put their house up for his bond, she must find him before his court date or they’ll lose their home.

She embarks on a tense trek through the Ozarks, which serves as a beautifully bleak backdrop to a methamphetamine-ravaged rural community bound by manufacturing, dealing and indulging in the drug trade. Everyone knows something but no one’s talking, not even Ree’s uncle, Teardrop (John Hawkes), who becomes an unlikely ally of his niece as she navigates the mountainside. As Ree digs deeper into the mystery surrounding her father’s disappearance, Winter’s Bone takes on elements of a film noir, and every door she knocks on feels like a perilous step closer to the precipice.

Granik, who also co-wrote the script, has a keen eye that lingers over the smallest details (a slowly melting icicle, an animal carcass) and creates an authentic experience in every scene by relying on locals in supporting roles rather than professional actors. The children, particularly, offer strong, natural performances, no matter what’s asked (a memorable scene involves turning a squirrel into dinner). In taking the time to stay true to the environment and circumstances of the impoverished subjects of her film, Granik shows, without judgment, the harsh realities of survival.

Her professional actors are equally committed to the task. Hawkes, a lanky, desperate-looking man, embodies Teardrop wholeheartedly. The actor, so wonderful in the quirky 2004 flick, Me and You and Everyone We Know, tempers Teardrop’s innate violence with underlying humanity.

Lawrence, only 19 years old, is absolutely fearless, and delivers a fully realized character coming of age in unfathomable circumstances. Ree is quite possibly the most assured portrait of youthful competence and resilience ever committed to celluloid. Her currency is intelligence and instinct, rooted in necessity, a refreshing concept in the vast wasteland of Hollywood’s typical depiction of teenage girls.

The Wizard of Ozark

Jennifer Lawrence may not be a household name yet, but her star-making role as the heroine of Winter’s Bone will definitely change that. Here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what life in the Ozarks was really like for Lawrence.

Your relationship with the local children who played your siblings seemed very natural.

I was a nanny and a babysitter and I'm naturally drawn to children much more than adults (laughs). We started slowly, introducing the camera and played a game called “hide your eyes from the camera,” because they loved to look at the camera. And then [we] just kind of created a make-believe world.

Did you feel a lot of pressure being the anchor of the film?

It was tough, because I'm in every scene and I didn't get any downtime at all. But you don't really notice, or at least I don't, because I'm not a butthead that I'm the anchor of the film. We were all collaborating and making a movie. I just happened to be more tired than everyone.

The accolades you’re receiving must feel good. Are the offers pouring in?

Yes. A lot of offers. And a few for comedies, too. I'm like, '”Have you seen the movie?”

Friday, July 9, 2010

New Pornographers

My interview with A.C. Newman from the New Pornographers is in this week's WE.

Despite the (mostly) serious faces,  New Pornographers’ founder A.C. Newman (third from the right) says,  “No matter what we try and do, we always come up with summer records.”

Despite the (mostly) serious faces, New Pornographers’ founder A.C. Newman (third from the right) says, “No matter what we try and do, we always come up with summer records.”

Credit: supplied

Getting ‘Together’ again

It’s been 10 years since their debut album, Mass Romantic, made local indie-rock group New Pornographers an overnight success story. And, though the band’s sound has largely stayed the same — catchy, perfectly crafted pieces of sunshine, melody, and hand claps — everything else has changed.

Almost every member of the eight-piece ensemble has crafted their own illustrious solo career, including co-founders and songwriters Dan Bejar and A.C. Newman (Vancouver’s version of Lennon and McCartney), and Neko Case, the band’s part-time songbird, whose throaty vocals and alt-country twang have pushed her into another stratosphere of fame.

Newman admits that it took some wrangling to get everyone on the same page, much less in the same city again, but the effort has already paid huge dividends. The group’s new album, Together, debuted at number 18 on the Billboard charts and its first single, “Your Hands (Together)”, gives long-time fans exactly what they want: pounding drums, happy rock, and heavy guitars. Newman spoke with WE over the phone from a tour stop in Washington, D.C., about Vancouver’s love-hate relationship with the band, the Polaris Prize, and why indie-rock fans are better than Lady Gaga fans.

WE: How’s D.C. treating you?
Newman: D.C. is my favourite place to play, because it’s always where our shows sell out the fastest. Even on my solo tour, I do about double in D.C. what I would do in another city.

I’d think Vancouver would be wanting to welcome you home with open arms?
Vancouver’s nice to us. It’s the funniest thing, but of all the Canadian indie bands, we’re not more popular in Canada than in America. You look at a band like Metric, they sell as many records in Canada as they do in America, they’re huge. But us, we’re even... Somebody had a theory that maybe because Neko’s American and I’ve been living in America, Canada thinks of us as not Canadian. It seems inconceivable. But, you know, I’m saying this as if Vancouver hates us and that’s not the case. Perhaps I should just drop it. [Laughs].

The Polaris Prize people don’t hate you, so congratulations on your long list nod.
Thanks... What is the long list?

I was going to ask you, does this even matter to you? You know what the Polaris Prize is, right?
Yeah, we were nominated for the first one in 2006, I think.

Yeah, and about two hundred music industry folks compile a list of the best Canadian CDs, It gets narrowed down to 20, and then narrowed further until one band wins the $25,000 prize.
Yeah, that’s nice, but I don’t think the Polaris Prize is for bands like us. We’ve been around too long. It seems like more of a new band prize.

Yes. Final Fantasy was just starting out when he won.
Exactly. I went to the awards ceremony and I’d never seen him play, and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s amazing, give it to him.’ I’m sure it made a bigger difference in his life, you know? For somebody who’s perhaps not hugely popular, to give them $25,000, that makes a big difference to them. To give it to us and split it eight ways, it’s like, ‘Thank you. This helps pay my mortgage for one month.’

It’s been horrible weather here, but then I was listening to Together yesterday and the sun came out. That’s what the album did.
Oh, that’s good. We’re known for that. No matter what we try and do, we always come up with summer records. I don’t know why. I think at some point you just have to acknowledge our niche, you know? Like, people want to come to our shows and it’s a fun thing, you know? They like to nod their heads and bob up and down. They want fun and community and like it to rock.

Indie music seems to be thriving, which isn’t the norm right now in the music industry. Is it because of the DIY ethic those bands have?
I think it comes more from the people that listen to it. That’s how success is measured: When people are buying your records and going to your shows. I think the people who listen to indie music care about music and are less likely to take it for free. Like, somebody who’s a fan of Lady Gaga; they don’t care about Lady Gaga. They have no connection to her. They’ll just download her songs and think, ‘She’s rich, who cares?’ Or, they don’t even think that far, they don’t even question getting music for free.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in the third installment of the teen vampire series, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in the third installment of the teen vampire series, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Credit: Supplied


Directed by David Slade
Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

It’s been three years since moviegoers were introduced to vampire Edward Cullen (ever-brooding Robert Pattinson), human-werewolf hybrid Jacob Black (the now perpetually shirtless Taylor Lautner), and the object of their rival affections, Bella (Kristen Stewart, no longer playing with her hair).

The franchise’s third installment, Eclipse finds Bella a month shy of graduating, but with even bigger changes on the horizon: Edward’s promised to turn her into a vampire if she’ll marry him, even though he’d rather keep her soul intact. (Later in the film, “soul” becomes a euphemism for “hymen.” Enjoy.) Bella’s safety becomes the catalyst for an uneasy alliance between the werewolves and the vampires, who band together against Victoria (a newly recast Bryce Dallas Howard), who, after two movies, is still hellbent on killing Bella to avenge the death of her lover in the first Twilight movie.

To say that this movie is better than its predecessors is faint praise, but it’ll have to do. The first Twilight looked amateur and cheap, and though the script seemed to suffer from the 2007-’08 writer’s strike, the sequel, New Moon, proved films based on a poorly written book series can’t be elevated much above the source material, no matter how hugely successful they are.

With Eclipse, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg remains a faithful servant to author Stephenie Meyer’s juvenile prose. The repetitive scenes between the core three as they posture, declare their feelings, and rehash the past might please the Twihards, but anyone else will likely get a headache from all the eye-rolling. But under the hands of new director David Slade (Hard Candy), something unfathomable transpires: the movie gets interesting, exhibiting some narrative vibrancy as it attempts to throw off the shroud of terrible dialogue. As the action shifts away from ‘Who will Bella choose?’ and viewers are offered backstories as well as some fun werewolf-on-vampire fight sequences, we get the shape of something that resembles a decent film. —Andrea Warner

Antony and Cleopatra

My review of Antony and Cleopatra at Bard on the Beach.

Jennifer Lines and Andrew Wheeler play the titular lovers in the Bard on the Beach production of Antony and Cleopatra.


By Andrea Warner

It begins with a pillow fight. One of the most historically and politically important, passionate, and mercurial affairs of all time — that of doomed lovers Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra — opens with a pillow fight: an all-limp, no-bang beginning ominously foreshadowing the next three hours.

Curiously dull but undeniably well-acted sums up the season’s second offering from Bard on the Beach. There’s a reason the tragedy Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s least-staged works. It explores a dense period of complicated political maneuverings that threatens to overshadow — and then ruthlessly overtake — its titular lovers. The play is made up of two competing storylines, and our heroes lose. Badly.

The action begins in the middle of an historically accurate maelstrom. Julius Caesar has been assassinated and Rome is now ruled by an uneasy triumvirate consisting of Mark Antony (Andrew Wheeler), Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian (Haig Sutherland), and Marcus Lepidus (Allan Morgan). In addition to this intrigue, Antony finds himself distracted by Caesar’s former lover, the beguiling Egyptian queen, Cleopatra (Jennifer Lines).

Political machinations, misunderstandings, and epic battles ensue, and Antony proves he’s ruled by his hubris and his libido. Defeated by Octavian (who has now taken the name of Caesar), the lovers famously commit suicide to avoid capture: Cleopatra by clutching a venomous snake to her breast, Antony by falling on his sword.

The historical record here is messy and complicated enough, even without dramatic flourishes. The play’s most obvious challenge is that the action occurs offstage and is later explained in momentum-killing expository monologues. But actor-turned-director Scott Bellis’s vision for his two main characters is the production’s most baffling derailment. Antony and Cleopatra are, by turns, love-sick, petulant, and childish (they could be prototypes for Chuck and Blair’s spoiled shenanigans on Gossip Girl). We never fully glimpse any of the steely determination implicit in Egyptian royalty or a Roman warrior.

That Cleopatra comes off as merely manipulative rather than cunning is no fault of Lines, who’s reliably devoted to infusing every line and every stare with nuance and emotion. Wheeler’s Antony feels rudderless, but again, through no fault of the actor’s, who does his best to be commanding in the face of every infantile, moony moment.

Despite fine performances, there’s no passion or intensity on display. Antony and Cleopatra are meant to be wild forces at work. Here, they giddily collide without much impact.

Antony and Cleopatra runs to Sept. 24 on the Mainstage of Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, 8pm. Tickets $18.75-$38 from 604-739-0559 and

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

My review of the lovely taste of Broadway on now at Granville Island Arts Club.

Alison MacDonald, Josh Epstein, and Tracy Neff (left to right) head up an ensemble cast in the musical comedy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Alison MacDonald, Josh Epstein, and Tracy Neff (left to right) head up an ensemble cast in the musical comedy, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Credit: Supplied


By Andrea Warner

Hating The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is like hating baby seals or puppies. It’s just not possible.

When it debuted in 2005, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical ushered in a new era of over-achieving nerd heroes. Populated with awkward prepubescents — who are not only earnest competitors, but characters rife with complicated home lives and personality traits — it’s fair to say that Spelling Bee paved the way for television shows like Glee: fun and adorable, but with a soothing balance of acidic wit.

The contestants are a creative assortment of gently satirical stereotypes, but the show largely belongs to its two main characters, Olive Ostrovsky (Tracy Neff), a shy girl neglected by her parents, and William Barfée (Josh Epstein, who very nearly steals every scene), an insecure but obnoxious know-it-all with only one working nostril. Neff shines brightest in the achingly resonant “I Love You Song,” while Epstein infuses “My Magic Foot” with cheeky charm. The two forge an unlikely friendship, which provides a nice beating heart to ground the hilarity of subsequent songs like “My Unfortunate Erection.”

The rest of the cast is afforded plenty of brilliant moments as well, thanks to some sharp performances and astute line delivery. Alison MacDonald nails every “eth” as the hyper-driven, lisping Logainne, and Brian Linds has a blast delivering every deadpan definition as the moderator, Principal Patch. Rosie Simon makes a strong debut as adorable Catholic schoolgirl Marcy Park, and Jeremy Crittenden’s transformation into the home-schooled Leaf Coneybear is a perfect combination of tics and tonal inflection.

This a fun show with a great cast that packs an emotional whomp. But what really pushes Spelling Bee from good to great is a wonderfully weird sense of humour. The laughs seldom stop, thanks partly to some clever regional modifications (Surrey jokes!) and improvised wisecracks, making it pitch-perfect summer fare.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee runs to July 31 at Granville Island Stage, 8pm (Mon-Sat), 7:30pm (Tues). Matinees: Wed, Sat, 2pm. Tickets $25-$50 from 604-687-1644 or