Thursday, January 31, 2008

Scott Normandy Review

This review appears in February's Discorder.

Scott Normandy
My Future. My Past. CD review

By Andrea Warner

My Future. My Past. is a groaner of a title—heavy handed and loaded. It’s meant perhaps to signify rumination, learning from one’s mistakes, growing up. If you can wade through the symbolism, Scott Normandy has crafted a decent solo debut of gentle and inoffensive folk rock that should please both fans of “sensitive” rockers like John Mayer and, on its best tracks, Blue Rodeo.

MFMP works best when it lightens the mood and picks up the pace with a country-twang infusion of energy on tracks like “My Life” and “No Disguises”. Unfortunately, the majority of the disc depends on quieter songs that sink the listener in profundity. “The Plea” repeatedly begs for answers about the meaning of life, and it’s just one of several songs relying on this indulgent self-reflection. (Pet peeve: The lyrics in the liner notes are riddled with faulty grammar, like ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’.)

There’s no denying Normandy has a lovely voice and is a talented musician, but it’s his next record that will determine more accurately if he goes the route of Jim Cuddy or James Blunt. Let’s hope it’s the former.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quick Interview

I also posted my quick interview with Becky from You Say Party! We Say Die! to Beyond Robson last night. Make sure to take a look!

Monday, January 28, 2008

You Say Party! We Say Die! and Beyond Robson

I've begun writing for Beyond Robson and my first post is a review of the You Say Party! We Say Die! show last Thursday night.

You Say Party? We Say Yes!
By Andrea Warner

You Say Party! We Say Die! are winding down after two years of tireless world touring, but this awesome Vancouver dance-punk band showed no signs of exhaustion as they stormed the stage last night at the Plaza, leading the crowd through song after song of hand claps, furious head bobbing, sing-alongs, and the rest on Beyond Robson.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How She Move

How She Move—2 1/2 stars
By Andrea Warner

Set in the world of “step”, an African dance style that combines stomping, contortions, and vigorous thrusting, How She Move is a much better movie than its grammar-challenged title would indicate.

Move tells the story of Raya Green, an aspiring medical student whose sister’s death from a drug overdose forces her to leave boarding school and move back home to the Toronto projects she desperately wants to escape. To get the money she needs for boarding school, Raya must re-enter the fiercely competitive world of “step”, win the Step Monster dance-off, and claim the $50,000 prize.

The requisite demons for Raya to overcome are mostly standard: the ex-best friend, the boy next door, and her parents’ crumbling marriage. What sets Move apart is how it highlights the close-knit world that communities like these crime-addled projects really are: the ghost of Raya’s sister hovers over almost every scene, and every character in the film is tainted by the tragedy in some way. You feel lingering traces of pain, fear, anger, and grief at every turn.

Move also boasts some fine performances from relatively unproven young actors, particularly newcomer Rutina Wesley as Raya. In Wesley’s hands, Raya is smart but selfish, infused with subtle layers of intelligence, determination, and sad guilt. Vancouver’s Brennan Gademan is a treat as the young genius, Quake, who uses his brains to choreograph a show-stopping finale. The majority of the actors are fierce athletes, and the dance moves throughout the film, choreographed by HiHat, are impressive physical feats that get the adrenaline flowing. When a showdown between Raya and her rival, Michelle, becomes a “step-off”, the impulse is to laugh, but if you don’t ask too many questions, How She Move might be the film for you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

U2 3D Review

Two new reviews appear in today's Westender. I'm posting U2 3D today and How She Move tomorrow.

U2 3D Review
—3 stars
By Andrea Warner

U2 3D documents the South American leg of the band’s “Vertigo” tour, and boasts the first 3-D, multi-camera, real-time production. The energy pulses as arms seem to wave right under the audience’s noses and the surround sound of the theatre kicks in with the roar of the crowd when Bono takes the stage.

Most of the 3-D effects are fantastic and focus on magnifying the band, allowing a close-up view of the various guitar, bass and drumming techniques. Among U2 3D’s strongest offerings are nostalgic political anthems “Bullet the Blue Sky”, “New Year’s Day”, and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. The Edge’s searing guitar on “Where the Streets Have No Name” and Adam Clayton’s bass on “With or Without You” are reminders of what a genuinely talented group of musicians U2 is.

Bono’s voice is showcased beautifully on “Pride (In the Name of Love)” but his theatrics take on a cheesy note during his father ballad “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”. U2 3D’s biggest misstep comes during the encore where the producers blow the majority of their effects budget during “The Fly”; it’s a visual onslaught that attacks the eyeballs and is out of place in a film that gracefully toes the line between excess and subtlety.

U2 are consummate professionals, and the band almost never falters once from their carefully constructed mandate. Even U2’s more freestyle moments feel calculated, particularly with the giant projector screens behind them, choreographed to coincide with each well-timed high note. This is one of the drawbacks of the 3-D experience: the flaws of the live show are much more obvious when viewed from a front-row seat inside a movie theatre.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oscar Predictions Part II

Who I want to win!

Picture: Juno
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
Actress: Julie Christie
Supporting Actor: Tom Wilkinson
Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett
Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Adapted Screenplay: Sarah Polley
Animated Film: Persepolis

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Predictions

The Academy and I don't really see eye to eye every year. But, there were some tremendous films in 2007 and while I'm still lamenting the fact that everyone forgot Zodiac, I'm very curious to see what happens on Oscar night.

Today I'm posting who I think will win. Tomorrow I'm going to post who I want to win. And then the countdown begins!

Picture: There Will Be Blood
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Actor: Daniel Day Lewis
Actress: Julie Christie
Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem
Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett
Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Adapted Screenplay: Joel Cohen and Ethan Cohen
Animated Film: Ratatouille

Drugs & Celebrity

Heath Ledger's been found dead in his New York apartment in a possible drug-related death. His wonderful performances in I'm Not There and as the brilliantly terrifying Joker in the upcoming Dark Knight were only glimpses of an incredible future in film.

Ledger's death comes just a week after Brad Renfro was also found dead from a drug-overdose.

What a sad and lonely way to die.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm Not There Review

This review is scheduled to appear in Discorder's February issue, out in a couple weeks.

I’m Not There Review
By Andrea Warner

I’m Not There is a brilliant head-trip of a circus and the ringleader in the spotlight of this chaotic and sumptuous visual extravaganza is the man behind the many myths: Bob Dylan.

It takes a lot of parts to make up the whole of any human being, but few figures have so blatantly confounded, entranced and ultimately served to exemplify an entire generation so completely as that of Bob Dylan. Six wonderful actors dig in to the bones of his enigmatic persona, the flesh made real by a superb supporting cast, but still at the film’s end we’re wondering what it all means?

This is the beauty of a director like Todd Haynes tackling the mystery of Dylan: they share a desire to stimulate the imagination and challenge preconceived notions, creating startlingly relatable characters out of the most indulgent and unappealing human traits.

Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn is a standout amongst some truly wonderful performers, inhabiting Dylan’s most destructive and arrogant side. She finds a brilliant sparring partner in Bruce Greenwood, the BBC arts reporter eager to demystify Quinn as a self-invented narcissist from New Jersey. Each scene between them is a tense and satisfying game of cat and mouse. In Blanchett’s capable hands, every Quinn’s every sentiment is a fragile riddle that dissolves under too much scrutiny.

Marcus Carl Franklin as the 11-year-old, train-hopping child who calls himself Woody Guthrie, is an actor with great instincts and a remarkably mature voice. Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg also shine as a couple unraveling under ego and success.

Throughout the film we’re always clawing at a never-ending glass surface that refracts images surreal and beautiful, raw and ugly, but all hauntingly honest. We’re forced to leave the theatre thinking about who we are in the grand scheme of things. Haynes, like Dylan, is a master at manipulating his audience, but we are all the richer for it.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Three very different movies, all with startling degrees of awesomeness

Hopefully I'll get to post these full reviews next week, but over the last couple weeks I've seen Starting Out in the Evening, Cloverfield and I'm Not There.

How I missed I'm Not There when it first came out is something I'm still trying to reconcile, but alas. I've seen it now and I'm actually a better, more inspired person for it. Honest. I think it just might be Cate Blanchett's best performance.

Starting Out in the Evening stars Frank Langella in, what I believe, is the most phenomenal performance by a male lead in any film from the last year. Lili Taylor is lovely and vibrant as a woman facing 40 trying to figure out her life. A great, intellectual film that makes you want to go home and dig out that book you've been working on sporadically since college.

And, Cloverfield. I know that perhaps it seems like one of these things is not like the other, but just because it's in a different category than the other two movies, doesn't diminish it's appeal. Intimate, explosive and satisfying, it's brutal devastation of Manhattan is a feast for the senses. And, it's a fun popcorn flick that connects.

27 Dresses

My review of 27 Dresses is in this week's Westender.

27 Dresses Review
by Andrea Warner

27 Dresses is the perfect film to help you fight holiday weight gain: light and bubbly, it goes down easy like a Diet Coke, but packs just enough bite to satisfy.

Starring Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, Grey’s Anatomy), 27 Dresses is pretty standard romantic comedy fare. Formulaic and familiar, we know our heroine will be beautiful but put-upon, klutzy but “relatable”, and destined to fall for the man she argues with the most.

Heigl is Jane, an eager-to-please romantic in love with weddings. When her spoiled younger sister breezes back in to town and ends up engaged to the boss Jane’s loved passively for eight years, Jane’s life goes into a tailspin. Enter James Marsden (X-Men, Hairspray, Enchanted) as the handsome but jaded reporter looking for a juicy story.

Though we’ve seen all of this before, 27 Dresses manages to keep things surprisingly fresh. The dialogue has moments of genuine comedic wit, the costuming is alternately hideous or beautiful as appropriate, and the casting is spot on.

Heigl and Marsden share a nice, playful chemistry, and Judy Greer as Jane’s boozy best friend is a treat as always, even if criminally under-used. Ed Burns is perfect as the blandly handsome and oblivious do-gooder boss Jane has spent years idolizing.

But really, there’s just one girl on the poster, and that’s Heigl. Charming and stunning, it would be easy to be distracted by Heigl’s beauty, but her line delivery is so great and natural throughout the film that she effortlessly becomes the funny girl you cheer for when she gets the happy ending you saw coming a mile away.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


This is a review I've written as a sample piece for Beyond Robson (, as I might see some shows for them and then tell everyone about them.

And, here's a link to Carlos Hernandez Fisher's awesome photography that will accompany this piece and future concert reviews:

Stars Shine Bright in Vancouver
By Andrea Warner

Stars brought down the Commodore last night, and it wasn't because of some cataclysmic astronomical event. It was simply awesome indie pop and an audience that kept the show going well past the band's requisite first encore.

Stars are back on tour supporting their newest CD, In Our Bedroom After The War, and they sound better than ever. Lead singer Torquil Campbell, who now resides in Vancouver, made the Commodore shake with newer numbers like the Michael-Jackson-by-way-of
-Justin-Timberlake-infused "Genova Heights".

Stars co-lead singer Amy Millan seduced the audience with her little girl voice and her boozy, seductive take on "Calendar Girl". About three quarters of the way into the show, feeling the rapturous love all around her, she actually fell backwards onto the raised arms of the adoring public and crowd-surfed.

After a lengthy four-song encore, Stars attempted to head home for the night but the audience pulled them back out on stage for a second encore. Campbell laughingly asked "What more do you want from us?" It was pretty obvious: they didn't want the Stars to go out.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Adrian Glynn Review

This is my CD review in Discorder's December/January issue.

Adrian Glynn Review
by Andrea Warner

Adrian Glynn’s eponymous debut EP packs plenty of love, heartache, and promise into seven songs. The songs are reminiscent of Jakob Dylan, with a hint of Bob Dylan, updated to reflect the current trend towards alt-country sensibilities shared by hipsters and folkies alike.

Glynn’s voice is lovely and intimate. The strongest songs corroborate the story of a man who can’t quite catch a break when it comes to women. “Paper Crown” offers a bluesy growl about missing a woman. The next track, “Mother’s Song” opens ‘we all love a little bit too hard’ and asks ‘when are you coming home, my darlin’?’

The entire EP is an exploration of earnest feelings, but periodically the efforts feel manipulative rather than deep. The last song is a woeful lament from our hero comparing his relationship with a woman to that of Jesus’ plight: ‘she was my cross to bare/and I, I laid her down.’ While this song’s a wonderful showcase for Glynn’s voice, the weighty metaphor as well as literally signifying the end of the song and the album with the sound of footsteps and a door closing, seem trite when one gets the feeling the artist was really shooting for meaningful.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Make Music, BC!

This piece appeared in Discorder's December/January issue, out now!

Make Music, BC!
By Andrea Warner

Are you more Nelly, Nickleback or New Pornographers? Whatever melodic fantasy’s playing in your mind, Music BC will help you chart the course from garage band to Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack staple.

Helmed by artists and business people in the industry, Music BC strives to help artists in BC have sustainable careers through funding, education, mentorship, networking and business opportunities.

The Executive Director of Music BC, Bob D’Eith, knows both sides: he’s a keyboardist who used to play in Rhymes With Orange, and is currently a part of Mythos, signed to Virgin Records, with five records to their credit thus far. He’s also a music lawyer, which helps contribute to one of the major mandates of Music BC.

“There’s a big disconnect between the study of music and the business of music,” Bob says. “These kids come out of school as incredible musicians, but have no idea how to make money at it. We’re trying to work with educators so the gap is filled before they leave school.”

According to Chris Brandt, former Vice-President and newly promoted President of Music BC, making money in the music industry is no longer possible by conventional means. And, he should know: Chris worked for Universal Music in sales and marketing for the last 10 years, and has owned his own label since 2004. It’s a complex balance between art and business, particularly right now when the music industry is integrating un-chartered and unproven territory, re: the Internet. It’s not “new” news per se, but it’s the catalyst for a changing industry.

“An ongoing problem is downloading. Anyone who says it isn’t is an idiot,” Chris says. “Downloading kicked the crap out of the music industry. Not to say the industry wasn’t at fault. They did a lot of really dumb things, were susceptible to it and greedy. But they did get the legs taken out from under them. It’s trying to find new ways for an artist to make money.”

And, this is where Music BC shines most brightly. With a diverse Board of Directors heavily involved in the music industry, and able to commiserate with the state of affairs of their member artists, alternatives are first and foremost on everyone’s minds.

“There’s no money in records anymore,” Chris says. “You have to tour, sell merchandise, and get into TV and film.”

As part of Music BC’s career development series, Music BC flew up a music supervisor from LA, in charge of placing music on soundtrack heavy TV shows like Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy. These kinds of lectures are lucrative for everyone involved, particularly to an up-and-coming young band with no other way of getting their music in front of 20 million people in one shot.

“You can’t just put out a song and then have a video for MuchMusic, because MuchMusic doesn’t play videos and radio doesn’t play new music,” Bob explains, chuckling a little. “I’m not saying they don’t at all, but it’s different now. [As an artist] you have to connect.”

The hardest part of touring and live shows, especially for young bands, can be finding a meaningful relationship with the audience. As a further part of the career development program, Music BC is hoping to finalize arrangements with Tom Jackson, a famed producer of live shows who hails from Nashville, to impart his wisdom about kicking up the love between artist and fan.

In addition to education and career development, Music BC funds a variety of initiatives to help artist’s transition from fledgling to major player. They act as administrators for FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records), the $15 million federal grant program. They also offer a travel assistance fund, and a music appreciation program with a song-writing contest that is currently accepting submissions. Their newly developed charity wing provides scholarships for post-secondary and private music schools. In addition, Music BC recently raised $28,000 for instruments in under-privileged schools. And, they have big plans for the future.

“We would love to create a funding program where we could fund indie labels,” Chris says. “Giving them grants to hire publicists. Do radio tracking. Help them with production costs here and there.”

In addition, 2009 will already be a major triumph for the organization: They have successfully negotiated the Juno Awards return to Vancouver.

“This is a great opportunity to bring the focus back to Vancouver, and put a bit of a spotlight on our board,” Bob enthuses. And, an even brighter light on the next local artist to rule Billboard.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My first review for the Westender--The Kite Runner

My review ran in last week's Westender, and I'm really excited about working with such an awesome paper.

The Kite Runner Review
By Andrea Warner

The complexities of our childhood actions often misshape and indulge our understanding of the world we grow up in. The Kite Runner, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Khaled Hosseini, and directed by Marc Forster, is a thought-provoking film that asks us to reconcile who we are with who we become.

The story sprawls from 1978 to 2000, focusing on childhood best friends Amir and Hassan. By 1979, Amir's betrayal and subsequent guilt tears the friends apart, and when war comes, the boys are further separated as Amir flees Afghanistan with his father. Entire lives have passed by the time Amir must make a dangerous return to Kabul to rescue Hassan's son from the Taliban.

The first-time actors who play young Amir and Hassan are gifted performers. Homayoun Ershadi, in particular, is remarkable as Amir's father, filling the character with conviction, grace and dignity.

Equally impressive is the choreography of the kite-flying competition that is as intense an air battle as any between fighter pilots. The film does stretch on for 15 minutes too long, and occasionally second-guesses itself with needless exposition.

Unfortunately, Afghanistan is a mystery to most North Americans, who see it alternately as the war-torn playground of the Taliban, a black hole for Canadian troops, or a devastation of women's rights. Thankfully, this film compels us to know Afghanistan better. This is The Kite Runner's real triumph: deftly using Afghanistan as a silent main character. Catalyst and background have never melded so effortlessly.

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