Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wendy and Lucy

My review of Wendy and Lucy appears in this week's WE.

Starring Michelle Williams
Directed by Kelly Reichardt
4 stars (out of 5)

By Andrea Warner
The string of horrible Hollywood flicks boasting talking dogs with interior voices provided by celebrities (see Beverly Hills Chihauha — actually, don’t) has created four-legged fatigue among many moviegoers. But our furry friends get a second chance to be worthy co-stars in Kelly Reichardt’s evocative and emotionally devastating Wendy and Lucy.

Wendy (a superb Michelle Williams) is a loner in her early twenties, living in her car with her dog, Lucy, en route from Indiana to Alaska in search of a summer job that promises big bucks. It’s a dream that stays just out of reach when Wendy’s car breaks down in a small, rundown town in Oregon, and then Lucy disappears, sending Wendy’s life into a tailspin.

Writer-director Reichardt is an expert in crafting unsettling films that double as quiet character studies, as demonstrated in the 2006 gem Old Joy. Nor does she doesn’t any easy answers here about why Wendy is the way she is. Small moments, like a desperate phone call home or Wendy’s tentative friendship with a security guard, hint at some of her invisible fractures, but we never really understand why she’s gone so far adrift.

Wendy and Lucy is also a bleak foreshadowing of the economic mess in which we’re all mired, where jobs are few and far between, and a series of simple events can prevent upward momentum. (Wendy doesn’t have an address because she lives in her car, and she can’t afford a cellphone, making finding Lucy, much less a job, virtually impossible.)

There’s nary a talking dog in the whole film, but every moment between Wendy and Lucy speaks volumes.

Matt & Kim

My interview with Matt & Kim appears in this week's WE.
Matt & Kim prepare to leave their mark on  New York City.

Matt & Kim prepare to leave their mark on New York City.

MUSIC: Matt & Kim dare the hipsters to get happy

By Andrea Warner

Indie-band stereotypes abound in pop duo Matt and Kim. Based in Brooklyn? Yep. Met in art school? ’Natch. Nerdy glasses, tight jeans, and a nasal twang? Of course. And yet, Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino have one major quality that sets them apart from the other too-cool-for-school hipster bands who practice their pouts before propping up their instruments: They are the happiest damn people ever, and they’re not afraid to show it.

Matt & Kim’s brand of dance-punk-pop music sounds, at first listen, like kids goofing off in their parents’ basement — which isn’t far from the truth. The couple fell in love six years ago, made art, and decided to take up learning new instruments. Rather than focus on chords and scales, Kim banged away on the drums, Matt plunked out melodies on his keyboard, and they began writing songs by way of practicing.

The duo’s live shows and online presence garnered them a rabid fan base of kids who love to dance, thrash, and fling themselves with wild abandon. While preparing to embark on a North American tour for their new album, The Grand, Matt checked in last week from NYC.

I visited your MySpace page earlier today and one of your fans wrote, “I was listening to ‘Daylight’ [from Grand] earlier today, and my older brother asked, ‘Is this Weird Al?’”

Johnson: (laughs for a long time) Nice. I haven’t seen that comment yet, but I remember thinking true success was if Weird Al parodied one of your songs.

I was watching videos of your live shows and you look really happy onstage. What do you love about performing?

What is there not to love about performing, you know? There are so many bands who look really bored, and I don’t really get that — that’s more confusing to me. Playing music was always something I only did because I really like doing it. It had been an expensive habit for years, and now somehow I make a living doing it. We do it ’cause it’s fun. Kim, though — if she’s terrified, she just starts laughing and smiling. It’s sort of her defense. If she’s really nervous, too, in the movie theatre, if someone’s getting cut to pieces, she’s just laughing hysterically, so people just think she’s totally fucked up.

Was there anything different for you in writing Grand?

Oh, yeah, it was completely different. The first one [2006’s self-titled debut album], I mean, the songs we’d written were from within the first year we’d started even trying to play, and also we recorded that in nine days. This new recording we did over nine months. We were touring so much, every couple weeks we’d come back and work on it for a week. But it gave us a fresh perspective, like, “Oh, yeah, that sucks” or “That works.”

The dance-punk sound has really flourished in the last couple of years. Do you think it’s an emotional antidote to the political and economic climate? Are we just desperate for something joyful?

Well, in New York, for a long time there were these types of bands that were just too worried about looking cool to have any fun. I think people are just wanting to have fun with music again and have fun at shows again. And maybe that is part of all this shit that’s happening. Finally, I think, things are looking up. January 20th is coming, and Mr. Obama will be in.

Yeah, the national tension level should ease in about a week.

And it’s the day our album comes out. A pretty important day in American history. (laughs) 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

My review of the new Roman Polanski documentary, screening at Vancity this week, is in today's WE.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired


By Andrea Warner

3 stars (out of 5)

Roman Polanski is one of Hollywood’s most polarizing people: semi-tragic figure (he survived the Holocaust; his wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Manson); revolutionary director (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Pianist); and child molester. His complicated history gets a fresh retelling in director Marina Zenovich’s revealing documentary.

The film opens with an unflinching account of the charges against Polanski resulting from an afternoon he spent photographing 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Accused of rape, sodomy, and giving drugs to a minor (among other things), Polanski became the focal point of a media circus. After a trial fraught with corruption and injustice, he ultimately fled to France, where he’s stayed in exile for the last 30 years.

It’s fitting that the majority of Wanted and Desired is devoted to exploring the curious motivations of the judge who presided over the case, Laurence J. Rittenband. His damaging machinations, which included striking secret deals with the defense and prosecution while staging proceedings for the press with pre-determined outcomes, ultimately perverted any sense of justice for Gailey or Polanski.

Wanted and Desired contains fascinating, candid interviews with key players in the trial, but, frustratingly, the least interesting one is with a grown-up Gailey, who offers little insight. What makes the documentary so compelling is how Zenovich fleshes out the film with plenty of character-building moments, offering a fully realized portrait of Polanski that, while never exonerating him, effectively illustrates how he’s been cast in the make-believe film version of his own life: visionary, villain, and victim. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Girl Power Gone?

My editorial about Twilight, Judy Blume, and Susan Juby appears in the new Vancouver Review.


Andrea Warner worries about the Twilight trend

When I was 13, I wanted to know about sex. And boys. And love. I wanted to figure out what was up with boobs and why they were a big deal for some and an even bigger deal for others. I had hair sprouting in places I wasn’t supposed to touch. I wanted answers but there was no one I could ask, particularly about the “dirty” stuff.

So, like most young, curious people at the time, I turned to books. I wish I could say that I found solace with Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, but rather than the modest, melancholy heroines gracing those hallowed pages, I craved blunt honesty about troublesome girls who seemed more like me. I wanted the facts, with all of their humiliating, naughty, ugly and revelatory moments.

There was only one author who seemed to speak my teenage language, a woman whose books were often kept on a higher shelf in the library: Judy Blume. Two decades later, Blume has a worthy successor in BC-bred young-adult author Susan Juby, whose books depict regular teenagers dealing with their daily lives. And, like Blume’s, Juby’s fiction has gotten panties in a twist, primarily because she dares to dwell in real teen territory. She’s paid the price by having her books banned in various cities, schools and school libraries throughout North America, including a middle school in Settler, Alberta.

Juby’s books, like Blume’s, advocate intelligence, character development, and honest depictions of sexuality in a teen environment. These books are vital to empowering youth, particularly emerging women, because they demand self-reflection. It’s important for girls to read about teens who fuck up, even fictional ones, because it answers their questions, plays out scenarios, and fills the gaps in their own experience to help them relate, survive, grow up.

Miss Smithers, Juby’s novel set in rural BC, captures the small-town angst of bored teens everywhere. Alice, her flawed yet ferociously witty 16-year-old heroine, makes plenty of bad choices and acts like a real teen. The book has been banned in schools because Alice attempts to lose her virginity (to no avail). Another Kind of Cowboy tackles sexuality in a different way in that Alex, a young horse enthusiast, realizes he’s gay. These stories tackle the social dynamics young people face.

These works are worlds, nay galaxies, apart from the recent book-series-turned-blockbuster-movie Twilight, a young-adult vampire romance by Stephanie Meyers. At the start of the series, 16-year-old new kid in school Bella captures the attention of the mysterious, aloof pretty boy Edward. He’s intoxicated by the smell of her blood, and attracted to her because he can’t read her mind. (Because she’s so complex! Just like every girl wants to be!) She’s equally obsessed, intrigued by the danger and depth of his torturously long stares.

Bella’s a mirror for many young women who like to read, fantasizing that the best-looking boy will pick her over the blond cheerleader. She’s bookish, shy, klutzy and a virgin. It’s notable that a key segment of Twilight’s fan base wears abstinence rings, a message drilled home by Edward’s refusal to deflower his damsel in distress for fear he may lose control of his vampire strength and hurt her.

Bella’s virginity and Edward’s gallant behaviour have hit a chord with another group beyond the coveted tween-to-teen demographic: their moms. It wasn’t just allowances and babysitting money keeping the Twilight series (four books total) firm at the top of the bestseller charts. When Twilight shattered box-office records on its opening day, there were at least two generations to whom one could attribute ticket sales.

Meyers’ value system—she’s a Mormon—may or may not be what keeps Bella and Edward from bumping bits; an author is entitled to write whatever she wants. My concern is that mothers and others responsible for children’s education, so eager to dissuade and subdue sexuality, have overlooked the fact that Twilight romanticizes sexism, stripping young women of all sense of empowerment—an offence all but invisible when compared with Juby’s, it seems.

I can't help but feel sick at the perpetuation of the idea that a boy is all a teenage girl needs to feel complete. And that if they had sex, she’d die. Blume’s characters obsessed over boys. So do Juby’s. The difference is that in Meyers’ world, a world that mothers are pushing on their daughters with uncomfortable urgency, a girl doesn’t just obsess over a boy but has an almost sacrificial relationship with him. Bella is religiously devoted to Edward, her character and identity entirely consumed by her desperation to be with him; the books dwell on Bella’s declarations of undying love and her oft-repeated desire to be turned into a vampire.

Meyers has created a world in which Bella’s a perpetual victim, always in danger and requiring the constant presence of Edward or some other man to protect her. It’s doubly galling to recognize that Twilight’s largest fan base (particularly online) is comprised of mothers, the by-products of second-wave feminism.

Banning books like Juby’s denies young people a choice of role models, and gives credence to the notion that denial works. Given its not-so-subtle nod to Shakespeare’s fatalistic Romeo and Juliet scenario, coupled with the purity pledge, advocating Twilight to your female teen is tantamount to sentencing her to three marriages, five kids, and an unhealthy dependency on her parents when she can’t keep her man. Feminism rides bitch (usually in the backseat rather than the driver’s seat, as it were) in Twilight, and it’s damned depressing to realize that women are to blame for its success.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Maz Jobrani

I also got to interview Maz Jobrani for WE's comedy issue.

Raised on a steady diet of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor, the forefathers of button-pushing comedy, Maz Jobrani felt he had no choice but to follow suit. The Iranian-American comedian irks the politically correct with brashly subversive routines that alternate between mocking and debunking Middle Eastern stereotypes. See his Axis of Evil special on Comedy Central for proof, or better still, see him at the Commodore.

Did you always want to stir the pot with your comedy?

Jobrani: You know, I never thought of it that way. I just wanted to be funny. But Eddie Murphy was my first influence, and the first time I was going to do stand-up — which I chickened out of, by the way — I was 17, and I started writing material that was all sex-based. I was trying to do a bit about why was our genitalia in the middle of our body, in the most inflexible place, as opposed to our palms, which would be great, and then every time you shake hands you’re having sex, or if you high-five somebody. I’d write it and think it was brilliant, and then the next day I’d read it and go, “Ohhh, that’s stupid.”

Do you get criticized by politically correct organizations?

I think a lot of times people take offense to it because they’re not listening to the context. They just hear a red-flag word and go nuts. After September 11, I was doing a joke about the guys who crashed the planes and, I mean, they affected everybody, including me as a Middle Easterner, and now I have to deal with all this backlash and the people, obviously, who died. But the one group nobody is talking about is high-school students, because in the future, history tests are going to suck. When the teacher asks them to name the people who hijacked the planes, the students are going to be like, “Umm, there was Al-Kafee, Al-Kafeek Kafou, Al Kafee Kafoococoapuff.” (Laughs.) And so, I’m making fun of their names and a lady took offense. Or, around the Iraq War, the administration sold the line that if you criticized the Iraq War, you’re criticizing the troops, and I was doing a bit about George Bush and a couple times people were like, “You shouldn’t make fun of the President!” And I’m like, that’s the whole point of this country!

I want to do a little word association with you, if you’re up for it. Give me your initial gut reaction or thoughts on each one: George Bush.


Barack Obama.



We kind of have it. We kind of don’t.


Leave ’em alone.

Axis of Evil.

There’s only one left, which is Iran, so it’s kind of just a Point of Evil now. It’s so 2004.

Lily Tomlin interview

I got to interview Lily Tomlin for this week's WE. Pick up a copy if you get the chance!

An interview with the legendary Lily Tomlin is a remarkable way to spend Christmas Eve. Her throaty laughter punctuates every anecdote, and conversation quickly becomes the equivalent of a meandering stroll behind the scenes of late-20th-century Hollywood. From her first regular paying gig, opposite Madeline Khan and Dixie Carter, to her recent stint on Desperate Housewives, Tomlin has continued to revolutionize and redefine what it means to be a woman in comedy.

Which female comedians inspired you when you were younger?

Tomlin: I had very eclectic tastes, from the most sophisticated to the most out-there person. As a kid growing up, when we first got a TV, I would see a lot of women who had sitcoms, like Joan Davis from I Married Joan — she was very range-y, she wasn’t pretty, but a very character-looking woman. And, of course, Lucy [Lucille Ball]; I loved her and Ethel and the stuff they would get into, the physicality. One time, at [New York comedy club] Upstairs at the Downstairs, one of the young girls was the ingénue, but she was hilarious offstage. She’d be telling me stories and doing stuff, and I’d be telling her she should do that onstage because she was always so boring, because the ingénues are always boring, and she’d fluff up and her hair would get real big and she’d say, “Oh, I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was unattractive.”

Speaking of the attractive element of women in comedy, have you seen the cover story on Tina Fey for this month’s Vanity Fair?

I saw the cover, but I haven’t read it yet. Was there a lot of character stuff inside?

Well, the author, Maureen Dowd...

Ah, well, forget it. As much as I love her sometimes, she’s really a piece of work.

It’s all about how Tina Fey has become hot, and how her attractiveness has finally caught up to her brains. I can’t imagine being Tina Fey and reading it. It’s really just a sum of her body parts.

I’ve gotta read it before I jump to any conclusions, but that’s a shame. Maureen’s not a very generous person. I don’t know her, I shouldn’t make these pronouncements, but, from her pieces, she doesn’t seem very generous, and I would think she’s not very kind to other women.

Yeah, I don’t think you need to be lovely to every woman because you have matching parts, but still...

I think it clouds her objectivity, and I don’t read Maureen with any intense regularity. Primarily, in the ’50s and ’60s, people would say, “How can you do stand-up? You’ll lose your femininity.” That was an old song. Frankly, it didn’t even occur to me. I wasn’t crazy about anybody who debased the species. In the old days, [male comedians] would always say, “Take my mother-in-law... please!” and I always wanted to play the mother-in-law.

What made you decide to get back out on the road now and do stand-up?

I never stopped doing stand-up, one-nighters or two-nighters. From the time I got on Laugh-In, I had an act, and it was the only thing that kept me off Match Game [a popular ’70s game show whose guest panel was ostensibly a dumping ground for has-been celebrities]. Unless I was doing a movie or doing my one-woman show, I always had my act and did 40 to 50 dates a year.

What sorts of things are on your mind right now?

Everything to me is sort of political, so it depends on what’s going on in the times. Ernestine [one of Tomlin’s famous characters from Laugh-In] is a good character and she can speak to anybody. She’s irascible. Lately, she’s been working at a big healthcare insurance company, and so she can deny healthcare to everyone, and that makes her happy. And it speaks to that issue.

Almost everyone in Canada was really excited about Obama getting elected. Are you still feeling that sensation of hope and change?

We’re praying for it. I mean, even the whole Rick Warren thing — I can sort of buy Obama’s justification about different points of view and so on. When I was on Laugh-In, we were so political about the Vietnam War — those of us against the war — and John Wayne was on the show and I wouldn’t even be photographed with him. In retrospect, as a mature person, I regret those times. I wish I’d been more outgoing with them and found out what they think and why they think it, see if I could influence them. But when you’re younger, you have this sort of righteous thing, and it’s not good.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

North Mississippi Allstars

My preview of the North Mississippi Allstars appears in this week's Charleston City Paper.

North Mississippi Allstars
By Andrea Warner

North Mississippi Allstars have spent the last 12 years churning out songs that prove boys also wanna have fun. Their newest release, Hernando, named after their hometown, is no exception. The group’s brand of bluesy Americana guarantees a rambling, raucous good time, albeit one that goes well beyond Cyndi Lauper sneaking in after curfew. The album is solidly invested in a countrified, blues-infused, rock ’n’ roll lifestyle involving women, the rawhide-tough elements of heartbreak, and exorcising their demons with one searing guitar riff after another. Comprised of brothers Luther (vocals, guitar) and Cody Dickinson (drums, keyboards) and Chris Chew (electric bass), the Allstars released their first album in 2000, unleashing a sound that equally confounded and delighted critics. The debut, Shake Hands with Shorty, was rooted in blues, but borrowed a little bit from country, boogie, and rock. Eventually the group even incorporated elements of hip-hop, creating a fully contemporary sound at once familiar and original. The real pleasure, as any NMA fan will likely say, is the long, luxurious onstage jams that have perpetuated the band’s excellent reputation for live shows. With Luther moonlighting as the Black Crowe’s rhythm guitarist, and Chris and Cody working on other side projects, who knows how many more times NMA’s brand of feel-good “world boogie” will blow through town? Catch them while you can.

Gay Magic Wand and Xtra West

My streeter is the cover story of Xtra West this week. Check it out if you can!

Sara Kendall

I would hold the wand and help liberate political prisoners currently jailed for their sexualities and sex work. I would wave in safe spaces for all queers in exile from their countries, their classrooms, and their family homes. I would shake the wand to the sky and we'd have bumpin' queers-of-colour-centric parties, and all over the whole mother-lovin' planet we'd rock sexy to pro-homo and pro-woman lyrical content! And we'd all share the magic gay wand!!

Shelley Moore

I would make a new statutory holiday called Gay Day.
Andrew Parker

My one wish would be that Davie St be returned back to the community and that everyone feels safe and welcome. Bring it back to a destination again as opposed to a street to avoid. And for someone to play with my magic wand!

Chad Wilkinson

Who would believe that the Conservative Party had the only openly gay MP candidate for Vancouver Centre in the 2008 election? Or that California, the world's seventh largest economy, democratically voted in Prop 8 weeks before Gus van Sant's film about Harvey Milk was released to theatres across the world? Above all this — an infectious, profit-motivated mentality has managed to jeopardize the natural systems that sustain and regulate our planet as we begin a global descent into economic and ecological catastrophe. Homosexuals have a role in society just like everyone else, and I think we need to be clearer on our values.
Nelson Wong

I'd make it so that every straight person had more gay coworkers, relatives, or better still, friends in their lives. I'd also like to see stronger, more multi-faceted gay characters in TV and film.

Shazad Shah

I'd make the entire world carbon neutral. Then I would change the current political system. And after that I'd get rid of terrible reality TV shows!

Joanne Ursino

My personal one: I would like to get a pair of sparkly, blood-red Fluevogs that would even inspire Dorothy to ditch the bows.

My more serious one: Generous funding for Pride In Art so that it may continue to flourish and advocate its goals of celebrating queer artists and challenging homophobia. As an adjunct to that one, I would love that the show Gender Twist be shown at the National Gallery of Canada.
Gwen Haworth

I'd make more event spaces on Vancouver's Eastside wheelchair accessible. This is a constant challenge when organizing low-cost, inclusive, queer events, but one I'm sure the LGBT community could creatively address if more of us put our heads together.
Bob Yates

Happiness for everybody. Not just gay people, but everybody should be happy.

First, I would stabilize Oprah's weight at 160 pounds. Secondly, I would keep Davie St gay, gay, gay and fabulous. Lastly, I would want to educate the ignorant Neanderthals that feel that it's all right to come downtown and verbally and/or physically attack my gay brothers and sisters. I mean, enough already!
Ross Johnstone

I would change that our political leaders would recognize the positive impact that arts and culture have on stimulating our economy and representing our identities. And I would make LGBT issues a priority for educators so that sexual minorities feel safe in their schools and community.
Brent Wildefyre

The first change I would make is who our Prime Minister is.
Irenusz Nowicki

I'd be with my boy Bryn. I came to Canada just for him.
Alain Vermette

No gaybashing whatsoever.

Vanessa Kwan

Stephen Harper will be trounced and roundly humiliated by a viable, exciting, charismatic, progressive SOMEBODY. And that Amber Dawn will become the new Director of Programming for Out On Screen. (At least one of these things has come true...)
Michael Hogan

I would make people care more. About themselves, others, friends, and strangers. Care about the earth 'cause it's the only one we've got, about how they treat others and how others treat them, and about humanity and the direction we're headed. I would make them care for those that have nothing and not about what you (we) don't have, and to not let hate, fear and ignorance rule us.
James Chamberlain

That all school districts had anti-homophobia policies in place that protected queer students and straight students, and that all school boards would enforce them.


I would, à la Dorothy, offer Stephen Harper a heart, George W Bush a brain, and every little gay or lesbian child in the world, courage. I would wish everyone a home and a safe journey to it. Oh, and a sparkly pair of red high heels for whoever wants them!

I would take my magic wand and I would say "poof" to AIDS, cancer, and heart attacks. I would make The Laramie Project mandatory curriculum.

I would permanently secure my waistline at a glorious 32 inches, triple my dress collection, and have at least one great date with a nice guy who wants into my pants and not my gowns.

Buster Cherry

I've been thinking about what's going on with a lot of hate crimes and gaybashing and the fact that the last one was not labelled a hate crime. I think my gay wand has to touch that one. And it would be nice to make all of that obsolete.

We need to teach more tolerance in high schools, in kindergarten even. We need to go back that far and let them know that holding hands, two women or two men, showing any kind of affection in public is just as normal as someone breastfeeding in public. It's a human condition and we should be able to feel proud and not that someone's going to chase us down the street with a baseball bat.