Monday, November 30, 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

My Dirty Rotten Scoundrels review is online at

Life's a beach: Josh Epstein as Freddy Benson (left) and Andrew Wheeler as Lawrence Jameson in Vancouver Playhouse's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Life's a beach: Josh Epstein as Freddy Benson (left) and Andrew Wheeler as Lawrence Jameson in Vancouver Playhouse's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Credit: supplied

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
By Andrea Warner

Theatre aficionados are familiar with the ‘makeover’ story. From Pygmalion to the Shape of Things, it’s been done before. But rarely is it handled so deftly as in the cheeky, raunchy, risqué musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Adapted from the classic ’80s comedy starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine, the Vancouver premiere of the hit Broadway musical is a bitingly funny and fresh twist on a familiar concept.

Suave con man Lawrence Jameson (Andrew Wheeler) makes a living swindling rich women, but his stranglehold on the French Riviera resort town of Beaumont-sur-Mer is threatened when aspiring charlatan Freddy Benson (Josh Epstein) gets wise to Lawrence’s schemes, blackmailing him for a piece of the action. Bolstered by his impressively oversized ego, Lawrence deigns to school Freddy in the finer ways of life (better clothes, better manners, richer targets), eventually forming an unlikely and volatile partnership.

When a promising new mark, Christine Colgate (Elena Juatco), the “San Francisco Soap Queen,” arrives in town, the crooks make a bet: the first person to bilk the innocent girl out of $50,000 wins the right to the Riviera, with the loser vacating the territory immediately. High jinx ensue as the grifters try to outdo each other.

However, complications arise when Lawrence falls for the young Christine and Freddy refuses to call off the bet. A surprise twist ending throws a wrench into Lawrence and Freddy’s careful scheming, which left more than a few audience members seeing infinite sequel possibilities.

Replete with groaners and knee-slappers, Scoundrels’ musical numbers are chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments. Standouts include “All About Ruprecht”, where Lawrence and Freddy scare off a brash Oklahoma socialite who’s grown too clingy. Epstein and Wheeler are terrific, mischievous comedians who look like they know they’re performing once-in-a-lifetime material (hilarious dry-humping and brilliant lyrics), and they nail every gauche moment perfectly. “Nothing is too Wonderful to be True” is the best non-ballad ever, with Christine’s sunshine-y hopefulness countered by Freddy’s dry, sarcastic asides. Juatco, making a strong Playhouse debut, radiates charm, and it’s a testament to her appeal that Christine’s never cloying, but, rather, a woman who could convincingly and unintentionally woo the jaded Lawrence. Epstein, so good in last year’s Producers at the Arts Club, thrives here, offering just the right amount of swagger and swing to the immoral Freddy. Wheeler’s commanding presence and wry line delivery gives Lawrence the necessary nonchalant superiority. Of the three, Wheeler’s voice is the weakest, but he does a good job negotiating Lawrence’s solo, a surprisingly sweet “Love Sneaks In.”

Despite a lackluster opening sequence (which featured ill-fitting costumes for several women in the ensemble, and some amateurish choreography), Scoundrels is easily director Max Reimer’s best effort since joining the Playhouse in 2008 (and that’s saying a lot after last year’s wonderful, Jessie Award-winning production of The Drowsy Chaperone). From the cast to the campy set decorations (including a wondrously inventive roulette table/bicycle hybrid), Scoundrels is one of the year’s best shows, offering a welcome respite from the typical “heartwarming” holiday fare.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ivan Reitman interview

I got the opportunity to speak with director and producer Ivan Reitman last week. I watched Ghostbusters when I was little, I totally never ever thought I'd one day get to talk to the man responsible! I geeked out on this one. I couldn't help it.

The interview is part of the coverage for the Whistler Film Festival, which I'll be covering live next weekend for

Ivan Reitman on the set of Twins (1988) with Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ivan Reitman on the set of Twins (1988) with Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Credit: supplied

Top of his game

Ivan Reitman, the famed 64-year-old director and producer, often falls into the category of “Really? He’s Canadian?” Hollywood is, of course, chock-full of high-profile northerners often mistaken for American by virtue of the magnitude of their fame, including Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, and Saturday Night Live creator and film producer Lorne Michaels.

But few have been as successful or as influential as the Toronto-raised Reitman, who, over four decades, has directed and produced box-office-smash comedies including Meatballs, Ghostbusters, and, more recently, I Love You, Man. Reitman is being honoured for his cinematic achievements on Friday, December 4, at the Whistler Film Festival — a tribute that comes at the cusp of what seems to be a Reitman revival, what with him having produced two films this year (Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and son Jason’s Up in the Air), and the recent news that he’s set to produce and direct Ghostbusters III in 2010.

“I met with the writers just yesterday morning for breakfast,” Reitman says, over the phone from his L.A.-based office, about the long-rumoured Ghostbusters sequel. “I was giving them notes on some of the pages, and we’re going to try to get a good draft done by the beginning of next year. And once we have that... we’ll be assembling the original cast and the new cast, and [we’ll] make the movie.”

For Reitman, who, according to, currently has at least six movies in development, directing means returning to the lessons he’s learned since the 1973 horror-comedy Cannibal Girls, and his attempt to turn two years of hard work drafting the script for Animal House, the seminal 1978 frat-house comedy starring John Belushi, into his first major motion picture. That directing job ended up going to John Landis instead. “Having made only one $12,000 independent horror-comedy before, Universal was not ready to let me direct, and that was a heartbreaker,” Reitman recalls. “I realized I need to get back and sort of direct another small film and rebuild my career.”

Reitman assumed directorial duties for the comedy classic Meatballs in 1979, the first in a string of hits that included Stripes and Ghostbusters, which were also starring vehicles for Bill Murray, whom Reitman refers to as “genius.”

“I learn something [throughout all my films], but I think the great thing about Meatballs is that I had the opportunity to work with Bill Murray, who’s such a talented writer as well as performer,” Reitman says. “Some of his ideas were so good, I had to be very nimble on my feet. Instead of getting my back up and getting into a fight about just doing what I thought was important, I learned to work faster and make use of good ideas that came to me from others as part of the filming process, and learned to be fast enough to accommodate and still make the kind of schedule we were under. And mostly learning about funny, because funny is really hard. Everyone says so, and it actually really is.”

Figuring out what’s funny has motivated much of Reitman’s career. He’s modest when he talks about his accomplishments, but admits that he was pretty certain he’d tapped into something special when he screened Ghostbusters for the first time, just three weeks after wrapping the production, sans special effects. “It was kind of a gutsy thing to do,” Reitman says, laughing. “I got up in front of the audience and said, ‘Look, some of this isn’t even going to make sense because people are going to open up a refrigerator and there’s going to be a sign that says, ‘SCENE MISSING.’ But it was pretty much as good as any of the screenings we had [after the effects were completed], because I think people get into the story and get into the character, and the comedy interplay between them. It was effective; you get hooked in even if you don’t know all the pieces in between them, and it gave me great confidence.”

Reitman parlayed that confidence into a lengthy career of hits as a producer (Old School; I Love You, Man; Hotel for Dogs), plus some notable misses (he hasn’t directed a hit since 1993’s Dave). He’s responsible for making Arnold Schwarzenegger funny on purpose (Twins, Kindergarten Cop) and he bought the Trailer Park Boys to the big screen.

Reitman’s greatest accomplishment, though, might be his son, Jason, a celebrated writer and director who’s three for three in the filmmaking department, having directed Juno, Thank You for Smoking, and the much-buzzed-about George Clooney feature, Up in the Air, of which the elder Reitman is a producer. “It’s as big a thrill I’ve ever received in the movie business, the success that Jason’s having,” Reitman says, audibly beaming as he talks about his son’s triumphs.

“He’d clearly been paying attention way more than I ever knew,” Reitman continues, laughing again. “In fact, he went to great pains to pretend he was going to do otherwise; he enrolled in pre-med his first year in university, but clearly he wasn’t happy doing that.

“One of the best things I did was tell him a story about my own father: I’d come to my father and said I wanted to open a submarine shop, because they seemed to be doing well in other cities, and there were none in Toronto. Wouldn’t it be a great thing to do? And he said, ‘You know, I’m sure if you wanted to open a sandwich shop, you’d do a very good job, but I don’t think there’s enough magic in it for you.’ And it sort of freed me from that concern about earning money no matter what. And what I told Jason was, ‘You’d be a very good doctor, if that’s what you wanna do, but my concern is there’s not enough magic there for you.’ And he left pre-med, literally within two weeks of that conversation, applied to [the University of Southern California] to the English department, and started working on his first short, which then went on to win about 70 awards all over the world. He was good right from the beginning.”

He’s given the world plenty already, and now Ivan Reitman can be thanked for one of the best new filmmakers of the decade: all worthy reasons to raise a glass in Reitman’s honour, even if he hadn’t brought a little bit of Canada with him to La-La Land.

The Whistler Film Festival’s Tribute to Ivan Reitman takes place Friday, Dec. 4 at the Whistler Conference Centre, 7:30 pm. Tickets $50 from

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Emilie Autumn

My feature on Emilie Autumn's in the Charleston City Paper this week!

Emilie Autumn's musical art is most peculiar

Goth-pop asylum

Emilie Autumn has deemed herself the "innkeeper of the asylum," becoming a de facto real-life poster child for Emily the Strange enthusiasts. A conversation with the goth/glam singer-songwriter and violinist is a strangely happy, if heavy, whirlwind of monologue. She calls over an hour and a half late for our interview, apologizing profusely, but cheerfully, for her long-winded nature.

After a few minutes, it's clear that Autumn's name seems too small to contain her personality: a crashing amalgamation of all the seasons in her world, which is occupied by images of Victorian corsets, pink flamingo hair, and a fiddle almost permanently attached to the 30-year-old's hands. Classically trained, Autumn's been playing professionally for well over a decade, releasing albums, breaking contracts, fighting record labels, and playing with big names like Courtney Love and Billy Corgan. But it was the 2006 release of her rock-cabaret-electronica-glam-goth album, Opheliac, released by her own label, Traitor Records, that earned Autumn acclaim and a large European following.

Now, Autumn and her back-up group, the Bloody Crumpets, are enjoying their first North American headlining tour, playing to sold-out crowds in almost every city, courting controversy at every turn.

"We were told, 'Don't expect too much, and then our fans really pulled through for us," Autumn says. "It's been amazing."

Autumn's relationship with her fans is intense. Her songs are confessional and dark, detailing everything from her stay in a psych ward ("Thank God I'm Pretty") to songs about suicide ("The Art of Suicide") and cutting ("Liar"). She's unapologetic about the subject matter, and with the arrival of her first novel (she wrote and illustrated the whole thing), The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, she's ripping open plenty of old wounds in the hopes that her fans will learn something from her experiences.

"There's so much about the book that's fun and beautiful, but a lot of it's from my diary entries from when I was locked up or during suicide attempts, during bipolar episodes or cutting myself, during those hardcore episodes that nobody really wants to talk about," Autumn admits.

The fan devotion is definitely a response to Autumn's overwhelmingly confessional-style writing, and her unwavering commitment to what she earnestly refers to as her "brand." Autumn has her own clothing label and design house, makes her own business decisions, and writes the music she wants to hear. Her earlier music industry experiences could have soured her indefinitely, but she's opted to learn from those mistakes.

"Working with Courtney Love, for example, now I can deal with anything," Autumn says. "I went from being a terrified little girl to being able to handle anything, so, like, thank you. And, working with Corgan, to see how long somebody's been around, how they've grown up in the industry, and yet to see how they can still be dictated to by their labels. I swear that's never going to be me. I had to learn that very quickly in order to survive those people. I will live on the streets and be a busker and make music for nobody. I will never let that happen. I will never care that much that anybody listens to me or that I'm popular. I don't give a fuck ... that was something to really, really learn. No matter how long you've been around or how many records you've sold, there's that desperation among some very, very famous people to keep repeating it, to not get old, to worry when you lose your hair."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twilight Saga: New Moon review

My review of New Moon appears online at

Vampires love necking. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Vampires love necking. Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Credit: Supplied

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
Directed by Chris Weitz

A sequel is rarely better than its predecessor, but new blood, new bodies, and the relative absence of Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) make this second installment of the Twilight Saga a marked improvement over the first.

New Moon picks up where Twilight left off. Moody and broody vampire Edward is professing his eternal love for the equally besotted high-school senior — and mortal — Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Thankfully, the declarations of devotion (it seems every sentence was lifted from a 14-year-old girl’s diary) only last a few minutes before Edward decides the only way to keep Bella safe from harm (that is, his family’s blood-lust and his own brute strength) is to abandon her — so that the vampires who swore revenge in the first film can come back to try to kill her like they promised. Yes, logic is a limited commodity, it seems, in the Twilight world.

Lonely and depressed, Bella turns to her friend, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and there’s some lovely chemistry between the two as they forge a friendship that presses the “Will they or won’t they?” question, which is interrupted when Jacob pulls an Edward and tells Bella to stay away from him for her safety because he’s now a werewolf and part of a secret wolf pack. That doesn’t really deter Bella, though, since she has a new addiction to danger, But when Edward mistakenly believes Bella has died, he goes to the Volturi, the leaders of the entire vampire race, and begs them to end his life. Bella rushes to save him, and they’re forced to fight against head honcho Aro (a wonderfully campy Michael Sheen).

Though the storyline and dialogue are woefully inept, new director Chris Weitz brings a measure of sophistication to New Moon. A bigger budget certainly helps (particularly with regard to the CGI effects), and it’s to his credit that New Moon feels like a real big-screen event, and not just a movie of the week from the Sci-Fi channel.

Stewart is a good actress who’s often relegated to expressing Bella in one of two ways: quivering breaths to signal distress or saucy defiance to show rebellion. Lautner is charming and proves he’s more than just eye candy, though he spends much of New Moon showing off his crazy new physique (when not in full snarling, furry fury, his wardrobe mostly consists of cut-off jean shorts and that’s it). Pattinson, who’s out of his acting league next to Stewart and Lautner, isn’t given much to do except smoulder and glower. Amusingly, he’s filmed almost exclusively in either slow motion or whip-fast fight sequences.

At 140 minutes, New Moon does start to wane during the last half hour — incidentally, when the vampire action kicks into high gear. The fangs just aren’t sharp enough this time around, but the canine claws prove this franchise has a few hidden pleasures in its cheesy, Harlequin-lite depths. ★★

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox review

My review appears in WE this week!

George Clooney voices the title character in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

George Clooney voices the title character in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Credit: supplied

Anna Kendrick and Kellan Lutz talk Twilight: New Moon

My interviews with Anna Kendrick and Kellan Lutz appear in this week's WE.

Undying and undead love: Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) in Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Undying and undead love: Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella Swan (Kristin Stewart) in Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Credit: supplied

New Moon Rising

By Andrea Warner

Twilight fan or not, chances are you know that vampire Edward Cullen’s (Robert Pattinson) undying love for mortal Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) gets the sequel treatment this Friday, November 20, when The Twilight Saga: New Moon hits a full fifth of all the movie screens in Canada.

It’s been just four years since the first book in Stephanie Meyer’s four-part Twilight series was published, and one year since the first Twilight film opened and became an instant blockbuster. In that time, the film’s leads have become part of Hollywood’s elite. Even supporting cast members became overnight celebrities, with other film and television offers pouring in.

Kellan Lutz, who plays Edward’s vampire “brother” Emmet Cullen, has parlayed his success into a role on 90210, and has several other projects in the works. But even he admits he had no idea what he was getting into when he signed on for Twilight.

“I didn’t know it was a book series,” Lutz laughs, in an interview with WE. “I thought the script was cool. They wanted me to audition for Edward, and I was like, ‘No, he’s too depressing.’”

Anna Kendrick, who plays Jessica Stanley, Bella’s best friend, is generating early Oscar buzz for her role alongside George Clooney in the forthcoming feature, Up in the Air. She has certainly benefitted from the Twilight exposure. But, due to the first film’s popularity, filming Twilight and New Moon was like night and day. It wasn’t just the locale changes (New Moon filmed in Vancouver, Twilight in Oregon) or the upheaval when Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke was replaced with Chris Weitz; it was that everyone associated with Twilight was suddenly super-famous.

“There were logistical problems,” Kendrick says to WE. “The added presence of fans and paparazzi made it interesting. Filming scenes where what you see is just Kristen and me walk down a street, but right outside the frame is just hundreds of girls watching — it made it a little tricky to get over that for the first couple of takes.”

Twilight fans have been among the most vocal and loyal in pop culture recently, calling themselves Twihards and starting Twilight conventions (or, according to many fanboy complaints, taking over established conventions altogether). Advance ticket sales for New Moon’s opening day have, as of press time, reached $1.5 million, and fans are clamouring to see how the film’s central plot — a brewing love triangle between Edward, Bella, and werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) — unfolds.

Even the film’s stars have found themselves caught up in the ‘Who Should Bella Choose?’ conundrum.

“I’m hardcore Team Jacob,” Kendrick says. “Obviously, Edward Cullen is kind of too perfect to exist in real life. It’s a fantasy, an escape for these girls.”

“I can’t really say much about [what draws women in], because I’m a guy, and I don’t really understand women 100 per cent,” Lutz laughs. “But I think anyone can relate. You want what you can’t have, in a way. The Jacob character — everyone thinks that’s great in the beginning, but it gets too old when someone’s like, ‘Oh, I love you, you’re amazing.’ You want the bad boy.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who Bella chooses, as the fans have already devoured the books, and simply want to see how their favourite characters come to life. And those fans will be right back in the same place six months down the road, when Twilight: Eclipse opens — to likely decimate box-office records again. See you then.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Land of Talk

My interview with Elizabeth Powell's Land of Talk is online at

Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell spares no expense on the photography budget.

Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell spares no expense on the photography budget.

Land of Talk finds its voice again

Three years ago, former Ontarian Elizabeth Powell was hanging out in a Montreal coffee shop, surrounded by day-job haters: people who slaved all day and spent their downtime waxing poetic about how they’d rather be artists.

Determined to turn her own words into action, Powell founded Land of Talk. Since then, the indie-rock group — which has drawn comparisons to Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey — has experienced all the ups and downs of buzz-band hype: Their debut EP earned critical acclaim and the attention of famed Omaha indie label Saddle Creek (co-founded by Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst), and opened for high-profile bands on both sides of the border, including the Decemberists and Broken Social Scene.

But then, the band was halted in mid-stride by what Powell now calls burnout. Her voice literally gave out, forcing the cancellation of the 2008 tour in support of Land of Talk’s first Saddle Creek album, Some Are Lakes.

A year later, Powell’s voice is back in shape, and the band is celebrating its new EP, Fun and Laughter, with a tour that hits the Biltmore this Saturday (Nov. 7).

You’re back on the road again after having some time off. How are you enjoying it?
Elizabeth Powell: I think it’s more about who you’re actually touring with. Not to say we haven’t had a really good team in the past, but on this one we’re all good buddies.

What kind of stuff do you do to pass the time on the road?
We’re all kind of obsessed with sketch comedy and Zach Galifinakis and all those comedy shows, and YouTube and stuff. Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show Great Job or The Office. We always just end up being totally goofy, and that’s how we pass the time. Sometimes we end up spending two hours on a ridiculous top and impromptu — like yesterday, we ended up in San Diego, and just out of nowhere the drummer started beat-boxing on the street, and we broke into a really bad break-dancing routine and we videoed it. We’re good at entertaining ourselves. It’s actually pretty appropriate, since the EP’s called Fun and Laughter. Maybe that’s self-fulfilling prophecy and I should call all the albums something super-positive, like some super-positive projection and it will come true!

That sounds like so much fun. Better than those people who are like, oh, I’m reading War and Peace.
Well, I’m reading Infinite Jest, but it’s taking me two years to finish that book.

Was that in response to the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy reading it? He was Twittering about it all summer, and a bunch of his fans were reading it and trying to keep pace with him.
We toured with them! What? Are you serious? Oh, my gosh. I don’t even — sorry, I’m ignorant about Twitter. Does that come to your cellphone or something? That’s awesome! It’s kind of like a cult or a religion; as soon as I find people who are reading it, or have read it, or were deeply effected by it — actually, the last song on the EP, “A Series of Small Planes”, is the title of the protagonists father’s film cartridges. I’m totally nerding out over it. It’s all over everything I’m doing right now.

What’s the difference for you between recording your first studio album last year and doing the EP this year? Was there more pressure for the studio album?
I had to do a lot of attitude-changing because I lost my voice last year, and it was really just a symptom of burnout — it’s how my body manifested the burnout and just shut down, and obviously my voice was the first thing to go... I don’t know what happened. I think it was a survival mechanism; I just kind of switched gears, and Fun and Laughter was way more fun to make than any other record. Well, except the first EP because there were no expectations, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But, yeah, a lot less pressure.
And maybe after touring with such a successful band like Broken Social Scene, it took a lot of pressure off, ironically. It kind of demystified the whole idea of critical acclaim, because they’ve been through that whole gauntlet and they’ve come through it as completely normal people. It brought it all the way back to the original conception — the music — and just doing it for yourself because there’s really no other reason to do it. The music really becomes the footnote in this industry, so it’s better to bring it all back, and I try to cut out all the bullshit and the drama.