Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cop Out review

My review of Kevin Smith's new flick, Cop Out. You can also read last year's interview with Kevin Smith here.


Starring Bruce Willis, Tracy Morgan
, Seann William Scott
Directed by Kevin Smith

Fans of lengthy, funny riffs on taking a crap, and other outbursts that straddle the Venn diagram intersections of silly, stupid, and wry, will find plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Cop Out, Kevin Smith's ode to buddy-cop comedies. Those who aren't on board with shit-talking (literally) or don't have appreciate the humour of 12-year-old boys probably won't be charmed by a movie originally titled A Couple of Dicks.

Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan) are NYPD veterans, celebrating nine years as partners. In pitch-perfect casting, Willis is the relatively competent tough guy playing straight man to Morgan's clueless, puppy-dog mania. The pair are suspended without pay after botching a bust and letting a drug kingpin get away, leaving Jimmy in the lurch and on the hook for his daughter's dream wedding. (Smith fans will appreciate Jason Lee's extended cameo as the rich, evil step-father.) Through a series of appropriately convoluted coincidences, Jimmy and Paul are saddled with Dave (Seann William Scott), an infantile, drug-addicted parkour aficionado who embroils the duo in a Mexican gang leader's attempts to expand his drug empire.

There are also plenty of side plots, including a rival pair of dumb cops, the kidnapping of the aforementioned gang leader's feisty mistress, and Paul's insecurities (who knows why or where they come from) about his wife's faithfulness — or lack thereof. The script, by brothers Robb and Mark Cullen, is an ADD mishmash: Some of the subplots are wacky enough to entertain, but others fall remarkably flat, making the film drag rather than flow.

Cop Out is Smith's first time directing a script he didn't write, and unfortunately, his weaknesses as a filmmaker and editor are fully exposed. Cuts are choppy and chase scenes clumsily staged and/or poorly lit. On the bright side, Smith knows how to stage a shoot out, and he knows what's funny to his fans. The film's saving grace are its three stars, whose hilariously offhand scenes often feel gloriously improvised. Ultimately, Cop Out feels like a debut rather than the work of an established filmmaker, but perhaps this is Smith's first step towards breaking free of his arrested development. 

★★—Andrea Warner

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to Raise a Creative Kid

My article appears in the March issue of Today's Parent!

Raise a Creative Kid

Even If You're Not!

Andrea Warner
You may be a computer whiz, a company president or a gregarious soccer coach. So why do you feel like you’re all thumbs when it comes to doodling with your five-year-old daughter?

Breathe easy, left brainers. Attitude is everything when it comes to creativity. At work, there’s plenty of pressure to make things picture-perfect on the first try. But when you’re exploring the arts with your kids, the fun is in the freedom to colour outside the lines. And remember: Kids thrive when they get to play teacher. So let down your guard when you don’t know what to do and let your little one take the lead.

To get you and your kids clicking creatively, try these easy-as-pie ideas.

Just dance

Got two left feet? Relax and tune in to the tunes. “It’s all about the movement,” says Kay Huang-Barnes, a creative movement instructor at Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella, “so turn on some music and walk, crawl, skip or run to the beat.”

• Give in to your animal instincts and pretend you’re different creatures in the jungle or on a farm. Do the silliest move you can think of, and then dare your child to top you.

• Work together to make up your own dances to favourite songs, or mimic the moves from old movies. Little ones will find inspiration in plenty of old Disney films, while preteens might enjoy 1980s movies like Flashdance and Footloose.

• Explore different dance styles and music. Surf the Internet to find instructional dance videos, e-books and guides that cover everything from sock hop classics to ballet basics. YouTube is a great resource to see real people breaking down the moves.

• If inhibitions are hampering the hoofing, practise alone before unveiling your footwork in front of an audience. Turn on music while you’re cleaning or blast a childhood favourite while you’re running errands in the car.

The write stuff

When “Once upon a time” won’t quite do, here are a couple of easy prompts to get younger children started on a story.

Prompt 1: Outside the window, the moon looked smaller than the nail on my pinky finger. I could hear the wind blowing against the side of my house. Then suddenly a THUD!

Prompt 2: From far away, he looked almost exactly like the other rabbits: two long ears, two pink eyes, one scrunched-up nose. But up close, something was very different. Something gleaming white was sticking out of his mouth.

• Have a child who can’t quite write yet? Invite her to tell you a story while you write down her words. Ask follow-up questions: “What does the forest look and smell like? Who lives in the forest? When is the story taking place?”

• For older kids, poetry might be the way to expand on their writing skills while expressing themselves differently. Together, you can choose five words randomly from the dictionary. Use those five words to craft a poem at least 10 lines long. Write one poem that rhymes and one that doesn’t.

So dramatic

Got a mini Meryl Streep on your hands? Stage a play together, suggests Jennifer Martin, artistic director of the Canadian Children’s Theatre Company.

• Martin recommends acting out favourite books to encourage a child who’s been bitten by the acting bug. Parents can take part by volunteering to act in the play, coming up with funny or realistic voices, and brainstorming on the places and settings.

• Keep a dress-up box with clothes and accessories collected from around the house, hand-me-downs from other family members or old Halloween costumes. A family talent show is a terrific standby for Sunday evenings.

• Improvisation is a great way to spark your creativity. Dress up and decide how you want the play to work. Do you want to improvise everything or would you like to agree on a setting, a time or the relationship between your characters?

• Write your own play. Work with your child to decide what kind of story to tell and how many characters will be in the play, and take turns writing the dialogue and the stage directions.

A show of hands

Kids love a great puppet show, and making puppets of different sizes and shapes can provide tons of entertainment well before the curtain rises.

• Finger puppets, sock puppets and hand puppets can be made with old gloves or socks, construction or recycled wrapping paper, markers, paints, pipe cleaners, string, glitter and plenty of glue. Spend time developing characters and building up the puppets’ personalities with decorations and details, such as freckles, glasses, funny ears or crazy hair.

• Transform a cardboard box into a little stage and help your child come up with stories.

Building blocks of life

• If your youngster is interested in building, sculpture and structures, trade the pens and paper for Lego and other building blocks. But don’t limit your child to conventional materials: Try using rocks, seashells, Popsicle sticks or playing cards.

• Use magazine cut-outs or glue pictures onto cardboard boxes and let your child craft sculptures of his own making. It’s also surprisingly easy to make your own modelling clay — has a great recipe, but you can google “homemade modelling clay” to find one that works for you.

Keep the beat!

It’s pretty simple advice, but encouraging your child to sing along to favourite songs might be just the nudge he needs to make music his friend. Even if your voice isn’t pitch perfect, shake off your self-consciousness as much as possible by singing along to some of your old faves or some simple kid-friendly classics like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

• Is reality TV more your style? Create your own “living room idol” with karaoke CDs or video games like SingStar. Singing along to CDs can become a full concert experience if you and your young star improvise costumes and instruments (an overturned pot makes a great drum, and a tennis racket stands in nicely for a guitar).

• Francis Balodis, founder and international director of Music for Young Children in Kanata, Ont., urges parents to make learning an instrument more exciting than just sitting down at a piano to practise. Turn note naming into a game, and keep a selection of rhythm instruments around to help keep the beat while listening to music. Making rhythm instruments is as easy as pouring uncooked rice into an empty tin can or plastic container.

Just picture it

• Let your child go wild with a camera! If you’re dealing with a preschooler, consider handing over a disposable camera rather than your family’s digital. Then have him photograph his world.

• Do a photography scavenger hunt: Take a picture of what love looks like, your favourite animal, a place you think would be cool to live, something that makes you smile, something that scares you. Then compare images and talk about your pictures. You may even want to make prints and frame your faves.

• Ask your little one to take pictures of family and friends, letting her play with close-ups and faraway shots, and then go through and choose your favourites together.

• Scrapbooking sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s a great opportunity to go through old family photos with your child and think of interesting ways to group them. Have your child write little stories to accompany different memories from family vacations.

Colouring outside the lines

• The pros all agree: Keep a craft box stocked with paper, crayons, fingerpaints and pencils. Collect scraps of paper, magazines or gift wrap and bows from birthdays to add variety to your craft box.

• Don’t confine yourself to the kitchen table. Head outside with a pad of paper and some markers or paints, and see where your kid’s creativity takes him. Or look at different types of artwork and styles — online, at the library or the museum. Don’t forget to bring your own supplies should creativity strike!

A final thought: Christian Monks, who uses art therapy in his job as a clinical counsellor at Vancouver’s Cameray Child and Family Services, notes that some parents expect a finished product that looks “perfect.” He advises turning those expectations upside down. “Maybe to get things started, a parent and child agree to make a messy picture,” Monks says. “Creativity is not about the end, but finding delight in the process.”

The frustration station

Mini-meltdowns can derail the creative process, so if your little one starts getting frustrated because her picture isn’t turning out the way she wanted, or he can’t master the moonwalk, here are a few tips to defuse, soothe and move on:

• Remind your child that practice is the way to improve; just as with skills like catching or throwing, you need to keep drawing or dancing to get better.

• Make sure you join in and show your child your own effort, making it clear that there are plenty of different ways to make something special and that everyone has something unique to offer.

• Take a break, walk away for a little while, and then slowly make your way back to your art project.

Ideas online Provides free exercises and tips for little ones. Check out the Kids Zone games, entertainment and arts-related activities for family fun. Crafts, music and arts activities for all ages.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parachute Musical

My preview of Parachute Musical is in this week's Charleston City Paper.

The origins of Parachute Musical's pop

Flying and drifting ... happily disjointed

From internal bust-ups to bankruptcy, most fledgling indie-rock bands experience varying degrees of struggle, but few stack the decks against themselves quite so much as the Nashville-based quartet Parachute Musical.

First, the name. Though hipster-friendly, it's already closely associated with something entirely different — New Zealand's annual mammoth Christian music festival.

Secondly, they debuted with a self-titled album in 2003. Their follow-up, Everything is Working Out Fine in Some Town, wasn't released until 2008. Five years in the indie-rock world is the equivalent of Guns 'N Roses' Chinese Democracy. Even a band's most ardent fans will find ways to fill that kind of gap, making it harder to capitalize on any kind of initial success.

Thirdly, they're just four guys making piano-fronted, orchestral-influenced, indie-rock. Josh Foster handles vocals and piano, with Tom Gilbert on guitar, Andrew Samples on bass, and Ben Jacoby on drums.

Fourth, Parachute Musical have too many influences, so there's no consistent listener experience from song to song. Will you get a lush orchestral arrangement or salsa-inspired romp-pop? It's like throwing a dart at a wheel.

In the band's favor, though, is a solid foundation of genuine talent. PM's 2008 release took more than a year to record, and featured Foster writing orchestral arrangements, recruiting and incorporating a 20-piece ensemble, and utilizing a seven-piece brass section. The album's title track is truly stunning and beautifully original (that 20-piece orchestra doesn't hurt). Throughout PM's small catalog, Foster's voice is sweet and familiar, but occasionally generic. However, his passion behind the piano charms, particularly on the moody intro to "One More Song." The soaring, cabaret-influenced "Instead" builds to a crescendo fit for a Rockette. Almost every song samples a different genre.

Parachute Musical is a young band with big dreams and plenty of easy-going, multi-purpose pop songs with cross-generational appeal — plus a satisfying smattering of incredibly brilliant songs that indicate huge ambition, pretty much guaranteeing theirs will be a show unlike any you've seen before.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

YACHT concert review

My review of last night's YACHT show is online at and features a photo by Carlos Hernandez Fisher.

YACHT / Bobby Birdman / Fine Fist
The Biltmore, Vancouver, BC February 19

By Andrea Warner

An evening with Jonah Bechtolt's beat-driven, electro-pop project YACHT ensures two things: some weird-sounding, super-cool shit and a sweat-soaked dance party. And that's when he was simply a solo act.

At the Canadian kick-off for the band's cross-country tour, Bechtolt shared the stage with Claire L. Evans, YACHT's relatively recent new addition, a drummer and a guitarist. Bechtolt's usual mode of laptop 'n' beats delivery was still at hand, but the addition of live instruments and layered voices gave YACHT's sound surprising depth and urgency, helped further along by Evans sharing lead vocals throughout.

Evans revealed that it was only the second time all four musicians had played together as a band, and their own excitement was palpable, as the quartet sang, danced and occasionally crowd-surfed through an hour-long set. That energy translated musically, too, particularly in "The Afterlife," which evolved into an all-out jam session, something previous YACHT shows could never do since there weren't any other collaborators. Every song seemed to have more movement as well, because of the live accompaniment, particularly on the epic "It's Boring/You Can Live Anywhere That You Want," which owes a debt to Talking Heads.

The second opening act, Bobby Birdman, was, like YACHT, backed by laptop beats (and a live drummer), but with a voice like a lounge singer from the '60s, it seems the charismatic lead singer is perpetually stuck in some episode of Quantum Leap. But, there's something awesome about his occasional Tom Jones-esque delivery paired with futuristic blips, deep grooves and staccato rhythms. "Victory at Sea" is catchy and drum driven, and he invited Vancouver-based openers Fine Mist on stage to sing his optimism anthem "I Will Come Again," which the duo had covered in their own set.

Fine Mist's opening set felt a little off-kilter. That said, the duo's brand of haphazard electro-pop is charming and fun, and offers a perfect showcase for Meghan McDonald's impressive '80s-ladies power pipes. Her voice soars with a sexy husk and she's damn funny, offering up delicious sound bites no one asked for, like her declaration that she and band-mate Jay Arner aren't a couple, since "he's a eunuch and I'm celibate. Like Morrissey."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Woody Harrelson interview

My interview with Woody Harrelson and Defendor writer-director Peter Stebbings.

Woody Harrelson (left) and writer-director Peter Stebbings on the Ontario set of the vigilante comedy, Defendor.

Woody Harrelson (left) and writer-director Peter Stebbings on the Ontario set of the vigilante comedy, Defendor.

Credit: supplied

Woody Harrelson heads north with ‘Defendor’

Woody Harrelson is experiencing a career resurrection to rival that of any comic-book superhero. After shirking Hollywood for a number of years, he returned in 2009, seemingly more prolific and popular than ever, appearing in three films — Zombieland, 2012, and The Messenger — that were released within just a few months of each other. The latter title (which opened in limited release in the U.S. in November; it opens in Canada on February 26) scored him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and he’s got two more movies scheduled for later this year.

But before he walks down the red carpet (and possibly up to the podium) at the Oscars, Harrelson will be hitting the screen again this week with Defendor (opening Friday, February 19), director Peter Stebbings’s small, quirky, Canadian-made vigilante flick,

Harrelson admits the last few months have been a whirlwind compared to the previous six years, which were spent mostly as a family man and an activist, holed up in a self-sustainable community in Maui, hanging out with famous neighbours like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Speaking exclusively with WE during a much-needed break at his Hawaiian home, he says he’s a bit awed to have been welcomed back with open arms.

“I’m really happy with how everything’s going,” Harrelson says with a laugh. “I feel like I took a period of time off, and it takes a long time to really get back in the groove. I made several movies that I thought were fantastic that nobody saw. It’s one thing if the movie sucks — you would expect or hope that people don’t go see it. But when it’s good, you really hope people see it. I feel that way about Defendor.”

A confident directorial debut from Vancouver-based actor Stebbings, Defendor follows Arthur Poppington (Harrelson), a man with learning disabilities who’s obsessed with superhero mythology. Abandoned as a young boy by his addict mother, Arthur grows up vowing revenge against drug pushers and crime bosses. He develops his vigilante persona, Defendor, to help keep the streets safe at night. In the process, he rescues Kat (Kat Dennings), a young prostitute with a drug habit whose supplier is a crooked cop.

Anybody who watched Harrelson make a name for himself on TV’s Cheers knows the actor has a knack for playing an affable and easily confused man-child. But in Defendor, his approach to portraying Arthur is masterfully restrained. Through a series of subtle physical transformations (a jutted jaw, a slightly furrowed brow, the cadence of his voice), Harrelson makes Arthur a fully-realized person — and he’s the first to confess it wasn’t easy.

“I was really nervous about it, because just before starting, we focused in on one type of malady: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,” Harrelson says. “I feel like one of the most common things about people with FAS is they’re most childlike. I could have tried to go a little further with it — you know, tried to talk funny or some weird shit like that — but I thought it was better to be more subtle. But I was so nervous. I didn’t wanna seem fake. I guess that’s every actor’s worst fear: being phony.”

“The whole movie hinges on his performance,” says Stebbings. “If there’s a false note there, we’re sunk. We did a lot of research into FAS: I set him up with doctors and a guy with FAS; we spent a lot of time in dive bars, because this was the world Arthur comes from; we shopped for his clothes at Value Village and he picked many of the clothes.

“We had about a week’s worth of rehearsal when he came to town. The night before we went to shoot, he invited me to his place, and he said, ‘I’ve never been more unsure about what I’m going to do than on your [movie], and I’ve never been more okay with that.’ So, he went muckdiving, you know? He just kinda leaped off the bridge and he nailed it.”

For all its dark subject matter, though, Defendor has plenty of hilarious and heartfelt moments, made that much more authentic thanks to Stebbings’s knack for getting the small details right. Arthur’s superhero fixation is executed perfectly, from his tricked-out truck to his homemade uniform, it’s a fully-realized manifestation of creativity conceived within realistic limitations — something Stebbings is familiar with firsthand.

The film was shot in just 20 days, for about three million dollars — a shoestring budget compared to Hollywood fare. Remarkably, Defendor is visually impressive, far exceeding the expectations that usually greet a low-budget Canadian feature. It’s an unusual achievement for a first-time director, but Stebbings stopped at nothing to ensure his film would be a success. That included courting his high-profile actors himself.

“Sandra Oh [who plays Arthur’s therapist] turned me down twice,” Stebbings recalls, laughing. “I sent it to her manager; she turned it down. I brought it up again; she turned it down. Finally, I sort of wrote her a personal letter and offered to sweeten the pot with a handbag of her choice, because I’d read somewhere that she liked handbags, and I think all that did was make her giggle and make her manager giggle, but it kept the dialogue open, so I gave her a more comprehensive overview of how I would treat those scenes. She’s a busy girl at Grey’s Anatomy; she came up on the weekend and flew out on Sunday night. We shot all those scenes in two days.”

Harrelson’s role was originally offered to an unnamed actor who hemmed and hawed before finally backing out. Harrelson’s agent read the script, loved it, and encouraged Stebbings to pitch his client directly.

“[Harreleson and I] played pool in L.A. when he was in town, and hung out and ate some funny-lookin’ food — he has a very specific diet — and I let him beat me at pool for a couple of games,” Stebbings jokes. “His agent said, ‘The great thing about Woody is he likes everybody, the bad thing about Woody is he likes everybody.’ He really wanted to make sure he wasn’t getting in bed with a charlatan. And he said to me, after he met me, ‘You know, when I first saw you, you looked like a serious dude. And I knew right away that you’d have it together.’ Getting him on board really set things in motion.”

But filming wasn’t easy, even if it was blissfully short. The physical challenges are still fresh in Harrelson’s mind, and not simply because his character gets beaten up — a lot. Defendor was shot on location in Hamilton, Ontario, in sub-zero temperatures, which was like a punch to the gut for the avowed environmentalist who lives in a tropical climate.

“You ever been to Hamilton? Don’t bother,” Harrelson says. “It used to be this gloriously beautiful place where Cary Grant and different people would come up to vacation, and then the steel [industry] came in and turned it into what it still is today, which is one of the most polluted places I’ve ever been. Just smoke constantly belching into the atmosphere; you’re just breathing in grey, acrid nastiness constantly. The most challenging thing was, one day we were shooting in this alley. It was incredibly cold, and I had to rest my head in this puddle of the nastiest looking — I don’t know what was in this puddle. It’s not even funny. Then, when I saw it on the screen, you don’t even see it!”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wolfman review

My review of The Wolfman is online at

Starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt

Directed by Joe Johnston

With pop culture still saturated by the ridiculous proliferation of Twilight's glittery abstinence vampires versus juiced-up, muscled teens-cum-werewolves, the idea of an old fashioned, grown-up, Gothic horror flick tackling lycanthropy mythology seemed promising. Instead, we're offered Wolfman, a limp retread of every tired werewolf cliché, relying on only a spindle-thin father-son conflict as its central source of tension.

After a lengthy absence, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio del Toro, struggling with an American accent) is summoned home by his brother's fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt), who confesses that his brother, Ben, has been missing for weeks. When Ben’s body is found, Lawrence promises the grieving Gwen he'll stay until he discovers what happened. To do so, he must confront his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), an eccentric who speaks in vague threats and pseudo-loving warnings, and with whom he shares a mysterious past. As the townsfolk's whispers grow louder about "a curse" and "the gypsies" and "stocking up on silver bullets," the film unfolds as one would expect: Lawrence ends up bearing the mark of the beast and repeatedly, viciously morphs into a snarling, hairy monster under the glow of the full moon. The mystery (scarcely a mystery at all) is who cursed Lawrence and how can it be stopped?

During production, the film was hampered by numerous difficulties (two directors, studio rewrites, different endings) and multiple, disconnected visions abound. Straight-up horror? Cheesy gore with taut, self-aware humour? A bodice-busting, romantic mystery with a hint of terror? A psychological thriller about redemption? Any one of these directions could have worked, but Wolfman instead offers a disorienting and diluted blend of all four — with some truly terrible acting from established Oscar winners thrown in for good measure.

All that aside, the film's biggest disappointment comes in flatly refusing to build up the all-important suspense. Unforgivably, the film reveals what the werewolf looks like before the opening credits, making Wolfman the cinematic equivalent of premature ejaculation. ★—Andrea Warner

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tying a Different Kind of Knot

My article on BDSM appears in this week's WE. It's pretty brief, and I had a lot of great interviews, so expect to see some follow up on this blog in the coming weeks when I have time to write a couple follow-up segments.

BDSM is emerging from the underground, revealing an all-inclusive community where sex and respect go hand in glove

BDSM is emerging from the underground, revealing an all-inclusive community where sex and respect go hand in glove

Credit: supplied

MODERN LOVE: Tying a different kind of knot

Soft music and spooning might be part of your perfect Valentine’s plans, but a growing number of consenting adults are adding a little kink to their romantic routines. From a few playful swats on the bottom to playing doctor and nurse, more and more people are opening up about their desires and needs, redefining conventional notions of sex, and in some cases, loving, respectful relationships.

The murky mixing of pleasure and pain is often a contentious issue for even the most liberal-minded people. Possibly the final frontier in taboo, bondage, discipline, and sado-masochism (BDSM) has evolved into a legitimate lifestyle complete with social functions, education, clothing, and language. Vancouver’s own BDSM culture is thriving, with a growing community (arguably the city’s only genuinely all-inclusive community) at the forefront of changing the city’s attitudes about sex.

Peter Tupper, director at large and communications coordinator for Metro Vancouver Kink, is one of a handful of people publicly “out” about his involvement in the BDSM community. He defines BDSM as a set of sexual practices involving dominance and submission role play, and other forms of erotic stimulation including confinement, impact, and a variety of other sensations. He’s well aware that to many people BDSM sounds dangerous and dirty, and he’s interested in creating more honest dialogues about sexual needs.

“Some people are wary about mixing sex and violence and they’re frightened by the connection,” Tupper says. “I think they don’t understand that often in BDSM, that’s taken in the context of a relationship of mutual trust and respect. There’s a very strong focus on the ethics of behaviour, of looking after the person you’re with, of negotiating beforehand, respecting their physical, psychological, emotional limits. There’s no standard script for a sexual encounter. You meet with somebody, you negotiate your limits, work out his or her kinks, and nothing’s taken for granted. That formalized negotiation—I think that’s something that “vanilla” people can learn from. Maybe their sexual relationships can run a little smoother through that negotiation.”

Jennifer, a sex educator and founder of Libido Events, has been a part of the BDSM community for 12 years. Her introduction came at a time when the community existed in relative secrecy, an underground assembly where you had to know someone involved in the scene to get invited to an event. She accidentally stumbled onto the fledgling community after buying a pair of stilettos to fulfill a boyfriend’s fantasy. The sales-lady slipped a leaflet about a party into the bottom of her bag, promising that “all the other girls that bought those kind of shoes would be there.”

“Implying somehow she knew what we were into, when we didn’t even know what we were into,” Jennifer recalls. “We ended up walking in the door of a BDSM party. I was flabbergasted. Within three parties, my partner realized it wasn’t the place for him, and within three parties I’d realized I’d found a home. The home wasn’t within the party, but within the community, finding like-minded individuals. They didn’t have to share the exact interests I had, but they were open-minded enough to not push people away based on what their interests were.”

An indicator of how the BDSM community has flourished is indicative at the bi-weekly Sin City Fetish parties. Organizer Mr. Dark has seen attendance at his Club 23 West events grow over the last nine years from about 150 people to 500 people, with some parties boast ing a crowd of more than 1,000.

“Vancouver is blessed with a more open-minded view of sexuality,” Dark says. “It’s become more mainstream, as many people didn’t even know they were kinky. A few years back I had a make up artist that I worked with on a film with tell me she wasn’t into kinky stuff, but then admitted that she liked to be spanked. Well honey, congratulations, that’s kinky!”

Dave Toxik (a pseudonym), an active member of the community, also sees the makings of a social shift.

“Anyone who deviates from supposed normalcy is often looked at as an outsider, as weird or wrong,” Toxik says. “That, and the guilt that is often stapled onto sexuality in North America, give you a Frankenstein’s monster of sorts — something shocking or to be mocked. But, there are columnists, TV shows, and even the Taboo sex show, that are normalizing various aspects of sexuality, including kink. So while there is still the stigma and shame associated with kink, there are segments of society trying to move toward a more neutral understanding of what it is...I can honestly say I have never met as open-minded, interesting, and fascinating people as I have in the BDSM community.”

For more information, workshops, and meet-up opportunities:

Metro Vancouver Kink
Libido Events
Gothic British Columbia
Fet Life

Hal Willner's Neil Young Project w/ Joan as Policewoman

My interview with Joan as Policewoman appears in this week's WE.

Under the watchful eye of a Policewoman: Joan Wasser honours a Canadian icon for the second time with the Neil Young Project.

Under the watchful eye of a Policewoman: Joan Wasser honours a Canadian icon for the second time with the Neil Young Project.

Credit: supplied

Indie-rocker staying Young at heart

The last time producer and Saturday Night Live music supervisor Hal Willner and singer-songwriter Joan Wasser (aka Joan as Policewoman) worked together on the Neil Young Project was 2004. A sprawling tribute to the iconic Canadian singer-songwriter, the touring series featured over 30 musicians performing for nearly three hours. On February 18-19, the Cultural Olympiad is presenting a remount of this ambitious effort featuring a hodge-podge of indie-rock all-stars that includes Lou Reed, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene, Iron and Wine, and Joan as Policewoman, who’s back as both a performer and the event’s musical director. WE spoke with Wasser about doing it all again, six years older and six years wiser.

How did you get originally get involved with the Neil Young Project?
Hal asked me to be the musical director. I’d known him for a number of years before that and I like him as a friend and appreciate him as a producer and curator.

It’s six years later. Is this latest incarnation an evolution or is it a similar beast to what you put on back then?
Honestly, that original show almost killed me. [Laughs] It was definitely the most work of anything I’d ever done, and that’s saying a lot, because I think a lot of people would probably call me a workaholic or something of that sort. At that point it was a 10-piece band and I got to choose the band, so that was great. I got to work with people that I love. But then you’re also dealing with about 30 singers and the prep time is very small in relation to the amount of work you have to get done. It was fantastic doing it, it was just a gigantic amount of work. It’s going to be a little bit of a different beast this time.

Has Neil Young given you any thoughts about the Project?
He has absolutely nothing to do with it and we’ve had no contact with him, so he cannot be blamed for anything that happens with the show. [Laughs]

Your own biography has featured collaborations with a number of amazing musicians, so this seems right up your alley.
I feel like Hal did really choose me to do this because of my background. I grew up playing in bands as a musician only, as a violin player. I studied it classically and played in an orchestra and chamber music. It was a really natural transition to start playing in rock and pop bands, and then my name kind of got out there as people wanted to have violin on their records. But then I started writing my own songs and became the leader of my band, and I really just love playing with other people. I really work with each singer to make each arrangement of the song something everyone’s really happy with. I have no interest of pushing my own ideas on a song someone else will be singing, unless they want my ideas. I also understand the discomfort of jumping up with a band you don’t know.

What are the different things that you bring to the project now, versus then?
I’d done about six months of touring solo, and I had a trio in New York City, but since then I’ve been touring pretty much non-stop with my own music since 2006. I just got home today from doing some shows, then I leave on Tuesday for Europe, and then I go to Ethiopia to do this project that Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) asked me to do called Africa Express, then Vancouver. But I’ve just been on the go since [the Neil Young Project] happened, so I’m actually really looking forward to doing it and finding out for myself how it’s going to change. I certainly don’t have the anxiety that I had originally, because I know much more. Things happen the way they want, so I’m looking forward to approaching it in a more flowing manner.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nouvelle Vague

My story on Nouvelle Vague is in this week's WE.

Tongue in cheek, but totally serious: Nouvelle Vague’s bossa-nova-style interpretations of ’80s New Wave songs have won them the respect of their heroes — as well as the producers of Glee.

Tongue in cheek, but totally serious: Nouvelle Vague’s bossa-nova-style interpretations of ’80s New Wave songs have won them the respect of their heroes — as well as the producers of Glee.

French-fried cover versions

The history of Nouvelle Vague is the stuff of indie-rock legend: French band evolves from kitschy farce to established cult phenoms by peddling songs that are almost exclusively bossa nova-style covers of New Wave chestnuts, all thanks to the imaginations of Nouvelle Vague’s co-founders, Marc Collin and Olivier Libaux. Their knack for picking nostalgic favourites, coupled with the wise decision to have a variety of velvet-voiced French chanteuses helm each interpretation, has seemingly filled a pop-culture void. The band’s new album, 3, is another cheeky collection featuring classics like Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” and a bevy of duets with famous names, like Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch and Martin Gore of Depeche Mode.

Collin spoke (in a charmingly thick French accent) with WE from the band’s tour bus about choosing covers, commercial success, and cashing in.

How do you choose which songs to cover?
Marc Collin: It’s quite easy. We were really already big fans of New Wave, so we were just trying to remember which songs we were really into. Sometimes songs are completely unknown in some countries. For example, “I Melt With You” is completely unknown in France, and we just knew this song because we were completely into this movement, but it was a huge hit in America. But we don’t really think about that, because we don’t really know what’s a huge hit in America. [Laughs] We just try to choose what we like.

As a composer and producer, do you feel there are certain requirements a song has to have for you to want to cover it?
It’s difficult to answer. [Sighs] I can say there has to be a strong melody, but how? I think we did something good on “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” from Bauhaus, or “Human Fly” from the Cramps, which obviously are not great melodies, so it’s also mood or something in the lyrics. Something that just inspires some ideas to create something different.

Your reinventions are getting a lot of commercial attention, such as the TV show Glee, which used your cover of “Dancing with Myself.” Does it feel strange for you?
[Laughs] It’s what we want. Yeah, for sure. The idea at the beginning was just to please us, but as soon as it can have a commercial success, for sure. Actually, there’s a lot of people who come to the show who don’t know the originals; they are just discovering the songs like this, so it’s a good way to make people discover these singers and this musical movement. And the money that comes from this, it’s good for sure.

Do the collaborations on 3 signal that you have more credibility and are legitimized as a band?
I hope so, yeah. What we have created is really unique, in a way, because we are — and were at the beginning — only a cover band, but somehow we have this credibility that any indie band might get. We get a lot of press, we’re appreciated by the original bands, and we are playing in these big rock festivals like Glastonbury!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My review of Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe, at the Arts Club as part of the PuSh Festival.

The life of the famous horror author gets a Goth treatment in  Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allen Poe.

The life of the famous horror author gets a Goth treatment in Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allen Poe.

Credit: Supplied


If I were 20 years old and still had my lip piercing, Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allen Poe, would be everything I could hope for in a musical: macabre lyrics, Victorian-era-inspired Goth fashions, and spooky, sing-song chanting. Sadly, I’m a decade older, so, while entertaining, Nevermore’s a one-trick pony that can’t sustain its momentum beyond the first act.

The creation of Edmonton-based Catalyst Theatre, which mined similar territory at its 2008 PuSh Festival appearance with an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Nevermore delves into the sad life of Poe, the legendary author of brilliantly horrific short stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and the epic horror poem, “The Raven.” Based mostly on actual events, narrators take Poe (Scott Schpeley) and the audience through the signposts of his tragic existence — and there is a ridiculous abundance of tragedy, because almost everyone Poe ever loved died or abandoned him. This means the story stops and starts as Poe copes, rallies, and crashes, again and again. By the time loved one number three begins coughing up blood, it’s almost impossible not to laugh.

Most of the story unfolds with the narrators as puppet masters, the characters acting out their stories as marionettes on strings. This works some of the time, but not every actor has the same level of physical precision. Nevermore is more interesting when the narrators are silenced and the characters are permitted to act out scenes in the present, bringing the audience in on the action.

The music, while full of stark contrasts, could be more complex. As it is, it’s enjoyable, but utterly forgettable. There’s adequate whimsy, woe, and wit in the lyrics, but the problem with paying tribute to a writer like Poe is that few can match his skill with words.

To its credit, Catalyst successfully creates an immersive experience, from the wonderfully simplistic set (a silver scaffold with various sliding doors paneled in what looks like black lace) to the lighting, costumes, and cadence of the songs. But when the initial wow factor ebbs, Nevermore continues on to increasingly diminishing returns.