Wednesday, December 8, 2010


My review of Bruce McDonald's Trigger is in this week's WE (WestEnder)

Starring Molly Parker, Tracy Wright
Directed by Bruce McDonald

There’s an emotional weight on Trigger’s substantial shoulders that’s felt in every frame of this intelligent, contemplative mini-masterpiece: This is co-star Tracy Wright’s last film. The beloved Toronto-based actress was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in December 2009. By January 2010, director Bruce McDonald had assembled a cast and crew, and shot Trigger over just four weekends. Wright died that June.

Intimacy and urgency saturate every moment of this movie about former friends and bandmates reuniting for a tribute concert honouring women in rock. Over a decade ago, Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Wright) were Trigger, a wildly successful Toronto-based indie-rock band that, as explained through flashback, put the riot in the Riotgrrrl movement. Their artistic and personal relationships dissolved onstage in a massive blow-out, thanks to ego and addiction (Kat is a recovering alcoholic, Vic a former drug addict).

The tenuous reunion unfolds over one long evening as the pair rehash the minefield of their past while trying to make peace with who they have become. Kat, poised but insecure, left Toronto for a glamorous corporate job in L.A., while Vic, the more talented musician, continued to struggle with addiction but is finally recording again. They talk (a lot!), but there’s never a dull moment, thanks to a nuanced script by Daniel MacIvor, which negotiates the raw corners of regret with bitchy but funny frankness between old friends.

MacIvor, as ever, excels in communicating the complicated relationship between women (as evidenced by Ruby Slippers Theatre’s recent production of his play, A Beautiful View). He also provides some thoughtful commentary on aging, mortality, self-esteem, and reconciliation. Under Bruce McDonald’s surprisingly subtle direction, Parker and Wright play off each other beautifully, with Parker dutifully pulling back, letting Wright step into the spotlight one last time.

Monday, December 6, 2010


My feature on Bahamas is in this week's WE. His show is coming up this Thursday at St. James hall.

Bahamas frontman Afie Jurvanen.
Bahamas frontman Afie Jurvanen.
Credit: Supplied

Into the spotlight

Afie Jurvanen is just 29 years old, but he’s already seen the world, and from a very privileged vantage point: as part of pop chanteuse Feist’s backing band. A key part of Toronto’s close-knit music scene, Jurvanen also spent years playing with Jason Collett, Howie Beck, and Amy Millan. But a few years ago, he adopted the moniker Bahamas and released 2009’s Pink Strat, a startlingly thoughtful folk-rock album that’s propelled him from opening act to first-time headliner. WE caught up with Jurvanen over the phone during a rare day off at home in Toronto.

You’ve been a supporting player for a long time. Does this feel like the culmination of one part of your life and the beginning of the next?
Jurvanen: Yeah, sure, in certain ways. Like, up until this point [Bahamas has] been opening for other bands, and it’s such a different experience when you’re in that position. Really, there’s no pressure, generally, because nobody knows who you are. It’s a comfortable position... You can play a half-hour set, just play the best you can, and it’s comfortable being the underdog. But I also really welcome this new thing. I was kind of nervous before I started [headlining shows], but it’s such a nice thing to have people know the lyrics and know the songs and really participate in the show in a really different way. When you’re the headlining act, people are there to see you and they’re willing to engage in the show with you in a different way.

Is there an element of rejuvenation?
For sure. Some of the songs we’re singing, for me, they’ve been around for many years. So, to see them take on a life through other people — I mean, the space I was in when I created them is so much more different than what I’m in now, and the listener adds their own ideas, their own imagery, about what the song’s about. They have their own emotion attached to it, and it’s rejuvenating in that sense. I can see a song like “Hockey Teeth” take on new life just by people discovering it for the first time.

What’s the first thing you ever played when you were teaching yourself music?
From very early on, I gravitated towards the drums. There’s an immediacy: You hit something and a sound comes out... And when my friends started to get guitars and stuff, my mother couldn’t really afford to buy me a guitar at the time, so I had drumsticks, and I would just show up to my friends’ houses and be like, ‘Okay, guys, let’s jam.’ No one seemed to question the fact that I didn’t have a drum kit. Just, like, ‘I’m the drummer; I have drumsticks. Follow me.’

What are your plans for the next record?
I would love to put out a record in the early part of next year. It’s so hard to predict how that will all play out. There definitely will be another one. We’ve been recording on and off on little breaks, and I’m really happy with how it’s coming together. It’s a little more thought out than the last one. [Pink Strat’s] very much a document of us sitting down and playing together in a room, and this one started that way, but it’s taking on more elements, more singing and more electric guitar.

Will we get a sneak peek at the show?
Yeah, for sure. Just the fact that we have to play a headlining set. (Laughs) We only have one record, you know. We could either do all Alan Jackson covers, Vince Gill tunes, or play some of our new stuff, which is probably more likely. I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. Actually, it’s not a guilty pleasure — I’m fuckin’ damn proud of it. I like country music a lot, and these days I’m listening to Vince Gill and Alan Jackson, and I can’t get enough of it.

Bahamas play Thursday, Dec. 9, at St. James Hall (3214 W. 10th), 7pm. Tickets $18.50 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, Red Cat, and Highlife.

Cold War Kids

My feature on Cold War Kids is in this week's Charleston City Paper

Cold War Kids go to the deep end 

Nathan Willett gets personal with the Cold War Kids' latest disc

  Chilled out: The seriously sensitive and musically tight Cold War Kids

Californian indie-rockers Cold War Kids have come full circle with their upcoming third release, Mine is Yours. After their much-hyped 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards made them stars in the blogosphere, Kids took a risk with their second release, Loyalty to Loyalty. Though it wasn't entirely a sophomore slump, lead singer-songwriter Nathan Willett admits that even he was dissatisfied with the results.

"The time of making the second record was when we thought it only really matters if we were happy," Willett says. "After we made that album, we realized we wanted to be connected to fans. It's important to us that the record connects and there is an emotion that's expressed that's understandable.

"For me, just even writing for that album — it was something a bit more abstract and poetic, and I realized it wasn't as visceral to me, it wasn't as important to me as I needed it to be," he adds. "Spending so much time on it and touring for a year and half — that's what lead me to this album [Mine is Yours] and wanting it to be more personal."

For Willett and his bandmates — guitarist Jonnie Russell, bassist Matt Maust, and drummer Matt Aveiro — this meant taking time to reassess what went wrong.

"The second album, the ambiguity in it, I realized I needed to step up and have a stronger presence, connecting in an emotional way and lyrical way," Willett says.

Later in the conversation, he returns to this point, elaborating on how Kids has come to function. "Everybody feels that their style and approach and personality is essential to what the band is, and that's a really rare thing in any mainstream sense," he says. "[With Loyalty], when I realized I hadn't really lead the march, we all had to reassign our roles a little bit, so that everybody's personality would complement the song."

And in this way, Mine is Yours is the band's most truthful work yet. Thematically, it's a more emotionally complex and dense record than Robbers & Cowards, with Willett reflecting on his own little circle of life — his friends — for inspiration.

After returning home following 18 months of touring Loyalty to Loyalty, Willett just wanted to be a "normal person again." He got his wish, plus a chance to witness firsthand the normal people problems going on around him.

"I have a group of friends who went to college together, and ... I got married a couple years ago, and we have a lot of friends who are also in the same place," Willett says. "Some are doing great, but others are splitting up or have gone through crazy situations of diving into the deep end of relationships without looking around too much. It's also just the stage of life I'm in, getting past 30, and just a lot of change. I'm writing about what I'm seeing."

Watching friends struggle through relationship hurdles is a particularly common coming-of-age experience. What's unique about Willett's age group is they have absorbed the brunt of the tutelage from their parents' generation, which exemplified marital dysfunction.

"We grew up with the statistics that every other person who gets married is going to get divorced, and our parents having made those mistakes ..." Willett trails off for a moment. "All that stuff, when the rubber meets the road and you're not just sitting around and idealizing and talking about it, but actually seeing how you live. It's really hard."

At the very least, the pain has paid off artistically. Advance hype on Mine is Yours has been good, and fans eagerly awaiting the Jan. 15, 2011 drop are taking advantage of this "pre" tour that reaches the Music Farm this week.

For Willett, etching his heart on his sleeve in this fashion has meant another kind of reckoning as well.
"I feel like this record, for me personally, is the first time I've realized that this is what I want to do with my life," he says. "It's not just something like, we just started this band and put out a record and it's really fun, but now I can see myself doing this forever. I want to take this band to the extremes of what it can be."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bruce Greenwood

My interview with actor Bruce Greenwood, who will be at the Whistler Film Festival. 

Bruce Greenwood may not be a household name, but regular moviegoers know his face well.
Bruce Greenwood may not be a household name, but regular moviegoers know his face well.
Credit: Supplied

It’s that actor you know you’ve seen before

His name may not be familiar, but his face sure is. Over his 20-plus years in the movie business, Bruce Greenwood has evolved from a regular in Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s features to Hollywood go-to-guy when a commanding figure is needed. Be it presidential (Thirteen Days, National Treasure: Book of Secrets), corporate (Dinner for Schmucks), or captain (Star Trek), Greenwood has a knack for playing a man in control.

Greenwood spoke with WE just one day after wrapping work on the Vancouver-shot mystery-drama Donovan’s Echo, in which he stars alongside Danny Glover. He’s resting up for his mini-residency at the Whistler Film Festival (to Dec. 5;, where he’ll head the Borsos Jury (which awards the festival’s top prize for Canadian film), participate in a Q&A, and screen his new movie, Meek’s Cutoff.

I tallied up the roles in your recent films and you’re often cast as ‘The Man’ in one way or another. Do you think there’s something ultra-commanding about your presence? 

Greenwood: Umm. (Laughs) No, I’m just a schlub. Just a regular schlub... It’s funny — once you’ve done it a couple times and you get away with it, people tend to think that’s all you can do, and they want to know what they’re getting when they hire people. Now more than ever. It used to be you could just audition for something and they would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s figured this part out. Let’s give it to him.’ But it’s not really like that anymore.

Do you get frustrated by the type-casting? 

No. It’s just, I mean, the opportunity is there to allow yourself to be typecast, and if you’re not working and you feel like working or you’re hungry to work, you just do it in spite of yourself. Quite often I resist the urge.

What made you want to accept the position as head of the Borsos Jury? 

[I] went to a couple of festivals this year, Venice and Toronto — as [a contestant], as it were — and I’ve never been on a jury before, so I’m looking forward to that whole process. I’m really looking forward to what the other jurors have to say, and I expect I’ll learn something. That, on top of being able to go back to Whistler and spend a few days there at the beginning of the season — what more do you need?

You’re also starring in a film, Meek’s Cutoff, that’s being shown at the festival. That’s particularly exciting for fans of filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy). What made you sign on?

I thought the script was really interesting, and the chance to work with Michelle [Williams] was really appealing. I love the time period and the environment. And a couple of [Reichardt’s] other films I’d been quite affected by.

What was it like working with Michelle Williams? 

In this movie, she’s a very quiet actor; she does a lot with very little dialogue. She’s one of those people, you look at her face and you read on it a thousand things. She’s just got that ability to communicate without words. In a sense, it’s the definition of a film star.

You and Atom Egoyan, who will also be at the festival, have had a lengthy working relationship. 

Yep. We were both young once. (Laughs)

Do you have a favourite story about working with him? 

I remember when we were doing The Sweet Hereafter, at the time I had a front tooth I could remove, but he didn’t know that. We were messing around, doing screen tests with wardrobe and different amounts of whisker, because I’d come there with a lot of beard-age, so we chopped it off in bits and he’d go, ‘Yeah, maybe the sideburns smaller.’ We finally ended up keeping the big sweeper mustache, and I said, ‘Well, what if I take my tooth out? That might work.’ And he said, ‘What?!’ And I said, ‘I can take my front tooth out.’ So I popped out the little flipper I had, and he just goes, “Oh! Oh my God, oh!... Okay, yeah, let’s go for it!’ You could see him processing it and his initial horror, like, ‘Geez, are we gonna go that far? Okay, yeah.’ He’s just a really open guy, really fun to work with.