Thursday, July 28, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love

My review of Crazy Stupid Love is online at


Starring Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Most romantic comedies skip over real human moments, favouring a glossy panache of formulaic plots, stereotypes in place of characters and ridiculous cliches. But now there’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, a film so full of spark, heart and bittersweet moments, it practically hugs your insides.

Cal (Steve Carell) is a chinos-and-running-shoes kind of guy facing single life after finding out his wife of 25 years, Emily (Julianne Moore), cheated on him with David, her coworker (Kevin Bacon). Cal takes up residency at a bar where Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a flashy ladies’ man, takes him under his wing. But, after successfully transforming Cal, Jacob falls for Hannah (Emma Stone) and the professor becomes the student. Sort of. Rounding out this mix is Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son, the wise-beyond-his-years Robbie (Jonah Bobo), madly in love with his 17-year-old babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who happens to be in love with Cal.

Love has its share of “only in the movies!’ misunderstandings, but Dan Fogelman’s witty, emotionally intelligent script provides a great foundation for what is easily the best ensemble cast in recent memory. Bobo is the heart and soul of the film and Tipton, surprisingly natural, is hands down the best thing to have ever come out of America’s Next Top Model (she placed third in the 2008 cycle). Carell continues to demonstrate his understanding of the nimble line between drama and comedy, and Gosling somehow makes sleazy seem charming before skillfully transitioning to vulnerable. The two share a phenomenal rapport, with each other as well as with Stone and Moore.

It helps that no character — even the philanderers — are relegated to “villain” status. The foils are normal, everyday flaws — circumstance, confidence, time — which makes a lovely change from more traditional Hollywood fare. A romantic comedy that’s warm, funny and raw? To borrow a line from the film itself, Crazy, Stupid, Love is a game changer. —Andrea Warner

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Friends With Benefits

My review of Friends with Benefits is online at


Starring Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake
Directed by Will Gluck

Let’s clear the air first: Friends with Benefits is the exact same premise as No Strings Attached, but instead of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as the attractive-but-damaged leads, here we have Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as friends who eschew the trappings of romance for the “less complicated” fuck buddy status.

Friends with Benefits is better than No Strings Attached (thanks in part to a cameo from Emma Stone who provides more laughs within Friends’ first five minutes than Strings did in its entirety), but that doesn’t make it great or even that good. It’s another rom-com disguised as edgy (because of all the loveless sex!) that operates under the guise of a self-awareness it doesn’t possess.

Jamie (Kunis) is the neurotic but lovable (of course) headhunter who recruits Dylan (Timberlake) to be the new art director at GQ. A fast friendship forms over the fact that they’ve both been told by crazy exes they’re emotionally unavailable. In a fit of meta humour at about the 30-minute mark, our star-crossed intendeds get drunk and watch a terrible romantic comedy (more cameos, this time from Jason Segal and Rashida Jones) and deconstruct the cheesiness of its emotionally manipulative music and bad dialogue. This leads to sex with one hard, fast rule: No falling in love. Oh, these crazy kids.

But Jamie’s toughness is really a veneer — she equates true love with being rescued by Prince Charming. Her mother, Patricia Clarkson — always a welcome presence, but in danger of being typecast as the kooky sage — advises her to “update her fairy tale,” but why bother when the film doesn’t? Director Will Gluck (Easy A) thinks he’s in on the joke, but his film succumbs to the very rom-com cliches the characters mock, as illustrated during the tumble-y, wordless montage set to the swell of sweet indie-pop as Jamie and Dylan graduate from “just sex” to “making love.”

Kunis and Timberlake are naturally funny and likable in their roles. They deserve a comedy that doesn’t buckle to Hollywood’s weird moral agenda: if the leads’ genitals touch, they have to fall in love. Unfortunately, the stubborn commitment to traditional values softens Friends’ bite.
—Andrea Warner

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Steve Martin

My feature on Steve Martin is in this week's WE.
Steve Martin & the Steel Canyon Rangers
Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers
Credit: Supplied

Steve Martin is on ‘Alert’

Steve Martin understands if you hate him. After all, he’s got money, wit and intelligence on his side. His talents are innumerable. And his resume probably gives hives to over-achievers: Comedian, actor, author, playwright, painter, musician... and master banjo player? Yep. That’s right. He’s just finished putting the finishing touches on Rare Bird Alert, his bluegrass, banjo-heavy followup to 2009’s The Crow, recorded with the Steep Canyon Rangers. And even Martin’s not quite sure how he bcame this rennaissance man.

“I don’t know how this happened,” he says, on a conference call with WE and media from across North America. “I really don’t. I think I only do three things and one is comedy, and that includes, to me, acting and music and writing. They’re all kind of just all part of one big creative umbrella. You become a creator, you write a joke, and then you become a fixer, meaning an editor. And that’s — that is involved in everything I do, whether it’s comic acting or performing on stage, writing a novel, or writing music. You are creating it and then you are fixing it. So, I look at it all as just one big conglomeration that has several tentacles.”

Rare Bird Alert exemplifies this perfectly. The album is steeped in serious bluegrass traditions and musicianship, but packs plenty of Martin’s trademark humour throughout. “Jubilation Day” is catchy bit of Americana about the joyous end of a romantic relationship, while “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” is a nifty gospel parody. Longtime fans are also  rewarded with a bluegrass version of Martin’s famed “King Tut.” Even though the banjo was a staple of Martin’s earlier comedy routines, he admits he was hesitant to combine his two loves at first.

“Once The Crow came out and was received well, I felt a little more relaxed,” Martin says. “And I guess it’s true that when you’re a little more relaxed maybe what’s more natural to you comes out easier... I have a friend, Pete Wernick, who plays the banjo and he said, ‘People would be disappointed if you’re not funny.’ So I just relaxed a little bit on this and decided whatever comes out comes out, you know?... There’s humor and it’s fun, and we also are serious musicians, or at least I am. The group is definitely serious musicians, and so I wanted to put that on.”

Martin’s admiration of the banjo dates back to his teenage years. Now, at 65, he’s still as awed as he was back when it was love at first sound.

“It was about the 1960s, there was a folk music craze led by the Kingston Trio that was sweeping America and the banjo was a part of that craze, and I heard it and I just loved it,” Martin recalls.“And there are a lot folk music groups that eventually led me to bluegrass music to hear Earl Scruggs play and other great three-finger banjo players, and I started buying any banjo record I could get my hands on.”

Martin has continued to find inspiration in sources both obvious (he’s a huge admirer of Grammy Award-winning banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck) and unlikely. After seeing Chris Rock’s new play, The Motherfucker with the Hat, he’s considering writing a musical using his songs as a foundation.

“There are a million ways to be inspired,” Martin says. “Sometimes it’s somebody sitting around by accident, for example, playing the banjo and making a mistake, hitting the wrong chord and going, ‘That sounded good, what was that? I’ve never heard that before.’ Sometimes you’re inspired by a deadline. Mostly just letting your mind wander and finding something fresh that you never thought of before.”

So much inspiration, not quite enough time, particularly with a full agenda the rest of the year, including a starring role in the Vancouver-filmed, competitive bird watching comedy The Big Year. Martin doesn’t know how banjo factors into his future, but he’s hopeful it’ll be prominent.

“This banjo playing moment, whatever it is, I don’t know how long it’ll last,” Martin says. “I hope it lasts a long time because I love it.”

Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers play July 26 at Centre for Performing Arts, 6:30pm. $49.50-$89.50 from Ticketmaster.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gillian Welch

My interview with Gillian Welch is in this week's WE.

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings
Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings
Credit: supplied

Gillian Welch’s bountiful ‘Harvest’

Folk singer/songwriter Gillian Welch’s new album, The Harrow & the Harvest, has been eight years in the making. In that time, she wrote hundreds of songs with partner Dave Rawlings, so imagine if you will, the tattered remnants of those discarded lyrics and tunes becoming fodder for 10 of the saddest, darkest, cut-your-soul-while-you-sleep numbers ever found on one record. A harrowing harvest indeed, yet one that’s starkly beautiful and, as it turns out, a love letter to a life less digital in every way.

But Welch admits that the harrow aspect isn’t simply a reference to writing the album. It alludes to the pair’s old-fashioned approach to recording: a process that toes the line between masochism and ballsyness, all in the pursuit of perfection.

“Sadly, I find that destruction and misery have their place in the creative process,” Welch says. “Dave and I work on analog tapes and we work on this two-inch tape. We don’t do any overdubs, we just record live, but the one thing we do have available to us is analog editing, which means you take a razor blade and you slice up your master and you put it back together with scotch tape, okay? And I honestly believe that, as opposed to working in pro tools where you have this digital safety net, you can hit the undo button a million times and go back, there is something in the bravery and the destruction of slicing up your master that leads to better art.”

Welch wishes more artists were willing to take risks in their recording process. “People give me their records all the time and I actually listen to ’em, and, well, I don’t want it to come out wrong, but I’m so shocked at how bland they are,” Welch says. “I don’t know who they think they’re doin’ a favour, know what I mean? The records that people live with and love, the records that survive decades, they’re not bland.”

Welch admits that people have been surprised by Harrow’s sonic achievements, and in this day of digitization, it’s sort of easy to understand why. The sounds are clear, the harmonies flawless, the guitars perfectly blended. And, then when you realize this has been achieved by two people recording live, it seems almost unfathomable.

“I didn’t realize until recently that the rest of the industry has drifted far enough in another direction that people have been shocked by the sound of this record,” Welch says. “We didn’t realize we were flying a freak flag so high, but then suddenly we looked up and there it was above our heads. We love it. There’s this funny thing that happens with sense of scale in our music and it’s kind of related to our sense of time and place. We seem to float between the here and now and other.”

The record’s influences are equally nebulous. Welch likens Harrow to a Rorschach test, admitting that people have heard everything from blues elements to English folk mixed in with her trademark Americana and bluegrass sounds. She says it’s part of the reason why her audience is so diverse, promising that shoulder-to-shoulder with hippies and country folks one can expect to also see hardcore rock and punk enthusiasts.

“[Those] guys say ours is the only folk music they can stand because they see the kind of gnarly, dark shit in there, for lack of a more eloquent way to put it,” Welch laughs. “We sent the lyrics for this record to the artist who did the cover — he’s a metal artist, quite well known, and his covers usually have decomposing skulls and stuff and he was like, ‘Man, this shit is dark!’”

Well, it was a long harvest.

Gillian Welch plays at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival July 15 on the Main Stage, 8:15pm. $40-$165 from

Rosanne Cash

My new cover story for this week's WE: Rosanne Cash!

Rosanne Cash

COVER STORY: Cash is Queen

The intervening years between Rosanne Cash’s last Vancouver appearance in 2004 and this weekend’s gig at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival have been, in a word, crazy.

Actually, that’s an understatement. The space between then and now has been occupied by recovery — she underwent brain surgery for a rare, benign condition in 2007; reconciliation — she’s finally made amends with ex-husband, country singer/songwriter Rodney Crowell, and recently spent time in the studio with him and her current husband, musician/producer John Leventhal; and grief — her mother, Vivian Liberto, died in 2005, following her father and step-mother, country icons Johnny Cash and June Carter, in 2003.

It’s that long grieving process that has informed Cash’s last two albums: 2006’s Grammy Award-winning Black Cadillac was Cash’s personal goodbye to her parents, while her 2009 follow-up The List was the ultimate tribute to her father’s legacy — the elder Cash bestowed a list of 100 essential country songs to his daughter on her 18th birthday. Now, at 56 years old, the venerable singer/songwriter/author has just turned a critical eye on her own repertoire, hand-selecting the tracks for the recently released double album, The Essential Rosanne Cash, which spans 1978 to 2011. Cash spoke exclusively with WE, taking a look back at her career, the Carter family education, and her relationship with the Man In Black.

Obviously since the last time you were in town, lots of stuff has happened in your life. What role did writing play in getting you through?
Well, in the the redemptive role that hard work plays in your life. It does for me, anyway. In particular, it’s great for organizing yourself and your thoughts. It helped me make sense of things that, when I’m in the middle of them, felt really big and vague and like a fog. But then writing about them helped me step back. It also makes me feel connected to other people who have gone through the same things: loss, serious illness. You realize you’re not alone in this world.

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Oh God, I was young, 17 or 18 years old. All I remember is that it was very bad. (Laughs) 

You picked the songs for The Essential Rosanne Cash. That seems like the car accident moment, where your life flashes before your eyes.
Yeah, it certainly did. But I feel at my age and at this point and how much work I’ve done that I was able to get an objective view of it. I mean, there were certainly moments where I went, “Oh God, listen to this snare! That big ’80s snare drum, couldn’t we have toned it down just a bit?” (Laughs) But I thought these are all really representative of who I was and the time I was working in and studio techniques and what musicians thought then. It’s all really true and representative. The very first one when I was only 20 or 21 years old, even 10 years ago, I think I would have just cringed and said, “Oh my God, I can’t put that out in the world, it sounds like, you know, a child’s third song she ever wrote!” But, I had a lot of fondness for that girl in listening to it. This is really the very beginning of all this work and it deserves to be there.

Why would one regret what you did back then? It’s helped shape who you are.
Well, if you’re just this engine of self-criticism, like you’re never good enough and you want to keep getting better, you start editing. (Laughs) If I could, I’d probably go back and remix my first record.

Are you naturally a reflective person, or is it agonizing to critique what you’ve done?
No, I’m naturally reflective. I have to pull myself out to look at the outside world more often. John, my husband, has taught me to do that more often. I was reflective to the point of imploding myself. (Laughs) Living in a single universe, it was really important to me to learn how to come out and be more social. I mean these are skills I taught myself: how to be in the world and not see everything as a metaphor for my internal life.

Yeah. Were you a poet originally?
Yes. Of course. (Laughs)

Your dad gave you the list when you were a teenager. Did it mean much to you then?
It did. I think if he had even given it to me two years earlier at 16, I wouldn’t have cared, but at 18 I was out on the road with him, I’d just learned to play guitar, I had an idea that I wanted to be a songwriter and I was spending the most intimate time with my dad. Ever. Since he got off drugs. So he was straight. It was a perfect storm of a perfect moment to give me that list. I took it seriously enough that I saved it for 35 years.

When you’re a teenager, you don’t always appreciate those kinds of things, or it takes a little bit longer.
Well, with many other things it did take a lot longer. But the music was always a way to connect, it was a language, it was currency. He gave me that list and I knew he was giving me himself.

You said you had just learned to play guitar then. Did you learn from your dad?
He showed me a couple things, but the people who really showed me how to play guitar were Carl Perkins and the Carters. Mostly Helen Carter. Anita, Maybelle and June showed me a couple things, but mostly Helen. Because they were all on the road with him that tour that summer and you know, we’d hang out in the dressing rooms and I’d get them to show me things and that’s how I learned. The reason my dad didn’t show me that much is because he was on stage when we were in the dressing rooms.

I love the idea of a backstage guitar clinic.
Not only a guitar clinic but an early American roots music song clinic. They taught me the Carter family lexicon, which, you know, is a tremendous gift.

From a feminist perspective, learning from all of these women to play and write is huge!
I agree. And that doesn’t happen that often. I don’t know anyone that that’s happened for: that a young songwriter receives an entire catalogue of music taught by four women, who were deeply steeped in and created this music. It’s such a gift.

You’re a prolific writer. Was that a direct response to your medically imposed silence when you had polyps on your vocal chords in 1998?
Well, I had already written a book of short stories, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t begun that yet, but yes, when I lost my voice, I started a cottage industry of writing essays. And then I just kept getting commissions to write essays for Rolling Stone, Martha Stewart Living, the Oxford American, it just grew and grew and grew.

Did it take a while to find a tone that worked?
Yeah, it did. It’s like groping through a forest at first. Well, I was trying to find the melody in prose. And, my own voice in the same way that I had at songwriting. It takes some time. I didn’t jump right into it. It’s work, it requires a lot of discipline. I love what Lillian Helman said: “I hate writing, but I love having written.”

Are you working on a new album of original material right now?
I’m writing right now. If I could get off the road, I could finish writing the record. It’s very hard for me to write on the road. I just wrote a song with Cory Chissell. He’s a great young writer. I’m also writing with Mike Doughty in a couple weeks. He’s really great. And, I’m writing something with Joe Henry and I’ve written a few by myself, so I’m getting there. I’m going to record hopefully this fall.

Is it too early to say what you’re writing about?
Well, I’ve noticed I’m writing about science and quantum physics. There’s a lot of poetry in physics. I wrote a song called “Particle and Wave” and I really like that. Since my brain surgery I’ve been particularly interested in neuroscience and quantum mechanics. That is religion to me. To just stand before the mysteries and go, “I don’t get it. But I love it.” (Laughs)

What makes a great songwriter?
Hmmm. Someone who doesn’t write about themes but writes about the specifics. Who can perfectly, seamlessly marry the lyric with the melody. And someone — I just don’t think with great songwriters it’s all about self-expression. That just gets so icky and narcissistic. If it is about self-expression, then you’ve got to have a lot of craft and a lot of skill to pull it off so it doesn’t just turn into a navel-gazing thing, you know? Someone who really has true discipline, who has worked on their skill and has a way around a back beat.

Rosanne Cash plays at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival July 16 on Stage 5, 2:40pm and on the Main Stage, 8:35pm. $40-$165 from

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hannah Georgas

My interview with Hannah Georgas is in this week's WE. She's part of a Vancouver music extravaganza, celebrating some of our city's best local talent.

Hannah Georgas
Hannah Georgas
Credit: Supplied

MUSIC: Homegrown talent show

Hannah Georgas has just one album to her credit, 2010’s aptly titled This is Good, but amongst music fans and critics, she’s already considered one of Vancouver’s most promising emerging talents thanks to her catchy pop-folk tunes and soulful lyrics. And it looks like the City of Vancouver concurs, with Georgas landing a prime spot during its Vancouver 125 Summer Live free concert series, July 8-10, opening up for Saturday night headliners Neko Case and the New Pornographers. Georgas spoke with WE about her move out west, the local indie scene and gave us the scoop on her new album.

WE: The lineup is pretty fantastic for 125. What does it mean to you to be a part of that?
Hannah Georgas: I think it’s awesome. The Vancouver scene — Mother Mother, the New Pornographers, Neko — they’re all from Vancouver and I think it’s really exciting in that there’s a lot of great music coming out of here and we’re celebrating that.

It’s a nice eye-opener for people who live here and may not realize how awesome the music is locally.
Totally. I think the summer festivals in Canada are pretty rad. The other ones I’m playing this summer, the other acts that are on the bill, I’m just like, this is amazing!

I just got back from Sled Island in Calgary, and I think something like 40 per cent of the bands were from Vancouver.
Wow, that’s pretty awesome. And it’s just been in like, the last three years or so. Or not even. I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble because I’m all about Vancouver in one way or another, but it seems like that when you go elsewhere, too.

A lot of bands I’ve spoken to from here have said the geography’s been isolating for them. How do you feel? It hasn’t hindered you, it seems.
No. Well, I’m originally from Ontario, so I don’t know, but I guess it’s that thing when you’re from somewhere you want to be somewhere else, I don’t know. (Laughs) But I love it. I’m a very outdoorsy person, I love bike riding, being active, so for me it’s really nice. It’s really catered to biking people and jogging and all that kind of stuff, so that’s a huge part for me. Every time I look outside and I see mountains I don’t ever take it for granted. I’m just kind of taken aback by everything. I also truly believe that if you’re happy with what you’re doing, it doesn’t really matter where you are. It’s totally your head space. I could be in Timbuktu and having a good time as long as I’m in the right mind. But I feel pretty fresh and I’m on the right path doing what I’m doing, so it feels pretty good.

How long have you lived here?
I think four years now. I originally moved to Victoria and was at UVic and then I stopped going to school and moved here.

If you tried to do a family tree of Vancouver’s emerging indie bands there would be a lot of overlap. How does that co-operation work?
As soon I started making a conscious effort to really work hard and make this the forefront of everything, I found there were people in the scene who were supportive, kind of lifting you up and encouraging you. There are a lot of people in that mind-frame and I feel really lucky that a lot of my close friends out here are doing this and they’re doing really well. I’m huge fans of my friends, too, like Mother Mother and Shad and Yukon Blonde. I’m really stoked for them. And, there’s another good friend of mine, she used to play in a band called Portico and she’s started up a new band and it’s awesome! It’s just getting off the ground, but the record, I think, is amazing. The band’s called Drawn Ship.

There’s something really heartening seeing bands help each other out.
I think it’s changed a little. I remember talking to somebody who was like, “I remember the Vancouver scene wasn’t like this. It’s changed quite a bit.” If I’m really into somebody’s music and they ask me to come sing or help out, it’s like, yeah, of course, I wanna help out and just be supportive.

What’s next?
I stopped everything in April and have been busy writing and demoing, just getting ready to make another record in the fall.

Is it too early to talk about some of the themes?
I feel like I’ve been through quite a bit in the last year, personally, with a lot of things. My dad passed away a couple years ago, right when I was recording my last record, so I touch on a little bit of that. And, growing up, maturing with things, love. It’s got a mixture of some dark stuff and then it steps over into the lighter end of things. But I think it’s really interesting and as a writer, I’m constantly learning. I just hope that I’m progressing and maturing and putting good stuff out there.

Vancouver 125 Summer Live runs July 8-10 at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park. Hannah Georgas performs July 9 at 6:15pm. Full schedule: