(April 24 performance at Canon Theatre, Toronto)
As we stood in the mezzanine lobby, my girlfriend and I were commenting on the lack of formal or semi-formal or even smart casual attire of many of the patrons in attendance. It’s unfortunate, we thought, that the theatre doesn’t inspire people to look good anymore… shlubs in golf t-shirts or hoodie sweatshirts, wearing jeans (or shorts) and tattered sneakers, it just doesn’t seem like proper theatre attire. But, after viewing We Will Rock You, a dystopian/post-apocalyptic future-set musical built around the music of Queen, I got it. The theatre isn’t really meant for the elite (disregarding the pricing), it’s not meant for the classy, and it’s certainly not meant for the sophisticated anymore (not that I classify myself in any of these three categories)… theatre, at least the big spectacle musical, is for the layman, entertainment for the masses. There’s a reason all the big productions these days are based off movies (Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Mary Poppins, Monty Python and the Holy Grail) and the collected works of bands and musicians (Billy Joel, ABBA, Bony M, Queen), and that’s to get something immediately recognizable on the poster to draw in the people who normally wouldn’t go to live stage shows. Unfortunately, at the very least in this case, it just highlights how corrupt of ideas such theatre is.
Bluntly put, We Will Rock You is crap, dreck, shite, whathaveyou. It’s a musical that butchers the songs of Queen, stomps on Freddy Murcury’s grave (while calling it an homage), and is devoid of anything resembling a intelligible plot or interesting characters. Aden and I were both willing to leave at the half way point, but decided to stick it out, because, well, trainwreck syndrome: cannot look, but cannot turn away.
Director Chris Nolan continues his winning streak of incredibly stylish and enjoyable cinema with this story of two feuding turn-of-the-(20th)-century stage magicians. Starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, the film establishes itself with immediate geek cred (dude it’s Wolvering versus Batman), but that’s not to say it’s a geek only film. Far from it. A tragic performing accident cost one magician his wife, and both their friendship, and when one manages to create the most stunning illusion the world has ever seen, it’s up to the other to figure it out. Deception of both the characters and the audience is integral, and David Bowie is brilliantly cast as Nicholai Tesla. You may think you see the ending coming, but you second guess yourself enough that the entire ride is a fun, engrossing mystery play. Incredibly well acted, visually quite stunning, and overall great entertainment.
The Quiet Earth
FLASH! BUZZ! The sky goes blank and Zac Hobson wakes up to find himself alone, in his house, on his block, in his town, country, and, presumably, the world. More than any other post apocalypse film, the Quiet Earth explores the mindset of a man who suddenly has the world to himself. At first Zac panics, the prospect of being the only person alive a frightening one, but eventually he settles into his predicament, moving into a mansion, decorating and adorning himself in excesses he’d have never afforded in life. Ultimately, though, there’s a survival instinct which keeps Zac on patrol, searching for others while being able to sustain himself without going utterly insane. Eventually he does meet someone else, but as Joanne becomes something of a beacon of hope for him, so too does he realize that there’s possibly other survivors, and the all to real threat of human conflict, whether real or imagined, threatens to destroy his utopia. Though hardly a visually stunning film (Australian made, dating back to the mid-Eighties), it’s highly intriguing in concept and execution.
Scrubs Season 4
Did Scrubs jump the shark in the 4th season? Maybe. It’s certainly a hump for the series though, and not one I’m sure I can get past. The problems I have with this latest season are many, starting with the fact that the once-brilliant daydreams/absurdist asides/exaggerated gags that the show has become known for have strayed from being clearly defined to muddled (in other words from “that didn’t happen, but it’d be funny if it did” to “did that happen?”). The relationship drama, which was something else the series excelled at early on also fell apart as JD became a less interesting and less sympathetic romantic lead, and his relationship with Kylee, a black woman, just sort of came and went as a completely wasted comedic opportunity. Meanwhile, Elliot’s character really faded into the background, seriously overshadowed in the early episodes of the season by the introduction of Heather Graham’s bubbly Dr. Clock. For the first time as well, the show prominently re-used gags. Unlike some of the running jokes, these reused gags just got tiresome. On top of that, some of the go-to second stringers like Janitor, Doug and The Todd were too over-exposed this season and aren’t as funny as a result. Plus, well, they’ve made JD too goofy, fun-loving and bumbling, to the point that you seriously have to question his aptitude as a professional.
That said, the show still manages to pack an emotional bite, with Turk and Carla’s relationship struggles being the meat of the season. John C McGinley as Cox still holds the show shoulder high above most other sitcoms, and it’s still much smarter than your average laugh-track. The most pointed moment this season had Cox and Kelso discussing the decline of the doctor’s status in the community, observed now as walking lawsuits waiting to happen. Despite some great moments, Scrubs is definitely an engine running out of steam. The writing staff seems to want to punch up the absurdity and the emotional resonance to such extremes that they don’t cohabitate so nicely anymore, and they don’t seem to know what to do with their characters anymore so they just make them seem sillier to the point where it draws you out of their environment. I loved the series to this point, but this is my last visit to Sacred Heart.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Will Ferrell re-teams with Anchorman co-writer and director Adam McKay for this, erm… not sure what to call it as Talladega Nights is not a send-up of the world of NASCAR as the film acquired the rights to use NASCAR branding thus limiting how much making fun of the institution and their fans they could do. This is essentially why the movie fails. Without the satirizing of something so prevalent (and deserving) the film is left up to Will Ferrell to be a goofy bastard. He does it, and he does it well, but it’s not enough. Since he doesn’t have nearly the quality of comedic supporting cast on his side as he did with Anchorman (John C. Reilly and Michael Clark Duncan are fine actors and have a warm nature to them, but they’re not gifted comedic actors like Paul Rudd or Steve Carrell). Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat) plays a rival driver with an absurd French accent and a penchant for flouting his gayness, but for all his talent Cohen still doesn’t evoke the laughs he should. The best of the supporting crew is actually Gary Cole as Ricky Bobby’s drunkard, absentee daddy who reemerges to teach Ricky how to drive again. Cole is the only one who sells his role and understands that sometimes humour is understating rather than exaggerating. It’s an amusing journey but neither memorable nor impressionable. For all of Anchorman’s quotables, I don’t even recall a line from the film that sticks out.
Comedy is constantly evolving, revolving, regressing and progressing. Thinking about Talladega Nights above and then the Party and I can’t help but think them two completely different beasts. The former is a loud, in-your face, vibrant and overt effort at comedy, whereas the latter is subtle, methodical, nuanced and, to a degree, charming. It’s odd then that I can see similarities in the performances that Will Ferrell and Peter Sellers give in their respective endeavors. Both work with an enormous amount of physicality, although Ferrell’s use of his body is in a shameless manner while Sellers works a more shameful side. Both also embody character, the difference being that Ricky Bobby isn’t supposed to be that sympathetic an idiot, while Hrundi Bakshi is utterly sympathetic and more bumbling than idiotic (think a fish ignoring the water versus a fish out of water).
Directed by Blake Edwards, The Party is considered a classic of comedy cinema. My first time watching it, nearly 40 years after it was made, and I personally found it slow but still endearing. It’s from an era where laff-a-minute didn’t exist as a concept, and comedy often took time. At the same time it’s deliberate in every set-up and execution. It also doesn’t always go for the laugh and it rarely goes for the obvious, instead blindsiding you with the unexpected. In the expansive grand finale, chaos piles upon chaos in absurd delight. Though nothing in the film was uproariously funny, it is stylish and cute if 20 minutes too long.
Lost season 2
You almost forget, as the season runs past the 2/3 market, that everyone is trapped on a island. In one episode they mention that it’s like a snowglobe with an island in the middle and there’s nothing else around, nowhere else to go. The series itself gets so lost in its own mystery that it at times forgets that these people don’t want to be here. And yet, if you think about it, if you stumbled across such a bizarre scenario with so many questions that don’t have easily appointed answers, wouldn’t you be curious too? The show actually does acknowledge some of its own detractions, and occasionally brings up reminders that, yes, the island isn’t a home. But, they concede, you might as well be comfortable. Season 2 is all about “the hatch”, and psychological head games as well as classic 60’s sci-fi scenarios are order of the day. The Others are revealed and while some characters are introduced, others broken, healed or killed off. By the end of the season you will be convinced that nobody is safe. The ever-tightening weave of interconnectivity that is the characters back stories are mostly entertaining, but occasionally they slow the show down too much (I guess your like for the character in focus determines how much you enjoy it). Following the old X-Files model that for each question answered, two more are asked makes Lost frustrating and yet addictive viewing. The special features rest assure us that there is a masterplan and that there won’t be any “it’s all a dream” cop-out (one episode addresses this head-on). Season 3, airing now, cannot come soon enough to DVD. For people who are frustrated with the show on a weekly basis, I maintain that watching the show in clusters of three or more makes for more rewarding viewing, whether you wait for the next DVD or dust off the VCR is up to you.
While in London, UK, I became a prolific user of their Underground system. Each station (i.e. tube stop) joins the deep subway lines to the surface via a number of stairways, tunnels, and escalators. All throughout are prominently displayed adverts, and the bulk of these promos, at least at the stations I frequented, are for the voluminous number of theater attractions in the city. “Footloose”, “Blood Brothers”, “We Will Rock You”, “Porgy and Bess”, “Mary Poppins”, and dozens upon dozens of others. But what attracted me was three white figures contrasting against a black moon in a blue sky, with MOMIX written in block letters above it. “Experience something different” it stated. So I did.
Well, what is MOMIX? Well, it’s a series of traveling dance performances created by Moses Pendleton (erm, okay). The performance I saw was subtitled “Opus Cactus” for whatever reason. Dance, when done right, is interesting and beautiful to watch, form and style over substance or story, I figured that Momix was doing something that was overtly stylish, a sort of Cirque du Soleil but less creepy.
The curtains lifted to exhibit a projected image on a mesh drop, allowing you to see the performers behind it, but not too clearly. The pounding of earthy techno rhythms kicked in and four white leotards emerged from the darkness, blacklight accentuating their whiteness. Standing in profile, the figures leaned forward…far forward, then backward… far backward, well beyond what ordinary ankles should handle. Then, magically, they’re floating in the air. It’s not until they turn in profile that you begin to question or understand that the “dancers” are wearing unitards that are half black/half white, and the lighting is such that you can’t see the black. The projected images change (the different intensities of lighting on the images sometimes unfortunately expose the dancers) and the sleep-inducing rhythms speed up and slow down while the performers move and shift about the stage.
There’s a novelty to Momix, that once you figure out, suffices as an audience member. “Oh, that’s clever… now what?” As an observer, once you know that the suits are two-toned, you begin filling in the other half of the performer unconsciously. The performance itself was dull and lifeless, too stuck on its own cleverness to do anything really interesting, including coordinating, as the pacing of the performers was horrendously out-of-sync. If they actually involved a coordinated dance effort, better rehearsed, and learned to use more of the stage to add depth and other visual trickery, rather than just relying upon one element of misdirection, well, it would at least be more engaging. As it was, dullsville.
The IT Crowd season 1
There’s only one thing wrong with season 1 of the IT Crowd (currently Region 2 only) and that is there’s not enough of it. Originally aired early this year, and the first show to ever release its episodes on-line before they aired, the IT Crowd is the brainchild of Graham Linehan who created both Father Ted and Black Books (two of my all-time favourite comedies) about two IT nerds, Roy and Moss, working for a nondescript corporate company, and their thrown-to-the-wolves boss, Jen. The first half of the first episode of the show is rife with the expected corporate computer comedy, but beyond that it’s patented absurdity.
The brilliance of the IT crowd, specifically beyond its pilot episode, is how each episode juggles many different balls and then sends them colliding together at the end. Linehan’s an expert at this kind of situation comedy, and few American programs, save perhaps Seinfeld or Steve Carrell’s The Office even attempt. A great cast and spot-on writing make it endlessly re-watchable, immensely quotable and enormously fun, the scant six episodes leaves the viewer with a stitch in their side and wanting more. Unfortunately the next IT Crowd episodes aren’t airing until 2007. Sigh.