23 July 2010

Salt: a new female kick ass agent franchise is Bourne

The trailers before the movie

The Town: again. Like Affleck and Hamm and I'm always interested in films about Southies but the trailer gives too much away so I will skip it.

The Social Network: again. Can I say I hate Zuckerberg almost as much as I hate Nazis? No, I guess not. Nazis killed 6 millions of Jews. Zuckerberg is only mildly damaging and exposing 500 million souls. Anyway, I can tell this film is just going to be an orgasmic experience for me. But don't you just love how they used Radiohead's Creep as a soundtrack to the trailer? CANNOT WAIT!!!!

The TRON Legacy: Stupid sequel title. Without betraying the look of the original, the art/FX departments seem to have spruced things up with imagery reminiscent of Lady Gaga videos. Intriguing.

The main feature

The low down, no spoilers: I'm going to recommend this as a leave-your-brain-at-home action movie. Leave-your-brain-at-home because a good action movie need not have so many holes in it as Salt does. 

If you'd rather stay home this weekend and haven't seen the Matt Damon franchise yet, rent The Bourne Identity followed by The Bourne Supremacy instead. If you've seen the first two Bourne films and don't mind something in the same vein, go see Salt.

Also, the film is somewhat derivative of the 1987 film No Way Out and if you remember the ending, Salt isn't going to surprise you. 

And, yes, as an action film, Inception is superior.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! This is for those who've seen the movie already or really don't care about knowing what happens.

First of all, I'd like to congratulate the diminutive K-9 (who isn't listed on imdb and I can't even remember his name as a character, my apologies) who was able to land a part in a film where he isn't killed by a stalker in a thriller or horror film or in a film where his arc goes nowhere. Ok, his arc goes nowhere here except the pooch gets a scene in which his considerate guardian (Evelyn Salt herself) takes him to the neighbours to be looked after whilst she away. Hold up your paws high and sing "We shall overcome, We shall overcome...". This is an improvement. Actor of African descent Chiwetel Ejiofor isn't so lucky and again winds up being cast as a secondary character when he is in fact leading man material. When the deal with Tom Cruise as Salt fell through did anybody think of Ejiofor? Low box office draw? That's what spending other people's money is for: taking chances.

On my way to the theatre, I was thinking about how Jolie leaves me cold as an actress, a pattern she succeeded in reinforcing today. Yes, it's true, she's supposed to be a cold-blooded killer, only this franchise reminded me of Bourne and Matt Damon made me care about his character. That made for a better franchise because I didn't want harm to come to him. Don't get me wrong, on the whole, Jolie does a good job. The stunts are spectacular although part of the problem is that the movie instructs us from the get-go to see Salt as utterly invincible. I never once thought she was in real danger. For what it's worth, the Bourne invincibility got old by the time the third instalment rolled in.

We are meant to get our jollies in witnessing how ingenuous she is at using her invincibility. Salt has her style. Of course, she knows kung-fu like all action heroes but her specialty is to jump off moving vehicles onto ground, onto the ledge of a building, the ledges of an elevator shaft, into the sea (with a lacerated face — ouch!), and onto other moving vehicles. 

Perhaps we were meant to feel a distance with Salt, seeing as she's the bad guy. Except we know from the beginning that she isn't. It's just not how Hollywood movies work. The truly bad guys are never the heroes and they don't have their dogs babysat. Since I knew it wouldn't last, I enjoyed watching Evelyn Salt being bad until she became good.

After she has "assassinated" the Russian president who is speaking in NYC at the funeral of the U.S. vice-president, there's a nice shot of Salt, all Siberian glamour with furs and cashmere, on a ferry retreating away from the Statue of Liberty. Is she going back to her home in Russia where she was switched in order to assume the identity of an American girl and infiltrate American society? No, she's off to a barge where a dozen KGB agents are waiting for her only to execute her husband before her eyes. She wasn't supposed to get married, you see. Salt maimed and perhaps killed dozens only to get him back. Now, she has nothing to lose. The baddies are worst than her and that makes her good. We know Salt has empathy, German arachnologists, dogs, one government agent. Yet, the flashbacks to her relationship and love for her husband failed to grab me.

The action scenes are fun if ludicrous and the head of the make-up department should win an Oscar just for one scene in which Jolie is disguised as a male NATO envoy. 

I'm not sure whether I'm comforted or annoyed by yet another script that contorts itself to make Soviet Russia relevant and a real threat to the world of action movies. On the one hand, it's like wearing old slippers, on the other, this Soviet nonsense should have ended with The Russia House. Oh, cold war, quand tu nous tiens...

Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer can't do jokes although I'm not sure he even tries. The script doesn't really up the ante action wise. The actions scenes don't have the newness of The Bourne Identity or The Matrix when released. Or the impact of Inception for that matter. There is not one moment of levity. 


Liev Schreiber is as amazing as ever as Salt's co-worker, co-hunter and co-..., as soon as the film started and a so-called defector accused Salt of being a Russian agent, I thought of No Way Out and suspected Schreiber (who plays Ted Winter and Tarkovsky — nice thought) right away.

I liked that the Secret Service use the code word Geronimo for the President.

CB Film Club

Trying something new: I know that in these Netflix days, folks are not as likely to pop in to the video store and it is more difficult to schedule specific movies to see on a specific day, but we'll try this anyway. The idea is to watch a movie over the weekend and talk about it the following Monday. The Friday entry will be scarce on detail. I, for one, hate to know anything about a film I've never seen before. If you are like me, skip the premise. Monday blogs will assume you have seen the film and be ridden with spoilers.

We begin with a screwball comedy.

Born Yesterday (1950)

Director: George Cukor

Screenplay: Albert Mannheimer

Based on a play by: Garson Kanin

Premise: With his mistress Billie Dawn in tow, nouveau riche tycoon Harry Brock is in Washington D.C. to purchase the votes of the capital's politicians. Brock hires a journalist, Paul Verrall, to brush up the education of a tell-it-like-it-is Dawn.

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Next week:
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Tell us about the ads

During the Toronto Fringe, my monetised blog swiftly was decorated with Mirvish and Stratford ads and.... offers of travel to Israel????

I'm glad all those appeared but I know that friends in the Maritimes didn't get those ads, they got ads for pickup trucks instead. The ads you see on my site are at least in part targeted for your area.

And this is where you come in.

I haven't written about THAT oil company which is having a good go at destroying the Gulf of Mexico forever, but I have heard that bloggers have seen ads by THAT oil company appear after mentioning it. TMZ for instance had that same problem and were able to get Google (or whoever automatically generates ads to remove them) to remove them. Now, we know, Comrade Bingo is no TMZ but please let us know if you see ads by THAT oil company on our pages.

Thank you!

20 July 2010

Revamping Comrade Bingo

We will be implementing changes to the blog which should be relatively seamless. We at Comrade Bingo are far too interested in the world at large to focus on one topic for a blog. At the same time, we understand that readers who are interested in Comrade Bingo for our take on specific topics might feel a bit lost with our Renaissance wo/man approach.

Tentatively, Comrade Bingo will implement the following regimen:

New CB

Monday: film discussion of the previous Friday's recommended DVD.
Tuesday: various topics
Wednesday: various topics
Thursday: New to the Family (diary about getting a new dog)
Friday: Spoiler free DVD recommendation to be followed by discussion on Mondays. AND new film review*

*The new film review will depend on Comrade Bingo's ability to get invited to advance screenings.

One day we hope to add a member to the team and post seven days a week, at which point we will surely have a local Toronto day, and a theatre review day.

We agree with you, Comrade Bingo isn't very aesthetically pleasing. Such are the limitations of Blogger. We do yearn to break free and will, one day, have our on site.

Thank you and we hope you will be able to pop in on your chosen days and enjoy the blog even more.

19 July 2010

Inception: Deception of the Supposedly Thought-Provoking Film

this article contains major spoilers 

Recently, I read the phrase "the medium is the medium" in reference to social networking and how fitting that I was treated to a trailer about that Facebook movie whilst I waited for Inception to begin. I'll get back to that. Given that there will be thousands of online reviews about the film, I'm going to offer some thoughts on one aspect of the film (and reaction to the film) which vexes me.

First, some quick impressions: 

• I liked the internationalist aspects of the film, Japan, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, some rocky, snow-capped mountains; it this respect the film has been compared to James Bond movies, my favourite part of James Bond movies. The bit in Kenya had that post-colonial yet colonial feel, white men doing shady deals in a exotic and dangerous locus. No, it's not politically correct but I would have been fine with the film spending most of its time in Africa. More Hollywood action films should be shot there.

• No character was written to fulfill a stereotypical role (like comic relief or the best friend) except for the crazy wife who had to played be a French actress. But even then the idea is sufficiently understated to pass muster. Ellen Page is not only luminous but you can see her think about what a character had just told her. I was not familiar with actor Tom Hardy. Good find. The entire cast is great.

• Fisher Jr. having his subconscious trained against extraction. I love it when a movie is honest about setting me up for something, makes me forget it and then surprises me with it again later. Advantage Nolan.

• With so many levels of reality, what's at stake for the characters is watered down. Hitchcock could build scenes of almost unbearable tension with the simplest of ideas. When ideas get too complicated and a same life can be lost to limbo in three different levels of dreams, the effect nullifies itself.

• Also, limbo did feel like enough of a threat for me to feel a sense of urgency and danger. So many abstractions in the film gave you the notion from the get go (a notion confirmed in the last scene) that the entire thing could all be in the mind, thus reducing, if not obliterating, a sense of danger.

• I realise Nolan doesn't do sex, but are we to believe that men have such tame dreams?  Doesn't anybody realise that aside from Mal, the only woman that appears is a projection of Eames? But the dreams in Inception aren't dreams, are they? This made up world belongs to the world of gaming with a designer, different levels to complete, car chases and everything exploding all the time.

• I have a bone to pick with some of Inception's action scenes. It's clear that if any of us were to find ourselves witness to an epic battle or a car chase in real life, we would be so overwhelmed and confused, we would find ourselves unable to give the police anything like a complete description of what went down. Films have for a long time given us an objective view of such scenes, and even when the camera is positioned to make us feel as though we were in the scene ourselves, we are always given enough overall P.O.V.  to understand/verify that the stunt people and stunt designers have done a sound job. We are shown that what we saw makes cinematographic sense.  This contract between filmmakers and audience, that an action scene should make some empirical sense as understood within Hollywood suspension of disbelief, is breaking down fast. Now, under the guise of reality (I'm guessing) we are too often given the reality of what would be a partial view. We are given a camera P.O.V. of the shocked and the sense of being overwhelmed by fighters, gunfires, car explosing, glass shattering all around us. This  "more" realistic sense of disorientation is not entirely dissatisfying, I just hope filmmakers realise we know they are cheating and, in some ways, dampening our enjoyment. The satisfaction of a good fighting scene or a car chase is to see the artistry that went into making such complicated scenes make sense. Compare the eighteen-wheeler scene in Terminator 2 with the very confusing car chase scene in the second Matrix movie. Actions scenes don't need to make any geophysical (or for that matter scientific sense) anymore. I believe that is a pity. Inception is not the greatest offender in this but it is worth noting.

Mental masturbation cannot be intellectually fertile

So, I come to the aspect of Inception which bothers me on many levels (hahaha). Simple: the idea that Inception is a thought-provoking film offends me. In my view, it's anything but. This matters to me because summer is still young and I've got BBQs and all manner of social events to go to and when Inception comes out on DVD before Christmas, it will be just in time for another very social season. This means roughly six months of listening to people, mostly guys, argue the minutia of Inception like they are participating in a truly philosophical discussion. They will argue about whose dream is whose, the implications thereof, is the entire film a dream, are our lives just about dreaming. Philip K. Dick and then Ridley Scott got there decades ago with Blade Runner and it was hardly a philosophical question then. Books and movies about solipsistic notions are attractive and it's easy to understand why. For the artist, it affords the ability to toy with boundaries of reality and to the young or geeky readers, it gives them the hope that their actual lives may be much better than the one they are entrapped in right now.

Solipsism is a seductive idea, but a circular one that doesn't lead anywhere. I believe this is why certain types are so enamoured with it. A movie like Inception derived from vaguely solipsistic ideas will give rise to thousands of discussions everyday because to talk about ambiguity in the film gives pretence to complexity of thought. 

Inception is only the latest fetish object in a long string of cultural items in a collection of subjects for a certain type of geeks. Trekkies have been around since the sixties and have always been deemed innocuous. It is however the elevation of geekdom which has brought obsession upon the mundane into the mainstream. It became cute to dedicate one's every spare moment, or one's every moment in life to the dismantling of every aspect of a TV show, scifi book or film. The advent of the internet and social networking allowed disparate geeks to "meet" and grow and validate each other. Asperger has become a desirable condition, one that many geeks satisfactorily brandish proudly upon self-diagnosis.

Asperger is a mild form of autism and one hallmark of this terrible disease is the inability and difficulty to bond. Autism is in part the difficulty to understand the human condition and to have empathy. A person with Asperger or autism may be able to recognise patterns, identify weak signs the rest of us would overlook but that maybe due to a lack of interference from the understanding of certain complexities.

We are talking about different types of complexities and ambiguities when we discuss, for example, David Lean's A Passage to India based on the novel  by E.M. Forster rather than Inception. When we engage in a discussion about whether or not a Muslim Indian man raped a white British woman, we plunge into far more challenging grounds. A conversation about ambiguity that touches upon real life and real life concerns can lead to enlightenment, self-knowledge and greater knowledge of the other. A conversation about details of Inception will likely be pornographic. Obsessed with meaningless detail and circular. Such forensics amount to mental masturbation and mental masturbation can never be intellectually fertile.

I'm not saying people shouldn't talk about Inception, I am saying that we should stop pretending the film is thought-provoking and that discussions about it have value.

In a sense, I'm as guilty as anyone else, for we speak and type words endlessly these days without putting much meaning in them. Whether it is in blogs, social networks, or on the mobile phone, we waste words every day. Inception proved effective to me on one level (ha...), it was a gigantic, hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars Hollywood hammer. Only a few minutes into the movie, I dreaded how Nolan, as one of our realm's major architects, had made the world outside just a bit more artificial with rooms across the world filled with masturbatory discussions about his film.

16 July 2010

New to the Family: 1. The Wrong Dog

Typical goofy photo of Babette, the wrong dog, 2008

In the last year, Jill Abramson has written a weekly series about sharing life with a new dog in "The Puppy Diaries" published in the NYT. This, in combination with a frustrating search for a new dog, has sparked this new series of blogs. 

There is no chance of me duplicating Abramson. She didn't have qualms about going to a breeder and although I'm not one to wax lyrical about the rarified world of the liberal east coast elite, her world is one without daily contingencies, including financial ones. My dog isn't going to be taken to dog-friendly swim club in Manhattan (for realz!), nor is he going to summer with Donald Trump in the Hamptons or on the Vineyard. My future dog's home will have more in common with home life of The Simpsons than the sort of patrician households one finds in Updike novels. 

The story begins with the loss of a noble beast in March of 2009. In the last year of her life, Babette's energy level took a dramatic dive, something we attributed to the ever accelerating pace with which ageing gains upon living begins after a certain age. She was still mobile and happy until one afternoon. Suddenly, she couldn't get up and screamed a human scream. I will never forget it. She drew her last breath surrounded by her family twenty-three hours later.

I feel cheated only having had six and a half years with Babette. When we got her, she was assessed by different organisations as being between the ages of 4 to 11. She was found by Toronto Animal Services where she caught and was treated for kennel cough. She had other health problems which weren't addressed because TAS is the city pound and it isn't part of their mandate to keep animals healthy. They assessed her at eight to eleven years old which might explain why no one would adopt her. The staff, who called her Tess, delayed her euthanasia because they liked her so much. Babette had this forlorn look on her face that could melt your heart. When my friend Ron who looked after Babette on occasion learned of her passing, it was with tearful eyes that he told me: "Being with her was like being in a Capra movie".

Perfecting the forlorn look

After four months, TAS saw no other option but to end her life, but before they did called around a few private pet charities in case any of them would have her. The woman at the Scarborough SPCA said yes right away. "Tess" must have been a sorry sight. Protruding eye cyst, she was rail thin. When the Scarborough vet went to sterilise her, he discovered severe internal infection. She also needed some teeth extracted. The vet didn't agree with the TAS's assessment (and her chances of adoption surely) and re-evaluated her age at four to five years old.

As she was recovering from her multiple surgeries, the staff rename her "Jessie" and that is when we walked in. Actually, when we came to adopt "Jessie", we were told that someone else had been approved to adopt her but had not returned to pick her up after the twenty-four hour cooling off period. We found her recuperating on the SPCA manager's chair, in that modest regal manner she had. I think those who knew Babette will agree that "modestly regal" describes her well.

I didn't much like her. I had spent all my life researching this perfect dog I would have one day and I wanted a small dog that didn't require too much exercise. That would suit my needs and lifestyle. Every book tells you not to follow your heart once you get to a shelter and go home with the dog that is wrong for you. So that's exactly what I did. I wasn't even in love with her at all. She looked weird. She was then and remained lanky. Looked more like a coyote than a dog. She had bandages everywhere which I suspected, and rightly so, foreshadowed thousands upon thousands of dollars on vet bills. She seemed aloof and, indeed, she never developed into a gregarious dog.

One factor weighed heavily in "Jessie's" favour: the hubby. The now ex-husband had to be cajoled, begged, and threatened into getting a dog (no jokes about the "ex" status and my manipulative ways please). He was hanging on by a thread and had to be dragged to shelters. When he just loved "Jessie" on sight, I saw my chance and took it. I knew she was the wrong dog, but she could turn out to be my only chance at a dog. My mother, God love her, certainly spoiled her only child to the point of damaging her, but she stood firm on dogs and pianos. We didn't have the room for either, she claimed.

The SPCA staff identifed her a husky mix and so did most of the lay citizenry. I would, however, except people who work with dogs to know the different between a husky and an Australian Shepherd. I expressed worry at her potential energy level. "But look at her, she's just sitting there". My eyes went back and forth between them, my mouth open in dismay. She's just had five surgeries and is probably still on pain killers (she was), so, yes, right now, she's just sitting there. I don't think that's a good predictor of the amount of exercise she will require.

(As it turns out she was a banshee outdoors — slept whenever indoors — we walk, ran, two to three hours a day. This is a success story in the sense that Babette forced me into a more active lifestyle but many other guardians wouldn't have wanted or been able to do that. This could have been a disaster. More on that in future posts.)

A rare moment of immobility for the cameras, Beaches 2002

Again, I was pretty sure the staff was taking me for a mug when they told me she'd lived another ten years. I hadn't seen that TAS sheet which later came with her file and which assessed her at eight to eleven, but still with her at five years-old, I thought fifteen years was a bit much for a dog this size.

And so we went through an bafflingly easy application, I don't remember having to show any documents. We waited for our twenty-four hours of cooling off and took her home.

I should note that I will forever be grateful to the Scarborough SPCA. They gave me my first dog and we had a wonderful life together. Thing is, I could have been anybody, a participant in dogfighting, someone who sells dogs to labs. Ok, with the price I paid, I can't imagine there would have been a profit to be made. I was told I would get many follow up calls but only got one call, one year on. I was asked how "Jessie" was doing and once I remembered they were talking about, I said she was fine. That was the end of the conversation.

I used to volunteer at the Montreal SPCA. They wanted to put me on the adoption desk but I refused because I knew I would be too stringent and allow very few dogs a chance at a good life. I don't know if it's just me but as a cat and dog adopter, the so-called application process has always seemed inadequate. The ex says I just come across as someone who would be a responsible guardian. How does one "come across" that way in a few seconds or minutes?

I understand that my concerns have to be weighed against the meagre resources shelters must have at their disposal and the psychological fall out of leaving a dog in a cage. And the chances that dog might wind up euthanised. As a volunteer, when a dog was no longer there, I never asked who adopted him or her. Although I never told this to my conscious, I knew they might not have been adopted at all. I noticed no other volunteers ever spoke of a specific dog not being there anymore. We spared ourselves happy stories of adoption to spare ourselves stories of the death chamber. The vets would take the dogs (and cats) at night without the rest of us knowing. I once read that vets have some of the highest suicide rates of any profession.

It is to avoid this dark side of shelters that workers and volunteers probably want to think the best of those who seek to adopt. Their faith in human goodness is greater than mine and, in the end, that is probably best for most dogs. 

In any case. the soon to be christened Babette joined our household and we would never be the same.

To be continued...

Next: bonding with a new dog and my experiences with shelters and breeders thus far.

*No kill shelters are another story but I don't approve of them for the usually stated reasons against them.

15 July 2010

That Ground Zero Mosque

The National Republican Trust PAC has produced the following ad. All major networks have refused to air it.

"On September 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous thirteen storey Mosque." And it just gets more bigoted.

The footage makes this look like a pro-jihad vid and it actually shows someone jumping from one of the Twin Towers, footage which I knew existed but I'd never seen before. Thank you, National Republican Trust PAC.

When it time comes to address how relentlessly absurd the right-wing has become in the U.S., I must admit it, words fail me. 

11 July 2010

Toronto Fringe Day 12 - Last day

Derrick Chua, president of the Toronto Fringe, came to our show last night. After the curtain came down for the last time, our Gargantuesque set has moved to somebody's basement in Etobicoke, goodbye to the aquariums.

Two more shows today The Flying Avro Arrow, The Silent City, maybe three Tightrope (again) in the evening and maybe I'll skip the partying tonight. It's been fun but the laundry is piled up and my apartment looks like the Black Bloc have been through it.

This modest vid (my last Fringe vid this year unless I decide to cover Best of Fringe) is a thank you to volunteers who make this event happen. It's a small tribute but a heartfelt one.

See you all next year.

10 July 2010

Toronto Fringe Day 11 - Personal note on winding down

Last show of The Aquarium tonight Factory Mainspace. Being an A.D. has been an interesting experience. My input wasn't really creative nor technical. I have learned so very much and I'm immensely grateful for that, thank you to Regan Macaulay.

I can't say I felt like any of the praise the show has received has anything to do with me. Again, odd... I feel a bit like the show's trophy wife. My biggest worry about tonight's last show is whether I really have the guts to wear that green dress.

Since all my work happened before the premiere, my impromptu idea about making vids turned out to be a stroke of genius. I met loads of Fringe artists and experienced the Fringe as a community of artists coming together. I wouldn't have had that without my blog as an excuse. Next year, if I were to do it, I would be better prepared. But next year I will my own Fringe show (lottery gods allowing) and the year after I will be at the Tony's. Surely. No matter, I will come back to the Fringe in whatever capacity.

I shall be partying at the tent tonight and then maybe tomorrow night. I haven't decided yet whether I will cover Best of the Fringe since many of my readers are American and British, readership has gone down during the Fringe. Do blogs get media passes?

Thanks again to Regan Macaulay for giving me this chance to learn and allowing me so much input. Thank you Maureen Bell for all your hard work on the props and costumes and your eternal good humour. Jason Reilly, it's always a pleasure to work with you. Anthony Palmer, thanks for being prepared (he knew his lines very early on and raised the bar for the slackers (kidding!), and as an AD, I really, really, really like that). Kristen Corvers brought a new sensibility to Triple Take and she really knows the cheap watering holes around town. Allie Price, you make me jealous, for I wish I'd been so wise at your age. Nate Callens, you want to play villains and I do hope your wish is fulfilled, but you're just not one in real life and that's a good thing. Bit of the same with R.J. Downes, our stage manager and emotional designated driver. Sandra Krstin, getting to know you has been such a blessing. We shall go to Body Blitz and have those bottles of Veuve come Winter. Scott Moore, I could work with you on every job. Not the same can be said of Andrea Lyons. Only joking, anybody who knows Andrea is a fan and an admirer. She and I socialise on occasion and I do sell her autographs from under her so let me know if you need one. Thanks to Allison McWood, Kevin Risk and Kelsey Matheson. Oh, and Kevin Robinson, I only ever want to be an actor when I see Hamlet but I wanted to be one when I saw the fight training. Amazing how you turned novices into convincing stage "fighters".

The penultimate vid asks artists what their first experience at the theatre was like. And tomorrow, a small tribute to Fringe volunteers.

09 July 2010

Toronto Fringe Day 10 - I am a moron & video of silly questions

Being nice is always a good thing. Remember my empathy for Lorne Hiro and his disorientation, just a few blogs ago? It stands me in good stead as I did the EXACT same thing last night. I got the venue right but the time wrong. And there was a comp waiting for me. The height of shame. The producer was so nice about it he offered me ANOTHER comp. But no, I shall attend on my own dollar.

Thank God, I don't have much more editing to do because my building is shutting down the A/C for four to six hours today to repair the thing which, as far as I can tell, works perfectly well. Off to the theata' I go.

As the festival is winding down, I've come up with silly questions for Fringe artists to answer in the vid below. These little "segments" can be awfully annoying at times, but here, I'm glad to say I got answers far more insightful than the questions deserved. I am grateful to all who participated in this.

08 July 2010

Toronto Fringe Day 9 - "The Silent City"

In preparation for this clip below, I studied the Stagehands website and listened to a few tracks (available for download from the show). I was surprised I liked the tunes since the only rock opera I like is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now Magazine writes the show includes "catchy stadium-caliber anthems" and Derrick Chua is also a fan of show. This is one of the sleeper hits of this festival.

So I met up with David Yenovkian and Marko Pandza of Stagehands, rockers, actors, nice guys... they can even convert fractions. Watch for yourselves.

Toronto Fringe Day 9 - "Breadwinner"

The heatwave continues and you ask, "Comrade Bingo, it's so bloody hot, and you post an interview with the sultry Ashley Gibson, star of the ensemble cast 'Breadwinner'"?

Go on, you'll love it.

Star of an ensemble cast? Maybe that doesn't make sense, but you know what I mean.

07 July 2010

Toronto Fringe Day 8 - "Kissing Swinburne"

Claire Frances Muir (Swinburne) Mark Huisman (Theodore) in Kissing Swinburne

I thought everybody had reviewed Kissing Swinburne and when I came back home to check the Fringe review bookmarks on my browser, I realised that, no, the buzz has almost purely been word-of-mouth. Tweets, patrons in pre-show line-ups and imbued ones at the beer tent. Glen Sumi, theatre critic for Now, attended the same performance I did and I am relieved the show will receive the attention it deserves. Because he will give it a great review. He simply must.

At the outset, I must admit that without the hype I wouldn't have seen this show. Firstly, I try to avoid any title that begins with a verb in the continuous form, Finding Forrester or Searching for Bobby Fisher. Yes, it is true, Being John Malkovitch is a good flick...  and with puppets in it. Hmm.

Secondly, the free for all of different worlds artists bring to the Fringe should know no bounds but do we need yet another Victorian tale, I asked myself as waited for Swinburne to begin. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about Masterpiece Theatre fare and this very blog was named after an Edwardian hero. And yet, the question of desirable Fringe content reminds me of an incident in my salad days in Montreal. The radio stations of the French CBC decided to ban music with English lyrics. The experiment led to unexpected discoveries, voices once muted by the sound cannons of Anglo-Saxon music were given exposure and, for the first time, scores of musicians from all corners of the world gained a Québec audience they would never have had otherwise. Thus were my cogitations whilst waiting in the BYOV (bring your own venue) at the theatre bar, Bread & Circus, . Perhaps the Fringe should be taken as an opportunity to turn away from British culture as it artistically still casts a dominion-sized shadow over us, I thought. I mean, I'd read the flyer, I knew this to be a LGBT positive show but I'm not sure that's any sort of excuse. I'm not advocating censorship here, only stating a preference.

That it took seconds for my defences to fall, you've already guessed. 

Swinburne focuses on the sadomasochist relationships in the life of the nineteenth century poet Algernon Swinburne. Actually, the creators of the show insist on describing the relationships as s&m but, fear not, we're talking small "s" and small "m". We're not exactly in internet-era kink territory here. 

The well-trodden idea of chains of characters who love those who cannot love them back is a tall order. The "message" could have been rather trite, yet we are moved and held in the claustrophobic world of Swinburne's room where he is haunted by former unrequited loves. The writers (wife and husband, Claire Frances Muir and Mark Huinsman who both star in the show) could have portrayed Swinburne's childhood memories as traumas. Instead, Swinburne reenacts them from his room with his puppet theatre, scenettes elicting complicit (not conflicted/ing) laughter from the audience. Appropriately, there is no conversation between the audience and the writing that is meant to go over the head of Swinburne's consciousness — beyond the obvious everyday abuse of Victorian children. Swinburne and/or Claire Frances Muir own(s) it, perhaps knowing that events from early life and love which have produced a tortured alcoholic have also produced an important poet.

There are several effective conduits that support the characterisation and emotion in the play. I don't know if actors realise to what extent audiences can detect their being "present". Muir (who plays Swinburne), Huisman (who plays his lover Theodore) and Mary Krohnert (who plays Mary, a cousin who toys with Swinburne and then discards him) are not just intensely "present", they are luminous. You can feel the energy focused and travelling from within them and each other and the audience. With Muir, you have the feeling she could take you anywhere dramatically in this play, and you would go there with her. Huisman telegraphs his love and need without falling into pathos, a real pitfall in traditional representations of homosexual yearning. Krohnert plays Mary gloriously, as she should be.

The language is believably Victorian but fluid and naughty in almost a wholesome way. And it really works. Throughout, the text is conversant with Swinburne's attitude, often whimsical and mischievous. Despite lifelong pain, joy punctuated this character's life.

The last element which makes Swinburne such a success is the one all who have seen it talk about: the use of puppets and masks. Don't allow yourself to hear about them in too much detail. This aspect of the theatricality of the show provides several surprises. Suffice it to say that the makers of this show understand that theatre at its best is about magic. In this case, faith in that concept brings deliciously innovative morsels of creative bliss.

After the show, I was engrossed in conversation with the stranger sitting next to me as the actors took the set apart for the next Fringe show. Bringing your own venue requires an even greater investment, determination and confidence than the average Fringe show. Well placed in my view. I believe in this show and suspect a wider public will get a chance to see it soon.

Toronto Fringe Day 8 - "Eternal Eclipse", "Bosco and Jones"

Between The Aquarium and Comrade Bingo, I haven't had a chance to see many shows at the Fringe so far. I do, however, live right around the corner from Factory and was able to pop in to see Bosco and Jones today. Although I was perplexed by the exclusively American entertainment frame-of-reference, as our friend to the south would say, at the end of the day, funny is funny. And good entertainment is always pure joy. 

I have seen a few Fringe shows and can I just sound like an old fart and echo Sir Anthony Hopkins who moans about (screen) actors mumbling? This is NOT the case with (the play) Bosco and Jones but it's a sad state of affairs when THEATRE actors can't be bothered to enunciated and project. Although the cast members of Bosco and Jones are middle-aged, this isn't a generational thing. The Spring chickens in The Waves step up to the plate. As the Americans would say.

So beyond my "go see Bosco & Jones: they can speak!" spiel, I recommend it for its irreverent humour, expert directing and excellent, moving cast.

I haven't yet had a chance to see Kendra Hughes' Eternal Eclipse but as someone who grew up in Montréal under the cultural reign of La la la Human Steps and Carbonne 14, I was looking forward to hearing what she had to say about her contemporary dance show.