Canadian clowns, Mump and Smoot (with Thug), were in Whitehorse tonight in a revival of their first show together, Something. I was led to believe it was going to be scary, or disturbing--but these were not scary clowns. While there are some grotesque moments, there’s a charming show beneath the grossness. It stems from the deep friendship between characters Mump and Smoot, developed more than twenty years ago by John Turner and Micheal Kennard.
On stage, there is a sense that Mump, a bit rule-bound and dictatorial, is trying to be a mentor to Smoot, or a father-figure. Smoot, on the other hand, is young, innocent, full of whim, silly even, more uncontrollable–like a child. His voice even sounds a bit like Elmo from Sesame Street, though he can easily scowl at the audience and berate them just as much as Mump. But the two clowns cry together, miss each other, play together, and are true friends–even if they play doctor and (unintentionally) hurt each other. It’s not Laurel and Hardy I think of but Abbot and Costello. Or even George and Gracie.
Our audience was completely charmed by these two–and I laughed through the whole thing—there’s really only a few moments that you can stop laughing. Sometimes you are laughing at what the clowns are doing to other members of the audience. The Audience serves as the fourth member of the show, and completely unpredictable. John and Mike, afterwards in the talkback, referred to what the Audience does at their shows, as “gifts.” They don’t know how the audience will react, but they take whatever the audience does and uses it in the show. This is why the show is different every night. Sure there are several “acts” they go through–but the audience determines paths they will take in the act.
Yes, there are some grotesque moments, but comedy and the grotesque have often gone together. Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein comes to mind as comedy exploring inside Horror. We all still laugh–in fact fear makes us want to laugh all the more. Movies that play with death, or that use a dead body as a running gag, or that find humor in zombies (see Sean of the Dead). Saturday Night Live’s spoof on Julia Child severing her own finger while doing a live cooking show–this is what they mean by grotesque, or even horror. Mump and Smoot really don’t go beyond that barrier towards horror. There is nothing so realistic that it makes you gag. Thug, played by Candice, is perhaps the scariest of the three, and she doesn’t say a thing–which is why she’s kinda scary. She’s completely unpredictable.
It is a beautiful thing that the Yukon Film Society was able to bring us “Tree of Life” through their new Available Light Cinema incarnation at the Yukon Arts Centre once a month. Even more amazing was the swiftness. Whitehorse is not known as the place where new good films come quickly–but the YFS have almost bridged the gap between us and Seattle. Tree of Life was handed the Palme D’Or in May, and we have it in September. I’d say that was pretty darn fast. It shows again on Wednesday night, Sept 14 at the Yukon Arts Centre.
The Tree of Life is many things to many people. The film doesn’t concern itself with a complicated, or even clear, narrative. It has a simple one. At the opening of the film, the death of brother/son sends the characters reeling. What follows is a montage of scenes recalled from the mind of a surviving brother, now grown up (Sean Penn) as he tries to figure out what happened to “allow” this death in God’s great scheme of things. The Tree of Life, for me, was a calling out, a plea, a requiem to God for our personal tragedies–asking many times of God, Where were you? Why did you let this person die? Was he a bad person? The film is loosely tied together with scenes from a Texas childhood–a paradise of sorts–with a scary center, a frustrated musician father (Brad Pitt) who takes out his anger, at having to put away his music, on his three boys.
There’s a lot of whispering in this movie. Be careful when you cough. You’ll miss them. Often the whispered pleas begin with “Father” or “Mother” or “You”— as the man, who speaks as the boy, tries to figure out whether he was more worthy of death than his brother.
God appears in this movie, but not as Christians typically think of him–he is a bit distant, but consistent with the book of Job. There is the other “Where were you?” to consider: the movie opens with an epigraph from Job, asking Job–in the voice of God–“where were you when I created the heavens and the earth?” And there is stunning cinematography that takes a viewer from the beginnings of creation through to the moment the son is born. Through this, the pleas and the questions cry out— “God, are you there?” plays over a volcanic planet being birthed. The magnitude of the event of creation overshadows the magnitude of the personal tragedy. It is almost as if Malick is answering for God: I was worried about much larger things.
But to make that the only statement Malick makes would be to miss his emphasis on the importance of love and forgiveness in the face of the cruelties of life and death.
I saw X-Men: First Class last night. It was a good, solid action movie with stunning special effects. It moves and kept me interested. It never had me on the edge of my seat. It’s an origin story– it has to go through certain details to collect them all–but it doesn’t do it very interestingly, in my opinion. It also has trouble with multiple characters, having a hard time giving them much development. I thought the original X-Men did a better job at giving each character a moment. While Wolverine, Rogue, Dr Jean Grey, et al have their moments to shine as characters pre-Xavier, we don’t have that in this movie. Here, we barely know anything about Banshee, Beast, Raven, Angel, Darwin, Havoc. They are more about what they can do than who they are–though they hint at something deeper. In all, it’s a pretty good film, but not an amazing one. Enjoy it as an action flick.
I went Saturday night to The River, a Nakai production, with Michael Greyeyes directing a play written by David Skelton, Judith Rudakoff and Joseph Tisiga. To be frank, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in what I thought would be a sermon on homelessness. I just didn’t want the guilt. (And yes, I’m ashamed I actually said that—but I’m human and honest, and homelessness seems so much larger than I can comprehend–and I don’t know how to react “properly” or have any effect on the problem. I suspect avoiding the issue is part of that problem–and yet, it’s the easiest thing to do.)
But local playwright David Skelton co-wrote the play, and I’m a huge fan of David and Nakai. So I went.
I was blown away. It wasn’t a sermon. It wasn’t a guilt trip. It was eye-opening, and it was riveting, and it was brilliant.
In a nutshell, brilliant writing, directing and acting take you into the vulnerable world of the homeless in Whitehorse. Inspired by first person stories, collected by the writers through interviews over several years, that interviewing technique gives this play a realistic quality you won’t find in stories about homeless people. You want to catch this play fast. It’s here for a limited time, limited seating. You won’t be disappointed. I predict a long life for this play, and many, many performances across Canada.
Val Grimm, over at the Portal, gave me a good review for my short story, “One Nation Under Gods”! Thanks, Val. I’m always thrilled that there are people who will review short fiction, and anthologies. Thank you, Val! Val reviews the whole anthology, Tesseracts 14, story by story. Here is his review of mine:
The author of “One Nation Under Gods”, Jerome Stueart, emigrated to Yukon from the States in 2007, and his former citizenship is evident in the themes and content of his story. I’m not biased in its favor because of my nationality, nor simply because its dark vision seems in concord with my fears. This story succeeds, in my eyes, because of his detailed worldbuilding, the realistic relationship between the narrator and his sister, and his cultivation of genuine menace, an evocation of the way people can be treated as things. In the world of this story (which in outlook and some tropes puts me a bit in mind of Steve Darnall and Alex Ross’ 1997 comic Uncle Sam) concepts like Freedom and Patriot are incarnate as deities, administered by priests and priestesses, and the Statue of Liberty herself is known to walk abroad. The history of the gods is the history of the country, and its people are required to memorize that catechism or pay with their lives in particularly grotesque ways; if a child fails the standardized test which is a mandated rite of passage, he or she is transformed into a public object, anything from a soda shop to a garbage can. Stueart skillfully incorporates the conflict between individuality and vested religious and political powers; the way those powers can intertwine and what that merging means; the clash between idealism or perception cultivated through propaganda and reality, between history as the study of people in power versus the study of the people’s past; and the transformation of people into instruments, people into numbers.—Val Grimm at the Portal.
I wanted to like this movie. I have such fond memories of the original TRON. It was ahead of its time in many ways back then, and probably a little cheesy too… It was wrapped up in religion a bit, which wasn’t bad— it gave programs a “culture,” a “faith.” TRON: Legacy has kept up with the digital explosion in movies and taken it to grand heights, but it abandoned good writing and good characters along the way. I found it hard not to roll my eyes, and even with such great visuals, found myself bored during the last quarter of the film. How did they fumble such a beautiful opportunity? I don’t know, but I have some ideas. I offer these up for consideration. I’m no Roger Ebert (but I’m a huge fan, Roger) but I think most critics have already agreed that the plot lacks something. The original TRON received 69% on the tomatometer from Rotten Tomatoes, the new Tron 49%. Though, oddly the audience seems to like the second one more. Critics agreed the light show and “glitter” are fun, and who can beat that soundtrack? I loved the light show, the competitions, the music, but the plot is an epic fail.
What do you want when you get down the rabbit hole? Burton begs this question in his version of Alice in Wonderland. Folks will probably enjoy the visuals–they are delightful to watch. But in this age of CGI, there’s not as much fanfare left for special effects. It’s coming down quickly to who tells a good story, and I want to examine Burton’s story here.
What I like about the story of Alice in Burton’s Wonderland is that we get a detailed look at Alice’s life before the rabbit hole–especially her cloying debutante-shuffling world, where so little was expected from women, and so much was expected from their cooperation. I like the summer dance on the lawn, the hordes who like to watch when she’s proposed to. I like Alice. I liked that narrative so much that I was expecting more of it when we got to Wonderland and it wasn’t there, not immediately anyway. When I realized that Wonderland was reflecting her own re-vision of a forced duty, then it got more interesting–but that time in Wonderland feels off.
Two things happened when she got into Wonderland. I got confused, and Wonderland was reduced to a strip of land between two kingdoms. The premise of this movie is that Alice has been here before. In fact, she has recurring nightmares throughout her childhood and young adulthood, and yet nothing in Wonderland sparks her memory? Even a memory of the dream? I don’t buy it. If I was haunted by something, I would start recognizing people and things. She acts like she’s never even SEEN the place. Why doesn’t anyone try to jar her memory when they pull out the Calendria? (When we do see her previous journey in montages it looks vaguely like the same plot…and boring)
This plot seems very focused on the end of the movie. It’s like one big long foreshadowing. She has to fight the Jabberwocky–everyone tells her this. All the beautiful weird dialogue of Lewis Carroll is gone, pared away to focus on an ending that’s so inevitable we might as well have just skipped to the end. All the characters are focussed on Alice. This is so unlike Carroll’s version where everyone was focussed on themselves. Alice was merely observant. Here she does only what we expect her to do; she goes through the motions of the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence, a moment with the Mad Hatter, a second with the Cheshire cat. She’s not even curious anymore. Where’s Alice–Carroll’s Alice?
Wonderland really takes on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, two queens that duked it out after Henry VIII died. I didn’t buy the petty rivalry of sisters. What’s there to fight over? Two courts, fully intact. The flashback involving the Jabberwocky smoking a White Queen party—well, there weren’t any consequences. The White Queen had a new castle, attendants, and enough white to choke the Arctic. I didn’t get the queens at all. There’s no reason for them to be upset, and in fact, the White Queen seems devoid of any will to fight–she has to be saved. Her court resembled the starchy-white English party Alice just left. And we hated that.
Remakes where characters revisit their original stories can be good. Hook is an excellent version of the grown up Peter Pan visiting Never Never Land. The script was brilliant. Burton’s Wonderland has very little wonder left–even for the characters involved.
Yes, Carroll’s original story is obtuse and playful–it isn’t easily figured out. But Burton scrapped the multiplicity of places in Wonderland, the depth of odd characters, and Alice’s curiosity in favor of a plot. If you’re going to put all your money on a plot, it better work. This one is so muddly in the middle, I just waited for there to be a reason for Alice to do something….until we see her realize that everyone is telling her what to do–in both worlds, and then she goes and does something else. But it’s not enough. She hurries through the epilogue in the world’s longest/shortest “I need a moment to think.”
I liked Burton’s rescuing of Alice’s real world experiences—though she doesn’t talk about them much in Wonderland any more. I like the ending, I like the beginning, but her time in Wonderland plays like nobody wants to be distracted by wonder anymore–they want the big battle. Carroll’s Wonderland was about the wandering, about the figuring things out, about the wonder— but this one had few choices for Alice, a lot of inevitably and no wonder.
I gave Justine Davidson, the theatre reviewer for the Whitehorse Star, a long hug at the end of The Laramie Project, the Guild Society/GALA play.
Both of us were near tears.
She said over my shoulder, “Does this mean it’s good when the journalists are crying?”
We weren’t the only ones moved.
But don’t let this make you think the play is a downer. It isn’t.
It’s mostly a fascinating study of 80 people learning to cope with sudden and abrupt change. The tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s murder happens before the play begins — so this is, in effect, the aftermath.
This is a community coming to terms with what they think about it — and finding themselves at the centre of a media tornado. You find yourself rooting for them as they try to make it through. …
The Wolfman,(2010) directed by Joe Johnston, starring Benicio Del Toro, is a remake of The Wolfman, (1941) directed by George Waggner, and starring Lon Chaney, Jr. You know that. My biggest question through the movie is WHY REMAKE IT?
The first half hour is a snoozer, merely a recap of the film you’ve already seen. In fact, the writers so depend on you knowing the characters from the 1941 movie that hardly anyone is allowed screentime to develop as NEW characters. Who is Lawrence Talbot in this version? We don’t know. He’s cast in such dark and moody lighting, such gothic teasery, that we don’t get a sense of Lawrence as a person. They make the BIG SIN of Bad Movies–let the actors only talk about the Plot. So, every line, every snippet of dialogue is there to give us Backstory, Context, Tell Us Things We Should Know–but no one is allowed to actually talk about anything else. No one asks anyone to pass the salt. There’s no time. We must talk, and talk quickly, about the plot.
To the movie’s credit there are three new twists thrown in:
* * *SPOILERS * * *
1. Lawrence Talbot is an American Actor, starring in Hamlet in London. This is cool. I don’t mind there being some Shakespearian allusions in the movie! Yay! And Lawrence Talbot and Hamlet have some similarities— they’ve seen the truth about their fathers; they have seen their mothers ravaged by other men; they were gone for most of their adult life and are brought back for a funeral; they are in a quandary about what to do; their girlfriends think they are insane; they must kill their “fathers”. Brilliant idea to show these similarities. But where Shakespeare’s play develops characters, Johnston’s movie superimposes limp characters onto established patterns. Not only is Del Toro’s Talbot hoping you think of Chaney’s Talbot, but he’s hoping you think of Hamlet–except Hamlet was clever, Hamlet PLAYED insane, Hamlet had a plan… Talbot in this film has no plan. He’s a victim of the werewolf, a victim of his Father, and ultimately a victim of the town. The Comparison to Hamlet is an attempt to ride on Shakespeare’s coattails and give this film some depth it doesn’t earn.
IF they had started the movie on stage with Benicio Del Toro, playing Hamlet, going backstage to hear that his sister-in-law had written to him to come to the Family Manse, there’s been a murder–and he had to go back onstage—that would have been interesting. It would have been SCENE. We could have seen Talbot as an actor, as a person…. BEFORE he goes home to Goth House.
2. Anthony Hopkins is HIMSELF a Werewolf. Cool. In fact, I think both men are sexy as werewolves and the battle scene is beautifully done and fun to watch. In fact, I’m sure that battle scene is worth the whole movie to some. By making the dad a werewolf too, you add a great deal to the idea that Fathers make their Sons into monsters when they are monsters. And I kind of liked this aspect of the movie. It should add a depth to becoming a monster–abusive parents create abusive children, etc. But that’s not really explored. The Dad is completely heartless in that he’s finally decided to embrace his inner Werewolf and just kill at random. He has no reason and no regret. And so, we don’t care about him. He’s one-dimensional and speaks from the script. And neither man can stop himself from killing once he’s a werewolf…. so why bother with morality at all?
3. Lawrence Talbot was sent to a mental institution. VERY cool. I like this. It’s logical. He sees his father kill his mother and goes a little bonkers. And then they send him to America where those who are a little bonkers will fit in. One scene. That’s all the movie gives this beautiful, but underdeveloped, idea… so Talbot is dunked in icy water and given injections, and we get a flashback. That’s it. And, the second major transformation happens here…which is fun to watch. But the addition of this backstory is sewn on with big thread and doesn’t really match the rest of the movie. It isn’t utilized.
Some inconsistencies in this movie made this remake more confusing and tiresome.
A. Why wasn’t Lawrence killed when he saw his father eating his mother? None of the other werewolves have stopped to save a child…. Lawrence should be dead, or he should have never seen that incident.
B. Sometimes the moon comes through a cloud and changes you AT ONCE, and sometimes, you get to walk around outside or inside as a human being until you’ve finished your dialogue, and then you get to transform into the werewolf. There’s no clear rule about transformation. Bad.
C. What is the purpose of the Inspector or Gwen now? They are Wasted characters because they’re not given any screen time to really develop. In 1941, Lawrence Talbot was a normal man, flirting with a beautiful girl, come back to run the estate of his family. When he is bitten, that first “normal” life is taken from him.
Watch this here and see the development of character in a 1940’s way (and, wow, is Lon Chaney Jr. a hunk of a guy)
In 2010, Lawrence Talbot is already doom and gloom, and his bite is just further nightmare. Nothing is normal in this new Talbot’s life. The girl he’s flirting with now–that’s his dead brother’s fiance. His father? A werewolf who killed his own wife. There ain’t a happy moment in this film–and therefore, without that happier beginning, there is no tragedy.
This was the HEART of the 1941 film. That a good man could be destroyed by a bite from a werewolf. It has been ripped out of the chest of this story to make way for a kind of pre-ordained House of Usher doom….
So I come back to my first response: WHY remake such a classic film? To get neat special effects in and to get more gory. There are some scary moments in the film, but twice we are blatantly tricked, making us feel like fools: Samson the dog scare us at quiet moments. (Oops! Not a werewolf…shucks. Gotcha anyway!)
There’s lots of killing, lots of killing, and it’s so random, that after awhile, it all becomes white noise. Six people, ten people, there’s no challenge to the werewolf. THEY ALL have silver bullets, but not one of them can shoot straight? Yeah, right.
Bottom Line: Beautifully filmed and with stellar special effects, the Wolf Man gives us nothing else new and tarnishes what was good about the original. If you’re interested in seeing the classic, follow the Youtube connection above to see the whole film.
I was able to be a part of Etiquette, the new play by Theatre Rotozaza from the UK now set up at Baked Cafe, at First and Main. It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Yep, you’re sitting down, yep there are actors and a stage, and lines, and things are acted out, but you are the participants and no one in the cafe knows you are doing it. It’s visceral and you feel as if you are being used, a bit, by the play. After all, the voice tells you what to say and what to do. You will be talking about it for awhile.
You participate with one other person sitting across from you. You wear headphones and whatever the voice says to you on the headphones to say or do, you say or do. But it’s not so loud that anyone will ever hear you. It’s not embarrassing. It’s a conversation you are having with another person who is also wearing headphones.
The play is called Etiquette because it seems to want to examine the whole idea of proper things to say. Here you are, being the actor, being fed lines, much like you go to a Book of Etiquette to know how to say appropriate things at a wedding, funeral, dinner party. You are handed lines in those situations. But there are some situations you won’t have words for…
In the course of the play, you are directed to pick up small objects and figurines, place them on the table, do things with them. The play uses you to get itself acted. It’s really clever that way.
It references at one point Henrik Ibsen’s play, The Doll’s House, and you witness the last scene of that play, where Nora does something that no woman in theatre was ever allowed to do, until then. She leaves her husband. He is left nearly speechless. There’s nothing he can say–nothing that makes any sense. This is the crux of the play Etiquette, not Ibsen’s scene, but the idea that we need words to understand how to act or feel at certain times.
There will come a moment when you have to read a note while looking through a glass of water. Hold the note close to the glass and move it sideways. It will be clearer if you do that. If you can’t, just flip it over and read the note outloud. The rest of the directions are pretty easy to follow–you pick things up and place them on the table in front of you, you turn, look around, look at each other.
I can’t tell you much more about the play—you have to live it to know what it is. And whichever character you are, you will only know the play from that perspective. This challenged a lot of what I think about theatre–about the audience’s ability to stay as observers to the play. Here, you are forced to BE the play, and you don’t know what the other character will say, or what you will say, until you’ve said it. But all the elements of theatre are there. They are on the table, in your hands, out of your mouth. It’s unique and visceral, and if you get a chance to sign up at Baked Cafe to do it, do it. It takes 30 minutes, and there are only two tables in the room to use (so only four people can participate at a time). No one really sees you or thinks about what you are doing. It just looks like you are having a conversation. But you are really deep inside a play, while the rest of the world drinks coffee around you.
Etiquette is brought to you through the 2010 Pivot Theatre Festival arranged by Nakai Theatre. For more information, see their website.
Etiquette happens Tuesday January 26 to Sunday January 31,
Baked Cafe, every half hour between 1 and 6 pm, $20/pair
Tickets available at Baked Cafe starting Jan. 26 at noon.