Thursday, May 27, 2010

Leszek Mozdzer

My interview with jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer appears in this week's Charleston City Paper.

Pianist Leszek Mozdzer reps the Polish jazz scene

The Best of Both Worlds

Poland's top jazz man

When most people think of jazz, stylized images of smoky clubs and underground cellars in New Orleans and New York come to mind. Almost no one would think of Eastern Europe. But virtuoso jazz pianist Leszek Możdżer, the top-selling jazz musician in Poland, is helping overturn those preconceived notions.

Możdżer was just 4 years old when his father brought home a piano. Fascinated, he began taking lessons.

"Any melody which I was able to catch, I was very excited to be able to create it on the keyboard," Możdżer says. "You know, it really excited me — any melody that I could bring back to life just by pressing keys on the piano. That was very hip."

As a child, Możdżer was mostly preoccupied with bands like Pink Floyd and Republica. School exposed him to hundreds of classical composers, where, like many pianists, he fostered an appreciation for Fryderyk Chopin.

It wasn't until his late teens that Możdżer stumbled across jazz. Throughout the 20th century, the popular music form had loosely doubled as a barometer of social and political change in the embattled European country. Jazz came to Poland following World War I, whetting everyone's appetites before the oppressive Stalinist dictatorship drove jazz underground until the '50s. But suppression only served to make jazz the forbidden fruit, becoming synonymous with rebellion and freedom in Poland — or classical music's evil twin in the eyes of some of Możdżer's stuffy instructors.

"I found out there was this stupid border between classical and jazz ... even some kind of hate," Możdżer says. "At school among professors, jazz music was always seen as something dirty, bad, not safe, lower than classical music, and very dangerous because it was associated with alcohol and drugs and tobacco. That's what they thought, and I always dreamed to connect those worlds because they are both beautiful, and there are some things they share, and there are some things that are better developed in jazz, and some things that are better developed in classical music. You have to respect both of them."

At 39, Możdżer has recorded more than 100 albums, including his infamous Chopin improvisations, reinvintions of jazz standards, and covers (check out his brilliant take on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). Ultimately, he has built a career on a teenage dream: bringing classical and jazz together.

"It was kind of risky, but I've tried to pick up the best of both worlds, so the beauty of sound and respect for articulation, which is classical music, and the excitement and feeling that you don't know what will be next, which is so fantastic in jazz," Możdżer says. "I was a little afraid, but at the end, it was really okay."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mette Bach 'Off the Highway'

My interview with local author Mette Bach appears in WE this week.

Author Mette Bach’s debut work, Off the Highway (inset), is an exploration of North Delta’s history and her own suburban growing pains.

Author Mette Bach’s debut work, Off the Highway (inset), is an exploration of North Delta’s history and her own suburban growing pains.

Credit: supplied

Local author proves you can go home again

Growing up, Mette Bach felt more like a casualty of 1980s Lower Mainland suburbia than a would-be survivor of it. Immigrating from Denmark as a child, she landed in North Delta, then a small community known for a dump and a bog. She also arrived in time to witness her new hometown’s troubling transformation into a land ripe for big-box development, and hobbled by culture clashes and racism. North Delta became a haven for some, but a hell for others.

For most of her life, Bach (a former WE contributor) counted herself among the latter group. But at age 33, and with the gift of hindsight, she’s mined her past for buried treasure. Off the Highway (to be released next month as part of New Star Books’ B.C.-focused Transmontanus series) is Bach’s first book. A work of creative non-fiction that’s part memoir and part historical text, it boasts a surprising revelation: North Delta is just as deeply layered as its beloved Burns Bog.

What prompted you to write Off the Highway?
Bach: A few years ago, I started to understand the fight to preserve Burns Bog, and how crucial it is for all of us in terms of biodiversity, that what’s left of the bog gets to remain conservation land. When I heard about the construction of the South Fraser Perimeter Road and that it would run alongside Burns Bog, I needed to go back to my old stomping grounds to try to make sense of what was happening in the place where I grew up.

The book feels like equal parts memoir and social anthropology. Why approach the history of your community from that angle?
I’m not a developer, investor, or planner, so I’m not in a position to stop more development from happening. But what I have is a voice. I’m capable of saying, “I object,” and looking at the history of development and urban sprawl in order to make a point. In a way, it’s kind of my folk song. I don’t sing or play acoustic guitar, so I had to write a book.

Were you nervous about how your family and friends would react to the personal anecdotes?
Of course. It’s terrifying to risk that people I love might not be happy with the way I portrayed them. I told everyone about the book and nobody asked to see a draft before publication. I’m really honoured that the folks in my life trusted me to tell the story as I saw it.

Has Vancouver’s close proximity to North Delta had a negative or positive impact on its development?
North Delta is its own unique place, but it’s also intimately connected to all other suburbs in North America, in that there’s a kind of placelessness about it. Cities get to have identities. Suburbs are meant to play second fiddle. In North Delta’s case, that meant being the place where Vancouver dumped its trash and filtered its sewage.

The book touches on so many things that are intrinsic to the Lower Mainland, yet totally universal: development, multiculturalism, suburban alienation. What do you hope your readers take away?
My main hope is that people enjoy the stories and feel inspired by the good things that are happening. The Burns Bog Conservation Society, for example, is fighting a good fight. I was really interested in showing the resistance movements in North Delta because of the common attitude that many people have in the big city — that people in suburbs aren’t critical or informed. I was guilty of that attitude myself for many years, but it’s foolish and totally untrue.

Sex and the City 2

My review of the supremely disappointing Sex and the City 2 is in this week's WE (WestEnder).

The stars of the iconic HBO TV series return for a desert  adventure in Sex and the City 2.

The stars of the iconic HBO TV series return for a desert adventure in Sex and the City 2.

Credit: Supplied


Starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall
Directed by Michael Patrick King

In retrospect, the magic of the first Sex and the City movie was that it provided a welcome reprieve from a Sex-less life. Fans of the HBO TV series bid adieu to the glamour and glitz of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) in 2006, and had to rely on syndicated reruns and the DVD box set to get a dose of the four women who made such an indelible impact on our culture. As mixed as reviews of the first SATC movie were, fans couldn’t deny that it felt good to be back in the company of the fictional foursome.

Sadly, this sequel feels less like a reunion with old friends, more like an exercise in the art of the quick cash grab, with writer-director Michael Patrick King sacrificing a strong narrative for what feels like a scattershot collection of writing-room whims. Liza Minelli? The Middle East? Menopause? Sure, why not?

The core four are severely shortchanged here, seemingly just so King could transplant the Big Apple girls (read: free) to Abu Dhabi (read: repressed), under the guise of a work trip for Samantha. It’s an interesting premise, but one King doesn’t care to explore in any meaningful way, instead using it as a 90-minute tent pole that sags under the weight of a 150-minute movie.

Meanwhile, Carrie and Charlotte are affected by the “terrible twos”: Carrie’s negotiating the tricky art of settling down into married life, while Charlotte’s toddler, Rose, cries all the time, calmed only by Mommy and the nanny, a bra-less Irish blonde. Samantha battles menopause, and Miranda faces work issues, but their stories are sacrificed for sheik-related shenanigans. They ride camels. They offend by flaunting their sexuality. And, of course, they end up wearing burqas, with all the finesse and maturity of the Scooby Gang.

The clothes, mostly hideous here but always as much a character as New York City itself, ultimately serve as the sartorial barometer for the film’s success — for every genuinely good outfit, there’s a moment that hits that unique SATC mark, the familiar combination of heart, humour, and honesty. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Is a bad visit with old friends better than no visit at all? —Andrea Warner

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bridge Mix

My review of Bridge Mix appears in this week's WestEnder.

As part of the independent-theatre showcase Bridge Mix, TigerMilk Collective’s Both Are Me transcends the limitations of its venue: a downtown parkade.

As part of the independent-theatre showcase Bridge Mix, TigerMilk Collective’s Both Are Me transcends the limitations of its venue: a downtown parkade.

Credit: Supplied

Since ITSAZOO Productions’ Vancouver debut two years ago, the young theatre company (helmed by co-artistic directors Sebastien Archibald, Colby Wilson, and Chelsea Haberlin) has been responsible for some of the city’s most consistently entertaining and thought-provoking original works. It’s also created a variety of stages from a slew of unusual spots: Queen Elizabeth Park, a bench at Second Beach, and now two levels of a nondescript parking garage on the fringes of the city’s financial district.

Formerly based in Victoria, ITSAZOO is the collective mastermind behind Bridge Mix, a showcase that boasts eight plays performed in 12 scenes from a variety of innovative, emerging theatre and dance companies. Like other, more established site-specific theatre installations (the HIVE series, Tremors), Bridge Mix is an ambitious assortment of short vignettes. While some are more successful than others, the overall result is nothing short of fantastic.

ITSAZOO’s own Hey Good Lookin’ kicks things off in wondrously random and creepy fashion with two drunken corporate types (Wilson and Archibald) inciting the fury of a clown after stomping on a stray red balloon. Genus Theatre’s Done by Dinner is a raucous experiment in audience participation, with everyone taking part in a street hockey game that’s frequently interrupted by a car and its angry driver. TigerMilk Collective achieves a nearly impossible feat with Both Are Me, whose quiet ambiance transcends the inherent ugliness of a concrete parking structure.

Upintheair Theatre Society’s Borborygmi also transforms the venue by utilizing the parking lot in a surprising, innovative way — one that I won’t spoil here, except to say its humour masks a darker social message in clever fashion. Peter n’ Chris’ The Ballad of Jeff is also a comedy doubling as commentary, with two great performances as a desperate journalist seeks to exploit the misfortunes of an eccentric vagrant.

The gem of the collection, however, is SNAFU’s NOGGIN, a charming one-woman number about a precocious little girl who believes she can collect and interpret people’s dreams.

The other plays aren’t lesser in quality, but feel slightly out of sync with what else is on offer. Slam Ink’s Coincidence Partnerships Parts I-IV revels in a couple’s unfortunate date — as members of the audience! Unfortunately, the male character is written in such a way that it’s hard to believe any woman, sane or not, would want to date him. Spectral Theatre’s Eastside Ghosts, a painfully vivid and gut-wrenching imagining of William Pickton’s reign of terror over sex workers on the Downtown Eastside, is a jarring slap in the face set amidst lighter fare. And, Enlightenment Theatre’s A Situation is pleasantly absurd, but the plot — a fight between two guys from Surrey, one an artist and one a finance professional — feels more like a work-in-progress than a finished piece.

Taken as a sampling of emerging theatre companies, Bridge Mix is evidence of Vancouver’s overwhelming raw talent and ITSAZOO’s continually surprising artistic vision. —Andrea Warner

Bridge Mix runs to May 15 at the parkade located at 1070 W. Pender, 8pm. Tickets $14-$18 from

Jay Baruchel

My interview with Jay Baruchel appears in this week's WE.

Actor Jay Baruchel (above, left) and writer-director Jacob Tierney on the Montreal set of The Trotsky.

Actor Jay Baruchel (above, left) and writer-director Jacob Tierney on the Montreal set of The Trotsky.

Credit: Supplied

Jay Baruchel leads an on-screen revolution

A representative for Jay Baruchel calls twice to say the Montreal-based actor will be five minutes late for WE’s scheduled phone interview. When Baruchel calls (just two minutes late, for the record), he immediately apologizes. Was it a call from Judd Apatow that tied him up? A meeting about a How to Train Your Dragon sequel? Nope, the pizza guy couldn’t find his house. Again, he’s really sorry he’s calling so late.

Baruchel is happy to embody Canada’s famous politeness. The 28-year-old has spent the better part of the last decade firmly planted in Hollywood, earning himself a seat at Apatow’s round table (on TV in Undeclared and on the big screen in Knocked Up), a scene-stealing role in Tropic Thunder, and the lead voice role in an unexpected blockbuster, the above-mentioned animated fantasy How to Train Your Dragon.

His heart, though, is never far from making movies in his homeland, as evidenced by his new film, The Trotsky. An unusual teen comedy set in Montreal, it follows the exploits of Leon, an impassioned 17-year-old who believes he’s the reincarnation of another famous Leon, Socialist leader and Communist exile Leon Trotsky.

“The Trotsky’s as proud as I’ve ever been of anything,” Baruchel says. “It’s a love letter to adolescent passion. You know, the first time you start learning about the world or deciding to give a shit about what’s happening, you’ll never care as deeply about anything else.”

Jay Baruchel in The Trotsy.

Written and directed by one of Baruchel’s best friends, Jacob Tierney, The Trotsky mines the earnest rallying cries of that adolescent passion for plenty of laughs, while still paying tribute to the power of youth. Baruchel, who grew up with Tierney, intimates that Leon is really a composite of both director and star, though not one totally faithful to Baruchel’s own teenage identity.

“In high school, I was, unfortunately, almost the exact opposite of Leon,” Baruchel laughs. “I went to a fine arts school, and was surrounded by people who claimed to be either bisexual or Marxist-Leninist. So, as a result, I started wearing sweater vests and being a proponent of the death penalty. But really, it was just to piss them off more than anything. I was this horrible little Glenn Beck version of Leon when I was in high school, but I came full circle. I thought I was conservative, and then I started hanging out in the States and I was like, ‘God, I’m a fuckin’ lunatic! What the hell was I talking about?’”

Leon’s frenzied belief that he’s meant to carry on Trotsky’s socialist vision results in constant conflict with his businessman father (Saul Rubinek) and the dictator-like head of his high school (Colm Feore). In short order, he throws himself at a much older woman he believes is the reincarnation of Trotsky’s wife, spearheads a student revolt, and tangles with the police. For Baruchel, Leon’s obsessive drive was an intrinsic element of The Trotsky’s appeal. “Most people kind of grow out of being impassioned about certain causes, but me, I’ve just gotten crazier with age,” he says.

His chief concerns, he goes on to explain, include globalization, greed, power, and the ruling class. “I’ve learned some pretty horrible things involving rich people and Satanism,” he laughs, although it turns out he’s not joking. “As outlandish as that sounds, it’s actually something I really give a shit about... I’m out there fighting rich people and devil worshippers,” he insists.

The topic has so consumed him, he’s currently making a documentary about it, and he fully expects some professional and personal repercussions. Like Leon, though, he’s full steam ahead. “When my documentary comes out, then they’ll really be gunnin’ for me,” he says. “It’s a compendium of modern-day Satan worship and Satanic ritual abuse, and how it’s the dirty little secret of modern-day psychology. I can connect a bunch of different crazy events over the last 20 years, specific to Western countries, but... Umm...”

He trails off.

“I’d also like to say publicly that if I ever kill myself, I didn’t actually kill myself,” he continues, following up with a laugh. “I would never take my own life, but that’s how they like to get rid of you, so you know who to look for if it happens.”

Baruchel’s tenacity likely won’t make many rich or powerful Satanists happy, but his keen sense of the absurd and the macabre has made him one high-profile Hollywood friend: Nicholas Cage. Baruchel calls his co-star in the upcoming live-action Disney film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a kindred spirit. “Whatever your fantasies are about him, they’re warranted,” he jokes. “He’s an amazing man. We’re both fuckin’ oddballs and loners and march to the beat of our own drum. He’s a true iconoclast and into the coolest shit. I’d always make him mix CDs and give him comic books and stuff.”

And yet, despite Hollywood’s seductive lifestyle, Baruchel insists that making Canadian films like The Trotsky and cultivating Canadian film culture are of “paramount importance” to him. “All I wanna do is direct horror movies in Montreal for the rest of my life,” he says. “I feel it’s incumbent upon me that if I have any career in the States, I maintain one in Canada. Unfortunately, the message most Canadian kids receive is that our stars only hang around our country when they can’t get work elsewhere, and that fuckin’ blows to me. Maybe they see me in Tropic Thunder and then they see me in an ad for The Trotsky and they go to see it, not knowing it’s Canadian. But I’ve tricked kids into going to see Canadian flicks. At this point, it’s just important to get butts in the seats.”

The Trotsky opens Friday, May 14.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Terry Gilliam Q&A

My interview with Terry Gilliam coincides with the DVD release of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

Terry Gilliam, the imagination behind The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.

A Q&A with writer-director Terry Gilliam

Just four months ago, writer-director Terry Gilliam was anticipating the Christmas Day release of the most unintentionally notorious film of his career. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (now available on DVD) was an epic fantasy with lush visuals (it would go on to be nominated for Academy Awards in both Art Direction and Costume Design), an A-list supporting cast (including Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell), and was, of course, Heath Ledger’s last full-length feature. The 29-year-old Australian was Gilliam’s friend and Imaginarium’s leading man until his untimely death, right in the middle of shooting. Gilliam spoke with WE about stealing inspiration, his troubles with Hollywood, and the feat of finishing without Ledger.

WE: Did your vision for Imaginarium change when Heath died?
Terry Gilliam: Heath’s death didn’t really change my vision at all, except of course having to work with the three hacks [Depp, Law, and Farrell] who replaced Heath. (Laughs) Going down to the actor’s depot in Hollywood, they’re just hanging around all desperate for work... In reality, I was lying on the floor in grief, my daughter kicking me and making me get up again. It was a different kind of pain but it helped me keep going.

Imaginarium is stunning visually. What were some of your inspirations?

It starts with me just doing the storyboards and doing silly things, and then we take my drawings and make them a little more elaborate. I’m very magpie-like. I just steal from anything that interests me, squeeze it all together, and hope that something interesting comes out. That’s my approach. There’s nothing original in what I do. I steal all the time. If I’m smart, I steal from dead painters. They don’t sue.

What’s up next for you? I know Don Quixote’s been a long time in the works.
Don Quixote’s what I’m working on at the moment, and hopefully we’ll be shooting next year. I was hoping to be shooting in the spring time, but it’ll have to be later than that since we don’t have any money yet. (Laughs) It’s always the money. The writing, directing — that bit is the easy bit. It’s the money. Anytime I go out there with my begging bowl, I walk into these offices and they always say, ‘Oh god, Terry we love your films! I grew up on Time Bandits, Munchausen, 12 Monkeys... Oh, these are brilliant, Terry. We are such big fans.’ And then I give them the scripts and they go, ‘Oh, well, but this one... I’m not sure.’ I’ve been hearing the same thing for 20 years, maybe 25 now. The list gets longer of films they love, but they don’t want to do the new ones. It’s always the same. So I have to lure people in like Heath and Johnny. That’s how we get the films made, by suckering those famous actors in. The thought of something new and original and different is just not what they’re ever looking for. They’re frightened of that. And even though my wife says I keep making the same film — that I’m just changing the costumes — the guys with the money think it’s all different.

My Dear Enemy

Opening this weekend in Vancouver at Tinseltown. You should go.


Starring Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-woo Ha
Directed by Yoon-ki Lee

On the surface, My Dear Enemy, a Korean indie, is an extended dialogue between two characters sorting through the wreckage of their shared past. What elevates it beyond most other relationship dramas is a fresh spin on a familiar premise: the road trip between two people with unfinished business.

Enemy’s unfinished business hinges on a quest for payback. Hee-su (Do-yeon Jeon), frustrated and tightly wound, tracks down her light-hearted, charming ex-boyfriend, Byeong-woon (Jung-woo Ha), to collect on an IOU for $3,500 that he wrote her three years prior. Desperate (why is never made clear), she demands he fork over the cash, resulting in a day-long treasure hunt as she drives him around to rustle up the money from the various women in his life.

The writers resist the temptation to indulge in road-trip staples like over-the-top pit stops and detours fraught with manufactured drama. Instead the couple encounter fully-realized supporting characters who serve to reveal more about the leads. Whether it’s a tense confrontation between Hee-su and a pampered girl with a sugar daddy, or a visit with the divorced single mom Byeong-woon once helped through hard times, each segment adds more pieces to character studies so vibrant and complex, they transcend the bounds of fiction to take on a near-tangibility. We feel like we know these people and we can’t help but care.

Making it easy to be drawn in are utterly fantastic performances by Jeon and Ha, a perfect odd couple who have an easy chemistry and enough skill to know that what’s left unsaid can speak volumes. The result is a film that’s beautifully restrained without sacrificing heart. —Andrea Warner

The Wedding Singer: The Musical

I reviewed Fighting Chance's The Wedding Singer for WE this week. The company is great, but they don't have much to work with in this film-to-stage adaptation.

Enthusiasm and camp almost make up for a lacklustre score and book in Fighting Chance Production’s The Wedding Singer: The Musical.

Enthusiasm and camp almost make up for a lacklustre score and book in Fighting Chance Production’s The Wedding Singer: The Musical.

Credit: Supplied

‘Wedding Singer’ hits too many false notes

Impressed or not by ‘80s-send-up comedy The Wedding Singer, no one walked away from the 1998 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore flick thinking, “You know, that movie would make an awesome musical!” No one, that is, except Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, and Tim Herlihy, the misguided minds behind the too-faithful, too-literal stage adaptation that opened and closed on Broadway in 2006, after a six-month run.

The premise has promise. But unlike the sweetly inoffensive film, the musical doesn’t deliver, no matter how heavily it borrows from the source. The Wedding Singer: The Musical, like the movie, is a romantic comedy steeped in the stereotypes, fashion, and frivolity of the 1980s. And it, too, focuses on titular wedding singer Robbie Hart, a romantic who’s left a broken, seething mess after his girlfriend leaves him at the altar. At the banquet hall where his band performs, Robbie soon realizes Julia, a waitress, is a kindred spirit, albeit one with the misfortune of being engaged to Glen Guglia, a stockbroker with a secret penchant for coke and strippers. Of course, Robbie and Julia should be together.

In the movie, the lovebirds wind their way toward a sweet, Billy Idol-aided happy ending in a smooth 90 minutes. Unfortunately, the two-hours-plus musical odyssey unwisely expands supporting roles, fleshes out Robbie’s walk on the Wall Street side, and pushes the final curtain back at least 10 minutes too far.

Even when working with lesser material such as this, though (and battling mic problems that will hopefully be addressed in subsequent performances), the young, vibrant minds at Fighting Chance Productions — so good with last year’s Rent and Forbidden Broadway — infuse the cramped stage with genuine, joyful energy. The enthusiasm and talent of the company is undeniable, as evinced by the production’s male lead, the delightful Andrew Halliwell. Lexy Campbell has a more difficult job with Julia (written as one-dimensional and too sickly sweet), but her voice blends beautifully with Halliwell’s on the romance-denouncing “It’s Not that Kind of Thing.”

Two of the best songs in the show, “Grow Old with You” and “Somebody Kill Me,” appeared in the original film, and were co-written by Sandler himself. But even an avowed Sandler fan (yep, I’m one) doesn’t necessarily want an entire musical hinging on those compositions. Had the writers taken the charm of those two songs and created a book and lyrics equally as engaging, then Fighting Chance Productions would have really had something to sing about.

The Wedding Singer: The Musical runs to May 22 at Jericho Arts Centre (1675 Discovery), 8pm. Tickets $25-$30 from 604-224-8007 and