Sunday, January 20, 2013

Everyone's a Critic, part 1

The night is young middle-aged,  I'm holed up in my sitting room with a bag of potato chips and some great music, and I feel like spouting off, so...
This post is part one of several: I'm lucky enough to get to see several shows at the PUSH Festival this week, and I also saw a movie which bugged the hell out of me, so right now you get to hear my unsolicited opinions on several things:

First of all, the movie. I've been making use of my local library lately, but its dvd selection is pretty tiny, unless you happen to be a big fan of Vietnamese action movies. So when I saw this,  I was intrigued.

"Mermaid" billed itself as "the Russian 'Amelie'". Great! I LOVE 'Amelie'! I've seen it 5 or so times and my joy at watching it never really diminishes. So I started this film with great expectations. And I ended it a couple hours later remembering why you don't hear the words "Russian" and "humour" in the same sentence too often. It's interesting that you can compare and say that yes, on the surface these 2 movies share some similarities:

Amelie                                                                                                            Mermaid
*quirky female lead...                                                                                    * quirky female lead...
*...who has an indifferent parent                                                                                       * ...who has an indifferent parent
*falls in love                                                                                                                       * falls in love
*has trouble expressing that love due to maturity issues                                                   * ditto                      

but 'Amelie' radiates charm, thanks to the stunning beauty of Paris and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's wacky vision. 'Mermaid' features the, um, stunning charm (not) of Moscow and a vision that seems self-consciously wacky but mostly bleak, until the shocking and totally unnecessary ending. Basically, a little girl grows up in a tiny Russian town with an unloving mother; they move to Moscow and she falls in love with a shallow, greedy man who sells pieces of real estate on the moon to suckers with more money than sense. Mariya Shalaeva in the lead role has the same creepy loveliness that Cate Blanchet has in the Lord of the Rings movies, but she can't save this dog. Definitely not another 'Amelie'. Nice try, Russia.

Okay, so next up we have "The God Who Comes" a one-man musical (sort-of) performed by Canadian rocker Hawksley Workman. A loose re-telling of the myth of Bacchus, it tells the story of a rigid king who is incensed at the licentious behaviour of his subjects (including his mother), who are going up a local mountain and indulging in pagan rites, including sex, drinking and animal sacrifice. The king dresses as a woman, sneaks up the mountain, hides in a tree, and observes the rituals. Unfortunately for him, his mother pulls him down from the tree and- totally caught up in her pagan frenzy- rips her royal son's head off.

I have a beef with Mr. Workman because last year I worked at a toy store and during my shifts there I listened to CBC Radio endlessly plugging his annoyingly catchy song "Warhol's Portrait of Gretzky":
Warhol's portrait of Gretzky
Pretty fuckin' sexy
Pretty fuckin' sexeeeeee

...except, being radio it was edited to "pretty bloody sexy" instead.
But after seeing this show I basically forgave him, because Hawksley Workman has an amazing singing voice that is best appreciated live. I could listen to him singing the phone book for heaven's sake. However, the show itself was uneven at best. Workman came onstage at the beginning, told us the basic outline of the legend and then launched into the song cycle which re-told the story he'd just told us. My date was glad he'd done the pre-show summary, because he didn't think that he would have understood the story without it. I see where he was coming from, but I think there's a better way of staging it so that you don't get the same story twice over. And while the music was pretty good, it wasn't great. Because he's on his own, Workman relies on a lot of looping, which is cool, but after a while it just started to seem like a gimmick as he moved from drums to keys to guitar and back again. And while he's a charismatic performer, he's no actor. I would rather have seen Workman stick to his instruments and have a couple of actors or puppeteers flesh out the story. However it was a cool idea, and I'd rather seen something like "The God Who Comes" which fails in some ways but is trying something new, than some trite rom-com play that I've seen a million times. 

So... "Mermaid" gets an F and Hawksley Workman gets an A for effort but only a C+ for overall execution for "The God Who Comes". 
Next up, I'll have a review of "Svadba", which is a 6-woman a cappella opera based on Serbian music. I'm really looking forward to that one! I also managed to get 2 comps to see a home-grown Canadian musical sensation called "Ride The Cyclone".

* A caveat: I am a performer and a musician, but my opinions are just that- my opinions. They are personal and unsolicited and you may very well disagree with them. That's wonderful. Opinions should be disagreed with. Even when I am being picky about stuff I am very rarely so disgusted with a piece that I won't be happy that I got the chance to go see it in the first place. I am always thrilled to get a chance to see theatre and music, even if I don't always love everything about it. I think that what makes art exciting is that it makes us think. Art should make us happy and excited and enraged and offended and entertained. And it should make us talk about all of our reactions to it. So this is just my long-winded way of saying that I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou about stuff when I'm reviewing it, I'm just making a note of my reactions, And you can agree or not. Just go and see stuff- that's the important part.

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