Friday, 24 December 2010

Hey, Barney! Where's Miriam? Barney's Version Reviewed

I have never read Mordecai Richler's version of Barney's Version. I have read, heard and been told that it is one of the author's best and that it is a beloved tome. Well, it will be a while before the Toronto Public Library (TPL) informs me that my copy has arrived at my pick up location because right now I am 187th on the list of 187; the TPL has 45 copies. At over 400 pages, I didn't expect the screen adaptation written by Michael Konyes and directed by Richard J. Lewis to give me every single detail of the book, so I won't be surprised when I do get my copy of the book that some things did not make it to the screen.

The book and movie is about movie producer, Barney Panofsky, his relationship with his Dad, his three wives, and his two children; it also includes a gun shrouded in a past mystery. A tactless curmudgeon with a bit of the sad sack about him, Barney is played competently by Paul Giamatti, who over the past decade has gone from "That Guy" (remember him as a hostage in the Sam Jackson/Kevin Spacey flick, The Negotiator?) to Oscar-nominated actor. I expected Giamatti to be good, and I expected the same of Dustin Hoffman (Izzy Panofsky). Playing father and son, Giamatti and Hoffman are a tag team of insensitivity and brash humour. In a pivotal scene, Barney chases after Rosamund Pike's character, Miriam, on his wedding day, while father, Izzy (Hoffman)gets drunk and imposes himself on the wedding guests and the bride's (Minnie Driver) family.

I also expected British actress, Rosamund Pike (left) to be good. She's been in a few things, but I really noticed her as the ditsy blonde in An Education and as the under-appreciated brainy wife in, Made In Dagenham. She made an impression on my in both roles, so I was pleased to see that she had been cast in this film. What I didn't expect, and was thrilled to see, is how superbly she held her own in a film with Giamatti and Hoffman. In my opinion, she surpasses both men, displaying a range in acting that takes her from a young woman in her twenties to a middle age wife with grown children. Rather than relying on heavy make-up, someone made the wise choice to go light on the aging process and have Pike use her body and voice to project her progressive maturity as the film spans the decades. We know that Barney is drawn to Miriam. We are made very aware that she is his romantic focus whom he loves with a depth that he cannot show to anyone else in his life, and as such, we are drawn to her, too, but it is Pike's acting and what she brings to the role that locks in our attraction to her. I don't know who thought of casting her in the role, but kudos to them for giving her this chance to shine.

Barney's Version is a respectable film, with a respectable cast, but is it an excellent film? No. While it merits viewing because of the fine acting by Rosamund Pike, we have seen Giamatti and Hoffman play their respective roles before. I also felt as if I was watching an abridged movie rather than a complete film, despite the 132 minute run time. I don't know how the mystery of the gun plays out in the book, but in the film it seems like a made-for-tv plot point that just doesn't seem to work with the rest of the film. When I get the email from the TPL, I'll let you know what I think of Mordecai's version.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Film Opens December 24th

Photo Credit: Takashi Seida. eOne Pictures

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Feast, 8 Women and a Candle

I had a fun chat last Saturday with a couple of my film buds, Kirk Cooper (founder of Film Market Access) and Moen Mohamed film lover, and man about town. We spoke about our Christmas/Winter DVD faves, but we didn't get a chance to mention all the films on our lists so here they are. Kirk and I have a couple of theatrical releases on our lists, but for the most part you can find the films on DVD. If you can't find the films at your local video store, try Queen Video, Bay St. Video or the Toronto Public Library. Please feel free to leave a comment about your favourite cold weather films, so we can all check out something we may be missing.

Moen’s Faves
Babette’s Feast
Bullets Over Broadway
City Lights
Flowers of St. Francis
Imitation of Life
Make Way for Tomorrow
The Ice Storm
The Red Shoes
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Kirk’s Faves
8 Femmes
Bad Santa
In Bruges
It’s a Wonderful Life
Scrooged (Bill Murray and A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sims)
The Fighter (theatrical)
The King’s Speech (theatrical)
This Christmas
Trading Places

donna g’s Faves
Bell Book and Candle
Black Swan
Brooklyn Lobster
LA Confidential
O’ Horten
One Special Night
Rare Exports
Sleuth (Lawrence Olivier/Michael Caine and the remake with Michael Caine/Jude Law)
The Ref
Three Wishes for Cinderella
Black Swan (theatrical)

Monday, 13 December 2010

5 Disco Balls for Priscilla Queen of the Desert!

It is the gayest thing I have ever seen! Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is a stunningly over the top, gay musical that hits all the right notes, and glitters in all the right places. The transition from screen to stage is exceedingly well done, with the elimination of material that is dated or too awkward to fit the stage, and with the inclusion of new scenes and songs that surpasses the film in some respects. Then there is the bus. Holy moly, the bus! Yes, it is pink--very PINK, and a multitude of colours that are as bashful as a jacket by Liberace. After all, she is the Queen of the Desert, and what queen, gay or otherwise, isn't sometimes bedecked in all her bejewelled splendor?

Drag queens, Tick/Mitzie, Adam/Felicia and Bernadette (don't call her Ralph!) trek across the Australian dessert (from Sydney to Alice Springs) with humour, feathers, arguments pizazz, and, ahem, a few road kills. Joining them along the way is Bob, the mechanic who lubricates Priscilla and romances Bernadette, his nostalgic favourite from her days as a member "Les Girls".

Of course, where there are drag queens, there must be costumes, right? Well, lucky for us the memorable costumes from the film's Oscar®-winning designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (remember her American Express dress from Oscar night?) are included in the stage version, as are a plethora of eye-popping, to die for regalia. Even the funeral scene (Bernadette's off-stage boyfriend, Trumpet, dies at the very beginning of the play) is a cavalcade of corsetry and lace. Hello! to my man en pointe in the short black number! Fabulous legs, darlin'! André Leon Talley would have been proud.

Olivier Award nominee, Tony Sheldon steals the show as Bernadette, and Tony Award nominee Will Swenson does an excellent job as Tick, the straight man (forgive the pun) to the other two's schtick, and Nick Adams (Felicia) is just all out sex on platforms. Question: is it wrong that I found him sexy in his pink mini? Go see it and tell me if you didn't feel the same. The man is hot. Worthy of being studied in Anotomy class!

Catch this musical now while it's in Toronto or you will have to skip south of the border to see the same cast on Broadway! Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, runs until January 2, 2011 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
On a budget? Student pricing is available (see website for info) and if you are not a student, grab the cheapest seats you can and have a ball. Best to go with friends because this musical experience is even better when shared! Come on, there are Divas singing disco from mid-air!
Recommended for ages 14+

Saturday, 4 December 2010

CD REVIEW: d'bi young's "womanifesto"--she ain't goin out like that!

Drop the word “socio-political” in a conversation and most people’s eyes would glaze over in anticipation of the preaching and boredom to follow; but, in the case of d’bi young’s latest CD, “wombanifesto”, all it takes is a listen to the assertive lyrics and reggae, latin, beatbox and punk rhythms and the word “socio-political” will take on an unexpected new energy.

With its raw, powerful lyrics and African-Caribbean rhythms, “wombanifesto” is a powerful assertion of the female in general, and a defiant declaration of existence by the black woman. The CD’s universal appeal will come from the listener’s recognition of what is happening in the world, to the Earth, even as they dance and chant along with the lyrics. young’s dub poetry speaks of long-suppressed truths, truths that resonate with the collective and the individual.

The rocking “gendah bendah” is an anthem to those who don’t fit into any of the institutionalized boxes imposed by society. “animal farm” with its punk-reggae beats will have them all thinking about media manipulation and manufactured popular opinion.

The womb bleeds in tracks like “children of a lesser god” and “blood” (back up by jo watson). The former talks about sexual molestation of girls and boys and is also a metaphor for “uncle sam”’s perversions; the latter, blasts the marketing of modern-day secrecy and shame that have replaced centuries-old menstruation rituals. young’s Yoruba references on tracks like “ase elegua”, and “ase ochun” as well as her chant “yemojah moon phoenix” (a dedication to her sons) mix well with the Cuban melodies that flow throughout the CD.

Further proof of young’s universal appeal can be heard in tracks like the decidedly feminine “cycles” about early motherhood. Featuring beat box by da original one and jugular, this track will have you nodding your head in sync. The live performance of “ain’t I a ooman”, a Sojourner Truth homage, where Amina Alfred’s congas will have even men repeating the last refrain.

Adding to young’s powerful poetry is the are the talented musicians such as Cuba’s Havana Jazz Trio, Traza Quartet, Passo Firme Reggae Band, and musicians like Pablo Herrera, Laura Mungila Martinez and Canada’s own Dub Trinity Band. Read her books of poetry and monodramas (she’s won 2 Dora awards), and you will see that she in no studio creation being masked by expert musicians to make a quick buck and satisfy a flavour of the month audience. like assata shakur (whose words are included in a couple of tracks), young is advocating a people's revolution, and she is in it for the long haul, you can hear it in her lyrics and the conviction of her voice: she ain't goin out like that!

d'bi young is currently on tour.
Photo Credits: (top); (middle) Sabriya Simon Photography; (bottom) Alexis Finch

A Sweet Liar: Theatre Francais de Toronto's Le Menteur/The Liar

The tag line is  "Don't believe a word he says" , but you can believe me, Le Menteur/The Liar is a fun way to spend a night at...