A lot of stuff goes into my brain, some of it by choice. If I decided to watch, read, play, or do it, I'd like to talk about it here. I'm a musician, a sometime actor, a frequent player of electronic and table-top games, and a lapsed reader (though I'm getting better). I write long and awkward sentences, because the more things resemble Douglas Adams' writing, the more I want to live in the world. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Avenue Q at Lower Ossington Theatre

I went to see Avenue Q with Sarene, Mike, Clarence, Adrian and a few other people I didn't know.

When I arrived, I learned that Deborah, Patrick, Eugene, Mallory and a few other people I did know were already coming to see it.

This is because Kira, whom I didn't know that well but know a bit better now, is in the show.

The show was amazing.

I'd been looking forward to seeing it since the early 2000s, and in the time I'd been waiting:

1. I'd bought my mother the soundtrack CD
2. I'd tried and failed twice to see it on trips to New York City
3. Everyone I'd sung in choirs with had seen it and kvelled ceaselessly
4. I'd given up my seat to see it in Toronto years later, to a friend who deeply regretted seeing it in my place, having found it uninspired and upsetting
5. I'd started singing and acting in community theatre
6. I'd gone from being an early-twenties B.A. graduate to being a mid-thirties double-bachelor, gainfully employed and in a stable relationship with a girl and two cats
7. I'd loved and lost and loved and lost and loved
8. The Internet has gone from just being used for porn to being used for farmville as well.

Many other things have happened in that time, but sticking to the "working memory" rule of 7+/-2. I decided to stick with that list.

So let's talk about what happens when I finally see the show. Sitting in the seats, they pipe in only the finest of Muppet-and-CTW-related music - from "Put down the Duckie" to "Reading Rainbow", my youth and early adolescence descended upon me in waves, disarming me to any immediate shortcomings of the show.

Not that the show really had shortcomings. The one substitute player, in the role of Trekkie Monster, delivered flawless timing and tone. All of the performers were amazing, though it took me a moment to warm up to Adam Proulx's portrayal of Princeton (his "Rod" was immediately charming, however, and that made it much easier for me to get into the spirit of Princeton). Brian was lost a little bit in the sound balancing - his voice didn't have the same piercing quality as the puppet performers, which threatened to drown him in the cartoony soundscape. And I was also a little guarded about the necessarily-racist portrayal of Christmas Eve. Honestly, her lines are written exchanging Ls and Rs; she's sort of an amalgam of every crass bit of Full Metal Jacket, South Pacific and Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany's.

There's something resonant, however, about the initial disgust with the broad portrayal of the human characters. The audience is presented with an immediate cognitive dissonance. You are asked to overcome your initial revulsion with the portrayal in the show, approaching it from a critical perspective. You overcome your aversion to the subversive messages in the songs - that racism is A-OK (in small doses), that the Internet is for Porn, that Schadenfreude is natural and to be celebrated - and start to listen to them like you would a stand up comedian.

Now, no comedian asks you to take their messages and preach them out in the world. But they do, at their best, challenge you to think of their absurd conclusions and what your own absurd opinions were on the subject matter when you walked in and took your seat. The late Patrice O'Neal and Chris Rock are particularly adept at this, getting the audience to follow them down a winding path, accidentally drawing a horrifying conclusion about themselves. It's not that they mean it; it's just that self-examination yields some troubling outcomes.

So, dark comedy would shine out of the writing.

But the greater part of the magic was the effortless way that the players directed my gaze - I started, as an actor, obsessively trying to watch their presentations, their faces, their body language - to the puppets themselves. With their eyes focused on their puppets, Kira and Adam and the rest were clearly stepping out of their own shoes and investing themselves in the puppets' stories. I couldn't help but follow along.

I'm glad I saw the show when I did. Had I been who and where I was when the show premiered almost ten years ago, I would have squirmed my way through it. This time I just watched, and laughed -- too loudly -- and occasionally gave in and sang.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


A little like Brick in a car, via Parker.

A lot less talking. A lot fewer characters. Less stylized; less affected. (Not saying that's universally good or bad; it worked for this story, is what I'm saying.)

The bottom line is that you've got young master Ryan Gosling being a guy-good-at-a-thing, driving a car around LA, and he gets "mixed up" (to put it glibly) in a series of elaborate relationships regarding money, power, obligation and ultimately life and death. You've got Carey Mulligan as a girl on the edge of his perception. And you've got Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman using their veteran acting skills to build an amazing tapestry of criminal hierarchy, with just a hint of affectionate Jewish comedy bubbling under the blood-streaked surface.

It's an excruciatingly intense two hours. You could cut yourself on Gosling's precision, and in this sense it's almost worth watching right after Brick to contrast with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's scattered, obsessive, brainy mile-a-minute internal patter.

But it was suggested to me that a much better way to dull the edge of this film's knife-twisting atmosphere in LA is to follow it with The Big Lebowski. And that is what I'm going to do the next time I host a movie night: Drive and Lebowski.

I'm so excited for this notion I could plotz.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Attack the Block


Bromwell High.

Assault on Precinct Thirteen.

The London Riots of 2011.

Doctor Who.

I really, really wasn't ready to enjoy this movie quite so completely. I really reacted viscerally, emotionally to the mugging at the beginning of the movie. I fell right into the director's trap, almost rooting for the invading alien when the kids to whom my friend, a teacher, referred as "the kind of kids I teach" - meaning poor, at-risk, with violent tendencies - were up against it.

Beautiful manipulation, and it barely took anything.

Of course, the movie was much more topical than may have been intended. Once the cops get involved, in callous opposition to the embattled erstwhile antiheroes, you start to feel unusual about your convictions. Should we be so cavalier about the arrival of "the cavalry"?

A little like Moon and Hobo with a Shotgun, this movie is part of a growing body of evidence that the cheaper you make it, the more personal and the freer from the machinery of spectacle-building, the more awesome the overall experience.

It's why the first Iron Man felt like a real movie, and the second one like a colouring book.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

X-Men: First Class

This was a film with an end in mind - somewhere it had to reach, beats it had to establish before its runtime was up. Xavier had to be crippled, Magneto evil, Beast blue, the lines drawn. This definitely detracted from its fundamental goal, as a movie, of being coherent and not shattering suspension of disbelief (how did Mystique know to put a dopey helmet on Shaw in order to perplex Azazel?) but not interfering with the other fundamental goal of providing a set of action set-pieces, tearful dramatic beats, and superpowered soap opera that near-summer movie-watchers and X-Men fans craved like taquitos.

So it was fun in the theatre, in a '60s James Bond or Austin Powers sort of way. Some lazy storytelling and trope-indulgence - killing Darwin, really?! why didn't he "adapt to survive" by not being the lone African-American in an action movie - and some really half-assed characterization (Rade the eternal Russian, and Ironside acting like Ric Olie from The Phantom Menace) made me roll eyes and grit teeth, and invoking the power of Hannukah Magic was really silly.

And Beast's blue face looked like a Zathras costume, mustn't forget that.

But all of that doesn't matter. Tears in McAvoy and Fassbinder's eyes as Magneto completes his arc with the helpless, despairing Kevin Bacon looking on, reaching desperately for his helmet (and really, the superpowers in this movie MATTERED to the storytelling, in a fascinating way) felt real. Mystique's internal struggle felt honest. Submarines being torn from the water and flights of missiles being plucked from the air made up for the shocking weakness of the special-effects battles in X3.

This felt like a movie taken seriously. And while it is very important not to take everything about the X-Men seriously, it is important always to look like you are. Consequently, this worked, as an X-Men movie.

Countermeasure Public Launch

My A Cappella choir Countermeasure had a two-hour public launch concert/event that combined us with the Art Battle crowd for a visually and stylistically heterogeneous start to our career as our own thing.

The set list was ambitious, and sometimes we weren't quite able to reach our goals. Musically, I know we have a lot of work to do. But artistically, the show was a success.

This post will expand.

My Fair Lady (Alexander Singers and Players)

From February to May of this year, I was involved in a production of the Alexander Singers and Players, a musical and community theatre group with whom I've now performed in six shows, going back to 2006.

It was worth my time, and to say that you have to realize just how much time I didn't have, and how much it's worth to me.

It meant that I didn't get to post here, and that I didn't see a lot of movies or read a lot of books. But I did dance a fair bit.

This post will expand.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Black Swan

So it's been a couple of weeks since I've seen The Black Swan and I've calmed down a little bit. Thoughts a bit jumbled post-hoc, but here's what I thought, in no particular order.

First, that I can a bit callously but affectionately think of it as descended from Fight Club, for obvious reasons, but also from Full Metal Jacket (so I'll call it "Full Feather Tutu"). At its core, you had a message of an artist -- or a human, or a soldier -- pursuing the obliteration of self to give a truly selfless performance. As a performer, and an off-and-on Kendoka, I related very viscerally to her experience. How many times has a music teacher, coach, whatever, shouted at me to turn off my brain, to stop watching myself and just let my heart move me? At least, like, three.

At a high level, there were a number of surprises in the cast, all good. Characters came in with clear "entrances", and there were subtle, creepy inside jokes based around the casting. Winona Ryder's character is stolen from; Winona's shoplifting fiasco was massively publicized. Murders real or imagined; Mila Kunis' role in the baffling sequel to American Psycho, which originalliy featured similar ambiguity. Barbara Hershey's clearly broken character, and her visibly jarring face, subsequent to obvious plastic surgery, perhaps raising a question of a perpetuation of a cycle of abuse. And while there was no outright discussion of anorexia, the camera lingers for a moment on the loose skin and musculature of an older dancer's back midway through the film. It's impossible not to think of both character and actress, in that moment. Conflation of life and art was a loudly telegraphed theme of this movie. Perhaps unintentional was the subsequent disclosure of Natalie Portman's pregnancy by and engagement to the film's choreographer Millepieds.

Obviously this extended to the whole structure of the film, which followed most of the same dramatic beats as the ballet Swan Lake, which is sketched out by the choreographer -- as played by Vincent Cassel, whom I'd mostly known through his roles in Ocean's Twelve and Irreversible, but who's also Monica Bellucci's husband -- early enough in the film for the audience to play along with the game.

Body Horror was all over this movie. Darren Aronovsky is a huge fan of that idea -- Requiem for a Dream was wrapped around it all the way through. Interestingly, it intersects with Kafka's approach in a funny sort of way, with rather than a man becoming a cockroach, a woman becoming a swan. This invites consideration of the Ugly Duckling, although the "ugliness" of the Black Swan herself was actually a sort of repressed carnality, which then calls up all those questions so tritely trodden on in The Da Vinci Code, about sacred versus worldly, religious and intellectual orthodoxy versus the "evil" impulse of human lust. As for the "horror" itself, the movie had some amazing gimmicky shock/jump moments; tension was maintained with fairly expert acumen.

Three more things I want to touch on: first, the question of Black Swan in the context of Nicholas Taleb. Something totally unpredictable? But maybe also something you planned to happen and chose to maximize? Something only possible in "extremistan"? Something real but almost never really glimpsed? A question of a fading elite, with diminishing crowds in the ballet perhaps representing a "thanksgiving event"?

Second, the transformation. How real was Lily? Was her tattoo something that could ever REALLY be allowed on a dancer? Why did she have a tattoo so explicitly tied to a single ballet; didn't she think she'd ever dance The Nutcracker? You'd need a lot of concealer to tread that (though I suppose if Nina could have covered her scratchy scarring/emerging feathers, Lily could have obscured her wings). Pursuant to that there's the amazing transformation Natalie helps Nina undergo, by totally changing the character's physicality in the last scene of the movie, fully embracing the character and disappearing into it, but doing so twice -- both Natalie AND Nina disappear, leaving only this alien creature of supreme sensuality and power. Chilling.

And the third thing, the name "Nina". Yeah, I know it means "child". I know it's one of Columbus' three ships. I also know it's slang (at least, Dr. Dre uses it thus) for a 9mm automatic pistol, a concealed, dangerous weapon. But the weirdest thing is how it lines up with two Ninas in my own life: one of whom is a dancer, and another of whom has undergone a dramatic physical transformation. This movie is full of weird resonance with the real world and the world-within-a-world of the Swan Lake ballet's story. It's only fitting that it should still be stuck in my head weeks after I've seen it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition

(originally posted to RPG.net's "Other Games Open" forum, about 10 minutes before it was posted here.)

I played Twilight Imperium last weekend and it got right under my skin. The thing is-- while I don't want to say "brilliant", or even "innovative", I do want to say "inspired". A full-on game of conquering a whole damned galaxy, or at least the important parts of it, that's not even a wargame per se: it's almost more of a "civilization" game, with "points" given for the development of technology, culture, political influence and diplomacy.

We played for three hours (and it was our first game, so we really only went up to turn three, six or so victory points) but the overall effect was absolutely breathtaking. Taking a page out of Cosmic Encounter, you have a distinct set of individual successor empires with wildly distinct feels, using only subtle variations within the rules.

But taking a page out of Race for the Galaxy and (as Third Edition calls it, "its greatest new influence") Puerto Rico, there are "non-conflict-based" ways to improve your empire and get ahead in the victory point race.

If I were to consider a fourth edition of Twilight Imperium, I'd think that the best new mechanic to roll into it would be the card-driven wargame mechanic of games like Twilight Struggle and Labyrinth. Those "influence" points on worlds all over the galaxy should be somehow factored into the way points are scored; Political Events don't seem to happen quite often enough to really make a difference. On the other hand, early expansion seems to make a really big difference. Here, racial starting numbers of ships (The N'orr, for instance, with their huge army but single carrier) can swing the game wildly.

But in its cosmic-encounter-like looseness lies a type of wide-open freedom that, even with my often analytically-paralytic group of Enderian calculator knights, allows for a tremendous amount of story-telling and role-playing in the context of a board-based strategy game about building a galactic empire. So, it wins.

Comics, week of January 26th.

Shortly, we'll be getting Squideye and The Bitter Guy back online for the new year. For now, these are the comic books I'll be checking out this week:

BOOM! Studios
Incorruptible #14 -$3.99
- I'm along for the ride; interested to see where it all winds up.

Dark Horse
Star Wars: Legacy - War #2 (of 6) -$3.50
- I refuse to bother with Legacy War until it's in trade. And at half-price books. SO burned out on fricking Adolescent Rebellion Skywalker and his BS.

Skullkickers #5 -$2.99
- This thing is consistently awesome. Just gets better with each issue. And I like Zub; Zub's the man.

Deadpool #32 -$2.99
- I like laughing and being happy. Anyone else interested in these things should be fed a steady diet of Deadpool comics by Daniel Way.

Fantastic Four #587 -$3.99
- This is the one where they kill off Ben Grimm, right?

New Avengers #8 -$3.99
Secret Avengers #9 -$3.99
- Immonen could draw paint drying and I'd just eat it up. Brubaker could write a story about paint drying and I'd be gripped. I wish they'd work together and make the One True Avengers comic. In the meantime, I'll keep up with both I guess.

X-23 #5 -$2.99
- I got a friend who's a pretty big fan. So I pick 'em up with some regularity. Marjorie Liu makes things more interesting than they'd be in the hands of a male writer doing a typical "Wounded Girl" comic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thinking back on "Reasons to be Pretty"

I think I might actually have reviewed this site somewhere else, but as she was mentioned in a recent Ontario press release, I checked out the wikipedia page for Piper Perabo trying to remember whether she'd played a police officer in the play I saw in preview on my last trip to New York.

Looking up the play, however, I saw that it had in fact premiered before the on-Broadway run I'd seen at the Lycaeum theatre.  And in its original cast? Nick Sobotka (Pablo Schreier) and Kim Pine (Alison Pill)!

Woulda been cool to see them onstage.  Of course, at that point I had seen neither The Wire nor In Treatment or Scott Pilgrim, and so I wouldn't have been confronted with baggage associated with their roles.  Either way, that play was pretty darned good.

Piper, of course, I knew from other work, but her character didn't ring of her Lost and Delirious role, which is cool.  (She co-starred with Jessica ParĂ© -- now a big part of Mad Men -- and, to an extent, Jackie Burroughs in that movie, which was awesome.)