Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haywire Review

The first trailer we saw for Haywire dubbed the movie as a sexy spy flick for women and then showed clips of a woman in tight black clothing running and jumping and throwing some punches. Every googled response for the movie brought back descriptions along the lines of “beautiful covert operative…” or “sexy spy” or “strong and sexy”.

A boring and predictable marketing campaign that is no doubt supposed to entice women into seeing this empowering film did nothing but piss off this quasi-feminist, stubborn writer to the point that she almost refused to see it. But after some heated arguments and further research, intrigue knocked out the misleading trailer and I was left with no choice but to suck it up and check it out.

The film, thank god, is not about how beautiful covert operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is, but how she has to use her skills and training as a covert operative to escape an international manhunt, protect her father and gain revenge on a team that betrayed her after an operation went awry. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Carano brings Kane to life with a ferocious determination and focused skill. She plays well into what Hollywood seems to think a woman on the field should be like, but you can tell there’s a depth to her involvement and she’s not just a pretty girl playing tough for the camera. No stranger to throwing a punch in real life, Carano is a retired MMA fighter and was formerly the #3-ranked 145-pound female fighter in the world according to the Unified Women's MMA Rankings. She does her own stunts, puts a certain power into her own fights and you can see her strength in each kick as she sends men flying across the room. At least the woman we’re supposed to admire in this movie is actually someone worthy of admiration.

There is no shortage of men to mention, right across the board from Channing Tatum, Ewan McGergor and Michael Fassbender to Antonio Bandares and Michael Douglas. If they wanted to appeal to a female market, maybe they should have highlighted how sexy the male cast is (oh right, they never do that).

Both Tatum and Fassbender had a chance to go head to head with Carano, two choreographed fight sequences that are really quite intense. Without spoiling who won, let’s just say we’re not surprised who came out on top.

With a party like this, it’s hard to see where the film can go wrong… until you watch it. They made a good effort to try and steer clear of a stereotypical Hollywood spy flick; there was a subtly to the filming, no recognizable pop hit blaring during the action sequences and there was this kind of calmness to everyone through the film. You can see what they are trying for, but it just doesn’t seem to quite work – the dialogue falls flat, the car chase scene seemed a little blasé and some of the fight sequences ended up causing a couple of giggles from the audience.

Haywire is what it is, another predictable spy flick with some serious MMA skills and a legit strong woman who knows how to use them.

images from google images

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Willkomen, Beinvenue, Welcome, Im Cabaret, Au Cabaret, To Cabaret!

So life is disappointing, forget it! In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful. Leave your troubles outside and welcome to Hart House Theatre’s production of Cabaret!

Set in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany, the cabaret is an oasis where people can go to escape reality. This particular escape takes place in the dark and sexy underground Kit Kat Club as told by the club’s lanky and pale Emcee (Michael David Blostein) as he welcomes struggling American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Keenan Viau) into the free for all seductive life of sex, drugs, booze and music that is the foundation of the fantasy of cabaret.

It is here that Clifford meets English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Courtney Lamanna), who pulls him further into her glamorous world. Sally moves in with Clifford at the boarding house where he is staying and the two weave into the budding romance between boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Renée Stein) and a Jewish fruit seller, Herr Shultz (Don Berns), all the while trying to earn enough money to pay rent and find their place in the ever changing Germany.

In the cabaret, anything goes and the dynamic performances in this production stick to that motto. Radiant Sally Bowles is a complex character, seductive and sweet and a monumental role filled by none other than Liza Minnelli in the 1970’s film adaptation. Those are some big shoes to fill, but Courtney Lamanna steps up to the challenge.

We first saw Lamanna as Wendla in the Lower Ossington Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening, a role in which she had to feign naivety and innocence, which seemed to repress your abilities as an up and coming actor. As Sally Bowles, however, Lamanna had her chance to let her personality shine through. With a booming voice and ability to emote passionately, Lamanna proves that she deserves the rise to a bigger spotlight from a bigger stage in a bigger theatre.

It’s Emcee Blostein, however, that steals the spotlight for most of the show. The shameless, dark storyteller lurks around the stage, dipping his hand in everyone’s business with perfect comedic timing and a magnetic presence. Despite looking like the walking dead, there was something magically alluring about his over the top performance.

Much like what you would imagine a cabaret to be like, the stage was framed by chorus members donning sexy burlesque attire, bordering on a fantasy of dominatrix meets traditional German clothing (think lederhosen or black taped Nazi symbols over nipples). There’s lots of leather. Lots of exposed skin in ordinarily covered areas. With lots of vivid involvement between characters, it’s an erotic tryst and a mighty fine distraction from all those troubles you’re told to leave behind.

Cabaret will transport you to a different time and into a different world. A world in which you might have trouble leaving. But it’s an experience that stays with you well after the fact. After all, life is a cabaret, old chum and we love a cabaret!

Cabaret is at the Hart House Theatre until January 28, 2012. Tickets $10.00 to $25.00 and are available by phone 416.978.8849 or visit UofTtix.ca

Images from Hart House Theatre by Daniel DiMarco

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Contraband - A review

It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to get out to a screening of a movie, so when Veronica got her hands on a screener for Contraband, we readily agreed. We came in with the expectation and apprehension of a movie that was going to be subpar at best but ended up pleasantly surprised. Mark Walhberg (The Departed, Boogie Nights) plays Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler, living in New Orleans who has to come out to do one last job to get his brother in law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), out of a pinch.

After Andy’s failure to smuggle in nearly a million dollars worth of cocaine for Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris realizes he has to pull off a job quickly and cleanly to erase the family debt. Caught in the middle was Kate (Kate Beckinsale), Chris’ wife who was left behind to watch after their sons with the help of his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster).

The problem with movies like this is the all too transparent plot line. Within the first 20 minutes or so, we’d already figured out what was going to happen. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the ride and view through the Panama Canal, their new skyline and of course, their lesser seen slums.

Walhberg was surprisingly not as wooden as he usually is (remember "The Happening"?) but then again, he does well in films in which he gets to play himself. Ribisi’s Briggs, with his slicked back hair and his tatted up arms was quite the sight to see. His rather erratic behavior made up for the fact that he was a brutally terrible gangster who got his butt kicked by Farraday in each encounter. With few twists in this rather simplistic plot, we’re left with little more than a few gun fights, the understated Kate being used as a punching bag and a few laughs.

We’d recommend Contraband to those looking to spend 2 hours or so mindlessly watching a flick just for the entertainment value. Just don’t go in expecting to be blown away. And hey, if you disagree, you can just blame it on the trees.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sing Along to the Age of Paranoia - American Idiot Review

In 2004 when Green Day released their seventh studio album American Idiot, the rock opera concept album received a number of awards and was praised by critics for the political voice and the anti-hero everyman created by Billie Joe Armstrong.

Music videos that accompanied the singles were layered with vivid imagery rebelling against a stifling life in suburbia, patriotic commitments to your country and suffocating obligations to everyday life. With such a vibrant message, it was only a matter of time before these pieces of the story made their way into a 95 minute one-act stage musical that has now kicked off the 2012 season at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

The show opens with a group of angsty teens living unhappily in suburbia, sleeping the day away, mindlessly watching tv and forgetting to shower... again. Their frustrations explode into the energetic in your face opening performance of “American Idiot”, which sets the tone and voice for the remainder of the show.

Transitioning seamlessly from one song to the next, we see three best friends Johnny, Will and Tunny try and escape the threatening grasp of their mundane lives to chase their dreams to the city.

Each boy is faced with their own individual obstacles that lead them on separate paths of self destruction and self awareness; Johnny falls head first into sex and drugs, Will remains at home with his pregnant wife never leaving his couch and Tunny enlists in the military to fight the numbing sensation he feels for life. They each experience the painful rise and fall of broken dreams and are forced to reflect upon their lives, resolving to turn things around before it’s too late.

The touring production sees Van Hughes as Johnny, Degrassi alum Jake Epstein as Will and canuck Scott J. Campbell as Tunny. Sharing the stage with a talented army of bored suburban youth - the boys donning just enough eyeliner and looking like Ashley’s ex boyfriends - American Idiot starts off strong and never loses its pace, even during emotive lulls like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake me when September Ends”, both of which see the three friends sporting acoustic guitars and sitting solemnly down on the stage.

An eccentric performance by Joshua Kobak as St. Jimmy is worth mentioning, his thrill-seeking drug dealer manifestation of Johnny’s id was devilishly mischievous. His custom of throwing out handfuls of glitter from his pockets was something that Veronica found quite amusing, so take this as fair warning - if you happen to run into Veronica, keep an eye out for a pocket full of glitter.

The underrated band built into the set design revisit their glorified garage band days by flawlessly running through the rest of Green Day’s American Idiot catalogue with the likes of “Jesus of Suburbia”, “Holiday”, “St. Jimmy” and “21 Guns”.

During “Extraordinary Girl”, a surprising aerobatic scene shows Tunny and his Extraordinary Girl sailing gracefully through the air on wires, floating together in unison over the stage. It seems a little out of place, but they both handle the choreographed air show with such ease that it’s almost calming. And of course, as the show closes the full cast returns to the stage each with an acoustic guitar for their final number “Good Riddance (Time of your Life)”.

With little to no dialogue outside of song, the plot seems a little thin, but the musical numbers more than make up for that, making American Idiot a loud and aggressive union between a classic rock album and theatrical production. If tickets weren’t so bloody expensive it’d make for an experience any rock fan wouldn’t want to miss.

American Idiot runs until January 15 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

images from google.