Thursday, August 17, 2017

Nuclear Waste: Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde.

David Leitch is uncredited as co-director of John Wick, when in fact both he and Chad Stahelski helmed the film. Leitch, a career stunt man with an extremely impressive resume (name an action blockbuster between 1998 and now; he was probably involved), was content to offer his action expertise on the Keanu Reeves sleeper hit while Stahelski – himself a stunt man-cum-filmmaker – handled most of the, you know, filmmaking. Now that I’ve seen Atomic Blonde, which Leitch directed by himself, it’s clear which half of that cinematic partnership provided the storytelling skill that made John Wick such a quality film. Hint: it was the other guy. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Purveyor of Thresholds: Why Scott Walker Is God


"See the man with the stage fright
Just standin' up there to give it all his might.
And he got caught in the spotlight,
But when we get to the end
He wants to start all over again."
                                  – from "Stage Fright" by Robbie Robertson
Author Barney Hoskyns has rightly observed that though The Band’s leader Robbie Robertson wrote this 1970 song ostensibly about Bob Dylan, who had stopped touring live in the late '60s, it could also have been about the shy Robertson himself, who had experienced stage fright the year before during The Band’s first live concert. Naturally it could also be about any emblematic singer who has experienced what Levon Helm called “the terror of performing” or any person who, as William Ruhlmann once put it, has discovered “the pitfalls of fortune and fame.” And as the song itself declared so openly, “Since that day he ain’t been the same,” largely as a result of the personal price he had to pay for being able to “sing like a bird.”

But given the year, 1970, and given Scott Walker’s own notoriously famous stage fright (which was known to be almost paralyzing), I’ve always felt that the song especially captured some the core dilemma eating away at Walker himself. Like Dylan, who rejected both the trappings and the demands of celebrity after flying too high and too fast in the '60s, not to mention mangling his motorcycle, Walker also withdrew from the public eye after his own Icarus-like trauma: the discouragement he felt after his first four post-Walker Brothers solo records failed to meet his own exacting (and probably unattainable) expectations.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Filmmaker Morley Markson (1988)

Former Black Panther Donald Cox in Morley Markson's Growing Up in America (1988).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1988, one of those people was Canadian documentary filmmaker Morley Markson.

In 1971, Markson made Breathing Together: Revolution of the Electric Family, a documentary which interviewed prominent counterculture figures and social activists from the '60s, including Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, William Kunstler, and Donald Cox. When I sat down with Markson in 1988, his follow-up film Growing Up in America had just been released.

In Growing Up in America, Markson returns 18 years later to many of those featured in his original film and reflects with them on their impact and the current state of politics and culture in the United States. Considering the dark events of the past few days, it seems timely today to reflect on the larger sweep of American history, through the eyes of some of its most vocal and idealistic figures.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Morley Markson as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1988.

 

Monday, August 14, 2017

More New Plays at Williamstown: Actually and A Legendary Romance

Joshua Boone and Alexandra Socha in Actually. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

Both these reviews contain spoilers.

The characters in Anna Ziegler’s two-hander Actually on the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival are Princeton first-year students who hook up in the first weeks of the fall semester and wind up sleeping together when both are considerably under the influence. Amber (Alexandra Socha) is a white Jewish girl who has never thought of herself as especially pretty or been especially popular; her high school experimentation with sex was mostly an attempt to avoid the embarrassment of getting to the end of senior year with her virginity intact, and the boy who initiated her, her best friend’s brother, was aggressive and insensitive. Tom (Joshua Boone) is African American, charming and sexually experienced, and hides his own insecurities under a façade of cockiness. When he shows some interest in Amber, she can’t believe her good fortune, and Tom, always eager for sex but not seeking a relationship, is surprised at the tender feelings she generates in him. But when they go to bed her finely tuned radar picks up something off in his behavior, and she finds the sex too rough. What happens then is unclear since their recollections are different. But after the fact she tells her friends that he “practically raped her” and they encourage her to lodge a complaint. Both students end up in front of a faculty board on sexual misconduct. Actually is mostly a set of intercut monologues in which each of the characters presents a self-portrait while narrating the story of their interaction; only in the opening minutes of the play and in the final scene do they talk to each other, aside from a heated moment in their relaying of the events of the night in question, when they quarrel over exactly what happened.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Dance of the Dispossessed: Bangarra Dance Theatre's Bennelong

Bangarra Dance Theatre performing Bennelong. (Photo: Vishal Pandey)

Even non-Australians are familiar with Bennelong Point, a former tidal island in New South Wales that since the early 1970s has served as the home of the Sydney Opera House. Architect Jørn Utzon's sculptural design, inspired by a segmented orange but looking more like the white sails of the convict ships that first landed at this very location in 1788, has made Bennelong Point internationally famous as a World Heritage Site. More than eight million international tourists visit the promontory each year, participating in a sort of pilgrimage of high Western culture.

The building is so strikingly innovative that few notice the layers of history lying underfoot in the surrounding stones. Bennelong Point is so named because this is where once stood the brick hut occupied by an Aboriginal man born of the Eora clan in 1764. It had been built for him by the British, who founded a penal colony on his ancestral lands. His name was Woollarawarre Bennelong and, more than 200 years since his death in 1813 in the nearby suburb of Putney, he has returned to the place that bears his name to retell his story.

Directly assisting in his resurrection is Stephen Page, artistic director and chief choreographer of Sydney's Bangarra Dance Theatre, the critically acclaimed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander company which has been seamlessly blending indigenous storytelling traditions with modern dance technique and contemporary movement styles for the past 28 years. Bennelong is Page's latest creation and it dynamically recounts the life story of the first indigenous Australian to forge an alliance with the Europeans.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Ghost Story and Dunkirk: Failed Experiments

Casey Afflect and Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story.

A Ghost Story is an experimental film embedded in a commercial feature. An unnamed couple (the credits list them as "C" and "M"), played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, lives in a house that appears to be haunted; as they’re about to move out, C (Affleck) dies suddenly. The rest of the picture is from the point of view of the ghost who rises from his body in the hospital morgue. The movie’s subject is time, and we experience it as the ghost does, hovering in the house (in the classic mode of a specter in a sheet with holes for eyes) as M grieves and then takes up her life again and departs; as another family – a Hispanic single mother and her two young children – move in and then, spooked by the ghost’s announcement of his presence, move out again; as the house becomes dilapidated and is razed to the ground (along with the one next door, inhabited by its own ghost); as the land is taken over by an office building and the neighborhood becomes a gleaming cityscape. Then time reverses itself, taking us, with the ghost, back to the first settlers in this (unspecified) area, a farmer and his family, who are killed by Native Americans. Eventually the movie catches up to itself and we return to the first scenes between C and M, only now we see them from the perspective of the ghost, who has been there all along. (The noise that alarmed them in bed and brought them into the living room at the beginning of the picture turns out to be the sound of the ghost plunking on their piano.)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Orthodox Views: Menashe, The Women’s Balcony and The Wedding Plan

Menashe Lustig and Ruben Niborski in Menashe.

It’s probably a bit ironic that, of late, movies about Orthodox Jewish communities in America and Israel (Holy Rollers, Ushpizin, Fill the Void) have been popping up on our movies screens, made by both secular and religious filmmakers. I say ironic because unless they get dispensation from their rabbis, Orthodox Jews won’t go see any of the movies even if they're interested in doing so. Yet their closed-off and rule-driven world will likely continue to be fodder for directors who find them to be fascinating subjects for the cinema. Three new movies offer proof positive of that curious view.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Like A Midnight Cowboy: Glen Campbell, 1936-2017

Glen Campbell performing on the BBC in 1970. (Photo: Michael Putland/Getty/Hulton Archive)

It wasn’t shocking to hear, two days ago, that Glen Campbell had died: for nearly a decade, he had been making highly public acknowledgements of his affliction with Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than lachrymose interviews or TV appearances, these mostly took the form of actual work. A worldwide concert tour spanned August 2011 to November 2012; referred to variously as “Good Times – The Final Farewell Tour” and “The Goodbye Tour,” it couldn’t have been more upfront about its theme and raison d'être. I’ll Be Me, a documentary about the tour and about the disease, premiered on CNN in 2014. Campbell’s last three studio albums – 2011’s Ghost on the Canvas, 2013’s See You There, and this year’s Adiós – were concerned entirely or partially with the singer’s contemplation of his own looming mortality. These years and works amount to a concerted resistance against dissolution and death, and they comprise, whatever their artistic results, an exemplary final act.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pink Floyd Redux: The Piper at The Gates of Dawn

Pink Floyd (left to right): Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright.

Fifty years ago, Pink Floyd emerged from the underground music scene of London's Soho district and released their debut album, The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (Columbia/EMI). The band played the UFO club (pron. YOU-faux) under the steady guidance of Joe Boyd, the American owner of the venue, who said they “engrossed” the crowd every night, not by playing dance music or pop songs but adding a light show to complement their improvisational sets. It was a band trying to find their sound with a slightly flamboyant front man by the name of Roger “Syd” Barrett.

Listening again to this album I’m struck by its enthusiasm and promise, but it’s difficult to ignore the simple fact that this handsome lad from Cambridge, Barrett, who had taken his first LSD trip in 1965, eventually got lost in the shuffle because of his addiction. By the end of 1967, he was persona non grata in Pink Floyd since his habit made him too unreliable to the other members of the band. As Boyd reports in his autobiography, “One evening in May [1967] I ran into Syd and his girlfriend in Cambridge Circus . . . [He] was sprawled on the [curb], his velvet trousers torn and dirty, his eyes crazed. Lindsey told me he’d been taking acid for a week.” When the album was released and Pink Floyd had a gig at UFO, Boyd saw the band just before they went on stage: “Syd’s sparkling eyes had always been his most attractive feature but that night they were vacant, as if someone had reached inside his head and turned off a switch.”

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Recent Nordic Mysteries in Print and Television, Part I: Iceland

A scene from the Icelandic television series Trapped, currently streaming on Netflix.

Arnaldur Indridason is one of the most acclaimed Icelandic writers of police procedurals for his novels about Detective Erlendur, a brooding, lonely officer who is tormented by ghosts from his past: the disappearance of his younger brother, a failed marriage and two children whose lives have been scarred by drugs. Fittingly, he investigates a number of cold cases. One of the best Erlendur books, The Draining Lake (2009), begins with a discovery of a corpse that has a bullet in his head in a lake where the water level has dropped in the wake of an earthquake. Erlendur’s investigation takes him back to the time of the Cold War when bright, left-wing students would be sent from Iceland to study in the “heavenly state” of Communist East Germany.

Indridason has recently decided to put the Erlendur series in a deep freeze while he pursues another project. Making connections between the past and the present is a driving impulse of The Shadow District (Harvill Secker, 2017), the first of a projected trilogy that is set in wartime Iceland after the war, and in the present. A young girl is found murdered by an Icelandic young woman and her American beau behind the National Theatre in Reykjavík in 1944, a frequent site for trysts between local girls and foreign troops when the country was occupied by British and American forces. Two officers investigate: the more experienced Flovent and his young partner, Thorson, a Canadian with Icelandic roots. The two officers are conscientious investigators who ultimately arrest a student of Icelandic folklore for her murder and the disappearance of another young woman three years earlier who may have been driven to her death by a local folklore story. Unfortunately they botch the case when the accused is under their care, and that and external pressure cause the investigation to be officially closed. But the case shadows the two men for the rest of their lives. Thorson is so dissatisfied that he returns to Iceland after the Second World War, hoping that some new clue will turn up.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Fresh Prince: Robert Icke’s Hamlet

Andrew Scott as Hamlet in Robert Icke's production of Hamlet. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Robert Icke’s new Hamlet, which began at London's Almeida Theatre (where he is artistic director) and moved to the West End in June, is elegiac, cerebral, mysterious. The designer Hildegard Bechtler’s palette is understated – blacks and whites and browns, silvers and grays. During the wedding party Claudius (Angus Wright) and Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) dance among their guests beyond an upstage scrim that simultaneously reflects Hamlet (Andrew Scott) approaching Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) downstage: as anyone who was lucky enough to see Icke’s 2015 Agamemnon (with Wright as Agamemnon) knows, he loves doubling and echoes, and throughout this production he juxtaposes the two couples, both passionate, in suggestive, surprising ways. Bob Dylan’s voice murmurs on the soundtrack, his deceptively monochromatic drone veiling delicate whorls of phrasing and depth of feeling. (The play begins and ends with “One More Cup of Coffee.”)  In this contemporary setting, Elsinore Castle is lined with video monitors; the motif of electronic visuals – the Ghost (David Rintoul) makes his first appearance on one, spotted by Horatio (Joshua Higgott) and the palace guards in the control room; Fortinbras (Nikesh Patel) communes with the king through an exterior video camera; Hamlet and Horatio shoot “The Mousetrap” so that they can review it afterwards for signs of Claudius’s guilt – is, of course, partly about the omnipresence of surveillance. Other twenty-first-century Hamlets have explored this theme (Michael Almereyda’s 2000 movie version with Ethan Hawke, to pick one particularly effective example) but Icke is more concerned with the ghostliness of digital imagery, which builds on the doubling motif to investigate the idea of meanings hidden beneath the surface of the everyday. It’s this supernal quality that especially distinguishes Icke’s from other modern approaches to the play: there are hints of surrealism and neo-romanticism.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Music to the Ears: Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2005), The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005), Festival Express (2003) and Be Here to Love Me (2004)

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2005)

Since it's summer, and the sound of live music is always in the air, my mind immediately turned to some music docs that might add some flavour to the outdoor festivities. Cutting through any preconceived notions of (or prejudices toward) heavy metal music, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is a pretty informative and entertaining crash course in the genre. Co-director Sam Dunn, who first got his eardrums thundering when he was a high school student, took his passion for hard rock into an anthropological field study of the dark lords of mayhem. Along with co-directors Scot McFadyen and Jessica Joy Wise, Dunn lays out the roots of the music, which he connects to a series of influences: the theatrical and romantic bombast of grand opera, the blues, and the very insolent, nose-thumbing qualities of rock itself. The filmmakers travel through America and Europe, following tours and talking to metal heroes from Rob Zombie to Black Sabbath lead guitarist Tony Iommi. They also examine the darker metal bands in Europe that deliberately play into parents' worst nightmares of hard rock as the product of Satan. Metal: A Headbanger's Journey tries to go further and explore why heavy metal is held in such disrepute, but here it fails: the filmmakers are fans before they are critics. To bring more depth to the subject, they would have to call into question some of their own darker impulses and attractions. Nevertheless, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey is an intelligent historical study of rock's loudest spectacle. (In 2007, they followed up with the more ambitious Global Metal, which showed the impact globalization had on the heavy metal underground.)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Making Formula Work: Recent Disney Films

Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) and Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) in Moana.

At one point in Moana, Disney’s animated offering for the holiday season of 2016, the title character, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, reprimands the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) for referring to her as a princess. Unimpressed, Maui indicating her clothing and dim-witted pet chicken Hei Hei retorts, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It’s a telling line: screenwriter Jared Bush & company are having a laugh at the expense of the traditional Disney formula and surreptitiously congratulating a certain segment of the audience for getting the joke, but they’re also acknowledging that, mutatis mutandis, Moana still fundamentally adheres to that formula.

As a father and uncle to young children, my moviegoing habits have of necessity included a heavy dose of Disney in recent years. However, I’ve been continually surprised, especially when considering these movies in conjunction with their parent company’s juggernaut Marvel and Star Wars franchises, at how consistent they are in terms of quality and style. Films from Disney’s various subsidiaries have dominated at the box office in recent years, especially since its acquisition of Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel Studios. That matters, not least because the company’s success contributes to a larger phenomenon whereby blockbusters increasingly crowd out the sort of mid-budget, creatively adventurous work that used to lend added variety and excitement to the cinematic scene. (Meanwhile, low-budget indie projects increasingly seem to find their outlet on small-screen platforms such as Netflix and its competitors.) Despite dire predictions from the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas a few years back, this top-heavy reliance on blockbusters hasn’t destroyed the movie industry yet, nor has it caused audiences to abandon theaters in disgust. Part of the answer may lie in that same formula that movies like Moana as well as more recent offerings such as the recent live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast and Cars 3 both rely upon and wink at.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Filmmaker Mira Nair (1988)

A scene from Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay! (1988).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1988, one of those people was film director Mira Nair.

When I sat down with Nair, her debut feature film Salaam Bombay! was winning her praise worldwide. (In 2011, the film was included in The New York Times' s list of "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.") She would go one to direct many more popular and acclaimed films, including Mississippi Masala (1991), Monsoon Wedding (2001), and most recently Queen of Katwe (2016).

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Mira Nair as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1988.

 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Love Craft: The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick.

The Big Sick, which chronicles a barely fictionalized version of the real-life romance between comedian Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and therapist/writer Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan), has to be one of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Applying the label of that genre, and all the baggage that comes with it, feels wrong in this case, because part of what makes The Big Sick so brilliant are the ways in which it subverts and elevates the genre it belongs to. It’s a romantic comedy in the sense that it’s hopelessly romantic and ruthlessly funny, but it’s also much more than those surface-level elements, so I’m not sure what else to call it. I guess it’s enough to say that it’s one of the more finely crafted films, full stop, that I’ve seen all year.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Private Music of Paul McCartney



Be prepared to be shocked. Paul McCartney considered as an avant-garde musician? As usual, truth is stranger than fiction, and certainly more interesting than myth. Thrillington, recorded in 1971, was merely the second of several secret identities that McCartney cleverly used to further his creative ambitions while still delivering the bright and shiny pop goods we have all come to identify with his illustrious name. The first persona was the world famous Sergeant Pepper, the second was Percy Thrillington, the third was the relatively unknown and more recent Fireman: all are reflections of the complicated artistic world of this highly innovative and experimental musician. Yes, that’s right, Paul is experimental. Even Thrillington, an orchestral concurrent rendition of his complete 1971 Ram album under a completely fictional composer’s name, is, in its own quirky way, a totally avant-garde experiment in anti-pop.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

In a Groove: Revisiting High Fidelity (2000)

John Cusack as vinyl collector Rob Gordon in High Fidelity 

Chances are, if you've ever spent a great deal of time in a used record store (in the days when there were used record stores), you will probably recognize the crackpot characters that populate Stephen Frears's frisky comedy, High Fidelity. I would also venture to guess that you might see something of yourself in the adolescent obsessions on display – especially if you are a music enthusiast. Based on Nick Hornby's delightfully funny novel, High Fidelity is about how pop music might sow the seeds of love but can't bear the fruit to nourish and sustain our relationships.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Didacticism and Virtue at the Shaw Festival

Shawn Wright and Jeff Irving with the cast of Androcles and the Lion at the Shaw Festival. (Photo: David Cooper)

At every performance of the Shaw Festival’s production of Androcles and the Lion, George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 dramatization of the Aesop fable, a member of the audience is picked to play the lion. Other theatregoers who have been handed colored balls before the play begins are invited to throw them onto the stage at will, interrupting the dramatic action and prompting a variety of responses from the actors, who have to tell an anecdote or recite a section of Shaw’s preface to the play or share any thought that pops into their heads. This process is in the service of what Tim Carroll, the Shaw’s new artistic director, calls “two-way theatre,” which is intended to break down the barrier between the actors and the audience. Carroll directed Androcles, but his mission is visible in the productions he didn’t stage, too. In Wilde Tales, the lunchtime show, adapted by Kate Hennig from four Oscar Wilde fairy tales and directed by Christine Brubaker, children from the audience sit along the sides of the Court House stage with signs and other props; their participation is encouraged at certain points in the action. In Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George, directed by Kevin Bennett (who trained with Carroll during his tenure as associate director at Shakespeare’s Globe in London), the house lights remain on during the performance and the cast interacts with members of the audience – especially those who are sitting right on the stage of the Royal George – just as actors at the Globe play up to those groundlings who have found standing room right below the thrust, within easy reach of the performers. Five of the six plays I saw at the Shaw began with a member of the staff – an assistant stage manager or head dresser or what have you – addressing the audience and providing some tidbits of information about his or her job.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Living Spaces: The Family Camera at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum

The Dewan family visiting Niagara Fall, August 1980. (Photo courtesy of Deepali Dewan)

There is a fascinating photography exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) this summer with a partner site at the Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM). The Family Camera is based on the premise that family snapshots play a key role in defining, celebrating and memorializing the idea of family, even if some of those photographs are missing. Many of them record the migration process to Canada of a wide variety of families, and the photographs have been taken not only in Canada but in countries from which the families have migrated. This is an exhibition that is rich in storytelling and history, large and small.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nothing To Be Afraid of Here: Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines



The recent furor over HBO’s announcement of a proposed TV series to be called Confederate that imagines a world where the South seceded from the Union and has kept slavery as an institution to the present day is puzzling for any number of reasons. The objections seem to be to the very concept of the show, created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones), that it would be offensive to black viewers and exploitative of the subject of slavery. (Black writer Roxane Gay labelled it "slavery fan fiction" in a New York Times op-ed.) But that argument ignores the obvious fact that the idea is not exactly a novel one in fiction. Science-fiction writer Harry Turtledove wrote an epic ten-book series on this very subject in his Southern Victory series (1998-2007). Kevin Willmot’s CSA: The Confederate States of America was a 2004 film mockumentary which posited a British-made documentary examining the present-day CSA, an empire that spans Cuba, Mexico and Central America, and the realities of its racist culture, complete with a revised history of America. (In the film's imagined history Mark Twain, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others left to go live in a free Canada and President Abraham Lincoln also ended up there after being free from imprisonment by the Confederacy.) And last July saw the release of Ben H. Winters’ similarly themed novel Underground Airlines (Mulholland Books). So why the fuss about an idea that is hardly a radical departure from the literary or visual norm? The answer might be because it hits too close to home.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Maudie: A Window on the World

Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins in Maudie

The unassuming bio Maudie by the Irish director Aisling Walsh is a small-scale beauty about the Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) and her relationship with her husband Everett (Ethan Hawke). Maud, crippled by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, goes to live with her grim, puritanical Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose, in a finely sketched performance) in Digby after her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) sells the house they grew up in. (In the Depression-era Canadian Maritimes, the son gets the inheritance.) Finding her new environment unendurable, Maud answers Everett’s ad for a live-in housekeeper and, though he’s an ornery loner and sometimes a brute, they become lovers and finally – at Maud’s insistence – they marry. It’s an uphill odd-couple romance in which her spirit and humor and common sense slowly bring out unexpected sensitivities in him. And her whimsical nature-inspired art, with which she decorates his ramshackle house – a single room with a sleeping loft – becomes an additional means of income for them (he makes a meager living peddling fish) after an American, Sandra (Kari Matchett), who summers in the area starts to purchase her little homemade cards and then commissions her to make paintings. Over time Sandra becomes her best friend.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Inventory Management, Vol II: The Splattening

Splatoon 2 was released by Nintendo, for Nintendo Switch, on July 21.

"Inventory Management" is the period of rest and thoughtfulness that occurs during breaks in the action, in which we organize and clear out all the unnecessary clutter we've accumulated during our adventures. This column, like its sister column Critic's Notes & Frames, embraces this spirit of enjoyable tidying up by acting as a receptacle for all the reviews, thoughts, and musings about games and gaming culture that wouldn't fit anywhere else.
– Justin Cummings

Splatoon 2 – which, if we lived in a just and proper world, would be called “Spla2n” – is Nintendo’s second swing at one of its first new IPs in decades, building on the promising but undercooked foundation of squooshy, gooshy fun from the first Splatoon (2015) for WiiU. I tried the original when it came out, but never owned it; it was a game I appreciated more for philosophical and aesthetic reasons than as an actual experience. I loved that Nintendo had taken a chance on a new and unproven brand – something that the company’s risk-averse executives had avoided for years. I loved that they created a sort of development incubator for younger talent, and that the ingenuity and flair of those voices was allowed to come through in their first product. And I loved many of the things the game itself achieved, with its weird, unique, family-friendly shooter gameplay.

But I didn’t love it enough to buy it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Come from the Heart – Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark by Tamara Saviano

(l.to r. Townes Van Zandt, Susanna Clark, and Guy Clark.)

Guy Clark (1941-2016) may not be a household name, but in many circles he is considered one of the greatest songwriters in American music. Author Tamara Saviano goes to great lengths to tell us so in her important biography of the singer-songwriter, Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark, recently published by Texas A&M University Press. Saviano is the perfect choice to tell Clark’s story because she’s been writing about him for several years at Country Music Magazine. She's also interviewed him several times. One of her best essays about Clark appeared in the 2014 issue of The Oxford American featuring the music of Texas. Her sentimental memoir about Clark’s 1975 release Ole No. 1 provided fresh insights about the album. So I was genuinely enthused about this biography and its author. Unfortunately, due to an overuse of facts and anecdotes, Clark’s story gets a little lost in the narrative.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Novelist Martin Amis (1981)

Martin Amis, in 1981.(Photo: Martin Lawrence)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1981, one of those people was British novelist Martin Amis.

When I sat down with Amis, his fourth novel, Other People: A Mystery Story, had just been published, with his best-known books  Money (1984), London Fields (1989), and Time's Arrow (1991). the last short-listed for the Booker Prize still to come. Other People was Amis's first published novel after he had made his transition to becoming a full-time writer.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Martin Amis as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1981.



Monday, July 24, 2017

George Bernard Shaw, Lillian Hellman and Paula Vogel: Issues

Andrew Lawrie, Sara Topham and Jim Mezon in the Shaw Festival's production of Saint Joan. (Photo: David Cooper)

This article contains reviews of Saint Joan, The Little Foxes, and Indecent.

George Bernard Shaw lays out the argument of Saint Joan with unerring precision. Joan is a French peasant, a teenager, unwavering in her Catholic devotion yet possessed of a country girl’s common sense; when she hears the voices of saints in the church bells, urging her to lead an army to throw the English out of France, she accepts them without doubt or hesitation and her no-nonsense certainty that she is doing the right thing convinces one man after another, right up to the Dauphin, whom she dreams of helping to crown King Charles VII. But as soon as she wins the war for him she finds herself mired in political turmoil that she doesn’t understand and that will end inevitably with her being burned at the stake. She has run afoul not only of the English (obviously) but of the church, represented by the Archbishop of Rheims and the Inquisition, who find in her intimate relationship with God a threat to the Catholic hierarchy. Even the Dauphin, now the monarch, is put off by her arrogance, which earlier he, like the officers she kicked into battle, found inspiring and sensible. The more she insists on being true to the simple faith that got her there in the first place, the more she damns herself in the eyes of the church, which forms an unholy alliance with its secular arm (and the English) to execute her.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dark Mirrors: Get Out and Race in America

Daniel Kaluuya in Jordan Peele's Get Out (2017).

“The truth is, they don’t surround us. We surround them. This is our country."
– Glenn Beck, Fox News Channel, March 13, 2009.
Jordan Peele’s gripping film, Get Out, which explores contemporary race relations on a micro-level through the prism of horror comedy, has received considerable attention from critics, including this site’s Justin Cummings and Kevin Courrier. Among other films, they have rightly pointed out its cultural markers as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives. In both versions of the latter, wives are reprogrammed into robotic doppelgängers, and Get Out can be viewed as a sinister version of Dinner. But Sidney Poitier’s other 1967 film, In the Heat of the Night, also comes to mind. His role as the urbane cop who encounters southern redneck racists finds its mirror image fifty years later in Get Out, in the black photographer Chris’s unease with the seemingly polite but cringe-inducing patronizing of white liberals, a veneer that covers their malevolent and dangerous presence. I would add two fictional progenitors to Get Out: H. G. Wells’s early science-fiction novella, The Island of Doctor Moreau, about a physician who experiments on animals to turn them into human-like hybrids, and Stephen King’s End of Watch, which posits the idea that the consciousness of a comatose psychopath can be transferred to the minds of others who become the agents of his nefarious plans.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Voices from the Grave: George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo

Author George Saunders (photo by Alex Garcia / Chicago Tribune 2013)

Tibetan theology and the private grief of Abraham Lincoln might not seem like two subjects that naturally go together, but George Saunders masterfully interweaves them in his stunning novel Lincoln in the Bardo. The sixteenth president of the United States has fascinated writers and artists ever since his emergence on the national stage, leading most recently to films such as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, best-selling nonfiction such as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and shlock like the “mashup novel” Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and its movie adaptation. However, in this case the titular Lincoln is not Abraham, but rather his son Willie, who died in February of 1862, when the Civil War had been raging for less than a year. Interred in his grave, Willie finds himself in bardo, a liminal state between life and death that features in some Buddhist interpretations of the afterlife. Here, he encounters a panoply of strange new neighbors, such as the naked Hans Vollman and the youthful Roger Bevins III, who sprouts a multitude of eyes and arms whenever he begins rhapsodizing about the beauty of the world that he’s left behind, as if trying to adequately appreciate the entirety of creation. Willie and his companions don’t know that they’re dead, and in large part their ignorance propels the plot of the novel. They’re joined by a wide cast of characters that peoples (or haunts) the graveyard, ranging across every conceivable social, racial, and moral division within their society and often replicating those same hierarchies in death as in life.

Friday, July 21, 2017

High Stakes: Netflix’s Castlevania

Trevor Belmont (voiced by Richard Armitage) in Netflix's Castlevania.

That video game adaptations are generally awful is pretty much a matter of public record. The bad – your Resident Evils, your Tomb Raiders, your Max Paynes – are too numerous to count, and the good – your Wreck-It Ralphs, your Scott Pilgrims, or even The Wizards – usually earn that distinction by not actually being adaptations of a specific game at all. I don’t need all the digits on a single hand to list the adaptations I genuinely like, and they all come with an asterisk anyway.

So the bar is, and has been, set very low for decades now. We’ve all been waiting for something to come along and raise it, demonstrating to a disbelieving non-gamer public that there’s rich fiction to be culled from these sources and reimagined in a cinematic context. I’m not saying that Netflix’s new Castlevania series, written by Warren Ellis, is that adaptation – but it’s damn close.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sometimes The Remake Is Better: Panique vs. Monsieur Hire

Michel Simon in Panique (1946).

Note: The following contains spoilers for Panique (1946) and Monsieur Hire (1989).

TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Toronto International Film Festival’s year-round screening centre, is presenting French classic cinema this summer in Toronto, as it often does during the warm months. One highlight -- or, at least, they think it is --  in their series Panique: French Crime Classics, is the revival of Julien Duvivier’s 1946 Panique (Panic), a dramatic film starring Michel Simon as Monsieur Hire, an unpopular man who is suspected of murdering an elderly woman and whose presumed innocence is quickly thrown by the wayside as his neighbours hound him to a tragic fate. Usually these neglected films, revived for audiences who may not know of them, turn out to be worth your time but Panique, though not entirely devoid of interest, isn’t one of them. It’s a movie whose lofty ambitions aren’t quite reached. But you can catch a variation on the same film in Patrice Leconte’s 1989 Monsieur Hire, also based on Georges Simenon’s 1933 short novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire (Monsieur Hire's Engagement), a movie that is Panique’s superior in virtually every way. (Any number of other films in the French crime series, including The Wages of Fear [1953], Rififi [1955] and Touchez pas au grisbi (Don't Touch the Loot, 1954] as well as in the related film series centered on filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville [Army of Shadows, 1969] can make that claim, too.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When We Dead Awaken: George Romero (1940-2017)

Filmmaker George A. Romero died this past Sunday, July 16, at the age of 77.

Everyone who has had a nodding acquaintance with the popular culture of the past quarter-century or so knows what zombies are. Zombies, which are often called “walkers” or “the infected” or just anything but “zombies,” are people who have died only to be resurrected as inarticulate, humanoid beasts. Decaying but still animate, they are ferociously hungry, and they feast, cannibalistically, on those still living. If they kill someone and leave enough of the corpse intact to rise and stagger about, that person too becomes a hungry zombie. Once a zombie plague has begun, either because of a new fast-spreading virus or a scientific experiment gone wrong or for no detectable reason at all, the countdown to apocalypse is well under way; as the Lord of the Underworld puts it in one of William Messmer-Loebs’s graphic novels about the Greek philosopher Epicurus, when the dead and the living go to war, the living always lose. Once transformed, zombies may make a beeline for those they loved in their former lives, either because of some innate tracking system or just because of their close proximity, but they cannot be reasoned with and have no sentimental feelings, or any feelings of any kind except hunger; the living are nothing but a food source to them. And they can be deterred only through complete physical annihilation – the destruction of their brains, along with as much else of them as possible – which can make for some pretty gory filmmaking. We know all this thanks to Night of the Living Dead, a 1968 horror movie made in Pittsburgh by the director George A. Romero and his screenwriting partner, John Russo, on a budget of $144,000.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Elephant in the Room: The Mystery of Jack White


“Nothing is improbable until it moves into the past tense . . . ” George Ade
As a member of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and the Rome project (with Danger Mouse, Norah Jones and Daniele Luppi), Jack White III has certainly proven himself as a songwriter, singer, performer and musician. But it's also an impressive list when you add up White’s own production work with his bands, as well as producing other stellar artists like Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, The Greenhornes, Dexter Romweber Duo, his wife Karen Elson and even his pal Conan O'Brien.

White also oversees the record label he founded, Third Man Records, where his productions are released and where occasional live concerts are captured on analog tape in the back room. But the real action has always been taking place on 8-track, 2-inch tape in his self-designed, private studio in Nashville, where he's been busy at work since September 2009 on many diverse projects, including Wanda Jackson's excellent album, The Party Ain't Over, and the launch of his publishing enterprise, Third Man Books.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Berkshire Report: Where Storms Are Born and Baskerville

LeRoy McClain and Myra Lucretia Taylor in Harrison David Rivers’ Where Storms Are Born. (Photo: Daniel Rader)

There aren’t any startling surprises in Harrison David Rivers’ Where Storms Are Born on Williamstown’s Nikos Stage, but it has a dramatic arc and it was written with actors in mind – Rivers has given the ensemble of six plenty to play. And it has patches of sharp, lyrical writing; I think Rivers has talent. (This is his fifth play but the first I’ve encountered.) Its high point is the climactic monologue by Myles (Leroy McClain), whose death at thirty-one in prison, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, is the starting point of the play. Myles appears in flashback at different points but this speech is a dramatization of the letter he wrote his kid brother Gideon (Christopher Livingston), the protagonist of the piece, revealing the truth about the murder. It’s his way of reconciling with Gideon, who has refused to visit him in jail, and of giving him something to hold onto, and as both a descriptive piece and a confessional one, it’s vivifying and affecting. (McClain reads it with brio.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Who Watches the Watchers: Sepinwall and Seitz's TV (The Book)

A scene from The Sopranos, one of more than 100 shows discussed in Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz's TV (The Book).

“When you hear the words The Dick Van Dyke Show, imagine the gears of a Swiss watch ticking.”
– Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, TV (The Book).

The best criticism, whether it is of the written word or flickering images on a screen, isn't tempered by love – it is fuelled by it. TV (The Book) (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), by television critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, has the stated ambition to present an established TV canon, to boil down decades of television and take a first crack at providing readers with an "essential viewing list." Substantial television criticism is as new as TV's still-recent surge in ambition and quality, and popular book-length studies of any comprehensive nature are rare (Sepinwall's own 2012 The Revolution Was Televised and David Bianculli's 2016 The Platinum Age of Television are among the few). Sepinwall and Seitz shared a TV column in New Jersey's Star-Ledger in the late 90's and, though this is their first collaboration in two decades, the dialectical spirit of that relationship marks the text as a whole. With TV (The Book), Sepinwall and Seitz offer an appropriately down-to-earth reflection on an art form that is populist par excellence, a book that is more conversation than classroom.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unstitched: Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled



Note: There are spoilers in this review.

In Don Siegel's 1971 Southern Gothic melodrama, The Beguiled, which is set in rural Mississippi in 1863, the middle of the American Civil War, an injured Union soldier named John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is rescued by 12-year-old Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin), a student at an all-girls' boarding school run by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page). The headmistress is initially reluctant to board the wounded McBurney but she finally agrees to take him in until he heals, at which point she can turn him over to the Confederates. But during the time that he's convalescing, in a locked music room and consistently under watch, he begins to cultivate intimate relations with the young women in the house who have not previously experienced the presence of a man. They include the independent-minded but emotionally scarred schoolteacher, Edwina (Elizabeth Hartman), and a sultry teenage student, Carol (Jo Ann Harris), who teases and flirts with McBurney. The soldier has also stirred feelings in Miss Farnsworth, who keeps her emotions locked up like her girls; it's implied that her stifled demeanor hides the incestuous relationship she once had with her late brother. McBurney spurns her sexual attentions while encouraging relations with Edwina and acting on his lust for Carol. When Edwina catches him in bed with Carol, her fury over his betrayal results in her knocking a pleading McBurney down the stairs and severely breaking his already wounded leg. In order to keep him alive, Miss Farnsworth instructs the girls to preparing him for the amputation of his broken limb, which draws the wrath of the desperate soldier towards the women who have taken him in.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Musicals Round-up Part II: New York

Corey Cott and Laura Osnes star in Bandstand. (Photo: Nathan Johnson)

This article contains reviews of Bandstand (Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre), War Paint (Nederlander Theatre), and Pacific Overtures (Classic Stage Company).

Ben Platt’s Tony Award for his portrayal of the anxiety-ridden teen hero of Dear Evan Hansen was no surprise, and he deserves all the recognition he’s received. But the fact that Corey Cott didn’t even receive a nomination for Bandstand constitutes highway robbery. Cott played the Louis Jourdan role in the Broadway retread of Gigi two seasons ago, and he was so callow and insipid that the character barely made sense. But when you see him as Danny Novitski, Bandstand’s haunted hero, who returns from WW2 and puts together a jazz band made up of fellow vets – responding to a competition for the best song honoring the contributions of the military, the prize for which is an appearance in a new M-G-M musical – you can hardly believe it’s the same performer. He brings the role a late-forties, early-fifties-style hard-edged sensitivity – part Dana Andrews, part Frank Sinatra. He gets you by the throat and the heart in his first, self-defining number (called “Donny Novitski”) and you’re right there with him for the next two and a half hours.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Friendly Neighbourhood – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tom Holland as Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spider-Man: Homecoming’s title is pretty apt, considering it’s not only a high-school drama, but the return of Marvel’s primary poster boy to the warm embrace of their Cinematic Universe. Since Sam Raimi’s original run at the series, which culminated with 2007’s confused, schizophrenic Spider-Man 3, we’ve been subjected to attempted reboot films in 2012 and 2014 that failed to inspire either critical praise or box-office dollars. In more than just the comic-book sphere, Sony Pictures has been desperate for a hit, and everyone’s favourite wall-crawler just wasn’t cutting it. So – in a shocking display of foresight, creative integrity, and financial savvy – Sony execs inked a deal with Marvel Studios to allow Spider-Man to be recast and featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a first appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. As it stands now, the MCU is officially Spidey’s home, and Sony will take home all the profit from his appearances (save merchandising rights, which Marvel was smart to grab in the deal).

This works to our benefit as moviegoers in a few ways, not the least of which is that a beloved character is finally in the hands of creators who know what the hell to do with him. That Peter Parker (Tom Holland) will be allowed to participate in the ongoing shenanigans of the MCU is another plus, given that franchise’s monster success and its proven ability to deliver smart, emotionally driven superhero stories. With Civil War, Spidey already felt at home – and with Homecoming, he truly settles in.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Prog-Americana: Crack-Up by Fleet Foxes

Fleet Foxes' new album, Crack-Up, was released on June 16th by Nonesuch Records. (Photo: Sean Pecknold)

Seattle’s Fleet Foxes have continued to nurture their own course in music without bucking to popular trends or the pressures of commercial necessity. Their new album, Crack-Up (Nonesuch), six years in the making and only their third full-length album, is a grand affair with sweeping musical dynamics and tales about Greek nymphs, personal doubt and the fragility of life. It was recorded in six different studios in six different cities in the United States and clocks in at 55 minutes. I mention these facts because Crack-Up is best heard in one sitting. It's symphonic-like in structure; most of the tracks segue from one to the other, joining the individual parts of the whole work. As with many of the prog-rock albums of the seventies, the music, tales and their structure suggest a concept album, but Fleet Foxes are known as contemporary folk band in most circles, so Crack-Up is a roots hybrid; grand in scope but without the spectacle and technical self-indulgence of progressive rock.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bridge Over Troubled Water: The Fiftieth Anniversary of Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe"


Throughout the early sixties, tragic teen ballads – beguiling and haunting mini-operas cured in the melodrama of adolescent angst – dominated the charts. Most were extravagant tales of woe and heartbreak like The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," where the rejected biker/lover dies proudly on his wheels, while others included Frank J. Wilson's "Last Kiss," where Frank's girl dies not-so-proudly because of her boyfriend's faulty wheels. Other earlier sagas of loss were downright perverse. Mark Dinning's 1960 hit "Teen Angel" got the sixties off to a fiendishly grim start. His bizarre story concerns the singer's girlfriend, who gets leveled by a train after she rushes back to her stalled car to rescue her high school ring. (Perhaps today you'd have to substitute a cell phone for the prized jewelry.) And if "Teen Angel" weren't already more than enough, Johnny "Mr. Bass Man" Cymbal came along that same year with "The Water is Red," where the singer's girl gets torn apart by a shark while swimming at the beach. The boyfriend, with chivalry as his shield, bravely wades through the bloodied waters, not to just gather up her torn remains, but to take on (with his pocketknife, no less) this early relative of Jaws. By the jaded seventies, then, it was no surprise that Randy Newman parodied, with expert precision, this strangely popular genre in "Lucinda." Drawing from the slow blues style of Ray Charles, he tells us of a woman who accidentally gets chewed up by a beach-cleaning machine. Lying in the sand in her graduation gown with some boy she just met that night, Lucinda seems to have fallen asleep just as the mechanical contraption started chugging along. Her companion tries vainly to wake her up, but it's to no avail: Lucinda is doomed to lie under the sand. (Given her fate, and the style of the song, Newman may also be parodying murder blues ballads such as "Sleeping in the Ground.") Later in the decade, Warren Zevon went Newman's macabre tale one better with his hilarious satire "Excitable Boy," revisiting the song as if the narrator might be Ted Bundy (and he's backed with affirmative "ooh-wah-ooh's" by Linda Ronstadt and Jennifer Warnes in the manner of gregarious high school cheerleaders ). 

If these tragic pop dramas of the past were always bathed in tears (linking them in a significant way to the romantic heartbreak heard in fifties doo-wop), there was one popular tragic song in the summer of 1967 that drew from different sources, avoiding melodrama altogether and casting a spell on listeners for decades. Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" was a quiet Southern Gothic ballad about suicide and other mundane matters of the day which get shared over the dinner table with the biscuits and peas. Where "Leader of the Pack," "Teen Angel" and "Last Kiss" could have been ripped from the headlines of city tabloids, "Ode to Billie Joe" was as cryptic and mysterious as an old Appalachian murder ballad. What made it even more curious was that the summer of 1967 was hardly a quiet one. Some were celebrating a Summer of Love with the Monterey Pop Festival, but in his book, The Old, Weird America, Greil Marcus (in discussing "Ode to Billie Joe") reminds readers that a number of calamitous events were taking place that summer besides growing flowers in your hair and heading west. Fifty years ago today, the day after Gentry recorded her single, twenty-six black citizens were killed in protests in Newark, New Jersey. Detroit almost doubled that number two weeks later. Arthur Penn started a revolution in American movies with the premiere of Bonnie and Clyde, a picture about two Depression-era bank robbers that implicated us in the murders we watched on screen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Musicals Round-up Part I: Niagara-on-the-Lake and London

Kristi Frank and Michael Therriault in the Shaw Festival production of Me and My Girl. (Photo: David Cooper)

This article contains reviews of Me and My Girl (Shaw Festival), Dreamgirls (West End), and On the Town (Regent’s Park).

Michael Therriault is so thoroughly winning and energetic in Me and My Girl at the Shaw Festival that you feel he could carry the production on his back if he had to. The musical is built as a vehicle for the performer who plays Bill Snibson, the Lambeth Cockney who discovers he has inherited an earl’s title and is expected to relocate to Mayfair, and the diminutive Therriault, with his pop-eyed charm and apparently elastic body, claims squatter’s rights to every scene he’s in. Therriault is a well-known Canadian musical-theatre actor (he played Gollum in the musical of Lord of the Rings both in Toronto and in the West End), but the only time I’d seen him before this summer was in Studio 180’s production (in Toronto) of Parade, as the Jewish factory owner Leo Frank, framed for the rape and murder of one of his employees in pre-World War One Atlanta. He was superb, but the role was so downbeat that I didn’t immediately make the connection to the song-and-dance man who plays the lovable, insouciant Bill. Therriault’s peculiar gift is for balancing charisma with modesty – like Dick Van Dyke, though his musical-comedy gifts are more extensive than Van Dyke’s and he’s more believable as a Cockney than Van Dyke was in Mary Poppins.