Saturday, September 3, 2011

Covered Up: Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Steven Page at Jack Layton's state funeral
While listening to Steven Page sing Leonard Cohen's now iconic "Hallelujah," during the largely moving televised funeral last weekend for NDP leader Jack Layton, I began to recognize just how much this song has lost its meaning and much of its sting. Sung now with a solemn reverence, as Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" often is, "Hallelujah" is about as misunderstood as Randy Newman's "Sail Away." Written in 1984, Cohen conceived the song as one that combined invective with elegiac and religious meditation. "You're not on the stand when you're praying," he told me in an interview months before the song was released. "You can't come with any excuses. You don't have a deep belief in your opinion any longer, or your own construction of how things are. That's why you pray because you haven't got a prayer." You don't hear in these famous cover versions by Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, kd lang, or in Steven Page's recent rendition, any of that sense of doubt, the struggle between the profane and sacred, or even the naked fear of the singer being aware that despite being armed with prayer the world still remains the same.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Trio: The Debt, Submarine and a final comment on The Tree of Life

Despite being the locus of so much American media coverage, Israel doesn’t figure very prominently in U.S. TV and cinema. Since those productions are expected to travel abroad and make money, likely their creators, for the most part, would rather avoid dealing with the subject for fear of losing sales in anti-Israel markets or risk alienating European audiences, who don’t much like the Jewish state. If they didn’t think like that, at least one James Bond movie would have had a Tel Aviv setting. In fact, except for the regular character of ex-Mossad agent Ziva David on TV’s NCIS, and the odd Israeli reference in Alias or a few scenes in Charlie Wilson’s War – which was nonetheless careful not to identify Jerusalem as actually being part of Israel, much less its capital the country is rarely even mentioned at all. Thus, it’s most surprising that Miramax decided to remake the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov (The Debt), which revolves around three Mossad agents sent to capture a key Nazi in 1965, and what happens afterwards.. But The Debt, despite its potentially juicy plot, is a rather lacklustre affair that never feels as authentic as it wants to be.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Renewal: The Fall Fashion Magazines

For most, the idea of beginning a new year involves waiting for the dropping of the ball in Times Square, flowing champagne, and finally a round of "Auld Lang Syne". Mine, however, arrives when that familiar fall coolness bookends the still warm days after a long hot summer. September, particularly the wrapping up of the Labour Day weekend, is my time to reflect on the past, hope for the future, and become overwhelmed with excitement about my fresh start.

Perhaps this all comes from attending school for too long, but this is my new year. Refreshed from summer with a new game plan, I am ready to reveal my reinvented self to the world. Among the other more introspective emotions and activities, this is usually accompanied with a fall wardrobe to match. Our style, our presentation of ourselves, is a great form of self expression. The right ensemble – carried with our natural confidence – can capture attention, demand respect, and leave lasting impressions. It has the potential to be that finishing touch that sells us.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Talking ‘bout an Evolution: When a Movie Twosome Grows Ever More Tiresome

I thought that One Day would, at the very least, provide some eye candy with footage of Edinburgh, Paris and London. The film certainly flits between those gorgeous European cities while tracking its two protagonists as they continually relocate over the course of 23 years. The conceit is that Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), just after their 1988 university graduation in Scotland, have an unconsummated sexual encounter on July 15. According to British legend, the weather on that particular date will last for 40 more days. This annual holiday is dedicated to St. Swithin, a Saxon monk who died in 862.

You might ask what a 9th-century celibate priest would have known about romance but the characters never do. For another two decades, Emma and Dexter remain best friends separated by miles and life choices who continue dancing around the fact that they’re obviously soul mates. It’s a 108-minute cinematic tease. Exhaustion sets in. July 15, intended as some kind of mystical touchstone in their existence together and apart, keeps popping up on inter-titles that are ever more meaningless. St. Swithin, be damned. The weather is totally ignored.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pads and Claws: The Cat Vanishes

In Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), detective Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) loses his cat when he tries to feed him food he doesn't care for (worse, he tries to fool the pet by pretending it's his favourite). The cat's disappearance becomes a test of loyalty that opens up the theme of the picture. In Argentinian director Carlos Sorin's sly and deceptive The Cat Vanishes, when the pet feline Donatello flees, it becomes a test of sanity for both the characters and us. The Cat Vanishes is being compared to Hitchcock's thrillers, but the resemblance is superficial at best. Unlike Hitchcock, Sorin submerges the familiar techniques of suspense while presenting instead a chamber piece that's embroidered with chills. The story is as devious as the missing Donatello.

The Cat Vanishes opens humorously with a lengthy exposition scene that resembles a similar one that concluded Psycho. A number of psychologists are gathered to discuss Luis (Luis Luque), a history professor who has been institutionalized after having a major breakdown. This esteemed scholar had thought a colleague had stolen his life work with the aid of his wife Beatriz (Beatriz Spelzini), so his violent outburst against both of them lands him in the mental hospital. But the doctors also believe that his breakdown was temporary. Given his solid reputation, they arrive at the conclusion that maybe he should be released into the care of Beatriz. At first, Beatriz tries to make Luis comfortable and calm, but when Donatello freaks out at his arrival and soon disappears, Beatriz begins to wonder if all is well with her hubby after all. She even wonders if his appearance and the cat's departure are linked.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Royal Shakespeare Company, At Home and Abroad: Macbeth, As You Like It & The Winter's Tale

Aislín McGuckin & Jonathan Slinger in Macbeth.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Macbeth at Stratford-on-Avon this season, staged by artistic director Michael Boyd, has something to do with the cult of Edward the Confessor and something to do with the desecration of Catholic churches during the Reformation, but you have to read the essays in the program to understand the connections, and even then they're not terribly clear. A directorial concept that you need liner notes for can't possibly work especially in the English theater, where you have to lay out three or four pounds for a playbill. Years ago I saw a production of The Cherry Orchard at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts that filled the stage with constructivist cardboard cut-outs: I was baffled until I consulted the director's note at intermission and found that he thought the play was about the Russian Revolution and he was convinced that its tone was hopeful. This explanation didn't remove my bafflement, merely redirected it. You can do a lot with a classic text, but if your ideas don't sync up with what's on the page then perhaps you'd be better off calling it something else. And you'd be better off going all the way and changing the text. (Punchdrunk's popular haunted-house reimagining of Macbeth, an environmental piece which combines scenes from the play with images out of Hitchcock and leaves out the dialogue entirely, is appropriately titled Sleep No More.) The director's note in the Cherry Orchard program didn't mesh with the lines about the drowning of Ranevskaya's little boy or the loss of her estate, and in Boyd's Macbeth there's a large enough gap between the text and the visual links to these two historical periods for the whole production to fall into it. I'm sure hardly anyone in the audience has any idea why Ross (Scott Handy) reappears in the second act in a white priest's robe with an enormous cross around his neck or why there's a broken stained-glass window above the stage and a pile of rubble upstage.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Good-bye Gadhafi: The Fourth Estate Says Farewell

Frizz-head himself
“We’re coming for you, frizz-head!”

This derogatory threat frequently aimed at Colonel Moammar Gadhafi by the ragtag revolutionaries now conquering Tripoli is not exactly among the famous battle cries of history, such as “No guts, no glory!” or Shakespeare’s “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” The sarcastic name-calling reminds me of a (roughly translated) quote from Augusto Cesar Sandino, who fought the U.S. Marines occupying Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933: “Come, you clod of morphine addicts...I will make you eat the dust of my wild mountains!” Back then, morphine was routinely included in military first-aid kits to treat painful injuries. But our soldiers must have been using the opiate just to get high and really who can blame them, given the snakes, scorpions and swelter of Central America?

The clod of Libyan loyalists sticking with their leader after four decades of authoritarian rule have been eating the dust of the rebels’ wild deserts. And news coverage of the conflict is mesmerizing for a longtime war-correspondent wannabe like me. The most must-see-TV moments: the 36 journalists from all over the world held hostage in the Rixos, a five-star hotel that became their five-day prison.