Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Body-Based Vernacular: BBoyizm Company's Music Creates Opportunity

Yvon "B-Boy Crazy Smooth" Soglo

Crazy Smooth’s dancers fling themselves into the air. They spin on their heels and caterpillar their spines before spinning, dervish-like, on the tops of their heads. Their hard-body athleticism is married to an artistry so dazzling in its intricacy and speed that watching them is itself a kinetic rush, a lightning bolt to the brain. There are six of them altogether – actually seven when you include Yvon “B-Boy Crazy Smooth” Soglo, the Benin-born, Aylmer, Que-raised, Ottawa-based street dancer and choreographer who founded his BBoyizm company in Canada’s capital in 2004. And they bring down the house at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre where the ensemble performed at the end of April as part of the Danceworks series of contemporary dance, presenting an hour-long show called Music Creates Opportunity.

Don’t fret if you haven’t heard of them. BBoyizm started as a studio project, with the now 34-year old Smooth, Bboyizm’s energetic and easygoing artistic director, teaching others the street dance styles witnessed, absorbed and mastered on travels to urban centres around the world where hip hop flourishes as an art form of today. The troupe only started performing in theatres as of 2009, says Smooth during a post-performance chat in Toronto, citing his company’s motto: “Dance to express, not to impress.” Commercial success appears beside the point. “If you love to dance,” adds Smooth, smilingly, “just do it.” It’s a genuine stance born of hip hop culture where the rapper is a rebel artist, an outsider hero. The accompanying dance form is no less rule-bending, as BBoyizm makes clear.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Neglected Gem #57: The Deadly Affair (1966)

James Mason in The Deadly Affair (1966)

Of all the movies derived from John Le Carré’s spy novels, The Deadly Affair – based on Call for the Dead – may be the least known, but it’s one of the best. Sidney Lumet directed it in 1967, from a literate, intelligent screenplay by Paul Dehn. It begins with an unusual credits sequence, a series of black-and-white stills, filtered through a range of colors, from the movie we’re about to see, which turns out to be just as unusual: harsh, occasionally brutal, yet suffused with melancholy and with a more delicate texture than one normally associates with Lumet. The picture feels both freshly minted and a little tentative in style, as if he were stepping out into unfamiliar territory; not all the parts match up perfectly. (The lovely Quincy Jones score, for instance, seems to belong to some other film.) And somehow that fact adds to the film’s appeal, perhaps because the world it ventures into is mercurial and cobwebbed with deception and the relationships it depicts are prickly, unsatisfying, incapable of resolution.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two-Faced: Jesse Eisenberg in The Double

Jesse Eisenberg in The Double

As a rule, boyish young actors who achieve stardom in lead roles that call for them to be brainy, neurotic (or at least social maladjusted), physically unimposing, and foot-shuffling awkward with women either toughen up and acquire some grit as they get older (like Dustin Hoffman) or shift into supporting and character roles (like Anthony Perkins and Matthew Broderick). What’s fascinating about Jesse Eisenberg, aside from the fact that he’s a fine actor, is the way he updates the bookish-male-virgin roles of yesteryear, in a way that makes them strikingly contemporary. Eisenberg was pretty much in the conventional Brandon DeWilde mold, albeit smarter and hornier, in his first picture, Roger Dodger (2002), where the suspense hook was whether his ill-chosen mentor, a misogynistic skirt-chaser played by Campbell Scott, would in succeed in infecting the sweet kid with his demons and turn him into a heartless, lying serial humper, like himself. But since then, Eisenberg’s characters have largely continued to be clumsily innocent about romantic and sexual relationships, while being wised up about everything else.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Book Will Go On: Carl Wilson's Let’s Talk About Love v2.0

When I received an e-mail asking if I’d like to review a book about Céline Dion, I responded, “I should tell you that I’m not a big fan of Céline Dion.” I thought that would be the end of it. I had no idea of what the book was actually like, just that it was one of those 33 1/3 chapbooks about an album (Let's Talk About Love), a few of which I had enjoyed in the past. But Céline Dion, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me. The book arrived with no more fanfare within the week. Apparently, the publisher didn’t care whether I was a fan or not. I didn’t pay much attention to it and slipped it under the pile of things I was planning to read over the next little while. Then I had a follow-up e-mail enquiring as to whether I wanted an interview with Carl Wilson, the author of the book. I don’t particularly like doing interviews with people whose work I’m going to negatively review, so I avoided the question. Then I pulled out the book and noticed that it wasn’t in the standard 33 1/3 format. It was nearly twice as big, and much thicker. I saw the new subtitle “Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste” and a list of “New Essays By…” people like James Franco, Krist Novoselic and Nick Hornby among others. “What the heck is going on here?” Clearly, I asked myself, I have to start paying more attention to things!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seismic Cinema: Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla

Hollywood loves a mulligan. Spider-Man was only given five years to settle in our collective consciousness before his series was rebooted – but Godzilla, dormant for sixteen long years, has had more than enough time to gestate. Roland Emmerich’s regrettable 1998 bomb is long (and mercifully) forgotten. The time is ripe for the Japanese icon to stomp through cinemas once more. But what kind of beast will emerge this time? I can tell you first-hand: a frightening one.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Casa Valentina: Editorializing

Patrick Page, Reed Birney and Nick Westrate in Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina (Photo by Sara Krulwich)

Harvey Fierstein’s new play, Casa Valentina, currently playing on Broadway under the auspices of the Manhattan Theatre Club, has an irresistible starting point: it’s set in a summer resort in the Catskills in 1962 that caters to straight men who like to dress as women. (The getaway is based on a real locale.) And as the host, George, a.k.a. Valentina (Patrick Page), and the guests begin to arrive in drag, wittily costumed by Rita Ryack and coiffed by Jason P. Hayes in outfits and wigs that slyly release the characters’ mischievously hedonistic inner selves, you expect an evening of delirious fun. The cast could hardly be improved upon. Besides Page and the indispensable Mare Winningham as his broad-minded wife and co-proprietor Rita, we have Tom McGowan as the wisecracking Bessie; Larry Pine as “the Judge” (Amy), George’s long-time friend and legal adviser; John Cullum as Terry, the elder statesman of the crew; Reed Birney as Charlotte, who has turned cross-dressing into a political cause; Nick Westrate as clear-eyed Gloria. And, perhaps a trifle too fey, Gabriel Ebert is Jonathon (Miranda), the newbie whom Gloria has persuaded – with some difficulty – to come for a trial weekend. Scott Pask’s cleverly compartmentalized set, suggestively lit by Justin Townsend, allows for the cross-dressers to transform in front of multiple mirrors, a wonderfully theatrical conceit. (Joe Mantello directed it.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Blow Hard: Jude Law in Dom Hemingway

In Richard Shepard's incessantly verbose Dom Hemingway, Jude Law plays the title character, a British safecracker who has spent 12 years in prison for not ratting out his boss. Pumped up like a Cockney Jake LaMotta and with Popeye biceps to match, Hemingway is a boastful blowhard who in the opening scene gets progressively hard from the blow job he's receiving from a fellow prisoner. Hemingway, eager to be released so he can finally get the money owed him, addresses the camera while crowing about being – quite literally – the cock of the walk until he finally ejaculates. The stunt of watching Jude Law, who has built a career portraying mostly mild-mannered sorts, spitting invective at the same pace as his mounting erection is a clever joke. But Dom Hemingway can't sustain the cartoon intensity of its lead character because there's nothing behind the bluster. It's a one-note joke about potency and it dies with the money shot.