Saturday, March 26, 2016

Podcast: Interview with Peter Weller (1987)

Peter Weller in Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop (1987).

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 1987, one of those interviews was with actor Peter Weller who 
was in Toronto promoting his starring role in Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop. The movie would go on to become one of the highest grossing and best reviewed films of that year, with Roger Ebert specifically praising Weller for the "impressive job of creating sympathy for his character" despite spending most of the film concealed under makeup and prosthetics.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Peter Weller as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1987.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Carmichael Show: Topical, Traditional, and Terribly Fun

Tiffany Hagdish, Jerrod Carmichael and Amber Stevens West in The Carmichael Show. (Photo: Ben Cohen/NBC)

At the end of last summer, NBC gave us a gift: six episodes of a sitcom based on the life and comedy of comedian Jerrod Carmichael. The entire short first season of The Carmichael Show was burned off in a blink-and-you-miss-it three weeks, two episodes at a time – normally an indicator of pre-broadcast cancellation. That The Carmichael Show was so refreshingly bold and charming just seemed to make its fate all the more inevitable. And so, when the comedy was renewed by the network just a week after its run ended, I was as surprised as I was delighted. Earlier this month, The Carmichael Show returned to NBC with its 13-episode second season, and now, four episodes in, it should top your list of "the best network shows you probably aren't watching."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

J’y Gagne: Mark Osborne’s Le Petit Prince

There was a time only a month ago, in fact! when I thought Le Petit Prince was never coming out. In December 2014, I’d seen the trailer for Mark Osborne’s animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 children’s book and was dazzled by the animation set to a Lily Allen cover of Keane’s "Somewhere Only We Know." Months later, a quick Google search informed me that the film had actually been released in France in mid-summer 2015.  And, although the English voices were recorded first, it would be another seven months before the English dub would be available to audiences, though mainly on the festival circuit. Last month, Le Petit Prince opened to a limited theatrical release in Quebec, and two weeks ago (as The Little Prince) the movie finally opened in the rest of Canada. The film had been slated for theatres in the United States as well; however, at the last minute, Paramount dropped Le Petit Prince and distribution rights were acquired by Netflix.

I first read Le Petit Prince in French, in a grade eleven classroom. It was our assigned novel that year. Saint-Exupéry’s story of a pilot crash landing in the Sahara and encountering a mysterious golden-haired boy from outer space (think David Bowie, but like 8) instantly became one of my favourites. Osborne’s Le Petit Prince is delightful in many ways, but it’s not the book. Purists, take note.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

That Old Feeling: Robert Budreau’s Born to Be Blue

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue.

Whenever a movie comes out about a musician I have high expectations. Will the movie fall into clichés about the troubled artist who’s abused by the wrong people? Or will we witness the story of a gifted individual who sins against his talent? One of the worst films for me was Sidney Furie’s Lady Sings the Blues, the overly melodramatic portrait of Billie Holiday that came out in 1972. One of the best was 2014’s Love & Mercy, a beautifully rendered portrait of Brian Wilson. That picture not only captured Wilson’s talent as a composer, it also took the risk of embracing his mental health and how he was able to find creative relief in his music in spite of the voices he heard in his head. 

The story of the troubled-yet-gifted jazz musician Chet Baker is nicely rendered in Robert Budreau’s movie Born to Be Blue, but it falls short of making the most important connection of Baker with his muse. Ethan Hawke, who plays the famous trumpeter, immerses himself into Baker’s troubled soul with complete abandon. Baker, a heroin addict to the end of his life (he died in 1988 at the age of 58), was one of the biggest stars in music during the mid-fifties with his James Dean look and his romantic music. To make his point, Budreau contrasts Baker’s career with two musicians from the New York jazz establishment, namely Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, who believed Baker was too cute to be taken seriously in be-bop circles. To them a jazz musician “had to live” in order to be credible. The point is made, but the one-dimensional Miles and Dizzy characters seem like props rather than real people. Actor Kevin Hansard ingratiates Gillespie with humour while degrading Baker on his “flat” singing style. Kedar Brown plays Davis with so much attitude that he left me cold. Miles was edgy and smug by most accounts, but he wasn’t always the prick of the hour. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Comeback Kid: Brendan Saye in Romeo and Juliet

National Ballet of Canada dancer Brendan Saye. (Photo: Sian Richards)

Tears flowed recently at Romeo and Juliet and not only during the spine-tingling death scene. This past Saturday's matinee performance in Toronto marked the return of National Ballet of Canada dancer Brendan Saye to the stage after a nearly three year absence battling Lyme disease. Tears of joy and relief streaked the dancer's face as he bowed to members of the audience crying with him during a standing ovation. The 25-year-old had overcome all kinds of odds to perform Romeo so elegantly and with a surfeit of genuine feeling, causing emotions to run high.

Monday, March 21, 2016

She Loves Me: Bock and Harnick’s Musical Shop

Zachary Levi and Michael McGrath in She Loves Me. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Blithe, melodic and entrancing, She Loves Me, which recently opened in a pleasing revival at the Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54, is one of those Broadway musicals with a complicated lineage. It began as a 1937 play called Parfumerie by the Hungarian writer Miklós László (it was the last of his plays to be produced in Budapest before he fled to America to escape the Nazis). Three years later it furnished the source material for Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner, perhaps the greatest of all Hollywood romantic comedies, starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The movies recycled it again in two considerably inferior versions, a 1949 musical called In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson and an updated Nora Ephron comedy, You’ve Got Mail (1998), with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And in 1963 Joe Masteroff (three years before he wrote the book for Cabaret) and Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (a mere year before they furnished the score for Fiddler on the Roof) turned it into She Loves Me.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tensions between History and Film: Bridge of Spies

Mark Rylance (as Rudolf Abel) and Tom Hanks (as James Donovan) in Bridge of Spies.

Near the conclusion of Steven Spielberg’s recent film Bridge of Spies, lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), on a train that takes him from East to West Berlin, looks out in horror at two individuals being shot at the recently built Wall. The scene instantly recalls John le Carré’s 1963 novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and its 1965 Martin Ritt film adaption of the same name that begins and ends with corpses raked with bullets. Moreover, both films are drenched in atmospherics: the washed-out bluish cinematography of East Berlin in Bridge is similar to the black-and-white desolation and soullessness of the earlier film. The cinematography in The Spy suits the cynicism and betrayal inherent in the plot. Similarly, the visual representation of East Berlin in Bridge compliments the cold desolation of a police state that looks more like war-devastated 1945 Berlin than 1961 West Berlin.

There, however, the similarities end. The contrast in the cinematography between East Berlin and a sunlit Brooklyn is one indication of how Spielberg offers a glossy, more upbeat, interpretation of the Cold War. It is also hard to imagine him including an American official uttering anything like what Control, the head of Circus (an amalgam of MI5 and MI6) says in The Spy to his agent Alec Leamas: “Our policies are peaceful, but our methods can’t afford to be less ruthless than those of the opposition, can they?” Or later when Leamas says to the Communist idealist, Liz Gold (played by Nam Perry in the film): “What do you think spies are? .... They're just a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me.” Adam Sisman in John le Carré: The Biography (Bloomsbury, 2015) reveals that the cynicism infusing le Carré’s novel – we are no better than them – reflected the unhappiness in his personal and professional life. Feeling trapped in his marriage, agent David Cornwall (before he became le Carré) was also disgusted by the number of former Nazis courted by British intelligence during the Cold War, and he had to work with them. Yet in the anger that he channelled into The Spy and subsequent novels, le Carré reveals insightful truths about the soul-destroying work of spies and raises questions about the damage that can be done to a free society by the methods that are carried out by the security services, questions that remain relevant today.