Saturday, February 4, 2017

Underpowered: NBC’s Powerless

Superheroes are ubiquitous on film and television these days. Movie studios’ production slates are full of films mining every last corner of the Marvel and DC universes, while some TV outlets, such as Netflix and the CW, have entire blocks of programming centered around serialized adaptations of comic-book properties. While many of these are well executed – the Marvel movies, in particular, have settled into a rhythm, delivering consistently enjoyable if not especially novel entertainment – there have been some unpleasant side effects. The dark, gritty tone and overbearing self-seriousness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have become de rigueur for many franchises, even as they seem to grow increasingly unconcerned with the CGI-rendered carnage inflicted on countless screaming extras during the inevitable climactic battle that’s become a standard plot point in virtually every film.

NBC’s Powerless, which premiered on February 2 and airs at 8:30 ET on Thursday nights, pokes fun at that and many other superhero-movie tropes: at one point, a character laments that superheroes have gone from thwarting robbers to fighting massive battles against supervillains, leaving ordinary people with little to play. That sums up the fundamental premise of this sitcom, which stars Vanessa Hudgens as go-getter Emily Locke, who’s just moved to Charm City to take a new job at Wayne Security. The company (which, yes, is owned by that particular Wayne from the comic books) is supposed to devise new products that will help protect non-super civilians from the daily butchery visited upon them by titanic battles between good and evil. It’s run by Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), Bruce’s cousin, and, perhaps inevitably for a workplace comedy in 2017, populated by a variety of quirky misfits, such as Ron (Ron Funches), Teddy (Danny Pudi), and Van’s disaffected secretary Jackie (Christina Kirk).

Friday, February 3, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Poet Lorna Crozier (1985)

Poet Lorna Crozier, in 2009. (Photo: Gary McKinstry)

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 1985, one of those guests was Canadian poet Lorna Crozier, who today holds the Head Chair in the Writing Department at the University of Victoria.

Born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1948, Crozier has authored fifteen books (The Weather, Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence) that have focused primarily on relationships and language. Alongside her partner, poet Patrick Lane, she has also co-authored No Longer Two People (1979) and the anthology, Breathing Fire (2004). In 2011, Crozier was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

When we spoke over thirty years ago, she had just published a very personal collection of work titled The Garden Going On Without Us.

 Kevin Courrier 

Here is the full interview with Lorna Crozier as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1985.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Princes, Let Sleeping Beauty Sleep: Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in Passengers.

Passengers, written by Jon Spaihts and directed by Morten Tyldum, isn’t a very good sci-fi film. It’s also not a very good romance. It touches on thought-provoking themes that it doesn’t bother to explore, it wastes some lovely production design (and some talented leads) on a tepid story, and it squanders numerous opportunities to surprise and thrill its audience. Moreover, whatever improvements might have been made that could have coaxed out the film’s true potential, they would all be for naught, thanks to a single terrible decision that lies at the story’s core, poisoning the whole movie from the inside out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Alchemy of the Image: New Inversion Paintings by Michael Burges

Michael Burges, Reverse Glass Painting No. 1. (Acrylic and plexiglass on aluminum, 2016)

“Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.” – Robert Irwin

From the moment I first viewed the luminous paintings of Michael Burges I was tempted to say: in vitreous veritas. There, I’ve said it: in glass is truth. It’s a kind of truth, however, which we look through, rather than at, and it both contains and conveys a magical force that frees the eye from the interference of thoughts. It’s not that I often erupt into Latin phrases, but somehow the images seemed to invite me into a sanctified kind of realm, one requiring a new (or even ancient) tongue to adequately describe it. 

Although it is possible to say that all painting to some degree has alchemy at its core, insofar as raw pigments are transformed into fluid images in a somewhat magical manner, most painted images merely suggest in a metaphorical manner this poetic process at work. But rather than only evoking the transmutation of physical matter into mental images, the mesmerizing paintings of Michael Burges literally and actually embody the alchemical process itself. They also usher us into an archaic theatre of pure seeing. The forgetting they invite is actually more of an anamnesia, a waking up, which seems to restore our lost senses. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Power Not Yet Realized: Sampradaya Dance Creations' Pralaya

​ A scene from Pralaya, by Sampradaya Dance Creations. (Photo: OnUp Photography)

"I am the beat of each heart and the rhythm of each breath; I am time, the brilliance of all creation." So begins Pralaya, a multidisciplinary dance presentation which seeks to be timeless despite having rooted itself in a centuries-old epic poem compiling the myths, wars and legends of ancient India. Ponderous and confusing in places, it doesn't quite succeed. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

More Kings, More Turmoil: The Return of The Hollow Crown

Benedict Cumberbatch as King Richard III in The Hollow Crown.

Extending the British television series The Hollow Crown to include all the rest of Shakespeare’s history plays (except King John) is a boon for completists, perhaps. (PBS ran all three parts of Season 2 before the new year.) But moving from the Henriad, which covers the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, to the next chronological section, from the crowning of Henry VI to the crowning of Henry VII, is anti-climactic. Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry V are masterpieces, and Henry IV, Part 2 contains some great scenes, but the three parts of Henry VI, which Shakespeare wrote – or perhaps collaborated on – at the beginning of his career, aren’t very good plays. I applauded the first act of Ivo Von Hove’s Kings of War, which cut Henry VI to the bone and made it dramatically exciting; after sitting through Dominic Cooke’s version (from an adaptation by him and Ben Power), I admire it even more.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Very Fine Dramatization: Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Malina Weissman, Presley Smith and Louis Hynes star in Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The following contains some spoilers for the first season of Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Adaptations of popular and widely beloved stories – especially children's books – are a tough business. And before I begin, let me be clear: I love Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket books. The first of the Baudelaire orphans novels, A Bad Beginning, appeared in 1999 and the thirteenth and final book, The End, was published in 2006. Collected under the name A Series of Unfortunate Events, the novels are credited to "Lemony Snicket" (the books' melancholy narrator and a slowly emerging character in his own right) and tell the ill-fated adventures of a trio of young orphans – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire – after the untimely death of their parents in a suspicious fire. As the siblings are shuffled from one incompetent guardian to the next, they struggle ably against the machinations of the scheming and larger-than-life Count Olaf, who is intent on gaining control of their parents' fortune.

The Snicket books speak to the innate intelligence of their young readers – their moral intelligence most of all – and, in the tradition of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, they are as funny as they are exquisitely painful. Telling stories of love and loss, spirit and struggle, and refusing to sidestep moral ambiguity, the novels mirror, with a deliberately Gothic imagery, that dangerous time between childhood and maturity as the world beyond your parents' sheltering love reveals itself. In short, there is more moral realism in a single Lemony Snicket novel than in all the Twilight books put together – and I am thrilled to be able to say that the television adaptation (which premiered on Netflix earlier this month) not only does its source material justice but will appeal to all ages, whether you've read the books or not.