21.6.16

playing catchup: a meditation for Orlando, and two play reviews (at TFPO)

I've been neglectful in updating the blog with what little writing I'm doing these days - I have a doctor's note if you want it.

So here's the latest since my review of those For Beginners books:

  • Orlando: A Meditation for Loving-Kindness Another day in America. Another mass shooting. Another grievous wound. The news will swell with posturing politicians, opiniated commentators, circular policy debates, and strident finger-pointing. Beating through the noise will be human hearts suffering over the loss of life. We will remember the victims. People with names. People targeted because of their sexual orientation. I have previously written about ... CONTINUE READING AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE
  • The Existential Superhero Takes a Leap (theatre review of The Superhero and his Charming Wife)Interpretative dance, moving platforms with gymnastics, video backgrounds, crafty props – these elements form the raw materials of writer/director Aaron Hendry and Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble’s imaginative and exuberant theatrical experience, The Superhero and his Charming Wife. But ... CONTINUE READING AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE
  • A Lukewarm Dinner at the Odyssey (theatre review of Dinner at Home Between Deaths) - There comes a moment in Dinner at Home Between Deaths when it seems like the characters will sail into the bleak waters charted by Swimming with Sharks, the singularly unpleasant film starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley. We are mercifully spared the pointless nasty cynicism, but the ... CONTINUE READING AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

17.3.16

Can two "For Beginners" Books Fight Racism? (at TFPO)

Although my review of Black Panthers for Beginners and Civil Rights for Beginners, within a discussion of race in America, is focused on "right-wing" racism, it would be worthwhile to examine how "left-wing" identity politics pose their own set of challenges in terms of achieving social justice. In brief, it seems to me that where right-wing identity politics are tribal, manichean, and absolutist, left-wing identity politics are more discursive and relative. The problem with this sort of postmodernist form of identity-conception is the tendency to favour the theoretical and symbolic over the empirical and practical -hence, the internecine struggle that tends to hinder unity among various identity groups.

Anyway, that's a big discussion in and of itself. The point still remains that the Republican party and its parade of grotesques remains the single biggest obstacle to having a rational discussion on the topic let alone implementing solutions that will genuinely help non-white ethnicities achieve social parity.

As always, these For Beginners books provide a valuable starting point, in this case by offering an accessible entry point to the history of the Civil Rights movement in general and the Black Panthers in particular.

My review at THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE.

26.2.16

on netflix: dimension-hopping with "parallels"

I came out of watching Parallels feeling the rush that comes with being exposed to high-concept science-fiction. A mysterious building that serves as a focal point for travelling between parallel universes? Yes, please! Years after Sliders went off the air – and failed to catch on with me given storytelling marred by behind-the-scenes production shenanigans, character switch-ups, and a series cliffhanger – now seems like a ripe time to revisit the concept with a grittier, hard-science approach.

There was every reason to be optimistic, as the show is the creation of Christopher Leone and Laura Harkcom, the pair who delivered the underrated but fiendishly clever miniseries The Lost Room. Having already demonstrated a thrilling flair for handling space/time anomalies with a sci-fi perspective, I was curious to see how they would freshen up a familiar concept.

The good news is that Parallels is, overall, rather gripping. Unfortunately, it suffers from its ambiguous status as a movie slash series pilot slash digital product. With too many ideas crammed into 83 minutes, it doesn’t offer enough of a self-contained narrative arc for it to stand reasonably on its own, even as it sets pieces on the chessboard for the long game. Its last 10 minutes alone raises more questions and introduces more plot points than a cliffhanger, however intriguing and appetite-whetting, should be asked to handle without being frustrating and anti-climatic.

Disappointing to various degrees are the characters, which consist of a taciturn brawler, a dork, a blank, and a streetwise traveler who tutors the other three on the finer points of universe-hopping. Of the four, only Mark Hapka’s Ronan, a troubled lad who left his family out of guilt to get himself beaten up in underground fighting contests, can be measured out in more than two dimensions.  The savvy traveler, named Polly, stands out for her portrayal by the film’s strongest cast member, Constance Wu: pay attention to her as the gang travels from one Earth to another. As for the remaining members of the Scooby gang: the dork, played by Eric Jungmann, is a public defender named Harold who is positioned as a geek with occasional insight but is really there to shriek, panic, and irritate. The blank is Ronan’s sister Beatrix, an unremarkable character supposedly smart enough to be admitted to Princeton but who displays a shocking lack of thought or curiosity…but shrieks and panics almost as well as Harold. Thankfully, Jessica Rothe is less irritating than Jungmann.

And what can I say about the decision, yet again, to feature yet more white protagonists (all but one)? To the film’s producers: I sigh and shake my head in your general direction.

You would think that, in an age of comic books and sci-fi blockbusters galore, characters confronted with the weird would do more than stand around screaming about what happened. But no: the characters, except for Ronan, indulge a meltdown. And the lack of method and consideration? Sure, the characters will speculate and ask some of the obvious questions. Beyond that, however, they act like the protagonists of a horror movie: rushing into things without much forethought. Granted, they aren’t trained scientists…but shouldn’t they at least be somewhat intelligent and methodical in their approach to the unknown? Shouldn’t we expect more from a lawyer and a Princeton candidate? The weak characterization is a letdown given how Leone and Harkcom have shown themselves capable of delivering believably clever characters in unusual situations, such as Peter Krause’s cop protagonist in The Lost Room.

Still, in that rush to the end, the needs of the plot outweigh the integrity of the characters. There’s the inexplicable ability for a stowaway named Tinker to hook up a device to controls the Building…about which he knew nothing about until the Scooby gang stumbled into his world. Also: a surprising familial development should cause the characters to raise a serious existential question, but is simply cast aside in favour of getting to the next parallel earth.

The good news is that none of these shortcomings are insurmountable if Parallels does, indeed, become a bonafide series as its creators hope. Characters can be refined and deepened – their initial ineptitude waved off as shock and inexperience – while big, and not so big, questions can be allowed to breathe with the more relaxed pace of a series. In the proverbial big picture, none of the pilot’s limitations derail the effort to present a rich, intriguing, and intelligent variation on the many-worlds story. Although I’m wary when Leone states that the story that could be completed in 5 seasons, in part because of past history: The Lost Room, though self-contained insofar as its protagonist is concerned, didn’t come close to resolving its narrative and, years later, shows no sign of resuscitation – I do hope is given a chance. My optimism may be cautious, but optimism it is given the really fascinating premise and compelling world-building.

19.2.16

undead and (mostly) loving it


Pride, prejudice, and zombies...oh my!

It's interesting to visit Rotten Tomatoes and see the review spread for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The divergence in reactions, the mixed consensus, strikes me as typical of B-movies, which don't work by reasonable standards, but are fun to watch anyways with the right frame of mind.

So here we have mashup of Jane Austen and the zombie genre, and the result is like a well-seasoned dish; some will think its too spicy, others not enough, and yet others will take after Goldilocks. Where do I stand?

Find out by reading my review at The Front Page Online.

20.1.16

star wars: the fandom menace (at TFPO)

Review/discussion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Let’s at least be honest and recognize Star Wars: The Force Awakens for what it is: Fan fiction. After the prequel trilogy failed to ignite the shining renaissance fandom apparently was expecting, the House of Mouse bought out the beleaguered Lucas and appeased the angry mob with the sophisticated pandering they’ve profitably cultivated over the years. And so, we are given a continuation that reveres the idea of Star Wars without Lucas’s supposedly pesky vision to derail it. Past films remain “canonical,” even the maligned prequel trilogy, but mostly as something to be seen through the rear-view mirror of a franchise accelerating forwards to a Lucas-free future. Like the now-discarded Extended Universe of books and comics, which operated with Lucas’s hands-off approval, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Star Wars filtered through other people’s perceptions. READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE