Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

I had a perfect night last night: dinner with people I love, French wine and then, an American thriller.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a well-crafted drama about justice and the law. A criminal lawyer(Matthew McConaughey,mercifully not in a rom-com) practices out of the back of his Lincoln in a gritty and unlovely Los Angeles. His clients are hookers, bikers, dealers: mostly people you wouldn't want to run into in an alley unless you were up to no good yourself.

This is not one of those films that makes practicing criminal law look glamorous. It's an adversarial system,flawed and compromised. Our lawyer is divorced from his prosecutor wife(Marisa Tomei, great as usual)who still loves him but can't live with him and his choices. The film asks the interesting question: in a morally gray universe, which compromises are you willing you to make and which ones are you not?

A bail clerk brings our lawyer a client(Ryan Phillipe),a rich kid up on an aggravated sexual assault charge against a prostitute. He claims to be a victim too: framed by the lady of the evening and another john so he could be sued civilly for an amount that would allow her to retire from her dangerous and unsavory line of work. His mommy, a real estate mogul is more than willing to finance the kid's defense. However, when our lawyer's private detective(the great William H. Macy) begins to investigate,we discover the rich kid is not quite the innocent he is pretending to be.

An incident arising from this digging around(I'm not going to spoil the plot for you)takes our flawed hero to a dark night of the soul. How far has his brand of law taken him from justice? Moreover,what is he prepared to do to get justice for a wronged man?

It is a really good script: not a brilliant script,like CHINATOWN but a really good script very well made. If like me,you love a thriller with three-dimensional humans,a few deft plot twists and some fine acting by a uniformly good cast,this is a good night out.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

King's Park at the Rachel Browne Studio

Daniel Thau-Eleff's KING'S PARK opened Thursday night for a 10 day run. Produced by his own MOVING TARGET THEATRE, the play was apparently originally commissioned by the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

A psychiatrist returns to therapy when a mid-life health crisis forces him to confront the demons of his very troubled childhood. The script is an elegant, subtle and moving exploration of the nuances of the therapeutic relationship, replete with mirroring, transference and shifting boundaries.

The structurally complex play is sensitively and beautifully performed by Eric Blais and Harry Nelken who create not only patient and analyst but the key figures in the patient's life, including his wife and his father. In the extremely skilled hands of director Chris Gerald-Pinker the layered relationships are elucidated with great intelligence and delicacy.

The set and lighting by Joe Kalturnyk and Steven Hunnie respectively are simple but effective.

This is not a straightforward narrative, but your careful attention will be well rewarded by one of the most interesting nights at the theatre you're likely to have this season.

This is a fine production.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Barney's Version

As we near the eve of the Genies,it seemed a good moment to talk about BARNEY'S VERSION which is in contention for the most prizes at this year's Canadian feature film awards.

Based on the famous novel of the same title, it's the story of a an irascible Montreal television producer and the loves of his life. Paul Giametti manages to win our affection for Barney, making sympathetic a guy who is for the most part, an asshole.

It's a loving, attentively and very well-made cinematic adaptation of a best-selling book by a famous Canadian author. This doesn't happen often in this country and given the wealth of great books by Canadian writers, that's a pity.

Richler created a wealth of memorable characters and they are brought vividly to life. In this, BARNEY'S VERSION is very much an actors' film and there are a number of great performance by actors in smaller roles. Saul Rubinek as the religious father of Barney's first wife is brilliant as a self-righteous and thoroughly awful zealot. Bruce Greenwood as Barney's rival for his beloved third wife's affections manages to be a prize and a ponce at the same time, no mean feat. His speech about vegan-ism at Barney's dinner table is a hilarious comedic moment.

Dustin Hoffman plays Barney's retired cop father. He's a loving parent and an old school street smart guy with a lot of moxie. The scenes between Giametti and Hoffman sparkle and give the film much of its heart.

Scott Speedman nearly steals the film in the role of Barney's self-destructive, beautiful and talented best friend. Their relationship is the most interesting in the film and I was sorry the character was killed off so soon. However, it's not his story: it's Barney's.

For an unattractive man with no apparent style or charm who makes crap television for a living, Barney sure gets the ladies. He marries in fairly rapid succession: an insane but brilliant painter who suicides while they are living in Italy, a well-educated but vapid and hopelessly bourgeois society girl (Minnie Driver in a teeth-grittingly thankless role)and finally finds happiness with a luminous and intellectual broadcaster played by Rosamund Pike.

Barney courts Wife #3 relentlessly(while he's still married to wife #2)and then treats her like an acquisition, albeit a prized one, once he wins her reluctant affections. Conveniently, Barney manages to get through his first two marriages without having any children that are actually his.

Robert Lantos produced this film and it belongs to him as much as it does to anyone else. Famous directors and actors from other things he's helmed appear in cameo roles. Look for Oscar winner Denis Arcand as a waiter at the Ritz and Paul Gross, essentially as himself. You sense this memento mori is as much Lantos' as it is Richler's.

The Montreal shown here, a very white Montreal where French Canadians only appear as showgirls, servants and hockey players is long gone. BARNEY'S VERSION's main competitor at this year's Genies is a French language film INCEDIES based on a play written by another famous Montreal writer, Wajdi Mouawad. I have to say, I find this more than a little ironic.

BARNEY'S VERSION is a beautifully made homage to a time that is, for most of us, very thankfully over. This Barney, like another famous Barney is a lovable dinosaur.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Drowning Girls

My sister and I headed off to the Tom Hendry theatre earlier this week to see this three-hander about the victims of an infamous 19th century English serial killer.

I'd heard a lot of good things about this show from its run at the Tarragon in Toronto and its previous incarnation as a Fringe show. I was not disappointed.

The collective of Charlie Tomlinson, Daniela Vlaskalic and Beth Graham have created a visually and emotionally stunning show: tightly and elegantly written,well-performed,ingeniously designed by Bretta Gerecke. It's also the best directed piece of theatre I've seen here this season.

Three women who are seduced,conned,married and murdered tell us how they got duped out of their money and their lives. This is a true crime story from the victims' point of view: a love story literally turned on its head.

All three actresses do a fine job but I was particularly impressed by Natascha Girgis as Margaret.

Droll, dark and deeply affecting, this is a night of theatre you won't soon forget.

Burning Love at PTE

It was the Actors' Fund benefit performance of BURNING LOVE at PTE tonight and the theatre and the company in their opening week generously gave an extra performance to support the charity that supports their fellow artists in need. It was a lovely gesture.

Sylvia Fisher was sitting at the desk,handing out buttons and taking donations. It a city where there are many,many actors and theatre workers and this is a local play I wonder how only 40 people could manage to make it out to support their own community. Certainly the $10 ticket price couldn't have kept people out of the room.

Like the company's largess tonight,BURNING LOVE is a show with a big heart that encompasses, in no particular order: single parent families,bulimia,out-of-body experiences,bull semen, palliative care,star-crossed young love,mai-tais,car crashes,unlikely reunions and Elvis impersonators. Think magic realism meets soap opera with musical bridges provided by The King.

There's no shortage of plot on Sharon Bajer's script and that's occasionally problematic. There are story elements and twists that really,really strained my very willing suspension of disbelief. The play could also probably lose 10 minutes in the first act.

Having said that,the cast of Chelsea Rankin,Miriam Smith,Zachary Stevenson and Richard Waugh has good chemistry. Their warmth and charm coupled with solid musical performances mostly succeeds in wall-papering over the many plot holes and moving the heart-felt story ahead. The two Elvises who admittedly have the more fun part of the show were particularly delightful tonight.

The great set and lighting design by Brian Perchaluk and Scott Henderson respectively certainly helped move things along as did Metcalfe's brisk direction though I could have done with a bit less hop-scotch from light to light. I would love to have seen Miriam Smith's character in more than one costume to better distinguish between her younger,more carefree self and the troubled unhappy grown-up she becomes.

This is a show whose warmth and charm make up for its structural shortcomings. It's a very enjoyable night at the theatre.