Monday, May 13, 2013


Did you hear the one about an 18th century American farmer who claimed to have dug up a scripture not only telling of Hebrew tribes who lived in ancient North America but who were also visited by Jesus Christ?

How about the one about a village in Uganda, plagued by poverty and AIDs who had to pay tribute to a mad warlord in order to prevent him from mutilating all their females?

Well how about we roll both stories together and make a musical! Yeh that thud you heard was Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland passing out. Of course Mickey and Judy are both gone so we're stuck with Trey Parker and Matt Stone (creators of South Park) and their musical The Book of Mormon.

The play tells the story of a group of Mormon missionaries who travel to Africa to convert the heathen to their own brand of religion. The Uganda they find is full of violence and poverty and sexual abuse. The locals see no point in converting to the white religion as they see nothing in it for themselves. As one character constantly points out, visions of heaven mean little when you have maggots in your scrotum. As one of the Mormons is quick to learn "The Lion King did not present an accurate picture of Africa at all!"

I would call this play irreverent but that would be like calling Satan a guy with a grumpy attitude. This is satire, sometimes teeth bared in your face, sometimes slyly hidden inside of the cheerily scored, cheekily versed songs. Don't get me wrong, there isn't a ton of subtly here; we have a warlord called Buttfuckin Naked and an African expression that the Mormons thinks is like Katuna Matana but really means Fuck You God.

You could concentrate on the material that could offend and you would be well satisfied. These guys are equal opportunity offenders: Religion, Disney, TV, missionaries, sex, women, men, war, health care ... there is something for everyone.

Not surprisingly, The Book of Mormon devotes a lot of its time to harpooning, skinning, eviscerating and devouring the Church of Latter Day Saints. The Church provides the authors with a lot of material; let's be honest here, the Mormon Church, base on their own writings, is a pretty goofy religion. Each scene of the play is prefaced by the story of Mormon founder Joseph Smith and the creation of his church and it's pretty hilarious stuff. Much of the meat of the play's plot revolves around this goofiness and the Elders dispatched around the world to "sell" these stories to people

This is a Mirvish production so the performances throughout are quite solid but the standouts come from Mark Evans and Christopher John O'Neil as the two novice Elders and Samantha Marie Ware as a local village girl, Nabulungi who's name is constantly mispronounced by the Mormons; Nintendo, Neosporin, Neutrogena amont others. Miss Ware has the production's best voice, whether she milking every possible litre of innuendo from the song "Baptize Me" or soaring to the rafters in her homage to the promised land of the Mormons, "Sal Tlay Ka Siti"

Mark Evans portrays Elder Price, the golden boy of the Mormon missionary training centre, to whom everything comes easily and who is looked upon to do great things in Africa. Of course, this being a comedy, things don't quite work out that way. As his world and the visions of himself fall apart, the Elder is visited of a vision of Mormon Hell which is populated by Hitler, Jeffery Dalmer, Ghengis Kahn, Johnny Cochrane (I let OJ get off) and dancing cups of Starbucks coffee.

The true scene stealer of the production, however, is Christopher John O'Neill as Elder Cunningham. A congenital liar who has never actually read the Book of Mormon, he is initially perceived as Elder Price's sidekick. As Cunningham tells Price "You're Frodo and I'm Sam!" But as the mission begins to fall apart, it is Cunningham with his vivid imagination who saves the day; he reinterprets the Book of Mormon for the villagers, populating the already goofy parables with hobbits and Yoda and characters from Star Trek. O'Neill is a comedic tour de force, filling the stage with energy and momentum, able to show off his physical skills even to us up in the cheap seats

There is actually a form of message in all this madness and it has to do with that faith is faith, belief is belief, and perhaps the intent is more important than the method. But that never gets in the way of the true intent of this musical: To make you pee your pants with laughter. Book of Mormon is flat out funny, my jaws literally were aching when I left the Princess of Wales theatre.

It's pretty fair to say that this is one of the funniest productions to visit Toronto in a long time; they are predicting a sell out and I can't disagree with that. This is a touring production so it's run will be limited.
Tickets will likely be difficult to find but perhaps you could pray ... like, to Yoda.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Just a warning: This post has definite political overtones, something I try to avoid but as I've said before, it's sometimes difficult to divorce politics from your daily life

What this post does contain is a level of irony so deep and unintended it made me want to push Reset on my brain, because I thought I had made a mistake while importing the data

In 2010 Toronto paid host to the G20 Summit. It was several days of riots, burning police cars, civil disobedience both illicit and legitimate and marked, overall, by the impression that our policing authorities had kind of lost their grip on the situation

Part of downtown was fenced, special jails were set up on the street and while the initial rioters were merely observed by the police and allowed to run away (supposedly to be caught another day) other people, like U of T professors were immediately arrested.

I wrote a couple of posts about it at the time; you can find them here and here and here and finally here

In the time since then there have been several investigations. Cops were charged with things ranging from mismanagement in deploying of officers, invalid arrests, and one cop was charged with assault after baton whipping a person already in custody. Many cops, before the riots even took place, "blacked out" their badges by putting tape over their badge numbers. Not only is this an infraction it spoke to a rather chilling frame of mind of these officers; it was as if they anticipated violating rules and laws and were quite prepared to do so.

Many higher authorities from the provincial ombudsman to the regional police watchdogs who cited 100's of violations. It seems very clear that this was a very dark time for the Toronto police dept. Even Chief Blair admitted to being "overwhelmed."

So it came as a jaw dropping surprise to me that the special police task force that had been created for the summit is so proud of their performance that have awarded themselves with positive citations and commendations. Their reasoning: Hundreds or arrests were made, the task force was thrown together almost on a whim and boy did they bust a lot of people ...

Seems to be irrelevant that most of these "busts" have been deemed, at least, capricious and many instances, downright illegal. A bust is a bust I guess. After all, ain't a cop's job to convict, it's to make arrests. To paraphrase a popular saying: Arrest em all and let smarter people sort em out later.

It's also rather telling that such an important task force was "thrown together" Not only was the police dept overwhelmed, they seemed to be taken by surprise. Funny, I knew about the summit months before hand and have watched for years the violent riots that can take place at these things.

It's also very telling that a few weeks ago police chief Blair sent an inhouse video critisizing his own rank and file for their cavalier attitude, their flaunting of official police policies and a general disregard for their own public perceptions. That entreaty seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as did all those G20 investigations and charges.

A bust is a bust.

Perhaps it's time to put a fence around police headquarters

Saturday, May 4, 2013


If you enjoy science fiction movies you will probably enjoy the Tom Cruise movie Oblivion. And I do mean sci fi movies, plural, because this one movie is actually a lot of sci fi movies ... all rolled into one. It tries to be all things sci fi movies to all people and we all know that when you try to please everyone, you mostly succeed at not pissing off anyone.

If you like post apocalypse movies (and I do, I always think that start of a good story is the destruction of humanity) Oblivion has you covered. The film starts several years after humanity has been invaded by aliens we call the Scavs, our war with them destroys most of the planet, the Scavs blow up the moon creating huge earthquakes and tsunamis that tear the earth apart and thanks to the bombs we unleash, irradiate the rest of the planet. As Cruise's character states, we win the war but lose the earth.

Mankind is preparing to leave Earth to colonize Titan but in order to do so, we have to drain the oceans to provide fuel for a huge space station/space ship called the Tet, that hangs up in the sky. The Scavs, though defeated, are still around and seemed interested in destroying the hydro processors; the Tet launches drones to defend the processors but these lethal robots need maintenance. This is where Cruise comes in. He plays Jack, a technician whose duty is to service the drones and protect them from the Scavs

Jack is not utterly alone on Earth, he has been partnered with Victoria, Andrea Riseborough, who monitors Jack's movements and acts as a liaison with Mission Control in the Tet. The pair of them live in a glass stilt house high above the earth and high above the clouds

The movie starts out with a very deliberate pace; Jack and Vic's life seem rather placid for the fact they live on a planet that is badly wounded. These are among my favorite scenes in the movie; you know that something isn't right here, that the picture is a little too perfect. And sure enough, the cracks in the pretty picture soon begin to form. Jack is haunted by dreams, dreams of the past, of the earth's past, of his own past but this cannot be so; for reasons of security his and Vic's memories had been scrubbed before they began the mission. Yet in his mind he sees himself in New York, on the Empire State Building, with a strange woman.

On top of that, the woman who speaks to them from Mission Control is down right creepy. A space craft, a human space craft, suddenly crashes on to the earth and Jack learns that all is not as it seems. So now we are in a dystopia, another one of my favorite sci fi genres; think Logan's Run, where the policeman keeping the law soon comes to realize that the law may just be a bit fucked up. It just gets worse. Enter Morgan Freeman.

Jack is shocked to learn that there are other humans still on Earth. Morgan and his band of grubby survivors are here to point out to Jack that the war may not be over, or it may not be exactly as it may seem. The spacecraft has a survivor, as portrayed by Olga Kurylenko, and it is the woman Jack has been seeing in his dreams. Morgan sets them out on a mission, into the radioactive zone, suggesting that out there, Jack may find his destiny. Yup, now we are in The Planet of the Apes, only without the apes and a motorcycle instead of a horse

I want to avoid spoilers here, as Oblivion is still in theatres, but before the movie ends, several more sci fi cliches are thrown into the mix. The movie begins and it moves some place but there are a few logic jumps in the middle and I'm not sure if the timeline works. The movie is strangely devoid of emotion, even when the story demands it.

Oblivion was directed by Joseph Kosinski, who also did Tron Legacy. I quite enjoyed Tron Legacy. It was completely gorgeous to look at, it had a lot of momentum that carried you along, tension was built and it actually had an emotional core. Oblivion is certainly gorgeous to look at, its post apocalyptic Earth is one of the most impressive I've ever seen.

There is action in the movie, quite well done, from high level physical stunts to nicely filmed flight and fight sequences. After all, this is a Tom Cruise movie, so you get your Top Gun moments and your obligatory Tom-running-with-emotion moments. But, oddly, the tension never really seems to build. While I admire the movie for its slow build, and there are some great action sequences, I never really felt pulled into the story, I wanted to know what was going to happen but I never needed to know. Unlike Tron, the movie lacks a strong emotional connection, I was interested but not invested. Some of this actually makes sense, some of the characters seem devoid of emotion and I understand the reasoning but it was still difficult to be concerned with them

Oblivion is very much a pastiche and not as entertaining or compelling as B Movie pastiches that Quentin Tarantino throws together, but in the long run, I think it works. It's a good vehicle for Cruise, not as powerful as Minority Report but the kind of thing this dude can pull off. It hones very close to Matrix-style mind fucks but never gets there but its a very entertaining suburb. It won't rank as one of the best sci fi movies I've ever seen but I know a lot of these images will stick in my head; and when you're my age, any memory that sticks is worth something ... much as the memories of a life he may or may not have lead stays with Jack in a world where the Moon bleeds across the sky.

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