Demetri Martin comes back for more
Unstoppable standup has faced adversity here before
With the luck Demetri Martin has had in Vancouver over the years, it’s a wonder he keeps coming back. But adversity, they say, builds character.
His first visit here was in October 2004 at the fledgling Vancouver International Comedy Festival. The organizers had the idea to pair the industry’s best standup comics with Trailer Park Boys. That didn’t go over so well.
Martin still talks about that night. The Trailer Park Boys were at the peak of their fame and the crowd was liquored and fired up for them, rather than for a lineup of stellar but less well known comics.
“They went ape-shit and they were angry,” says Martin on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “Each of us went out and just died one after the next. I’ve never been on a show like that before where it was just kind of an angry mob. They were just furious.”
He laughs about it now. “All the comics backstage were in one room all saying, ‘You know what? I’m not going out there. This is ridiculous.’ And then one of the comics was like, ‘All right, I’ll do it.’ And it was like a jury turning from ‘guilty’ to ‘not guilty’. Then we all did it.”
As much of a train wreck as it was, Martin will take that over a run-ofthe-mill show. “When it’s that bad,” he says, “it does become interesting. It’s kind of better than just a mediocre set where you just do poorly.”
His most recent visit to Vancouver was last year. Nearing the end of the long cross-canada Just For Laughs tour, Martin was in no mood to engage with rowdy punters, so he walked off-stage until the theatre dealt with it. But he got things back on track. As a 20-year veteran, he knows how to deal with all sorts of crowds.
“I’ve handled plenty of hecklers,” he says. “That’s not the problem. But sometimes if you’re on a tour and you’re at show number whatever, you’re just like, ‘You know what? I’m just too fucking tired, man. I don’t really care. You want to be an asshole and bother everybody?’ Sometimes you’re in the mood but other times you’re like, ‘Hey, you know, I have an act here. I kinda want to get through it.’ ”
Believe it or not, these kinds of shows are helpful to comedians, he thinks. “It reminds you just how subjective and delicate it all is. One night you can do great in this room, and people hate you in that room.”
Despite a long and varied career featuring his own TV series, numerous specials and standup tours, a movie he wrote, starred in, and directed (Dean), and two books, with a third on the way this month (If It’s Not Funny It’s Art), Martin keeps his head on straight.
“I still feel like I’m kind of hovering just above anonymity,” he says.
His standup is evolving from oneliners to something a little more open and honest—but not too revealing.
“I’m trying to get more personal,” he says. “I’m trying to find a place that’s not just telling your life’s story.” He thinks there’s a lot of “over sharing” in comedy these days. “It’s like diarrhea of autobiography a little bit. I’ve just not been attracted to telling my whole story up there, but I think somewhere between that and doing jokes about balloons and chairs and stuff, there’s a little more wiggle room for something that’s based maybe a little bit more in emotion.”
Demetri Martin’s Let’s Get Awkward tour plays the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Saturday (September 9).
DISTAFF PAPER In a canon of repertoire by household names like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Sebastian Bach, music by female classical composers is rarely heard. But this Saturday (September 9), a special Women Composer Concert will showcase their works, with all ticket sales going to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre and the YWCA. Forty-two of Vancouver’s orchestral musicians will perform pieces by Clara Schumann, Maddalena Laura Sirmen, Lili Boulanger, and Rebecca Clarke at Christ Church Cathedral.
CLIMB EV’RY MOUNTAIN
Because is one of history’s most beloved movie musicals, it’s easy to forget that the stories and songs of the von Trapp family first appeared on the Broadway stage. Now, a new live production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic is touring North America, stopping at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from Tuesday through next Sunday (September 12 to 17). The production is directed by Matt Lenz, building off of earlier work by Tony Award–winner Jack O’brien. Tickets are now on sale for this special chance to watch the hills come alive—live!
The Sound of Music
Starring Thaneth Warakulnukroh. In Thai, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Road-trip movies tend to be enjoyable from 2
a travelogue point of view, no matter where they’re coming from. Or going. And when the journey takes you down the little-seen back roads of rural Thailand, it’s bound to get interesting— even more so when there’s an elephant involved.
Here, the costarring pachyderm is called Popeye, presumably because the movie’s human hero, seen in flashback to his rural childhood, watched the old Sailor Man (in a cartoon called “Wild Elephinks”, since you asked) with other village kids. Now played by goateed Thaneth Warakulnukroh—a veteran rock musician in his first acting job—middle-aged architect Thana is being pushed out of his job by young go-getters.
One crummy day, Thana spies a mistreated elephant on a Bangkok side street and recognizes his old rice-paddy playmate. He impulsively buys the beast, which doesn’t exactly endear him to his already disdainful wife (Penpak Sirikul, recently seen in The Hangover Part II). Without even packing a trunk, the dejected Thana decides to take Popeye—the title spelling was no doubt a legalistic choice—back to his home province.
Lacking any size-large transport, he decides to walk hundreds of miles, affording him chances to encounter many colourful characters. These include a longhaired drifter living in an abandoned gas station, a battered trans woman (cast standout Yukontorn Sukkijja), a couple of bumbling cops who provide an unwanted escort, and a Buddhist monk who takes Visa when some unexpected services are required.
The picaresque tale won this year’s screenplay award at Sundance for Singaporean writer-director Kirsten Tan, who studied at NYU and previously garnered many prizes for her excellent shorts. Honestly, though, the script is the weakest link here. The foundering marriage is depicted so sketchily, it’s hard to grasp the full extent of Thana’s dilemma. His relationship with Popeye (played by the trippily named Bong) and their connection to his rugged old uncle (Narong Pongpab), who stayed in the countryside, remain rather cryptic.
This doesn’t matter much, however, because the constantly varying scenes, buoyed by Matthew James Kelly’s spaghetti-eastern guitar score, are so entertaining. What looks like wholesome family fairy tale throws a number of surprisingly edgy curveballs as it heads down the tropical highway. As in life, you never know who’s passing through and who you’ll bump into again. And strong to the finish, Pop Aye is one companion you’ll never forget. > KEN EISNER SWAGGER A documentary by Olivier Babinet. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
A visit to one of the most dangerous Paris 2
suburbs is full of hopeful surprises in Swagger, which lives up to its name by letting 11 teens talk about what they’ve accomplished and what they hope to do with their open possibilities.
Veteran music-video director Olivier Babinet brings his own visual swag to this lovingly shot doc, which follows its subjects at school, on city streets, and in and around the huge projects of Aulnay-sous-bois. Populated by mostly poor African and Arab immigrants and their increasingly assimilated children, this outpost has been home to riots, police actions, and crime movies in the past decade.
Presumably, places like this are why Trump’s friend “Jim” doesn’t go to Paris anymore. But Babinet, who spent two years gaining the trust of locals before filming, takes drug dealers and turf wars as a given, instead focusing on kids who’ve made peace with their surroundings. Only one, an extremely shy and possibly traumatized teen named Aissatou, stands alone during recess and haltingly expresses general anxiety. The rest exhibit ease with peers of all backgrounds and speak genially about their plans. A fastidiously coiffed fellow called Regis plans to be a fashion stylist, and we believe him. Paul, the only immigrant from India, wears a natty dark suit every day and plays drums in a church group.
Babinet takes his subjects on stylistic flights of fancy, staging a robotic dance number in a welding class and having Paul lip-synch down school hallways to a ’50s rockabilly number. Other sequences utilize multiple drones and saturated colours to swooning, dreamlike effect. The approach can get a bit precious, as when the director intercuts thoughtful but unrelated reaction shots from other kids while one teen is talking.
Still, the 85-minute movie mostly lets the subjects be their engaging, sometimes wild-card selves, as with the youngest interviewee, a wiseeyed, black-haired Arab girl named Naila, who recalls two trips to Disneyland Paris, but she didn’t like them, because she later pictured Mickey Mouse growing huge and going on a Godzilla-like destruction spree, joined by an army of blond Barbies. “Because they’re all the same,” she says, with one eyebrow up. > KEN EISNER TULIP FEVER Starring Alicia Vikander. Rated 14A
This glossy period piece, set in 1630s Amsterdam, 2 was originally slated to star Keira Knightley and Jude Law, as directed by Shakespeare in Love’s John Madden and adapted by its screenwriter, Tom Stoppard. Law and Knightley went on to make the overlooked Anna Karenina, also from Stoppard. In the end, the Czech-born playwright was paired with novelist Deborah Moggach, who also wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and adapted her own 2000 book here.
This pedigree guarantees little, as proved by the finished Fever, shot three years ago and shelved until now. Directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) and reportedly recut several times, this isn’t a total mess, and the cast is attractive. Fresh off her Ex Machina breakthrough, Sweden’s Alicia Vikander landed the lead, as Sophia, an orphan “rescued” by an older merchant. Christoph Waltz’s saturnine Cornelis Sandvoort is a born cynic whose pious selfishness doesn’t prevent him from getting most of the best lines.
A few years in, and still no babies. But at least Corny can brag about bagging this young beauty via a Rembrandtian portrait, courtesy of up-andcoming painter Jan Van Loos. Here, Dane Dehaan looks like a young Leonardo Dicaprio, so we know where trouble will be coming from.
Parallel to this Dutch threesome is the tale of Sandvoort’s maid and cook (and only servant?), Maria (The Riot Club’s Holliday Grainger), who also narrates events sporadically, in the manner of a market-tested expository device. She’s in love with swashbuckling fishmonger Willem (Jack O’connell), and the maid’s furtive affair is steamier than that of her mistress—despite some notable nudity in the foreground story. But Vikander is a somewhat chilly presence, and can’t do much with a character defined by little more than wanting to escape her husband.
More interesting is the trade in tulip bulbs that Willem pursues, with the mania for that recently appropriated flower creating an investment bubble when the Dutch trading empire was at its peak. The film is shot in mostly dour natural light, emphasizing the richness of floral colour and of a painter’s expensive palette. But it also keeps it from being very much fun.
There’s forced frenzy to the tulip-swapping scenes, at an alehouse-brothel featuring young Cara Delevingne, years before she was paired with Dehaan in the recent flop Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Elsewhere, there are slapstick comic scenes with Zach Galifianakis, as the painter’s weirdly unreliable buddy. In the Loop’s Tom Hollander plays an amusingly sleazy protogynecologist. And national treasure Judi Dench is a tulip-growing convent head who takes an inexplicable shine to the lovelorn artist. Some bright bits poke up, but all told, this Tulip tries to get too many things going, and uses too much fertilizer to do it. > KEN EISNER
action legend Sammo Hung is behind the wheel of Wilson Yip’s crime thriller Paradox, while VIFF Visionaries invites us to a conversation with Bong Joon Ho when the superstar South Korean director brings his Netflix hit Okja to Vancouver for a special (and rare) big-screen presentation.
Thrill seekers and midnight-movie buffs find themselves well-served once again by VIFF’S Altered States series. Greg Zglinski’s tale of doppelgängers in the Swiss Alps, Animals, should satisfy anyone still hungry for another shot of caffeine in the wake of Twin Peaks. Meanwhile, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead return after their super-buzzy 2014 horrorromance, Spring, with Ufo-deathcult flick The Endless.
Documentaries about legendary record exec Clive Davis and Vancouver-born art star Richard Hambleton appear among the offerings in VIFF’S M/A/D stream (short for Music, Art, and Design), along with the final transmission from late great Abbas Kiarostami, 24 Frames. In yet another special presentation, M/A/D brings the Kronos Quartet to Vancouver to perform alongside Guy Maddin’s Vertigo
riff, The Green Fog (directed with Evan and Galen Johnson).
That big dose of Canadiana crosses over into the equally strong True North program, headlined by Stephen
Veteran Thai rock musician Thaneth Warakulnukroh works hard to keep up with his four-legged, scene-stealing costar Bong in director Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye.