Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cake (Lions Gate Films, 2005)***

Heather Graham is positively radiant in Cakeas the fish out of water editor of a traditional bridal magazine. It is unclear whether ABC's quick axe on Graham's prime time sitcom (Emily's Reasons Why Not) in early 2006 had anything to do with the lack of U.S. theatrical release, but Cake is so well written, cast and acted that it deserved better than to be released straight to dvd; it saw theatrical release only in Canada and Isreal. Cake seems formulaic at first (equal parts Just Shoot Me and Down With Love), but the writing is smart and funny and continually surpasses all expectations.

Graham plays Pippa McGee, a freelance and free sprited travel writer whose father is a magazine publisher who after suffering a heart attack, consents to allow his daughter to help out by editing one of his magazines, Wedding Bells Monthly. Graham immediately attempts to shake up the previously staid publication and the results are genuinely funny.

To illustrate just how utterly charming and humorous this movie can be, this is Graham addressing the assembled staff upon arrival at the magazine's offices: "My dad asked me to fill in, it's just temporary till he's back on his feet, that being said I am committed to making the best of this. But, uh, I gotta be honest, I mean I see marriage as a kind of a prison, it's a place where freedom and choice and sensuality go to die. (Lights cigarette) I mean I'm still trying to figure out why, in a world of choice and feminism and serial monogamy, in a chaotic universe of infidelity and couples counseling, in a fragmented topography of divorce and nihilism, why the modern woman would want to get married...I mean to me these are very interesting questions." These lines were delivered with total conviction and the horrified looks on the faces of the staff are just priceless. The meeting ends in chaos when the smoke from her cigarette sets off the smoke detectors.

Taye Diggs (above with Graham) is excellent as Hemingway Jones, the magazine's photographer who is also Graham's confidante and secondary love interest. Sandra Oh is well cast as the best friend. Cheryl Hines, easily recognized from her role on Curb Your Enthusiasm as the wife of Larry David, does a very nice job as the initially bitchy director of ad sales for the magazine. And David Sutcliffe is superb as Ian, the primary love interest, who spars with Graham for most of the movie from his position as the company vice president and her dad's right hand man.

The John Hiatt song "Have a Little Faith in Me" sounds great on the soundtrack during the scene when Pippa and Ian finally get together, in a nice version by local Toronto artist Chris Seldon. The cinematography is first rate, as is the direction by Nisha Ganatra. The only misstep in the making of Cake might be the choice of title and character names; Pippa McGee? Hemingway Jones? Please. Cake is that rare romantic comedy that hasn't been dumbed down for mass consumption and while that (or maybe the ill-conceived title) might have cost it the theatrical release, it can only add to the enjoyment of watching Cake on dvd. All dvd screen shots © Lions Gate Films, 2005.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Johnny A - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 3/11/06

Johnny A played the World Cafe Live downstairs stage Saturday night with his trademark set of electric guitar music that makes a strong case for the notion that while many have mastered this instrument, none have done so with a greater combination of taste and technique than this guitar slinger from Boston. While Johnny can hold his own blowing the doors off referencing Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chet Atkins, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, his repertoire consists of more originals than covers and has thus managed to forge his own guitar identity amongst these gods of the electric guitar.

His set included healthy helpings from his two cds, Sometime Tuesday Morningand Get Insideas well as some material from his new instructional dvd, TASTE • TONE • SPACE which is available from his website. The subdued red and blue lighting suggested the atmosphere of the Sometime Tuesday Morning cover shot.

The World Cafe Live sound was perfectly clear, loud when Johnny cranked it up and soft and clear during the mellow covers such as "Wichita Lineman" and "Poor Side of Town." Backed only by bass and drums, his guitar carries all the melody making vocals totally unnecessary. Philadelphia has embraced this fine player perhaps more so than any city other than his hometown, due in large part to the airplay given his first cd several years ago by WXPN.

Johnny A's compositions and his choice of cover material suggests an immense range of talent and knowledge of and respect for a great many many musical styles. For listeners who appreciate great guitar work, it doesn't get any better than this. Remember to click on each photo to enlarge. All photos © W.Kates, 2006.