A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

 

UPDATED MONDAYS

Updated: June 27, 2016

EDITION #94 - WEEK OF JUNE 27-JULY 3, 2016

Worlds apart and together

Luminato 2016 Reviews

Part 3 of a 3-part series

A scene from Song of Extinction at Luminato’s Hearn Music Stage.

Song of Extinction

Hearn Music Stage, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

Wednesday, June 22; 6:30 p.m.

Within the decaying hull of the Hearn Station, it seems almost fitting to hold the world premiere of Music in the Barns’ Song of Extinction there (more for its setting and not just for the sound acoustics working in its favour) as a heeding symphony of the worlds of man and nature gone astray. For fifty minutes, the group’s chamber ensemble along with the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto giving the right pitches, held court in a cornucopia of neo-classical aesthetics, electric organ and industrial sonic noise.

Composed by Rose Bolton to the scribes of Governor-General Award-winning poet Don McKay while the various vintage film footage of the everyday to Baroque portraits as spliced together by Gemini-winning documentary auteur Marc de Guerre rolling in the background, the work is deep and immersive about humanity’s relationship to itself and the animal kingdom, both being sacrificed under progress and simple arrogance of our so-called formidability.

Out of the fifteen tracks written from its instrumentals reflecting these sentiments like “The Anger of Sentient Souls” and “Human Cry,” one can also here this in the lyrics of “Where Are We To?” that McKay asks ourselves: “What are we to and what are we at and what do we creatures mean/strolling like time’s aristocrats through the Anthropocene?”

More than enough to absorb in just under an hour’s worth, Song of Extinction feels like a live, shortened stage version of 1980s art-house experimental film classic Koyaanisqatsi and just as riveting and provocative under the creators and music director/keyboardist John Hess who kept all three groups in harmony about disharmony and the need for balance.

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

Much as the idea of having something of an arts venue like the Hearn to hold something expansive like Luminato for all its productions and artworks under one roof was a good and interesting one, the concept was a work in progress at best and could be repeated again, although on a much smaller level. Accessibility was its Achilles’ heel that wasn’t always there in getting to and back from the Portlands-situated complex, especially with the infrequency of the free shuttle bus service (should have been three buses instead of two).

For an artistically-inclined city like Toronto, multiple venues are a key to the fest’s success as it has been for its decade-long existence to provide as many patrons to attend the events and to see what other places have to offer in general. Material-wise, the events and exhibits inside and out were worth viewing and at least the building interior was cool to the summer heat, which was a bonus; and the experiment a noble endeavour on the organization’s and artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt’s part. Thanks again to Mr. Weisbrodt and the many contributions, artisans and productions that he brought to the festival during his time with Luminato and hope that his successor Josephine Ridge will maintain the innovative vision this festival started ten years ago for this city and its cultural sphere.

An epic celebration of survival and destiny

Homegoing

by Yaa Gyasi

305 pp., Doubleday/Random House Canada

Hardcover, $32

Historical Fiction

Book Review

One of humanity’s greatest tragedies, the African Slave trade, is not an easy one to analyse or comprehend the magnitude of the impact and scars it has accrued in the latter-half of the last millennium, especially in a literary stance. Novelist Yaa Gyasi in her debut Homegoing melds two nations involved in the practice, Ghana (where she was born) and the United States of America (where she was raised and still resides) with a story of hardship, privilege, destiny and family comes out as a steady and spellbinding effort.

When the British were in control of what was then the Gold Coast of western Africa three hundred years ago, two Asante half-sisters were born from a cursed woman to live different lives. The eldest, Effia, was married off in a marriage of convenience to James Collins, the British governor of the Cape Coast Castle – otherwise known as The Castle – and settled a palatial life of ease as her offspring would chart the course of the history of the country, as British and tribal leaders sold thousands of their brethren to work as slaves in the Americas, experiencing war and upheaval to the modern-day state of Ghana.

Among them, unknowingly, is her younger sister Esi; held in the hellish dungeons of the Castle after a village raid by Fante slave traders and shipped to the plantations of the American South, while her own family line endures all aspects of struggle and discrimination in American history, from the Civil War through to the Civil Rights movement up into the present day as their descendants try to find their way and identities both shaped by slavery and fate.

Gyasi handles her subject and characters faithfully with a unflinching look at the slave trade and the histories of both countries that profited from the blood industry that sent millions in shackles as expendable chattels, yet never in an angry or accusatory manner which could have turned this into another cookie-cutter story of the African and African-American experience, but thankfully does not. She crafts it to be a story about trying to find forgiveness, resolution and rediscovery of heritage, even when some of the book’s characters darkest moments whose have less than happier endings.

Certainly one of this summer’s more intriguing reads, Homegoing is a highly impressive first book for Gyasi and her competent handling of the rich, complex histories of her native and adopted countries with a diplomatic amount of delicacy and engages into a triumphant ending of what is truly a celebration of survival.

Return of a disco king and a soul queen survivor

Torontonian neo-Dixielanders Heavyweights Brass Band come marching into Nathan Phillips Square to start the Toronto Jazz Festival.

2016 Toronto Jazz Festival Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Left-right: Heavyweights Brass Band burns brightly onstage; local reggae legend Jay Douglas joins them for a classy three-song closer.

Heavyweights Brass Band/DJ Kardinal Offishall/We Came to Get Down: Swing vs. Street

Nathan Phillips Square Outdoor Stage, 100 Queen Street East

Friday, June 24; 6:38 p.m.

Marching through the square and onto the stage, the local neo-Dixieland-like quintet promptly got the opening night freebies line-up to a good start with their self-composition “Brasstronomical” with a touch of reggae and rock thrown in and maintained that pace throughout their gig with original tunes and covers like the Bill Withers/Grove Washington Jr. tune “Just The Two of Us” nicely paced; a smooth R&B vibe over “No One Said It Was Easy” courtesy of trumpeter Paul Metcalfe soloing it to Rush’s “YYZ” fleshed out with freestyle jazz and funk-jazz twists.

Bringing out reggae legend Jay Douglas as guest vocalist to fill out the rest of the performance, he sang a swinging swagger to “Down the Road” and belted it out with covers of The Wailers’ ska chestnut “Simmer Down” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good” while doing a few comical dance moves that were a treat.

Left-right: While dance troupe Keep Rockin’ You took command with a friendly dance-off between swingers and b-boyers, Kardinal Offishall spinned his discs well but was inconsistant in presentation.

Choreographer and Keep Rockin’ You founder Judi Lopez’s dance-off ensemble Swing vs. Street had a friendly feel of a competing group of jazz swing kids up against a b-boy and -girl street squad backed by local group the Worst Pop Band Ever, which in reality were pretty good. The street dancers had some moves in locking and popping, but in all honesty, nobody can outdo a tap dancer when it comes to style.

Ending with a crossover of both genres to the tunes “Super Bad” and “Sing! Sing! Sing!” wasn’t too bad, including a two-minute lesson of doing the Charleston and the Biz Markie to cap it. Unfortunately, the only part that kind of lagged was rap star Kardinal Offishall in his debut as a turntablist. He could spin the old school tunes and mishmash with the best, but is too chatty with personal commentaries and commercialist plugs behind his new DJ venture that wasn’t very professional. Would the likes of Kid Koala and Deadmau5 do stuff like this?

KC and The Sunshine Band

Toronto Star Stage, 100 Queen Street East

Friday, June 24; 9 p.m.

Armed with strobe lights and the customary mirror ball, disco came back with a vengeance as the evening’s headliner KC and The Sunshine Band absolutely wasted no time in getting the party started with “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” as lead singer/songwriter Harry Wayne “KC” Casey strode onstage to a warm welcome to a packed City Hall square, followed by “Boogie Shoes.”

Jovial and self-depreciating how now at age 65 and a bit gravelly in voice that at first didn’t put him at his very best that night but improved, KC was willing to admit that his pretty-boy looks from the 1970s have long since abandoned him, did quip with certainty: “What the hell happened?! This is what Justin Timberlake is going to look like thirty years from now!!”

Aside from the disco anthems of the day “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Rock Me Baby,” “Keep It Comin’, Love,” “That’s the Way I Like It (Uh-Huh),” they also did a few covers of favourites from the 1960s “Bring It On Home to Me,” “Stand By Me” and “Same Ol’ Song” and an attempt to slow it down with “Fall in Love” lacked a certain pull, but was much better with his 1980 minor hit (later a dance club winner for Double You in the ‘90s), “Please Don’t Go.”

Other than his classic dance-pop smashes, the show had a lot of fun and energy and KC connected with the crowd with the same exuberance and moves like Mick Jagger and had the funkiest collection of sequined shirts I’ve ever seen from a performer in ages, brought it all down in closing out with “Give It Up” and “Get Down Tonight” (with streamers!). Disco still rules.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Toronto Star Stage, 100 Queen Street East

Saturday, June 25; 8:45 p.m.

Despite the return of her pancreatic cancer diagnosis she’s been battling for the last three years, this definitely didn’t dampen the spirit or performance singer Sharon Jones put out along with biggest little indie studio band The Dap-Kings, belting it throughout to out-funk James Brown himself.

Along with backing singers Saun and Starr, who also did a couple of solo numbers in the opening warm-up from their recent EP Look Closer with “Hot Shot” and Motown-inspired title track “Look Closer (Can’t You See The Signs?)”,the petite soul/funk powerhouse tore it up with “Stranger To My Happiness,” “How Do You Let a Good Man Down” before slowing down with the James Bond theme-like coolness to “When You Love Me.”

Proving that this was a celebration of her ongoing fight, Jones invoked a all-ladies dance jam and smoked it with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” where afterwards she joked: “I got so excited [there], I had to get them off the stage!” then continued with a Gladys Knight tribute “Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)” accompanied to old ‘60s dance crazes from the twist to the boogaloo without flagging at all.

The best numbers went to “Retreat!” and finale “100 Days, 100 Nights” done with three different tempos all in one shot, but nothing could top her moment of all moments when Jones turned “Get Up and Get Out” into her anti-cancer mantra and promise to the audience vowing to beat it again, even kicking off her heels in the process; was the biggest applause she got all evening. Ms. Jones, I salute you.

***

The Toronto Jazz Festival continues through to this Sunday (July 3). For tickets and information, phone 1-888-655-9090 or visit torontojazz.com.

EDITION #93 - WEEK OF JUNE 20-26, 2016

Fish sequel does swimmingly well

Finding Dory (Walt Disney/Pixar)

Voice Talents: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson

Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Producer: Lindsey Collins

Screenplay: Andrew Stanton; story by Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson, based on the characters created by Andrew Stanton

Film Reviews

A long wait for a follow-up to a beloved animated film that really didn’t need one to begin with, Finding Dory gives really good reasons why sequels should exist by maintaining the heart and soul of its 2003 Academy Award-winning original, Finding Nemo, just as the sumptuous animation that came with it, in making fish seem likeable again. And Pixar spares no expense in giving us an actually substantial storyline to follow along.

It kind of starts off like an origin story with the good-natured blue tang fish Dory (DeGeneres) afflicted with short-term memory loss making her home with clownfish Marlin (Brooks) and his young son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in the Great Barrier Reef, when witnessing a migrating school of manta rays triggers off her early memories as a small fry (Sloane Murray) with her parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) and her lifelong search for them.

With a highly reluctant Marlin but more than eager Nemo in tow, they cross the Pacific again all the way to the Californian coastline to the Marine Life Institute, an public aquarium-cum-research facility where she came from in the hope of finding them there. Accidentally finding herself in the quarantine section, she runs into old fryhood friend Destiny (Olson), a near-sighted whale shark, a hypochondriac beluga Bailey (Ty Burrell) but also a grouchy octopus named Hank (O’Neill) that’s a master of disguise and a chiraptophobic – the fear of being touched – who help in Dory’s search for her folks that turns into one frantic caper after another.

Bringing back a majority of the original voices back after thirteen years – minus Alexander Gould who originally voiced Nemo and has long outgrown his pubescent voice – is a bonus all round along with the new characters that co-writer/creator/director Stanton crafts with love and care (including a very brief cameo as the ultra-cool surfer turtle Crush) with the script and character studies that made the last film such a charmer.

DeGeneres, being the main focus here, gets a wider berth for Dory in rediscovering herself and to what family means, but the real surprise in letting Rolence get a word or two in with Brooks as the ever-frantic homebody Marlin finding in value of his friend and her search for closure. Levy and Keaton as Dory’s doting parents and Olsen are perfect touches with their warmth and humour; Murray is such a dear as the young Dory mixing smarts and innocence; Idris Elba and Dominic Ray as two lazy, territorial sea lions make a fun comic relief duo and O’Neill shines being the mercurial octopus with a heart – or should I say three hearts – of gold with his moments.

Finding Dory holds the theme of family in all different shades alive and well as a high-spirited and fast-paced undersea adventure while keeping it all fun. The preceding short Piper about a sandpiper chick learning to forge for itself and overcome the fear of the ocean tide is quirky, yet sweet in its life lesson in dealing with life’s obstacles and handling independence created by Canadian-born writer/director Alan Barillaro, who’s worked with Pixar since 1998’s A Bug’s Life. A sure-fire Oscar contender here for Best Animated Short if there ever was one.

Vancouver’s virtual bowery, Statuesque abuzz

Luminato 2016 Reviews

Part 2 of a 3-part series

CIRCA 1948

Turbine Hall, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

From the dramaturge behind the critically-acclaimed cinematic stage production hybrid Helen Lawrence, Stan Douglas creates a spin-off of sorts with CIRCA 1948, a National Film Board of Canada/Toronto International Film Festival/Luminato project which immerses the viewer into a virtual reality setting of post-World War II Vancouver to compare modern times that isn’t all that unfamiliar.

Through kinaesthetic navigation and CGI, the booth puts one in long-gone places: the inner-city slum row of Hogan’s Alley and the ageing Vancouver Hotel, once a downtown grand dame stripped of its former glory into a fleabag for layabouts, disillusioned veterans returning from the war and overnighters looking for a cheap place to stay (viewer can choose only one program). For five all-too-brief minutes, it’s getting a feel of how disjointed society was then; caught in economic uncertainties, a relentless recession and constant external threats – much like ours today, only replace the Cold War with terrorism.

It takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of “moving” about the simulation room within a circled area like an interactive videogame, with the understanding of what befell these places in the name of progress that would make 1,200 vets homeless in the streets of 1948 Vancouver, the grittiness of the cityscape and the majestic, if greyish elements swirled about you. There can be a long line-up in getting into the simulation room, but the earlier you come the lesser the wait time is and it’s worth it.

Michel de Broin: One Thousand Speculations

Turbine Hall, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

When it made its debut at Luminato back in 2013, I felt Michel de Broin’s gigantic mirror ball sculpture One Thousand Speculations, in spite of its size; wasn’t very impressive displayed high above David Pecault Square, plus being out in the elements didn’t do it much justice or effect as a statement of throwaway pop culture.

Now placed inside the Hearn, it’s a whole lot better and appreciative in the context of things with its reflective surface bouncing off shards of light on a very slow rotational pace, which would make the gutted power station feel like one huge, glorious discotheque and a little restorative glory to the venue space, even if its’ just a temporary measure.

Peter Huyghe: Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt/Reclining Nude)

Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

French sculptor Peter Huyghe puts a backspin on the post-human world reclamation of nature for Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt/Reclining Nude) set not too far away from the Hearn where a live beehive colony totally obscuring a concrete nude sculpture’s head, thus literally turning it into a living work of art.

Spending two years with beekeepers on how to attract the honeybees to the sculpture and the bees themselves “contribute” their artistic touch by naturally allowing the evolutionary anthropocentric shape of the hive to come by its own, Huyghe addresses the delicateness of our ecosystem, the very real threat to the world’s food supply through colony collapse syndrome and the symbiotic need between ourselves and the bee population is interesting to contemplate in thought, as much as it is fascinating to see a actual beehive colony within safe distance alone is one of Luminato’s more intriguing art pieces that they’ve put on in ages.

***

Luminato 2016 ends this Sunday (June 26). Turbine Hall displays are FREE from Tuesday-Sunday 12-6 p.m.. For tickets and information, call 416-368-4849 or visit luminato.com.

EDITION #92 - WEEK OF JUNE 13-19, 2016

Generating artistic potential

Patrons entering the new Luminato hub at the defunct Hearn Generating Station, located in the Portlands area.

Luminato 2016 Reviews

Part 1 of a 3-part series

OCAD University:Prescience/ Design Exchange Satellite: Jordan Söderberg Mills

Turbine Hall, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

Left-right: The anaglyphical mirrors of Jordan Söderberg Mills; Bonnie Tung’s fun “LOOP” and the Trudy Erin Elmore/Anda Kubis/Jennie Suddick multimedia project “Virtual Uneffective.”

From the ongoing relationship with the Ontario College of Art and Design University, Luminato sets aside a section of its temporary hub at the massive Hearn Generating Station of its selected talent for their Prescience contribution to the visual arts component.

One of its most colourful is Bonnie Tung’s “LOOP” of a running two-channel projection on a plastic arch atop a mirror to give the illusion of an animated ring on the physical and virtual of art; “Virtual Uneffective” from the team of Trudy Erin Elmore, Anda Kubis and Jennie Suddick of their multimedia piece of 2- and 3-D projections to give the belief that (post-)modern art hasn’t changed the artist or its message or the 18’ rows of coloured flags with portraits of monsters for “Election Flags,” inspired Yasemin Onai from the recent Turkish elections for her sharp political satire on the old tactic of demonizing one’s opponent and on propaganda itself.

Yasemin Onai satirizes the political monsters of propaganda for her colourfully fanciful “Election Flags.”

Reminiscent of the original cinematic 3-D glasses from the 1950s and a funhouse mirror hall, Canadian artist Jordan Söderberg Mills’ usage of anaglyphic mirrors and sculpture pieces is deliriously offsetting and bizarre in the imagery and concept hybridizing here sitting on the side of being cool.

Dietrich Group: The Coating Project

Turbine Hall, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue

Shot within the Hearn prior to its current transformation, the local art-dance performance group Dietrich Group’s The Coating Project delivers on archetypes, occupation and the abstract in a silent, twenty-minute video. From an ensemble group partly in orange onesies either constantly in bondage and mostly writhing in the nude to recurrent shots of an overseer in a black Victorian-era dress with her nude submissive behind her, there’s almost a striking Kubrickian fashion seen in this guerrilla futuristic noir short on anti-conformity and human sexuality.

Trove: A View of Toronto in 50 of its Treasures

Jackman Gallery, Hearn Generating Station, 440 Unwin Avenue, 2nd Floor

For its tenth anniversary, outgoing Luminato artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt had a vision of a permanent home for the multidisciplinary arts fest, much like the Toronto International Film Festival its Lightbox complex; in what and where the city’s artistic attributes lay. With the help of photographer Scott McFarland, Weisbrodt curated the photo public art series Trove: A View of Toronto in 50 of its Treasures as something of a food for thought for future programmers and a parting gift to the fest and the city.

Plastered onto the walls of the upper-level Jackman Gallery points all the well-known and much lesser-known gems from the Art Gallery of Ontario to the Ontario Science Centre (and a couple of private collections), the exhibit really points out on some everyday object(s) across town. But unless you’re an arts connoisseur, it doesn’t fully draw out those ideas of what has more artistic merit over the other, so it’s a tricky one to grasp yet not too distant, either.

As for the possibility of turning the Hearn into an arts venue as Weisbrodt envisions it should become instead of falling under some land developer’s wrecking ball, that’s even trickier. Others have tried (remember the Harris Institute and their defunct Metronome Canada division’s attempt to turn Harbourfront’s Canada Malting solos into a music centre over a decade ago?) with grandiose ideas that fell flat due to a lack of funding. Redoing the Hearn into Luminato’s future home would take a real refurbishing plan, a mint of money – I’d estimate about C$500-750 million at best – and a tremendous commitment from governmental and corporate partnerships like they did with TIFF Lightbox, it could be done since the place does have potential...

***

Luminato 2016 currently running through June 26. Turbine Hall displays are FREE from Tuesday-Sunday 12-6 p.m.. For tickets and information, call 416-368-4849 or visit luminato.com.

KC gets down with jazz fest freebies

Disco icons KC and The Sunshine Band, Eric St-Laurent among the free concerts for the Toronto Jazz Festival’s 30th anniversary

Music Preview

When you’re marking the big 3-0, you’d want to make it big as the Toronto Jazz Festival (June 24-July 3) will in offering free programming around their festival hub at Nathan Phillips Square (100 Queen Street East), the downtown core and around town, starting off with the June 24 opening night festivities with one of the biggest dance-pop bands of all time, KC and The Sunshine Band.

Ready to rock City Hall with ‘70s nuggets “That’s the Way (I Like It),” “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” and “Get Down Tonight,” they’ll be joined by local hip-hop hero Kardinal Offishall doing DJ duties and the New Orleans neo-jazz of the Heavyweights Brass Band, plus dance troupe Swing vs. Street, the brainchild of b-girl choreographer Judi Lopez; providing a friendly dance-off of b-boying and -girling to jazz standbys of the jitterbug to the lindy to rev up the festival.

Fifty other free concerts for the fest’s duration will also be available in Nathan Phillips Square with the traditional noonday Lunchtime Series inside the Toronto Star Stage tent starting around 12:30 p.m. with Bill King’s Rhythm Express (June 25), Jim Galloway’s Wee Big Band under the direction of Martin Loomer (July 1), songstress Dione Taylor (June 29) and Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Jazz Project (June 28) and early evening shows with Grammy-nominated drummer/vocalist Jamison Ross (June 28), singer/pianist Jarrod Lawson (June 25), British lyricist Gwyneth Herbert (June 30) to jazz fusion group Gray Matter (June 29) on the Outdoor Stage.

Returning venues like The Distillery District (55 Mill Street) will fill up their cobblestone alleyways with the sounds of vocalist Tia Brazda, the Eric St-Laurent Trio and guitar-trumpet duo Herriot Harkness from June 24 to July 2, the fest has some new jamming places to play for the first time with swanky department store Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street West) on their third floor with Canadian acts doing acoustic, intimate performances of Jane Bunnett and Hilario Duran (June 24), Joe Sealy - Solo Piano (June 25) and Molly Johnson Trio (June 26); King and John Streets’ Second Cup Coffee new café concept to also be a year-round jazz outlet with Pram Trio (June 29, 7 p.m.), Brownman Akoustic Trio (July 1, 7 p.m.) and others and the Hilton Toronto Downtown Hotel (145 Richmond Street West) on their Pool Deck for the likes of jazz duo Shannon Butcher and Ross MacIntyre (June 30, 4 p.m.), soul-funk stylist Justin Bacchus (July 1, 8 p.m.) to pianist Richard Whiteman (June 29, 4 p.m.).

Rounding out the rest is a free jazz workshop and concert with noted trumpeter Chase Sanborn at the North York Central Library (5129 Yonge Street) on June 21 and City Hall will be invaded by youths for the opening weekend of June 25-26 with the Regent Park School of Music’s interactive demos, a instrumental “petting zoo” and the steelpan rhythms of Dave Clark and the Woodshed Orchestra (June 25) and gets all artsy for the for a music-inspired graffiti art slam with aerosol artisans Elicser and Mediah doing a life-size mural to the jazz-rap of Tanika Charles on June 26.

***

While all events mentioned are FREE, however a wristband policy goes into effect for the KC and The Sunshine Band June 24 concert to be distributed on the eastside of the Toronto Star Tent at 4 p.m. on said date. One wristband per person only. For more information, visit torontojazz.com.

EDITION #91 - WEEK OF JUNE 6-12, 2016

Pop mock-doc rocks

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Universal)

Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman

Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

Producers: Judd Apatow, Rodney Rothman, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer

Screenplay: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer

Film Review

Following in the fine tradition of music industry satires from This Is Spinal Tap, Fear of a Black Hat and Get Him to The Greek, comedy trio The Lonely Island – Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – join the said ranks with the Judd Apatow-produced mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping that lives up to its subtitle in taking a delightfully riotous strip off the industry with true verve and audacity.

Focusing mainly on Conner4Real (Samberg), a Justin Bieber-esque pop king who went to huge solo career after the breakup of his band Style Boyz – a Beastie Boys-like trio – he started with his junior high school buddies Lawrence (Schaffer) and Owen (Taccone). With the taste of success and excess comes with an expected bloated ego with Lawrence retiring to a bitter life as a dirt-poor farmer in Colorado, but Owen remaining on as his onstage DJ (who in reality runs everything through a iPod).

Chronicling on the release of his sophomore album, CONNquest, Conner runs into tons of problems with the album and consequential world tour ranging from a corporate sponsorship with an appliance company that literally causes a continental blackout, the tour that needs to be bolstered by bringing on a upcoming talented hardcore rapper (Chris Redd) to even crazier stage gimmicks and antics just to stay on top of the game from yes-men roadies to backstage management trying to keep it all centred when it all briefly comes crashing down on him.

The Lonely Island trio skewers all of this with gusto with their reality TV-style direction as they’ve done with their Saturday Night Live shorts, which included the now-infamous Samberg/Justin Timberlake duet “Dick in a Box”; and more than enough pop/rock cameos way too numerous to sound off are quite happily spoofing themselves and the industry that feeds them.

Samberg does a real good sendup as the egotistical Conner trapped by his own fame and the pressure to remain relevant in a here-today, gone-today business while seemingly unwilling to patch up things with his ex-pal Lawrence despite the prodding of Owen and their manager (Tim Meadows); Sarah Silverman works as the usual harried publicist who’s more than willing to do her own share of sucking up to her client while cutting others down for it and Redd as a total standout here as the crazed Hunter the Hungry for all his upstaging moments and mind games he plays when the cameras are on.

Popstar definitely is refreshingly hilarious in its all-out satire in tone, pace and script from the trifecta of Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone for their second film brilliantly and the songs they crafted from taking pot shots at Osama bin Laden, the Mona Lisa to legalizing crack cocaine are one of this year’s cinematic comedy highlights.

Heidi upholds on a high note

The Heidi Chronicles (Soulpepper Theatre)

Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Saturday, May 28; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

Wendy Wasserstein’s Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning feminist masterwork The Heidi Chronicles, as done by the Soulpepper Theatre ensemble, examines one woman’s life journey and the ideas that formed her and her beliefs done with humour and drama in late-20th century America on what fulfillment is or what it should be as a way of finding self-happiness in a clear cut and definitive manner in its two-hour running time.

The play’s woman’s art historian heroine Heidi Holland (Michelle Monteith) races back and forth through the last thirty years of her forty years of existence from the idealisms of the 1960s to the “Me” decade of the 1980s in regards to the many relationships she’s gathered and lost along the way from ex-lover Scoop Rosenbaum (Jordan Pettle), an arrogant journalist-turned-social climber to openly gay and sweetly considerate pediatrician pal Peter Patrone (Damien Atkins). Among the many changes that spread in between whether battling her insecurities of her college days to friends settling down and having children, the shy and mousy Heidi only has her career that now slowly feels like an empty comfort, making her question herself and her beliefs she has held onto for so long.

Director Gregory Prest maintains a relatively fast flow around Wasserstein’s sharp wit and banter around the characters toward each other on the stellar stage and lighting designs of Ken McKenzie and Shannon Lea Doyle’s artsy video projections matching each decade and moment it seizes including well-placed period pop/rock classics throughout the performance.

Supporting players Laura Condlin, Sarah Wilson and Raquel Duffy make their marks through multiple roles from Condlin’s vulgar-mouth radical lesbian Fran to Wilson as Heidi’s BFF lawyer are fun to watch, in particular of Chronicles’ highlight when Atkins, Pettle and Monteith appear on a morning TV talk show segment that’s a scathing satire on the materialistic and narcissistic ‘80s on the baby boomer generation with Duffy’s spot-on vacuous TV hostess fueling it.

The play hasn’t lost its bite since its debut thirty years ago and still is refreshingly topical on the choices that we make in life for the betterment of ourselves and/or the world in general, which is the core of The Heidi Chronicles and its central figure trying to figure what life is all about.

***

The Heidi Chronicles continues through July 24. For tickets/information, call 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca.

Arabian folk tails

Left-right: A silver vase with cockerels from 6-7th-century Iran; a ceramic sphinx and a 17th-century Central Asian gold alloy cat earring make up the Aga Khan Museum’s first family-friendly exhibition, Marvellous Creatures: Animals in Islamic Art.

Marvellous Creatures: Animals in Islamic Art

Venue: Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive

Dates/Times: Through September 11; Tuesdays-Sundays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Wednesdays 10 a.m.-8 p.m.)

Admission/Information: Adults $20, Students/Seniors/Children (3-14) $15, Wednesdays 4-8 p.m. FREE. Call 416-646-4677 or agakhanmuseum.org.

Gallery Review

From the events that have come from Iraq and Syria of late where the so-called Islamic State have destroyed so many artefacts have been destroyed or sold-off in black market sales to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001, one would get the impression that Islam has no sense of art appreciation outside anything of the realm of religion. Fortunately, as the Aga Khan Museum has proved and preserved, these views couldn’t be more further from the truth as Marvellous Creatures: Animals in Islamic Art shows of the inner and outer influences of the anthropomorphic come alive for the museum’s first family-focused exhibition.

Fabrics in the exhibit include a gilded dagger hilt from India on the left; and a Turkish yağlık (napkin) on the right show the craftsmanship of its embroidery.

Based on fables and fauna from across the Middle East and South Asia and broken into many categories, plenty of bric-a-brac all make their points from a well-preserved silver vase depicting a cockerel or pheasant from 6th to 7th-century C.E. Iran; an Afghani bronze-casketed brass astrolabe (early astrological device) contains images of animals, humans and even a few sea monsters or the mostly rich usage of watercolours, ink and gold on paper with Arabic text on a casket.

Being a seafaring society, Muslim have their fair share of sea mythologies that can be seen in illustrative manuscripts about adab (good manners) literature to teach courtesan youngsters on proper governance like Ibn al-Muquaffa’s Kalila and Dimma animal tales and hero stories from the Divan like “The Attempts to Rescue the Maiden from the Sea” with opaque watercolours, metallic and ink on parchment or the Iranian tale of vengeance “Kai-Khusrau and his men crossing the sea” where the titular adventurer face a sea of creatures from mermaids to narwhales.

A cast-iron ‘alam (filial) used in sacred processions atop on poles is shaped like a flame (left) and decorated with little dragons (center; detail); and a Central Asian felt robe depicting the life of King Solomon (right; detail) is Marvellous Creatures’ exquisite piece.

There’s an interesting display of twin dragons for a brass Kushkal begging bowl on each end used by dervishes and the Chinese-inspired Arabic dragon known as a Simurgh, whose duality of being good and evil is explained. Nephrite jade and agate cups of bronze, gilt and marble cups from Mughal India are gorgeous examples of the craftwork displayed here. For the more simple, “Portrait of a Royal Stallion” from 16th-century C.E. Iran is a good one or for something totally cute, a 12th-century C.E. gold alloy cat earring from Central Asia has its whimsy.

Among the many fritware or stone-paste in the exhibit is this bowl of a griffin from either Syria or Iran.

As stated earlier, it is a family-styled exhibit and to show how kid-friendly it is, a little comforting book zone tucked neatly in a corner where pillows, carpeting and children’s literature of all kinds of animals stories – including Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book – is encouraging to get youngsters to read and a boon for the museum to come up with something like this, along with the artistry surrounding them.

From its 20th-century felt embroidered robe showing the exquisite detail of King Solomon to a battle depiction of a Iranian folk hero up against a unjust king and his army of demons seen in “Rustan Fighting Puladvand and his Army of Divs (Demons)” or a 10th-century C.E. Tunisian green moulded glass griffin, Marvellous Creatures doesn’t disappoint in the title and exhibition display for exposing the whole family to another side of Islamic art not wholly focused on the sacred.