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: May 22, 2017

The NEWEST Hounds of Love collection! Click on the cover link below for more details!

EDITION #136 - WEEK OF MAY 22-28, 2017

Chris Cornell (1964-2017)

Comic Strip Tribute

With the sudden death of 1990s grunge rock pioneer Chris Cornell on May 17, a Hounds of Love comic strip tribute has been made to the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave, as well as a highly regarded solo career. While I listened to very little alt-rock during that period, I’ve always had a deep respect and ear for it. R.I.P., Spoonman.

This rainbow gives more than enuf

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (Soulpepper Theatre)

Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Wednesday, May 17; 7:30 p.m.

Theatre Review

A celebrated groundbreaking example of feminist theatre comes alive onstage with Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the classic “choreopoem” still holds sway forty-one years after its Broadway debut as rendered by Soulpepper Theatre on the African-American woman’s experience of the joys, pains and sorrows of universal sisterhood that will reach its audience.

Broken down into twenty poetic segments over a 93-minute timeframe, seven ladies representing the colour spectrum, brown (Tamara Brown), yellow (Karen Glave), purple (Ordena Stephens-Thompson), red (d’bi.young anitafrika), green (Akosua Amo-Adem), blue (SATE) and orange (Evangelia Kambites) dance, chant and sing acapella on a sparse stage on what is it to be women of colour struggling through the male hierarchy on a near-daily basis and looking to heal from it.

It’s one of those plays which manage to break open taboo subjects as unflinchingly as it should on the topic of sexual assault during the powerful “latent rapists” and abortion in “abortion cycle #1.” Two new additions to the original 1976 play written in 2010 to reflect on current times comes in “positive,” a discussion on HIV/AIDS and “a nite with beau willie brown” on domestic violence of where the lady in red recalls her confrontation with her Iraqi War veteran boyfriend whose now become an abusive, PTSD-scarred junkie.

Yet there are moments of gladness and humour when the ladies discuss their sexual experiences (“graduation nite”, “no more love poems #2”) and of awareness of the self in one of the play’s poignant moments, “touissant” where the lady in brown recalls her first childhood “crush” with the Haitian revolutionary hero Toussaint L’Ouverture at age eight until a unexpected and pivotal moment at seventeen changes all that for the better.

Director Djanet Sears holds the context of the 1970s spirit without that dated feeling and putting together a fine repertoire of actors to perform for colored girls, in particular from anitafrika’s nail-biting “will brown” scene and Amo-Adem’s attempt in finding her own conviction in “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff” in confronting a former lover is unforgettable in reaffirming female empowerment.

Michelle Ramsay’s lighting designs know when (and when not) to bring on the intensity of the roles and dialogue along with the choreography of Jasmyn Fyffe and Vivine Scarlett. Astrid Janson’s ‘70s-inspired costume designs have that retro-cool, although I saw little logic with the addition of a rising, curved stage platform ramp, thus being the production’s only flaw.

Still, it’s not often for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf gets staged in Toronto, so this would be the opportune time to do so for its limited run in seeing the free-flow of poetry, dance and drama roll into a testimony and tribute with such liberty and conviction as it does here.

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for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf continues through May 31. For tickets and information, call 416-866-8666 or visit soulpepper.ca

Jazz fest movin’ on up to Yorkville

Left-right: Veteran rocker Randy Bachman; the all-female jazz supertrio ACS Trio of Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding and Queen of Soul diva Aretha Franklin comes to next month's 31st Toronto Jazz Festival.

Toronto Jazz Festival 2017 Preview

For its first significant area location move since 2011, the Toronto Jazz Festival takes their traditional central hub of Nathan Phillips Square into a part of town that hasn’t seen nor heard the sight and sounds of the fest for close to twenty-five years: the tony high-street shopping enclave of Yorkville this June 23 to July 2, plus reinvigorate an old music venue nearby whilst celebrating the anniversaries of the Summer of Love, the birth centenaries of Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich and, of course, Canada’s 150th year of Confederation.

“Yorkville housed one of the most vibrant scenes in North America during the 1960s and 1970s and the Jazz Festival is excited to bring the music back to the area” states Chief Executive Officer Howard Kerbel. “For a brief period in the festival’s history, we had concerts in Yorkville and we will once again embrace the area’s rich musical legacy.”

But kicking off things will be two festival preview concerts with neo-jazz star crooner Gregory Porter on June 21 at Koerner Hall (273 Bloor Street West) and the Renee Rosnes Trio at Jazz Bistro (251 Victoria Street) for June 22 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. dates. And keeping in spirit of the 1960s will be legends Aaron Neville doing the fest’s free concert June 24 at the Yorkville Stage and Canuck rock god Randy Bachman with special guest Walter Trout at the newly-revived Masonic Temple Concert Hall (888 Yonge Street) June 23, with the specially-priced ticket of $19.17 to mark the venue’s centennial.

“For the last one hundred years The Concert Hall in Toronto’s historic Masonic Temple has hosted live performances, including big band orchestras in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Frank Sinatra’s private parties in the ‘50s, [as] the Rock Pile in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and The Concert Hall in the 80s and 90s,” states William Russell, Executive Director of 888yonge Inc. “We are excited to partner with the TD Toronto Jazz Festival and reintroduce this historic venue to a new generation of music lovers.”

Other powerhouse acts coming to the Concert Hall will be the all-female supertrio ACS: Allen, Carrington, Spalding consisting of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding making a rare appearance this summer on June 24; the Grammy-winning Robert Glasper Experiment with opening act Candice Springs on June 27; South African Afrofuturist group Shabaka and The Ancestors with opening act Donny McCaslin Group on June 28 and Toronto’s John LaBarbara Big Band doing their “Celebrating Buddy Rich” come June 29.

A Snarky Puppy alumnus night is set to comeon June 30 as members Michael League and Larnell Lewis go on with their solo projects, starting with the Larnell Lewis Band opening for League’s multicultural Bokanté that includes the lead vocals handled by Guadeloupe-born, Montreal-based (and Snarky Puppy collaborator) Malika Tirolien singing in Creole and closing out the series line-up is 4 By Monk By 4 with the all-star grouping of pianists Kenny Barron, Benny Green, Gerald Clayton and Cyrus Chestnut, performing solos, duos and together as a quartet, all in honour of Monk’s 100th birthday.

Rounding out the rest are performances at the Jazz Bistro featuring husband-wife duo Bill Charlap/Renee Rosnes Duo (June 23), Bill Charlap and Carol Sloane (June 24), Sheila Jordan Quartet (June 27), Guido Basso Quartet (June 28), Ingrid and Christine Jensen with Ben Monder: Infinitude (June 29) and Carol Weisman Trio (June 30); Koerner Hall with Mavis Staples (June 27), Hiromi Duet: Featuring Edmar Castañeda (June 28) and another jazz supergroup Hudson with Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski and John Scofield (June 29) and Joss Stone performing at the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Avenue).

But the coup de grâce for this year’s festival belongs to Aretha Franklin doing a Toronto stop on her “semi-retirement” tour – the undisputed Queen of Soul is slowing down her performing schedule to spend more time with her grandchildren before they’re in college and sticking to doing maybe one or two special dates in a given year after this tour’s done – on July 1 at Sony Centre for the Performing Arts (1 Front Street East).

***

Ticketed events now on sale; some venues and events are FREE. For information, call 1-855-872-7669/sonycentre.ca (Aretha Franklin); 416-408-0208/koernerhall.ca (Koerner Hall series); 1-855-985-5000/ticketmaster.ca (Joss Stone); 1-888-655-9090/ticketpro.ca (Concert Hall series/Jazz Bistro series) or visit torontojazz.com.

Deep Oceans; Urban valleyways

CONTACT Photography Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 4 of a 5-part series

David Burdeny: Oceans

Bau-Xi Photo, 350 Dundas Street West

Through May 31; Daily 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

The pull of large water masses can be so alluring if forbidding when one sees David Burdeny’s Oceans series where he makes a statement on the strength and fragility of our aquatic bodies on archival pigment prints framed on substrate. As seen in the two-part “Blue Coast, Realmonte, Agrigento, Sicily” of sunbathers gathered on a white sloping rock face against a stretch of blue and submerged coral reef or the aerial shot of “Rock Pool, Australia” with people near a azure blue-green pool blends in so beautifully with a jutting rocky outcrop below.

Burdeny manages to pull an Edward Burtynsky with “Broome 03” and “Broome 04” that works out nicely enough; the expansiveness of rippled waves against the faded coastline backdrop of “Shark Bay 01, Gascoyne, Western Australia” and exhibit highlight “Sandbars 04, The Bahamas” provides a profound sense of solitude of a private island dwarfed in the midst of the Caribbean Sea just nails it completely. But if you want a break from the blues, “Saltern Study 10, Great Salt Lake” is a real pretty one with the array of salt pans breaking up into a vast of red, orange and purple hues.

Chris Lund: Canada in Kodachrome: Imaging Pleasure and Leisure

St. Patrick TTC Station, 449 University Avenue/Dundas Street West, northbound platform

Through May 28; Weekdays 5:55 a.m.-1:45 a.m., Saturday 5:55 a.m.-1:45 a.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-1:45 a.m

Working for the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division in the 1950s and ‘60s, Chris Lund took thousands of photos of the country’s prosperity – or an idealized one – in that time period that made it into national and international publications. Such is the basic theme behind Canada in Kodachrome down at St. Patrick station’s 22 4x6’ inkjet photos on coroplast dotting along the northbound platform mainly of ourselves at basic tourist spots and leisure times.

Picturesque and rose-coloured as they look now, it’s a quaint moment of innocence before the counterculture and upheavals the latter-half of the ‘60s would bring and how truly lilywhite we saw ourselves, compared to the multicultural society we have pretty much established. But at least, in the words of that old Paul Simon tune; it gives those nice, bright colours, gives us the greens of summers and makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah.

Robert Burley: An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands

John B. Aird Gallery, Ontario Government Building – Macdonald Block, 900 Bay Street

Through May 26; Weekdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 12-5 p.m.

With our city’s population expected to reach an additional 360,000 by 2031, the challenge to maintain our inner greenbelt considering what climate change, urban renewal and industrialization can/will bring is the focus of Robert Burley’s commissioned series An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands should be seen as a record and a study into how to possibly counter these pressing problems.

Taken around the major urban valleys of the Rouge, Don and Humber, the exhibit of 24x32” photos urges us to consider that they are, quite literally, the city’s lungs to provide us with oxygen and a little nature within as seen in “Cormorant nesting area, Tommy Thompson Park” of said birds perched among barren trees while seagulls cover the ground against the city skyline or a canopy of ferns carpeting the forest floor in “Riverside Trail, Rouge Park” amongst live and dead tree branches.

Of course, human nature can’t be totally ignored from catching a couple of semi-nude bathers on a overcast day at “Hanlan’s Beach, Toronto Islands” at our only sanctioned ‘clothing optional’ beachhead; “Marathon Run, Rosedale Valley, Ravine Lands” taken on a rainy autumn day as a light fog hangs over the area with the fall colours in slight-faded bloom gives a nice touch over the runners down below and the greenery is totally lush in “Mimico Creek,” if only the encroaching condos didn’t look so damn threatening.

The exhibit presents a good look at our tamed wild side and the topographic wall models made of maple veneer and steel with aerial shots to present the present conditions of the city’s ravines, but they’ve could have chosen a few winter shots – as seen in the accompanying ECW Press coffee table book version – like “Colonel Danforth Park” or “Park Drive, Reservation Lands” to get a real sense of the four seasons and nicer contrast.

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CONTACT 2017 currently running through May 31. Most venues are FREE. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

EDITION #135 - WEEK OF MAY 15-21, 2017

Tragedian ballet treads darkly

Red Giselle (Show One Productions/Sony Centre)

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East

Thursday, May 11; 8 p.m.

Dance Review

For their third Toronto appearance in five years, the Eifman Ballet St. Petersburg Company brought their darkest production to date at the Sony Centre stage with Red Giselle for a three-night run, loosely based on the life of early 20th-century Russian ballet star Olga Spessivtseva, that was nothing short of grand in telling a story about creativity, revolution and downfall, even with its unevenness it manages to captivate its audience well.

In the two-hour dance creation, we follow Spessivtseva – known only as the Ballerina (Maria Abashova) – in her early days at a Petrograd ballet dance studio where her Teacher (Oleg Markov) drills her accordingly, but sees something unique in the young dancer budding under his tutelage. Her talent and beauty also brings the attention of The Commissar (Igor Subbotin) to which she’s drawn into a complicated vortex of power and prestige, tearing her loyalties between the two men.

When the Russian Revolution comes and the arts falling under the control of the new regime to stifle free creativity, the Ballerina uses her influence to let her leave for the West. While in Parisian exile, she tries to adjust to her newfound freedoms that overwhelm her, despite pairing with the Partner (Oleg Gabyshev) at the Grand Opéra who doesn’t share the same feelings for her as she does. Weighed heavily by unrequited love and an unbearable solitude, she psychologically plunges into a depressive state of flux that not even her signature dance in Giselle can bring her back from.

It’s heavy and heady stuff for a ballet (even by Russian standards), yet Red Giselle ’s nuances work when it does under the music of Tchaikovsky and Bizet, but not so much when they start using Alfred Schnittke’s works, like near the end of Act I where his “Gogol Suite: The Portrait” defines the beginning of the Ballerina’s exit from Russia and trying to untangle herself from the grip of the Bolsheviks is a convoluted choice.

Nevertheless, it shines greatly in the duets, solos and ensemble pieces throughout. Highlights of those moments come from Eifman’s choreography of mixing boisterous Russian folk dance scene to Tchaikovsky’s “Elegy in memory of Samarin” and Schnittke’s “Ritual” for the impending Revolution during Act I and the unusual, but brilliant usage of jazz ballet during the Parisian nightclub scene of the 1920s in Act II.

Abashova and Subbotin put on exceptional performances here in their execution of steps and roles, while you can feel a sense of homoeroticism being built up in Act II when Gabyshev and Dmitry Krylov engage in a veiled dance of jealousy between them and the Ballerina to be quite convincing. The elaborate sets and costuming of Vyacheslav Okunev are exquisite from the softer pastels of the Paris ballet company’s dance outfits and the sharp flapper dresses to the light blue hues bathing the Petrograd dance studio heightening the innocence and grace of young prima donnas in training.

Red Giselle will appease the Russian ballet fans for all its dramatics and boldness of incorporated Western dances like the Charleston snuck in that doesn’t feel out of place, regardless of the jazzy swing or overusing Schnittke to emphasize the ballet’s tragic undercurrents. Still, it’s a noble and worthy production Eifman Ballet puts on about the agony and price creativity sometimes pays.

Real-life kidnap thriller edgy reading

Hostage

by Guy Delisle; Translated from French by Helge Dascher

432 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books

Hardcover, $32.95

Comics and Graphic Novels/Non-Fiction

Book Review

After building his career on travelogues and the chaotic misadventures of parenthood centered around himself, noted Canadian cartoonist/illustrator Guy Delisle takes a full turnaround in topic and artistry for his long-awaited Hostage, based on the true-life kidnapping of a humanitarian relief worker unexpectedly made a pawn in a complex politics of the (still) unstable Caucasus region and his will to survive it.

Christophe André, who was working as a financial administrator in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia for Médicins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) three months into his first overseas assignment, was dragged from his own bed in the middle of the night on July 2, 1997 by armed men claiming to be the local police. Believing them to be thieves after the pay in the office safe at first, André soon found himself crossing into the semi-lawless Republic of Chechnya and handcuffed to a radiator for the next one hundred and eleven days in solitary confinement.

With an unlit ceiling light bulb as his only company and his abductors speaking only in Chechen and/or Russian, he isn’t treated with any sense of physical cruelty or outward threats of violence, despite the fact he was being held for ransom. In that time period, André tries not to succumb to the depression, boredom and anxiety over his fate as his employers try to negotiate for his safe return that grips him from time to time, while he dreams of escaping his situation in a strange country that may or may not be sympathetic to his predicament.

Twenty years after these events, Delisle delivers another masterful work that captures the mood and intensity of experience through his subject’s perspective of being kidnapped for unknown reasons and facing uncertainty in the anguish of a long drawn-out situation many of us could find unthinkable – or unbearable to fathom. Done in a two-colour fashion and a different drawing style unlike his more light-hearted cartoon style yet still stuck to detail, its various shades of greys and earth tones fit the mood swings of André’s three-month endurance that makes him appreciate the littlest of things we take for granted, like a slight menu change of a diet of watery vegetable soup to a rare ray of sunshine on his face that makes his ordeal a little lighter, if only for the briefest of moments.

Hostage is a real testimony of human endeavour mentally tested to keep hope alive in one’s darkest of hours only Delisle could recreate with a sense of honour and dignity without turning his subject into a complete victim of circumstance right up to the final pages. Already one of this year’s best graphic novels.

Sweet honey in the rock(s of Ryerson)

CONTACT Photography Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 3 of a 5-part series

Shelley Niro: Battlefields of my Ancestors

Ryerson University, corners of Gould and Bond Streets

Through August 13; 24/7

Six of the twenty-two series of 3x4’ photos of Shelley Niro’s continuous examination of the Indigenous experience of the Americas gives a reminder of our home on Native land with Battlefield of my Ancestors. Niro, herself of the Mohawk Nation, not surprisingly points out grim accounts of genocide (“Cayuga Lake”, “Sullivan Campaign”), the existence of various homelands (“Mouth of the Grand Port Maitland”) or the intrusion of modernization via hydroelectric towers and wires (“Grand River”).

It should be noted as these photos are based near the statue of the institute’s founder, Egerton Ryerson, who not only established Ontario’s educational system in the province’s early beginnings, but was also the architect the Native residential school system that sought to assimilate and erase First Nations culture. While a more than appropriate site for a display to point out the stain on our national conscience, the exhibit shows how much has changed here in the short 150 years we’ve existed as a country; but at times can recognize the natural beauty of our environs (“Tutela Heights”, “Mohawk River”).

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Battlefields of my Ancestors also continues at the Fort York National Historical Site (250 Fort York Boulevard) through May 28.

Spotlight Canada: Faces That Shaped a Nation

Ryerson Image Centre, Ryerson University, 33 Gould Street, west façade

Indefinite run; 24/7

An ongoing project since 2012, the current façade looks at our national iconic figures from Pierre Elliot Trudeau to Oscar Peterson out from 25,000 files from the New York Times photo archives of fourteen familiar faces as assembled by Kelsey Blackwell done on 18x133’ black and white inkjet prints. It’s one of those moments we can be proud of ourselves, the positivistic influence and presence we’ve brought upon ourselves and the world stage at large during our sesquicentennial.

Lori Blondeau: Asiniy Iskwew

Devonian Square, Ryerson University, corners of Gould and Victoria Streets

Through August 13; 24/7

Adhered to three of the two billion year-old boulders from the Canadian Shield that dot Ryerson University’s campus pond, Saskatoon-based Cree/Saulteaux/Métis artist Lori Blondeau has Asiniy Iskwew – “Rock Woman” in Cree – of three large inkjet on vinyl photos of a First Nations woman draped in red standing atop boulders near a man-made lake in Saskatchewan that, in a sheer sense of irony, was created by the provincial government in 1966 by dynamiting a sacred First Nations gathering place.

Instead of being seen as victimized, the figure is shown as a defiant and strong woman and gives it a connected moment of pause to the also artificial pond here in the downtown Toronto area is very much in touch with the balance of nature and her place in society, as the title suggests, remains unmovable still.

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CONTACT 2017 currently running through May 31. Most venues are FREE. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

EDITION #134 - WEEK OF MAY 8-14, 2017

Engaging Guardians sequel too comfy in its zone

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Marvel Studios)

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel

Director: James Gunn

Producer: Kevin Feige

Screenplay: James Gunn; based on the Marvel comic book series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and characters by Steve Englehart, Steve Gan, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, Bill Mantio and Keith Giffen

Film Review

That renegade band of misfit space superheroes that became the unexpected runaway success of 2014 with The Guardians of the Galaxy are back for more in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with all the trappings expected from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then some. While it’s a pretty engaging (and lengthy two-and-a-half hour) follow-up, the film doesn’t quite have enough sizzle to emerge it from the first one’s shadow.

Now working as legitimate heroes-for-hire in the Nova Empire, the Guardians under Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Pratt) tries to keep his ragtag partners and pals Gamora (Saldana), Drax (Bautista), Rocket Racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voice of Diesel) on the straight and narrow – with the odd disagreeable flare-ups – when their latest mission in protecting the energy source of a ultra-perfectionist species known as The Sovereign goes awry, courtesy of Rocket’s talent for thievery; brings upon them their wrath.

In making their getaway, they run into the celestial entity Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who happens to be Peter’s long-lost father looking to reconnect with him. Taking him, Gamora and Drax to his own home world to teach him of his heritage and vision while Rocket repairs their ship and keeping an eye on Gamora’s cybernetic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) they have prisoner, Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) reveals all is not as altruistic as this family reunion appears to be on the surface which threatens to destroy the entire galaxy.

Writer/director James Gunn, who also adapted and helmed the previous film, maintains the same pace, humour and pop culture references only with more action-packed thrills than last time and manages to squeeze in some moving moments between the characters about family and relationships working in its favour here. Yet it’s also the film’s Achilles heel in a sense in where, despite a well-thought script and decent acting from the cast, relies too heavily on the formula for its own good.

The returning line-up play off on each other like members of a family, dysfunctional as it the center of Vol. 2 ’s core, especially the sexual tension between Peter and Gamora, the bitter sibling rivalry consuming Nebula over Gamora and Drax continuing grapple with his social skills (or lack thereof) with others, in particular with Mantis, is still funny watching, including Cooper’s rascally lovable Rocket. And who knew that Baby Groot would end up being such an adorable comic relief here?

Also back are Michael Rooker as Ravanger leader Yondu playing off as the father figure to Pratt’s Star-Lord while dealing with a mutiny from his crew, as led by Chris Sullivan’s Taserface; in direct competition to Russell with his seductive mannerism working him as Ego in finding the meaning of life and existence he spins is a winning role for him. Canadian-born Klementieff makes a splash as the new member of the Guardians with her naïveté emitting from her character, but not so that it hampers her in helping them out. And check out (a real good) Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames, David Hasselhoff plus, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them, Rob Zombie, Miley Cyrus, Don Johnson and Seth Green in the all-star cameos.

Add to that the bombastic special effects, closing-end cliffhangers, a solid old-school mixtape soundtrack and other surprises, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes for a relatively good romp across the stars even in its familiarity it finds itself just a tad too comfortable in its own shell.

Street casting call; Tropic Thunders

CONTACT Photography Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 2 of a 5-part series

Sam Cotter: On Location

TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West, corners of King and Widmer Streets

Through May 31; 24/7

A corner-wrapped outdoor photo essay on the Toronto film industry at TIFF Lightbox, On Location is Cotter’s exposé of Hollywood North that we call home as our streets are invaded and converted into exterior shots by local and foreign film and television crews as the 14x17’ montage show of trailers, cables, film props and whatnot scattered about. His photos are raw and untidy but an honest depiction of the showbiz in all of our temporal environs of the elements to its subconscious “encouragement” for the citizenry to blend into whatever scenery is required as we go about our daily lives, unbeknownst to how these temporary inconveniences contribute to our economy.

Jalani Morgan: The Sum of All Parts

Metro Hall, 460 King Street West, corners of King West and John Streets

Through May 31, 24/7

In the last two years of the Black Lives Matter movement coming at the tail-end of the Obama era in the United States, Morgan’s black and white coverage of its Canadian branch around Toronto in The Sum of All Parts shows that civil rights and civil disobedience hasn’t died out in the supposedly “Just Society” we strive for.

Along the thirteen 8.7x6.5’ inkjet prints on vinyl portraits along the south façade of Metro Hall near Pecault Square show all the emotions conveyed in each panel – including one mention regarding the disappearance of First Nations women nationwide – are etched with defiance, moral outrage and confrontation, yet hope remains on each face that their message will take notice for the better.

Andrew Blake McGill: Two Half-Hitches Could Hold the Devil Himself: Photographs from Glencoe, Ontario, Canada

St. Lawrence Market South Entrance, 99 Front Street East

Through August 26; Tuesdays-Thursdays 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays 8 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 5 a.m.- 5 p.m.

You’ll (almost) miss this one if you don’t look upward at the ceiling inside the historic marketplace for these twenty-two 110x110’ inkjet on vinyl prints about the rural Ontario township as seen by the photographer in his ongoing series, but it could be said for any farmland anywhere else. As the title suggests, as quoted by the artist’s great-grandfather farmer, it shows us the people, scenes and their normalities of the obvious archetypes of rural culture and thinking rooted in traditions, yet doesn’t mean these photos or areas lack any sense of character.

And placed at the upper concourse of St. Lawrence Market with all their food stands and produce sections, this exhibit couldn’t have picked a better place to bring attention this aspect of Canadiana to the forefront.

Group Exhibition: City Life/Rural Life

Latitude 44, 2900 Dundas Street West

Through May 31; Tuesdays-Fridays 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

Latitude 44’s annual CONTACT group show took on a smaller affair with only three artists participating this year, yet proved to be full of context. Starting with Brian Anderson’s Yellow Cloth series with the titular four-paneled photos – actually shot in black and white – of said shredded fabric submerged into Lake Ontario waters going with the current, whilst focused on the ripples and sunlight to bring depth (no pun intended) to the pieces; as his companion series Ode to Analog of pinhole camera photos taken in 2013 in taking landscape shots (“Pond No. 1”, “Bridge” and “Tree”) hail the origins of photography.

Rural Scenes has life in the slow lane taken by Michael Lindon about Prince Edward County which has been his home for the last couple of years after leaving city life for all its quaint simplicities, like jumping into a swimming hole (“Suspended in Time in Milford”) and tapping for amber sweetness from the maples (“Maple Mystery”), as it also looks not too far away of the familiarity of a car graveyard amidst a sparsely wooded area (“Field of Broken Dreams”) and a couple shots of life at American coastal cities (“Venice Beach Boarder,” “Coney Island Bench Guys”).

And Golrohk Keshavarz dives into the local nightlife with her In Living Colour series where one can feel her work move in all directions, imbued from time-lapse photography, whether you’re seeing clubbers grabbing a late-night bite outside an eatery (“Post Club Munchies”), the kinetic movement and electric vibrancy of a streetcar passing through Yonge-Dundas Square (“Toronto Square”) or the Toronto Police on duty at a evening gone possibly wrong in the downtown nightclub district (“Yellow Tape and Purple Light”).

Group Exhibition: Projects for the Page

Earl Selkirk Gallery, ARTiculations, 2928 Dundas Street West

Through May 31; Mondays-Fridays 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sundays 12-5 p.m.

Indie publisher Anchorless Press hosts Earl Selkirk Gallery’s yearly show for CONTACT in showcasing their recent releases of local artisans’ photobook publications, Projects for the Page, that sees more of the artistic value than what the average coffee table book can offer.

As one can see with Marco Buonocore’s Testnegativ (2015) looks at old-fashioned darkroom test photo sheets of the geometrical (“Unknown”, “Rowi Testpositiv”) to the optical-illusional (“Danes Picta LensFo”) designs that sadly faded in the era of digital photography done, ironically enough, on silver gelatin print.

Kirby Pilcher and Luke Strosnider has a series of untitled c-prints from their 2013 book Crater about some dusty American Southwestern town that uses their meteorite crater crash site as a tourist trap, complete with a close-up of concrete dinosaurs and makeshift Native American tipi near a roadside stop; is a oddball mix of kitschy and the yawning spectacular of nature of how small we really are in the universe.

While the two c-print excerpts from Alice Dixon’s To Come to Earth Again (2014) show the intricacies of tropical botany and the environment (“The Last Greenhouse” I and II) seem kind of basic, it is Aaron Friend Lettner’s Doorways (2017) with his geometric “Moons,” humorous “Tim Again” and overlapping inter-cuts of “Caspars” on grainy aluminium printing plates and the science-fictional Anthony Randall/Robyn York five-part “Floating in Space” series (2017) in the window gallery section are the most artistic in the group; as one then discovers how these practical these “unconventional” books truly are.

Jim Blomfield: Grand Motion

West Toronto Paint, 2975 Dundas Street West

Through May 31; Mondays-Wednesdays 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Thursdays-Fridays 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Through a swing lens camera, camera rotations and artistic shutter speeds, Jim Blomfield’s latest solo show is his most abstract yet with Grand Motion. A series of eleven rectangular silver gelatin fibre-based prints taken during a southwestern Ontario road trip from Fergus to Brantford of water going over several dams along the Grand River, with its circular swirls taking on a dizzying vertical nature in viewing.

Richard Kuzniak: Night Vision

Coolearth Architecture, 386 Pacific Avenue

Through May 31; Mondays-Fridays 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Sundays 12-5 p.m.

One could easily dismiss Night Vision as another exhibit from another nightowl photographer, yet Richard Kuzniak shows a much darker underbelly where shadows and blacks enhance the dimly-lit subjects of his camera. You won’t find a more nadir feel from a Miles Davis street mural next to the neon glow of a nearby bar (“Kensington Market”), richer reds of a alleyway brick house (“Bicycles, Plymouth Avenue”), the vastness of darkness against Art Deco architecture (“Harris Filtration Plant”) or the ominous vibe of a black cat seemingly guarding a open doorway of a lit staircase (“Watcher, The Junction”) than the one Kuzniak reveals here.

Meera Margaret Singh: Jardim

Zalucky Contemporary, 3044 Dundas Street West

Through June 3; Wednesdays-Saturdays 11 a.m-6 p.m.

Isolationism is nothing new as a theme in the photographic arts. But when it comes from a sense of quiet oppressiveness, it takes on a different perspective in by the award-winning photographer/anthropologist Meera Margaret Singh’s Jardim. Doing a two-month residency in a lonely Brazilian industrial outpost of Jardim Canada in 2012, Singh was the only woman among three male artists at the residency and was advised not to venture out into the tropical hamlet at night (along with most of the local women).

Given that Brazil has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, Singh uses this to convey her feelings of enforced solitude by roaming the empty streets at daylight in photographing the stagnancy of her surroundings, where earth tones make the density of factories, warehouses and temporary shelters for transitory workers, mostly being swallowed up by the creeping rainforest in this backwater town.

As much as there’s a beauty in the eight photos and looping seven-minute video To Become a Storm on display, it’s a sad if eerie one at that when its vacancy looms large in them when it’s a female photographer taking these pictures by herself in a unsafe corner of the country that seems almost unthinkable in this day and age. But instead of feeling victimized, the exhibit is a testimony of one woman artist unwilling to let fear define her and treat it more as an act of defiance with just one camera alone.

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CONTACT 2017 currently running through May 31. Most venues are FREE. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

Comics art superstar’s bio-pictures

Guy Delisle: A Babe in the Woods of Autobiographical Fiction

Venue: Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street, 3rd Floor

Dates/Times: Through May 31; Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1:30 -5 p.m.

Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-395-5577 or torontocomics.com

Gallery Review

As part of the 2017 Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) this weekend (May 12-14), the organizers have put together a mini-exhibit at the Toronto Public Library’s Metro Reference branch the work of French-based Canadian cartoonist superstar Guy Delisle, A Babe in the Woods of Autobiographical Fiction, to mark the release his latest graphic novel, Hostage (Drawn & Quarterly).

Mostly in French – with an available English cheat-sheet – and a couple of pantomimes in between, the smallish exhibit has his best moments in regard to his critically-acclaimed travelogues Pyongyang, Shenzhen, Burma Chronicles and 2012 masterpiece Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City and a few offshoots regarding his young son’s misadventures (“Louis Goes Skiing”, “Louis at the Beach”).

So whether it’s observing the complicated if tense-filled atmosphere of the Middle East where he notices an armed man wading through a crowd without much notice by the throng during a morning sketch at a café in the Old City to pointing out sartorial details of Burmese militiamen’s uniforms in showing off puffed-up military decorations during its military rule period, his artwork is a mix of aesthetic flawlessness and humorous commentary thrown with a childlike wonder, to show how far he’s risen in the comics art world in the last few years.

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Guy Delisle makes an appearance at TCAF 2017 this Saturday (May 13) at the Toronto Reference Library and at Marriot Bloor-Yorkville Hotel (May 14; 90 Bloor Street East, 2:45 p.m.), The events are FREE. For information, visit torontocomics.com

EDITION #133 - WEEK OF MAY 1-7, 2017

America, the Disintegrated

American War

by Omar El Akkad

333 pp., McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada

Hardcover, $32.95

Fiction

Book Review

Dystopian novels are back in vogue in the current era of conservative Western governments ruling the roost, with the classics of George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale getting new (re-)releases on life. Another one enters the fray into this territory with Omar El Akwad’s stunningly shocking debut, American War, which mirrors a few pressing issues of today and yet could almost predict what may come down the road if we’re not too careful.

The United States of America, a few decades from now, undergoes a major shift within its borders as global warming makes the rising oceans engulf all the coastal cities, including Washington D.C. as the capital gets relocated inland to Columbus, Ohio. The entire Florida peninsula is submerged by the Caribbean Sea. Most of the American Southwest falls back into the hands of Mexico again.

Because of a number of energy shortages and climate change, the North and South are embroiled in a brutal Second American Civil War by 2074, due to the secessionist Free Southern State – encompassing Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia; otherwise known as “The Mag” – refusal to give up fossil fuels.

Born into this time period is one Sarat Chestnut (actually Sara T. Chestnut, but adopted the added “t” to her name since she was six), whose home of Louisiana is half-submerged by the Gulf of Mexico and by the unfortunate circumstances of war, her family become refugees at the northern Camp Patience straddling between the borders of United States and the Free Southern State with her mother, older brother Simon and her twin sister Dana.

In the sprawling tent city, Sarat grows up under the constant threat of unmanned rogue drones that can rain missiles down without warning or prejudice and the two armies staring each other down intensively. There she meets one Albert Gaines, a mystery figure who shows her how the world was a much different place before she existed which intrigues her and becomes his ingénue. By the time another tragedy strikes, Sarat turns into an avenging angel for the Southern cause in ways that will change a nation forever.

A former veteran investigative journalist for The Globe and Mail who has seen his fair share of war correspondence, El Akkad spins a highly intriguing tale of war, sacrifice, geopolitics and family that isn’t too far gone from the aspects of today’s world, in how people – especially the young – can be so easily seduced into committing acts of violence and terror by the puppet masters wanting to maintain the status quo and those looking to juxtaposition themselves in the larger scheme of things, which is as old as time itself.

These themes aren’t lost here and the characters and pacing that the author creates are just as interesting as the events unfolding provide a necessary cautionary tale of how, even a mighty superpower like America, could easily fall into the category of a failed state in waiting as American War provides within its pages. Highly recommended.

Unapologetic anti-héros; snapping (FKA) Twigs

CONTACT Photography Festival 2017 Reviews

Part 1 of a 5-part series

Linda Ward Selbie: Postgraphy

Toronto’s First Post Office and Museum, 260 Adelaide Street East

Through May 31; Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 12-4 p.m.

Confined within the Post Office’s Reading Room are the thirteen framed collages of photography and stamps where the artist mixes pop art, photos, stamps and graffiti art to create some very vivid and explicit statements, like the anti-U.S. imperialism rhetoric of “Control (I)” and the Banksy-inspired “Control (Global).”

Selbie understands the usage and power of technology as being the major point of Postgraphy with photography and the first modern postage stamp, which both arrived in the year of 1839-1840 and what they could be used for in regard for tourist scenes, personal photos and illustrated images, as much as it does on socio-political art forms.

The power of sports and religious iconography (“Infectious”), a very stated comment on the military-industrial complex (“Traitors”) and even the questioning of cultural appropriation (“Cultural (I)” and “(II)”) are done in broad and swift brushstrokes here in a subversively delicious manner as well as it being a tribute to a somewhat dying form of communication.

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Selbie makes an appearance at the exhibit reception this Saturday (May 6) 2-4 p.m.. For more information, call 416-865-1833 or visit townofyork.com.

Valérie Blass: Nous ne somme pas des héros

Allen Lambert Galleria, Brookfield Place, 181 Bay Street

Through May 31; Monday-Saturday 6 a.m.-1:45 a.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-1:45 a.m.

Sticking out in the middle of the expansive corridor at the downtown corporate building space of Brookfield Place are these two large 11x6x6’ and 9x10x8’ as created by Montréal-based artist Valérie Blass from assemblages of her recent photo work “Bleached Jeans” and “One Piece Mohair” turned into the purposely jut-edged commissioned sculptures Nous ne somme pas des héros – “We are not heroes” – of couples in oft-suggestive positions that make the Twister game look tame in comparison.

Here Blass makes them as unapologetic and unabashed as they should be, as far as public installations go, about open displays of affection and shared activity for its constructive mannerism are bold and direct, yet intimate and imposing all at once.

Sarah Anne Johnson: Best Beach

Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre, 11 Bay Street

Through December 31 (TBD); 24/7

On display since CONTACT 2015, the 37x144’ inkjet print on vinyl Best Beach has its final (?) year residency mounted along the block-long Harbourfront area hotel building made by Winnipeg artist Sarah Anne Johnson of a shot of some unnamed Toronto beach imposed with whimsical patterns of colourful dream-catchers that bleed downwards on the canvas is a playful setting near the lakeshore, to remind one that photography doesn’t always have to be so serious.

Johan Hallberg-Campbell: Coastal

Bill Boyle Artsport Parking Pavilion, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Through June 19; 24/7

Taking up three sides of the Bill Boyle Artsport Parking Pavilion near Ontario Square, Johan Hallberg-Campbell captures the northern extremities of the natural and human worlds of his ongoing Coastal series, most notably with a lovely erosion of greenery over a long-decayed Haida canoe on the forestry floor (“Pacific, Vancouver Island, British Columbia”), a colony of huskies in kennels (“Arctic, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories”) and a lone defiant stand of a Mi’kmaq settlement – check out the draped pirate flag – despite it slowly being swallowed by the Atlantic waters (“Atlantic, Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island”); showing the impermanence of all things through time and environmental factors.

Maria Hupfield: Bound, Hupfield 2017

The Power Plant Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, 231 Queen’s Quay West

Through May 14; 24/7

This 19x31’ inkjet print on vinyl photo of a painting may not be the most original idea, but Hupfield’s photo of her late artist mother Peggy Milller’s oil painting of the choppy waves of Lake Ontario partly draped by a large fabric covering on the southern façade of the Power Plant suggests more to what she wants to bring across about memory and mother-daughter relationships, as well as giving the viewer two different ways of looking at both artists, worlds and mediums.

Morris Lum: Tong Yam Gaai

Photo Passage, Bill Boyle Artsport, 235 Queen’s Quay West

Through June 18; Daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

As part of his ongoing series on documenting Canadian Chinatowns, Morris Lum takes the focus of Tong Yam Gaai (Cantonese for Chinatown) at the country’s largest and best-known – second to Toronto’s main Chinatown – and its painful succumbing to gentrification and development after more than a century of existence, that even these historical places aren’t immune to.

What must be the saddest photo of all are his shots of the gorgeous “Lao-tzu Mural,” which was commissioned back in 2010 for the area’s 125th anniversary; is currently being blocked over by a condo development space is a most telling one as it slowly but surely disappears behind the construction boarding. The companion photo next to it is a building that had existed since the area’s early beginnings gets one last picture taken before its demolished due to its compromised structure due to nearby construction of another building that had, until then, was a affordable home for seniors who lived there for generations and had headquartered a local benevolent society.

Considering what is now happening in Vancouver’s Chinatown, perhaps this telling and informative exhibit is to alert ourselves to be wary of the plans for condo space already drawn up in our own Chinatown areas. So much for gratitude to a visible community that got extremely little or no thanks at all in helping to build this country.

Sound Image 2017

Analogue Gallery, 163 Sterling Road, Unit #189

Through May 27; Saturdays 12-6 p.m. or by appointment only (call 416-901-8001/analoguegallery.com)

For their sixth annual Sound Image group exhibition, the city’s only gallery dedicated to music photojournalism and imagery brought out a large slice of local, national and international photographers of both professional and amateur persuasions at Analogue Gallery of candid and casual photos of songsters and musicians that could easily make it into Rolling Stone Magazine as anyone else of their ilk.

There was a slight concentration of photos depicting Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie on the band’s (highly possible) farewell tour and final concert in their hometown of Kingston last summer, with the onset of their frontman’s incurable brain cancer, in his now-iconic top hat were the popular ones chosen for the exhibit. While the importance of this event in Canadian music history had precedence, there were other worthy photos on view; like Eric Fefferman’s “Buddy Guy” at Chicago’s Legends is caught in the bluesman’s element in bright colours to the anguished embodiment of a life and career struggled in “Charles Bradley,” as caught by Gideon Greenbaum-Shinder’s lens.

Left-right: The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl by Dustin Rabin; Eric Fefferman’s “Buddy Guy” and Brad LeMee’s “The Ugly” are part of Analogue Gallery’s annual Sound Image exhibit.

While a few shots of the well-known from Ronda Benjamin’s 2007 pic of Amy Winehouse’s final Toronto appearance at the Mod Club rich in reds and purples to the black-and-white partial graininess of Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl standing atop a eight-foot speaker stack during a concert date at Air Canada Centre in 2011 sees the raw energy it exudes snapped by Dustin Rabin, there are some gems about like the one-shot supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen, as fronted by Blur’s Damon Albarn and The Clash’s Paul Simonon; taken by Gaelle Beri at the 2007 Eurockéennes de Belfort Festival in France of Simonon doing his signature bass “machine gun” gesture to the audience while Albarn looks on to the intensiveness seen in Neil Van’s “FKA Twigs” in her full tribal woman warrior mode that could make even Wonder Woman jealous.

But if you want to see one of the best ones of the exhibit, do check out Brad LeMee’s “The Ugly.” Taken in 1978 and billed by the photographer as Toronto’s most notorious punk band of the late 1970s, but quickly and sadly faded into obscurity without so much as a recording deal to their name. However, the photo in all its black and white glory says it all in screaming gravitas all over with its aura of rebel coolness.

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CONTACT 2017 currently running through May 31. Most venues are FREE. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.