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.

EDITION #99 - WEEK OF AUGUST 8-14, 2016

Bourne at the right time

Jason Bourne (Universal)

Cast: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

Director: Paul Greengrass

Producers: Paul Greengrass, Matt Damon, Frank Marshall, Ben Smith, Jeffery M. Weiner and Gregory Goodman

Screenplay: Paul Greengrass and Christopher Rouse; based on the characters created by Robert Ludlum

Film Review

Like anything else, espionage thrillers have come a long way from the days of invisible ink and trench coats but the tricks of the cloak-and-dagger trade remain the same in regards to intrigue and suspense that Jason Bourne upholds, along with Matt Damon back at the helm of this popular action-spy film franchise to give it some grit, as well as leave something left over.

Nine years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum – and the relatively good 2012 spin-off The Bourne Legacy – former CIA operative Jason Bourne (Damon) has maintained himself off the grid but still feels troubled over one last chunk of memory that he’s struggled to reconcile with. Then an old associate from his Treadstone days, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), shows up to fill in the missing piece she’s recently hacked from their ex-employers back at Langley.

Still not entirely pleased with all the trouble he created in exposing and dismantling their black ops programs, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Jones) sends in a ruthless agent known only as the Asset (Cassel) to take Bourne out permanently as he criss-crosses the world to find the answers he needs to resolve his demons over his identity and conscience.

Also involved is Heather Lee (Vikander), a young cyber-ops division head who may (or may not) be a credible ally for the rogue agent in stopping Dewey from launching a brand new black ops unit called Ironhand, which involves reluctant metadata tycoon Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed) whom he’s strong-arming on to tap into his social media platform Deep Dream; in order to extend the agency’s surveillance on the unsuspecting public.

Co-writer and returning director Paul Greengrass keeps Jason Bourne as taunt and visceral as he has done previously in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum in every scene, as well as throwing in the standard hidden agendas, vendettas and plenty of double crosses for the all the characters involved, as much as it does discusses about personal privacy in the post-Edward Snowden era it eerily brings up in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando and Nice.

Damon is older, wiser but just as directed and intense playing the eponymous anti-James Bond, yet is more angrier at his targets for making him the man that he is and the system he now rebels against to make him the hero we desperately need in these times when democracy is threatened by the ones we’ve entrusted to maintain our freedoms not to be violated.

Jones’ crusty mannerism makes him the ideal main antagonist Dewey corrupted by power and control in the name of national security and not above screwing over anyone getting in his way; Cassel’s cold-hearted assassin who has a serious bone to pick with Bourne is the best and worthiest heavy the series has ever had in years; Vikander displays an icy cool veneer over the underling Lee and her ambitions with Machiavellian designs and Ahmed, Ato Essandoh as Dewey lieutenant Craig Jeffers, Scott Shepard as a cautious intel director and Vinzenz Kiefer’s questionable Berlin hackivist Christian Dassault all do well in their supportive roles.

Jason Bourne fully honours Robert Ludlum’s superspy series and the film franchise for all its set pieces from the anti-government street riots of Athens to its climatic Las Vegas showdowns and the real-world topical issues they contend with on who watches the watchers that watch over us into an incredible and smart adrenaline rush.

Beautifully eclectic Mexico found in LÙZIA

LÙZIA (Cirque du Soleil)

Grand Chapiteau, Port Lands (51 Commissioners Street)

Thursday, July 28; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

Like the running woman artisan who unfurls her Papillion butterfly wings as she opens LÙZIA, Cirque du Soleil does a beautifully eclectic showcase of Mexican culture, flora and fauna unlike ever seen to show that they haven’t lost their touch yet in finding and exploring new themes they bring to the forefront with a brave conviction and dazzling array.

A clownish Eric Fool Koller parachutes and undertakes a surreal, uncharted trip through the Mexican landscape for all of its wonders whenever he’s trying to referee a beach ball through a whistle instrument or his ever elusive search for water. Among the many other acts encountered over its two-hour-plus run, be it the way-tricky and exciting hoop diving on treadmills by a group of hummingbirds meant to symbolize reincarnated Aztec warriors; a swinging lucha libre wrestler going all 360° rotation literally; a tribute spoofing the Golden Age of Mexican cinema via a hand-balancing act by Ugo Laffolay to a couple of footballers Laura Biondo and Aboubacar Troaré doing pok-ta-pok, a Mesoamerican precursor to soccer; from juggling to moonwalking as a ode to their national obsession like hockey is to us Canadians.

Creator/director Daniele Finzi Pasca has mostly outdone himself with this thirty-eighth production of Cirque in maintaining the right balance of myth and modernity since his last outing with the Montréal-based neo-circus with Corteo over a decade ago, is also tinged with a hint of bittersweetness over his co-author/director wife Julie Hamelin Finzi, who passed away during the initial run of LÙZIA this past spring at age 43 from heart disease; which the show is dedicated in her memory to.

No more is the intricate beauty of the show more seen in the indoor water wall they’ve specifically made for this show to create amazing patterns or simply to show the significance of rain in the desert Roue Cyr wheel and trapeze act of Angelica Bongiovonni, Rachel Salzman and Emily Tucker, Benjamin Courtenay on aerial straps or the comic foil to Koller’s antics on occasion. Other highlights include a percussions parade around a decoratively patterned curtain and a puppet jaguar and horse, both serenaded by Majo Cornejo and Aleksei Goloborodko doing the most nimble contortionist act I’ve ever seen from Cirque since Zumanity.

As helped by Eugenio Caballero’s elaborate set and prop designs, the majestic puppets of Max Humphries, Martin LeBrecque’s lighting and exuberant costuming by Giovanna Buzzi to the Simon Carpentier’s lushy soundtrack (see review below), LÙZIA stands out as another masterpiece for Cirque weaving a respectful and colourful dreamscape of Mexico awaiting to exotically deluge the senses.

***

LÙZIA continues through October 16. For tickets and information, call 1-877-924-7783 or visit cirquedusoleil.com/luzia.

Loaded Latin LÙZIA OST

Cirque du Soleil

LÙZIA (Cirque du Soleil Musique/RED Distribution/Sony)

Producers: Ramón Amezcua and Pepe Mogt

Soundtrack/World Music

Album Review

Québécois composer Simon Carpentier embarks on his fourth Cirque du Soleil project with a flourish for LÙZIA with some help from the Tijuana collective known as Botisch+Fussible in doing the remixing of the show tunes involved with the production of traditional mariachi, cumbia and flamenco with the sounds of electronica into a flavourful mix.

Bouncy dancefloor material can be heard about “Así Es La Vida,” “Pez Volador” and the album’s best track “Los Mosquitos;” whereas a dramatic structure keeps “Flores en el Desierto” in check and warped techno trickery grounds “Pambolero” firmly. Show lead singer Majo Cornejo carries her voice on record as well as onstage on selected tracks (“Tiembla La Tierra”), but for the most part Azzul Monraz sings throughout the album diligently in her place.

With the ever-present trumpet and trombone of Jorge “Zorrita” González and accordionists Juan Téllez Zavala and Gerardo Espiricueta to give a Ennio Morricone-like feel to “Tláloc,” the inspired soundtrack is quite flamboyant as it captures that flavour and soul courtesy of the Luis Elorza and Botisch+Fussible’s own studios in Tijuana. It’s danceable and listenable fun.

Cat-tastical Wildings’ conclusion

The Hundred Names of Darkness

by Nilanjana Roy

400 pp., Random House Canada

Softcover, $22.95

Fiction/Fantasy Adventure-Thriller

Book Review

Continuing where she left off with her bestselling cat fantasy The Wildings (click here for previous review), Nilanjana Roy’s neatly wraps it all up in The Hundred Names of Darkness in a dark and dangerous adventure that supersedes the first one in a more expanded and intriguing universe of the unseen world of street animals that isn’t akin to The Secret Life of Pets, but more like the realities seen in Watership Down.

Set about almost several months after the events of The Wildings, life is slowly returning back for the stray cats from the Nizamuddin district of Delhi after the horrendous battle of the Shuttered House with the dark feral feline Datura almost annihilated them all. However, urban renewal by the Bigfeet – the book’s name for humans – in the area is expanding and is threatening the ancient cat clan to the point of going extinct.

Their only hope in getting them out of this potentially looming crisis is the young telepathic Sender, Mara, who’s broadening the extent of her powers yet still has a problem relating to her clan since she’s an indoor cat reluctant to deal with the outside world and other outdoor cats that view her with suspicion like clan leader Katar, with the exceptions of her somewhat troublesome boyfriend, Southpaw and mentor/clan co-leader, Beraal, currently tending to her new litter of kittens.

Her highly-developed powers have attracted the attention of the Circle of Senders, a nationwide network of telepathic cats that communicate via a mind-link; who unexpectedly become her new teachers and allies by instructing her on her duties and obligations of a clan Sender, in particular to Magnificat over in Goa, which at first seems doesn’t to want to fulfill her responsibilities.

That changes with Southpaw getting injured during a hunting raid, then mysteriously vanishing en route from a veterinarian’s visit by her caring Bigfeet and a little humility lesson for Mara when she gets lost in Nizamuddin quite by accident does she understand the scope of life on the harsh streets and her destiny. As well as learning about the Sender heritage she carries upon her whiskers, Mara again becomes a crucial part in saving the clan, with the further help of new friends gained and more dangers lurking on the horizon.

Roy once again taps into the psyche of the cat and the animal world into a plausible story for Hundred Names filled with adventure, thrills and humour guaranteed to leave readers quite satisfied in the outcome with its character-driven arcs and the mystical trips it takes them into with Mara’s abilities to experience the dark as well as the light within her powers. It also sees to a couple of subplots regarding Tooth the cheel’s son Hatch learning to overcome his fear of flying to an overambitious bandicoot rat quest for power that could lead to his undoing complimenting the main story quite adeptly.

The Hundred Names of Darkness is a worthy follow-up to the series and gives its author a more than credible standing in the world of global literary fiction for her first two novels. Would love to see what Roy she will come up with next to add credence to her storytelling prowess she has acquired for herself.

Stunning Silence and a womb with a view

SummerWorks 2016 Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Osia (Kukua Productions/SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street

Saturday, August 6; 6:30 p.m.

Playwright Jijo Quayson makes a remarkable debut in her debut work Osia about the perspective of hopes dashed in this drama surrounding a Ghanaian family with a universal concept in a bright and bountiful pace as performed by an enthusiastic cast of characters in a mixture of folklore, music and reality.

In present-day Ghana lives Harmosia (Nicole Nwokolo) – Osia for short – with her mother (Chemika Bennett-Heath) who eagerly awaits for the return of her brother (Paul Ohonsi) from America so they can immigrate there for a better life, while her best friend Bernice (Chiamaka G. Ugwu) likes to keep tabs as much as being the neighbourhood gossip. A preteen with the mind of an eight-year old, Osia is a vivid and rambunctious storyteller who is the light in her mother’s and her smooth-talking uncle’s eyes, who is seemingly flushed with the trappings of success overseas.

However, not all is well as it looks as he gets involved with some shady dealings upon arrival as he brings his storekeeper friend Kwefi (Roshawn Balgrove) into that gets him into hotter and hotter water while constantly making promises he’s unable to keep. Worse of all, some deep dark secrets slowly surface that will shock all they effect and become undone as the veil is lifted to find something completely disturbing about this family.

Director Brad Fraser handles this material that mixes humour and drama of a girl about to be thrown into the adult world a lot sooner than expected and trying to keep her carefully constructed world together in the 90 minutes-long study about broken dreams and ugly truths beneath. The cast performs diligently, especially Nwokolo playing the headstrong if not all sound in mind young girl in her worlds of fantasy and reality conflicting each other; Ohonsi plays it cool as a silver-tongued figure with a nadir personality hidden in the layers and Bennett-Heath’s Mama with a loving soul, if imbued with a tragic naivety, as Balgrove and Ugwu become the unwitting victims and witnesses to this familial discord.

Quayson certainly has great potential to bring Osia into the forefront with a bit more polish for a full production to go on the theatre circuit and for future endeavours onstage as she aims directly at a common theme here on the portrait of souls who learn about the complexities of life.

IN UTERO OUT (Drawing With Knifes experimental shadow puppetry company/SummerWorks)

The Drake Underground, The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West

Saturday, August 6; 8:30 p.m.

In its 40-minute state of avant-garde, IN UTERO OUT wants to take the viewer back into the womb with a boom through its ethereal musings and large-scale puppets conceptual-wise, but it tends to veer into that otherworldly ether which gets a bit murky and quirky for the uninitiated and lags a bit in reaching certain points in the birthing experience.

Broken into three different stories starting with “Twilight Sleep” of a Francophone centenarian grandmother explaining her origins and childbirth drenched in a hallucinogenic dream-like state; a rural mother of two who surprisingly delivers twin sons in the era before ultrasound came into being in “They just thought it was a boy” and “One of Many” has a expecting transgender lesbian who finds herself conflicted from her own identity issues and the imbalance of emotions she comes to grips with between her biological and adoptive mothers; and in between are the transitional interludes of fluids of amniocentesis and blood intermingling with these themes.

Creators/puppeteers Brescia Nember Reid and bloodbeard have some interesting ideas kicking around and they do their best to bring these things to be aware to what we owe of our very existence in the haunting songs, shadow puppets creations and certainly the visuals and a little humour (ending song “Oh My Placenta” is amusing) does work for the most part including Nic Murr’s technical support.

However, IN UTERO OUT tends to be a bit incoherent in parts, except for the third act “One of Many” having more clarity than the first two; and the illustrative introductory part could have been a bit shorter. It’s really admirable to make recognitions to the First Nations and the primordial analogy between oceanic life and swimming within our mother’s womb, but that’s kind of unnecessarily long even for an experimental theatre piece.

Trophy (STO Union/SummerWorks)

Shaw Park, CAMH Grounds, Queen Street West/Shaw Streets

Saturday, August 6; 10 p.m.

Much like life itself, Trophy kind of defies description or destination it being an ongoing interactive play-cum-art installation where you get to add a bit to what is going on through your mind and life at that point as the five personalities from all walks of life inhabit each semi-translucent tent and for about fifteen minutes or so in the 45-minute production, they describe a moment in their personal lives that have made them or the circumstances around them change, for better or for worse.

In this one-day only production (although for some reason, the creators stated they’ve been onsite at the CAMH Grounds for three days), these five had some tales to tell: living with a boyfriend’s cat from hell and doing the right thing in a emergency situation; an arts administrator who wanted to pursue his passion; the lesbian clown having to be a reluctant underling to a Mexican clowning legend; turning the tables on a unruly neighbour in an example of wielding power and a artist’s believing to be approaching a near-death experience – then writing down on a Mylar sheet of an experience about or near-to theirs afterwards.

Trophy is an interesting human experiment on swapping stories as director/co-creator Sarah Conn puts these into practice about transformation and its positive benefits on how one can overcome personal obstacles to find and/or better themselves (in)directly. It may be off-putting or uncomfortable for some to engage with as some of these stories are outrageous, but it does bring its point across through all these stories can we call relate to at one time or another on the human condition.

A Moment of Silence (Nowadays Theatre/Modern Times Stage Company/SummerWorks)

Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street

Sunday, August 7; 9:15 p.m.

Some could wish to sleep away from all the unpleasantries life can bring. But what if doing so made things even worse? For writer/director Mohammad Yaghoubi, the first English language translation for his celebrated play of the turbulence his country underwent in the early days of the Iranian Revolution, A Moment of Silence, is a triumph although a very doleful one at that for a lone woman’s experience and a battle cry for freedom itself.

Awakening in 1980 Tehran, Shiva (Sarah Marchand) finds herself in a empty apartment and phoning for a husband and her brother who have mysteriously disappeared, but soon learns from her sisters Shirin (Parmida Kakavand) and Sheida (Melanie Pyne) much to her shock she’d been asleep for three years and slept through the downfall of the Shah and the rise of the ayatollahs that have permeated all aspects of Iranian life.

Also learning that Sheida had married her husband during her absence just to have a child plunges her back into another deep sleep and awakens in 1983 to a country at war with Iraq and a new shade of paranoia creeps into the life of a playwright Hasti (Lara Arabian) and her husband (Paul Van Dyck) when they become targets of the regime’s crackdown on dissent from the country’s artisans and intellectuals, resisting to be silent or go into exile.

By the time Shiva reawakens in 1987, all are driven to depression by the war and the ongoing crushing of civil liberties that are kept at bay, thanks to Shirin’s cabdriver husband Jimmy (Maxime Robin) with his twisted sense of humour and outlook at life that’d rather be the lighted single candle than to curse the darkness enveloping them. Or, is this all in the mind and pages of Hasti’s script she writes in while she’s being hounded with verbal death threats from the Revolutionary Guard?

Torange Yeghiazarian makes an intelligent translation out of Yaghoubi’s book and characters to follow, slipping in some projected surtitles to fill out the surrealism parts evenly and puts the cast on their toes with its sharp dialogue and fluid direction from drramaturg Matt Jones’ doing. Marchand as the Rip van Winkle trying to make sense of a world she barely can make sense of and looks for a way to keep her sanity from going overboard is brilliant and tragic in her portrayal; Robin keeps it light at the play’s court jester and consumes his role with a flourish; Pyne manages to present selfishness and guilt to be believable and Arabian and Van Dyck make for a loyally fine if somewhat foolhardy artisan couple managing to stick through thick and thin against the odds.

A Moment of Silence is a moving and stunning commentary on an Iran still grappling over the mistakes made in the name of revolutionary zealotry Yaghoubi unabashedly aims with a glaring spotlight at for audiences to ponder over what our basic civil rights should mean to us and defended over in this unflinching human drama.

***

SummerWorks 2016 continues through to Sunday (August 14). For tickets and information, visit summerworks.ca.