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 #122 - WEEK OF FEBRUARY 13-19, 2017

Bondage follow-up tighter

Fifty Shades Darker (Universal)

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford

Director: James Foley

Producers: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, E.L. James and Marcus Viscidi

Screenplay: Niall Leonard; based on the E.L. James novel

Film Review

Not everyone cosied up to the first cinematic treatment of E.L. James’ infamous erotica trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey which was a relatively good if lukewarm start. But since it drew in $571 million worldwide, gained attention for its onscreen couple’s profiles and a resurgence in book sales in 2015, not to mention being the second-most talked about film of that year (after Star Wars: The Force Awakens , of course). So it was inevitable that its sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, takes us through the same sadomasochistic arena only it develops an easier and tighter pace to engage with.

Over a year since their break-up, Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Johnson) has been trying to move on without her obsessive billionaire magnate boyfriend Christian Grey (Dornan) and his kinky desires she couldn’t fully apprehend nor break through his cool exterior. Landing a copywriter job at an independent Seattle publishing firm after university under her editor boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) who’s just as controlling as Christian was.

Completely lost without her and grappling with his haunted past and jealousy issues, Christian tries to reengage with her with promises to be more open to her. Still having residual feelings over him, a new compromise is struck and a more seemingly willing Ana wanting to experiment with their antics in the bedroom.

But their reunion is fraught with new bumps along the road with Hyde having his eye on Ana in a rather…unprofessional manner, a couple of stalkers including a former lover (Bella Heathcote) of Christian following both of them around and business partner Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the dominatrix who seduced him into the world of S/M and bondage as a teen, that threatens to come between them and their newfound happiness.

You sense a more (if not completely) freer tone, manner and pace with Darker under the helm of James Foley with his less restrictive direction in comparison to the semi-timid flow of Sam Taylor-Johnson, who did the last film; in regards to the eroticism and the screen adaptation by Niall Leonard that he manages to inject some humour to lessen the sexual tension even better, plus returning composer Danny Elfman’s score is more luscious to accompany each scene.

Johnson and Dornan have now grown comfortable into their roles including the sex scenes and seem like their having a bit more fun with Christian and Ana’s cat-and-mouse gamey relationship. The casting choices for Eric Johnson as the creepy editor and Basinger’s competitive cougar are fine antagonists, but are sorely underused here – that hopefully will be remedied by next year’s Fifty Shades Freer – and Christian’s adopted family (Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Andrew Airlie, Marcia Gay Harden) that seems more than warming to welcome Ana into their circle get a little more screen time to add to the storyline better.

Leaving off a suspenseful cliffhanger, Fifty Shades Darker does offer the some of the darkness it promised and a few more questions to ponder over and a shade more lightly in context and delivery that will please fans of the books and first film without getting too heavy into the rough sex to tantalize.

Sentimental road trip and edgy noir tragedy leads Oscars nom reel

2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation (Shorts HD)

Directors: Various directors

Film Reviews

They’re short, they’re (sometimes) sweet and they’re amongst the categories that most people duck around during the Academy Awards for snacks and/or bathroom breaks. Shorts HD brings out their annual collection of Oscar Nominated Shorts package and in the animation division, they’ve brought a more different and compelling line-up including risky dark horse (and boy, do I mean a dark horse) to the usual family-safe stuff in the 86-minute running time it occupies but never a waste of, either.

Borrowed Time by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj is a melodramatic story of a grizzled frontier sheriff revisiting the scene of a tragic accident in his younger days that he feels accountable for and the guilt that weighs on his conscience until a long-forgotten timepiece helps him to find self-forgiveness and salvation packs enough emotional clout in its seven-minute length.

A six-minute rotoscoping timeline between a daughter and her single musician father is the basis and connection in Pearl, as the two protagonists crisscross the country in their hatchback car singing for their supper and the memories they hold along to the tune of a folk song contains eye-popping colours and characteristic depth in their road trip through life from child to young adulthood is a sweet and sentimental postcard from its director Patrick Osborne, who won his first Oscar short for Feast in 2015.

As I had predicted to be a sure-fire contender, the Pixar short Piper that debuted alongside Finding Dory last summer is about a sandpiper chick learning to forge for itself and overcome the fear of the tide is quirky life lesson in dealing with life’s obstacles and handling independence created by Canadian-born writer/director Alan Barillaro, who’s worked with the animation giant since 1998’s A Bug’s Life; as inspired by a walk along the Californian beach is just as inspiring of a undiscovered world and its wonders the tiny avian finds.

Theodore Ushev of NFB uses a sharp linocut-stylish approach to put perspective on how we see the world and life in general in Blind Vaysha, an old Bulgarian tale about a girl born with one eye that sees only into the past and the other the future, but with no common ground of the present and finding no pleasure in having this uncanny talent. Intense as the questions its narrator puts to the audience, it’s quite a powerful parable to present.

Pear Brandy and Cigarettes is the very adult, noir-drenched Canadian/British production that pushes the envelopes on a otherwise kid-friendly category that stands out as the highlight of the reel, as its narrator/director Robert Valley based on his graphic novel tells the true tale of a old Vancouver chum, Techno Stypes, who was the fast-living king of high school cool until a serious accident sends him on his boozy pathway downwards, leading him to finding a kidney donor in far-flung Guangzhou. Peppered with the guitar-twangy score by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo and Frank Miller-esque shades and lights and neon landscapes, the 35-minute film is a cautionary tale on the fairytale of perceived youthful invincibility and the fragility of human mortality.

Among the other three that got short listed, USC masters thesis film by Alicja Jasina’s Once Upon A Line, which also won at last year’s Student Academy Awards, follows a worker drone who follows a mundane existence until his finds and loses a potential soulmate, only to rediscover life’s joys again in a basic continuous line drawing; the NFB/ARTE France film The Head Vanishes about a elderly woman and her disembodied head’s trip to the seaside directed by Franck Dion takes on a surrealist manner on degenerative dementia has its moments and the French four-minute SF/comedy Asteria’s antiwar message of two competing space exploration missions gone wrong on a asteroid, one from Earth and the other a alien contingent; is caught in its own deliciously hilarious irony.

It would take a leap of enormous faith to give the Best Animated Short statuette to Pear Brandy and Cigarettes for its outright boldness and darkly fluid storyline come February 26, but best bet it will probably go to Piper for its friendlier and uplifting persuasion. One other thing to give credit to this year’s reel is that they’ve kept it shorter with the shortlisters that in previous versions felt more like filler showcases instead of focusing on their artistic qualities.

***

2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation, along with 2017 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live-Action is currently showing exclusively at TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West). For tickets and information, call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net.

Book shows on packing away kids’ troubles

The Huge Bag of Worries

by Virginia Ironside

27 pp., Hodder Children’s Books/Hachette Book Group Canada

Softcover, $12.99

Children’s Literature

Book Review

Published in 1996, British kid-lit author Virginia Ironside’s The Huge Bag of Worries has just only arrived on North American shores of late. Small as it is, it’s a book that doesn’t weigh too heavy on the subject of the common worries of childhood fears when they reach the age of being exposed to understanding the larger issues of life with a gentle and oft-humorous manner.

Primary school-aged Jenny has a pretty comfortable existence with a nice home and family life, things at school are fine with friends and her teacher and a dog named Loftus. But lately, for some unknown reason(s), she starts taking on the worries of the everyday from body image to possible wars that finally accumulate into this “physically” gigantic bag of worries.

The bag tends to follow her everywhere and interfere with the pleasures and challenges of life – even following her into the bathroom! Despite all measures to ditch the bag from her, it stubbornly clings to Jenny that so overwhelms her, she feel powerless as it grows bigger and bigger by the day. It’s not until the kindly elderly neighbour next door comes to her time of need to show how her how to deal with them in a simple and logical way.

Ironside’s casual writing has a way of using light humour and language children will find easy to understand and learn through the crafty pen and pencil crayon illustrations of Frank Rodgers to add to the book’s buoyancy and mannerism. Parents will find this one of the easiest books to read to their youngsters who abnormally experiences anxiety, to assure them that it’s okay to worry as long as it doesn’t consume with everyday living and they’re easy to conquer by discussing them.

The Huge Bag of Worries is appropriate for school-age children three to six and should provide a delight to the youngsters as well as to adults as well.