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: September 18, 2017
NOTE: Due to some new equipment issues there maybe some typos involved that hopefully should be corrected in the next few weeks. Please also note that there will be no blog entries for the period of October 3 to 22, for I will be on a muchly-earned and long, long overdue vacation. Blog will resume on October 23. Sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience and support. It is truly appreciated! - JB
Toronto International Film Festival Artistic Director Cameron Bailey introduces the world premiere restoration screening of the 1932 Chinese romantic-drama Struggling on September 16 at TIFF 2017.
Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Reviews
Part 2 of a 2-part series
Wednesday, September 13; 11:30 a.m.
Liberian English, Kru Pidgin and Liberian Kreyol with English subtitles
Deforestation is a major concern in where it contributes to global warming as the documentary Silas brings to light by the efforts of award-winning Liberian environmental campaigner Silas Kpanan'Ayoung Siakor and his grassroots organization the Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) go out of their way to expose not only illegal logging by foreign multinationals that go under the guise of development, but also the long-standing rot of government corruption hand-in-hand with them.
Directed by Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman and executive co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Zwick (the star power team behind the 2006 Sierra Leone Civil War thriller Blood Diamonds), the 95-minute film follows the hard-working eco-activist who's just as dedicated to his family as he is to the cause, by using current social media tools including a pretty cool user-friendly app named TIMBY (This Is My Backyard); for mobile citizen reporting everything from ill-gotten land grabs from rural villages to clear-cutting rainforests into virtual wastelands.
The filmmakers also peel back Siakor's personal side from being a serious workaholic who gets frustrated and stressed out at times from the loopholes his opponents try to work around in getting the natural resources they want, despite his usually optimistic and gregarious nature and his highly supportive wife Marlay and young family by his side, especially with one village facing a serious displacement by a palm oil giant that SDI spends three years in helping.
Most of his disillusionment comes from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom he knew personally in her days at the United Nations before becoming the first democratically-elected president of Liberia (and the first African woman, also later winning a Nobel Peace Prize for it) and voted for without regrets only to find that the nepotism and corruption that's plagued his country for decades has also effected her government, family members and the political elite in the same manner that he's now fighting against.
Quite a very informative and inspirational film, Nayar and Essuman make Silas just a little too clean and prettied-up in the presentation that does help sometimes for the average layperson to understand the topic at hand. Yet its slickness tends to take away some of its character and feel, but never the man behind his selfless efforts to save Liberia's natural beauty that has already lost a quarter of its rainforests to the corporations.
And it's shockingly revealing how foreign aid over the years have seemingly been funnelled into Johnson-Sirleaf's pockets, especially when its already-weakened healthcare services was made even worse with the death of 10,000 people during the 2013-2014 Ebola outbreak to how one youth community centre still looks rundown despite getting a sizable government grant via the international community that contributed to help rebuild Liberia after a devastating 25-year civil war that led to the downfall of dictatorial warlord Charles Taylor, now serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.
After the September 13 screening came a special Q&A session with the filmmakers and Siakor himself discussing the film and his current plans to run for office as a independent Member of Parliament in the elections to be held this October with Johnson-Sirleaf willingly stepping down after over a decade in power this coming January, the articulate activist does have hope for the future and looking to change the political process, as well as informing us on individual consumer responsibility and personal waste as Silas demonstrates there are victories to be had for the little guy, no matter how small they may seem.
Saturday, September 16; 6:30 p.m.
Silent; Mandarin Chinese placards with English subtitles
Pre-revolutionary Chinese cinema probably doesn't hold for much outside its own borders, but TIFF snagged the world premiere rights from the Beijing-based China Film Archives to screen the fully-restored 1932 silent film Struggling digitally-restored to its near-pristine beauty of this romantic-wartime drama from the Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement of the 1930s that breaks the mould of conventional Chinese films of that period that didn't feel out of place here in the West among our own silent classics.
Written and directed by Dongshan Shi (and whose great-granddaughter was also at the premiere screening) starts with two engineering factory workers in a industrial town Xiao Zheng (Zheng Junli) and Xiao Yuan (Yuan Congmei) who are friends and also semi-bitter rivals for the heart of the lovely Sparrow (Yanyan Chen), which they share the same boarding house along with the kindly and wise teacher Mr. Liu (Liu Jiqun).
When Sparrow's abusive adoptive father wants to marry her off to a rich man for money, she ends up eloping with Zheng to a peaceful and happy life in Liu's rural village. After Yuan manages to find them in the vengeful hope of shattering their wedded bliss, only to find himself and Zheng thrown in prison and later the call to arms against the invasive forces of Japan reluctantly separates the couple apart and the longing to be together again.
A quaint love story it may be on the surface, Struggling does carry itself in movement and plot of pre-World War II China, with a humble proletarian theme running in the first-half of the film to a rally-around-the-flag patriotism running undercurrent in the latter-half that would be appealing to its current Marxist leadership in preserving the film; as Dongshan's direction having a unique flair in executing panning interior shots and battle sequences that's almost reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and even adding a little Hollywood-inspired slapstick comedy thrown into the hour-and-a-half film.
The live music score accompaniment from pianist Jordan Clapman had its peaks and quiet contemplation like old-time movie houses of yore made this exceptional film even more exceptional in viewing and composition. A gorgeous success.
Sunday, September 17; 9:30 a.m.
Arabic with English subtitles
In 2009 Cairo, a young imam named Khaled (Ahmad Alfishawy) lives the pious life with his family under the influence of his clerical guardian uncle and becoing a rising star among the Salafism circles until he hears the death of Michael Jackson over the radio that unexpectedly triggers a flood of memories going back to his boyhood days in 1990s Alexandria when he idolized the megastar to the point of emulation in styling and moves.
This creates an unexpected inner conflict stemming with his late mother (Basma), also a secret Jackson fan; against macho father's (Maged El Kedwany) disapproval regarding Jackson's "effeminateness" and a teenaged crush (Shahira Fahmy) to the present and a certain obsession on death and visions of his idol's spirit that seemingly haunt him almost everywhere makes him question his faith on the path of righteousness versus trying to be that free youngster (Ahmed Malek Mostafa) he was and his sense of true happiness.
A modest dramedy from Egypt that swept that country's equivalent of the Academy Awards and an official Best Foreign Language Film Award selection for the Oscars, Sheikh Jackson weaves the delicate balance on the secular and the sacred from director Amr Salama and co-writer Omar Khaled as an honourable love letter to the Gloved One's music and influence on how far-reaching he was on a global scale, as well as presenting itself an story of self-reconciliation and father/son relationships.
Alfishawy gives a humanistic performance of a holy man torn between two worlds in a society also on the edge between Western culture and values versus the enforced conservative modes of Islam that isn't as compatible to them, giving this film a metaphoric look at contemporary Egypt on where it stands in the Arab world, especially in its post-counterrevolution period of where to go from here.
Plenty of subtle and non-subtle MJ references abound here, including a pretty neat hallucinatory dream sequence mash-up of his iconic music videos; Sheikh Jackson goes for that sweet tribute to the showman without drenching into any hackneyed nostalgia of not having to give up one thing completely to be the person you are.
North of Superior
Sunday, September 17; 2:30 p.m.
A Canadian classic returned to the screen at the (soon-to-be) resurrected Cinesphere at Ontario Place (955 Lakeshore Boulevard West) with North of Superior as Graeme Ferguson's sweeping examination of northwestern Ontario gets a vibrant digital restoration in vision and sound in the world's first permanent IMAX cinema, and it's just as exhilarating to watch now as it did when it first screened at the very location back in 1971.
From the opening panoramic vistas of near-skimming the surface of Lake Superior and millennia-old cliffs and forests in aerial swoops, swerves and soars giving the feeling of flight (courtesy of pilot Fritz Meier) to the ruggedness of lives in small northern towns and First Nations reserves, the film may seem a tad outdated by modern standards to some yet it hasn't lost any of its touch in its unfettered and unrushed cinema verite that Ferguson, who was IMAX's cofounder and co-inventor of the film stock; and editor Toni Myers put together in the 30-minute documentary.
Want proof? Try and not to feel almost frightened through the up-close crackling flames and smoke of a raging forest fire feels so real to almost deafening to its quiet aftermath as firefighters dig through the scorched earth to plant seedlings show of fire's destructive and creative power keeps it more than centered on the cycle of nature.
Having seen this film as a kid back in the day at Ontario Place (yes, I am that old), North of Superior sure takes one back to those days when the unspoiled land and simplicity of community with Bill Houston's folksy theme "Ojibway Country" ringing through your brain in experiencing life, death and renewal of the human and natural environs was enough to want anything more out of life itself.
People's Choice Award: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Sunday, September 17; 6 p.m.
Once again, TIFF filmgoers pick another gem for the People's Choice Award and it's a doozy of a selection with the dark comedy-drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which is more like a critique on the atmospheric boilover of today's America still looking and choosing any reason to justify itself as raw and unflinching an analysis the cast and director can get.
Almost a year after her teenaged daughter's brutal rape and murder in a backwoods clearing near three decaying billboards outside of the titular small town, grieving divorced mom Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents out the same billboards with some provocative signage in order to get the local constabulary off its butt with the unsolved crime, mainly at its Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
Raising ire with Willoughby and his redneck Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) drunk with power and on booze, Mildred's hardcore actions creates an unsettling and divisive pall among its citizenry and with her family who just wants to move on, including her son (Lucas Hedges) and ex-husband (John Hawkes); as things between all parties involved spiral into more caliginous and unexpected consequences, including unexpected allies.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) creates a larger-than-life story replete with colourful characters to be concerned over, that's a rarity in American cinema of late; in his cracking script and salty dialogue that I haven't seen or heard much in an indie release since Pulp Fiction. He certainly does bring out some very powerful performances in the cast that includes McDormand as the hardboiled and raging Mildred agonizing over the violent loss of her child is as moving as it does devastate; Harrelson being the harried top cop battling both her and terminal cancer and Rockwell as a mama's boy with a hair-trigger temper longing to become something better than the man he is.
Expect to hear a lot from this film come its slated November 10 wide release and during the awards season as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri highly reflects the blunt American anger, discontent and disconnection that's been going around, its pro-feminist feel and unwavering questioning on the behaviour of police authority to raw justice as the direct answer(s) to everything they don't seem to have under control -- or likes to think they do.
There certainly was a lot to deal with at TIFF 2017 in keeping it under a lighter schedule regarding their "shrunken" line-up for this year made the fest a bit more streamlined than usual, thus making it a bit more fun and simplier in keeping it concentrated in the downtown core's Entertainment District area and putting the freebie films in the single tickets orders instead of having to spend much time waiting in line-ups for them was a excellent idea.
My only pet peeve? There wasn't a concrete visual arts programme (minus what was on during the first weekend's Festival Street festivities, which was very little), but at least made up for it with the free screenings like North of Superior, Rude, The Truman Show and Struggling. Hopefully that segment will return for next year's Wavelengths series and will be just as exciting as previous years had provided.
The Golden House
by Salman Rushdie
380 pp., Knopf Canada/Penguin Random House Canada
For his twelfth fictional work, Salman Rushdie makes an indictment on Western pop culture, modern Indian history and the current American landscape in The Golden House that is vibrant and mesmeric in a (literally) cinematic manner with his masterful prose and compatible wit he is well known for while miring it in a Roman tragic structure made for these times of discontent.
The Golden House regales about an elderly Indian real-estate billionaire calling himself Nero Julius Golden, who moves to New York's Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in Greenwich Village on the day of Barack Obama's inauguration date in 2008 with his three adult sons in tow, the eldest agoraphobic idiot savant Petya, middle son and rising star artist Apu and the youngest who simply calls himself D and grappling with a identity crisis; who all settle themselves into a palatial mansion to start a new life in America and quickly rises to the top.
Told mainly through the observer narrative of a young filmmaker, neighbour and family friend Rene Unterlinden, he sees them as the epitome of the American Dream and a curious subject case for a possible film project over the next eight years. Becoming engaged and unexpectedly entangled in their household dramas that erupt from time to time, he slowly but surely learns about the Goldens of their complicated and quite dubious past that have brought them to the land of opportunity.
As these dark forces follows them from afar like a bad stain, their world collapses into a series of misfortunes that involves one Vasilisa Arsenyeva, a Russian ex-model who enters their lives and becomes Nero's new young wife whose ambitions are as calculated as a manipulative politico running on an presidential campaign and agenda of hate and egotism that surprisingly elevates himself to the highest elected office in the land at a alarming rate and takes the whole country with him.
The story takes on about how one's avidity and reinvention in society can have an effect, as it does about regret and mistakes made to reach to the higher echelons in this contemporary mash-up of literary greats The Great Gatsby, Bonfire of The Vanities and The Godfather rolled into one, where Rene exposes the facades of the book' s antagonists and their tarnished glitter, love, the human condition, as well as his own and others' failings proportionally.
Rushdie fully redeems his other New York-based tale the weak 2001 novel Fury with The Golden House for its better balanced storyline and worldly and satirical stabs in particular to the superhero genre, Bollywood and Hollywood cinemascopes, corruption and mobsterism, social media to the gangrene politics of the right and left spectrums that now grips post-election Trumpian American that satisfactorily winds towards its gripping and tragic conclusion. This season's sweeping yarn.
Salman Rushdie makes a Toronto appearance for a Q&A/book signing event at Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street) on September 22 at 7:30 p.m. NOTE: This event is SOLD OUT, however a very limited number of FREE RUSH SEATS will be made available on the day of the event at 6 p.m. on a first come, first serve basis. Rush seat ticket holders are not guaranteed admission to the event, but will be admitted at 6:50 p.m., pending seating or standing room availability. For more information, visit torontopubliclibrary.ca.
Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Reviews
Part 1 of a 2-part series
Five Fingers for Marseilles
Saturday, September 9; 9:45 p.m.
Sotho and English with English subtitles
Once an exclusive staple of Americana, the cinematic Western took on a more global perspective at this year's TIFF entries but none more so than Five Fingers for Marseilles, the brilliantly gritty neo-Western from South Africa that roots itself in the traditions of the subgenre as well as metaphors of the colonialism of its own personal history (and echoing the Americas' treatment of indigenous populations) and post-apartheid society.
After twenty years of self-imposed exile, Tau (Vuyo Dabula) returns to find that the desolate Eastern Cape township of Marseilles, once a vibrant farming community for white settlers; and the hillside slum of Railroad where he grew up in has now fallen into the hands of a gang called the Night Runners controlled by their ruthless half-blind leader Sepoko (Hamilton Dhlamini).
None of his childhood friends, except for the town preacher; who once ran around as the Five Fingers as defenders for their hometown, at first don't recognize Tau including the ineffective and cowardly mayor Bongani (Kenneth Nkosi), a physically- and psychologically-broken police chief Luyanda (Mduduzi Mabaso) and ex-sweetheart Lerato (Zethu Dtomo) who now has a adult son Sizwe (Lizwi Vilakazi) with his late brother, a angry young sheepherder with a itchy trigger finger.
Suddenly forced to take up arms against the Night Runners as they become bolder in terrorizing and extorting the citizens of Marseilles, including an seemingly out-of-place Asian store clerk (Kenneth Fok), Tau looks to exorcise the demons of his and their troubled pasts that led to his longtime absence and their changed lives that he hopes he can make peace with.
There's a lot said here in the debut feature direction of Michael Matthews channelling masters John Ford for panoramic vistas and Sam Peckinpah for gunfight scenes with well-used momentums and nuanced silences in the film's two-hour run that doesn't feel like it does take up that much time with writer/producer Sean Drummond's tightly paced and toned script, the hardscrabble feel brought on through the compositions of cinematographer Shaun Lee and ominous-sounding score by James Matthes.
The cast play their roles with exceptional gravitas, especially Dabula's semi-pacifist antihero Tau trying to keep his estranged nephew away from the choices he made in life, as Dhlamini is one totally menacing villain as the enigmatic gang boss with a guttural dialect that chills and adds greatly to his mystique; while Dean Fourie as a half-drunken white travelling salesman, plays the alien outsider (and comical relief), along with Fok's straighter Wei; are interesting character studies here who are both dropped into this world where they unexpectedly become part of the fight.
Powerful in bringing all these themes of violence, antiviolence and the search for redemption much like the Eastwood classic Unforgiven, Five Fingers for Marseilles is the best South African-made film I've seen since 1986's A Place of Weeping and has all the potential of being the country's official Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film. It'd be a shame if it didn't get nominated either way, let alone not win it.
Short Cuts Programme 6
Sunday, September 10; 9:40 p.m.
Clearly TIFF's Short Cuts Programme 6 was a completely eccentric affair as any of the series I've checked over the years that ranged from the polemic to the cataclysmic by Canadian and international filmmakers; starting off with Canadian-made Latched, a horror-com by Justin Harding directing his real-life wife/dancer Alana Elmer and infant son Bowen both playing a single nursing mom spending a week up at a lakeside cottage with her child as she plans her next choreographing project, when she comes across a fairy-like monster (Jarrett Siddall) in the woods that gets resurrected from her breast milk and goes to great lengths to obtain it in order to live.
The premise is may seem bizarrely on paper, however Harding and Rob Brunner's script is intensely sharp and receptive on survival and maternal instincts between the monster and mother respectively and the mini-cast, including a doddering elderly neighbour (Peter Higginson) who seems to keep abreast with Elmer is titillating creepily-silly (and sorry for the breast puns). Love to see what this creative team will come back with next.
Catastrophe isn't so much as that concerning a cat being given the riot act by its owner to leave the pet bird alone in her absence, until a list of Murphy's Law disasters occur in sequence that puts the cat in a snit of how to get out of its impending predicament. Funny as it is, Jamille van Wijngaarden's 3D-formatted animated film from the Netherlands is way too fast and furious in pacing and too simple and super-short on plot that you kind of scratch your head and ask yourself: okay, what just happened here??
Jodilerks Dela Cruz, Employee of The Month is a madcap Filipino dark comedy on the complacency of society where two employees (Angeli Bayani, Ross Pesigan) and their last night on the job at a closing gas station and doing about anything to make sales and keeping boredom at bay, even at their own risks. Bayani as the titular character and Pesigan's co-worker roles both conveys the pent-up emotions of facing unemployment and devil-may-care spirits which keep this film's edginess intact blunt, courtesy of writer/director Carlo Francisco Manatad and his cinematographer Teck Siang Lim.
Montreal animator Matthew Rankin puts an avant-garde twist for the live-action/animated Tesla World Light on the visionary early-20th century inventor trying to get tycoon J.P. Morgan to fund his own idea for the light bulb and in bringing the world together through illumination. Told like a fever dream through black-and-white 16 mm stop-motion and light painting techniques, Rankin handles this quasi-experimental romantic-fantasy about the concept of failed utopias in an interestingly and commendable old-school manner.
The avant-garde romantic-melodrama Mobius handles the grief of teenaged Stella (Caley Jones) over her missing and now-presumed dead boyfriend Sebastian in moody flashback vignettes and learning how to pay tribute is a bit more compelling examination on loss and letting go is deeply felt all under 15 minutes, well done by director Sam Kuhn and Jones as the girlfriend puts some pretty emotive displays in sombre nuances.
There isn't a better example on how celebrity-obsessed a society we are than in seeing Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas' Roadside Attraction where a gathering of onlookers at Palm Beach International Airport take pictures and selfies of the American presidential Air Force One jumbo jet whenever the current sitting leader of the so-called free world drops into his Mar-a-Lago Resort retreat in Florida on most weekends.
Mainly shot in muted silence in capturing rubbernecking motorists and photo hounds simply taking pics of the First Airliner all day until the police arrives to disperse the modestly smallish onlookers (and some even help a few take the photos too!) for security reasons, plus Melania Trump was arriving to board the plane. The imagery the filmmakers' statement makes on voyeurism and status truly speaks for itself here.
The Swedish stop-motion animated The Burden pays tribute to the film musical and those who must work menial graveyard shift jobs through anthropomorphic animals is hilarious and sad in expressing their longing desire for a better life, be it lonely minnows manning the night desk of hotels, janitorial mice tap-dancing on fast food restaurant counters or telemarketing primates in call centres are cleverly parodied by Niki Lindroth von Bahr, including the aching, melancholic songs of Hans Appelqvist that rings throughout the apocalyptic-atmospheric short.
And from Quebec comes the closing tragicomic Creme de menthe, as a young musician Renee (Charlotte Aubin) comes to terms with the recent death of her musician father while sorting out his junk-cluttered apartment that she must have cleared out within a week's time and the memories that come flooding through in their connection through music, as directed by Philippe David Gagne and Jean-Marc E. Roy; doesn't lay too much on the sentimental in coping with grief brings out its own subtle charm. And shout-outs to Canuck prog-rock gods Rush and their instrumental chestnut "YYZ" adds to it, too.
NEXT: Part 2 - Silas; Sheikh Jackson; Struggling and more. TIFF 2017 continues through to this Sunday (September 17). For tickets and information, call 1-888-599-8433 or visit tiff.net.
Black Kite, a drama of about a young girl who defies gender oppression by flying kites in Taliban-era Afghanistan, makes its way into the roster for the 2017 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival 2017 Preview
Expect a star-studded 42nd edition of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that will heavily focus on women in film as well as our own home-grown film industry in regards to Canada's 150th. But also prepare to see a slimmer film fest from the 339 films participating on the roster down from 20 percent, retiring the beloved Vanguard and (often-controversial) City to City programmes and dropping outsource cinema venues Bloor Hot Docs Cinema and Isabel Bader Theatre to concentrate traffic in the Festival Village a.k.a. the Entertainment District area along King Street West.
Why all the cutbacks? Like they say in showbiz: it’s all about the numbers and generational gap. Despite having drawn a considerably healthy 2.89 million filmgoers in 2016, attendance also dropped to 2,800 that was a semi-serious bite of the 383,970 people from 2015, including attendance at their hub TIFF Lightbox (350 King Street West) and they’ve had to halt, for now, those high-profiled film/pop culture exhibits that used to grace their exhibition space like Stanley Kubrick, Grace Kelly, James Bond, Tim Burton and David Cronenberg that, while quite popular, cost TIFF C$1 million each to host.
Then there's the medium shift of how cinema is viewed now. Millennials and post-boomers mainly stream their films on PDAs and laptops nowadays than they do at the old-fashioned movie house that the fest arrangers have conceded to, plus this summer’s expected box office contenders, more or less, fell below their studios’ expectations contributed to the "blockbuster fatigue" that has been prevalent over the last couple of years.
But TIFF has risen to the momentum as they've always done, from the rise of the home video revolution of the 1980s to the dominance of the internet at the turn of the 21st century. "We actually challenged ourselves," said TIFF Artistic Director Cameron Bailey. "We said, 'What do we mean by that? How do you transform?.' Film is still the prime object. That's the art form that we love, that's what we present to our audience. But what is the process of transformation? It's when you learn more when you come out of the experience of the film with more knowledge, more interest, more curiosity, more passion, more empathy, than you went in. And that is the transformative experience."
"Whether you're a festival veteran seeing thirty films or a first-timer, you'll still be able to see a wide range of movies, and trust in our tighter curation," Bailey added further. "We're keeping all our largest venues so you won’t see any reductions for our most high-demand films. We'll also keep encouraging people to seek out the hidden gems we’ve chosen from around the world. That sense of discovery is one of the most exciting parts of the festival, and you can often score tickets faster."
Left-right: Canadian-made films get a shot at TIFF with Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts based on Richard Wagamese's award-winning novel on residental schooling; the Tragically Hip's farwell tour concert doc Long Time Running and Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner, which was executive-produced by Angelina Jolie
For its Galas and Special Presentation line-up, biopics are the mainstay with two tennis battles holds the court with The Battle of The Sexes, based on the infamous 1973 Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs match and Borg/McEnroe, the fest's opening night film; on the 1980 Wimbledon showdown of between legends Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe; Darkest Hour on Winston Churchill during the World War II years; political-drama Chappaquidick on the scandal that permanently sunk Ted Kennedy's presidential chances; Stronger, about the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings to Liam Neeson again playing the another whistleblower in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House as Watergate's "Deep Throat."
Also on the list is Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D also with its newly-digital remastered making-of doc; Darren Aronofsky's disturbing new psycho-thriller mother!; George Clooney directing lead Matt Damon in the period dark comedy-crime drama Suburbicon; Ruben Ostlund's Palme d'Or-winning art-world satire The Square; John Woo returning to the action genre in Manhunt; Lynne Ramsay's sex-trafficking thriller You Were Never Really Here; comic Louis C.K.'s latest directorial black-and-white shot I Love You, Daddy; a remake of the Steven McQueen/Dustin Hoffman prison classic, Papillion to the French wedding party comedy C'est la vie! that will close out TIFF's Gala series.
As stated earlier, women get a spotlight at TIFF in the filmmaking process behind as well as in front of the camera with Indian superstar actor/activist Priyanka Chopra hosting the annual fest fundraiser TIFF Soiree September 6 in support of their newly-formed Share Her Journey campaign for women auteurs; Telefilm Canada Talent to Watch series with a topical "In the Director's Chair: Lady Boss" on September 7; ex-Family Ties star Justine Bateman's directorial debut short, Five Minutes; Canada's Brie Larson doing double duty acting in the indie-com Unicorn Store with Samuel L. Jackson that also marks her directorial debut and Angelina Jolie delivers a triple threat directing the Cambodian Killing Fields biopic First They Killed My Father, executive producing the Canadian/Irish/Luxembourgian animated feature The Breadwinner and is part of the In Conversation…line-up along with Helen Mirren, Gael Garcia Bernal and Javier Bardem at CBC Broadcasting Centre (250 Front Street West).
From Indonesia comes Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, Mouly Surya's feminist revenge neo-Western for TIFF's 2017 Contemporary World Cinema programme
The Industry Conference series (September 8-13) will discuss matters in the business from dealing with filming in post-Truth America in regard to possible changes to NAFTA and obtaining work visas for actors; three intimate onstage Guardian TIFF Talks and Q&As will be hosted by Benjamin Lee and Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian: Luca Guadagnino, Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet discuss one of the year's most acclaimed films, Call Me by My Name; Working Title Films producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and the legendary Glenn Close; the Dialogue series welcoming the African-American Film Critics Association with the "At the Table" forum on screen diversification, "Building Canada's Indigenous Screen Office" to "2001: An Immersive Odyssey" on how science-fiction cinema will be adapting to the new immersive technologies on the horizon.
"The importance of compelling, original storytelling lies at the heart of our programming, and we are privileged to have some of the most renowned artists and practitioners in the business, onstage at the Conference," said TIFF Industry Director Kathleen Drumm. "Cinema is a powerful medium. Witnessing other realities opens borders and exposes truths, leading to transformative experiences for audiences. We also want to unpack a film's traverse from script to audience, wherein industry veterans candidly address inequality in decision-making and discuss solutions for change."
Making the cut in the Short Cuts programme of international titles are Niki Lindroth von Bahr's award-winning The Burden (Min borda); The Death, Dad & Son by Denis Walgenwitz; the animated Winshluss, Ifunanya Maduka's heartbreaking Waiting for Hassana, which shares a brave teenager's devastating account of the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping to Mahdi Fleifel's A Drowning Man, the dramatic story of a young immigrant trying to survive in a new and strange city; and Canadian offerings include Michelle Latimer's Nuuca; Sol Friedman's An Imagined Conversation: Kanye West & Stephen Hawking, a hilarious black-and-white animation right out of a parallel universe; Caroline Monnet's Creatura Dada, which stars Alanis Obomsawin and is Monnet's first project since becoming the first Canadian filmmaker to be selected for the prestigious Cannes Cinefondation Residence program; and Naledi Jackson's The Drop In, at Toronto-set SF immigration thriller that takes place entirely in a hair salon; Molly Parker's Bird; TIFF Rising Star alumnus Connor Jessup's Lira's Forest; Matthew Rankin's Cannes selection The Tesla World Light (Tesla:Lumiere Mondiale), a luminescent black-and-white animation and live-action mix centred around the famous inventor; and Gabriel Savignac's Stay, I Don't Want to Be Alone (Reste, je ne veux pas etre toute seule), a touching, beautifully crafted portrait of a pastry factory worker with an intellectual disability at a difficult moment in her life.
TIFF Docs brings back newcomer and veteran documentarians onboard with Sophie Fiennes' Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami, a film that captures the iconic pop performer on and off stage; Morgan Spurlock reigniting his battle with the food industry again in the sequel Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!; Brett Morgen on famed primatologist Jane Goodall in Jane; Greg Barker brings unprecedented access into President Barack Obama's foreign policy team in The Final Year; Frederick Wiseman, who takes us behind the scenes of a New York institution in Ex Libris - The New York Public Library; Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who follows three Hasidic Jews who attempt to enter the secular world in One of Us and the Lady Gaga Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Moukarbel, that will also have a onstage performance from the pop starlet herself on its opening night.
TIFF scores a coup in snagging the world premiere of the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, where pop superstar Lady Gaga allows a unfiltered yearlong look at her life up close and a post-screening onstage performance on September 8
"Moukarbel's (cinema verite) documentary offers an unprecedented look at Lady Gaga in full creative mode: the ideas, the emotion, the sheer work it takes to do what she does," said Bailey in announcing this exclusive world premiere. "We're thrilled to be bringing this film to audiences in Toronto, and even more excited that Lady Gaga will follow the screening with a performance. This one is for all her fans, [the] Little Monsters, and movie lovers alike, who want to share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Other docs include the Drake-produced The Carter Effect on NBA superstar Vince Carter's time with the Toronto Raptors; Jed Rothstein's The China Hustle which confronts a new era of Wall Street fraud; Matt Tyrnauer's Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, which profiles the sexual taboo breaker Scotty Bowers; Anjali Nayar and Hawa Essuman's Silas, which portrays Liberian eco-activist Silas Siakor on saving his country's rainforest; Erika Cohn's The Judge, which follows the first female shari'a judge, Kholoud Al-Faqih, in the West Bank; Chris Smith's Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond - the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, which examines Jim Carrey's portrayal of the late funnyman in 1999's Man On the Moon; Lili Fini Zanuck's Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars; Jason Kohn's Love Means Zero, investigating the controversial tennis coach Nick Bollettieri's relationship with Andre Agassi and films looking into major African-American cultural figures including Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me; Kate Novack's The Gospel According to Andre on fashion writer Andre Leon Talley; Sara Driver's BOOM FOR REAL The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat on the formative years of the acclaimed graffiti artist and playwright Lorraine Hansberry featured in Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart.
What would TIFF be without its Midnight Madness series of the weird and eclectic for all its glory with the Enimen-produced rap battle satire Bodied; The Disaster Artist directed by James Franco, based on the making of Tommy Wiseau's 2003 cult film The Room; Canadian musician Seth A. Smith of Dog Day's acclaimed short-film Great Choice which will precede the world premiere of Brian Taylor's horror-com Mom and Dad, starring Nicholas Cage and Selma Blair; and introducing two new feature filmmakers with Coralie Fargeat's Revenge and the section's Closing Night presentation of Soichi Umezawa's Vampire Clay.
Riding on the runaway successful streaming series The Handmaiden's Tale, the CBC/Netflix series Alias Grace finally brings Sarah Polley's long-gestating adaptation of the 1996 Margaret Atwood period novel into TIFF's Primetime programme of its first two episodes
Hoping to draw in the 'net streamers with the TV-based Primetime series that will bring several two-episodic packages each of The Deuce starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal, a gritty new drama from David Simon and George Pelecanos, creators of The Wire and Treme; tracing the evolution of the 1970s porn industry in New York's Times Square; season two of The Girlfriend Experience, executive produced by Steven Soderbergh, a reimagining of his 2009 critically-acclaimed movie of the same name that explores the relationships between escorts and their elite clientele, for whom they provide far more than just sex; Dark is a supernatural family saga set in a present-day German town where the disappearance of a teenager exposes the double lives and long-hidden secrets of the local families and is also Netflix's first-ever German production; Brazilian medical procedural Under Pressure chronicles the daily routine of a medical team at a under-equipped and understaffed guerrilla hospital in a poverty-stricken Rio de Janeiro favela and two episodes of the new CBC/Netflix original production Alias Grace, based on the award-winning Margaret Atwood classic novel.
Plus, catch the free screenings of North of Superior, the 1971 IMAX film in the world's first permanent IMAX cinema at Ontario Place Cinesphere where it first premiered with free shuttle service from Lightbox to Ontario Place (955 Lakeshore Boulevard West) and the People's Choice Award Winner at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe Street) on September 17 and the freebie Festival Street (September 7-10) taking over King Street East between Peter Street and University Avenue again with food trucks, activities, concerts by Jillea, Kayla Diamond to Liam Russell, viewings of the VR collection, 2167, of works created by First Nations filmmakers that envision a futuristic Canada 150 years from now and Canada Can Act! shining a light on memorable performances that have become iconic moments for Canadian actors with nightly screenings which will feature Mean Girls, The Truman Show and Wayne's World.
Tickets go on sale September 4 at 10 a.m. (with TIFF Member pre-sale on September 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). For information call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net.
Canadian boxing pioneer Savoy Howe returns for another K.O. at the stage with the remount of her one-woman show, Newsgirl,in September
Anybody who says that the boxing ring is no place for a woman obviously never met Laila Ali, former professional boxer and daughter of the legendary Muhammad Ali, Indian Olympian boxer "Magnificent" Mary Kom or Toronto's very own Savoy "Kapow!" Howe, as her real-life story gets a ringside view for an encore presentation of Newsgirl, as created by Howe and SOULO Theatre Artistic Director Tracey Erin Smith for a four-night run next month (September 21-24) at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club (388 Carlaw Avenue, Suite 108), owned, operated and performed by Howe herself.
Howe, who's also a graduate of Calgary's famed One Yellow Rabbit Theatre company; tells her personal stories on the founding of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club she started in 1997 as the world's first boxing gym exclusively for women and the transgendered and her own five-year struggle in coping with violent past that also included the local underworld that taught her to fight back at the risk of her life, achievement empowerment and one broken nose to prove it.
Premiered last May at the SOULO Theatre Festival to a one-night, sold-out crowd in a actual boxing ring, the company provides a tragedy-to-triumphant story of a one-woman Rocky underdog going against the sports world's sexism and machismo that still hasn't fully embraced women's boxing, even with today's Olympics that has had in its roster since 2012. Portions of Newsgirl's ticket sales will go to sending boxing supplies to women who are now taking up boxing in Kolkata, India as a self-defence method.
Tickets now on sale ($20 advance/$25 at the door); for information, visit soulo.ca/newsgirl/.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
63 pp., Knopf Canada/Penguin Random House Canada
Non-Fiction/Feminism and Social Sciences
When her best friend gave birth to a daughter a couple of years back, noted author/activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was asked by her on how, in a predominately patriarchal society, can she raise her to be a feminist and she responded with a letter after some thought.
Now herself a mother to a young daughter, Adichie had a serious rethink on that correspondence and what motherhood now means to her and has composed an extended version in book form in Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions that is insightful as it is powerful for mothers and for fathers as well.
Women have come a long way in the last half-century in the rise of the women's liberation movement that kind of petered out by the 1980s and gained an resurgence in these most recent and volatile of times, and this book couldn't have come at a more convenient moment when every progressive thing that had been hard-won for women nowadays is in danger of being rolled back.
Compact and simplified, Adichie focuses in reaffirming that one's gender should not be an excuse or reason to achieve whatever life goals a girl wants to attain and also to respect others regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, age, religious belief and of course, gender.
While at the same time, she also warns about the rise of gender-neutrality as something outdated and troubling in neutering a child's fullest potential in life from the colours of children's clothing to toys and also to what she calls "Feminism Lite" for being patronizing to women in order to achieve in areas that had been considered in the past male-dominated when history otherwise has proven wrong time and again, especially in the fields of science and politics.
Mostly,Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions encourages the mother-daughter relationship to be nurturing, loving, encouraging and empowering in order to survive and prosper in an oftentimes unfair life not just in her native Nigerian and adopted American homelands, but for the whole world in general.
Maple Leaf Forever: Toronto's Take on a National Symbol
Venue: Market Gallery, St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East, 2nd Floor
Dates/Times: Through November 25; Tuesdays-Fridays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission/Information: FREE. Call 416-392-7604 or visit toronto.ca/marketgallery
The Maple Leaf, our emblem dear
The Maple Leaf forever
And proudly wave from sea to sea
The Maple Leaf forever!
- "The Maple Leaf Forever," 2003 version of the chorus
A symbol that is so commonplace in our everyday living that we oftentimes overlook it, the maple leaf is a cherished part of the Canadian experience and almost recognized the world over from our national flag to the ubiquitous natural liquid sweetener. As part of the city's Canada 150 and Ontario 150 celebrations, Maple Leaf Forever: Toronto's Take on a National Symbol at St Lawrence Market's Market Gallery takes a look at how the country's largest metropolis has embraced the maple leaf into its own local culture and contributed to the national conscience all from the city's historical collection.
Being in Eastern Canada, the tree is almost everywhere in this town which five different types of maple species exists, including the long-extinct Toronto Maple (Acer torontonensic) that was the ancestor to the common sugar maple dating back from 80,000-125,000 years ago, found in fossilized remains in the Don (Valley) Formation in the 1920s.
It's surprising to learn that before Confederation it was Quebec - home to most of the country's maple syrup industry - who first used the maple symbol in the 1830s and Torontonians wouldn't adopt it until about a decade later, as well seen in a reproduction of a linen badge and a print sketch commemorating the Prince of Wales' Toronto visit in 1860 where his one of his official duties in opening the Horticultural (now Allan) Gardens was planting, of course, a maple tree.
Left-right: A commerative brand on a wooden plank that was part of the now-fallen "Maple Leaf Forever" Tree and a lantern made from the actual tree are just a couple of examples of the 3,500 items made from the salvaged tree as part of the Maple Leaf Forever exhibit.
Dubbed as Canada's unofficial national anthem, Alexander Muir's "The Maple Leaf Forever" has its connections in Toronto where the legendary silver maple tree that inspired him to write the song-poem in 1867 has been immortalized with a photograph of said tree at 62 Laing Street, which fell during a wind storm on July 19, 2013 but had been salvaged and turned into 3,500 items including gavels for City Hall meetings and four community councils that are also on display, as well as a reproduction of the sheet music used in a Eaton's (remember them?) 1907-22 promotion.
Souvenirs are the mainstay of the exhibit with stuff collected over the last century from spoons to stickers promoting local tourism to patriotism during times of war and peace from the sweetheart pins of World War I from the 216th Battalion to the current "TO Canada With Love" campaign and, no surprise, our local sports franchises.
It also shows some pride that graphic designers from the local area have contributed on the maple identity from the city flag designed in 1974 by design student Renato De Santis with the leaf blazoned with the "T" formed from the City Hall towers and the designer of the Canada 150 logo by Ariana Cuvin, a third-year graphic design student that beat out thousands in a nationwide commission from the federal government.
Artists have a further play in Maple Leaf Forever from Charles Pachter's famous 1981 Pop-Art "The Painted Flag" and his most recent piece, a 2013 pun-tastic graphic of leaf emblems shaped into a car tire and entitled "Canadian Tire." The only offsetting item here is a digital repro of A.Y. Jackson's classic oil painting "The Red Maple" is plastic-looking, but at least it slightly retains the natural beauty of red leaves against a brook's background the Group of Seven painter was trying to capture, if only.
It wouldn't be a complete exhibit without mentioning the Toronto Maple Leafs where a sketchy archival video loop of a CBC broadcast of the last Maple Leaf game played at Maple Leaf Gardens on February 13, 1999 when former Leafs reunited on the ice while Anne Murray, wearing a Maple Leaf hockey jersey, sings "The Maple Leaf Forever" and some audience getting all misty-eyed does tend to lean toward unabashed sentimentality (and for once, if only for a fleeting moment, our hockey team doesn't suck). Yet, for what Canadiana is for what it is, Maple Leaf Forever is a relatively nice slice of it, provided one can see the lighter side of things being the quiet patriots we Canadians truly are.
SummerWorks Festival 2017
Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua (SummerWorks)
Studio Theatre, Pia Bouman School of Ballet and Creative Movement, 6 Noble Street
Saturday, August 5; 8 p.m.
Rumbling under a white tent in the great indoors of the Pia Bouman School of Ballet and Creative Movement's Studio Theatre came drag performer Justin Miller a.k.a. Pearle Harbour out to counter the current climate of the world with Chautauqua, working her sauciness through humour and her brand of Ol' Time Revival while trying to reach out to find whatever goodness one can find it.
Greeting like a good hostess would accompanied by her guitarist Brother Gantry (Steven Conway), the 75-minute show preached on having unity during troubled times with a little bit of social commentary, folksy hymnals by Tom Waits and The Original Caste to personal stories in a seriocomic manner, whilst lamenting the lack of human interaction and dreaming of bygone days involving childhood memories, one problematic tent light bulb, a campy melodrama involving hand puppets, yoga breathing and Creamsicles.
Revamping the adult edutainment movement of the late-19th to early 20th-centuries derived from the Iroqois word meaning "where the fish was taken out/the place where one is lost," Harbour's Chautauqua tickles that funny bone and renews the spirit under Bryon Laviolette's direction that allows Harbour to be Harbour who knows how to work her audience and stuff in getting that life balance back, you betcha.
The Principle of Pleasure (SummerWorks)
Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West
Saturday, August 5; 10 p.m.
A cocktail of voyeurism, sensuality and homoeroticism, dancer/choreographer Gerard Geyes dives The Principle of Pleasure into the nadir of butch discotheques, Euro fetish parties and other sensually dark corners of love, lust, bondage, promise and despair in this highly-charged solo dance production.
Writhing to the classic remixed songs from the Janet Jackson catalogue mainly in a mesh catsuit and spiky high-heeled boots (how does he do that??), he manages to maintain the momentum through in the hour-long show and breaks quite a few conventions of audience participation that I've ever seen adds to the atmosphere's mystique and sexual posturing whether it's bravado or masking sovme real feelings under the surface.
Thumping and throbbing into the night, Geyes amazingly beckons those who dare to come along for The Principle of Pleasure's semi-erotic moves when it makes it all though through the peaks and valleys of relationships of whatever stripe suits you. Ms. Jackson would be most pleased.
Rootless (Red Orange Projects/SummerWorks)
Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
Monday, August 7; 3 p.m.
For the interdisciplinary production Rootless from Red Orange Projects about the flipside of societal multiculturalism and assimilation, it seems to bob in and out of a unpolished storyline in the 60-minute run that needed more work that what could have been a promising theatre piece.
A young woman from the Polynesian Mafui'e community, Royu (Saba Akhtar), lives in an nameless country of a society hostile to her peoples and yearns for life experience away from them decides to return to her ancestral homeland, only to find more disillusionment when the memories of her guardian aunt don't exactly match to what she'd been told to, other than the fantastical creatures that help her along the way to understanding her heritage.
The same could be said in Ximena Huizi's directing of the play of a sluggish, sophomoric script from Tijiki Morris that does touch base on the issues of cultural appropriation, isolation and racism when it does, but it fails to gel under the vein of magical-realism and the elementary school-like set by Christine Urquhart trying to evoke a innocence-lost world isn't too convincing.
In all fairness, Michelle Bensimmon's score is pleasing to the ear and some of the shadow puppet designs are okay, especially with the scene involving a customs agency run by overzealous murder of crows is an amusing ribbing on government bureaucracy and security measure overkill. Otherwise, Rootless is lackadaisical in presentation and performance that seemingly had a good concept at hand that didn't germinate beyond its incubation period.
Mother Sea/Manman le Mer and what do you see? (Crick Crack Collective/Jasmyn Fyffe Dance/SummerWorks)
Theatre Centre Incubator, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West
Monday, August 7; 5:15 p.m. (Mother Sea/Manman le Mer) and 6 p.m. (what do you see?)
Leaning on the immigrant/returnee experience is the focal point behind the trilingual Mother Sea/Manman le Mer as performed by Djennie Laguerre in a lively and animated fashion she brings to it less than thirty minutes on how the tides of nature are so connected to us and how to re-embrace them to find wholeness.
Spending her formative years in her adopted home of Montreal, Laguerre describes her upbringing after her family relocated from their native Haiti and having to repress her visionary childhood drawings that slightly disturb her mother and their semi-unhappy home life becomes a burden. A return visit to Haiti after a nervous breakdown in adulthood to see her sweet and caring grandmother, an emotional awakening occurs and a cleansing spiritual rebirth of her storytelling talents commits itself.
Laguerre paces herself, along with accompanying percussionist Loucas Cafe; in an easygoing manner about her healing process that director Rhoma Spencer allows to flow from her in English, French and Haitian patois that makes this performance all the more enjoyable and consistent on how one cannot escape from their roots. But if you let the right ones in, they can be as rewarding as this short play is.
For the theatrical dance double-bill follow up what do you see?, dancer Jasmyn Fyffe puts questions in her solo dance work on the nude body and the politics involved in concerning the African experience in the Americas in a sequence of interpretative dances that are stark and directive.
This is more evident in the game show parody segment where audience members are invited to stuff Fyffe's buttocks with padding as a way of revealing ugly stereotypes and objectification of the ideal female image that should make one uncomfortable, and it does rightly so; towards her own self-dignity and personal emancipation.
Amplified by the lighting/video designs of Trevor Schwellnus, John McLean's avant-garde industrial score and Jessica Bernard's visual art/props, what do you see? makes the watcher question in how one see nudity in other people before we see it in ourselves and how to liberate our own thinking on these issues.
Reality Theatre (Question Mark-Exclamation Theatre/SummerWorks)
Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
Monday, August 7; 7 p.m.
Slapping around pop culture, disconnected human interaction and our technological interdependences, Reality Theatre is a thought-out funny anthology of three stories borne out of a staring contest between two people (Akosua Amo-Adem, Andy Trithardt) on how truly (and quickly) disconnected we've become as a society within a generation span that comes to us as a cautionary tale even the ancient Greeks would have agreed on.
The first story takes in regard to an ageless man (Krista Morin) who no longer wants the gift of immortality and goes on a journey with his slightly naive best bud, Bud (also Trithardt) to the international headquarters of Starbucks in Seattle to undo the "contract" she made with the Devil's dealer/receptionist (also Amo-Adem) centuries ago.
Second story is a Beauty and The Beast actress (also Morin) who gets hopelessly typecast in constantly playing part of The Spoon and getting into character so much to a point that reality and fantasy no longer separates herself; and the third story has three people (also Amo-Adem, Trithardt and Morin) getting their humanity completely drained as they're sucked into cyberspace with each passing advancement via social media habits and virtual reality.
First-time theatrical director Rebecca Applebaum truly handles playwright Julia Lederer's brilliant social satire on relationships and the grip technology has on us that she instils on the trio of actors pulling off this comedy of human errors rightly. Amo-Adem, Trithardt and Morin competently take their multiple roles into their own respects, but they work even better in the third story like a Greek chorus echoing the pitfalls and practicality of the internet yet are unable to break themselves free from said technology they and ourselves ironically grumble about.
Set designer Christine Urquhart does much better here than she did in the other SummerWorks offering Rootless with her style fitting into the play's dynamics and Brandon Kleiman's costuming are whimsical in nature, as Reality Theatre's message tries to reach out to us not to lose our sense of communication with each other as Amo-Adem's staring character rings out true in its opening scene: "You should try it - it's better than TV. It's pure!"
Nashville Stories (SummerWorks)
Franco Boni Theatre, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West
Friday, August 11; 4 p.m.
Comically reimagining of country legend Garth Brooks' infamous reinvention of himself with Garth Brooks in...The Life of Chris Gaines, that 1999 ignoble rock experiment; seemingly repeats itself ironically in Nashville Stories as co-conceived, directed and starring David Bernstein doesn't do quite the justice as it would like to.
After six years of rocketing into superstardom on the so-called "new country" genre back in the '90s, Brooks (Bernstein) hits a new high in lows when his marriage falls apart, affecting plans for his next album and falls deeper into a mid-career meltdown and identity crisis.
Supported by colleagues Shania Twain, Dolly Parton and her rising protege (and his future second wife) Trisha Yearwood in trying to keep him on the level, Brooks runs into Ryan Seacrest who invites him to his recording studio and there he takes the David Bowie route in coming up with this Australian rock alter-ego one-shot wonder that befuddles his fans and friends further, let alone himself.
While the cast puts a lot of effort into this production from their roles to good vocal ranges, Nashville Stories ' incoherence throws it off completely in trying to throw a hodgepodge of ideas around and not sticking to anything in its loose direction and sometimes hard-to-follow dialogue going at a madcap pace.
The only things going for it are the cabaret-like setting it delves into and the live bluegrass band that oddly plays a lot of pop chestnuts and fewer country tunes (since when were Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Taylor Dayne's "Tell It to My Heart" country songs?) in this manic showbiz and celebrity culture satire, despite everything going for it in a semi-surrealistic manner that could have been an amusing gem in its own right.
Are We Not Horses - The Sci-Fi Summer Musical (Small Wooden Shoe/Nakai Theatre/SummerWorks)
Studio Theatre, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst Street
Friday, August 11; 10 p.m.
Marking the tenth anniversary release of the cult concept album Are We Not Horses (Yep Rock/Outside Music) by local indie folk-rock group Rock Plaza Central, it gets a fantastical remake as a two-hour stage show musical of sorts by the band as part of its backup to a trio of performers and live screen puppet projections on its sly and biting commentary on capitalism and socioeconomics.
Set in a dystopian Canada one thousand years from now, sentient robot animals dream of a better life and freedom as they work for a corporation simply called The Company run by its owner Proffy and his board executive Tears. Looking to raise its profits and undercut their labour force from unionization, they lure robot worker horse Eli and his goat robot spy friend Cheese with false promises and plot their downfall in an upcoming merger that can only be thwarted by older and wiser supply worker horse Courage and Cat the aloof feline.
Elley Ray Hennessy, Nicole Stamp and Liz Peterson do great in voicing the characters and singing along to the album's solid show tunes from its opener "I Am a Excellent Steel Horse," "How Shall I to Heaven Aspire?," "My Children, Be Joyful," "Anthem for the Already Defeated" to the rousing anthem of "Our Hearts Will Not Rust," among others.
The illustrative video puppetry of Lorena Torres Loaiza and Trevor Schwellnus with Rock Plaza Central's energetic and kinetic performances under the gallant direction of Jacob Zimmer and Vicki Stroich's fully well-translated dramaturgy to the theatrical stage has a whole lot of zest to go around.
And while sometimes the sound level did drown out the vocalists and how some things never change for our heroes, the album and the musical's message is very clear on how important is it to fight for democracy and workers' rights, as complacency and apathy are worse inactions that are needed more than ever in today's world.
White Man's Indian (WMI Collective/SummerWorks)
Theatre Centre Incubator, The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West
Saturday, August 12; 7 p.m.
Adolescence is never an easy phase to go through when trying to find your own identity in that period. When it comes to being a First Nations person stuck in a white-dominated world, the task is even more difficult as demonstrated in Darla Contois' one-woman show White Man's Indian in her thoughtful and provocative story of personal survival in trying to fit in and facing the inner demons.
Working out on a semi-autobiographical narrative, Cree teen Eva (Contois) endures the ups and downs residing in a Winnipeg high school from her fair-weather best friend Nicole who's on the hideous side of snotty, patronizing school teachers, boys, dealing with an alcoholic father still on the reserve and missing her late mother and absentee brother. Also born with a spiritual sense, Eva confronts some highly unpleasant memories and looks to break free from assimilating herself for acceptance from her peers and being true to oneself.
As bittersweet White Man's Indian is (and even a bit disturbing) as a stage memoir, there is some sentimental going for it as Contois revs up the emotional levels director and dramaturg Ed Roy leaves to settle with in the performances and the roles she carries away with and are very much engaged into (her portrayals of Nicole and Mother are highlights) all compacted in its hour-long show.
It's been a pretty good edition with the organizers introducing the Pay What You Decide system in settling theatregoers' budgets whatever their sizes are and the creators still netting a fair percentage at the box office from ticket sales and making venues more physically accessible, plus most of the fest's line-up did offer some good productions.
My personal favourites were (in no particular order): Are We Not Horses - The Sci-Fi Summer Musical ; Reality Theatre ; Mother Sea/Manman le Mer ; The Principle of Pleasure and disappointments go to: Rootless ; Nashville Stories ; the pre-cancelled performances of Bodies of Water due to technical difficulties (plans to be rescheduled at a future date) and the lack of a visual arts program this year.
As previosly stated, it has been a better year than most in showing that independent theatre is as vital as ever to the local scene that can be equally rewarding as larger-scaled productions worth seeing and investing in.
Atomic Blonde (Focus Features/Universal)
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman
Director: David Leitch
Producers: A.J. Dix, Eric Gitter, Beth Kono, Kelly McCormick, Peter Schwerin and Charlize Theron
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad; based on the Oni Press graphic novel series The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart
Look out, action heroes and heroines of late � there�s a new badass onscreen and she comes out fighting good and rocking hard in the neo-noir Atomic Blonde, which honours the old school while breaking in some new rules (and few bones) along the way as a serious contender in content and concept of the traditional action-spy thriller genre.
In the closing days of the Cold War, an East German Statsi officer codenamed Spyglass (Marsan) sees the end coming for his regime before the Berlin Wall literally comes crashing down, and he�s got a microfilm of every undercover agent in the Soviet Union to secure his defection to the West with everyone wanting it from the CIA to his former KGB allies that involves one brutish agent Yuri Bakhtin (J�hannes Haukur J�hannesson) and an equally ruthless billionaire arms dealer (Roland M�ller).
Britian�s MI6 sends in one of their top operatives, the gorgeous but steely Lorraine Broughton (Theron), into the divided Berlins after one of their agents (Sam Hargrave) gets murdered before completing said mission. Reluctantly teaming up with fellow colleague David Percival (McAvoy) and running into a novice French agent (Sofia Boutella), it becomes an anxious game under a shortening timeframe in getting Spyglass and the goods out while being hampered by a mystery double agent only known as Satchel.
Director David Leitch (John Wick) gives a highly polished direction by keeping Atomic Blonde all gritty and monochromatic in tone, which is also solidified by its efficient and fitting 1980s-peppered soundtrack (trust me, you�ll never listen to George Michael�s �Father Figure� the same way again in one particular scene alone).
Learning her lessons in her first attempt at being an action star with that flop Aeon Flux and the triumphantly-acclaimed role in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron was born to play the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, salty-tongued superspy Broughton who can hold her own in a fisticuffs-and-gunfight with brains as well as brawn, as seen in a climatic apartment staircase escape echoing Bond and Bourne can attest.
McAvoy is great being the semi-questionable Percival as an agent and his backstreet black marketer cover that also plays as the film�s comic relief to Theron�s icy exterior, as Boutella earns some points as the ing�nue caught up in the moments with a sense of innocence and worldly knowledge. J�hannesson is a nastily good antagonist here and while Toby Jones as Broughton�s boss and John Goodman�s CIA observer are somewhat very limiting roles for them, yet they serve the film�s purpose in any case.
Thanks in part to Jonathan Sela�s cinematography of a semi-colourless Berlin and its tightly kinetic action sequences with layered plot twists from Kurt Johnstad�s fine adaptation of the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City it�s based upon stays true to the period and feeling, Atomic Blonde explodes in a way that The Bourne Identity redefined cinematic espionage thrillers way back and if they play this right, this too could be a worthy franchise for Theron in the making.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
by Arundhati Roy
449 pp., Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Random House Canada
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy�s first fictional work in over twenty years after mostly dedicating her time and writings to environmental and human rights causes; is a far cry from her debut The God of Small Things which made her name in global literature weaves a complex if compelling tale of relationships, class divisions and geopolitics.
Five characters anchor the story of a past and present India: an aging Muslim hijra (transgender) named Anjum who spends her days residing in a New Delhi graveyard after the fall of her hijra residency and hanging out with a not-so centered jack-of-tradesman calling himself Saddam Hussein, yet manages to build a life and gathering place for the city�s disadvantaged and social castaways.
Then there�s Tilo, a graphic artist trying to search for some sense of stability with her own life as she deals with two former college beaus � one being an intelligence officer known as The Landlord (who actually is her landlord) nervously taking on a government posting in Afghanistan and Musa, a family man turned militant in the disputed region of Kashmir; for which she accidentally gets caught up in its bloodied tug-of-war between India and Pakistan raging for decades since Partition.
And also involved, as innocent victims of circumstance, are two young girls both named Miss Jebeen, one an unexpected martyr in the Kashmiri conflict and the other an abandoned orphan who will unknowingly unify these parties together in love and hope for a better tomorrow.
Roy shows she hasn�t lost her touch in all that time, even if Ministry tends to get weighty under its own story at times involving her activist politics almost reminiscent of Tasalima Nasrin�s Shame, which gets almost hard to digest in one reading. However, her artistic approach involving human relationships as seen through the bellicose contemporary politics of India and its society, as well of the heart overcomes the book�s stumbling block, as interesting a read it is.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness isn�t light reading as such, but it least it�s engaging enough for readers to care about the characters, storyline and themes the author maintains throughout the book and gives considerable pause of what personal happiness is and how to obtain one�s sense of dignity against the overwhelming everyday odds of life.
Othello (Driftwood Theatre)
Amos Waites Park, 2441 Lakeshore Boulevard West
Thursday, July 27; 7:30 p.m.
Driftwood Theatre�s seasonal Bard�s Bus Tour goes the rounds with Shakespeare�s Othello reset into more contemporary modes in a revisionist backdrop against the Cyprus crisis of the 1970s while putting a focus on divisionism and racism that is more than a fitting topic to discuss in these polarizing times, while realizing that things haven�t really changed all that much.
Late July 1974 sees the Canadian contingent of the UN Peacekeeping Force on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus in the midst of unrest between its Greek and Turkish populace, as Turkish forces invade the northern part thus creating a flood of Greek refugees. The Canadian Armed Forces send in one of their best battalion commanders, General Othello (Jordan Hall), to handle the situation where he executes his duties diligently.
This doesn�t sit very well with aide-de-camp Iago (Christopher Darroch), consumed by jealousy and bigotry after being passed over for the position as second-in-command to Othello�s friend Cassio (Shelly Antony). Plotting both their downfalls, he finds it by getting to his general�s weak spot: the lovely Greek Cypriot photojournalist Desdemona (Fiona Sauder) whom he secretly wedded prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
Iago�s web of deceit is spun by getting Cassio into a drunken brawl that leads to a demotion from the general, then instigates rumours of Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair which drives Othello into inconsolable despair and madness with rash decisions being made that brings everything spiralling toward a series of tragic outcomes.
Director D. Jeremy Smith makes an interesting adaptation set within a long-forgotten conflict few Canadians recall, which is supplemented by the nearby multimedia installation The Cyprus Project (more on that later) to educate the unfamiliar; accompanied by the pretty imaginative set designs of Nancy Anne Perrin�s usage of sandbags to denote a stage presence and prefab barracks, the lighting by Michael Brunet to give firefights aglow and Tim Lindsey�s most effective use of archival audio bytes of the conflict interplayed within the 90-minute running time.
Hall plays with graceful gravity and na�vet� all at once of the tragic war hero caught between duty, honour, pressure and insecurity of the times he�s placed under trying circumstances and Darroch�s Iago is done with seething blind ambition in character and feeling as well as in the offside narration throughout. Sauder and Antony are okay in their respective roles but sufficient enough to be convincing, including Ayesha Mansur Gonsalves as Iago�s wife and Desdemona�s confidant Emilia, yet it is Helen King who nails her minor roles as Greek Cypriot civilian Defence Council member Brabantio and the resident prositute Bianca with a highly effective accent to match them both.
Helping audience members to understand the Cyprus conflict is local-based multimedia company FIXT POINT Arts and Media with The Cyprus Project, a mobile four-part interactive video documentary on the roots of the conflict is informative, but it seemed to focus-heavy more on the Greek side of the story than the Turkish viewpoint and could have been more properly balanced, even if in recent years the possibility of reunification of the island, as of this writing; had become more optimistic in spite of current events regarding post-coup attempt Turkey may state otherwise. Driftwood again puts on with blaring if steady clarity in observing how jealousy, prejudice and selfishness can tear people and societies apart as wars often do in proving how Othello �s message still rings true throughout the ages.
Othello continues through August 13 in various communities throughout Southern Ontario; some performances are PWYC (suggested $20) or FREE. For information, call 416-501-6532 or visit driftwoodtheatre.com
Girls Trip (Universal)
Cast: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Producer: William Packer
Screenplay: Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver; story by Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinoja
Get ready for the raunchiness of Girls Trip in going full throttle as the most unconventional chick flick one ever filmed in recent memory for this ensemble project under the direction of Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man series and Barbershop: The Next Cut) in getting its laughs totally out loud and unbridled.
Four college friends maintain a tight sisterly bond through the thick and thin of each ones� lives in calling themselves the Flossy Posse are the bestselling motivational novelist and guru Ryan Pierce (Hall), journalist-turned-celebrity gossip blogger Sasha Franklin (Latifah), straight-laced nurse and divorc�e mother Lisa Cooper (Pinkett Smith) and shamelessly irresponsible Dina (Haddish).
When Ryan gets a invite to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Music Festival weekend down in New Orleans � for uninitiated, Essence is a lifestyle/fashion monthly magazine geared towards African-American women since 1970 � to hopefully cut a lucrative multimedia deal arranged by her agent (Kate Walsh), she also invites the Flossy Posse down for some fun and old times in the Big Easy for the first time in five years due to their busy lives.
Despite their camaraderie, there�s a awful lot of tension going on with each other, what with Dina�s crazy party-girl antics in getting smashed, high and/or lucky with almost every male that crosses her wake; Lisa being too rigid to enjoy life and love again; Sasha under serious pressure and temptation to get a major scoop for her blog and topping above all things, Ryan�s perfect marriage to her college sweetheart and dashing retiring quarterback star Stewart (Mike Colter) is about to get a very rude awakening.
There�s enough slapstick and innuendo going all around Girls Trip, not to mention celebrity cameos by the dozen from Terry McMillan to New Edition (sans Bobby Brown); to make comedy mayhem as these ladies do while giving a sense of empowerment for women of all walks of life as scripted by Kenya Barris, Karen McCullah, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinoja with razor-sharpness and delightful sass.
Hall and Latifah are the nuclei of the cast with their issues on clashing morals while coping with their own personal crises; Pinkett Smith gets to play the straight-woman of the group learning to get her groove back that�s a treat, yet Haddish chews up every scene that she�s in providing the film�s biggest laughs with such profane (and man, do I mean profane) proficiency.
Girls Trip is the summer�s sorority road trip of road trips on friendships, career and having each others� backs with an adult theme under a conventional pace delivered from director Lee with a talented and fun cast, especially one hilarious scene involving an encounter with a desperate hobo looking for cheap thrills at a fleabag motel.
Jodie Whittaker breaks convention in becoming the first female lead as the titular character of the long-running BBC-TV science-fiction series Doctor Who this Christmas
BBC Television�s best known export, Doctor Who, has taken audiences and fans in its native England and worldwide for over 54 years through galaxies, planets and aliens of the unexpected and unknown in the twelve actors who have played the time-travelling Gallifreyan Time Lord generally known as The Doctor, with his sense of justice and setting the space-time continuum correctly (most of the time) in its proper place. Little did the fandom knew what the unexpected would bring in regards to who would be the next Doctor � and the aftermath that followed.
On July 16, Chris Chibnall, the show�s new head writer and executive producer; announced to the Whovian (Doctor Who fans) fandom who would replace current Doctor Peter Capaldi, who will be stepping down from the role at year�s end; to whom would play the thirteenth Doctor: �After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we�re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.
�I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman and we�re thrilled to have secured our number one choice. Her audition for the Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.�
Whittaker said: �I�m beyond excited to begin this epic journey � with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet. It�s more than an honour to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can�t wait.�
The 35-year old actor may not be known to many outside of Britain, but her roles on British television range from her critically-acclaimed role of a mother grieving over the murdered young son in the 2013-17 ITV crime-drama series Broadchurch and cult SF series Black Mirror to film work starting with her screen debut in the 2006 Peter O�Toole comedy-drama Venus and the 2011 SF cult hit Attack the Block (see that one if you can, it�s a real blast) with co-star Star Wars� John Boyega, who tweeted his approval: �So proud of Jodie Whittaker. She�s going to be awesome.�
While the consensus of Whittaker as the new owner of the TARDIS has been highly approved from its fandom from The X-Files� Gillian Anderson, renowned for her role as Agent Dana Scully; tweeting her joy at the news with: �Yes! #breakthemold #13thDoctor� to average fans like Simon Tucker stating: �It�s great mate. My nieces can grow up in a world with a good Wonder Woman, a female Jedi, female ghostbusters & a female Dr Who� and even former Who companions Billie Piper tweeted the word: �YES� with a red rose emoji and Freema Agyeman tweeted: �Change isn�t a dirty word!!!!�; all were not at all pleased with having the role which had been dominatingly male in its five-decade run.
Some went the sexist route with one Twitter commentator TechnicallyRon infamously stating: �Nobody wants a TARDIS full of bras� and another Twitter user @LukeCSGO_ saying: �The doctor is a time LORD. Not a time LADY,� while others questioned the BBC�s motives behind the move ranging from Facebook writer Nicki Murphy: �I like Jodi, I think she is a terrific actor but I�m sorry, this is an exercise in pleasing the PC brigade. How about writing some new, quality roles for females... this is an attempt to meet some quota!!!� to one Londoner Paula Hollings saying in The Guardian Online : �It�s an absurd mistake arisen out of muddled thinking around gender equality, and I am a former radical feminist. It could have been fun to see a female Doctor written into the script as a totally separate character. There would have been plenty of space to show how you don�t need to be male to become a world saviour.
�In fact, the BBC has missed a great opportunity here to show gender differences in a real way. Equal gender opportunities do not mean a woman and a man have to become interchangeable in every single way. There are so many other ways to break the boundaries, why uproot the origins of one of the most iconic figures on TV? Did the BBC run out of imagination to create female characters who might rival the Doctor�s heroic nature?�
Anyone who has been a longtime Whovian � including yours truly � would and should very well know that Doctor Who and science-fiction has always been about change and a groundbreaking series, even in concept. The very first Who episode in 1963 with �An Unearthly Child� was directed by a (then-closeted) gay Muslim Indian-Briton named Waris Hussein who was born in Mumbai and the founding producer was a woman, Verity Lambert, which in both cases were considered highly unusual way back during the early days of television that was ordinarily dominated by white men.
Since the early 1980s, the idea of having a woman taking over the role has been floating around for many years ever since the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker had partly-quipped to a journalist on which actor would be taking over from him on the eve of his departure from the show: �Well, you�re making an assumption that it�s going to be a man.� Then-producer John Nathan-Turner encouraged the idea amongst the fans, but never brought it to fruition during his time on the show. Even the show has mentioned that Time Lords could change gender and even species in regeneration, most notably in the 2011 award-winning episode �The Doctor�s Wife� written by Neil Gaiman when the Doctor talked about an old friend named The Corsair who �didn�t feel like himself unless he had a tattoo, or herself a couple of times. Oooh, she was a bad girl.� (Note: Third Doctor Jon Pertwee also had a real-life tattoo as briefly seen in his debut episode �Spearhead from Space.�)
Beforehand there had been Time Ladies during the show�s 1963-1989 golden period with Romanadvoratrelundar or �Romana� played by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward respectively, only they were just companions to the Doctor than anything else. And then there was the first Time Lady villainess The Rani, played by Kate O�Mara to those that were on the Gallifreyan Time Council with Chancellors Thalia (Elspeth Gray) and Flavia (Dinah Sheridan) and the Inquisitor, who was played by Lynda Bellingham who kept the Doctor in check with his activities. Outside of the canon, the first �unofficial� female Doctor was played � for laughs and charity � in a telethon sketch for the 1999 Comic Relief TV special �The Curse of Fatal Death� by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley.
So why are some so sceptical of a woman now taking over one of the most coveted roles in British television and an admired character in modern British pop culture, even now in the twenty-first century? If the Doctor�s immortal nemesis The Master could be a woman as was briefly portrayed by Michelle Gomez as Missy � short for The Mistress � and dressed up like Mary Poppins� evil twin sister, why can�t Whittaker be the good Doctor?
Ahead of the backlash she would have to face from the haters and those unwilling to accept her in the role, Whittaker offered these words to heed on: �It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves and not be boxed in by what you�re told you can and can�t be.� And she told fans not to be �scared� by her gender because �this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that�s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.�
Science-fiction, as I�ve said, is about change and looking at the wider perspective of the universe in general and all of its endless possibilities out there. So a female Doctor should not be such a hindrance to the series or the genre but a contributing asset to its long, proud history of actors that have played the do-gooder time traveller scientist/hero(ine) and the ideas it represents, especially in emboldening role models for both sexes.
And do remember, the word �doctor� is gender-neutral.
Confederation Part I: Confederation & Riel/Part II: Scandal & Rebellion (VideoCabaret/Soulpepper Theatre)
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane
Thursday, July 20 (Part I) and Saturday, July 22 (Part II); 8 p.m.
Nations are born and baptized by the blood of its patriots and Canada was and is no exception to this rule through the ballot box and with bullets. Michael Hollingsworth and his VideoCabaret ensemble�s ongoing The History of the Village of the Small Huts play cycle continues with its most ambitious season ever in our sesquicentennial year in presenting back-to-back plays on how we became a nation with the two-part Confederation courtesy of a Soulpepper Theatre residency that holds its own.
Part I: Confederation & Riel has John A. Macdonald (Richard Clarkin) scheming in 1861 to unite Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Qu�bec) Canada with the neighbouring Atlantic colonies into a nation in the hopes of staving off a possibly future American expansionism, now distracted and embroiled in its own Civil War.
Conspiring with corporate interests to build a railroad out west to connect another potential province in the waiting with British Columbia with cabinet minister/train tycoon Alexander Galt (Linda Prystawska) and with Lower Canada governor Georges Etiennes-Cartier (Greg Campbell), Macdonald�s secret plan to becoming the country�s first Prime Minister has begun.
Meanwhile in Montr�al, law student and future prime minister Wilfred Laurier (Jamie Cavanagh) is caught up in the endless debates of whether the French should join as a English protectorate, as they listen to anti-confederates like �ric Dorion (also Clarkin) and a M�tis seminary dropout named Louis Riel (Michaela Washburn) leaves the Catholic Church to take on a higher calling in leading one�s people into rebellion in Manitoba over basic rights to become part of this new country called the Dominion of Canada.
Continuing onwards with Part II: Scandal & Rebellion, it takes on a more personal touch with Laurier getting into an affair with his law partner�s fianc� (also Prystawska) due to boredom with his wife Zoe (also Letwin) and being stuck as MP of a rural Qu�bec backwater; Riel reveals divine intervention to lead a second rebellion in Saskatchewan with Cree leader Big Bear (also Letwin) and fellow M�tis Gabriel Dumont (also Cavanagh) after his attempt to take his properly elected seat in Parliament is blocked by a boozy Macdonald knee-deep in a kickback scandals and determined to make a comeback.
Hollingsworth and co-director Deanne Taylor again brings the chockfull of little-known and near-forgotten nuggets of our history alive in what was really behind in getting the British North America Act and the National Dream together through backroom deals and double-crosses; temptations of the political, personal, financial, racial and religious boil over ranging from broken friendships to assassination and insurrection with humour, drama and some modern pop culture snippets.
Part I lays down the layers quite evenly throughout, yet Part II does get a little sluggish during the first-half �Scandal,� however it all rebounds quickly in second-half �Rebellion� to bring Confederation to a satisfying finish as well performed by the cast in multiple roles of the major historical figures. But credit should go to the smaller players of history with Bundy doing a hilarious turn as a Qu�b�cois seminary bishop caught up in his own self-righteousness and Campbell�s pompous British general sent to quell the Second Riel Rebellion with relish.
All of this done under black-light conditions with Andrew Dollar�s lighting enhancing Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill�s day-glowish costuming in the two 120-minute productions that seem to go by all too soon and wanting more from these fractured history lessons that couldn�t all be taught in a high school class alone � and more interesting.
Confederation Parts I and II continues through August 19. For tickets and information, 416-866-8666 or visit soulpepper.ca.
Left-right: Native eco-activism from The Chemical Valley Project; the mother-child issues of SPAWN to Nocturne�s awareness of exiction via podcast are part of the lineup of the indie theatre festival of Summerworks for 2017, starting next month.
In their twenty-seventh season, the independent theatre Summerworks festival running August 3 to 13 brings a couple of new things with the fifty-plus local, national and international projects that focus on the future with the First Nations communities in a few line-up offerings in regard to 150 years of Canadian nationhood as well as the future of theatre itself with three podcast productions involved; plus introducing a new sliding scale ticket payment system. Called �Pay What You Decide,� single tickets can be purchased for $15, $25 or $35 (all seating is general admission and there are no limits on any price level), and many events are either free or pay-what-you-can donation.
Starting with indigenous theatre projects, first up is The Chemical Valley Project (August 3-13) at Pia Bouman � Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble Street) where two Native sister activists from Aamjiwnaang fight against the Canadian petrochemical industry against eco-racism and protecting their community of 800 right to land and water, along with preceding magic show Perfection with illusionist-comedian Mark Correia; GHOST DAYS (August 13) has internationally-celebrated performance artist Terrance Houle working in residence at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) throughout the festival, culminating in a final performance that combines video, performance, photography and music to conjure spirits and ghosts as audience and collaborators in evoking our colonial and non-colonial histories that exist in the light of night as in the darkness of the day; playwright Cheyenne Scott offers her latest, SPAWN (August 3-13), where a young Coast Salish woman faces impending motherhood while coming to terms with the drowning death of her mother years ago and the Salmon Spirit in order to find reconnection to her dysfunctional family, culture, land and community for the sake of her unborn child at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) and White Man�s Indian (August 4-13) is the story of Eva, a Cree teenage girl facing the emotional journey of youthful angst and racism while attending a white-dominated high school from emerging First Nations artist Darla Contois at the Theatre Centre.
For the theatrical podcasts available through the festival app at certain venue beacons for the fest duration are the interactive text-based Going&Coming, the companion piece to 2014�s Audience Handbook of the pre- and post-show analyses of the role of theatre audiences at Factory Theatre; the threat of extinction in Nocturne at Pia Bouman where creator Jordan Tannahill asks one to listen to the first two hundred musical notes of Chopin�s Nocturne series in relation to the two hundred species of plant, animal and insect continuously disappearing every day on Earth and the last chance you�ll ever have, Contois� other online perspective on what it means to listen to the world around oneself at the Theatre Centre.
Other offerings in the fest come in the form of Reality Theatre (August 3-10), a fast moving collection of short, interwoven plays that explore our anxieties about change, the acceleration of technology, and maintaining human relationships in a world quickly becoming less human at Factory Theatre; dancer-choreographer Gerard Reyes forges intimate connections with the audience by breaking the rules and conventions of these spaces to the music of Janet Jackson in The Principle of Pleasure (August 4-12) at Theatre Centre; performance artist David Bernstein and writer-performer Jake Vanderham conjure up a surreal hoedown in Nashville Stories (August 5-12) at The Theatre Centre, loosely based on new country legend Garth Brook�s infamously-flopped �90s pop reinvention album The Life of Chris Gaines to playwright/performer Chantria Tram chronicles her struggle to balance the traditional values of her Khmer parents after surviving the killing fields of Cambodia in Someone Between (August 3-12) at Factory Theatre.
Red Orange Project uses a blend of physical theatre, shadow puppetry and projections for Rootless (August 3-13) at Factory Theatre, where it traces the path of a young woman cut off from the land she loves through worlds of dreams, fantastical creatures and all the way to the moon; Justin Miller returns with his drag alter-ego Pearle Harbour in the post-truth tragicomedy cabaret Chautauqua (August 4-13) at Pia Bouman - Scotiabank Studio Theatre and Mother Sea / Manman la Mer is a one-woman show by Djennie Laguerre and three generations of women trying to find redemption through love and magic with the dance double-bill what do you see? from dancer/choreographer Jasmyn Fyffe at Theatre Centre.
And dystopian science-fiction comes alive with the all-female production DIVINE (August 4-13) where the search for water in a near-futuristic drought-stricken Ontario becomes the ultimate fight for survival; the eight-episode project Crush on Humans (August 8-13) has a robotic boy with a human heart out to save humanity from the machines and Are We Not Horses � The Sci-Fi Summer Musical, where worker robots dream of a better tomorrow at Factory Theatre for a one-night only stand come August 11.
Tickets now on sale. For more information, visit summerworks.ca.
King Lear (Canadian Stage)
High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West
Thursday, July 13; 8:15 p.m.
Any of Shakespeare�s dramas are ripe examples for examining dysfunctional families and King Lear tops amongst them in Canadian Stage�s mounting for their two-billed seasonal Shakespeare in High Park season with such a flourish in flair and fashion, as done through a female perspective as being their one of their best in the last couple of years.
Aging Queen Lear (Diane D�Aquila) on her final days decides to divvy up the kingdom amongst her three daughters in order to maintain it under the pledge of loyalty to her. Elder daughters Goneril (Naomi Wright) and Regan (Hannah Wayne-Phillips) flowerily submit to their mother�s whims, but the youngest Cordelia (Amelia Sargisson) protests in having to make such a concession under such conditions with love and respect being enough as proof.
With their favoured sister punished by the queen into French exile for her perceived insolence, the duchess sisters� new inheritances corrupt them into plotting against their mother for more of the empire for themselves. With the help of their husbands the Duke of Albany (Richard Lee) and Cornwall (Kristiaan Hansen) along Goneril�s secret lover the Duke of Burgundy (Peter Fernandes) and Edmund (Brett Dahl), the illegitimate son to the Earl of Gloucester (Jason Cadieux) who himself is looking to usurp his father in framing elder half-brother Edgar (Michael Man) for treachery for the title, Lear finds herself bearing the dire consequences of her hasty actions that may or may not change the course of destiny when dealing with a court full of conspirators.
Director Alistair Newton handles this one with such deftness in the plot and double-crosses of the play placing it through an Elizabethan era-meets-The Handmaiden�s Tale setting as composed by Carolyn Smith�s costuming and the cold, greyish fibreglass �metallic� set design of Claire Hill to bring in the mood, as well as Lyon Smith�s compositions from its opening Beatlesque introductory tune toward the tonal closing outro.
Putting the best of Shakespearean companies to shame with the company newbies and seasoned players, veteran D�Aquila totally reigns supreme as the beleaguered and ailing monarch learning the bitter lesson of what loyalty truly is with emotion and gravitas. Newton � who directed CanStage�s first Shakespeare in High Park production thirty-five years ago � plays the riddling saucy, if darkly wise court jester in place of regular Robert Persichini as her only confidant with aplomb in their dialogues together; supporting members Dahl, Wright, Wayne-Phillips, Sargisson get into their roles and Jenni Burke as Cordelia�s ally Countess of Kent becomes the play�s (near-) comic relief in her performance and interactions that make this King Lear carry a certain regal weight around about power and ambition that totally amazes.
Twelfth Night or What You Will (Canadian Stage)
High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West
Friday, July 14; 8 p.m.
It�s mirrorballs and mayhem as Canadian Stage goes totally retro with Twelfth Night in their Shakespeare in High Park under the direction of Tanja Jacobs� 1970s refit of the popular romantic-comedy of the Bard�s usual swipe at the universal social mores of society that entertains well enough to keep its audience sated.
A young noblewoman Viola (Amelia Sargisson) washes ashore on some Mediterranean shoreline after surviving a shipwreck along with its captain (Kristaan Hansen) near the swanky Hotel Illyria. Fearing that her twin brother Sebastian (Brett Dahl) had perished on the seas, she disguises herself as the humbled male bellhop Cesario and comes under the service of Duke Orsino (Richard Lee).
Lovelorn over the Lady Olivia (Naomi Wright) who is deeply aggrieved over the death of her own brother and vows eight years of chastity, Orsino sends Viola to relieve Olivia from her grief to only backfire on him when Olivia falls for �Cesario� instead and Viola finding herself attracted to her employer. To make matters even worse, Olivia�s drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch (Jason Cadieux) and his polyester-suited comrade Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Peter Fernandes) engage in a series of trickeries involving Olivia�s personal entourage to setup her stiffly steward Malvolio (Tanja Jacobs) and the chaotic mess also unknowingly drags Sebastian into the m�l�e when he finally shows up in search of his sister.
Like its dramatis companion King Lear, the company�s adaptation of Twelfth Night puts on a fun play with all the periodic lingo, behaviour and dance moves of the �70s in a more tongue-in-cheeky styling and giving it to the establishment looming large with Jacobs doing double-duty as director and briefly substituting as understudy to Robert Persichini as straight-man Malvolio done up like The Incredibles� Edna Mole, especially in the timing played in her soliloquy.
Sargisson steps up as the heroine as a sense of innocence and intellect, but really stealing the show here are Cadieux, Fernandes, Diane D�Aquila as Olivia�s chain-smoking beautician and Jenni Burke as a hippie Fool providing the most laughs with their boundless antics at their targets� expense. Victoria Wallace�s costume work and Rebecca Picherack�s lighting make a dynamic duo in putting in plenty of atmosphere for the 90-minute run. The only downside is that sometimes the said era-tinged soundtrack tends to drown out the actors� dialogue at times, but it�s a minor inconvenience to an otherwise lively production worth seeing.
King Lear/Twelfth Night continues through September 3 on alternative dates (King Lear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; Twelfth Night on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, weather permitting). Attendance is PWYC ($20 suggested donation). For tickets and information, call 416-368-3110 or canadianstage.com.
Despicable Me 3 (Universal)
Voice Talents: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove
Directors: Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Producers: Christopher Meledandri and Janet Healy
Screenplay: Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio
For the fourth instalment in the Despicable Me series, including its 2015 prequel-spinoff Minions; Despicable Me 3 explores a deeper and funnier side of the series than its predecessors have done despite having a faster pace that�s almost hard to keep up with at times, but nonetheless hilarious at best.
Just as he had fully settled into his new life as an Anti-Villain League super-agent along with his partner/wife Lucy (Wiig), Gru (Carell) suddenly is raked over the coals when their new director of operations Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate) after failing to once again capture former 1980s child TV superstar-turn-master thief Balthazar Bratt (Parker) in a recent operation and promptly gives both of them their walking papers.
Worried that they won�t be able to support their adopted daughters tween Margo (Cosgrove), tomboyish Edith (Dana Gaier) and sweetly-innocent Agnes (Nev Scharrel) and the majority of the Minions (Pierre Coffin) walking out on him for refusing to go back to their bad-guy status, he suddenly learns that he has a long-lost twin brother Dru (also Carell), whom both their parents secretly separated them from birth; and is living large on the cheese-loving Mediterranean island of Freedonia as a rich pig breeder.
With a sunnier disposition and more hair than him, Dru also reveals that they both come from a long line of criminal masterminds including their now-deceased father, and now wants to learn the ropes. The reformed supervillian is reluctant to teach him his former ways for the sake of his family at first, until Bratt steals the Dumont Diamond in a nefarious revenge scheme against Hollywood for ditching him when he hit puberty that now becomes a mission to redeem himself with his ex-employers, even at the risk of damaging his newfound relationship with his �ber-eager and -hapless sibling.
Along with subplots of Lucy uneasily getting the hang of the stepmom role, Agnes engaged in a obsessive hunt for a �unicorn� on the island and the Minions getting involved in a crazy series of misadventures as usual, Despicable Me 3 manages to bring out the main characters� vulnerabilities not seen in previous films, as it touches on their human sides of being a family unit more concerned with their wellbeing than their own devices and agendas is a sudden mature step to give them more fuller dimensions the screenwriters get more credit for with such a ingenious script.
Carell unexpectedly surprises with expanding the emotional traits in his dual role of two brothers finding themselves and each other as a personal best, including Wiig�s Lucy trying to grasp what her role of being a parent is truly about and Parker is the best supervillian rival in the series since Victor �Vector� Perkins from the first film as a moonwalking, bubblegum-popping spoiled brat with a robot sidekick (Andy Nyman) providing the majority of the laughs.
Despicable Me 3, so far, is the best animated comedy of the summer full of �80s-referenced nostalgia, showbiz satire and slapstick humour to keep adults and kids truly entertained and hopes that there�s a lot more for the franchise�s future in store.
The Beguiled (Focus Features/Universal)
Cast: Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell
Director: Sofia Coppola
Producers: Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola and Youree Henley
Screenplay: Sofia Coppola; based on the Thomas P. Cullinan novel and original screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp
Earning the Best Director award at this year�s Cannes Festival,The Beguiled offers a quiet if unsettling resolution in writer/director Sofia Coppola�s remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood-Geraldine Page Southern Gothic drama classic, in enhancing a female empowerment theme throughout the period piece showing the true signage of a mature director at hand.
At the close of the American Civil War, a lone schoolgirl named Amy (Oona Laurence) goes mushroom-picking in the woods at a nearby battlefield in West Virginia when she comes across a wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Farrell) and decides to bring him to her all-girl boarding seminary school to recover, run by its prim-and-proper headmistress and proprietor Martha Farnsworth (Kidman).
McBurney�s presence has a profound effect on the school that has fallen on hard times since the war erupted with a only a scant amount of students left, including on her, her remaining teacher Edwina Dabney (Dunst) and bored teenaged student Alicia (Fanning). With the girls left with nowhere to go and the possibility of having him being discovered by passing Confederate units, Farnsworth is given more worries as what to do with the affable young combatant when his stay becomes longer than anticipated and is contributing to the raging hormones and jealousy belying the sexual tension running rampant on her premises that could compromise everything.
Coppola�s steady and tense direction and script and Philippe Le Sourd�s darkened and subdued cinematography and natural lighting adds greatly to the atmosphere, much as its soulful innocence amidst in a time of war as a neat attention detail and so well paced within her seasoned and young cast.
Kidman puts on a strong conviction as the schoolmarm that is way more believable and earthy than her last Civil War role with 2003�s Cold Mountain and Farrell performs brilliantly in his best performance in years by being seductive without trying to be wholly convincing on the surface. While the other younger actors do quite finely throughout, Laurence is a most exceptional case in her weighty role and is a future talent to watch out for.
Expect this film to be a real potential contender come awards season time, as the film makes for a compelling compositional study than in any of the director�s previous works since Lost in Translation made her a cinematic force to be reckoned with (and it still remains so). Coppola�s gives The Beguiled remake a full-bodied treatment in reflecting the last gasp of genteel American Southern hospitality and elegance countered up against the film�s ugly realities of war.
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