A veteran photojournalist on the Toronto 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.
Métis Mutt (Native Earth Performing Arts)
Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East
Thursday, January 26; 8 p.m.
One of this country’s versatile First Nations performers Shelton Elter brings his long-running one-man life story Métis Mutt to Toronto on his coming-of-age and coming to terms with his Métis heritage and being able to live with the scars that came with it as a homage to his own survival loaded with laughs and more than enough drama to regale.
As it starts up from a scene from his days as a stand-up comic throughout Western Canada – mainly in his native Alberta – before descending into a serious rant about their politically-incorrect material about First Nations people, Elter shifts back and forth about his rough upbringing in a broken home where poverty, domestic abuse and alcoholism ruled the roost on a reserve near Grande Prairie.
Between having to deal with prejudice and social ills, his only defence was through the arts from dropping out of college and theatre school to being on the comedy club circuit, where he had to denigrate himself by telling stereotypical aboriginal jokes to get a laugh from mainly white audiences, not to mention battling with drug addiction (both recreational and prescription) to numb the pain.
But there’s also a reconciliation and reconnection with his roots from visiting medicine men to cure his ailments when Western medicine failed and a soul searching to inner peace with humour, in particular by strumming a few comic tunes on guitar like the bluesy “I Like to Booze” about his alcoholic father, a “native” rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and a hilarious gay fantasy ode to The Lone Ranger.
Stage director Ron Jenkins allows Elter his freedom to come out naturally on the drum skin backdrop and stone semi-circle set and timed lighting by Tessa Stamp that take the projection designs of T. Erin Gruber that he puts on with his engaging and energetic 90-minute monologue is a bluntly honest self-portrayal of a man tackling his demons since he premiered it in 2002 and where his place is among his people and himself.
At times the production will disturb with its material – and it should – to bring attention to our relations and issues between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities that in our current year of the sesquicentennial of Confederation and recognition of First Nations rights and culture should be essential and what we’re going to do now for the next 150 years as a country and a society. Métis Mutt is one good step forward in that direction.
Métis Mutt continues through to this Sunday (February 5). For tickets and information, call 416-531-1402 or nativeearth.ca.
A Dog’s Purpose (Universal)
Cast: Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, K.J. Apa
Director: Lasse Hallström
Producer: Gavin Polone
Screenplay: W. Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells and Maya Forbes; based on the W. Bruce Cameron novel
Existentialism isn’t usually the forte conceived outside of human conscience in popular cinema too often, which is what makes the fantasy-melodrama A Dog’s Purpose that rarity to base this out of one dog’s philosophy on life itself. And outside of the controversy surrounding the film’s production (more on that later), it’s a basic if touching story bathed in its warm innocence.
A dog is born into this world and narrated from its perspective by Josh Gad, starting off as a short-lived mongrel pup, then coming back as playful red retriever who gets rescued by a eight-year boy in the 1950s, Ethan (Bryce Gheisar), under the protest of his despondent salesman father (Luke Kirby); and given the name Bailey, they become inseparable through life’s changes.
Growing up into a high school football star in the ‘60s, teenaged Ethan (Apa) manages to gain a girlfriend Hannah (Britt Robertson) through Bailey and also shares a bond with his dog until a accident dashes his dreams and their young romance. Feeling all this until his final days, Bailey is driven to reunite with his beloved Ethan but more so, trying to find the meaning of life.
Reincarnated again through many decades – and breeds – from Ellie, a dedicated female German Shepard police dog in gritty 1970s Chicago with a lonely decorated cop (John Ortiz) to a corgi in the ‘80s named Tino for an Atlanta college student (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) who compensates food for any relationship until she hooks up with a fellow student (Pooch Hall) with his dog Roxie into a loving family.
While relatively satisfied with these past lives, Bailey yet still hopes to find Ethan which by fate runs into him again in his next incarnation into the present as an abandoned St. Bernard named Buddy, only now as a crusty middle-aged farmer (Quaid) on the family farm full of regrets. Bailey also manages to find Hannah as well, returning home as a widowed grandmother (Lipton) and a chance to make both of them happy again.
Sweetly sentimental in its own right, director Lasse Hallström (The Hundred-Foot Journey; Chocolat; What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) never spares the expense of beautifully shot scenery he’s best known for and evenly paced into a meaningful story about love and connection as adapted from W. Bruce Cameron’s 2010 bestselling novel, which he also co-wrote the script along with Cathryn Michon, Audrey Wells and Maya Forbes to make it a smooth, neat translation to the big screen.
Gad’s narration throughout the film is given a simplistic touch of the observations brimmed with humour, soul and luminosity; as much as the casting of the film is filled with seasoned and newcomer actors adding to the film’s characteristics and undertones. Quaid and Lipton, despite their reduced screen time, make an ideal aged couple with commonalities undiminished by time that make it charming to watch.
As for the controversy of accusations of animal cruelty behind the shooting of one scene where the German Shepard stunt dog was forced to dive into the river to rescue a girl with the video that went viral, it turns out that that video in question was doctored by an certain animal rights group looking to discredit the film, the filmmakers and its box office chances, not knowing the difference between a real dog and a CGI one, which both were used (click here for the full story on W. Bruce Cameron refuting these charges of abuse).
Having said that, A Dog’s Purpose is a family-friendly fare that doesn’t come out from Hollywood these days that isn’t tied to a franchise, drenched with religious messages or commercial-oriented venture geared toward kids to make it that refreshing change of pace, as well as pose and muse about those questions about life in general through the loyalty and dedication of a fine dog.
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