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.

EDITION #7 - WEEK OF JULY 21-27, 2014

Plane Hazy Sequel

Planes: Fire & Rescue (Disney Toon Studios/Walt Disney)

Voice Talents: Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Curtis Armstrong

Director: Roberts Gannaway

Producer: Ferrell Barror

Screenplay: Jeffrey M. Howard; story by John Lasseter, Bobs Gannaway, Jeffrey M. Howard and Peggy Holmes

Film Review

Regardless that the Cars wannabe 2013 spinoff Planes didn’t win over many critics (including myself), it managed to pull in $219 million worldwide at the box office and a sequel was already in the can. Planes: Fire & Rescue fares a bit better than last time, if only as a satisfactory holdover in an otherwise rare Pixar-free period.

Dusty Crophopper (Cook) returns to Propwash Junction a hometown hero and aviation star after winning the Wings Across the Globe race, still the humble plane he started out from to his pals fuel truck Chug (Brad Garrett), mechanic forklift Dottie (Teri Hatcher) and vet mentor Skipper (Stacy Keach) just in time for the region’s Corn Festival, the region’s biggest event of the year. During a run with Skipper, Dusty runs into a mishap that damages his accelerator gearbox, forcing him to bow out from racing again.

Nearly causing a fire at the town’s airport in a frustrated rage that threatens to put aging fire truck Mayday (Hal Holbrook) out of a job and the Corn Festival in jeopardy, Dusty volunteers to become the airport’s second firefighter and heads off to the mountainous Piston Peak to get firefighting training under the guidance of fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (Harris) and his fearless forest firefighting crew, whom he finds very hard to impress at all.

Hampered by his inability to fly faster and getting caught up in the local politics by a grandstanding egotistical park official Cad Spinner (John Michael Higgins) looking to reopen his grandiose resort called the Fuse Lodge (get it?) in the midst of fire season in the national park, the crop duster must gain a newfound courage to overcome his limitations like he did before when a real threat comes to test his mettle.

Got to admit the film has more action and thrills , a new slew of characters entering the frame from Bowen voicing the eager and smitten Lil’ Dipper over Dusty (boarding on the creepy side of obsession), Wes Studi as Native American heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter and mech wiz Maru by Armstrong, plus cameo vocals of Erik Estrada (there’s a funny CHiPs spoof he appears in here), René Auberjonois and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger, among others, including the brightly coloured animation and near-realistic forest fire scenes make it credible viewing, even in 3-D.

However, the script’s humour is kind of mediocre along with an abundance of flatulence jokes thrown around wears thin very quickly and the direction’s a bit too fast-paced, so it doesn’t hold the attention of the younger kids much, not to mention a couple of corny songs added to the soundtrack contributed by Spencer Lee (“Still I Fly”) and Brad Paisley (“Runway Romance”), who also has a speaking role here. And how come Planes’ Ishani doesn’t make an appearance here? A love triangle between her, Dusty and Lil’ Dipper would have made things more interesting.

Planes: Fire & Rescue will keep the older kids and some adults amused, so while it does have its moments and it’s good to explore a new genre to keep it from being repetitive by going the natural disaster route instead of another aerial racing story as well as discuss about the acceptance of life’s changes and unusual twists, little much is new to see.

African Rapper Rises, Nkrumah Play Lags

Habari Africa Festival 2014 Reviews

For its inaugural festival weekend at Harbourfront of July 18 to 20, the Batuki Music Society along with Harbourfront Centre made it out alright in showcasing African culture in a broader sense, other than the music concerts Batuki usual promotes around Toronto; it excelled in places yet things needed improved in others.

Moudu Ekhor with “Laundry” (background left) and “Prosperity” (background centre); “Rhythms of the Niger Delta” (right).

Local artist/cartoonist Moudu Ekhor’s exhibit Images of Africa in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space conveyed both a traditional and contemporary view of his native Nigeria over memory and symbolism to the mundane daily observances blending in the aesthetics of cubism and his own cartoonish styles that could be seen in straight out realism, clean lines and expressions in “Eke Market Day,” “Creek Transportation” and “Marital Wahala!” in pencil crayon to reclaiming what the European masters of the 1920s and ‘30s saw and executed from its origins of the African mask for “Mi Own,” “Identity,” “Ancestral Blessings” and his richest work displayed in oils on canvas, “Rhythms of the Niger Delta.”

The world premiere of Kwame Nkrumah’s Rise and Fall in the Brigantine Room July 19, as authored and directed by playwright Edward Ulzen a.k.a. Kwame Stephens; saw the life and times of the pioneering African nationalist who led his country of Ghana to independence as the first nation on the continent to do so in the modern era and spread his pan-African ideas in the one-act play had its moments, but could have tighten up in some areas.

As seen through Nkrumah (Derek Thorne) and his influential mother Nyanibah (Keniece Harris), it spans from his birth in 1909 up to his death in 1972 as a communicative bond between mother and child of his trials and tribulations about his ten-year studies in America and Britain, regaling everything from its northern climes and racism he endured, yet admiring their progress and intellectualism sprouted by Lenin and Marcus Garvey, who would influence his beliefs and writings.

Left-right: Derek Thorne and Keniece Harris.

Returning triumphantly to found the newly-free Ghana from England and becoming its first president in 1957, Nkrumah descends into paranoia and oppressive measures after three assassination attempts that eventually leads to him being overthrown by a military coup in 1966 and ailing away in bitter exile in neighbouring Guinea, with Nyanibah trying to understand her son’s ambitions and to convince him to end his political purges, only much to late to save his rule.

It’s a lot to run in under an hour and, for the most part, Stephens does succeed in that in Rise and Fall. Both Thorne and Harris make good performances in their roles with drama and light humour keep it in step, if only the production values are low-keyed and amateurish in the audio-visual department and the set changes take a bit too much time, creating a lot of gap. I understand this is low-rent theatre, but I’ve seen plays with the same restrictions do better that this, plus the choice of venue was poor with the distracting music pounding in the background outside threw things off.

Still, the effort put forward by Stephens and his team is valid and true in its context that does invoke reflection of a man caught in the era of the Cold War, of the burdens he faced of that of his nation and continent that did embrace his idea of a “United States of Africa” in the end. With a larger cast and proper budget, this play does have great potential.

Left-right: Scenes from EVOLUTION, Redpath Stage

For the few who braved the drizzly evening weather of July 19 at the outdoor Redpath Stage to bear witness to Ijovudu Dance International’s EVOLUTION of dance and percussion polyrhythms mixing the dances of Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa. Over drums and calabashes, the dance troupe remained enthusiastic for the 45 minutes over a rain-slicked stage – a rather bold risk – as the audience cheered under umbrellas. If there’s another example of endurance and artistry achieved with such verve for this performance, I don’t know what it could be.

Two acts at the WestJet Stage rocked the house to near-capacity crowds for Habari Africa Festival; first with the Parisian-based Congolese band Black Bazar July 18 and South Sudanese international hip-hop star Emmanuel Jal for July 19.

Black Bazar, WestJet Stage, July 18, 2014

Black Bazar’s elixir of soukous, rumba and highlife sounds permeated the air for good ol’ party sounds (“Karashika”) to some topical issues involving African immigration to Europe (“Face A”) as sung by its two leads Ballou Canta and Willy Moreno, along with an accompanying standard Malian dancer shaking her booty to Western rock and Afro-Latin grooves was a vibrant stance.

Emmanuel Jal, WestJet Stage, July 18, 2014

Blasting out the gate with his prideful “Cush” and joyful “Babylon,” Jal took instant command of the crowd with his music, introduced a new song “This Is My Power” debuted for the Toronto audience and the likely crossover appeal of “She Likes Me.” Mainly, the one-hour concert – which easily could have been stretched to a 90-minute one since he had loads of likable material – consisted of tunes regarding his time as a child soldier in the Sudanese Civil War of the 1980s and ‘90s, as stated in “Emma,” “We Want Peace” and the spoken word rant “Forced to Sin” holding its quiet, powerful court in having to recall his experiences that included forced cannibalism and lost childhood. Yet, being lucky to survive the odds, Jal himself is a force of nature onto himself onstage.

Bad weather besides and some more variety regarding African food choices, the first Habari Africa Festival weekend was a well-spent success with plenty to do and see about the African spectrum, showing its negativity and positivity all at once.

Archie Bites the Big One

Pop Culture Commentary

Many say they’ll take a bullet for a friend and so it went in Life With Archie Issue #36, released this past week, had the titular auburn-haired character Archie Andrews shielding his openly gay friend Kevin Keller from an assassin’s gun at the gang’s old hangout Pop’s during a political campaign, ironically enough addressing the need for gun control.

Announced back in April, Archie Comics publisher/co-CEO Jon Goldwater made it clear that the all-American hero would meet his demise and conclude the series that followed the adult rendition of Archie and his Riverdale friends, which also explored in recent years Archie marrying and having children with rival gal pals Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge – and a interracial one with Josie and The Pussycats’ African-American band member Valerie Smith – all in separate issues, and other topics of the day where Archie is no longer the skirt-chasing horndog teen and matures. Issue #37 will end the series where it will look at Riverdale one year after his death and how the gang has come to terms with it.

“The way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,” Goldwater explained in the decision to kill off its character. “He dies heroically. He dies selflessly. We wanted to do something that was impactful that would really resonate with the (real) world and bring how just how Archie is important to everyone. That’s how we came up wit the storyline of saving Kevin. He could have saved Betty. He could have save Veronica. We get that, but metaphorically, by saving Kevin, as new Riverdale is born.”

And these are valid points made. The comic does take issue about gun control, a pandemic in our daily lives, particularly in America of late with its runaway shootings, as well as about established gay rights as Kevin Keller, first introduced in the Archie Comics spinoff Veronica #202 in 2010 and later in his own solo title in 2012, still ongoing and popular, showing the changing societal trend over these matters that has been the mainstay of Archie since his 1941 debut, representing the new rise of a demographic and subculture in the post-World War II era, the teenager, that would later explode with the advent of rock, pop and R&B music in the 1950s and the wholesomeness and attitude of the character himself.

So why should Archie remain immortal like his DC and Marvel superhero counterparts, who have also took on socio-political matters? Unlike those who headed off to the great comic book store in the sky from Superman to Spider-Man and returned back from the grave, this Archie will not since he’s not a superhero himself, although other incarnations of him will continue in other Archie titles.

Having not read an Archie comic in ages myself, this change reflects a certain reality here with Archie’s death brings a more permanent nature and gravity that treating it like some kind of publicity stunt to drive sales or resurrect one’s popularity and stature in pop culture, even after 76 years. Grim as it may be to some, comic book heroes and heroines can’t escape the Grim Reaper either like the rest of us. It takes a certain courage to deal with death and address it in the open, particularly a violent one for such an iconic character like Archie Andrews, to us realize the humanity – and mortality – within all of us.