A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #140 - WEEK OF JUNE 19-25, 2017

Dark octane fuels Cars 3

Cars 3 (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Voice Talents: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion

Director: Brian Fee

Producer: Kevin Reher

Screenplay: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich; story by Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell and Jonathon E. Steward

Film Review

Better known as one of their sunnier franchises, Pixar’s Cars takes a dark turn of the wheel and even darker octane fuelling their third entry like more of a Rocky III of the series as being its best after the oddly-confusing (for some), if rather engaging 2011 follow-up Cars 2, as it shifts gears back onto focusing on its main racing superstar, Lightning McQueen (Wilson).

Now a veteran champion on the racing circuit, Lightning McQueen faces some even tougher competition with a new cocky nemesis named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), a next-generation rookie heavily reliant on current technology that’s been helping him win more races and giving McQueen a serious run for the money.

After a horrific racetrack accident puts him out for the season and convalescing back home in quiet Radiator Springs, it’s a haunting reminder of what happened to his late, great mentor and friend Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) back in the day after he got unceremoniously put out to pasture before his time by the younger set. Not ready to call it quits as his other contemporaries have with the upcoming next-gen racers, he heads off to his sponsor’s high-tech Racing Center to get his mojo back into auto to show that he’s still got plenty of mileages to go.

But as he soon discovers, Sterling (Fillion), the new owner of Rust-Eze is more interested in capitalizing on Lightning’s legacy than having him back on the race course and having a young, energetic trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo) treating him like a vintage model instead of racing material isn't helping matters. With only the Florida 500 race days away to prove himself again, he seeks out Doc's former trainer Smokey (Cooper) to help him figure it out, as well as to see other things in a newer light.

Director Brian Fee puts Cars 3 into a subdued and nadir feel in its digitalized film composition that might go over the heads of the younger crowd, while keeping its humour light enough to see them through it in the highly agreeable and mature script. But then again, their Cars franchise has always had a hard time getting the film critics behind it ever since it first drove onto the screens over a decade ago, accusing it of being nothing more than a excuse to boost merchandise sales over cinematic artistry as its been better known, even trying to pass off their rather weakish aerial spinoff Planes to their Disney owners a couple of years back.

Wilson puts a lot of gravitas voicing Lightning like he’s never done before that is a quite refreshing curve to his character seeing vulnerabilities cracking his once-impenetrable confident veneer, yet willing to let humility be a good instructor. While some of the original cast members, namely Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Luigi (Tony Shalhoub); get reduced to minor parts shrinks the laughs they once provided, it is nice to see Alonzo, Cooper and Hammer’s new characters, including one numbers-cruncher analyst Natalie Certain (Kerry Washington) with her dry humour; fills that vacuum and gives the film more depth, especially with Cooper’s fatherly demeanour.

And totally watch for the hillbilly demolition derby from hell scene for one maniac of a school bus named Miss Fritter, as voiced by raspy Lea DeLaria; almost steals the limelight here better than Bob Peterson replacing Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks, now just a more annoying sports commentator who still lives to let out the air out of Lightning’s tires; plus the usage of Newman’s previously-recorded material before his death in 2006 in the film's flashbacks surprisingly adds very little to the story.

While it may be a little off-putting to see an animated film taking a somewhat shadowy detour, Cars 3 is probably Pixar’s most honest film to date on what it means to go against the odds and finding oneself in the process. And its preceding short Lou has a mysterious benevolent figure aiding a school playground’s lost and found box teaching a bully the meaning of sharing and respect for others’ belongings, as written and directed by Dave Mullins; is a fun and humbling lesson on manners that is so sorely needed in today’s world.

Native Sons and Daughters

Luminato 2017 Reviews

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Tributaries: Part 3 – Reclamation and Part 4 – Emancipation

David Pecault Square, 215 King Street West

Wednesday, June 14; 9:30 p.m./10:30 p.m.

As Canada’s sesquicentennial fast approaches, there’s been a heightened awareness on our relationship with the country’s First Nations community and its women that the annual multidisciplinary arts bash Luminato addressed for its opening night event Tributaries on Indigenous artists from across the Americas. Managing to catch the latter-half of the four-part program, Reclamation and Emancipation; it raised those issues as much as it did entertain thoroughly as its mandate allowed.

On a much more scaled-down outdoor center stage unlike previous years when it mixed visual artistry with practicality in David Pecault Square, the restless crowd awaited for Mexican-American Mixtex star Lila Downs to start the third part and disappoint she did not in her hour-long set. In a melange of ranchera, cumbia, folk, Latin jazz and hip-hop the tough Latina with the timbre husky vocals, with the spunk of Selina and Gloria Estafan; never minced words when singing about ecology, Mexican journalists murdered by government and local mafia figures, migrant workers’ blues and a sly commentary about “whole countries who have broken our hearts” that shall remain anonymous.

When not riding on socio-political contexts of her content, the Latin Grammy- and Grammy-winning Downs also put a little something on singing about a spurned romance (her only English tune “Keeper of The Flame”), a tribute to 1950s Mexican cinema stars (“Lejos Suplicas”) and closing out on a bittersweet note over a spicy confectionary (“Balas y Chocolate” (“Bullets and Chocolate”)) that kept her performance well in tune and in touch with the people.

Fourth-part Emancipation with a DJ-VJ call-and-response production where First Nations turntablist Bear Witness of the Cayuga Nation and Afro-Columbian/Wayuu vocalist Lido Pimentia took to the tiny stage near Roy Thomson Hall with Native dancers and b-boy/b-girl dancers while video images mashed-up Native stereotypes from classic Hollywood Westerns looped in unison to the on-spot tunes, was a little more out there in concept that probably would have been more effective if the said video screen was above the very stage itself instead of being located across the field. Still, the message and music did have points to make despite this mild, if well-meaning misfire.

Notes of a Native Song

The Famous Spiegeltent, David Pecault Square, 215 King Street West

Thursday, June 15; 8 p.m.

In the wake of last year’s riveting Academy Award-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, there has been a resurgence of sorts on the words and legacy of James Baldwin, who leaned heavily on the ugly truth of American race and class relations with a touch of smart, cheeky witticism that the author/activist was best noted for. Moving between song and spoken poetry, Notes of a Native Song also moves in that manner as conceived and performed by Stew and The Negro Problem that the lead singer/guitarist aimed diligently, even in mocking tones in trying to connect with Baldwin’s words for the 21st century.

For their four-night run at its Canadian premiere in The Famous Spiegeltent, Stew along with collaborator/bassist Heidi Rodewald, pianist Art Terry, drummer Marty Beller and violinist Dana Lyn played for 80 minutes with superfluous numbers like the punky blues of “If You Need a Little Soul,” “Which Harlem” and a Southern Rocker called “The Amen Corner" to archival and artistic visual projections about the (un)changed world of Baldwin’s worldview, including “Are You Following Him?”, the deepest tune about lynching since Billie Holliday sang “Strange Fruit.”

Regardless of the heavy subject of Notes, its highlights included Stew did a little standup comedy about the current social climate in America; some beatnik cabaret with “King Richard” when Baldwin slammed his ex-champion/friend Richard Wright for his controversial 1940 classic novel Native Son; psychedelic ’60s rock vibe of “Jimmy, Take Me Higher” where the white liberal establishment and Civil Rights movement united against Baldwin's boldly-open gayness and “Florida,” the satirical punk-pop dig at the Sunshine State post-Trayvon Martin killing, which is not so remote from the previous tune “Are You Following Him?”.

From its more eclectic fares like the Euro-Arabic grunge tune “In Istanbul” on the author's travels to separate his art from his politics; “Power Is” about corruption and the monsters who willingly consume it to its ending jazz-rock salute to its greats with “Sonny’s Blues,” Stew stirs his pot of conscience homage that is Notes of a Native Song with a bone of contention holding a lot of relevance of his and Baldwin's words.

Life Reflected

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 1 Front Street East

Sunday, June 18; 7 p.m.

As it’s been said, Canada is not a nation of hero-worshippers in a grandiose way as we prefer to silently honour them. Women often get pushed to the side of such accolades as Life Reflected; tries to correct this, courtesy of the National Arts Centre (NAC), in a flurry of new classical compositions and audio/visual for the two-night run at Sony Centre after a highly-acclaimed world premiere last spring in Ottawa.

Four Canadian women, namely novelist Alice Munro, online activist Amanda Todd, astronaut/neurologist Roberta Bondar and poet Rita Joe; as envisioned and enabled by creator-director Donna Feore for the NAC Orchestra goes a little deeper than just commissioned music to the visuals of these ladies from different walks of life, including one shortened way too soon; as the ensemble under conductor Alexander Shelley performed under a 70-minute stretch of varying degrees that all offered unique perspectives matching these individuals themselves.

The first stave, “Dear Life” based on Munro’s 2012 swan-song work adapted by Merilyn Simonds, was its longest piece by 25 minutes; as soprano Erin Wall harmonized to Zosha Di Castri's dramatic moody score and narrated by actor Martha Henry. Focusing on Munro's own relationship with her mother spanning decades from her life on the family mink farm in rural Ontario to married life out on the West Coast, it moves between isolationism to togetherness on both physical and emotional planes. While a lot of crescendos are involved, it kind of loses its momentum mid-way onwards but at least its stark photo images courtesy of Larry Towell keeps it darkness quite centered.

“My Name is Amanda Todd” has a kinetic flow by composer Jocelyn Morlock as descending digitalized snowflakes intermingling within the vastness of cyberspace as busy-looking as any present-day teenager's life would be. Then it descends into the dark side of (online) bullying as Todd became a tragic victim of, which drove her into despair and suicide at fifteen in 2012 that grabbed the attention of the nation and the world but not before her YouTube video immortalized her and the ongoing debate of these subjects.

The music and visuals are dizzying and exuberant are meant to be tributes to Todd as life lived with gentle persuasion of one young lady’s battle cry against those faceless trolls who “anonymously” hide behind their keyboards and if the ten-minute segment’s final visual doesn’t melt your heart like snow, then nothing will.

As musical notes light up like stars, composer Nicole Lizee’s “Bondarsphere” totally dives into the life and times of Canada’s first woman and neurologist astronaut with archival and personal footage of Dr. Bondar’s days growing up in Sault Ste. Marie to her historical 1992 eight-day spaceflight, as well as her landscape and nature photography talents that also made her the first artisan space traveller (later followed by Guy Laliberte) sure brings back memories. The fifteen-minute compositions here, both musical and visual, meld the old of classical oeuvre to the new of hip-hop looping brings an avant-garde, if fresher approach to what latter-day symphonies can offer.

“I Lost My Talk” addresses the residential school experiences of Mi’kmaq poet Joe in getting a lush, eighteen-minute silent cinematic treatment by director Barbara Willis Sweete with John Estacio’s highly sweeping and anthemic score. Performed by the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s hybrid of Western ballet and Indigenous dance choreographed by Tekaronhiahkhwa Santee Smith in Nova Scotia’s Killbear Provincial Park co-starring Monique Mojica, the short holds moments of anger and reconciliation of a people reclaiming their tongue and heritage the poem portrays that the healing experience is more important than languishing with past injustices and misperceptions, as it suggests for both Native and non-Native communities engage in.

A true triumph of what the mandate of Luminato is about, Life Reflected effectively and artistically showcases the contributions these women have made in the last half-century for Canada, the world and their gender on female empowerment, as Bondar's own clever words would put it: “I’m a cheerleader for women, but I’m a role model for men.”

***

Luminato 2017 continues through to this Sunday (June 25). For tickets and information, call 416-368-4849 or luminato.com.