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 #49 - WEEK OF JUNE 29-JULY 5, 2015

Ted’s still cuddly and crass

Ted 2 (Universal)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth

Director: Seth MacFarlane

Producers: Scott Stuber, Jason Clark, Seth MacFarlane and John Jacobs

Screenplay: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

Film Review

The world’s naughtiest teddy bear is back in Ted 2, after the previous gross-out adult comedy/fantasy grossed $500 million globally in 2012, and is literally out for seconds of laughs and pop culture pokes and tributes galore. And while there’s nothing entirely fresh from it like any given sequel does, it doesn’t feel too tired either in sticking to the formula creator/writer/director Seth MacFarlane meshes out by adding some new dimensions to it.

Ted (voice of MacFarlane) and his flesh-and-blood grocery co-worker girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Barth) get hitched in their hometown of Boston, only to find that they’ve come to a rut in their one year of wedded bliss and the only solution to help patch up their marriage is to start a family of their own. Now with Ted having no semen (or a penis for that matter) and Tami-Lynn’s own uterus gone barren, they try everything from getting a sperm donor from his best friend John Bennett (Wahlberg) to going for adoption. Out from these attempts, the stuffed toy learns that since he’s not considered human in the eyes of the law, he’s essentially stripped of his basic rights from having a job or being legally married, let alone allowed a chance at parenthood.

John, himself still smarting over being divorced from long-time love Lori; helps him get a law firm crazy enough to take his case with newly-minted lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Seyfried) doing this pro bono pitted up against a veteran attorney (John Slattery) as hired by the Hasbro toy company president (John Carroll Lynch) sold on the idea from Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the nemesis from the last film still obsessed in possessing Ted; with a new plot to kidnap him in order to find the essence that makes him alive.

There’s plenty that fans of the first film will get in abundance here with MacFarlane’s rapier wit cutting down any political correctness, celebrity roasts, the usual scenes of substance abuse and profanities, not to mention the array of well-known cameos willing to poke fun at themselves (Michael Dorn! Liam Neeson! Tom Brady! Jay Leno!), including Patrick Stewart returning as the cynical narrator along for the ride. The opening credit sequence itself is a nod towards old Hollywood musical numbers – an obvious influence from MacFarlane’s controversial hosting of the 2012 Academy Awards – is a treat to watch from the start, including satirical references from Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Jurassic Park throughout.

Wahlberg retains his schlub-like straight man role always at his best buddy’s side while still learning to grow up and move on with his life; Seyfried, as the totally out-of-it lawyer more into pot culture like her male protagonists than any form of pop culture, is a fun addition and potential for becoming John’s soulmate; Barth comes through as a tough-talking spouse completely devoted to a teddy bear for a husband (don’t tax your brain trying to figure that one out, it’s a fantasy, okay?) and although he’s brief in his moments, Morgan Freeman as a prominent New York civil rights lawyer commands with a straight face while still able to get a laugh as Ted’s only hope left in being recognized as a sentient being.

Aside from that, the film puts out some serious heart on what it means to be human and also taken from the toy bear’s point of view, in not being consider a member of society when he’s so real to others and himself. So it’s not completely a mindless comedy MacFarlane along with co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild aiming for cheap pot-shots, but more over the emotional core and tested friendships through the thick and thin of it.

Plus, MacFarlane’s talents as a songwriter shine again with “Mean Old Moon” as performed by Seyfried as a future jazz standard (perhaps aiming for another run for a Best Original Song nomination for next year’s Academy Awards?). Sweetly crude as ever, Ted 2 ’s frat-boy hilarity won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is a one hell of a riot watching it.

Jarreau jams, The Fam slams

2015 Toronto Jazz Festival Reviews

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Al Jarreau

Toronto Star Tent, 100 Queen Street West

Monday, June 22; 8:30 p.m.

Three years ago, Al Jarreau was struck down with pneumonia and cardiac arrhythmias while on tour in France and things looked kind of grim for the renowned jazz-pop crooner with 40 years of hits under his belt. Now at 75, he looked as vibrant as ever in his recovery as well demonstrated at his performance of his greats and cover tunes everyone in the tent cheered with enthusiasm that matched the lively twinkle in his eye.

Rocketing right off the bat with classics “Mornin’,” “I Need Somebody” and “I’ll Be There For You,” his versatile vocal range never flagged or his sense of humour in entertaining the Toronto audience for his second appearance in two years, as he joked to his agent in returning with “What do I need, a Christmas dinner invitation [to be here]?”

As well as the hits “We’re In This Love Together,” “Take Five” and “Theme from Moonlighting,” Jarreau also dug out some near-forgotten gems like “My Old Friend,” “Says,” “Boogie Down” and closing number “Trouble in Paradise,” including a gentle sweet rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and came on swinging with a vibe for “Get Back Out.”

For a ninety-minute concert, it definitely was a jam-packed jam from Jarreau – although leaving out a few chestnuts from his repertoire “After All,” “Spain” and “Mas Que Noda” – that was a smoothed over evening filled with warmth and cheer. And hopefully it won’t have to be a Christmas dinner invitation for him to come back to Toronto again.

Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra

Toronto Star Tent, 100 Queen Street West

Thursday, June 25; 12:30 p.m.

Jazz on a midday can just be as good than an evening show coming from the Juno-winning Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra (CJJO), now winding down a cross-country tour of late, in a reasonably attended show as the leader and soprano saxophonist showed off her competency in her musicianship skills of her Montréal-based entourage and not long after star trumpeter Ingrid Jensen joined her younger sister onstage right after their peppery opening number “Tree Mount.”

In the following “Treelines” taken from CJJO’s latest album Habitat (Justin Time) as a tribute to their British Columbian birthplace, there was a lot of dramatic builds and up-tempos as it did for “Blue Yonder” and intersecting into a new, unrecorded tune “Swirl Around” where Christine played alongside Ingrid’s diligent solos and seemed to know how to catch up with her sibling well enough.

A little avant-garde kicked into a serious, if calmer number Jensen paid tribute in regarding Native rights on “Nishiyuu” and yet pulled out all the stops for the Mingus-meets-New Orleans-meets-France ender “Wink,” a bouncy cool swinger with fluid momentum. The only thing that was distracting was Ingrid’s fidgety behaviour regarding her instrument that seemed to have a persistent condensation problem that she kept shaking the trumpet after every solo number. But at least her playing wasn’t effected from being rich and solemn whenever it was.

Snarky Puppy

Toronto Star Tent, 100 Queen Street West

Friday, June 26; 8:30 p.m.

The young and dynamic jazz fusion collective Snarky Puppy put in a lot of pulse in their return engagement to the jazz fest in a bigger venue and fans didn’t go out unenthusiastic, as the unit from Brooklyn led by Michael League and their vivacious sound that has made them a household name and have become the Yellowjackets for the 21st century.

Bringing out an array of musical vibes of electric jazz, rock, R&B, funk and hip-hop, “The Fam” – as they often refer themselves – gave out a heavily energized feel through their songbook “Lingus,” “Thing of Gold” and “Quarter Master” enough to evoke the ghost of pioneering great Joe Zawinul in that very tent, even slowing it down for “Shofukan.” Little wonder why they’ve developed a huge following in the last couple of years, including their dedication in music education they practice in each town they come to.

A very tight and breathlessly kinetic show, these Pups sure has some bite into their concerts and hoping that their next Toronto appearance will come back soon enough.

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

Not much to complain about the line-up and the weather held up most of the time, this round had a bit more jazzy feel and relied on less of bringing in other genre groups that have been propping up the fest in recent times (Willie Nelson? Melissa Etherbridge? Kool & the Gang?). But that has been a problem with all jazz festivals worldwide of late and not just Toronto alone with the giants now gone, the second wave either teaching and/or retiring from the road and the new lions and lionesses trying to build a rep and credibility within the camp.

Hopefully from out this list they have assembled, they can replicate this to build more of a jazz-centric affair to what the late co-founder Jim Galloway had hope to do in the promotion and proliferation of the music itself and to its audience. But as my father, who passed away last month and introduced me to jazz as a kid (and who loved reading my reviews I sent him on the fest every year) would say, “It’s a hard music to play.” At the time he said that in my teens, I disagreed with him. Now, I get it and I thank him for making me get it.

Honoured Colour Guards, Symphony in the round

2015 Luminato Festival Reviews

Part 2 of a 2-part series

Left-right: Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock and Money Mark perform “Quattro Mentos” with the Somerville High School colour guard team; Nelly Furtado belts out “World Premiere” during Kitchener-Waterloo’s Ventures’ program and David Byrne (centre) sings “I Was Changed” with Lucius (left) and St. Vincent (right) for Longueuil, Québec’s Les Éclipses during Contemporary Color’s world premiere at Air Canada Centre June 23 at Luminato 2015.

Contemporary Color

Air Canada Centre, 40 Bay Street

Tuesday, June 23; 7 p.m.

The genesis behind David Byrne’s latest project Contemporary Color goes way back to 2008 when a high school colour guard troupe requested a largely unknown orchestral instrumental film soundtrack to Robert Wilson’s 1988 film The Forest by the Talking Heads legend which he allowed for no charge with one stipulation, a video copy of the performance out of curiosity. Several months passed before he received the DVD and was highly impressed with the mixture of recorded music, military guard and dance choreographic performance that would culminate three years later into Contemporary Color, only around the concept of live music.

While these things take place in the smaller high school and college gymnasiums of the world – the Winter Guard International (WGI) is the most competitive and sought-after event – I had to wonder for myself if this would work in a more spacious venue like the Air Canada Centre, where it got its two-night world premiere at Luminato and how the top ten colour guard teams from across eastern North America (two Canadian teams, Kitchener-Waterloo’s Ventures and Longueuil, Québec’s Les Éclipses, participated here) would be able to catch up with some big names being the “house band” for them, as it were.

Those questions evaporated beginning with Clifton, New York’s Shenendehowa High School tight balletic Master of Suspense program to “What’s the Use in Crying?” by Brooklyn pop quintet Lucius and would continue onwards over the next 100 minutes, interceded with documentary-like videos hosted by Mike Hartsock in-between stage changes over the history of colour guard going back to ancient Egypt to its modern incarnation by founder Peggy Twigs in the 1960s.

Some of the highlights go to Ventures’ World Premiere with fellow Canadian Nelly Furtado singing the titular song as they moved about a chequered flooring tarp as a gold lamé soloist pranced across near the end shooting metallic streamers; Black Watch from Mount Laurel, New Jersey’s What we leave behind to Devonté Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange’s “Black Watch” to an ambient movement; the gymnastics of Wait For Me performed by Syracuse’s Brigadiers as Zola Jesus sings “Something Beautiful” and Beastie Boys’ alumni Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and “Money Mark” Nishita do the instrumental electrical circus-like tune “Quattro Mentos” as the troupe from Somerville, New Jersey used a conceptual ladder and peel-back stripping under a excellent lighting direction.

Les Éclipses put on some depth with their show, minus the props unlike other teams, while Byrne performed the titular song of the program “I Was Changed” and final team Emanon from Hackettstown, New Jersey went into something beyond some cheerleading squad piece as a statement regarding technology, Beautiful Mechanical, in LED-strewn fatsuits all to the avant-garde pop of Merrill Garbus a.k.a. tUnE-yArDs’ “Body Code.”

Ones that had good ideas but weren’t as strong went to the talky Let It Begin With Me by Trumbull, Connecticut’s Alter Ego as POV monologues from the troupe members warped around conceptual composers Ira Glass and Nico Muhly’s music was distracting from the floor action and Every 40 Seconds from Pennsylvania’s Mechanicsburg High School, despite being voted as “Fan’s Favourite” at the recent WGI World Championships, relied too much on the props to be effective.

There’s more than just seeing a bunch of kids dancing around, doing banquine line-ups and tossing about multicoloured flags, prop rifles and swords in the air in (near-) perfect synchronicity that simply can’t be explained away in any review or feature on the competitive “sport of the arts” as its called, because there is a science to it all from choreography to music, costuming to lighting and turn it into something of the theatrical doesn’t come easy, even from a professional standpoint from big names with better finances to pull it off and a respectful appreciation for all that hard work at the end.

Ending it with some spectacle with an ensemble gathering of the teams and a couple of confetti cannons for the coup de grâce, Contemporary Color displayed some remarkable performances from the participants involved and a better understanding of the colour guard world that just got clearer.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra: A Symphonic Zoo

Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John Street

Sunday, June 28; 4 p.m.

For the few that braved the rain for Luminato’s final event for the year, the scheduled free outdoor concert at the Festival Hub in David Pecault Square by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, moved indoors to the Metro Hall Rotunda nearby to provide a bit of a cozy spot to a sizeable crowd without overcrowding and, surprisingly enough, good acoustics for conductor/music director Peter Oundijian and the ensemble (even joked about doing a series in the impromptu venue after conducting “O Canada”) for a ninety-minute performance of known and unknown classical pieces dedicated to and/or inspired by the other inhabitants of this planet: the animals.

Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie Overture” was first in line and rousing followed by the playfully short “Ballet of Little Chicks in Their Shells” by Ravel and a lovely segment from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” until resident conductor Earl Lee took over the podium for the next selections, Elgar’s “The Bulldog” swirling with dramatic flair and Grofe’s “The Mule” from his Grand Canyon Suite, throwing in a few Western characteristics hopping along like Cassidy.

After Oundijian returned to his station for Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” the audience got a real treat with Prokofiev’s “Peter and The Wolf” when actress Megan Follows joined the TSO in narrating with a light-hearted attachment as the orchestra built up emotion in all its sections and childlike delight.

In closing out with a fanciful rendition of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” the concert ended in good fashion and as a bonus for those who came were treated to Dark Chocolate Chunk Kind multigrain bars with each copy of the fest’s Light News publication as a nice gesture on a greyish, wet weekend (too bad the bars weren’t vegan).

FESTIVAL SUMMARY

A fairly flavourful and decent affair, this year’s festival felt a bit paired down and not enough punch compared to other years, maybe due to provincial government funding cutbacks that kind of bit into their budget as they said they would around three odd years ago. And with the newly-arrived CEO Anthony Sargent taking over the reigns from founding CEO Janet Price, who left the post earlier in the year to run The Banff Centre, he’s got his work cut out for him as the next fest turns the big number ten.

But kudos does go to Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt in doing his utmost best in bringing in the world’s best artisans since taking over a couple of years ago, even with his hands tied at times and he’s got a true champion in his pocket with Sargent, a veteran organizer in his native England with huge successes as head of the arts in Birmingham and the concert venue Sage Gateshead, who knows about the multicultural persona of this town and nation. So it’ll be a big surprise on whatever surprises will be in store for the next Luminato as it enters its second decade come 2016.