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 #36 - WEEK OF MARCH 9-15, 2015

A regal remake

Cinderella (Walt Disney)

Cast: Lily James, Helen Bonham Carter, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Producers: David Barron, Simon Kinberg and Allison Shearmur

Screenplay: Chris Weitz, based on the Charles Perrault folktale Cendrillon and the 1950 Walt Disney film Cinderella

Film Review

Rehashing a classic that was already good always will leave a skeptic or two (including myself) with a “what for?” look on their face. And since Disney doesn’t plan on stopping this anytime soon from their cherished animated library – and the lessons learned from those awful direct-to-video sequels a few years back – the live-action version of Cinderella from their 1950 chestnut manages to honour it without dumbing it down for kids and adults alike.

A expanded tragic backstory to a merchant’s daughter going from riches to rags after the death of both her parents along with her estate downplayed by her socialite stepmother Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and snotty stepsisters Drizella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), Ella’s (James) been reduced to being nothing more than a soot-covered servant – henceforth Cinderella. However, she manages to cling onto her faith in kindness, made to the promise she made to her late mother (Hayley Atwell).

By chance of fate, Ella crosses paths with handsome, young Kit (Madden) out on a forest hunt and is immediately smitten by her. As his ailing monarch father (Derek Jacobi) wishes for Kit to get married, he proposes a ball to find a suitable bride to which he agrees on the condition that it made open to all the women in the kingdom and not just royalty.

Jealously forbidden by Tremaine to go to the ball in order to get out of the messy state of affairs that has left them nearly broke and to keep her in servitude, Ella’s Fairy Godmother (Bonham Carter) comes to the rescue with her brand of magic in getting her to the festivities and meeting the prince and its well-familiar ending with a few obstacles along the way.

Director Kenneth Branagh, continuing to break away from the Shakespearean conventionality he’s been doing of late; takes a refreshing take on the tale at the helm thanks in part in Chris Weitz’s treatment in throwing in a little political intrigue and a dash of proto-feminism that earns itself, and oddly enough, doesn’t go down the musical route for a change.

The casting choices are sublimely chosen with James playing the pragmatic heroine who manages to turn lemons into lemonade almost to a fault yet plays nobody’s damsel; Madden does a Prince Charming with sincerity, intellect and wise beyond his years, if not staying in tune to being a dutiful son and the warm father/son relationship in to Jacobi’s devoted dad.

Blanchett plays out her meanly stepmom driven by power and position to the hilt as an enjoyable villainess along with McShera and Grainger who could satirically surpass the Kardashians any day of the week; as Stellan Skarsgård’s Grand Duke tries to undermine royal authority with quiet cunningness, countered that by Nonso Anozle’s interesting role as Kit’s supportive Captain of the Guards. Oh yes, and Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother almost steals the show in combining motherly charm and comical relief.

Thrown into the mix with Rob Ashford’s ballroom choreography and the cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos, this Cinderella remains majestic and even-keeled for keeping tradition and newness put together. And you’re going to love the CGI mice involved here that are almost funnier than the ones made in the original Disney version.

As for the preceding Frozen Fever mini-sequel short to the 2013 monster smash Frozen, it centers around a surprise birthday party for Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) by her cryo-kinetic sister Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf the Snowman (Josh Gad) and Sven the Reindeer while she battles a cold that produces some unexpected…“surprises.”

While the sisterly love theme is touching, the schmaltzy tune accompanying it “Making Today a Perfect Day” written by husband-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also won an Academy Award for the equally fluffy “Let It Go” for Frozen –kind of throws this thing off from being a half-decent effort and more like a glorified music video. But any reason in seeing Olaf again in anything is a good one and at least it’s a short one to sit through.

Half-full meal

My Dinner with Casey Donovan (The Cabaret Company)

Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Avenue

Thursday, March 12; 7:30 p.m.

AUDIENCE ADVISORY Coarse language, mature subject matter

Theatre Review

Whilst researching for his next book, playwright/director Sky Gilbert came across a tidbit regarding real-life 1970s gay porn icon Casey Donovan – born John Culver – and a encounter he had with one of his fans that created the kernel for his latest play, My Dinner with Casey Donovan, as a commentary on the façades of suburbia, (quasi-)celebrity worship and self-repression. And for all of those ingredients, it kind of feels like a half-full meal.

Calvin Limehouse (Michael De Rose) is totally in seventh heaven and cloud nine all rolled into one when the 25-year old department store worker learns that his favourite star (Nathaniel Bacon) has accepted his invitation for dinner at his staunch Lutheran parents’ home in 1973 Norwich, Connecticut one evening, as the easy-going Donovan deals with Calvin’s hyperactive enthusiasm and the bubbling tension brewing from his guest’s domineering father Charles (Ralph Small) and mother Rita (Elley-Ray) who babies both her menfolk throughout the evening.

As the night progresses, Calvin confesses his own closeted life from his parents that Casey offers to help him release his inhabitations which provokes some consequences both parties face and shatter some illusions of a society not willing to accept differing sexual orientations.

Gilbert has some good ideas punting around Donovan and bring the near-forgotten actor/model and sometime escort back in the spotlight who had his own dreams of going mainstream that never materialized due to the era of the times (he died from AIDS in 1987) and even performing in Theatre Passe Muraille’s cramped Backspace keeps that confining feel within its small staging area. However, it could have gone into more contexts in exploring the characters even further in an 80-minute running time, leaving an empty feeling behind.

Between the two of them, the yin-yang balance of De Rose going spasmodic all over his idol tends to be overbearing at times, yet he is fast and funny against the sea of serenity coming from Bacon’s cool suaveness in his portrayal of Donovan while hiding a darker side of his winning demeanour he emits. Elley-May and Small play the naïve parents who don’t seem to know their son too well and a seething anger exists in not-so subtle ways, with some convincing work put into it. The limited set and dated costuming by Sheree Tams projects the aforementioned falseness of domestic life and Siobhan Sleath’s lighting designs are good, particularly during the third act’s climatic (more ways than one!) moment.

There could have been some more arcs worked out with My Dinner with Casey Donovan, but still it’s a pretty tight snapshot of the period and atmosphere of the times effectively enough right down to its polyester print shirts. But it kind of leaves you wanting more out from it.

***

My Dinner with Casey Donovan continues through March 22. Tickets/information: call 416-504-7529 or passemuraille.on.ca or artsboxoffice.ca.