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 #82 - WEEK OF MARCH 28-APRIL 3, 2016

Sentimental sequel entertains, but not as filling

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Universal)

Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan

Director: Kirk Jones

Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson

Screenplay: Nia Vardalos

Film Review

The surprise sleeper hit of 2002 My Big Fat Greek Wedding earned about $368 million worldwide, an Academy Award nomination for star/screenwriter Nia Vardalos and gave a boost to the local film industry – most of it was shot in Toronto – not to mention a wider exposé on Greek culture. Too bad that success didn’t translate to the forgotten TV adaptation that followed for the very short-lived My Big Fat Greek Life series in 2003 and Vardalos being reduced to television work and less of the big screen.

So comes the long, long-awaited sequel My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 sticking to the same formula as the amusingly funny first one did with some of the original cast back, but it least it’s not a forced follow-up like some franchise films are usually pressured to perform these days in order to generate some considerable coin.

Fourteen years after Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (Corbett) Miller tied the knot and settled down near her elderly parents’ place we find her almost back to where she started, working at the family’s Dancing Zorba restaurant in Chicago after her Aunt Voula’s (Andrea Martin) travel agency business that she was helping out went bust and spends volunteering at their teenaged daughter Paris’ (Elena Kampouris) high school.

Paris is now looking as where to go to university, if anything to get away from her over-extended family that she finds a bit suffocating at times and the pressure from her traditionalist grandfather Gus (Constantine) to find a nice Greek boyfriend. Creating a bit of an empty-nest syndrome feeling between Toula and Ian, now the high school principal; and on top of their busy schedules, it’s kind of sucked the romance out of their marriage and look to rekindle it.

Meanwhile, Gus goes online to trace his ancestry and discovers along the way that his Greek marriage certificate wasn’t properly signed years ago, much to his dismay but to his wife of fifty years Maria’s (Kazan) bemusement. With him wanting to get properly married to erase half-a-century of “living in sin,” Maria insists on getting the proposal and wedding she’s always wanted, creating a whole load of friction and more problems for Toula to juggle.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 coasts on the same humour as before, only with Toula and Ian’s love life taking the back seat (and trying to do it there as well) to all of this, the film does lack a little feeling and substance that made the first film so memorable when it was just about culture clashes. Vardalos tries her earnest with wanting to focus on the aging parents still wanting to find what remains the backbone of their marriage is kind of warm and sweet in its own right, while adding a subplot of learning to shed her helicopter mom persona in letting her daughter go is a subtle and sentimental one which director Kirk Jones does his best in a automatic way.

At least the chemistry between Vardalos and Corbett is still intact to be believable as a couple comfortable in their own skins and relationship; Constantine as the Windex-loving patriarch, Kazan as the tough matriarch and Martin as semi-meddling aunt are just of funny as before, as is Bess Meisler being mainly mute in her role of the eccentric Mana-Yiayia does more in her expressions that most of the cast. Kampouris is exceptionally refreshing here as the beleaguered daughter trying to cope with family and entering adulthood, as Alex Wolff plays it small, if tight as the shy potential boyfriend whom Paris finds some surprising things in common.

The only thing awkward about the film is when it tries to vaguely slip in something about the gay Greek community by suggesting that the relationship between semi-sketchy cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone) and his business partner (Ian Gomez) is more than what is on the surface feels more of an afterthought, if anything else. Kudos for Vardalos trying to convey any kind of message about acceptance, yet it seems a bit stretching and weak in the attempt. Otherwise, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 will entertain fans of the last film when it does entertain, but that’s all that it does and not much else.

Camera verité exhibit filters out an undiscovered America

Onlookers view the works of Garry Winogrand as part of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950-1980s photo exhibit.

Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950-1980s

Venue: Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street West

Dates/Times: Through May 29; Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and Weekends 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Admission/Information: Adults $25, Students/Youth $16.50, Seniors $21.50, Child (under 5) FREE; Call 416-979-6648 or ago.net

Gallery Review

Photographing societal America for its characteristics and composition is definitely a category in itself and certainly does make for thorough analysis and study. In a selected group exhibit of 300 photographs and five film works, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950-1980s looks at the rebel camera eyes of eleven artists that defied the conventions of their country in the mid-to-late 20th-century of going against the grain to show a America that not too many look at with a certain conviction and structure.

It’s a smaller exhibit than most but it packs an awful lot into one space in documenting at the status quo of the times, which goes for the underbelly of the working class and fringe communities through a camera verité as it were on how vibrant these sections of society existed apart from the everyday, mainly in black and white; even if the issues addressed in said photos are not.

Such was one Garry Winogrand, who at the time of his sudden death at 56 in 1984 left 6,600 hundred rolls of film that were until now undeveloped and are being seen for the first time in Outsiders, of a unfiltered look at life away from what he described of regular media photography as “illusions and fantasy” and showing the bare reality of the have and have-nots like labour unrest (“Hard Hat Rally, New York, 1970”), political fallout (“Kent State Demonstrations, Washington D.C., 1970”), social discrepancy (“State Dinner, Apollo 11 Astronauts, Los Angeles, 1969”) that seem simplistic on the surface but saying something more of that turbulent period.

Left-right: Gordon Parks’ landmark photo essay on African-American life in the 1960s,“A Harlem Family” gets a full spread treatment for Outsiders exhibit.

Among other legends sit amongst the greats is the landmark photo exposé by Gordon Parks for Life Magazine made in 1967, “A Harlem Family.” Considered his favourite work and a masterpiece, the future director of the blackploitation classic Shaft lays all the bare bones of being an African-American living in the slummy conditions of the Fontenelles family living on the edge of poverty with a full page-by-page layout display, reproduced copies and a documentary film, should not only shock the viewer but downright shame themselves into how underhanded and crippling racism can be.

Left-right: The variety of Diane Arbus’ photo range large from “Retired man and his wife at home in a nudist camp one morning, New Jersey, 1963”; “Jack Dracula lying by a tree” and “Topless dancer in her dressing room, San Francisco, California, 1968”.

Diane Arbus took pics of the famous and non-famous with a very impressive display of her work from matinee idols in their twilight (“Mae West in bed with her monkey, Santa Monica, California, 1965”), midway attractions (“Albino sword swallower at a carnival, Maryland, 1964), average subjects (“Loser at a Diaper Derby, New Jersey, 1967”) and not-so average subjects (“Retired man and his wife at home in a nudist camp one morning, New Jersey, 1963”) that speak for themselves, in particular to her famous one where Colin Wood as a child running around New York City’s Central Park in 1962 with a toy hand grenade has a eerie if kooky expression on his face that makes one think of such the innocence of those times that wouldn’t have raised a issue unlike today’s unsettled world.

A slew of Polaroids are the focus of Casa Susanna, a resort for transgendered people operated by a transgender couple who operated two resorts for cross-dressers in upstate New York from the mid-1950s to early ‘60s by everyday people like police officers to salesmen who were weekend drag queens to wanted to be their real selves have that nostalgic warmth to the photos in question.

Left-right: Numerous Poloroids of transgendered men show the hidden lives in a upper state New York resort in the 1960s and the Nan Goldin self-portrait, “Nan after being battered” shot in 1984.

LGBT activist/artist Nan Goldin displays her work with a 42-minute slideshow of the gay New York and Boston scenes in The Ballad of Sexual Dependency to a pop soundtrack ranging from 1979 to 2008 and a couple of larger photos printed on vivid cobachrome colour like her brutal 1984 self-portrait “Nan after being battered” of the gay-bashing they (still) endured; and the biker culture gets an about-face from the stereotypical 1950s greasers image that Danny Lyon brings to a somewhat normalcy like the surprising home life (“Cockroach and his family, Chicago”), its barely-seen women (“Big Barbara, Chicago” and “Prairieville, Louisiana”) and straightforward portraits (“Sparky and Cowboy (Gary Rogues), Schererville, Indiana”).

For the Outsiders cinema, check out Kenneth Anger’s 1963 Scorpio Rising, his pot-shot against the mythology of Christianity and macho biker culture in a gay rewrite on rebel identity loaded with homoeroticism and looming figures of death hanging about its frames; the 1967 mini-doc short Portrait of Jason about a self-styled hustler and wannabe entertainer by Shirley Clarke still has its blunt and provocative edge, plus avant-garde film pioneer Marie Menken’s Go!Go!Go! on Blu-Ray video transfer of a 12-minute 16mm silent short reflects on consumerism and consumption about our fast-paced society in time-lapse speed never exaggerates its point.

Left-right: The Jack Kerouac-narrated short Pull My Daisy about New York beatnik life and Academy Award-winning experimental filmmaker Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason are some of the films on view for the Outsiders exhibit.

And Pull My Daisy, a killer freestyle look at New York’s beatnik culture featuring beat poet icons Gregory Corsco and Allan Ginsberg complete with a David Amram jazz score and written and narrated by none other than Jack Kerouac himself, provides the icing on the cake in this exhibit on a United States undiscovered that would surprise on how cool their rebel culture really sometime, even when they least expect it (or admit it).