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 #90 - WEEK OF MAY 30-JUNE 5, 2016

Fantasy follow-up even keeled

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Walt Disney)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helen Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

Director: James Bobin

Producers: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd and Susan Todd

Screenplay: Linda Woolverton; based on the books by Lewis Carroll

Film Review

Rehashing their old library to do a live-action take on one of their lesser animated classics, Alice in Wonderland back in 2010 as helmed by Tim Burton, proved to be a hit for Disney, calling for a follow-up with Lewis Carroll’s beloved companion piece, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Directed by James Bobin (The Muppets), he has a certain grip in keeping this vision with Burton doing the producing duties, the eccentricity tends to stick in its favour despite trying to keep up the same level throughout it.

Coming home to England after an long, adventurous period out in the Far East, eighteen-year old Alice Kingsleigh (Wasikowska) finds that her former upper-crust suitor Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) has enforced her mother (Lindsey Duncan) to sell off their estate and her late father’s merchant business to him in order to keep their stake in the company. Facing the male hierarchy conventions of the day that seems almost hopeless to battle with, she’s summoned by Absolem the butterfly (voice of Alan Rickman) to return to Wonderland to help out old friend the Mad Hatter (Depp) who has taken ill over evidence that his long-dead family might still be alive.

Alice’s only hope to help is to use the Chronosphere belonging to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) who’s being manipulated by the formerly Queen of Hearts, Iracebeth (Bonham Carter), still looking to reclaim her throne from her kid sister Queen Mirana (Hathaway). In her efforts, Alice seems to do more harm than good in trying to alter history with Time chasing after her in saving Wonderland while trying to figure out her own situation to be able to be the master of her own life.

Bobin honours the Burtonesque fantastical mode in motion in making this his own film with Woolverton adding a bit more darker elements to the storyline, yet its playing on a more emotional level and lighting up the previous film’s pro-feminist themes (but still there) to be more adventurous by bending the original Lewis Carroll fantasy a little to show some originality in introducing a couple of new non-canonical characters here.

Depp, Wasikowska, Bonham Carter and Hathaway reprise their roles with delightful relish and wit throughout Looking Glass, including the late Rickman in his final role despite how limited his presence is. Baron Cohen is brilliant as the comical semi-villian under the thumb of Bonham Carter, including his CGI-clockwork lackey Wilkins as voiced by Matt Vogel as the additional comic relief.

Fans of the last film and the fantasy genre will enjoy Alice Through the Looking Glass enough to satisfy with its thrills and learn about the importance of family and how one spends the time we have in life, including the exuberant and whimsical Danny Elfman score fitting the bill and still being entertaining and a inspiration on women’s empowerment that won’t be a loss on the modern audience.

These she-animals party hardy

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Universal)

Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloe Grace Moretz

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Producers: Evan Goldberg, James Weaver and Seth Rogen

Screenplay: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; based on the characters created by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien

Film Review

Confrontation sure seems to be an undercurrent of current cinema, what with superhero flicks Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War has demonstrated. So why should they have all the fun, as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, the sequel to 2014 raunchy comedy hit addresses some gender politics amidst the antics thrown around that are even better and raunchier than last time around.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Rogen, Byrne), the victors of the first film; are looking to sell their home with another baby on the way and go into escrow for at least thirty days, as long as the new owners still want the place. Their timing couldn’t be any poorer as a new college year opens with now a party-like sorority Kappa Nu moves in next door, run by stoner freshman Shelby (Moretz) as a protest of some archaic, sexist rule that only college fraternities can throw wild parties, but sororities can’t.

Along with her new buddies Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein), these ladies party hardy in order to maintain the rent of the place, thanks in part to Teddy Sanders (Efron) who initially helps them move into and set up these raves in his former frat house as to compensate the stagnation and loss of purpose in his post-college life, lowering the Radners’ property value. When the sorority drums him out, Teddy switches sides to bring them down to find his self-value as much as it is payback, with the additional help of Mac’s insensitive best friend Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and his also pregnant wife Maranda (Clara Marnet) getting involved in the all-out war between the houses.

Peppered with plenty of physical, gross-out and politically-incorrect humour all round, director/co-writer Nicolas Stoller never waivers a minute with his fast and furious camera work keeping the comedy alive for the cast’s deliveries from a tight script all the while it manages to slip in some topical stuff like racial politics, female emancipation, coming-of-age and finding oneself in the world, much like the last film dealt with the concept of maturity and responsibility.

Rogen’s madcap energy is a constant fuelling being the suburban dad who still looks to maintain his vices with Byrne by his side doing equally well; as Efron brings a new perspective to the half-witted, hunky Teddy learning to accept life’s change when his frat brother Pete, played by returnee Dave Franco, comes out of the closet and plans to marry his partner (John Early) throws him for a loop and forging a rogue alliance with his frenemies.

Moretz has a firm sense of the comedic being the main antagonist and party girl leader on being away from home for the first time. And there sure are pleasurable laughs whenever twins Elise and Zoey Vargas playing toddler daughter Stella get their spotlight, in particular with a specific dildo, including cameos of Selena Gomez and Kelsey Grammer are a treat. If you love the first one, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising engages with twice the raw adult humour, pot jokes and societal commentaries that’s a rare formula to find in one of this year’s best comedies.

Terrifically tartan jukebox

Forever Plaid (Starvox Entertainment/Mirvish Productions)

Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street

Thursday, May 26; 8 p.m.

Theatre Review

One of the rare successes of Canadian-born theatre to become household names, the indie musical-comedy Forever Plaid returns to its Torontonian home after two decades (!) to a heroes’ welcome with its four-part harmonies, light humour and touching treatise about time itself as it is a clean-cut stage production that doesn’t come too often in this era of angst-riddled entertainment.

The four lads that make up the Plaids – Sparky (Scott Beaudin), Smudge (Matt Cassidy), Frankie (Jonathan Cullen) and Jinx (Jeff Madden) – return from the netherworld when their lives and burgeoning careers as do-wop stars were tragically cut short after colliding with a busload of Catholic teenyboppers en route to the Beatles’ American TV debut on Ed Sullivan in 1964 (ironically, the girls survived).

Seeing this is a chance to give the concert they never gave, they waste no time in singing all the popular hits of the period like “Three Coins in The Fountain,” “Perfida,” “Sixteen Tons” and “Rags to Riches” to the more obscure gems of “No, Not Much,” “Gotta Be This or That” and such. Led on by hopeful Sparky in trying to get his quartet to play it out to the fullest while having to hold hands for the nervous Jinx or convince a cynical Frankie who hasn’t fully accepted his demise that the show, much like life, must to go on.

The show is capably directed and choreographed under Dayna Tekatch from the symbiotic chords all four sing with syncopation from creator and original director Stuart Ross, who managed to blend some smarts about the Plaids’ understandable trepidation, the fear of the unknown and the concept of mortality wrapped up in feel-good musical, which made it such a hit worldwide.

Cast-wise, all of them keep the pace and stay in tune during the 90-minute show’s highlights that include an microcosmic Ed Sullivan parody segment to “Lady of Spain”, the calypso medley of “Day-O/Kingston Market/Matilda” and “Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby” with toilet plungers (has to be seen to be understood), all accompanied by the jazzy trio led by Mark Camilleri.

For a quasi-jukebox musical, Forever Plaid unashamedly waxes nostalgic in the right way and hits the highest notes – as it does for the quartet’s “signature” tune “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” – under Beth Kates’ lighting and Jennifer Goodman’s sets/props/costume design, where the stage works out as a lounge bar of sorts for lucky audience members able to get them; for an all-out fun time. Don’t miss this all-too limited run.

Clashing Metropolises and Final Editions

CONTACT Photography Festival 2016 Reviews

Part 3 of a 3-part series

Murat Germen: Muta-morphosis, Toronto and Istanbul

Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive, Parking level

Through June 26; Tuesdays-Sundays 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Wednesdays 10 a.m.-8 p.m.)

As an extended part of A City Transformed: Images of Istanbul Then and Now (click here for previous review), the Aga Khan Museum also commissioned noted Turkish photographer Murat Germen to do a Chromogenic portrait of the Toronto skyline in the same fashion as he’d done to the Istanbul pieces in the main exhibit area. Shot in February 2015 during twilight hours, the crumpled and “colliding” buildings of our town give it an interesting dimension and context of the old and new.

Next to it along the corridor leading to the underground parking lot is an animated video projection of Istanbul based on the same photos that takes up just a sliver of a wall with a slower absorption, including the wail of muzzahs calling to prayer, traffic and avian sounds tinge with the everyday life of the city is no more of a loss whenever one steps out of their house to engage with metropolitan life.

Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail/Stopping Point

The Old Press Hall, The Globe and Mail, 425 Wellington Street West

ForCutline: through June 26; Wednesdays-Sundays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fridays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.); For Stopping Point: indefinite until building demolition TBD; 24/7

In the days before digital photography, Photoshop and Pro-Tool, there was an art to photojournalistic editing with just the simplest of items: grease pencils, white ink and a discretionary editor. Shown in the cavernous decommissioned printing room of The Globe and Mail are 175 chosen pictures of the 750,000 press photographs taken by the paper over the years – out of which 100,000 of them will be donated to the National Gallery of Canada’s Canadian Photography Institute – on how it was done by hand.

Aside from its conservative seriousness of printing the issues of our times (as one editorial tag from the late 1960s puts it: “We’re not a hippie paper”) from the likes of journalist Al Nickelson looking nonchalant with a rifle while standing for a portrait with Communist rebels during the Cuban Revolution or a fallout shelter at the 1961 Canadian National Exhibition, its lighter side is seen with the cigar-chomping sports columnist Jim Vipond mockingly atop New Zealander wrestler Patrick O’Connor; celebrity shots of Oscar Peterson to Jaclyn Kennedy Onassis to rarely-seen shots of the late former prime minister Pierre Trudeau looking fit and trim taking a plunge into a lake and at a honorary kick-off to start the 1970 Grey Cup.

Surrounding the walls are various slideshows from the collection and Arthur Lipscott’s 1961 NFB classic avant-garde animated still-shot short Very Nice, Very Nice; along with a salute to Robert Frank’s The Americans with our version, The Canadians, where one standout pic shows a sulky former Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton refusing to stand during “O Canada” among a crowd (it wouldn’t get official status as the national anthem until 1980) over “The Maple Leaf Forever” in 1967, make for fine compliments to the exhibit.

Long afterCutline has run its course, one last remnant is its outdoor 45x40-metre inkjet print on vinyl continuation piece, Stopping Point, taken by an unknown photographer around 1966 about the then-newly built north-western Ontario Highway 807 (now Highway 634) between Smooth Rock Falls and Fraserdale of a car driving with a canoe attached onto its roof. The title itself is not without some ironic connotation as the newspaper printing plant slowly grows obsolete, since the chosen venue for this exhibition is right and timely as one can feel the weight of history in this now partly-empty space, as the building is scheduled for demolition when the Globe and Mail moves to its new Front Street East headquarters this year. So see both of these while you can.

Michel Huneault: Post Tohoku

Campbell House Museum, 160 Queen Street West, 2nd Floor

Through June 12; Tuesdays-Fridays 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturdays 12-4:30 p.m.

According to the ancient Japanese legend there lies a gargantuan catfish underneath the land named Ōnamazu who thrashes his tail every now and then, causing great earthquakes. In their long history of dealing with this natural occurrence, the most destructive in living memory would have to be on March 11, 2011 – known as 3.11 – that dealt a triple blow to the Tohoku Prefecture on the Pacific region: a 9.0 Richter scale earthquake followed by a massive tsunami, then came the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, resulting in the deaths of 15,894 people and tens of thousands of buildings destroyed.

Chronicling the aftermath is award-winning photographer Michel Huneault over the five-year period of this ongoing project, Post Tohoku, by putting a place on the impermanence of things and time (or mujo in Japanese) where it focuses more about recovery than it’s more about requiem on the resilience of the human and the natural realms after trauma speaks for its own testament.

With a series of photos ranging from a derelict car lying in farming field in the Minamisoma Exclusion Zone ten kilometres from Fukushima engulfed in the morning mist, netting and fibrous debris found from the tsunami caught from a fishing boat years later to growth overtaking an abandoned carwash in Odaka, the artist also has two sets of videos. “10 Minutes at Tohoku,” made in 2012, the year after 3.11; of twelve scenes shot mostly in silence of the recovery efforts is a quiet sojourn drenched in a eerily sobering presentation on video projection and the recently-shot “10 Other Minutes at Tohoku” is presented on a video camera in a 360o swivel, complete with audio; a series of residents of the new city of Onagawa expressing their hopes and fears on rebuilding, is a interesting concept.

As one tells it, the higher seawalls and wave breaker structures placed in the water and building on higher plateaus that tend to block the view of the Pacific, worries about the natural connection of the ocean to those who have lived near the coastline all their lives, feel a loss without it if it can’t be seen on a (near-) daily basis.

Scanty as the recovery may look on the surface of these pictures, the exhibit does show the aspect of the ongoing progress of life continuing on in the wake of a humongous catastrophe, as one can see in one photograph of one thousand origami cranes facing the disaster zone for good luck symbolizing this, Post Tohoku shows its triumph. One note: the exhibit is free, but state beforehand that you’re here to see it as long as you don’t tour the rest of the historical household.

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CONTACT 2016 ends this Wednesday (June 1); but some exhibits will continue beyond May 31. Most venues are FREE. For information, call 416-539-9595 or visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.