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 #110 - WEEK OF NOVEMBER 7-13, 2016

A mystic wonder from Marvel

Doctor Strange (Marvel Studios/Walt Disney)

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong

Director: Scott Derrickson

Producers: Kevin Feige

Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill; based on the Marvel comic book series by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee

Film Review

Marvel continues to make good on their expanding cinematic universe (or MCU) with letting their semi-obscure titles get a fair shake at the silver screen by introducing Doctor Strange to their superhero collection that sort of amalgamates elements of The Matrix-meets-Inception-meets-2001: A Space Odyssey (-slightly meets-Groundhog Day) which does upholds itself to a good degree.

Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a highly excellent neurosurgeon in New York City with the ego to match its size whenever he’s not belittling his colleagues, in particular to Christine Palmer (McAdams) who’s more into the compassionate side of healing to which he has completely ignored. When a horrific car crash strips him of his ability to continue his medical career, Strange becomes obsessed to the point of desperation in trying to get it back when he hears about this possible remedy that takes him to the fictional land of Kamar-Taj hidden within the Himalayan Mountians via Nepal.

Rescued from a couple of muggers and befriended by Karl Mordo (Ejiofor), a master sorcerer from Kamar-Taj who leads him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), the Sorceror Supreme leader of the tiny country. There, she opens the once-skeptical Strange’s mind to the mystic arts and astral plane of the mind but reluctantly allows him to be a disciple as she fears he’ll become like Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former student of hers who fell to the dark side.

A quick learner in learning to bend time and reality, Strange advances and learns he has to make a tough choice in either returning back to his old life or a become a devotee to the mystic arts in order to save all humanity when Kaecillius and his Zealot followers intend on destroying the three dimensional sanctums that protects our world from other dimensions so to allow the evil overlord entity Dormmamu (also Cumberbatch) to conquer Earth in their quest for immortality.

This is a film that probably would not have been made thirty or even twenty years ago; but thanks to the spellbinding effects used throughout it makes Doctor Strange believably possible, it’s kept in balance due to the philosophical and nadir undercurrents and sound humour written in director Scott Derrickson’s handling of it with his script co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill that avoids in turning this into some superhero dreck job.

Cumberbatch carries on a palpably believable Strange – almost in the same spirit and persona Robert Downey Jr. brought to Tony Stark’s Iron Man – as a once arrogant and selfish man made humble when he bitterly tastes humility and later becomes conflicted with his Hippocratic beliefs after one battle and the burden he must contend with the responsibilities of his newfound powers, all wrapped up with a good transatlantic accent and droll humour.

Swinton as the Ancient One exhibits like a human-like Yoda, only taller and with a not-so pleasant secret to behind her powers to combat evil; Mikkelsen makes a great vainglorious villain out to expose the contradictions behind The Ancient One’s self-righteousness as he does to sate his own greed; Ejiofor is good being Strange’s complex quasi-sidekick holding his own with Benedict Wong as the temple librarian Wong is perfectly suited to be the film’s humourless straight man. And while McAdams is a smart cookie going toe-to-toe as Strange’s friend and ex-flame, her role here feels a bit underwhelming.

Hopefully that – and the semi-hollow victory feeling that came with it at the end – will be remedied for the next possible outing. Still, Doctor Strange’s worthwhile as being the MCU’s darkest entry yet (best seen in the trippy 3-D format); plus you’ll definitely love that Cloak of Levitation scene that fits the good Doctor like a glove and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor cameo.

Space patrol solitude

Mooncop

by Tom Gauld

96 pp., Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast Books

Hardcover, $22.95

Graphic Novels and Comics/Science-Fiction

Book Review

On the surface of things, Mooncop may feel like a dusty space Western about facing the end of things, but it its short composition between the dry humour sprinkled throughout the story for which British cartoonist Tom Gauld is best noted for, there lies in that belief that certain endings are actually new beginnings and life does go on.

In the distant future, a nameless law enforcement officer just known as the Mooncop makes his daily routine of patrolling a relatively crime-free colony on the moon which is rather mundane in picking up restless teens trespassing in restricted areas, looking for lost pets, grabbing his usual coffee and doughnuts at a automated Lunar Donuts take-out and filing out uneventful reports back to his superiors on Earth.

But the lunar colony, once a thriving human achievement, has lost all its excitement over the years and its transplanted population are returning back to Earth, making Mooncop’s presence seemingly more obsolete. Despite making requests to be reassigned back home, he strangely finds a real solace in the growing solitude encroaching him in finding a new appreciation of his surroundings and a unexpected circumstance comes his way to make his existence on the lunar body more bearable.

Gauld’s simple artistry and crosshatching to the one-tone colouring adds to the story’s workable monotone feel of isolation and distantness felt with the change that comes to a small town and its residents head off for greener pastures except for those who must stay behind. The human emotion of loneliness hangs greatly over in Mooncop and for its titular hero is where the book holds it greatest strength, just as much as the satire the author taps into from dysfunctional technology and regimented bureaucracy that seems to have followed us into the cosmos.

Mooncop is a quick and easy read, yet it’s filled with some thought about trying to find one’s purpose in life in the vast emptiness of the unknown and the aspect of impermanence of things give the story its levity in the search of oneself in the most unlikeliest of all places in the universe to be.

Revealing some Secrets

Darren Anthony’s Secrets of a Black Boy returns to the Toronto stage to expose the hidden racism faced by the African-Canadian community

Theatre Preview

As a nation a bit more progressive than others in regarding to racial tolerance, here in Canada bigotry isn’t as bold-faced than it is subdued. So when it comes to how African-Canadians have it in terms of being accepted in society, it never is too far to see that the community gets as many problems as our American cousins do from police brutality to combating stereotypes. In addressing these concerns, playwright Darren Anthony – the brother of noted Canadian playwright Trey Anthony (How Black Mothers Say I Love You) – brings them to the forefront in his own play Secrets of a Black Boy on five young Torontonian black men as they play one last domino game at their local community centre before it gets shut down due to budget cuts, for a limited return engagement at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue) having had a successful American tour in New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Joining in the Toronto stage are returning original actors Al St. Louis, Samson Brown and Troy Crossfield and newcomers Julien Hyancinthe, Mark Sparks and DJ O-nonymous to set the rhythmic tone to the production in musical interludes to their monologues. In an e-mail interview with Anthony, he explains how Secrets of a Black Boy come into being and how it is relevant to today’s social issues, even in a cosmopolitan city like Toronto.

What was behind the story of Secrets of a Black Boy that needed to be told theatrically and how does it relate to the African-Canadian community of today?

Secrets was inspired by my sister’s play, ‘da Kink In My Hair. I wanted to see a male version that showed variety within the black male experience. It was difficult for me to find narratives that offered something similar to ‘da Kink and my frustration led me to write what I considered to be a male take on it, specifically for the theatre. The piece relates to the African-Canadian community today by providing a lens into our community and experiences. It's a story that is both timely and timeless in its capture of various narratives of black men, some which I believe need to be seen and heard with more accuracy and integrity than currently reflected in the media and pop culture.

In selecting your cast, what specific qualities were you looking for your actors to inhabit in the play's characters?

Ultimately we were looking for actors who were able to embody the characters they were going to have to portray. At the same time we wanted actors who were willing to be grow and be challenged with pushing the boundaries of what the role was on paper. They needed to be able to bring each character to life in a way that was real and authentic.

What parallels do you connect with any disaffected youth in this play that you feel is currently relevant?

[Mainly it’s about] issues of identity, masculinity, personal vs. cultural values; mental health concerns; fatalistic outlooks; the lack of connection, direction, and appropriate mentorship; communication or lack thereof; personal growth, development and understanding (and) inter-personal relationships [effecting our community].

The play mentions interracial dating. Is that really a significant factor among African-Canadian males in 2016?

Of course. It’s an issue that continues to be a point of discussion amongst men and women in the African-Canadian community. I wanted to portray more than one perspective without really trying to allude to a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. My goal is always to promote dialogue in an effort to encourage deeper understanding.

What kind of discussion and/or action do you want the audience to take away after they've seen Secrets of a Black Boy? Is there more that can be done for African-Canadian male youths in this city or nationwide?

I want people to walk away seeing and understanding the complexities and variations that exist among us. We (black males) are not always simple and narrow-minded. We have layers, emotions, and feelings just as any other person who may not necessarily identify with our experience. We have many powerful legacies and strong, meaningful voices. And, we too deserve a seat at the table.

***

Secrets of a Black Boy opens this Friday (November 11) for a limited run to November 20. For tickets and information, call 416-504-7529 or passemuraille.com.

Glass with class

Chihuly

Venue: Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park

Dates/Times: Through January 2; Daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (except most Fridays 10 a.m.-8:30 p.m.), closed December 25

Admission/Information: Adults $29, Seniors/Students $26.50, Child (4-14) $21; call 415-586-8000 or rom.on.ca.

Gallery Review

Having personally studied glass briefly during my art college days, it’s not a medium to underestimate or take for granted – especially when in its volatile molten state. Master glass sculptor Dale Chihuly has for five decades rewrote the entire book on how the glass medium could be worked with and presented as eleven installations clearly show the strength, the delicateness and exotic surrealism his creations inhabit at the Royal Ontario Museum is nothing short of spectacular.

From the totem pole “Lime Crystal Tower” out of polyvitro and steel displayed near the museum entrance to the exhibit’s first pieces that greet the visitor that were inspired from a 1995 Finland trip “Float Boat” and “Blue and Purple Boat,” the marble-like spheres and stamen-like appendages just spill out of their respective boats. As a tribute to Venice and its glass sculptors, Chihuly makes a multi-hued and beautifully alien coral reef out of “Laguna Torcello” with rocky sculptures shimmering with metallics, flowers and sea life swarming about.

Neon and acrylic play very otherworldly with “Sapphire Neon Tumbleweeds” feeding off its bluish hue, as “Red Reeds on Logs” are like blown glass speared stabbed into the birch and stretching upwards towards the ceiling. The exhibit’s “wow” moment goes to “Persian Ceiling” where various plates and figures shine through their translucency over a glass ceiling when lying on the padded floor cushions for a better look when the lighting gleams over them.

Showing he’s more than an artiste with the fragile material, Chihuly shows off a Pollock-esque “Basket and Reed Quad Drawing” streaking with whites, blues and purples as a acrylic on paper work; while the stalactites and stalagmites of “Icicle Chandeliers and Towers” burst like shards of light on the ceiling and ground pieces and “Persian Trellis,” an artwork made exclusively for the ROM exhibit; are these glass plates with “spider web” patterns effectively rippling through each piece in reds, yellows and pinks.

“Northwest Room” would be the exhibit’s most curiously unusual piece, as it consists of the artist’s personal collection of Native American blankets and light brown glass bowls sitting with sepia-tinged vintage photos of Pacific Northwest Coast tribal members, shot between 1907 to 1930 by Edward Sherrif Curtis, from his Boathouse Studios in Seattle which offers very little purpose or sense.

But it least Chihuly is finely rewarded at the end with a mini-documentary From smaller to larger, giving a glimpse of the artist busy with his team of handlers (he hasn’t been able to personally create these works himself since that 1979 bodysurfing accident damaged his right shoulder) and the breadth of works he’s done for gardens and galleries worldwide. A not-to-miss exhibit.