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 #107 - WEEK OF OCTOBER 17-23, 2016

Female-centric thriller fully centered

The Girl on the Train (Universal/DreamWorks)

Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux

Director: Tate Taylor

Producer: Marc Platt

Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson; based on the Paula Hawkins novel

Film Review

The runaway international bestselling mystery-thriller The Girl on the Train gets its onscreen treatment and it plays it well for all of its twists and turns it offers with its well-rounded cast and skilfully nadir direction maintained for its audience constantly guessing on edge.

Narrated mostly throughout by Rachel Watson (Blunt), a train commuter who aimlessly ventures into New York and back in a daily state of drunken despair after the collapse of her marriage to Tom (Theroux) who left her two years ago for second wife Anna (Ferguson) and their newborn daughter in their former homestead she passes by that tortures her even more, as much as it does of a pretty young blonde housewife (Bennett) next door to them she also notices with envy of her seemingly happy marriage.

When she catches the housewife one morning with a man she doesn’t recognize as her husband in a tender embrace, Rachel goes off the deep end on a huge bender and blacks out. Waking up the next morning with unexplained bruises, her clothes all muddied and bloodied and no memory of what happened, she’s investigated by police detectives Riley (Allison Janney) and Gaskill (Mac Tavares) when she learns that the housewife, named Megan Hipwell; has reportedly gone missing by her husband Scott (Luke Evans).

Fearing she may be a suspect to her disappearance, Rachel struggles to conducts her own sleuth work in trying to piece together the events from that hazy night where she fantasized doing something cruel over Megan’s infidelity and her failure to achieve the motherhood she so longed for. As she gets more entangled in getting closer to the truth, Rachel can only deduct whether it has to do something with a jealous Anna, Scott, Megan’s incredibly handsome shrink (Edgar Ramírez) or that mysterious bearded commuter (Darren Goldstein).

Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson does a relatively decent adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ electrifying 2015 book by successfully altering its original London setting to a New York one that won’t offset the whodunit’s fans too much visually, and keeping intact the mystery wrapped up in one after another under the helm of Tate Taylor (Get on Up; The Help) using a interesting pattern as the events unfold in going over and back in a masterfully interlocking and complex timeline through editors Andrew Bruckland and Michael McCusker, Danny Elfman’s mood-inducing score and the darkened cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen.

Blunt puts on a great performance as the emotionally-battled Rachel going through memory recall with strength and fragility; Bennett gets seductive and manipulative in her mystery role with ease as she bares her soul and tragic back story; Theroux as the unworried ex-husband trying to calm insecure Ferguson’s Anna is a clever act and Ramírez gets to be the psychiatrist unwittingly caught between moral and professional boundaries during the therapy session scenes.

Fans who loved the novel will equally like the film for all its stances as the characters go from urban to suburban and the façades that cover up their lives so cunningly encased within The Girl on the Train’s rollercoaster ride and physiological nuances throughout a top-notch thriller.

Hart’s stand-up darts aim true

Kevin Hart: What Now? (Universal)

Cast: Kevin Hart with Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, David Meunier

Directors: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Producers: Jeff Clanagan, Blake Morrison, Valerie Bleth Sharp and Pookey Wigington

Screenplay: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford and Joey Wells

Film Review

The stand-up comedy concert film is quite the antiquated dinosaur when it got herded off to the confines of cable television – and nowadays, online streaming services like Netflix – about twenty-odd years ago. While others have tried unsuccessfully over the years to recapture those halcyon days of unfiltered laughs with the crowd (Martin Lawrence is a prime example, with his pathetically unfunny attempts You So Crazy and Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat ), current comic superstar Kevin Hart manages to do his best with What Now? with fairly good results, yet it would be highly premature to say that particular cinema genre has made a comeback.

Shot at his hometown of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field Stadium to a sold-out crowd of 50,000 on August 30, 2015 – the first-ever comedy act to do so in that venue – Hart, who has had a impressive string of box office hits of late with the two Ride Along films, Central Intelligence and The Secret Life of Pets; definitely has the audience eating out of his hand with his hyperactive humour ranging from relationships with his fiancée (now wife) Eniko Parrish, his kids from his first marriage and his father whom he’s reconnected into his life to dealing with the suburban critters that lurk in the dark he’s afraid to face.

Director Leslie Small keeps this quite basic and to the point following Hart’s salty rapid-fire material and shots of the crowd in talking about handling fame and family while trying to keep his street cred with his homies. As he would put it himself he’s a drastic thinker with his comedy that’s almost reminiscent of the Eddie Murphy concert masterpiece Raw he’s really trying to emulate here isn’t anything new, but at least Hart is talented in his presentation and delivery.

Sandwiched in between this concert is a pretty funny James Bond-like parody skit “Casino,” as directed by Tim Story, where Hart plays Agent 0054 (relating to his 5-foot, 4-inch stature) trying to procure millions to fund his world tour in a downtown casino high-stakes poker game. With Halle Berry by his side in slightly sending up her Die Another Day Bond Girl role and Don Cheadle good as a rival if hot-tempered agent cameo; he also goes up against a Russian mobster (Meunier) and his goons who aren’t simply going to let him walk away from his winnings unscathed, complete with car chases and showdowns galore displaying Hart’s action-comedy prowess.

The only time Hart stumbles is when he tells a rather tasteless rape joke that, fortunately, is quite brief in passing but in this day and age could have been best left on the editing room floor or not told at all when we’re trying to defuse rape culture being used as a punch line. Other than that, What Now? makes for a likeable throwback to those times when the kings of comedy like Murphy and Richard Pryor could convince studio heads to back such a project and command the audiences to fill up the cineplexes.

Rock balladeer earns a Nobel Prize – and why it matters

Rock-folk icon Bob Dylan, 75, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his music. On December 10 he’ll be awarded the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature, cited by fans and critics alike as a long overdue recognition for his lyrical work.

Arts Commentary

“I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.”

-Bob Dylan

For someone who said the previous quote but then later on stated: “It’s not easy to define poetry,” surely turned both the music and literary world on their ears when the Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature going to the American rock and folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan on October 13 in Stockholm, in their simple and succinct wording: “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Sara Danius, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition. For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she had told reporters in Stockholm. In her citation, she said that although the choice might seem surprising to some, “if you look far back ... you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it.”

Then jokingly answering to whether music will now being considered as poetry to the Academy, Danius replied: “The times they are a changing, perhaps,”

The troubadour behind such immortal classics “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “The Hurricane,” “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “All Along the Watchtower” had been cited by fans and critics for over 20 years to be recognized for his lyrical prowess and deeper meaning that sits among the likes of Tennyson, Keats, Browning and Frost; drew a mixture of vindication and ridicule over handing the prestigious honour to Dylan – born Robert Zimmerman, but changed his last name after another famous poet, Dylan Thomas.

Famed British poet laureate Andrew Motion has stated that Dylan’s lyrics should be studied in schools to future Nobel hopeful Salman Rushdie, who tweeted it best: “From Orpheus to (Pakistani revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad) Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” Then came the opposing sides like Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, which he bitterly tweeted: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is a ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies;” or journalist/author Anna North wrote in a October 13 New York Times op-ed piece: “Popular music is such an endeavour too, but, for the most part, it already receives the recognition it deserves. And apart from a few spoken-word awards, no one would expect the highest honours in music to go to a writer – we won’t be seeing Zadie Smith or Mary Gaitskill in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

And some critics that championed other much worthier writers like Kenyan playwright/novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber a.k.a. Adonis or Japan’s Haruki Murakami who deserved a chance other than the guy who used to be part of the ‘60s golden oldies supergroup The Travelling Wilburys back in the 1980s and once shilled for Victoria’s Secret lingerie in a 2004 television ad.

But let’s look at why Dylan’s Nobel matters and is most deserving. For the record, I’m pretty much a casual Dylan fan. I don’t collect his music and have only seen him perform once back in 1988 at the Calgary Saddledome and vaguely remember the playlist, other than him doing “Mr. Tambourine Man” and that then-rising folk/pop star and protégé Tracy Chapman was his opening act on that leg of the tour that I really wanted to see (and later joined him on a finale jam – but hey, I’ve seen him!), so these are not the words of some rabid devotee writing here.

If one looks very closely at his lyrics, one will see the artistic expression behind them, inspired by other poetic giants that had gone before him. When Sotheby’s, New York was auctioning off in 2014 the original lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” written on four sheets of hotel stationary in 1965, auctioneer Richard Austin had said: “Before the release of ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ music charts were overrun with short and sweet love songs, many clocking in at three minutes or less. By defying convention with six and a half minutes of dark, brooding poetry, Dylan rewrote the rules for pop music.”

Other defenders who champion his golden era when he did successive mid-‘60s masterpiece albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, music critic and Dylan fan Mike Marqusee summed it up: “Between late 1964 and the middle of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, (Italian auteur Frederico) Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console.”

Take such rich examples, among the other thirty-seven studio albums he’s recorded; as “Every Grain of Sand” on his 1981 album Shot of Love : “I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night/In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light/ In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space/ In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.” Even some his one-liner quotes are deeply poetic all by themselves. Check out my personal favourite, “No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.” To say there’s no poetry in a Dylan song is like looking at a Picasso painting and saying there’s no colour in it.

And Dylan has more than put words to music. Intermittingly over the years he’s written prose with his debut (and only) novel 1971’s Tarantula, 1973’s Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, three printed collections of his lyrics (1985’s Lyrics: 1962-1985; 2004’s Lyrics: 1962-2001 and 2014’s Lyrics: Since 1962) and a 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, so nobody can’t seriously say the man has never written a book in his life.

Perhaps, in a subconscious move, the Academy also chose him as a reward for – and really, let’s face it – an annus horribilis in music where the greats have left us so unexpectedly in 2016: David Bowie, Prince, heavy metal god Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of Mötorhead, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, master jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and the innovative producer behind The Beatles, George Martin.

In their bold and courageous move, the Nobel Committee gave the world a balm that was sorely needed this year to counter those losses in recognizing a living legend wordsmith who changed the face of popular music when he rebelliously went from acoustic to electric during the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and contributed anthems to the hostile environment of the 1960s when the United States underwent the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement, the antiwar movement of their involvement in Vietnam and the changing social attitude and nature of the population. As U.S. President and fellow Nobel laureate Barack Obama said it himself in 2012, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”

Getting the literary Nobel Prize caps a momentous year for Dylan with having two recording releases, the Great American Songbook covers album Fallen Angels in following 2015’s Shadows in The Night and the forthcoming 36-CD box set Bob Dylan: The 1966 Live Recordings, that covers all his concert tours of that year, coming out November 11. With eleven Grammy Awards, a special Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power,” and both a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award for “Things Have Changed” in 2000 and a inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already underneath his belt, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature completes a storied five-decade career in bringing circumspective thought and social action to the contemporary song and finding audiences and academics alike in agreement. Dylan is not the first songwriter to get a literary Nobel Prize (Indian poet and pro-independence hero Rabindranath Tagore got his in 1913 for his Gitanjali anthology of works, along with some songs he had composed in his lifetime); hopefully he won’t be the last.

Maybe now’s the time to seriously consider Leonard Cohen in getting one while he still can?

Exhilaratingly funny sex-com

Noises Off (Soulpepper Theatre)

Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane

Monday, October 10; 7:30 p.m

Theatre Review

While a popular contemporary theatre piece, the classic 1982 British bedroom farce spoof Noises Off isn’t the easiest production to pull given the physicality involved not only with the actors but the stage schematics itself of a play-within-a-play concept (despite the forgotten film version made with John Ritter, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeves and Michael Caine back in 1992 that made it look easy, but losing its characteristic feel in the process). Surprisingly, the Soulpepper Theatre company has done it for the first time it’s ever been staged in Toronto and they certainly pass with flying colours.

Broken down into three acts is the touring sex comedy Nothing On with an eclectic cast involving serious thespians Dotty Otley (Brenda Robins) playing housemaid Mrs. Clackett and Garry Lejeune (Matthew Edison) as real estate agent Roger Tramplemain sneaking in tarty tax assessor Vicki played by airhead Brooke Ashton (Myrthin Stagg) for a naughty romp upstairs, while tax exile couple Phillip and Flavia Brent by Frederick Fellowes (Christopher Morris) and Belinda Blair (Raquel Duffy) unexpectedly return for a brief romantic getaway in their home, creating utter slapstick chaos.

Trying to glue this all together is the diva stage director Lloyd Dallas (David Storch) who seemingly lives to torment his cast and a couple of harried stagehands (Oyin Oladejo, Anand Rajaram), plus keep doddering, half-deaf stage legend Selsdon Mowbray (Oliver Dennis) as a bungling aged burglar in check; from last-minute dress rehearsal to its final performance as every little mishap conceivable occurs among these drama queens and kings onstage and backstage using whatever adlib and makeshift prop available in maintaining the old showbiz credo “the show must go on” going.

Ted Dykstra juggles the two-hour love triangle production deftly as he’d done with the previous Soulpepper production of Jitters, pacing and language to float evenly. Even better, the 1970s-period stage set décor by Patrick Clark and costuming from Kaileigh Krysztofiak stays true its style for all its wood tones and earthy colours (the in-between intermissions watching them move the mobile set front-to-back-to-front again is a real treat) in keeping it real for the audience and cast.

And the casting choices are great throughout and kudos all round during Act Two’s backstage shenanigans getting crazier by the minute, mostly performed in semi-pantomime, captures the average ongoing goings-on behind the curtain is pure satire in itself. While all the aforementioned cast is sound, Storch’s short-tempered director is achingly great in his scenes as he tries to handle this sandlot group and whatever workplace politics happens to explode.

Certainly hope Soulpepper will tackle Noises Off again in the foreseeable future and for a much longer run, as something like this can’t always be caught immediately upon first sight to get all of its details of Michael Frayn’s hilarious homage to theatrical antics and the sex farce like Boeing Boeing; No Sex Please, We’re British and Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something! with careful grace and frantic fun for all its sexual double-entendres flung about. Highly recommended.

***

Noises Off continues through to this Saturday (October 22). For tickets and information, call 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca.