Festival lunacy set to smother city once again

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This article first appeared in The Varsity (page 9) on Sep 4, 1990

by Ray Deonandan,
Varsity Staff

Break out that cappuccino maker and those twenty bucks you’ve been saving for silly selfish things like food – it’s Festival of Festival time again! From September 6th to 15th, the world’s film elite converges upon poor little Toronto to celebrate one of the industry’s biggest and most important events: The Fifteenth Annual Festival of Festivals. Continue reading

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Heros On The Half Shell: Turtlemania In T.O.

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First published in The Varsity on Apr 2, 1990, page 9

BY RAY DEONANDAN
Varsity Staff Writer

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Cineplex Odeon Theatres

The line-up outside the theatre for the sneak preview was humongous, chock full of snotty-nosed little brats cloaked in florescent ski jackets and toting baseball caps and little green figurines. Someone in the line-up accurately described them as “having their parents by the balls, while the toy companies have got them by the balls.”

And we thought to ourselves: is it better to be abused by annoying children in the theatre lobby, or to be trapped inside a dark theatre with these same aforementioned irritating little capitalists. There was no alternative option, really. I had accepted the assignment: I would review the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

But no, I will not sink to using Turtle language (e.g. “gnarly movie!” or “totally awesome fight scenes!”, although both would be accurate). I will, however, admit to owning a Turtle figurine (It was a gift – really.)

Now, this is a live action flick, complete with muscular martial artists encapsulated in green styrofoam costumes. As the billboard reads: “This ain’t no cartoon, dude!” It’s the first of the coming summer onslaught of comic book motion pictures (in the fine tradition of last year’s Batman), which includes Dick Tracy and The Amazing Spiderman.

The Turtles came into being fifteen years ago, when the escaped pet rat of a Ninjitsu master adopted four baby turtles after having found them wallowing in radioactive sludge. All five of them mutated into sentient humanoid creatures: the Turtles and their sensei, complete with domed emerald skulls and irremovable carapaces. Their first word in the English language: Pizza.

Thus, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo – sounds like Super Mario Brothers 4! – grew to become slimy but stout warriors of the ninja style, dedicated to fighting evil and preserving their invisibility.

The setting for the movie is quite familiar to those of us who tune in to YTV to consume our daily dose of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. The city is being terrorized by a youth crime wave of Torontonian proportions, completely coordinated by an ancient Japanese martial arts cult. Street kids are snatching purses and turning them over to their Japanese crime lord. In return, the crime lord teaches them to be ninja assassin. Oh woe is we. The Ninja Turtles must come to our rescue.

This is the ideal munchkin movie. It’s got their favourite toy heroes (a tetrad of teenage Turtles); plenty of action lots of terrific turtle trouncing); witticisms (trite testudine  tautologies); a message (“trust your teachers, tots”) and the obligatory emotional content for their psycho-social development (terribly tender and touching Turtle togetherness).

Strangely, there is no brutal violence, sexual explicitness, or coarse language such that you need not consider prohibiting your small child or household pet from seeing this movie.

For the adults, the turtle trouncing is tight. There’s nothing like seeing a short green cold-blooded being executing a perfect spinning reverse roundhouse kick for getting the old Chuck Norris neurons firing. And nobody twirls a set of nanchaku like a bipedal reptile.

While there is no sexual tension per se, and the needless romance is kept to a minimum (thank God), there is a bit of sexual innuendo in that the Turtles’ friend and reporter April O’Neill appears in every scene baring the teenage Turtles her two thin though thought-provoking thighs. The sensuality is entirely lost on thesnotty brats, I’m sure.

One could say the flick is one part Star Wars, two parts Bloodsport and six parts Muppet Show. That’s a total of nine parts, and has absolutely no relevance to what I’m talking about (no mystic ninja secret encoded in the number nine). And even though there are many cliches borrowed from elsewhere, Ninja Turtles comes out looking like a creative tour de-force, thanks to the comic book / cartoon / figurine mega-industry backing them up.

But the one word that describes this fine cinematic adventure is “innocent.” Sure, there’s lots of fighting and miniskirts and fungal growth on pizza, but when viewed as a comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is truly a big screen classic. The Turtles are tough teens with pure hearts, and bad guys are real bad. (They give away cigarettes to kids – for free!)

And the best part is that, next year, Ninja Turtles will surely win the Oscar for best make-up – despite the reams of snotty kids in the theatre lobby.

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Remembrances Of Scooby Doos Past

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First published in The Varsity on Dec 7, 1989, page 4

by RAY DEONANDAN

I remember waking up really early on Saturday mornings, crawling downstairs very quietly so as not to wake anyone, and gorging myself for many hours on that priceless media opiate: t.v. cartoons. I don’t slither out of bed quite that early anymore, but I still manage to ingest my weekly bolus of television candy.

Things have changed, however. The quality of Saturday morning fare and its intended audience have been altered.

I find that the last two decades of animated television readily divides into three defined phases: the Fun Dumb Adventure phase; the Video Game Sellout phase; and lastly the Unimaginative Dumb Adventure phase. Running contemporaneously alongside all three phases are the Pseudointelleciual cartoons.

The Pseudoiniellectuals include classics like The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, George Of The Jungle, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and the unforgettable Underdog.

There is substantial overlap with another type called Cartoons With Really Neat Theme Songs. This fifth heading honours Roger Ramjet, Rocket Robinhood, Spiderman and the first real t.v. comic book, Star Blazers.

The first phase (Fun Dumb Adventure) is what I consider to be the Golden Age of television cartoons, probably because its timeline corresponds well to my childhood years. How many of us lost sleep to watch The Superfriends, just to see how many more visible minorities ABC could hope to cram into superhero costumes?

But the undisputed heavyweight champion of cartoons at this time was the one and only ‘Scooby Doo‘ (and Shaggy, too). Imagine the state of the world without those meddling kids and their dog.

Scooby’s reign came to an abrupt end when the industry big-wigs discovered that, all of a sudden, pre-teens had lots of money to spend. The second era of television cartoons was thus ushered in: the Video Game Sellout phase.

Cartoons stopped appealing to kids’ minds and started patronizing their parents’ wallets. The microchip revolution saw some really horrible cartoon creations like Pac-Man, Pole Position, Care Bears and the truly outrageous Jem.

Japan’s domination of world economics was seen by children first, and mirrored in adult comic book stores. Japanese comics and cartoons were released simultaneously to attack the market on two fronts. Asia is still locked into this obsession with the machine as a source of power and enteriainment.

The robot ruled the second era, returning from the 1950s in a new form machines that turned into vehicles. The Transformers had arrived, along with their sickly first cousins The Gobots. For the first time ever, machines were cast as good guys, their mechanized states now enviable conditions.

Violent Japanese robots were in vogue, as were the toy counterparts to the cartoons that were now just extended commercials. An avid fan could predict next month’s episode by watching yesterday’s toy advertisements. This trend climaxed with the advent of the first animated soap opera, Japan’s Robotech.

Network officials were eager to make existing cartoons more accessible to a new breed of children with expensive clothes and short attention spans. Hence poor old Scooby-Doo was made to look like an illiterate imbecile with the introduction of his highly evolved and eloquent nephew Scrappy-Doo.

It was sacrilege.

Luckily, this annoying new type of child quickly grew larger, discovered crack and semi-automatic weaponry, and joined preppie street gangs. Cartoons were thus free to resume their normal course of evolution.

Europe’s The Smurfs did well with moralistic fairy tales concerned with characters rather than objects. It also provided a brand new drinking game (downing a shooter every time the word “smurf” is heard).

Enter the third and present phase of cartoon evolution. The shows I’ve labelled Unimaginative Dumb Adventures are cued from movies and sitcoms, but are several quantum units better than those based on video games.

The first season of The Real Ghostbusters, featuring the voice of Arsenio Hall, was a terrific romp through high fantasy, science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. It was the best campy cartoon since Underdog himself. Weekly instalments were in the flavour of the original megafilm — except with better plots.

Today’s best fares are Alf (surprisingly) and Beetlejuice, two entertaining offerings based on partly organic counterparts.

Indeed, I believe, for Young Adults, the wise-cracking Alf series consistently presents intelligent stories, reasonable animation and a moralistic edge: many of the stories are clever re- workings of traditional fairy-tales.

Beetlejuice is a rarity. Not only is purgatory the setting, as in the original movie, but its bizarreness has not been attenuated for kiddie consumption. And its hero is a bad guy, a great leap forward for producers of animated TV. Perhaps they’ve finally realized that more adults than kids watch these shows.

The mindless violence continues with Robocop and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (despite the great name). Meanwhile our jazz age hero, Bugs Bunny, has been desecrated. While Elmer Fudd still fires his gun at Daffy Duck, Daffy’s head now fails to explode, and his beak fails to spin like a gyroscope.

That’s right, folks, The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show has been censored.

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Daiko drumming gives Hart House a shake

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First published in The Varsity on Nov 2, 1989, page 11

BY RAY DEONANDAN
Varsity Staff Writer

Toronto Suwa Daiko
Hart House
October 26lh

The mythology of feudal Japan is replete with tales of deities drawn forth by the magical cadence of the taiko drums, instruments whose primal beats originally served to mark the boundaries between villages.

Today, taiko drumming is an extremely popular ethnic musical form, with Kodo, Demon Drummers of Sado consistently playing to sell-out crowds world-wide.

Enter the Toronto Suwa Daiko, part time taiko drummers embodying the rural originators of the music. Where Kodo is experimental, radical, and alarming, the Suwa Daiko is traditional, Shinto-oriented and theatrical.

Blending elements of dance, kabuki theatre and, most importantly, flute and drum music, the Toronto Suwa Daiko played to a packed enthusiastic audience at Hart House last week. Eight pieces, several interweaving Japanese with Western rhythms, told stories from Japan’s history, just as they would have been told by farmers of the fourteenth century. Musical tales of religion, war, and ceremony were beat out, passionately detailed by the strained sweaty faces of the young drummers.

Taiko drumming is not for the faint of heart nor frail of body, in terms of both musicians and audience. The fitness level required to play the drums is considerable, as are the levels of excitement to which the listener is drawn.

According to Suwa Daiko Artistic Director Gary Nagata, to join the group, one must first undertake a ten week training programme, then audition. Upon acceptance, the novice is required to dedicate at least three years to playing with the group. Apparently, the strict maintenance of certain traditions is not a factor, since many female and non-Asian faces are scattered throughout their entourage.

The Toronto Suwa Daiko perform several times throughout the year at various locations in the Toronto area. Taiko drumming is an experience not to be missed. It is an Oriental musical form that is extremely accessible to those of us unaccustomed to eastern ways.

The concert was arranged through the efforts of the Hart House Music Committee, to whom we have all paid fees. On November 19, the Committee presents Catherine French. Free tickets become available on the 5th. For information on how to become an active member of the Committee, contact Andrew Lo at 733-2677.

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Ball crowd illuminates riotous architecture

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First published in The Varsity on Oct 2, 1989, page 13

BY RAY DEONANDAN
Varsity Staff Writer

Kawamata Toronto Project 1989
Colonial Tavern Park
Yonge St., north of Queen St.

Okay Blue Jays. They had just won the pennant, and the swarming fans were taking to the streets. A good time, 1 thought, to meander over to Yonge & Queen to examine Toronto’s largest outdoor work of architecture-sculpture.

Pushing through the chanting beer-scented crowds, I puzzled over the many descriptions I had heard of Tadashi Kawamata’s controversial creation…

“…It looks like a hurricane hit the old Colonial Tavern…”

“…A tornado of timber splinters…”

“…A truly exhilirating enterprise.”

The most striking comment of all, perhaps, was “You mean that thing was intentional?”

Kawamata is a world-renowned architect, infamous for his unique blending of Western methods with Eastern motifs. His structures have garnished many major

metropolitan centres throughout the world, including Venice, Sao Paulo, Rome, Paris, Geneva and, most recently. New York.

His sculptures are created for a specific place and time, sayeth his press release. The work is supposed to be influenced “as it develops by the character of the city and its residents.”

But what do I know of architecture, other than it is among the few visual arts that also, presumably, serve a utilitarian purpose? People are supposed to live in buildings, as well as look at them. I would have to approach
this thing as a People, one of us faceless taxpayers who don’t really know very much about art, but do know what we like when we see it.

Despite the ample documentation available from the curators, I would have to see this thing for myself before I could digest a drop of what it was supposed to be.

Through the haze of visible breaths, honking horns and fluttering Blue Jay paraphernalia, the fabled structure came into view. All noises , and other distractions were subtracted from my perceptive field, being replaced by an eerie kind of organ music reminiscent of several Ridley Scott movies. The thing was before me.

It looks very much like a box of giant toothpicks, coated with glue, then dropped and allowed to settle in anyway that gravity saw fit. First impression: tax money was spent on this?

Upon further inspection, however, it became clear that its creator is a true structural master. The beams of timber, while apparently bolted together haphazardly, have been carefully positioned and linked so that it is really quite a solid, safe… thing. It’s a draughtsman’s nightmare!

There are benches here, strangely out of place since they are brand new, while the work resembles a broken down building. There are also a pair of homeless men huddled on one of the benches. I ask one of them what he thinks. He holds his nose and says, “It’s a waste of money. But you college boys seem to like it.”

Soon there are a few more curious individuals poking about, like termites in a pile of wood. They are all dressed like Ontario College of Art students, and are furiously taking notes and photographs. I ask one of them for an opinion. He replies that it is a good ‘thing’, mainly because everyone seems to have some strong reaction toward it.

Is that how one defines good art? It certainly makes my job easier.

Another man gives very honest appraisal: “It’s horse shit.” But the most thoughtful response is from another bystander who realizes the structure’s true representation of the city: “Toronto is a spectacle, not a place to live. That’s what this thing is.”

Surveying its enormity, a growing urge to amble up and across onto the crossbeams is unavoidable. The thing invites the brachiating ape in all of us: “Climb!”

And, indeed, some young Blue Jay fans heed this beacon and scamper onto Kawamata’s inviting timbers, only to run away before I could accost them for comments.

After the initial shock and indignance has worn off, the creation is seen in a new light. It is a complex work of wastefulness without purpose, yet its complexity demands a silent moment during which one admits to oneself, “I’m impressed.”

Moreover, one becomes thankful for the oasis of peacefulness the shambled walls provide, despite the desert of wild cacophony just beyond.

It was supposed to have taken on the character of Toronto. Instead it has accumulated controversy and a whole lot of graffiti: “Zippo” and “BunchOfFuckinGoofs” occupy areas normally reserved for the artist’s signature.

Another person turns to me and says, “THAT is the real character of Toronto.” I follow her pointing finger to the swarms of ecstatic (and possibly drunk) baseball fans, climbing over cars and hollering “BOOO JAAAYS!” And I know that it is time to go.

Toronto will be here for some time to come, but Kawamata’s strange child exists only till the end of October.

The Kawamata Toronto Project is on the east side of Yonge Street, just north of Queen Street. It was curated by the Mercer Union Centre, at 333 Adelaide W., 977-1412

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Performace Art Mad For Lucid Journalism

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First published in The Varsity on Sep 11, 1989, page 14
 

Mad For Bliss
Performance Art by Vera Frenkel
The Music Gallery
September 6 — 9

BY RAY DEONANDAN

“Cargo cult: any of the religious movements chiefly, but not solely, in Melanesia that exhibit belief in blessing to be initiated by the arrival of special ‘cargo’ of goods from supernatural sources…”

-small sample of very large inscription on inside cover of programme for Vera Frenkel’ s very strange MAD FOR BLISS

What kind of people strive to achieve a state of bliss? Men, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, safari ‘bwanas’, yuppies, house-husbands, Messiahs and Melanesian cargo cults — all wearing funky grey pajamas and interchanging hats and roles like inmates of a — a mental ward, perhaps?

And maybe the true attainment of bliss is the synthesis and fitting of artificial limbs, or playing nursery rhymes on touch-tone phones. But, golly, what is bliss? It’s “the teddy bear, but not the stuffing”.

Or so we are told by Vera Frenkel’s gaggle of lunatic performers, as we desperately try to conform to her declaration of ‘the audience as bartender’. That’s right: life begins in a piano bar, baby, and ends only after the apocalypse.

And so what if your pianist (NOT penis) is part aviator and part ballerina — as long as he plays the tunes and keeps plenty of gauze handy. Life (and Mad For Bliss) begins in a piano bar with everyone talking at once, exchanging hats and roles, and singing really really well.

And Act II of Life begins in an Asylum, where three very crazy men vie for sole possession of the title of Christ, and where romance, lunacy and religion get together to dance the tango with cardboard palm trees and fresh copies of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

Then we’re in Melanesia, where The White Man shoots a black man to show him that ‘his life is worth nothing other than to carry our cargo.’ Funny-looking natives (still in funky grey pajamas) build a shrine to the coming cargo plane, adorning it with ghetto blasters, candelabras, bowling trophies and more gauze. O what’s a poor bartender to think?

But the cargo plane doesn’t arrive from Heaven, and the Messiah (aka ‘the Lover’) doesn’t sprinkle the land with shiny new cargo. Instead, we’re back in the piano bar, with everybody talking our ear off while we try to pour drinks in peace. “Sex was just a preamble,” we’re told. “It was my radio he wanted all along.” And we hear about someone’s friend who had writer’s block so he arranged for his desk to be set up in the elevator of an art gallery, so that he could always be moving (as if motion helps one overcome writer’s block).

Meanwhile, the metronomes and the blabbering German television persist. Where did the gauze go?

But while we search for bliss in trivial things, the apocalypse is approaching. The voice in the shopping mall says, ‘You must shop around for the right Messiah with the proper credentials. Shop, or someone will shop for you.’ And a surtitle, almost lost among the maze of further visual stimuli, tells us ‘You have been misled by the title.’ And it’s true, dammit.

And as the cast dances offstage chanting ‘Total Abandon’ with proper primal cadence, a grey cloak of depression settles over this many-headed bartender, until it’s suddenly realized: hey, it’s just a performance. And a darn good one at that.

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Avenger’s life is Homeric if weird

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by Ray Deonandan

Published in The Varsity, Dec 5, 1988, page 8

Blind in One Ear
by Patrick MacNee
Doubleday
288 pages
$24.95

Recognized globally as the debonair John Steed in British television’s classic series The Avengers, Daniel Patrick MacNee has, to say the least, led an interesting life. In his autobiography, Blind in One Ear, he tells ofhis turmoil-ridden crawl to fame. The triumphs and tribulations he describes are of Homeric proportions. Continue reading

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To boldly go where men have gone before

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This article was originally published in The Varsity, page 11, on Oct 14, 1987.

It’s back! The much discussed and overrated ’60s revival has finally swung about 360 degrees! (That’s 2 pi radians for those of you so inclined). Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek has returned to television.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a spanking new Enterprise, heralded by Alexander Courage’s familiar fanfare, rockets across TV screen into adventures within and beyond the final frontier.

On paper, this undertaking was an astoundingly brilliant idea. The time was ripe for some reaping of the carefully sown Star Trek crop. This was mostly due to the success of the motion picture Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. There was also a new generation of videophiles eager to taste the rare artistic majesty prevalent in the Trek concept. And besides, further Star Trek movies (the fix we Trek addicts have been subsisting on for so long) will be slow in coming due to the geriatric state of the original cast.

In the new series, Roddenberry adheres to the Trek concept of Starfleet officers, as mighty defenders of humanity’s moral precepts.

The premiere episode, in fact, incorporates this very principle as its central theme, and once again, the crew of the Enterprise must prove to some almighty alien that we humans aren’t really quite as bad as we may at first seem.

D.C. Fontana, the original series’ script writer (who, incidentally, wrote all the bad episodes), is back as well. Her style is evident in the incongruous pseudo-emotional scenes slipped in here and there in this first episode.

But things have changed, and it is evident that this is, in fact, an ’80s show. Women and minorities populate the cast to a noticeable degree — not just the token Lieutenant Uhura of the original series.

The new Enterprise is big and shiny, but Roddenberry must realise that our love for the original vessel was not due to her shape or the size of her engines, but to the actual character she projected — the anachronistic ship with Shatner as the chief sailor.

I do, however, like Patrick Stewart as the new Captain. While not as endearing as Shatner’s Kirk, Captain Picard does add an unexpected bit of malevolence to the scenario. This is great — as long as the producers don’t let him degenerate into a soap opera character.

It is reassuring, though, to see that the power of the original characters has not been taken lightly. Kirk’s presence in this show is noted in the two characters of Captain Picard and Commander Reicher, the token adventurer.

Spock’s presence (if such a character can have an equal!) is noted in Data, an emotionless android, and in Counsellor, a resident psychic. Each of these characters, individually, is too weak to do the job as satisfactorily as Nimoy’s pointy-eared officer.

Data so resembles Spock, in fact, that Admiral McCoy (special guest star DeForest Kelley) likens him to one of those “damned annoying Vulcans.”

But with such a fine background, the show may go the way of Dr. Who, which is now such a disappointment if the Doctor fails to save the Universe twice each weekend.

Will the show last? Of course not; it’s too intelligent to pass as a space opera and too stupid to be an intellectual’s romp. What it is, though, is probably the best pulp science fiction television series since the original Enterprise came home that fateful day in 1969.

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