Playshop Live

April 19, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Posted in Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this regular Friday night live comedy show at the Paramount Theatre – well last Friday night.

It is an improvisation style of thing and its funny, live, unrehearsed, and has audience participation. It even has live music –  Amand Gerbault-Gaylor  on an electric keyboard. There is an MC - Samuel Phillips - to warm-up the audience (simon-says) and provide a bit of continuity between the various improvisations.

Each of the players took it in turn to do a short humourous monologue on a topic from the audience, then the four of them - Freya Daly Sadgy, ‘Lorry’  LeighOliver Devlin and  Jed Davies - and Sam pitch-in with some improvisations – all accompanied by Amand on his keyboard.

Laugh out load funny, at time riotous; worth a go.

 

The Monuments Men

March 19, 2014 at 8:39 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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The Monuments Men is an ensemble movie starring:

  • George Clooney,
  • Matt Damon,
  • Bill Murray,
  • Cate Blanchett,
  • John Goodman,
  • Bob Balaban,
  • Hugh Bonneville,
  • Jean Dujardin.

With so many stars, it is hard getting everyone enough screen time. So Clooney (Frank Stokes), Damon (James Granger) and Blanchett (Claire Simone) get slightly more time than the others.

The film has the daunting task of telling a story that spans most of Western Europe, and takes place in the last three years of World war II. At times, the film feels like a series of miniatures.

Frank is in charge of small unit charged with recovering art looted by the Nazis. They also try to stop the Nazis stealing more art, as they retreat; and at the end, try to recover stolen art before it the Russians get to it. Claire is a french woman who collaborates with the Nazis in Paris to keep track of where french is sent.

From 1943 onwards, as the tide of war turns, the Germans retreat eastwards, but they take the art works – tens of thousands of them – with them. Even when most of Germany is overrun, there is no sign of the artwork. Eventually, they are found in salt, potassium and copper mines.

The members of the unit are not young men – all the young men were already in combat units. They are not particularly good soldiers: brave, unfit, with 4 weeks of basic training. Two of them are killed, perhaps in circumstances where other younger more experienced men would not. Bonneville’s character – Donald Jeffries – dies in a shootout trying to prevent the Nazis taking a statue by Michelangelo. Dujardin’s character – Jean Claude Clermont - gets caught in the cross-fire between a German patrol and an American patrol; he is lost and blinders in. Their deaths seem so needless.

A film about WWII looted artwork cannot avoid the holocaust. Much of the art was taken from Jews. There is a terrible scene down a mine, amongst looted artwork, there is are two barrels – one full gold rings, and the other full of gold fillings.

A nice history lesson.

Dallas Buyers Club

March 18, 2014 at 9:48 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the Dallas Buyers Club and was not surprised that a few days later Matthew McConaughey won an oscar for his portrail of Ron Woodroof. McConaughey must have cut his food intake to get his body painfully thin – to look the part of an AIDS patient. As must have Jared Leto – who also won an oscar – for his potrail of Rayon, another AIDS patient.

Ron is a Texan: a blue collar worker, working in big oil, with a conservative attitude towards women and gays, hard drinking, fond of rodeo, and rodeo groupies. It is this last fondness that results in him getting HIV – the AIDS virus.

After passing out, he is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to life – doctors advise him to get his affairs in order, and reach a state of self acceptance. Ron is a stubborn kind of man, what Texans call ‘onery’ – “I ain’t a homo, and I ain’t checking out” (or words to that effect).

The film takes a poke at the US Food and Drug Agency: the claim is that AIDS epidemic outstripped the systems ability to trial drugs and get them to market. The medical profession is also painted out to be complicit with ‘big pharma’.

People in trouble do what they have always done, they band together and the stubborn ones like Ron find a way to save themselves. You cannot sell drugs not licensed by the FDA; but you can buy them for yourself. Ron and others like him formed buyers clubs all over the US. Ron imports drugs and supplements when he can, and smuggles them in when he can.

The film tosses out the hairy chestnut: what do you do when the law and those charged with enforcing it are killing people. Ron taught himself a lot about immunology and with some help worked out that vitamin and protein derivatives can fortify the body. Many others came to the same conclusion. Yet, the FDA would not allow any to be imported for sale.

It is surprising that no FDA officials were shot – this is Texas after all.

The double blind trials portrayed of AZT (a failed anti-cancer drug with anti-viral properties) killed patients, not only because the dosages were too high, but because half the patents in the trial got a placebo. In the case of AIDS, a double blind trial of anti-AIDS drugs kills half of the patents; in reality, most of the double blind trials were abandoned, as it became obvious who got the placebos. At one stage Ron buys stolen AZT – what did he have to loose.

Ron lived for over 2000 days – much more than the 30 days the hospital expected. Along the way Ron, develops a respect for AIDS sufferers, some he even considers to be his friends – like Rayon. When you walk in another man’s shoes you understand him, even if you still disagree with his life choices. He also prolonged the lives or many others. Sometimes the world needs ‘orney’ people like Ron.

McConaughey does a great job.

The ‘I’ Test

March 1, 2014 at 6:56 am | Posted in Dance Review, Event Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Last night, I went to a Fringe Festival event The ‘I’ Test. Billed as a dance and dance-theatre. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I liked the unrequited love and love triangle sequences.

The ‘He is so not into you’ segment was very well choreographed and danced (and acted). The man just does his thing and she literally fits herself around and on him. It was an anti pas de duexs: there was no connection emotional connection, just a physical connection; the woman is not allowed to achieve eye contact.

This set things up nicely for the ‘love triangle’. The man encounters another woman who he is interested in and who is not indifferent; but there is a second man who keeps popping up.

Good to see Anna Flaherty, Danielle Lindsay, and Emma Coppersmith – now Muted Crane Productions – again. They were joined by Andrew Paterson and James Wasmer.

The temporary Bats Theatre was nice – my first visit.

American Hustle

February 23, 2014 at 8:55 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I haven’t seen a con-artist movie or TV program for a while, but I recently found time to see American Hustle. It is quite good, it has a genuine surprise end – and satisfying. I enjoyed it.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

Irving, played by Christian Bale, and Sydney/Edith, played by Amy Adams, are a team of small time con-artists caught Richie the FBI agent, played by Bradley Cooper. Richie then forces them to help him catch other con-artistis; and before you know it Operation ABSCAM was born. The film is loosely based on this 70′s FBI operation to target public corruption.

There is a fake sheik who will invest in casinos and Irving and Richie are his intermediaries. As they meet with politicians, the FBI video tapes them.

Richie spins out of control and goes after the mafia. Irving and Sydney know that if he succeeds there will be lots of bodies – starting with theirs.

Rosalyn, Irving’s wife, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a loose cannon amongst the play acting; any moment she will expose them all. She is also the other side of the love triangle with Irving and Sydney.

As the stakes get higher and higher more an more pressure piles up on Irving.

The film is morally ambiguous: would any of the politicians acted the way if the sheik was not offering money to invest in ‘jobs for Americans’; all they were doing is making things go faster – and they may never have actually taken a bribe for this particular set of circumstances. Richie is coercing Irving and Sydney to con the politicians and mafioso sails very close to entrapment; and his actions lack equity. Will he get his just desserts.

Bale, Adams, Lawrence, and Cooper turn in great performances. Bale is just great as a flawed man, with heart issues, trying to get out of a stressful high stakes situation. Adams shows she is not just a pretty face. Lawrence shows her amazing versatility.

The music is well thought out: a mixture of keynote 70′s music and jazz; Irving is jazz; and Richie is the flashy 70′s disco.

Assemblé: The Royal New Zealand Ballet at Sixty

February 8, 2014 at 10:13 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Exhibition Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Turnbull Gallery in the National Library to see the Assemblé exhibition.

Last year was the Company’s 60th ‘Birthday’, and the exhibition focused on the creators of the ballets – the choreographers, the designers, and the lyricists. There was a very nicely framed colour wheel of all the materials used for the costumes for Romeo and Juliet.

The exhibition is crafted around the ballets of significance to the Company, like: Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake. There are posters, photos, notes, and excerpts of music from the ballets.

I found the benesh notation and choreographers notes interesting. Though, it would be nice if they had a plain-english translation to go with them.

The Exhibition finishes on Saturday 15 February, fans of the Royal New Zealand Ballet should go see and hear the items in the exhibition.

Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

January 19, 2014 at 7:58 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the original black-and-white version with Danny Kaye, and I was curious to see Ben Stiller’s take on this story.

The film goes through a number of phases: cringing, joyful innocence, and new found understanding.

The cringe phase is mercifully short, and I did not enjoy it. Walter, played by Ben Stiller, frequently zones out as he imagines himself out in the world ‘doing things’. This segment introduces Kristen Wiig as Cheryl Melhoff, who Walter pines after. Cheryl has a son, who Walter bonds with. There is also Adam Scott as Ted Hendricks: Walter’s mean boss. He plays a wonderful two-dimensional heartless arrogant corporate “suit”, who is responsible for all of the bullying.

Walter works for Life Magazine, and it has been taken over by some vast corporate who will make it an online only publication. There will be lots of jobs loses – though Ted keeps reassuring people that things will be alright. His job is to produce the last printed edition and at the same time shed staff – it is a tough balancing act but someone has to do it, and it helps if you don’t have an imagination.

Walter finally gets out of the print room – where they look after the negatives. After some improbable adventures he ends up in Iceland – in the middle of a massive volcanic eruption. Along the way he innocently endangers a number of people. It struck me that the icon of the ‘American abroad’ was alive and well.

Finally the film moves to the end-pahes, where Walter realises that the world is full of adventure, and that he can enjoy some of it.

The Iceland sequences are great advertisements for Iceland.

The film critercises corporate greed. At the end Walter says to Ted, words to the affect that “The people that you are getting rid of; they put a lot of themselves in the magazine and made it great.” By and large, the people working at the coal-face do their job well; the grave injustice is that someone like Ted comes along and tells them that they are very good at doing something that is no longer required – but is was an earlier Ted that told them to do what they do, and encouraged them to be the best they could at it!

Worth seeing for the Icelandic scenery and the unbelievable skating sequences – if you don’t like cringe moments come in 15 minutes late !

A Life for Ballet

January 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, DVD Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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The original title is Une vie de ballets; the film is in French, but it doesn’t matter – most of the important stuff is the ballet sequences.

The film is centred around Pierre Lacotte (dancer, choreographer and living repertoire repository for romantic ballet) and Ghislaine Thesmar (ballerina, his wife and muse). The two chat about their lives, the choreographers and dancers they have worked with. Of course, there is footage of famous dancers and ballets.

Being a French, we see a more Euro-centric recent history of ballet.

This DVD/film is a must see for balletomanes.

The Company

January 2, 2014 at 8:00 am | Posted in Ballet Review, DVD Review | Leave a comment
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I watched the DVD of The Company and I enjoyed it.

This Robert Altman film is about a ballet ‘company’, not the CIA.

In the film, Neve Campbell (playing dancer Loretta ‘Ry’ Ryan) joins the Joffrey Ballet (playing itself), and the audience is given a view of a top professional company – at rehearsal, performing, and the lives of the dancers. It is like watching a smoothly scripted version of La Danse.

The dance – classical ballet and neo-classical ballet – sequences are great.

Campbell trained until she was 15 at the National Ballet School of Canada, before switching to acting. She fits into the Company fairly smoothly, and it is through her character that we see the Company at work, and at play. [Apparently she trained for months - daily private lessons and six weeks with the Joffrey Company - to prepare for the role.]

Campbell also co-wrote and produced.

Malcolm McDowell and James Franco – in non-dancing roles – provide support.

A must see for balletomanes.

Ender’s Game

December 31, 2013 at 7:41 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I have read the book (by Orson Scott Card) and most of the sequels and prequels, so it was with some trepidation that I went to see the film.

Warning: Plot spoilers.

The premise remains the same: aliens will destroy the Earth useless we find a brilliant commander; no stone is left unturned, and children are selected and trained from an early age – just like the Spartans, and it is no coincidence that the top commander has the title of Stratos. Ender Wiggin is one such child-military prodigy.

The film shows how rich the book is. Quite a bit of the book had to be cut to get everything into the book.

The book builds up tension by taking Ender through a series of simulated battles – each of increasing complexity and increasing force imbalance. In the book Ender is often hugely outnumbered and in a bad tactical situation. Most of these are missing from the film. Instead, Ender’s genius is explained to us by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). Consequently, the ‘final’ trick on Ender, is not set-up properly.

Abigail Breslin makes an appearance as Valentine Wiggin – Ender’s sister. Though it was interesting to see how she is developing as an actor, post Nim’s Island and Little Miss Sunshine.

The film focusses on the human side. Ender, ably played by Asa Butterfield, is put through many emotional and psychological tests. Ender passes, but, his humanity is stripped away from him.

I was disappointed in the way Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) turned out. The richness and sadness in his character did not make it to the screen. The book created a love-hate relationship between Ender and Mazer – which set Ender up for his graduation simulated battle. Not much of this made it to the screen. Finally, Mazer ended up with a South Africa accent: his speech was too clipped, and lacked the slower deeper drawl more common to New Zealanders.

If you have read the books, and really like them, and Ender, then wait for the DVD, or free-to-air. Or if you are ‘brave’, then go see it on the big screen and enjoy the special effects. With Orson Scott Card as the other co-writer, it is not another ‘Starship Troopers’ – which completely inverted the philosophy set out in the book, and ruined the opening chapter.

If you haven’t, it is a reasonable science fiction movie.

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