Ticket to Ride

June 13, 2014 at 3:05 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Another year, another Warren Miller ski movie; winter is here; the ski season is almost upon us – in the southern Hemisphere.

Two standout segments: the incredible cheesy ninja segment; and the young lady skiing down a mountain in Greenland dressed in a pink one-piece swimsuit (all the way to a hot tub)!

This year’s movie is much like previous movies – ‘guys’ and ‘gals’ doing amazing things in amazing snowy places. Though I am noticing a growing theme: patriotism and climate change. This is the second year in a row with some footage featuring returned service men and a growing recognition of climate change. Of course climate change negatively affects snow sports – so just like hunters make for reasonable conservators, so skiers (and snowboarders) are keen to preserve snowy climate systems. Maybe if enough snow sports people band together, we can make a positive contribution to the climate change debate.

Noah (2014)

April 26, 2014 at 7:18 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this film was because it was by Darren Aronofsky – I liked Black Swan. What was he going to do with this biblical story?

There is a definite ‘green’ message: man is polluting the land and generally ruining through mining and industrialisation. God – the Creator – is going to cleanse the earth with a flood; and Noah must build an ark to save the innocent creatures.

There is the moral dilemma: if man cannot live in harmony with the planet, should the crew of the Ark be allowed to repopulate the planet with more men? Who is innocent? To what lengths should Noah go?

The film wrestles with the concept of free will. Is man inherently bad? or do men do bad things to protect those that they care for and love – like their family or their nation? Ray Winstone does a good job portraying Tubal-cain – the king of an industrialised and war-like people. Both Noah and Tubal-cain want to protect the ones they care for, but they end up at very different places – or do they? since they end up killing others. Tubal-cain is different: his approach is to take what he wants; Noah’s is to take just what he needs. Tubal-cain says: “to decide to kill someone and do it is to be a man”; Noah says: “to do what needs to be done is the mark of a man”.

Noah is played by Russell Crowe, and Naameh (his wife) is played by Jennifer Connelly. Connelly, gives a strong performance of a women torn between her love and loyalty to her husband, and her love and loyalty to her children (and their children). Coincidentally, Naameh has touches of Helen Benson, whom she played in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”; which also featured arks.

The film is often of epic proportions. The amazing flood scenes are possible only in an era of CGI – and very convincing. There is one scene reminiscent of Francis Danby’s ‘The Deluge’.

Coppelia (RNZB:2014)

April 25, 2014 at 2:20 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I saw the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 2014 production of Coppelia the other night and really enjoyed it.

Martin Vedel has done a fantastic job; the story has been tweaked a little bit here and there, but it is still Coppelia – with the third Act retained. It is very much a ballet in three parts: down to the lighting, music and costumes. The general choreography is more to the Danish style – which given Vedel’s time with the Royal Danish Ballet School and Royal Danish Ballet, and the Company’s origins is perfect.

The first Act is lots of fast precise footwork. The lighting and costumes succeeds in creating a festival atmosphere in a peasant village. It is all fun and frivolity – just what you might expect at a harvest festival in Hungary. Mayu Tanigaito brings a bright mischevious perky touch to the role of Swanhilda. Alayna Ng playing the role of Swanhilda’ mother brings a number of (probably) unintended visual elements – she does look like she could be Ms Mayu’s mother and she looks like she might have stepped out of a Gauguin painting :-)!

Mayu’s dancing and acting are great; she is technically very proficient, and injects personality and character into her role. She is a perfect choice for the role.

The czardas – danced by Madison Geoghegan, Lori Gilchrist, Laura Jones and Kirby Selchow – are bright and a little saucy. Their red costumes, with match red-and-gold head bands, and red boots, looked like of what you might get if you dressed the Veela (from Harry Potter) in Wonder Woman outfits.

The friends – danced by Clytie Campbell, Abigail Boyle, Bronte Kelly, and Maree White – are by turns lead, cajoled, and flattered into all sort of mischief by Swanhilda. The dancing and acting of this group in interacting with Swanhilda sets the tone for the ballet. Act I ends with Swanhilda and her friends sneaking into the house of Dr Coppelia – to introduce themselves to the ‘new girl in town’; and her on-again-off-again fiance Franz (Alexander Idazak), using a ladder to climb up to the Dr Coppelia’s balcony – to checkout the ‘new girl in town’.

The second Act is darker and takes place entirely in Dr Coppelia’s workshop. Swanhilda and her friends discover that the ‘new girl’, who is always reading studiously in the window, is in fact a giant doll. In fact the whole workshop is full of dolls. Dr Coppelia comes in and ejects the friends; Swanhilda for some reason hides and stays behind. So she is on hand to save Franz from having his life-force drained from him and placed in a doll. Swanhilda manages to drag a semi-concious Franz out of the workshop, in the process she breaks the doll.

The beginning of the second Act contained one of the best use of contemporary dance I have seen. Maclean Hooper dances as a undressed androgynous doll – named aptly “Limbless”. It is both comic and slightly sinister.

The third Act picks up where the first Act left off: the festival draws to a close with various couples getting married. Swanhilda and her friends all get married. It is an opportunity to dress in white, for pas de deux‘s, for set pieces, and for solo’s. Ima and Zoltan (Clytie Campbell and Joseph Skelton) get solos – Skelton gets some amazing elevation. Some of Petipa’s characteristic choreography peaks through. There is a sequence where Swanhild and Franz, to show their joy and love for each other, do a series of pirouettes and jump turns. Vedel has a playful sequence which has Swanhida literal jumping into Franz’s arms – she lands in his arms in a horizontal position, chest out towards the audience.

Skelton and Idazack have excellent elevation in their jumps and great control in their turns.

Mayu is light and precise: her fouettes and arabesques are rock solid, and her sissonnes seem effortless.

Go if you can get tickets.

PS: The doll’s balcony is ‘stage left’.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 24, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw this the other day and was quite surprised by its depth and political commentary.

Warning: Plot details discussed.

Steve Rogers, Captain America (Chris Evans), is back; and he is having second thoughts. SHIELD is about to deploy a surveillance and anti-terrorist system with global reach – any terrorist can be located (by their DNA!) and killed (with a precise collateral free hyper round). Steve has the old “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” question running through is head, and he isn’t comfortable.

Of course Steve’s concerns are borne out and he has to save the world – again! An old enemy re-emerges for a second attempt at world domination. Natasha Romanoff, The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), is there to co-save – not even Captain America can be in two places at once.

Robert Redford makes a surprise appearance; and Samuel L. Jackson provides some continuity from the first film.

The action sequences are really good, the graphics great, the plot is rich and the deeper questions are there if you want. What do you do if the ‘wrong’ people take control of your overwatch system? Not very much! Better not to set up one in the first place. Transparency, not secrecy, is the watchword.

Evans and Johansson do a really good job of being action heros (true to their characters’ comic book origins), yet portraying lots of inner personal and moral dilemmas. Johansson gets to show off her physical and acting versatility. She really owns the Black Widow role – Finn/Hiller/John were spot on when they cast her for the role.

Worth ago.

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.

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