Captain America: Civil War

May 23, 2016 at 7:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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The third film in the Marvel Film-verse. This film picks up from the second film – The Winter Soldier.

This film is definitely worth seeing: its well put together; it does overdo the action (restraint in an action movie; and it raises a basket-load of ethical and moral questions.

The cast consists of most the those from the second film with some additions: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), and Marisa Tomei (Aunt May). Of course Chris Evans (in the title role), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) return; as does Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), who’s character Bucky cause the big split-up.

Spider-Man  gets the shortest reboot on record – 10 minutes in his bedroom. Marisa Tomei was a surprise choice for Aunt May. Good luck to her and newcomer Holland in their upcoming Spider-Man movie.

I am not going to talk about the film, because the plot is available on IMDB. For a large ensemble film, it managed to hold it together – staying to a story that threw moral dilemmas everywhere. The film was over two hours long, but things moved quickly.

So the dilemmas:

  • Must one act within a recognised legal framework?
    • After all, such a framework grants a mandate for actions, and a form of oversight.
    • In a self-referential way, a legal Framework grants legitimacy.
    • All actions and collateral damage within the Framework is sanctioned.
  • Can a legal framework ever work against the interests of the wronged? Therefore, staying out of  Frameworks preserves the freedom to act for those wronged (or in peril).
  • Should one stand by one’s friends? in all situations? And by extension, are there times when the unity is preferred over all other considerations?

Steve Rogers (Captain America), Paul Stark (Iron-Man), and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) all fall on different sides of these dilemmas; and so there is tension, and ultimately fisticuffs! Honourable friends become honourable unfriends. How are they going to put things back together?

Worth a go at the cinema for the big screen and surround sound.

Scope – NZSD Choreographic Season 2016

May 22, 2016 at 5:03 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to Scope last night at The New Zealand School of Dance to see original works choreographed by the third year contemporary majors.

In a new direction from previous years, all of the works were staged ‘in the round’, and were danced, essentially, in one costume. The traditional presidium arch was cast off and there were 4 banks of seating – one in the corner of a not quite square rectangle. The dancers came and went from the four sides. It felt intimate and yet spacious (when the lights were up).

The first and second works had the dancers wearing a white base layer; then at the beginning of the third piece – Obelus – the whole cast lined up and their clothes were dropped to them from the catwalks amongst the lights. The first thud of a neatly folded package of clothes caught the audience by surprise. Somehow each dancer knew which package – a light grey sleeveless shirt and grey light pantaloons – was theirs and they left the line to retrieve and put on their garments.

So Scope:

  • Tropics – by Tristan Carter
  • []3 – a square to the power of 3 – by Christopher Mills
  • Obelus – by Jag Popham
  • The Private Sphere – by Isaac Di Natale
  • Atlas of Intangible – by Breanna Timms
  • Come Along and Feel the Kairos – by Samuel Hall
  • Blight – by Tiana Lung
  • Shaving a Cactus – by Holly Newsome
  • XXX <cr> XXX – by Jessica Newman
  • Temenos – by Isabel Estrella

Even though there were 10 works, the whole show had a coherence to it. There was also some innovative use of boxes and ribbons. There is also an element of the observer as part of the art work: if you sit in any of the 4 front-rows be prepared to be ‘invited up, to part of the dance !

Worth seeing.

Legally Blonde: the musical

May 15, 2016 at 12:36 am | Posted in Dance Review, Musical Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to Wellington Footlights‘ production of Legally Blonde:the musical last night, at Whitireia Theatre (in Wellington). Footlights put on an entertaining musical version of the Reese Witherspoon movie. Directed by Ben Emerson, apparently, this is the first time this musical has been staged in New Zealand.

This is a morality play about hard work, not judging-a-book-by-its-cover, being true to yourself, etc. In the end the bad people get their come-uppance and true love will out.

Standouts for me:

  • Kirsty Moir is fantastic as Wood COMMA Elle – Elle Wood –a UCLA blonde sorority queen turned Harvard law student.
  • Karen Anslow plays Paulette Buonofuonte, a  hairdresser fated to marry an Irishman, and Elle’s  fairy godmother.
  • Uncredited person playing the UPS “I have a package” Courier, who Paulette ends up marryingHis sense of timing and delivery stole every scene he had a part in.
  • Stacey O’Brien as Brooke Wyndham, charged with the murder of her husband, and Elle’s client. If she really were to putout a workout DVD it would be worth buying!
  • The Greek chorus Brigid Boyle, Ellie Stewart, and Kree MacMillan.

I don’t know how Michael Stebbings found time to be the musical director and perform in Jukebox Heros: The Legends of Rock’N’Roll. Briar Franks has done a good job with the choreography.

A good two hours, plus, of entertainment.

 

 

Promise & Promiscuity

May 9, 2016 at 9:09 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A hilarious one-women play set in the Jane Austen Regency Period. I attended a sold out performance at the Circa Theatre the other night. The amazing Penny Ashton, played a multitude of characters, doing a number of voices and personalities, singing now and then (also as different characters), danced, and played the ukulele!

Ms Ashton has turned her novella (available on Amazon) into a one-women one-act play; or she may have turned her play into a novella.

The plot was very familiar to the audience: a pair of sister; living in reduced circumstances – as a result of their father’s poor decisions; they live in a little cottage; there is a wealthy neighbour; the neighbour has a wealthy stand-offish friend; and of course there is a ball.

Go see it if you can. Oh if you are a male, don’t sit in the front row, unless you can dance – Ms Ashton selects someone to dance at the ball!

Jukebox Heros: The Legends of Rock’N’Roll

May 8, 2016 at 1:05 am | Posted in Concert Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This musical gem was from Backyard Theatre and staged at the Gryphon Theatre on Ghuznee Street. I don’t like crowds, so I am unlikely to ever go to a real rock concert, but for 2 hours I got to experience the next best thing: five amazingly talented singers – Alex Rabina, Flora Lloyd, Harriet Dawson, Ingrid Crispin, and Michael Stebbings – taking me on a musical journey from Bill Haley to the present.

Alex Rabina’s Mick Jagger, early on, really got the audience (a full house) really warmed up. Harriet Dawson’s Joan Jett had the audience singing and clapping with her. All through the show people were clapping and shifting in their chairs, by the last third of the show, the younger audience members were up on their feet.

There was a minimum of dialogue – partly because most of it was original words said by the original artists during interviews, and partly, it was all about the songs.

The band – Bruno Shirley, Steve “Shack” Morrison, Bernie Stander, Paul Gadd, Michael Stebbings, and Harriet Dawson – were also pretty amazing, with some excellent guitar solos. Bruno Shirley’s Bruce Springsteen was awesome. Bruno was also the music director.

I really enjoyed it, and hope they re-stage it next year. Kira Josephson did a great job, writing/directing/choreographing, bringing the singers and band together . Kira admits that the songs used are a combination of her picks and the singer’s vocal ranges. So next time, some other songs might make it onto the stage; though if the same amazing singers are in the production, that would be fine too.

Eye in the Sky

May 7, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2057392/ ostensively a film about drone warfare, but really, the Trolley/Tram Dilemma brought to the screen – the ethics of killing one innocent in order to save many.

Helen Mirren in Colonel Katherine Powell, British Army, in command of a mission to capture two British Islamic Terrorists in Kenya. The Kenyan Army and Security Services are proving ‘boots on the ground’, and the US Armed Forces are providing air support (a Predator with two Hellfire missiles and amazing optics) and targeting assessment.

Terrorism may have gone global, but so too has the response to it. It is a bit alarming: smiting the enemies of the state as a video game.

The film sets out the issues, and leads the viewer down a nice ethical and moral corundum.

Mirren/Powell is the calm voice in the drone pilots ear: “do it now lieutenant” and “fire again”. The film also explores the outcome versus the process debate; the people participating in the mission are not necessarily bad people, they are doing their jobs, they push back as much as they can. Another chestnut is explored: following orders – legal orders. Being a multi-national mission, there are many outcomes, differing risk appetites, and processes to satisfy. The whole mission is an exercise in consensus building – both before the mission is approve and as the mission proceeds.

The mission moves very quickly from ‘capture for repatriation-and-trial’ to ‘shoot-to-kill’; the terrorists are not just meeting, they are about to launch a multiple suicide-bomber attack.

Worth seeing: the film creates tension through the actors being confronted by an ever more narrow and harrowing set of options, the drone effects are amazing, Mirren does a fine job, and this was Alan Rickman’s last film (before he died).

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

March 28, 2016 at 1:25 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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As I watched the movie, I wondered why Dawn of Justice? It became clear at the end of the movie. I hadn’t thought too much about it prior to sitting down, focussing on Batman v. Superman.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Batman (played by Ben Affleck) thinks that Superman (reprised by Henry Cavill) is too powerful; that being capable of burning the Earth to a cinder, makes him an existential threat to mankind, and needs to be killed. This is not the classic Batman of old; who when he finds the robber who killed his parents, spared the man. Affleck does a good job, but this is a harder Batman than ever before – he routinely employs deadly force, he is prepared to execute someone (Superman). There is one scene where he disables a roomful of bad guys, 13, but it looked too choreographed. Interestingly, Superman considers that Batman’s vigilante actions lead to unnecessary harm.

The film does a good job of showing the elements that created Batman: his parent’s death during a botched robbery; his discovery of the bat cave; and his need to protect the vulnerable. Superman is shown are as someone searching for themselves; someone who is unsure of his place in the world. He is adored everywhere; but there are those who think he causes as much destruction and death as he averts. It is a strange take on ‘blame the victim’.

Throughout Superman’s angst, he is ably supported by the two people most dear to him: his girlfriend, Lois Lane (reprised by Amy Adams); and his adopted mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). More on this ‘support’ later.

This film has a number of threads: re-boot Batman; use Superman to re-introduce him to a new audience; introduce a new ‘Alfred’ (played by Jeremy Irons); re-boot Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg); and re-boot Wonder Women (Gal Gadot). Here’s where the Dawn of Justice comes in: apparently DC is using this film to launch a franchise; to launch the Justice League of America.

The original DC storyline was very different: Batman’s beef was not with Superman, but with an increasingly authoritarian government; Batman never set out to kill Superman, he just wanted to distracted him long enough for ‘some’ people to go into hiding.

I don’t mind the change in storyline too much; but re-making Batman into a killer? Batman was always different kind of superhero: he had no super powers – just will power – and he never ever used lethal force.

The film makers missed an opportunity to re-make Lois – to give the character a more modern spin. At the end of the film, during the various fights and what-have-you, Lois could have done more; but her character is left in the past. Adams does her best, but the script doesn’t give her much. This is the 21st century, why should she plead with Batman? she should just have a go kicking his butt! Why couldn’t she retrieve the spear and pass it to Superman? No the script chooses to perpetual the idea that women need protecting: Lex Luthor successfully manipulates Superman through threatening Lois and his mother.

Wonder Women doesn’t get enough screen time. She is almost an after thought. When she first appears in a red dress, to thwart Bruce Wayne’s hacking attempts, there is no real chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne; it was all a bit hurried. Remember, last time we saw Bruce Wayne and a mysterious women – she turned out to be Cat Women.

This is a long and at time very violent film – there is a lot of anger going around – so not the best for young children. At times, the film got a bit laboured – some of the fights went on too long, and the conversation between Wonder women and Bruce Wayne – after Clark Kent’s burial – seemed unnecessary.

But worth ago if you have not read too much of the original comics; and if you have, go anyway – that what being a fan means. The bat gadgets are really cool.

Lastly: there may have been a burial, but no true fan of Superman believes he is dead; especially when the director helpful shakes the dirt off the casket.

Graceful Girls

December 31, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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Having upgraded my O/S and iTunes, I am exploring the films available on the iTunes store. The other day I found, and watched, Graceful Girls. This is a film about an Australian dance discipline of ‘Calisthenics’ – though in Olivia Peniston-Bird’s feature length documentary, it is referred to by one-and-all as a ‘sport’. I see it as a dance discipline because the vast majority of the competitions are based around dance – an endearing mixture of ballet, rhythmic gymnastics (without the ball and skipping rope), and commercial dance.

What I found attractive about calisthenics, was that the senior practitioners had normal bodies – trim and toned, as opposed to hyper thin. The dancers are able to execute all of the classical ballet repertoire – technically and gracefully. There is no pointe work, so more dancers can stay in the sport. Unlike ballet which creates a natural ‘gate’ with its near total emphasis on pointe work.

The film follows the lives of some of the dancers and their mothers though a competition year. It is centred around the Regent Calisthenics calisthenics school – a school run by successive generations of the Synnott family. The school was founded by Enid, then run by her daughter Diane, and currently her daughter Brooke. This school has dominated, and influenced the direction of, the sport.

Calisthenics has a much greater emphasis on teams – to win the division, a team must dance/execute eight different routines. Calisthenics is strongest in the State of Victoria; and each year the ‘nationals’ are held in the Ballarat Theatre.

The film also follows the fortunes of Brianna Lee – who is a three time runner-up to the only solo event, known informally as ‘Most Graceful Girl’. Brianna is a sunny primary school teacher who has done calisthenics (and ballet) from a young age, and she really wants the title. Incidentally, both Diane and Brooke have won the title. Brianna’s routines are a picture of beauty and strength – effortless grande jetes (off a one-step take-off), splits (both vertical and horizontal), and wonderful stability (or should one say poise).

Worth ago.

The Force Awakens

December 20, 2015 at 12:03 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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After re-watching the early episodes, I took myself to the midnight session of Episode VII of the Star Wars saga: The Force Awakens. I count myself lucky to be in the first wave of general release viewers. Yes, it was worth staying till midnight, driving home at 2:20 AM afterwards, and getting only three hours sleep, to watch it.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The movie opens with a homage to Episode IV and Alien: there are two moons above a desert planet; one of the moons is occluded by a massive space ship. Then we are introduced to two new characters:  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe is the Resistance’s top pilot. Ren is the new ‘Darth Vader’ – he even has a breathing mask!

Then comes Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Finn is a storm trooper who has goes AWOL and eventually joins the resistance. Rey is the new ‘Luke’ – she even grew up on a desert planet (Jakku). Then we re-introduced to Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

The level of marksmen ship has improved: there is less ‘spray and hope’, and more coolly aimed shots.

There are some amazing flight sequences. Special effects and audience expectations sparked mainly by Episode IV has come a long way from Episode IV.

Final comes Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), going by her working title of General Organa. Maz is a new character – she runs a bar – whether she makes it into Episode VIII remains to be seen.

There are some great fight sequences: much grittier that in Episode IV, V, and VI.

Along the way there is also two other new characters: General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They represent the latest manifestation of the dark side – the First Order. General Hux represents a new element in the story: he is not (apparently) a practitioner of the dark side, but through sheer competence is in competition with Ren for the Supreme Leader’s favour.

There are the odd surprises and of course there is a final battle.

This is a difficult movie to make. It needs: to grab a new fan base, not disappoint the existing multi-generational fan base, to set things up for Episodes VIII and IX, and remain true to what has gone before. I think J.J Abrams (and Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) succeed.

Preparing for The Force Awakens

December 13, 2015 at 8:38 am | Posted in Film Review | 1 Comment
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Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens on December the 17th, and to prepare for my midnight screen, I re-watched episodes II through VI.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

I watched them in Machete Order: VI, V, II, III, then VI. Watched in this order, episode II and III are treated as two closely flashbacks in the middle of the mini-series that is episode V and VI.

One of the benefits of this order is that you meet Luke and Leia as adults, prior to watching episodes II and III that reveal the political and personal events that created them. We also see the similar vents that shaped their lives as shaped their parents. Another benefit, is that it preserves the primacy of episode IV, as being the pivotal episode – thereby respecting the fact that it was released first. Yoda’s talk to Luke makes so much more sense in light of episode III (than the first time around).

I was also struck by how rich episode III is. There is romance, angst, action and political intrigue. The politics neatly summaries the transformation of the ancient republic of Rome to an imperium – and sets the stage for episode IV. Episode II also shows how Anakin is seduced by the Chancellor – Anakin wants a galaxy where his loved ones are safe, and by extension everyone’s loved ones. The Chancellor wants the same; their initial disagreement is the methods.

Things that I did not like the first time around were of course still there:

  • Why is the level of marksmanship so poor in the ‘elite’ Imperial Stormtroopers (and before them the Senate Army), and the droid army?
  • Why when the X-wings are making their attack runs down the trench, don’t other X-Wings parallel them above the trench behind them? (Yes, the mosquitos had to fly down the fiord in ‘633 squadron’, but there is no overhand in the Death Star.
  • Why didn’t the X-wings make  vertical dive bombing run?
  • Why did the empire opt for robotic prosthetics over organ/limb regeneration? After all they could speed grow clones.
  • The Ewoks could not have overcome an Imperial Legion – clubs would never prevail over energy weapons.

Things that occurred to me watching this time;

  • Why didn’t the Jedi knights have a shield or buckler? These would have allowed them to deal with adversaries armed with rapid fire distance weapons. Bucklers being small and light would not have significantly impeded their movements.
  • Who designs a military vessel – like the Death Star – and does not distribute the power generators throughout the vessel?

Of course with J. J. Abrams and Disney in charge, will the plot take a very different direction? Will Luke or Leia have children that will become sought after pieces in the ‘great game’? Will Luke even play a significant role? Will they finally pass the Brechdel test? Will we see a third generation confront the ‘Darkside choice’?

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