Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

January 3, 2018 at 1:55 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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Having seen Karen Gillan while binge watching Dr Who, when I recognised her in a trailer for Jumanji 2, I thought that I give it a go.

I was not disappointed. Gillan plays Martha – a shy teenage girl – temporarily put into the body (and clothes) of a tomb-raider-like persona. The basis of the film is that four not quite high school friends are drawn into a video game. The students are cast as characters well out of their comfort zones – into personas and bodies very different to their own. I thought Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black gave two amazing performances. Johnson overcame his strong muscular build to completely sell ‘Spencer’ – a thin nerdy X-Box gamer. Black played ‘Bethany’ – a self absorbed wannabe It girl – perfectly.

The four must overcome their insecurities and work together to win the game. If they don’t win the game they are stuck in the game forever. A further impediment is that the characters only have three lives in the game.

Worth a go: Johnson channeling a thin nerdy who lacks confidence is a revelation; Black as a teenage girl is hilarious and his genitalia jokes had the whole theatre laughing; and Black/Bethany instructing Gillan/Martha on how to flirt also had the theatre laughing.

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English Royal Ballet – Nutcracker (2017) – the film

December 24, 2017 at 4:25 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Concert Review, Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see the Royal Ballet’s annual production of the Nutcracker – captured on film and shown at the Light House Cuba cinema. Darcy Bussell was one of the commentators: one of the difference between a live production and a production designed to be webcast and filmed. Bussell and her co-commentator interviewed, some of the young dancers from the Company’s dance school, and Peter wright – the guest ballet master for this production. Most of the principal dancers were also interviewed – pictured as they worked with Wright. The interval was shown in its full length (the main curtain counting down the minutes).

This production has been performed every year since 1984, when Peter Wright first ‘put it together’. What I liked about this production is that the party is a substantial segment; in some productions, the party is much foreshortened, serving only to convey the nutcracker to Clara. I also liked that Drosselmeyer (Gary Avis) has such a substantive part – and played with a wonderful Rothbart-like feel at times.

Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell dance the parts of Clara and the Nutcracker respectively. Hayward was superb as a young girl growing into womanhood. Campbell is strong yet youthful. A lovely touch that the nutcracker is also Drosselmeyer’s son / nephew (?).

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae dance the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince. Lamb was beautiful; McRae soared. The various Sugar Plum Fairy and Prince pas des deuxs are often overshadowed by those from Swan Lake.

This production of Nutcracker really celebrates the Rose Fairy; ‘her’ dance is an extended piece of technical and dramatic substance. The Arabian dance was a very tidily choreography piece – technically demanding of the genie (?) and her three companions. the principle companion has to hold her aloft with straight arms, when he carries her on an off the stage.

The shrinking Clara – tree expanding – sequence was superb. Though, I did find the lighting and setting for the Snowflakes a little too bright; they looked to me like icicles.

I am pleased that I went to see this. It is unlikely that i will get to see such a show in person.

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

December 23, 2017 at 4:58 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I  went to see The Last Jedi – in 2D. I am sure there are many reviews that talk about the film’s plot elements, so I will just jump into my lists.

What I liked:

  • The on-again-off-again thing between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), as to who would go to the dark-side and the light-side.
  • Finding out how Kylo Ren turned away from his uncle/Luke (Mark Hamill), and cleverly showing the event from both sides.
  • There wasn’t a death star.
  • Captain Phasma returned. Other than being a fan, and so will go to a movie entitled Star Wars – Paint Drying, I went to Episode Eight, because wanted to see more of Captain Phasma.
  • The film stayed faithful to the aesthetic of the earlier films.

What I didn’t like:

  • The opening sequence where the Rebels destroyed a First Order dreadnought (a wannabe death star). It made no sense: why did the Rebels use the equivalent of strategic bombers instead of dive bombers or torpedo bombers? Why didn’t the First Order have a standing Tie-Fighter screen. When the dreadnought lost its last close quarter guns, why no get the surround star destroyers to bombard the dreadnought with their secondary or tertiary weapons. This is what a troop of shermans did in Korea when they got swarmed by grenade welding infantry – they resorted to machine gunning each other. Or the dreadnought just rams the bombers!
  • The constant switching between the points of action. It broke up the flow of the movie.
  • Repeating the structure of past films; e.g. the movable mini death star, having to decouple yet another machine.
  • Captain Phasma being on screen for ‘2 seconds’. Many of the characters are 2 dimensional and serve as cogs in a karma driven plot machine. But Phasma is interesting: what sort of lives do middle managers lead in the First Order? How did she get her rank? What is the significance of the silver armour?
  • The length; 154 minutes is too much.
  • Was it necessary to have Luke milk an alien?

Still a movie that is worth seeing – fan or not 🙂

NZSD 50th Anniversary Graduation Season

November 26, 2017 at 3:07 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Last night I went to The New Zealand School of Dance 50th Anniversary Graduation Season at the St James Theatre.  The School decided to mark its 50th year with a special graduation season – held at the St James rather than its more modest little theatre.

The Programme began with the [Junior] Scholars doing a simple piece choreographed by Sue Nicholls (alumni); Beginners, Please  had four Scholars and two full-time students dancing a very static short piece at the barre. The Programme finished with a piece by the Royal New Zealand Ballet – In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The ‘normal’ graduation programme was thus bookend-ed by the students of tomorrow and the students of the past.

My high lights:

  • Tempo di Valse: this was a symphonic piece choreographed to Tchaikovsky‘s Nutcracker, Op.71. by Nadine Tyson (alumni). The 19 dancers were a mixture of second and third year dancers. It was classical and very seasonal.
  • Wedding Pas de Deux from Don Quixote: this was dance by Mayu Tanigaito and Joseph Skelton from the RNZB and staged by Patricia Barker (RNZB Artistic Director). Ms Tangigato’s  kitri was checky and playful; and her technique excellent – her 30 something fouttes got a massive round of applause, and her stability off-and-on pointe was rock solid. Joseph Skelton’s amplitude, endurance, strength, and technique also earned him some well deserved applause. I have never before seen a one handed lift – he pulled out two!! The two dancers also had some chemistry – a good thing for their wedding dance.

Works I found interesting;

  • Forgotten Things: This contemporary piece, choreographed in 2015 by Sarah Foster-Sproull (alumni), at times used the 23 dancers, dressed in black, in close packed formations, using their exposed hands and lower legs, to create animistic shapes and extensions to some of the soloists. It strikes me that the use of multiple dancers to create ‘creatures’ may be a direction worth exploring.
  • S.U.B. (Salubrious Unified Brotherhood): danced by 3rd year students Connor Masseurs and Toa Paranihi. This was choreographed by Victoria Colombus (alumni), and explored what is dance – there were times when both men just stood still, and moved individual muscle groups.
  • The Bach: choreographed by Michael Parmeter (alumni), originally in 2002, to capture and express the emotions felt after 3 years of dance study. 16 2nd and 3rd year students did a contemporary take on JS Bach’s Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen.

Works of renown:

  • Concerto Pas de Deux: a Sir Kenneth MacMillan piece.
  • Allegro Brillante: a Balanchine piece debuting in New Zealand for the first time at the Graduation Season.
  • In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated: a piece originally commissioned by Rudolf Nureyev for the young dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, and choreographed by William Forsythe, in 1987. This piece was staged by Thierry Guiderdoni and dance by nine members of the RNZB. as it said in the Programme, it is as modern today, as when it first premiered.

So something for everyone who was fortunate to get a ticket to one of the three shows – unlike the regular 2 week graduation season.

The School had arranged a weekend of celebratory activities, and a number of alumni and RNZB alumni  were in evidence at the Saturday night show.

Eyes of Egypt

November 20, 2017 at 7:46 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to Whitireia Polytechnics’ Commercial Dance Diploma graduation show the other night. I was fun and very professional.

This year’s theme was Egyptian – the show was arranged in four segments: a market place, a desert, a pyramid, and a banquet.

The choreography was very sharp and entertaining; the dancing was very precise, yet enthusiastic and fun. There was a nice mix of hip hop, lyrical, jazz, ballet, and show girl. This year the lighting and back projection seemed particularly sharp and bright.

My favourite section was the banquet – the harem girls teased the eunuch, the court sequences were touching, and there were multiple fan dances!

Another year, another fantastic show; get tickets while you can. Also it will be your last chance to experience the Vivian Street venue; next year they should be in the new Cuba Street facility.

 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

September 17, 2017 at 11:32 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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With some anticipation and trepidation, I went to this the other day: what would Luc Besson (director and screenplay) and the writers (Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières) do to characters from my ‘graphic novel’ days?

Warning: Plot discussed.

It is an action movie, built around a ‘road trip’ framework. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) go on a journey to solve a mystery and so rescue their superior Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen). Valerian and Laureline, jointly, and individually encounter a number of ‘physical challenges’ and ‘chase sequences’ to the inevitable climax and resolution. It is a bit ‘James Bond’ like: well choreographed hand-to-hand and gun fights; high speed chases; even an ending sequence that owes much to the end from  “The Spy Who Loved me”.

The CGI work is fantastic. The film could not have been made in its released form without it. Weta Digital has done another excellent piece of work. I deliberately watched the 2-D version.

I found Laureline much more heroic and responsible than Valerian. Cara Delevingue has a great screen presence, and carry’s off the passionately competent Laureline very well. I did not like the interplay between Valerian and Laureline – it felt dated.

Still some nice action sequences and great CGI; so worth seeing in a movie theater.

And was I disappointed? a little bit. The small print advertising is careful to say “based on the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline””. This gives the creative team licence to change things – and change they do. Even though, the original creators were given writting credit, it was Luc Besson who wrote the screenplay. The plot is closest to “Ambassador of the Shadows” (1975), with Luc Besson altering the originals of Central Point; the premise of the movie and the final sequence. In my graphic novels: Central Point was created in deep space – perhaps having it originate in earth orbit makes the film more attractive for people who have not read the comic; there is no cover up of a genocide; and Valerian and Laureline do not need to end up sleeping together. Why add a genocide? Why put the main characters in bed? This just renders the Laureline character into a companion rather than as an partner.

Whiterea Commercial Dance: Year One Variety Showcase (2017)

September 5, 2017 at 9:24 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to another enjoyable evening of energetic dancing at the Whiterea Performance Centre. The year one commercial dance students were showcasing what they had learnt during the year.

One thing that I realised about commercial dance compared to other dance professions,is that there are no intervals! 14 students danced non-stop for over an hour – in 22 numbers. These ranged from contemporary, jazz, classical ballet, tap, hip hop, and showgirl. There was even singing – by Tamsin Howe, who sang and danced her way through “Rule the World”

This year’s intake had a strong tap contingent and it was nice to see a whole chorus line of tap dancers doing their thing to ‘Puttin’On the Ritz”.

This year’s showcase only had one ballet number, which was artfully disguised as show girls doing a fan dance – to strains of Swan Lake – entitled Fanfare – choreographed by Anne Gare. There was the crowd pleasing circle of fans – where the dancers arrange themselves in a circle and appear to descend down onside and up the other;there was also two lines of fans doing a ‘Mexican wave’ effect. This was all nicely intermixed with some classical ballet.

There was a nice little musical theatre number, with another take on a love triangle, sung and danced around the Charleston. It was little cheeky and fun – the ‘boy’ (Cole Bockman) doesn’t end up with either ‘girl’, one off whom walks off with the ‘mike’!

There were some ‘darker’ pieces – one that stayed in my mind was Lost in a Book Choreographed by Shenna Dunn. In fact six of the numbers were choreographed by the first year students; with Georgia Wilson doing two – Escalate You and Roxie.

Mr Bockman was a busy man; being the only male dancer in this year’s intake, I and sure he appeared in more numbers than most of the other dancers. He was in the chorus and partnering – so was on stage a lot. He got to showcase his agility with some nice gymnastic moves (as did some of the other dancers); he got to do lots of lifts, supports (dancers high kicking to rest on his shoulder, dancers doing forward walkovers over him), catches, and jumps. In one sequence he does a ‘frog jump’ over his standing partner. In multiple numbers he ends up catching his partner who literally runs then jumps into his ‘safe’ arms.

Another fun night at one of Wellington’s best kept secrets.

Romeo & Juliet (RNZB 2017)

August 27, 2017 at 4:26 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Event Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the Royal New Zealand Ballet‘s new production of Romeo and Juliet the other night. Francesco Ventriglia, the outgoing Artistic Director’s version is longer (three Acts) and more theatrical than previous productions by the company. Jon Buswell’s lighting  combined nicely with James Acheson’s innovative sets to create a dark renaissance mood. Boswell’s costumes also provide a magnificent sense of pomp and grandeur for the nobles. This is also a grittier production; this production has a fight coordinator – Carrie Thiel – who gives the fights a sense of realism.

Joseph Skelton and Madeleine Graham are Romeo and Juliet – Skelton and Graham display chemistry during their pas de deux. Their balcony, morning after, and tomb choreography had innovative segments where they don”t dance – they just hold each other and/or step together. It actually reinforces their relationship. Graham genuinely looks like she could be 14 years old! Skelton gives the audience something to cheer for – when the secretly married couple wake up the day after the secret wedding – he is topless.

Paul Mathews’ Tybalt was impactfull; he was by turns: powerful, athletic, moody, angry, and passionate.

Massimo Margaria and Filippo Valmorbida were Mercutio and Benvolio. Margaria is the perfect loyal friend; Valmorbida is the friend who is always fooling around.

Abigail Boyle is the majestic and proud Lady Capulet. Watch out for her black mourning – for Tybalt – outfit as a harbinger of death.

Things I liked:

  • Paul Mathews’ Tybalt; it is good to see him in a challenging role.
  • Some of the fight sequences.
  • The visual symmetry of the Prince’s guard: half the guards held their pikes with their right hands, and the other half held their pikes with their left hands.
  • The noble ladies’ costumes – dripping in pageantry.
  • Graham/Juliet’s pointed toes – when she was asleep, unconscious, and even when dead.

Things I did not like:

  • The excess of divertissements.

 

Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 at 9:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Wonder Woman in the weekend. Having seen tGal Gado in Keeping Up with the Jones, I knew it wasn’t going to be kitsch.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

The film presented the director and producers a number of challenges:

  • Telling the back story of Diana to people who were knew it and who did not – how much of the film’s running time to use? what formative events to show?
  • Keeping the character strong despite the amazons wearing ‘scanty’ amount of armour.
  • Telling a creditable main story.

The film is long, it has to be to satisfy the above. I did not notice the passing of time; I only realised the length of the film, when I looked at my watch afterwards.

Director, Patty Jenkins, and editor, Martin Walsh, opted to not tell Wonder Woman’s story in flashback. Wonder Woman’s early life is better told in one go – the audience is spared going backwards in time and holding the story line in their heads. It also sets the norm for what Amazons wear, and how it does not affect their combat effectiveness. No one complains too much when a male actor like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson appears in The Scorpion King wearing a leather apron / skirt.

The Amazon training sequences would have been at home in any action movie; after a while, that absence of men, stopped being noticeable.

No sooner has Diana finished her training, with a final gauntlet, than Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) turns up in German uniform. This was the biggest moment of confusion – in my universe Steve Trevor should appear in an American uniform – circa World War II; not be a German aviator – circa World War I. Diana is fascinated – finally a male specimen to examine, after second hand stories and book learning. For quite a while, Steve Trevor and his world are something to be examined, and it strange foibles to be commented on. at least, it is until, she can kill Ares – the god of war.

Somehow, Diana and Trevor take one night to sail from the Aegean Sea to London in one night. This caused me more confusion. But, I was soon distracted by a restrained comic commentary on women’s fashion – it lack if armour and contraining cut (“how do you fight in this’).

The main story is how Diana comes to connect with the people outside of he magically isolated island, and how she looses he per-conceived ideas. Despite Steve’s doubts, Ares is real, he is manipulating both sides to escalate and prolong the war. There is a dual climax – Steve must put pay to the attempted escalation, while Diana must deal with Ares – with many twists and surprise.

There are some great fight scenes: Wonder Woman’s classical arts of war training makes her unbeatable in the confined space of urban warfare. Just as the shield works for Captain America, Diana’s shield (supplemented by forearm guards, grieves, and armoured headband) works for her – proof against gun fire and small caliber shells.

One scene that I found improbable was the Amazons choosing to close with the german troopers. Their first flight of arrows showed that the troopers had no armour and no shields. Why not just keep it up? Instead, they charge and give up the advantage – the troopers’ rifles give them the advantage outside of sword range.

Once the Amazons were out of the picture, Diana is one of the few women in the story arc. Steve Trevor’s secretary is there almost there for historical contrast. The only other woman is Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) – the chemical genius making chemical weapons for the Germans. There is a glimpse of a Women PC in London – the Women PCs were sworn in during WWI to police the factories employing women, while the men were in the Army.

Marvel has created the beginning of a series of films set in the extended Marvel universe – if they (and Gadot) wish. Wonder Woman will be appearing in Justice League; the question is will she get anymore appearances? Perhaps they could team her up with the Black Widow?

Oh there is some restrained chemistry between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. At first Trevor is confused ans Diana is not like any woman he has meet before. Then there is a bit of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ ,until she warms to him. Trevor is the more demonstrative one; Diana is the aloof one; a nice reversal of the man focused on duty and the women attracted to him.

Anyway, a film worth seeing.

RNZB: Three by Ekman

June 5, 2017 at 5:08 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s latest production- at the Saint James Theatre – of three of Alexander Ekman’s contemporary ballet pieces Tuplet, Episode 31, and Cacti. These are not narrative ballets:there is no story; but the nice thing was that are any given moment one might have been in the middle of a story!

Tuplet began before the official start time – of 7:30pm. When I went to take my seat, there were already two dancers on stage ‘doing there thing’. As more of the audience filed in, more dancers came on, and by the time the house lights came down, the dance was underway.

Episode 31 and Cacti were both introduced by a lengthy video featuring Ekman and the Company. This was a clever way to introduce a narrative into a non-narrative dance. The dance still doesn’t tell a story, but by telling the back story, the audience is much more connected with the dances.

Ekman created structure by having many of his dancers dance only on a square. they danced on their square, moved it around, and hid behind it.  The squares even stacked them up.

Episode 31 was my favourite. It had the most structure: clever use of  wide cream strips broke up the stage into zones that were almost street.

Cacti featured the New Zealand String Quartet on stage – playing and moving around the dancers. In effect, there were two dances – the musicians moving in one choreography (abeit simple) overlaid on top of the complex choregraphy of the dancers. At one time or another all of the dancers have a pot plant in their hands – hence the name. There was a third pattern – made by the various squares and blocks that the dancers danced on and stacked.

Worth going to. Oh, because the show just eased it being, the traditional ‘no photography; no recording’ announcement did not take place – and I saw people around me taking advantage of this 🙂

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