Red Sparrow

March 5, 2018 at 8:01 am | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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A tongue-in-cheek summary would say that Jennifer Lawrence is the body double for Isabella Boylston – a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater – who plays Boshoi prima ballerina Dominika Egorova.

After a spectacular ballet sequence, Egorova is forced to become a ‘sparrow’ – spies trained to physically and psychologically seduce their targets. Jennifer Lawrence gets most of the screen time :-).

The film is gritty: torture, beatings, assassinations, etc. Yet there is a plot with many twists and betrayals: who is telling the truth? The props and lighting is excellent – a very Gorky Park 80’s grey vibe. The sparrow training sequences are harrowing. Egorova’s operational scenes take us through parts of Europe and London.

Worth giving a go.


Black Panther

March 5, 2018 at 7:32 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see this the other day, not quite knowing what i was going to get – not having read the Black Panther comics.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Visually it is startling to see [almost] no white people in the film; it took me a few minutes to adjust. It shows how ‘white’ mainstream films are. Hopefully they make more films like this – without a science fiction setting to make a black world ‘normal’.

At its heart, the film tells a pretty classic story: cousins fighting over a throne – played/fought by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. Florence Kasumba is the honourable general upholding the constitution structures of Wakanda. She leads the army – composed solely of women. Her lover leads the all male border guides. She provides the moral question; when should one do the right thing verses doing things by the rules?

The CGI makes the whole film possible – the amazing stealth planes, amazing body armour, and maglev trains; and much more.

Worth seeing at a cinema.

Summer Shakespeare 2018: The Comedy of Errors

February 17, 2018 at 11:37 pm | Posted in Play Review | Leave a comment
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This year Summer Shakespeare put on The Comedy of Errors – in a car park. Like last year, this is a departure from holding it in the dell in the botanical gardens. The stage was made from industrial scaffolding – yet it was not a post-apocalyptic staging.

The Comedy of Errors is, as it name suggests it is, a comedy: centred around the chaos caused by two sets of identical twins, each set having the same names – Antipholus and his servant Dromio. They are separated at birth and raised in separate cities – Syracuse and Ephesus. One day, the Ephesus set of twins arrive in Syracuse, and confusion and mayhem ensues. Of which there is much, because Antipholus of Syracuse is married! By the time it is all resolved, people’s sanity will be questioned, new loves found, and old loves reunited.

Antipholus is played by James Cain and Michael Hockey; Dromio is played by Kasey Benge and Samuel Irwin. Adriana wife of Antipholus, of Syracuse, is played by Stevie Hancox – who has a pleasant singing voice. The play has elements of singing and Adriana has a solo. There is also a musical dance number at the end of the play – which I am told is a traditional way to end an Elizabethan play.

Worth going to: ‘original’ outdoor setting; some slapstick comedy; some great lines (it is Shakespeare after all); good performances; excellent singing; and to support an excellent local production.

The Shape of Water

January 28, 2018 at 12:58 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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A well crafted Guillermo del Toro movie. It is not a mainstream movie – more of a indie one. The staging, lighting, framing – cinematography (?) – and the costumes created a comic feel to the film. The good guys are ‘bright’, the bad guys are ‘black and grey’.

The plot at its most basic is a love story, that manifests itself as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story. Romeo is a ‘fish-man’; his ‘adoptive’ family a secretive US government agency; his home a secret US government facility – that is a huge tilt to James Bond (Dr No & You Only Live Twice). Juliet is a mute woman; but she is not a teenager; she works as a cleaner in the Base; she lives above a movie theatre that shows B-grade movies.

The film is a wonderful character study – or rather of various characters:

  • Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, is the woman who falls in love with the prisoner, and breaks him out of custody;
  • Amphibian Man, played by Doug Jones, is the ‘asset’ ‘taken’ by the US government in the amazon; he is brave and noble, in the face of mistreatment and torture; he is curious and cultured; he has the mis-fortune to have lungs and gills – making him an object of interest as the space race heats up.
  • Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, is Elisa’s neighbour, down on his luck,  someone sidelined by changing world; but loyal; a reluctant accomplice to the ‘jail break’ – discovering a determination that he did not know he had.
  • Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, is the ‘man in black’; on the surface he is a loving family man, but underneath he is ruthless and remorseless – without a heart of gold.

Elisa sees the treatment handed out to the Amphibian, and sees that it is wrong. Both are unable to speak, so she teaches him sign language. Elisa and Giles represent humanity. Strickland embodies the dangers of focusing on ‘goals’ and ‘black and white’ thinking. He suppresses all emotions to get the ‘job done’. But the biggest betrayal is reserved for Strickland: when he finds that the system doesn’t recognise his years of faithful service.

Hawkins and Shannon turn in two outstanding performances. Jones, though encumbered by a full bodysuit is able to portray nobility and tenderness.

A film with an amphibian cannot be made without CGI and special effect, and there are plenty, but they don’t get in the way.

I enjoyed it. Worth a go, but not for children.

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.

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.

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