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 | Leave a 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 🙂

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 1, 2017 at 7:11 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the sequel of Guardians of the Galaxy – I wanted to know what was on the second Phillips cassette tape!

Warning: plot elements discussed.

This is both a light, and serious movie: at any moment there is wise cracking and humour; but overall there are some big issues examined. There is: nurture over nature; honour; family; and the meaning of life. All interleaved with some great music.

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt meets his father. Go see the movie to see how complex such an encounter can be. Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, is reunited with her sister – Nebula (played by Karen Gillan). Kurt Russell makes an appearance as a god named Ego.

There some great action sequences and even a giant pac man.

A must see; and stay to the end of the credits – there are all sorts of ‘easter eggs’. As every Rocket and Groot are the best characters.

Ghost in the Shell

April 27, 2017 at 8:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw this the other day: being a Wellingtonian, I was curious to see if any of my city was recognisable; I wondered about the story; and having heard about whitewashing complaints, I wanted to see for myself whether if it was justified.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Firstly, parts of Wellington were still recognisable, under the post-production CGI. Parts of the Central Police Station and nearby carpark were recognisable, despite a whole lot of ‘matt-ed in’ Japanese architecture.

Based loosely on the manga comics, of the same name, we see Scarlett Johansson in the lead role – Major Motoko Kusanagi. I say loosely, because the plot doesn’t really follow the comics. The film explores the origins of the Major, and how she came to be a cyborg – the first. Or is she?

The Major and her squad work for Section 9 – a paramilitary force reporting to the Prime Minister. Such a concept may work in Japan, but it does not really work outside of Asia. In the end, the company who made her body, turns out to be the villain. It was good to see Juliette Binoche, of The English Patient fame, again. She plays the cyborg scientist, Dr. Ouelet, who’s concern for her patient leads the Major to a final showdown.

The film breaks the manga esthetic: the cast is not Japanese, nor are their faces in a manga way. It made the use of Japanese, and references to Japanese companies (not zaibatsu),  a bit strange.The mixture of spoken English and spoken Japanese was quite disconcerting. There are English subtitles for the Japanese, but no Japanese subtitles for the English.  I thought that Scarlett Johansson fitted the manga esthetic quite well; much better than most  of the cast. Perhaps some things are better left as comics or full animations.

There is some blatant product placement. It would not be manga without a motorcycle, and I wonder how much Honda paid for the privilege of supplying the motorcycles :-).

 

Alana Haines Australasian Awards 2017

April 22, 2017 at 1:48 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | Leave a comment
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Just as in 2013 and 2015, I went to the finals of the 2017 Alana Haines Australasian Awards (AHAAs) the other night at the St James Theatre – Wellington.

The AHAAs is the largest ballet competition in Australasia, and can justly claim to be the premier competition in Australasia – this year the finalists get preferential entry into the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix, in recognition that the two competitions clashed.

This year’s competition was bigger than before: there were more than 550 entrants; the competition started one day earlier than before too.

The Theatre was packed to witness the finalists (22) put themselves out there one last time. There were moments of thunderous applause – particularly for Nae Kojima and Cameron Holmes.

The night started with ‘set’ solos: Seniors followed by Juniors with their ‘set’ solos. Then the Seniors came back on with their ‘own choice’ contrasting solos. Then their there were performances by past winners – an audience favourite was Harrison Lee.

The finalists, and their solos, were:

  • Juniors (11 – 13):
    • Sonia Woods, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Jasmine Healey, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Brooke Wong, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Jenna Civin, CupidDon Quixote;
    • Macy Trethewey, CupidDon Quixote;
    • Rylie Wilkinson, Kirov Peasant Pas – Giselle;
    • Sotique Macuga, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Alfie Shacklock, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Madeleine Glassey, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle;
    • Juliette Gray, Flower Festival; and
    • Honey Black, Peasant Pas 2nd Solo – Giselle.
  • Seniors, 13 – 15:
    • Meg Newton, Odalisque 2nd Solo – Le Corsaire;
    • Stella Byers, Lilac Fairy – Sleeping Beauty;
    • Macy Cook, Kitri’s Wedding – Don Quixote;
    • Hyo Shimizu, Basil – Don Quixote;
    • Noah Benzie-Drayton, James Act 1 – La Sylphides;
    • Monet Galea-Hewitt, Giselle; and
    • Kayla van den Bogert, Odile – Swan Lake.
  • Senors, 16 – 21:
    • Abbey Lavery, Lilac Fairy – Sleeping Beauty;
    • Nae Kojima, Gamzatti – La Bayadere;
    • Saul Newport, Siegfried – Swan Lake; and
    • Cameron Holmes, Corsaire Variation 2 – La Corsaire.

It was nice to see Monet Galea-Hewitt back from 2015.

This year’s adjudicators were:

  • Lisa Pavane, Director of the Australian Ballet School, former Principal Ballerina of the English National Ballet;
  • Stephane Leonard, Director Aspirant Program of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, former Soloist Royal Winnipeg Ballet;
  • Leslie Hughes, Tutor at the Hamburg Ballet School, former soloist Hamburg Ballet Germany; and
  • Terence Etheridge, Choreographer Duchy Ballet Cornwall UK, former artistic Director Hong Kong Ballet, former soloist Festival Ballet (English National Ballet).

With 550 entrants, the panel must have put in a heroic effort. They were still on their feet and handing out scholarships and awards on the final night. Lisa Pavane, the head of panel, gave a wonderfully appropriate address to the contestants and audience: she praised all of the contestants for their hard work and dedication; emphasised the need for good technique (in the upper back and head); called for a round of applause for the parents; and thanked Katie Haines and the volunteers. She was also open about ballet not being for everyone – as its technical demands and work load were more suited to those born with the necessary per-requistes.

Congratulations to the winners:

  • Alfie Shacklock
  • Macy Cook
  • Nae Kojima

Nae Kojima received a huge round of applause for her Gamzatti solo; her technique and elevation were breathtaking. Cameron Holmes, the runner up to Kojima, received two huge rounds of applause for his Corsiare solo and his contrasting solo; he was strong and athletic, yet technically well controlled.

Macy Cook’s first place was well received; she is the first Wellington based winner in the competition’s 29 year history.

All of the competitors are to be congratulated for their hard work and willingness to put themselves out there. [Apologies for any transcription errors – Junior and Senior results are available the at the AHAA website]

This biannual competition is held in memory of Alana Haines – a promising young dancer who died in a car accident on Christmas Eve in 1989. The competition has become the launching pad for some wonderful talent.

I enjoyed the evening and for me the highlight was seeing Cameron Holmes do a jump 360 about an axis that was set at 45 degrees; and a series of 720’s where the last 45 degrees slowed was slower than the first 690 – giving an impression of great control.

As always, I hope fortune will favour all the contestants in the years to come, and I will be able to say “I saw them at the AHAAs”.

The BeatGirls’ 21st – All Grown Up

April 17, 2017 at 3:49 am | Posted in Concert Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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To commemorate their 21st year milestone, the Group put on a celebratory season at Circa Theatre. There have been 29 Beat Girls during history of the Group; this show featured Beat Girls #1, #4, #26, and #29.

The show was a walk down through the 21 years: intermixed with congratulatory video messages from past Beat Girls, projected photos of past performances; the Group performed numbers from their wide repertoire.

The BeatGirls – Andrea Sanders (#1), Carrie McLaughlin (#4), Kali Kopae (#26) – took the stage and launched into a Tom Jones number. After two more numbers, Sanders welcomed the audience and began a show long history of the Group. Apparently the Group began covering Beatles songs in Wellington pubs. To show off a little bit, the Group then sang the Beatles’ Daytripper in a bossa  nova style.

Dresses from past performances were suspended above stage, a strong reminder of the colourful nature of the Group. After a costume change Kopae utterly owned Amy Winehouse’s Valerie. This is the real power of the Group: their vocal versatility combined with great choreography and on stage energy guarantee a great show.

Just before the interval, the Group re-introduced the character of Doreen (Christina Cusiel). She gave a wonderful characterisation of a sex goddess covering  Aretha Franklin’s  Think. in the process, she gave a reluctant member of the audience bit of close attention.

After the interval, the Group came on in their 70’s psychedelic pants suits. Their was touching tribute to David Bowie – Modern love. McLauglin hammed it up a bit, by acting stiff and occasionally stuck in a pose!

The final costume change saw the Group in their characteristic beehive wigs and 60’s one-piece short dresses.

The show fittingly ended with Sanders (#1) singing a duet – No More Tears – with Ella Monnery (#29).

It was a fantastic night, with great music, great choreography, with the added bonus of a short history of the Group. Throughout the show, each of the Group took turns to explain a little of the history of the BeatGirls.

I’m glad I went.

 

 

 

Carmen (RNZB 2017)

March 27, 2017 at 9:44 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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The other night, I went to see the Royal new Zealand Ballet production of Roland Petit‘s Carmen, preceded by Petit’s L’Arlesienne, at the St James Theatre in Wellington. Petit’s Carmen is recognised as a significant neoclassical ballet. But I found L’Arlesienne a much gentler introduction to neoclassical ballet.

L’Arlesienne tells the story of a young man in a village set to marry a woman, yet obsessed with another, invisible, women. Frederi (danced by Massimo Margaria) clearly does not love Vivette (Katie Hurst-Saxon); who loves him and is confused by his distracted behaviour. Their pas de deuxs are choregraphed to emphasis their lack of connection; Viviette tries and tries, but Frederie is almost always facing away and cold.

The choreography for the rest of the villagers is geometric, yet without the grandeur of a romantic ballet. The villagers are starkly dressed and that is their general lot. Against a simple impressionist rendering of golden fields, the young villagers pair off and go about their lives.

Petit re-purposes the circular path so often used in romantic ballets to show joy, happiness, and love, into some darker, angst, yearning, and despair. The part of Frederi is a taxing role. In the final sequences, he is on stage constantly, working himself into every more frantic circles till he finally does a swan dive out a window – killing himself. Margaria does well, he is able to mute his power to stay within the role. Hurst-Saxon is by turns portrays confounded and confused.

After the interval the Company changed gears and put on Petit’s Carmen. This was nothing like the Company’s previous production of Carmen. Petit’s version  is shorter, condensed, and gritter. Don Jose is no sooner convinced that he is love with Carmen, than he has killed her; the story is pared down to the basics, as is the set.

Natalya Kusch, is a fiery independent  Carmen; her pose and attitude completely enslaves Don Jose – danced by Joseph Skelton. Paul Mathews, as the Toreador, has the difficult task of dancing a parody of Don Jose identifying moves – which he does, assisted by a suit of light that looks more like a clown suit!

The final scene when Don Jose overcome by jealousy stabs and kills Carmen shows the genius of Jean-Michel Desire – the lighting designer. A dimmed stage with minimalist props is used as backdrop for spot lights set at the edge of the stage. As Kusch and Skelton dance their pas de deux of death, their shadows fly around the stage – magnifying the emotions and interplay of the dancers. Carmen is defiant; Don Jose is possessive, frantic, desperate, and ultimately stupid.

Carmen is a disturbing story.

George Bizet’s music used in both pieces – provides the perfect emotional backdrop.

Worth seeing. Especially, since Francesco Ventriglia, the choreographer, danced in productions of Carmen, staged by Petit; and worked as a choreographer with Petit.

Star Trek in the Park (Aro)

January 17, 2017 at 8:13 am | Posted in Show Review | Leave a comment
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It is the beginning of a new year, so it is time for Summer Star Trek.

This year they put on Journey to Babel – notable for introducing Spock’s father (Sarek)  and mother (Amanda Grayson).

This is the best production yet. The adaptation for the open format was very good, and the acting did not take itself too seriously, so it was fun! Spock and Kirk were borderline  parodies of themselves – just brilliant. The introduction of the actors shaking created a real sensation of movement.

As usual the pre-show was talented and enjoyable. The singing of ‘Star Trekking’ was done particularly well on the night I went.

If you are a Star Trek fan, this it is definitely worth a go.

Le Ride

January 17, 2017 at 7:48 am | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I went to see this film of  Philip Keoghan‘s documentary of his recreation of the 1928 Tour de France. The film tells two stories: the remarkable Australasian team who rode in 1928; and Keoghan’s ride of the ‘same’ route in 2013.

Keoghan is inspired by the 1928 ride of New Zealander Harry Watson and three Australians (Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn, and Ernest Bainbridge) who competed in that year’s Tour de France. This was in a time when teams normally numbered 10 riders; the Australasians would have to work three times as hard on comparatively primitive bikes – they weighed twice model road bikes and the derailleur gears were still two years away.

Keoghan was so inspired that he decides to ride on the original route, to the same timetable – that is 28 days. Keoghan and his friend, Ben Cornell, procure original 1928 bicycles via the Internet, recondition them, spend at least a year scouting their eventual route, training, getting sponsorship, assembling a team of friends and family, and then doing the ride.

Keoghan and Cornell faced a number of significant challenges: the pair are significantly older than cycling professionals, they can’t train at the intensity and manner that professionals can, because they have day jobs; their bikes for all intents and purposes do not have gears; and there are only two of them, so they cannot rest at the back of a team.

The duo must cycle an average of 150 miles a day, if they are to complete the ‘course’ in the target time; some days they will cycle 200 miles; some days they will cycle for 23 hours. The 1928 route was a circumnavigation of the France’s borders, but starting and stopping in Paris.This includes a stage through the Pyrenees mountains and another through the French Alps! The duo did not take rest days!! they can’t ride the original route, because much of it has been turned into motorways; and despite scouting, getting lost seemed a constant threat. The duo are able to utilise the original start and finish lines. Along the way, local riders ride occasionally ride with them and guide them.

The 1928 era bikes weighed twice as much as the modern bikes that our dynamic duo are use to. The greatest physical challenge is that while the bikes have gears, to change gear requires the rider to stop, get off, detach and re-attach the chain on a different cog!

It is an amazing feat: two middle aged men of above fitness ride 3,400 miles in 28 days. Over some of the most physically challenging terrain for cycling.

It is a great feel good movie: a lighthearted documentary about the duo’s adventure; and a fitting celebration of the original team of four Australasians.

Swan Lake

January 10, 2017 at 2:52 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I went to see the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake, at the St James Theatre, in Wellington, last night. I took the opportunity to watch a traditional Russian staging of this iconic ballet.

The performance suffered a little bit from two things: no orchestra; and a small stage. Being a touring company, the St Peterburg Ballet tend to perform to recorded music – as was the case last night. By international standards, the St James has a small stage. While the Company must be very use to adjusting its choreography for a variety of stages, the smaller stage meant that some of the choreography looked a bit cramped; some of the larger swan formations were slightly compromised.

The lack of an orchestra meant that the ballet proceeded at a set rate. The was no conductor to adjust the pace to fit in with the audience’s clapping or the dancers’s energy.

The undoubted star of the show is Irina Kolesnikova; she is lyrical as Odette and fierce as Odile. The ballet comes to life in Act III, when she dances Odile – Rothbart’s daughter – at the ball. Dimitri Akulmin is Siegfried – the feckless prince. Akulmin’ Siefried is an adequate foil for Odile and suitor for Odette. But the duo only connected in the scene when Kolesinkova does her amazing 30+ fouettes.

Generally, the production was tidy, if a little clinical. The swan formations were most impressive: large, precise, and unified (in time and moving as one). The dance of the signets was the most staccato that I have ever seen – somehow each step was separate from the next – yet faster than I have seen before too; of course, the four dancers (Valeriya Andropova, Arisa Hashimoto, Olga Naumova, Anastasia Chaya) were wonderfully synchronised.

Two other dancers stood out: Seiyu Ogasawara and Saadi Imankulov; Ogasawara as the Jester, was an energetic, with all sorts of leaps and bounds; and Imankulov as the male member of the pas de trois in Act I, had height in his jumps, and control in his vertical 720s.

Being the Russian version, not only is there a jester – who replaces the Siegfried’s companion in western versions – but there is a happy ending! How happy? go see the ballet.

 

 

 

 

 

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