Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Case for Aliens 3

It has been a while since my last Alien sighting, but they are still out there, plotting their nefarious plans and preparing to unleash themselves on an unaware yet aware world.

The current Wellington Mayor sometimes times act like she is from another planet, and I am beginning to suspect that, if not an actual extra terrestrial herself, there may be ties to the ET Triads within the City Council administration.

Do I proffer any proof for these wild allegations? Of course not! But I will draw outlandish conclusions based on things I have seen on the Wellington waterfront.

The fact that the New Zealand Stock Exchange building is used to send covert messages to the submerged mothership in Wellington Harbour is now wildly accepted by my competing personalities. However, there have been startling new revelations that add extra weight to the ridiculous claims of a hidden agenda behind waterfront development.

Near the mysteriously named chain restaurant Wagamamas lurks the submerged lights snapped in this accompanying photo. While at first it may look like the eyes of a taniwha, everyone knows that taniwhas cannot stand modern New Zealand European constructions and aesthetics, so we can rule out that possibility fairly quickly. No, these lights can only mean one thing: they are the unearthly symbol for large alien eyes, indicating the passageway to the soul, meaning in humanic terms the “Entry” sign.

Yup, there is an Alien den located near (or even under) Wagamamas. Or at the very least, they have one of their entries there, the WCC complicit in distracting us from its presence by adding similarly coloured lighting along the waterfront.

But where does the passage way lead? And where is the exit? Questions to ponder when one next wants to sift through the detritus of the ridiculous…

Verdict: The eyes have it - large, ovoid alien eyes that is. We're into the negative credibility zone out of ten here...

And then, because I can, and to mark Family Guy's welcome return to C4...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Case for More Narnia

Seeing the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian at the Embassy definitely gave the two and a half hour epic movie a fitting setting. But the fact the film on opening week (and cheapskate Tuesday) was much more sparsely populated than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull indicated to me that this was either a more niche film or one received with less anticipation, despite the glowing reviews in the local paper.

The film looks magnificent. Big, bold and brightly lit, the sets all look sumptuous, the sterile, cold Telmarine court contrasting with the vibrant land of Narnia. The action scenes are well choreographed (and easy to follow, unlike some Star Wars films I can mention), and the non-action scenes are all told fairly briskly, though the sheer length of the film means that there are still some periods of tedium and mild disinterest.

Let me be honest here: the whole Christian allegory thing gets to me, so whenever Aslan appears on screen (which isn’t much in this flick), I tend to get all cynical. My moral issue is the “if God cares, why does he allow evil in the world?” variety, and the film (much like the Bible) avoids trying to actually provide a convincing argument and just leaves Aslan (a physical and directly involved participant in Narnia) to do things in his own mysterious, unfathomable and sometimes hypocritical way.

When Aslan is not on screen, I have a much better time dealing with the characters. Peter and Lucy are once more played by well-spoken over-actors (their “humorous exchanges” met with resounding silence from the audience), while Susan delivers more through eye contact than her meagre lines allow. But the actor playing Edmund is the one who seems truly ill-served by the script and, despite loads of promise in what screen time he has, is criminally underused. Luckily, the actor playing the titular Caspian is well chosen, and he holds his strange accent and styled mop of hair well during the proceedings, and the Telmarines are all played dark and evil and quite possibly as French or Spanish. Of course, all of them are blown out of the water when the ever-freaky but ultra-cool Tilda Swinton makes her brief but welcome appearance as the White Witch.

But this is a kiddie tale, so really it doesn’t have to have outstanding performances or a huge amount of emotional and intellectual depth. There is plenty of wonder, incredible fight scenes, breathtaking visual effects and scenery, and cute furry (and fairly forgettable – no Mr Tumnus this time around) creatures. I had a silent chuckle when the winners of the grand battle wandered through the streets of the enemy to rapturous applause (their imaginary cries in my head went something like, “thanks for slaughtering our husbands and sons! Yay!”), and the ending was similarly pat - but then Aslan was there, so my “critical” glasses were on.

Verdict: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is everything the book promises but in wonderfully visual form. Perhaps the film is a bit longer than it needed to be, and the flaws of the source material also marred my appreciation of the film, but an incredible cinematic experience. Six sons of Adam (the director is an Adamson too!) and daughters of Eve out of Ten.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Case for Hulkamania

Okay, okay. I will admit it. I went to the Incredible Hulk 2.

I had to. It is a superhero movie. It stars Edward Norton. Two good reasons to go, in my book anyway. I will concede that the last movie was a misjudged Angst Lee interpretation of the tortured hero, and so was unforgivably dull. But this time around, the deep metaphysics were to be replaced by ultra dodgy physics and it was promised the film would be a roller coaster ride instead.

And, for the most part, it delivered on that promise. Edward Norton (stepping into Eric Bana’s furrowed brow as Bruce Banner) is always amazing, and for someone buff and shirtless for a great deal of the film, he still managed to portray a man haunted and ill at ease with himself and what he can do. CGI ruled, and did amazing things with morphing the human body, including inflating Liv Tyler’s lips to zeppelin-like proportions (don’t tell me they were real?!). The US military ruled supreme, with the army running around in other countries with no issue whatsoever (within the US, it is a different ball game of course), and technology operated in the realms of movie physics.

As the movie is based on a character already well established in comics and on the telly, there were nods to Hulk incarnations past: Stan Lee showed up for his mandatory cameo, and the comic’s purple Hulk pants were flashed about briefly; and in honour of the TV series, there was a Bill Bixby tribute, the TV theme song made its way into the movie’s score, the “original” gamma machine looked distinctly 1970s tele-budgetish, and Lou Ferrigno muscled in for a very imposing minute of screen time.

It was all going along very nicely on Edward Norton’s charisma until the final showdown, when he disappeared (to be replaced by the Hulk) along with any attempts at resolving the plots and subplots in any satisfactory sense. The big monsters, big guns and big screams came out to trash (as bloodlessly as possible) New York, and the “real” characters ended up standing around waiting for something to do. There was a glimmer of redemption as Robert Downey Junior made a show-stealing guest appearance, reminding everyone of how much energy he brought to Ironman, but his time was unfortunately all too brief.

Verdict: Overall, The Incredible Hulk 2 was not a bad movie, but with no real conclusion, it felt a bit flat. Like Ironman, the star (Edward Norton) makes the film, but, unlike the man of iron, the Hulk cannot appear while Bruce Banner is around. 5 ripped shirts out of 10.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Case for Motivation

Beau Tyler is known to many New Zealanders for his inspiring Memphis Meltdown ads. The mock self help guru on the small screen recently returned as a mock self help guru on the stage, and I was privileged (and paid the money) to witness A Night with Beau Tyler.

I was a bit reticent, to be honest, as I hate going into something expecting to laugh. Too much pressure. And, for huge tracts of the show, my discomfort was merited. A whole “stress relief” section relied on excessive toilet humour, though audience participation ensured everyone was embarrassed by the concept (surely the point); and a “reality hits” section at the end was a very formulaic episode that really undermined the whole idea of a fun evening – and I thought I saw tumbleweed blowing across the stage for the audience to admire in the background.

Otherwise, the show hit the mark with a cynic’s view of these self improvement programmes. Beau Tyler’s recipe for success: the price of one’s own edification is the expense of someone else. Self aggrandisement through the belittling of others. Don’t be disappointed – aim low. Amusing notions, all very extreme.

But are they really? Just the other day, I had someone come up to me and berate me for some unintended slight perpetrated at the gym a few days ago. Struggling through waves of weariness (as it was very early in the morning), I was able to stand back and look at this person through detached eyes. “What are you doing?” I internally intoned, looking at the woman as she lectured me over her perception of proper etiquette. I had in no way injured her, in no way embarrassed her, and in no way meant any harm, and the action that so offended her took all of two seconds from start to finish. She must have harboured this burning resentment all the previous day and night and, provided with the opportunity, decided that my gymanners were so abhorrent that I could not be told in a polite, off-handed way that I had offended her, but rather needed to be lectured that I was breaking all sorts of well-known and widely accepted codes of conduct. And then, she just left, ostensibly so I could stew on her words.

Stew I have, but more on her thought processes than anything else. I tend to be fairly laid back in most things. Other gym goers have made more obviously “offensive” actions than my own (from my perspective of course), but I tend to deal with things like this in a more light-hearted way, pointing out indiscretions as they occur rather than waiting until I have composed a Cicerean oration to preach down.

In the end, it seemed to me that it all tied back to Beau. I can only assume such a venting was more for her benefit than mine. I am sure she feels a whole lot better about herself now that she has righted one of the great wrongs in the world.

Looking on a global scale, that seems to be how the world works.
Moosetastic has described the open biases in the Sunday Star Times, pointing out how the columnists sometimes poke fun or demean the people involved rather than really trying to tackle the issues raised. Inflating oneself with moral superiority has to come at the expense of others. Looking at the snippets of speeches from current US President Bush, no matter the evidence brought out against his decisions or the inconsistencies in his own actions, Mr Bush’s confidence never wavers mainly because he denigrates those who question him, and the smug smile that crosses his face shows that he believes such dismissals and question-dodging show he is the smarter man.

Beau Tyler presents the extreme, and we laugh at his audacity. But it is not audacious really. It is actually very common, hidden in the politeness of the written word, or from the authority provided by the television pulpit or by the shield of public office. We can get overly “PC” about these things, but there is something to be said about respecting the intelligence of others, or just plain respecting them. Not the best way to boost a flagging ego, but definitely one that would make the world a far nicer place to play in.

Verdict: A Night with Beau Tyler was an hour of power, though we suffered frequent blackouts throughout. 4 volts out of 10.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Case for Australian Queens

Right off the bat, let me say that I was a huge fan of the film Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It was dry, funny, had some great performances and completely outrageous costumes, and was full of Abba. So of course, and following much heeded enco
uragement, it was only natural some 15 years after I saw the original film I would have to go and see the musical version. Auckland was the venue, the Civic on Queen Street (of course!) to be more precise, and tucked up in the back, in front of loud homophobes and surrounded by flashing cocktail glasses and the occasionally costumed co-spectator, I sat and expected.

To begin with, I thought I had expected too much. The first few numbers were a bit flat even though the costumes were suitably insane. It all just felt too small. Perhaps it was intentional that the initial bar club scenes feel claustrophobic, but I was not at all impressed by the almost high school pantomimic quality. And then… it all changed.

Several thousand tents of campness were erected, the outrageousness reached Jem-like proportions and someone put on some Dame Edna spectacles, because the Priscilla version of “Venus” brought the house down. Much like Bernadette, I would have been speechless had this not been just what I had been craving.

And, shortly thereafter, the star of the show was wheeled out. Priscilla, the giant Playmobil bus, with its folding down sides and Drag Queen Barbie interior in pink and chiffon, was an incredible prop. It moved around the stage like a wind up toy, occasionally acting as stage for the main characters and the anglic chorus that provided the real voices behind the lip-synching show scenes. Apparently this prop cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and considering its versatility and importance in the show, it was money well spent.

Like the bus, the story followed the same route as the film. Some dialogue was repeated verbatim (including the Mullet showdown with Bernadette, which has never really amused me since I first heard it), so my appreciation was somewhat more muted than my less-fluent-in-the-film fellows. But enough fresh material was introduced to keep me laughing (even some Nu Zild references), and some of the scenes are so funny I can watch them over and over again in any medium.

There were some changes: Abba became Kylie (probably as Mamma Mia has put the kibosh on anyone else using those songs in musicals at the moment, or it could be that this was just to honour another Australian icon), though, there actually weren’t that many Kylie songs in there, and the version of “Confide in Me” I noted in the musical was almost unrecognisable; the “rock” became Ayers Rock / Uluru, as had been intended in the movie though filming permission could not be obtained; and quick costume changes were managed through slick slight of stage trickery rather than stopping and starting the camera. And of course the cast was a different set of people.

Well, almost. Lovable Bob from the film was back, though the person who compared his contribution to the stage show to that of a block of wood was not inaccurate. The three main characters were new people for me, and all incredible stage performers. I kept comparing (unfavourably) the musical interpretation of Bernadette as a bit of a shrill Miss Piggy, to Terrence Stamp’s dignified “grande dame” performance in the film. However, there was no denying that Mr Stamp’s tranny had nowhere near the stage performing chops of the musical version of Ralph, which was obviously a big plus considering.

And the stage performances. Wow... I can’t say too much without giving away too much of what is undoubtedly the best part of the show. The costumes were fittingly outlandish, with all the old film frocks (the jandal dress, the Marie Antoinette Opera House gowns) back even if just for brief appearances, and dozens of new dresses as well, some with towering headdresses and enough feathers to make several bird species extinct, and others with so little material that every birthmark was visible. My personal favourites were the blink-and-you-miss-it appearance of the Minties dresses during the fantastically-arranged “Alice Springs opening night” performance, the Angel and Cockatoo-inspired outfits, and of course the green “McArthur Park”-themed attire.

What passed for story in between the huge musical numbers worked, in my opinion, much better on the big screen than on the big stage. Musical Bob and Bernadette’s chemistry was missing (mixing wood with water perhaps?), and the father-son reunion was a patch of unwelcome dullness in amongst so much energy. Really, the story is all an excuse for zany situations and a seamstress’s most Dali-esque fantasies, so it didn’t really matter that much. The show is the thing, and what a thing it is.

Verdict: Truly, truly, truly outrageous. Once I got past the attempts at sincerity and scene-setting, these Misfits and their heavenly vocal angels offer so much fun and vivacity that I was totally swept along and away. Even the homophobes behind me had to surrender to the wonderful Australian Spirit of Priscilla the Musical. Nine thongs out of ten.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Case for the Carefree

Following the urging of Moosetastic, here I go then with a review of Happy Go Lucky, the latest film by Mike Leigh. A film about a youngish London teacher and the people she meets. And a film not without controversy because, to be honest, the lead character is damned annoying.

It does seem a bit cynical to be so annoyed by a character who is so guileless, so positive, so energetic. It is also true that, in real life, quite a few people would barely be able to resist the urge to slap Poppy a few dozen times.

But the movie is all about extremes – from the exuberant Poppy, to her mortifyingly negative and bigoted driving instructor, to her strong and passionate dancing instructor, to the bumbling homeless, to her slacker sister, and to her anally retentive other sister. Only the awesomely dry Zoe acts in a manner that would be considered “on kilter”, but that same steadiness comes at the cost of – in the eye of the camera lens at any rate – a lack of imagination and exuberance of her own.

I found myself enjoying the film, as the extreme always makes an impression, though at the same time it was hard to actually warm to Poppy. The random derelict encounter seemed to come from nowhere and had the people I was with metaphorically scratching their heads as to the point of the scene. Moosetastic was obviously of the ilk that this scene appealed to, as his analysis makes complete sense in hindsight; but at the time, I felt like I had wandered into another film and my mind wandered accordingly.

The odd thing though is that real life is full of these people and these incidents. They are, really, what life is about. The extreme and wacky do tend to be fun if occasionally obnoxious and even toxic; there are people out there convinced Big Bruvver is out there stamping on the rights of the individual; there are the disenfranchised and the militantly enfranchised. And all of these different people do (well, can) meet in the most extraordinary ways, either by accident or design. I know because I have met a few people like this myself. Of course, I tend to see myself as a Zoe character in my life, but then, I am sure everyone would.

The movie shows the world through the eyes of Poppy, but for me, the film was less about her and her life, and more about her and everyone else. Because Poppy was so open to new experiences and so non-judgemental about most people (sometimes condescendingly so, perhaps), she was able to meet and interact with people in ways that the socialisation of most people would not permit.

So, while I am not convinced this is one of my favourite films (as Poppy really was annoying), on a different level, I do appreciate Happy Go Lucky. Though I doubt I will see it again…

Verdict: The film suffered from chronic mood swings and a depressingly chirpy lead, but going into Happy Go Lucky in the right accepting frame of mind would probably be the most rewarding way. 6 smiley faces out of 10.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Case for Preemption

Moosetastic has already stolen my thunder by reviewing Happy Go Lucky
, so I won't go into that here; instead I will just add a picture or two of Wellington taken while on my early morning strolls to work...

Verdict: You can't beat Wellington on a cool, clear morning. Actually you can, but it will do. 5 sunrises out of 5