Thursday, 24 April 2014

Half of A Yellow Sun: Movie Review

Half of A Yellow Sun: Movie Review


Cast: Chiwetel Eijofor, Thandie Newton, John Boyega
Director: Biyi Bandele

Based on the novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the story of Half Of A Yellow Sun concentrates on four people trying to live their lives during the Nigerian war of 1967-1970.

The film focuses on two sisters, Olanna (Newton) and Kainene as they are caught up in the conflict. Olanna's move in with her professor lover (played by 12 Years A Slave star Chiwetel Eijofor) brings about repercussions that none of them could have expected as the explosions of the coup outside match the emotional bombs going off at home.

Half of A Yellow Sun is one of those movies that's earnest in intentions, expertly well crafted, but feels occasionally aloof in its execution.

Using archive newsreel footage to serve as exposition for what's going on around them, Bandele chooses to let the people live in the moment rather than spend time setting the scene. The resulting shocks therefore feel a little calculated and serve to punctuate the narrative rather than help it along - a wedding is interrupted by shelling bringing horror into what should be a happy moment.

As the melodrama increases, there's the feeling that none of the characters are eminently likeable or leave you feel you should support them as the horrors of civil war come closer to home; it's a curious feeling and one that's more about how unlikeable people deal with difficult circumstances, but it does leave you wondering about its resolution. Talking of which, an out of left field end jars a little as it bookends the events in the Nigerian conflict.

Heartfelt, earnest and at times, a little slow to progress, Half of a Yellow Sun feels simply like a series of mounting tensions that are punctuated by little to no resonance - each character's motivations for their behaviour are too OTT to leave you caring - and for a film where the horrors of war match the horrors of home, it's a queasy unsatisfying mix.

Rating:


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Lego: The Hobbit: PS4 Review

Lego: The Hobbit: PS4 Review


Released by Travellers Tales
Format: PS4

And so, the LEGO train keeps on rolling.

This latest sees Peter Jackson's miniature heroes miniaturised even further, with an adventure that encapsulates the whole of the Hobbit films so far - with DLC promised for the final flick when it arrives.

Following the movie more or less word for word, the humour of the LEGO stories is there for all and sundry to keep up with - once again, you get to play the entire cast of the films as they try and free their kingdom from the wicked dragon Smaug.

The platformer has a few new touches this time around - particularly for the Hobbit. One of these is you get to pick up collectibles around the lego world to trade in to make bits for doors or hooks and keys which are needed - it's a nice touch which adds a bit more than the usual collect all the studs, minikits and other such items. The other new touch is a chance to buddy up with another player to smash items or to work as a team when it counts - again, it's a smart way to deepen the LEGO experience and one which suggests Travellers Tales isn't trying to rest on its mighty laurels. You also get to build LEGO models within the games, under a timer, to collect studs all together and this component is also in the LEGO Movie Videogame - it's one that requires a brief bit of getting used to, but adds a nice touch as you still get to "build" LEGO as it were.

The Hobbit has all the touches of the Tolkein game you'd expect and there's a sheen to it on the PS4 that makes it look flashy and cutesy. Particularly the opening sequences where Bilbo meets the dwarves one by one, (which are faithful to the film) but they have the kind of kiddie appeal that's hard to deny.

Minigames within, collecting bits and bobs - really the LEGO MO hasn't changed much with this title; the battles are a little larger and the chances to buddy up are a welcome relief. The crafting element has added to it as well, giving you a bit more to do, but all in all, the LEGO Hobbit doesn't deviate too far away from what it's supposed to - it brings fun and games to the LEGO world, mixes in a dash of Tolkein and provides an unexpected journey into fun over the Easter holidays.

Rating:


The LEGO Movie: The Video Game: PS4 Review

The LEGO Movie: The Video Game: PS4 Review


Released by Travellers Tales
Platform: PS4

It's a LEGO smorgasbord at the moment.

What with The Lego Movie, and The Lego Hobbit, the plastic blocks have never had such a collective hold on our conscience.

The first out of the box (as far as this reviewer is concerned) is the game based on the movie, which is of course, based on the toy. Verily the head doth rotate. Following very closely the events of the film you take control of Emmett, Wyldstyle, Vitruvius and Lego Batman as they take on Lord Business.

But in the true LEGO style, it's upto you to follow the basics of the game as you go through the different parts - from the Old West, to the construction site and to Cloud CuckooLand, where Unikitty rules and Batman's sardonic tone comes to the fore.

As you negotiate the different environments, there's definitely the feeling that the random nature of the film has followed through to the game. But there's also a lot more fun here - while the cutscenes seem directly ripped from the movie, the gameplay itself is a lot more free-wheeling. Levels require you to search out instructions to build a creation at the end to try and save the day. As you fire up the instructions, you need to select pieces quickly or your LEGO studs rewards drop away very speedily.

In terms of the randomness, I think having a Quick Time Event while the construction crew dance to Everything is Awesome like something that the Village People would rock out, is a good start. But that's the thing with the The LEGO Movie - the Video Game, it's not supposed to be taken so seriously; it's just disposable fun that excels and revels in its own simplicity. It's a game for all ages, but youngsters will adore - the levels are just about long enough to avoid wandering attention. Along with the vocal talents channeling the cast, it feels like the genuine article and not just a tie in that is a quick cash in.

With a range of characters to buy through studs and unlock, there's plenty to do here, but it's the depth of the game that really rewards your attention - it's adorably cute, annoyingly addictive (and complete with irritating soundtrack) but it's what a game should be - good fun.

Rating:


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Turning: Blu Ray Review

The Turning: Blu Ray Review


Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

Based on Australian writer Tim Winton's best-selling short story collection of the same name, The Turning is a collection of 17 shorts, each made by 17 different film-makers. Pulling together a wealth of acting talent, and a three hour running time, the shorts are chapters from the book and cover a myriad of different stories. With each lasting roughly 10 minutes or so, the push through is quite an impressive one.

Like any collection of shorts, there are ones which stand out and ones which don't quite hit the mark. Even the ones which aren't quite as emotionally resounding are still visually impressive and beautifully shot. Inevitably the segments with the bigger names stand out - Rose Byrne's practically unrecognisable as a trailer park dweller who's a domestic violence survivor and who is verging on being born again; and Cate Blanchett's turn as a woman whose Christmas plans are initially scuppered by the appearance of her mother-in-law. 


Ambition shines through in The Turning; certainly there's an epic feel and emotional subtlety which is resonant throughout the three hour event. I have to confess around the two hour mark, there was a need for some down time to process what's been seen and what could be ahead.

A lack of familiarity with Winton's tome proved fatal to me and I missed the subtle variations on the same character played at different stages and in different incarnations - it's best to be aware of these links (similar names, some recurring motifs) before you fire it up- and you'll certainly be richly rewarded. Innocence, love, jealousy, resentment, anger and regret - all are explored, revealed and laid raw.

All in all, The Turning is something epic in scope, each inter-connected story beautiful in execution and rich in emotion; while it presents a unique view of Australia and contemporary themes, there's a universality and a desperation which resonates within the soul. It's a bravura film and one which elevates the work of short film makers to the fore - and certainly issues a rallying cry for any short-film makers to really up their game.

Extras: Collectors' edition, packed with booklet, commentaries, behind the scenes featurette, trailers and study guide - a well thought out collection


Rating:

Monday, 21 April 2014

Sherlock Complete Series 3: Blu Ray Review

Sherlock Complete Series 3: Blu Ray Review


Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment and BBC

Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's titular detective in another three feature length TV movies.

But where we left off in season 2 of Sherlock seemed unassailable as Holmes fell to his death in front of his friend Watson (Martin Freeman). Leaving heads scratched as to how he faked his suicide, the series kicks off at a frenetic pace, simultaneously mocking and embracing the rabid fan speculation that was rife during the 2 year break from the show.

The three adventures centre a lot more around the relationship between the two - often to hilarious effect - and the effect Watson's plan to marry has on the dynamic. Perhaps it's a little too much at the cost of the story telling, but it's still superior all throughout.

The end of the final story hints at an about face for the series and is another tantalising carrot dangling in fan's face - thankfully, both Cumberbatch and Freeman bring their acting A Game to the series and make the almost silly eminently watchable.

It's still a great series, but here's hoping future series manage to blend in a little more of the crime in for that perfect mix.

Extras: Fans, Villains and Speculation, Shooting Sherlock, The Fall

Rating:


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Comedy Fest Q&A - Eli Matthewson

Comedy Fest Q&A - Eli Matthewson


Comedy Fest Q&A

ELI MATTHEWSON

1)Tell us the name of your show
Eli Matthewson’s Big Audition

2)Which came first – the show name or the show content?
If I’m honest the show name. I had a lot of different ideas of what it could be before I came to what I’m working on now.

3)C’mon, be honest….
I was I was!

4)Any other working titles for the show?
“Why why why, Eli-lah”

5)How long – honestly- have you been working on this?
A good few months! But only for small moments at a time, and then to be honest in the last week I pretty much threw most of it out and have started putting together a very different show. One that is way more fun than it was going to be, IMO.

6)What’s been the biggest challenge of pulling this show together?
Having made a lot of shows with my dear friend Hamish Parkinson (who has his own show, Party Party Fun Fun you should definitely see!) the thing I find the hardest is not having someone to bounce ideas off all the time. But to be honest I bounce my ideas off anyone in a close proximity who will listen (in other words: stay away!)

7)Who's your biggest comedy rival – and why?
I have to blame Rhys Mathewson for lots of people writing my name with one T. It has two bloody Ts! Makes it v hard to google myself.

8)Who's your biggest comedy friend – and why?
My aforementioned friend Hamish Parkinson is a true pal and a very funny dude. But I also have to shout out to everyone I do “Snort” with at the Basement Theatre. They are the best people.

9)Which show is your must see? Why?
Sam Simmons – Problems is a ridiculous but ridiculously good show. I saw it in Edinburgh and it’s my absolute top pick. I’m itching to see Chris Parker and Hailey Sproull’s new show too.

10) Give us your definition of a great night out during the festival
I stalk Chris Martin (certified babe comedian) around the Classic until he sees me and then we get Giapo

11) What goes through your mind, the minute before curtain goes up?
Have I peed enough times? Am I going to need to pee during the show?

12) What about when you’re on stage?
I’m running through all my favourite parts of “Shrek” at all times.

13) How easily distracted are you?
How many comedians do you know? As much as everyone. Heaps. This Q&A has been completed sporadically over a day.

14) Give us your dream comedy line up
The casts of Parks and Rec, Broad City and Brooklyn 99 do a stand-up show together. A bloody dream.

15) Just finally, where will you be in 5 years’ time
Instead of panicking looking at all my 25 year old friends with real jobs and sensible lives, I’ll be panicking and looking at all my 30 year old friends with better real jobs, and even more sensible lives. I also hope to have an iPhone 5s by then!

ELI MATTHEWSON performs his solo show ELI’S BIG AUDITION (AKL 26, 29 April – 3 May) and as part of the group SNORT WITH FRIENDS  (AKL every Friday during the festival) –all as part of the 2014 NZ International Comedy Festival in cahoots with Old Mout Cider 24 April – 18 May. For more info visit www.comedyfestival.co.nz.

Comedy Fest Q&A: Stephen Boyce

Comedy Fest Q&A: Stephen Boyce


Comedy Fest Q&A
STEPHEN BOYCE

1)Tell us the name of your show
Monster Baby, or MONSTER BABY. It depends on which form you’re looking at. I think I wrote it differently every time.

2)Which came first – the show name or the show content?
Since this is my first 1-hour show, I’m bringing all the jokes I have. Some bits I’ve been working on since before I came up with the name, and I’ve got bits I’ve written since then. So I guess I have to say some content came before the name, and some after.

3)C’mon, be honest….
I thought that was quite an honest insight as to how I went about creating the show. If you want more honesty, I once teased a guy at Uni about voting National till he cried.

4)Any other working titles for the show?
Yes.
Steven Boyce in the Last Show a Festival Let Him Do.
Steven Boyce & the Land of Contrived Premises.
Steven Boyce in How NOT To Train Your Dragon.
 And there was a brief period it was just “Steven Boyce is Shakira” (But that was mostly to show my dad that all those Zumba lessons weren’t a waste)

5)How long – honestly- have you been working on this?
A lot of honesty in these questions... I like it. Probably since the end of my last Edinburgh Festival run in August last year. Being at the largest performing arts festival in the world and seeing all the hilarious and amazingly different shows makes you wish you were doing something rad and exciting as well. So I’ve kinda been envisioning how funny I can make my show and thinking about the best way to use that whole theatre I rented. I’ve never been in charge of a theatre before, should be fun. Big room.
Look, if the show doesn’t make money, I’ve got a place in mind for a drug laboratory is all I’m saying.

6)What’s been the biggest challenge of pulling this show together?
Since I do a lot of writing in bars and cafes, it’s been a tough challenge of me getting over the feeling that the wait staff hates me for being in their nice shop.
Also writing jokes where the punch line doesn’t involve releasing rodents into the audience.

7)Who’s your biggest comedy rival – and why?
Gary Oak, he’s Professor Oak’s grandson. He became a comedian the exact same day I decided to. Such a d-bag.

8)Who’s your biggest comedy friend – and why?
Arj Barker totally had my back when a security guard had caught me for stealing honey from The Edge theatre and I was claiming I had amnesia. I mean, I only saw him that once, but still if that’s not a friend, what is?

9)Which show is your must see? Why?
Of course, FanFiction Comedy because that’s what I’m in.
Sam Simmons – Problems. He’s one of the funniest acts I’ve seen and his hour show was amazing and perfect.
If you’re reading this and his run is done, Squidboy was unbelievably fun. I’m making all my friends go to those shows at least.

10)Give us your definition of a great night out during the festival
Gig. Booze. Drugs. Strippers. Connect Four. Drug Lords. Shoot outs. Aliens. Over Dose. Kebab. Home.

11)What goes through your mind, the minute before curtain goes up?
I’m usually thinking “Whoa, where did this curtain come from? I hope it goes away in a minute, I got a show to do”.
When it’s not that, it’s my set list, which is a bunch of random words like “Name, Whisky Sundae, Uncle Boyfriend, Dick Dabble...” etc. It usually ends up looking like a psychopaths shopping list.

12)What about when you’re on stage?
I always get worried that there’s a psychiatrist in the audience reading the subtext of my jokes and being very disappointed in me... Is that weird?

13)How easily distracted are you?
Pretty easily. I can easily dance myself up to 40 minutes late if iTunes is nailing the shuffle.

14)Give us your dream comedy line up
The Three Stooges – But they do their sketches as ghosts.
Then me 5 years from the future, so I could heckle myself. But know what I’m gonna heckle with and have 5 years to write an awesome response.
Then maybe close with a hilarious dolphin with telepathy.

15)Just finally, where will you be in 5 years’ time?
In the year 2019, unless I’m doing a gig to my past self.

STEPHEN BOYCE performs his solo show MONSTER BABY (AKL 9 April - 3 May) and as part of the 2014 lineup for NEXT BIG THINGS (AKL 28 April) both as part of the 2014 NZ International Comedy Festival in cahoots with Old Mout Cider (24 – 18 May).  For more info visit www.comedyfestival.co.nz