The Cirque spell continues

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We’re pretty lucky to live in a city that increasingly lives up to its tagline. Sometimes it’s hard not to appreciate that the Show Never Stops. This year Cirque du Soleil’s Totem production stops off in Auckland, making it the seventh Cirque show to wow crowds here.

If you’re not familiar with Cirque du Soleil… where the hell have you been? 30 years ago, at a time when circuses were dying off and audiences were increasingly turning off to the horrible abuses of animal performances some clever chaps from Canada decided to create a circus company dedicated to age old circus arts combined with all the best dance, music, performance and visuals from around the world and throughout history. It could’ve gone very wrong but the company had gone on to become a multi-million dollar business and (almost) perfect track record of dazzling shows.

In Totem, Cirque has created a show exploring the origins of humanity and evolution from sea-dwelling creature to cellphone-toting, sunbathing intelligent people. Pretty ambitious stuff for a circus, really. The show takes place beneath the Grand Chapiteau (Cirque’s fancy shmancy name for a tent), which adds an extra layer of authenticity. There’s something a circus tent brings to a performance that you can’t get from an arena show (looking at you, Saltimbanco and Michael Jackson: Immortal).

The stage is designed to resemble a turtle, one of the oldest creatures on earth and a symbol of life in the seas and on land. The set is shockingly state-of-the-art for what you’d expect to find in a big tent in Ellerslie, morphing and twisting and bending as the story demands.3D projection turns the stage floor into everything from an erupting volcano to a calm bay, all while reacting to the casts movements in real time. You can tell there is money here.

The show starts with either a man-shaped disco ball, or a man dipped in glitter descending from above and ignite the “spark of life” (honestly, Cirque are the masters and colourfully explaining how their acts fit together). Once Mr Sparkles gets the show started the outer layer of the turtle shell is suddenly whisked away to show a skeleton set which houses some amazing acrobatics and trampolining.

What follows can only be described as awesome. You want buff Johnny Bravo-like men swinging from ropes above you? Check. Want some Native American woman hanging from her neck to a man spinning on roller skates spinning in circles so fast it’s a blur? Check. After some TRON-esque South American men jumping high into the air on tiny poles balanced on their castmates’ shoulders? Check. People on three metre unicycles flicking metal bowls on to each other’s heads choreographed to music? Check.

I could go on but a Cirque du Soleil production is really one of those things that can’t adequately be described by words. It’s a see it for yourself kind of deal. These days it sometimes it feels like we’ve seen everything before, so it’s reassuring to know that there are still things in this world that can surprise and shock people. Hearing thousands of people gasp at once is something that doesn’t happen enough anymore.

Totem continues the Cirque du Soleil tradition of amazing, see-it-to-believe-it, performances. See it, Auckland, see it. And if you miss it, there should be another one just around the corner.

PS: It’s gotta be good, even dear old John key took time out from the election to head along.

JK TOTEM

Auckland Cirque du Soleil productions:

Alegria (2001)
Quidam (2005)
– Varekai (2007)
Dralion (2009)
Saltimbanco, arena version (2011)
Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour (2013)
Totem (2014)

The Illusionists 2.0 in Auckland

The Illusionists 2.0

Usually when a show returns to a city like Auckland so soon after its original run there is little redeeming on offer, but The Illusionists 2.0 (the first edition of which originally charmed Auckland in 2013) mixes something old with something new. With added audience interaction and even a third dimension, the familiar set up continues – a team of some of the world’s greatest magicians together for what could be described as the world’s biggest magic variety show.

On entry you’re given a pair of 3D glasses and an envelope which reads DO NOT OPEN. These will both come in handy later in the show, and while I can say that the contents of the envelope turn out to be very satisfying I did find the 3D effect a bit of a gimmick. It’s used far too sparingly through the show and doesn’t really add much to the experience.

Speaking of the experience, this one is top quality. I recently wrote about how Cirque du Soleil can still make modern audiences gasp from excitement and shock, and The Illusionists does the same thing. I lost count of the number of times the couple in front of me were huddled together, watching the action on stage through their fingers. Or the woman behind me loudly asking anyone who would listen “how did they do that?!” It’s impressive stuff.

There’s a little here for everyone; The Trickster returns, causing mischief and playing with the audience (don’t sit in the front if you don’t want to be part of the show). The Warrior’s weaponry and martial arts skill made for some terrifying close calls with performers and audience members alike. The Deceptionist captures the essence of big, flashy, Vegas-style stunt magic and brings it roaring to life in The Civic auditorium. The beauty of this format is that none of the styles of magic become too repetitive, too stale. Before you can figure out how they’re pulling off the tricks in front of you a new performer is on stage with an all new mind-blowing stunt. This is a magic show for the short attention spans of the News Feed-refreshing social media generation.

The Illusionists 2.0 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, because it doesn’t have to. The premise of the original show was so good that with a refreshed lineup it was more than ready to head on the road again. Complete with a new lineup, new set, new tricks and new surprises this show will more than deliver its share of glitz, music, drama, stunts and, of course, magic.

The Illusionists 2.0
Until September 13
The Civic, Auckland
Tickets from Ticketmaster

‘Apes’ sequel ‘Dawn’ is even better than ‘Rise’

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Moot contributor Lewis Bostock checks out what could be one of the year’s best blockbusters.

The reboot to the original Apes series continues to deliver. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the stunning sequel to the surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, will thrill sci-fi fans, but excite general audiences. Both will enjoy its compelling human-ape drama and combat. This is a blockbuster that is thoughtful and engaging of head and heart even after it delivers stunning visual effects and action, which will bristle the hair on the knuckles of either human or ape.

10 years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a deadly virus has nearly wiped out the human race. A team of desperate survivors led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) search for the key to their survival in the forests north of San Francisco, where the apes and their formidable leader Ceasar (Andy Serkis) have thrived in greater numbers. Ceasar remains fiercely protective of his ape family, despite Malcolm’s efforts to cooperate with him and the apes, but ape Koba (Toby Kebbell) and human Carver (Kirk Acevedo) have other plans, which have devastating consequences for both sides.

The director Matt Reeves of Cloverfield and Let Me In fame plums the themes of the original Apes series; The fact that we humans share this planet with creatures who may have an evolutionary future beyond our own. “Damn dirty apes!” However, the way his camera captures the powerful ape collective presents that future as a terrifying prospect. The way this film treats the complexity of war and sees how both sides act in a way that is justifiable to them will likely draw parallels with Middle Eastern conflicts. And its evidence that this film has an intellectual substance beyond the draw of apes wielding weapons, riding horse back.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is certainly the best blockbuster of the year, hell, it may just be one of the best films of the year. See it at the earliest opportunity.

Geeks descend on Wellington for Armageddon

Armageddon Wellington

Moot contributor Tom McCormack heads to Wellington Armageddon to see what the annual geekfest has on offer.

Game of Thrones, The Avengers, Arrow, X-Men, Spiderman, Pokémon, The Dark Knight.

There’s no denying it. Being a geek is not only cool, but mainstream as well.
And where better to be with like minded people and buy cool geek stuff than Armageddon – a convention dedicated to what has become the most popular subculture around.

For those new to Armageddon, it’s a convention taking place in cities across New Zealand for all things television, film and anime. With guests from television shows and movies drawing in the crowds it’s the stalls and interactive activity that get you to stay for the day. Fear not! You may leave with your wallet a little lighter but if you’re a fan of pop culture it’ll all be worth it.

My first impression when we arrived? PACKED. You could hardly move let alone see more than a few metres in front of you. Movement was made even more difficult by fans dressed up in huge costumes; but you have to stop and admire the amount of sheer effort that went into some of the outfits. And these weren’t just twenty-five year old men in My Little Pony outfits (although that box was also ticked) these were people of all ages getting involved in their favourite fandoms. From baby Jedi to senior Iron Man, many of the kids and adults in the crowd were dressing up and getting into it. The flashes of cameras followed some of the more well known characters around the venue.

I was mainly there for the Arrow guests so we quickly lined up and managed to score a photo with all three of the Arrow stars, sticking around afterwards to talk to them for so long that security had to usher us away. With no panel scheduled for Saturday it was our only chance to speak to them and they were more than happy to stop and have a conversation.

There was no shortage of stalls selling anything from steampunk jewellery, films, posters for seemingly any interest, clothes, anime soft toys, TV show replicas and any pop culture memorabilia you could imagine. On the food front there was a variety of delicious (albeit unhealthy foods) like mouth watering donuts, sizzling hotdogs and candy. Lots of candy.  The Mighty Ape stall was understandably popular – they were running a $100 giveaway.  The number of stalls this year was impressive, managing to run the entire outer ring of Westpac Stadium.

Armageddon is definitely an event for people of all ages, there’s a zombie maze and air gun shooting for the kids, alcohol stands for adults and guest panels and shops for everybody!

The Monday group panels are highly recommended, especially as its a holiday so there’s a convenient excuse to get off work. Wellington Armageddon is an enjoyable experience not to be missed.

Armageddon comes to Auckland’s ASB Showgrounds 24-27 October 2014.
Find out more here.

The Unanswered Questions of Godzilla

Godzilla 2014So did you hear there was a new Godzilla movie out? Yeah? After all that awesome marketing, some of the best trailers in recent times and a kick ass creature design there was a lot to expect from this blockbuster monster-fest. Did it live up to the hype? I think I can confidently say that it wasn’t a boring movie, and it does what it says on the cover: there’s big monster fighting action. If that’s what you’re after then have a ball, the movie is perfect. I’m pretty neutral on the film itself, so I’ll leave the reviews for a more eloquent blog than this one. Instead I want to discuss some of the questions I found myself asking friends after seeing Godzilla. Sometimes movies expect you to suspend disbelief, but sometimes there are some things that make such little sense they’re hard to ignore. Obviously spoilers below, read on at your own risk, yadda yadda. Let’s begin.

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Why did NATO take over the power plant site in Japan?

I get why the Monarch scientists were there but how did NATO become involved? Seemingly immediately after Daddy MUTO broke free and flew off NATO troops swooped in on a helicopter announcing they were taking over jurisdiction of the area. Now, Japan is not part of NATO, it was never stated which countries make up Monarch but Dr Serizawa is Japanese, so it would stand to reason that an organisation headed by a Japanese scientist investigating a creature in the ruins of a Japanese power plant in a Japanese city would call on the assistance of the Japanese military to control the situation. I can’t make the connection here about why NATO, a military alliance of North Atlantic countries on the other side of the world, would be able to take over a Japanese incident. They didn’t know the MUTO was heading towards the US at the time. Which brings me to my other point…

If the MUTO was looking for radiation why didn’t it go to the other Japanese power plants?

Right? A quick Google shows that Japan has 54 nuclear reactors. Why didn’t Daddy MUTO go to any of these? If it was really hungry for radiation to give to Mama MUTO why fly all the way across the Pacific in the hopes of finding a nuclear sub to snack on?

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Why did Godzilla make a tsunami once but never again?

It’s safe to say Godzilla well and truly fucked Waikiki up when he came ashore by literally causing a destructive tsunami. It’s super effective! It would’ve been more believable if that had happened in San Francisco either when he came ashore or left again. He seems to flop in to the water of San Francisco Bay at the end of the movie and barely make a splash. Is the tsunami something he can control? In that case why’d he choose to cause widespread destruction to Waikiki?

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How did the fight in Honolulu end?

Speaking of the Hawaii part of the movie… How exactly did that end? Godzilla took on the Daddy MUTO at Honolulu International but the film quickly cuts to news footage of the attack in the Brody house in San Francisco and the MUTO flies away. Um, what? Why? Why didn’t Godzilla use his atomic breath or tsunami powers to stop him?

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How did no one notice the MUTO attack the nuclear waste disposal center in Las Vegas?

This is one of the hardest points to overlook. Ok, so suddenly aware of where the MUTOs may be heading the military quickly rush to their nuclear waste disposal center to check all their waste is still where they left it only to discover Mama MUTO has taken some of it and half the mountain with it. I’m slightly worried at how little security this place seems to have.

Why did Dr Serizawa bring up Hiroshima if it had nothing to do with the story?

Weak connection to Godzilla’s thematic origin as a Japanese representation of the horrors of nuclear war? Perhaps. But it really brought nothing to the story. As soon as the idea is raised it’s dropped and never brought up again. Cool. Thanks for that.

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Would the military really fly a nuclear weapon suspended by ropes over a highly populated city?

I’m no expert on military procedures but it seems strange to me that they’d tie an active nuclear warhead to a helicopter and dangle it over millions of people with flying monsters around. That doesn’t sound like Air Force best practice.

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Why did the authorities stop civilians in front of Godzilla on the Golden Gate Bridge mid-evacuation?

They knew Godzilla was heading for San Francisco Bay. They even said it just after they left Hawaii. They were following him there the whole time. Why would they use the Golden Gate Bridge, the one piece of infrastructure between Godzilla and the MUTOs, to evacuate the city? They even set up tanks on the bridge awaiting Godzilla’s arrival. Why wouldn’t they send people North and South, away from the bridge at all costs?

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Why are there still people working at their desks after the MUTOs have begun digging a nest in Downtown San Francisco?

Check out this GIF. There are people still working at their desks, seemingly quite some time after the MUTOs first arrive in San Francisco. I don’t know about you but my Twitter would be blowing up if giant monsters suddenly appeared in my city and there aren’t many reports important enough for me to stay at my desk working on while shit like that is going down. People, what are you doing? There’re monsters digging a nest and another one swimming over from Hawaii after causing a major tsunami and destroying the airport. Go. Home.

Would the plot be any different if the characters weren’t there?

This is one I’ve been struggling with. I look at the movie, the whole movie, and I like it a lot. It’s stylish, beautiful, dark and brooding. But the characters don’t really have anything at all to do, plot-wise. The Monarch scientists are on-screen purely to explain things to the audience.

The military spend their time literally chaperoning Godzilla around. Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody never gets to release his research and is killed far too soon by falling debris.

The HALO jumping soldiers fly past Godzilla with zero effect on the monster battle raging around them, get to the warhead, try a couple of times to open it, give up, and then decide to carry it all the way back to the waterfront by hand to try to drive it into the harbour on a boat while fully aware that the MUTOs have EMP powers to shut the boat down. They’d have had more of a chance throwing it into the water and hoping the tide took it out.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Elle Brody does nothing but cry.

Only Juliette Binoche’s cruelly short-lived Sandra Brody makes any sort of decision in sacrificing herself to save the city from contamination. Yes, Ford Brody manages to blow up the MUTO nest but only after promising his wife to rescue her and his son, and then immediately and completely ignoring that promise.

Anything else you’ve noticed about Godzilla that hasn’t really made sense to you?

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The Fault in Our Stars makes boyfriends weep

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Let me get something straight right off the bat. I have never read The Fault in our Stars, and before seeing the movie I didn’t really know what it was about. What I got from the trailer was “sick girl love story.” But what I got from seeing the movie this week was so much more.

Firstly, this was a special screening, the audience made up of hardened film journalists, fangirls, their boyfriends, and me. From the minute I sat down the whispers had started, girls and boys (mostly girls) who clearly were huge fans of John Green‘s original book eagerly sharing gossip about the movie. As the lights dimmed and the screen flickered to life the whispers quickly evolved into excited squeals, nervous laughter and genuine shouts. Then the movie started.

TFIOS follows the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a witty and intelligent teenager living with cancer who reluctantly attends a cancer support group where she meets the charming and handsome Augustus Waters (“He’s hotter than I expected,” said a girl a few rows behind). The two hit it off and begin what would be expected to be your stock standard big screen young people romance dripping in Nicholas Sparks-style melodrama. Except it wasn’t. What followed was a genuinely sweet, upliftingly funny and heartachingly honest story about two young people in love, and dealing with one of life’s cruelest situations.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort ooze chemistry and there’s a definite spark between them. Shit, they were so adorable I couldn’t decide if I wanted to date them or be adopted by them. Sure, they play brother and sister in that forgettable Divergent movie, but here they’re entirely believable. Oh, did I mention Hazel’s mother is played by Laura Dern? Yeah, like as in Jurassic Park‘s Dr Ellie Sattler. She’s so damn good too, she needs to play an awesome on-screen mum more often.

Know what else is awesomely refreshing? The dialogue feels real. As in these kids are actually talking how kids actually talk. From the Hazel Grace’s dry sarcasm to Gus’ adorable text-flirting, these are lines written by someone who gets the internet generation. As funny as the film is, there’s a real heart here. As the movie plays out there are some seriously sweet moments that’ll thwack you over the head. Or heart.

If I could impart some advice at this point: Take. Your. Tissues.

A few times during the film there was audible weeping from around the cinema. A cinemaful of people were desperately trying to quietly sniff their way back to dry-eyedom. It was surreal. When the credits finally rolled and the lights came up I turned around quickly to see everyone with tissues out, the boyfriends dragged along to “the chick flick” with shirts up, wiping their eyes before too many people saw.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie move an audience so much and despite the tears you don’t leave sad. Ultimately the movie is uplifting, precious and adorable. By the sound of the audience on the way out, fans of the book will love this adaptation. There’s also a lot here for people who haven’t read the book. I highly recommend it. I’ll see it again, I’ll just take more tissues.

The Fault in Our Stars
In NZ cinemas June 5, 2013.

Shadowland comes to The Civic

 

Shadowland

Dance choreography used to create an epic shadow cast you’ll have to see to believe!

How cool does that sound? For the first time in New Zealand the USA’s talented Pilobolus Dance Theatre company brings it’s enchanting tale of illusion and dance to the Auckland stage.

Get lost in the whimsical world of a young girl’s mind as she thinks about life and the impending responsibility of growing up. The shadows on her bedroom wall beckon her forward, beyond the constraints of the real world and into Shadowland.

Find out more on the Shadowland website.

Shadowland
The Civic, Auckland
Tuesday 3 – Sunday 8 June, 2014
Buy tickets online here