Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Idiots of Ants: Comedy Festival Review

Idiots of Ants: Comedy Festival Review

Last year, I missed this comedy troupe due to comedian clashes.  (That's the shows, not some kind of bizarro comedy fight club...)

It was, without doubt, my biggest regret of the Comedy Festival 2012. Thankfully, this year I've managed to rectify that - and after sitting through their one hour show Model Citizens, I'm even more mad that I missed them last year.

Sketch shows can be hit and miss, but this four piece (Andy, Elliott, Benjamin and James) have managed to package up rapid fire skits and sketches into something that transcends humour.

The show began as we were filing in with 2 of them on stage at Rangatira at Q Theatre in a front room of a flat set up, before cleverly breaking through the fourth wall, and insinuating their way into the audience's lives. A series of technical snafus certainly blighted their first night in Auckalnd (as their typo revealed at the end) but it showed no signs of throwing them off their game.

Sketches at gunpoint, war soldiers controlled by other forces, a song about the man who took the audience to dinner, a sex change sketch and an ongoing compunction to use two members in the front row for a series of continuing gags - they all came at us thick and fast. High paced energy, frantic and frenetic The Idiots of Ants are a troupe which are clearly destined for real greatness with their sly and wry look at life.

Like the Goons, the League of Gentlemen, the Pythons, they've clearly got some form of magic trapped in a moment and are using it to their extreme advantage. Despite moments of corpsing on stage (due, no doubt to the fact they're having such a good time) the show was an extremely slick and fun affair which ended all too quickly. They managed an hour of tautly paced, quick fire humour which proved to have an extremely high hit rate and amused greatly.

Idiots of Ants last year won the best International show and I can see why - they are one of the best and brightest groups of intelligently sly comedians at the festival so far - and they left me with two things as I walked out - a) a huge beaming grin over my face and b) a desperate unhappiness that the show was over, and had only lasted an hour. I could easily have seen more.

This is the New Zealand International Comedy Festival's first must see act - do yourself a favour, and don't make the same mistake I did last year.

Watch_Dogs Release date revealed

Watch_Dogs Release date revealed

I cannot wait for this title...

Ubisoft has announced that its highly anticipated title Watch_Dogs will hit store shelves in Europe, Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand territories on November 21, 2013 on PlayStation®3, Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, the WiiU™ system from Nintendo and Windows PC, as well as at the launch of PlayStation®4. The game is also planned for other next generation consoles.

Players will be able to choose from a selection of different editions, offering a variety of digital and physical content allowing for a deeper immersion in the Watch_Dogs universe.

Details of each of the four Watch_Dogs collector’s editions available at launch in EMEA territories:

The Dedsec Edition
This premium edition is ideal for Watch_Dogs fans wishing to immerse themselves in the hacker fantasy. It includes:

Ø  Physical content:
-      A 23cm Aiden Pearce Figurine
-      Steelbook™
-      DedSec Collector box
-      Watch_Dogs Artbook: artworks and illustrations that inspired the game
-      Original soundtrack of the game
-      Watch_Dogs map of Chicago
-      Set of 4 collectible cards: discover Watch_Dogs iconic characters through augmented reality
-      Set of 3 exclusive badges

Ø  Digital content: 3 single player missions with up to almost 60 minutes of additional gameplay:
-      Palace Pack: A police raid is planned on the luxury palace of an Internet mogul. His impressive databanks have intimate details on thousands of people…including Aiden Pearce. Break inside, wipe those hard drives and escape before the raid begins.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: investigation bonus allows gamers to unlock more investigative opportunities inside the network databanks, and ATM hack boost which boost the cash rewards when hacking bank accounts.

-      Signature Shot: A biometrics weapon has been smuggled into Chicago for a captain of the Black Viceroys gang. The weapon only works for the first person who holds the gun. Breach a stronghold, steal the package and be the first to hold the weapon.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: black viceroys gang colours outfit and biometric assault rifle.

-      Breakthrough Pack: A secret gathering is underway. The Chicago Club is negotiating power with Corporate CEOs. The Club has hired scramblers to block surveillance devices. Drive around the city to find the scramblers and take them out. Retrieve all names from the meeting and upload their images to the world.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: vehicle expert perk allowing players to get free vehicles from underground car contact and earn discounts on select cars.

The Vigilante Edition
This edition is for gamers who want to embody a real life hacker vigilante with the iconic mask and cap of Aiden Pierce. It includes all they need to become a modern day hero:

Ø  Physical content:
-      Vigilante Collector box
-      Aiden Pearce’s iconic cap
-      Aiden Pearce’s mask
-      Original soundtrack of the game

Ø  Digital content: 1 single player mission:
-      Palace Pack: A police raid is planned on the luxury palace of an Internet mogul. His impressive databanks have intimate details on thousands of people…including Aiden Pearce. Break inside, wipe those hard drives and escape before the raid begins.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: investigation bonus allows gamers to unlock more investigative opportunities inside the network databanks, and ATM hack boost which boost the cash rewards when hacking bank accounts.

The Uplay Exclusive Edition
This exclusive edition available only on Uplay website addresses to gamers who wish to improve their hacking skills through 3 single player missions. It includes:

Ø  Physical content:
-      Exclusive Steelbook™
Ø  Digital content: 3 single player missions with up to almost 60 minutes of additional game play:
-      Palace Pack: A police raid is planned on the luxury palace of an Internet mogul. His impressive databanks have intimate details on thousands of people…including Aiden Pearce. Break inside, wipe those hard drives and escape before the raid begins.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: investigation bonus allows gamers to unlock more investigative opportunities inside the network databanks, and ATM hack boost which boost the cash rewards when hacking bank accounts.

-      Signature Shot: A biometrics weapon has been smuggled into Chicago for a captain of the Black Viceroys gang. The weapon only works for the first person who holds the gun. Breach a stronghold, steal the package and be the first to hold the weapon.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: black viceroys gang colours outfit and biometric assault rifle.

-      Breakthrough Pack: A secret gathering is underway. The Chicago Club is negotiating power with Corporate CEOs. The Club has hired scramblers to block surveillance devices. Drive around the city to find the scramblers and take them out. Retrieve all names from the meeting and upload their images to the world.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: vehicle expert perk allowing players to get free vehicles from underground car contact and earn discounts on select cars.

The ANZ Special Edition
This Special edition features the retail copy of the game and a single player mission for gamers who want to step into the action right away.  In addition to this, ANZ customers will get 2 unlockable bonus packs:

Ø  Digital content: 1 single player mission:
-      Breakthrough Pack: A secret gathering is underway. The Chicago Club is negotiating power with Corporate CEOs. The Club has hired scramblers to block surveillance devices. Drive around the city to find the scramblers and take them out. Retrieve all names from the meeting and upload their images to the world.
Rewards unlocked upon completion of the ULC mission: vehicle expert perk allowing players to get free vehicles from underground car contact and earn discounts on select cars.

Ø  Single Player unlockable bonus pack:
-          Untouchables Single Player Pack: A nod to Chicago’s infamous 1920s criminal world.
Rewards: Tommy Gun + 1920s Chicago Outfit

Ø  Multiplayer unlockable bonus pack:
-          Multiplayer Pack: The visual incarnation of 2 multiplayer factions.
Rewards: Skins of these 2 multiplayer factions + Double $$$ rewards for the contracts of these 2 multiplayer factions + 2 faction tags.

The ANZ Special Edition will be included as part of the DedSec, Vigilante and Uplay Editions.

In Watch_Dogs, players will assume the role of Aiden Pearce, a new type of vigilante who, with the help of his smart phone, will use his ability to hack into Chicago’s central operating system (ctOS) and control almost every element of the city. Aiden will be able to tap into the city’s omnipresent security cameras, download personal information to locate a target, control systems such as traffic lights or public transportation to stop a chase, and more. The city of Chicago is now the ultimate weapon.

Stay connected to Watch_Dogs by visiting the official websiteFacebook page and Twitter account.

Brand new Pacific Rim trailer is here

Brand new Pacific Rim trailer is here

The brand new trailer for Pacific Rim has just landed from Wondercon...

When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity's resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes -- a washed up former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and an untested trainee (Rinko Kikuchi) -- who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind's last hope against the mounting apocalypse.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: Movie Review

Star Trek Into Darkness: Movie Review

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller
Director: JJ Abrams

Set phasers to stunning....

Following on from the success of the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek series, it was inevitable there would be a sequel. And it's a much welcome decision if the meltdown on the internet over the plot and subtleties of this latest is anything to go by.

Chris Pine once again returns as the younger version of Captain Kirk, who, this time around, finds his world is shattered with the arrival of John Harrison (a villainous and cold Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrorist whose actions rock the very core of Star Fleet.

But when Kirk is despatched to bring in the war criminal, the stakes are higher than ever before...

Even if you hadn't been expecting the last Star Trek movie to be thrilling and exciting, this new film never lets those expectations drop - and in fact, it completely exceeds them.

Even with the advent of the internet, there has never been so much rabid fan assessment of every detail, each single trailer, every single nuance of dialogue and story hints. Trust me, it's best to go into this completely cold and unspoiled.

Conversely, director JJ Abrams and his team are to be commended for pulling together a film which totally services the incessant whimperings of the fan base through moments which acknowledge its past without ever sacrificing the broader appeal which the first film carefully traversed and successfully paid homage to.

Kirk and his crew are utterly engaging once again as the action piles up and it's Chris Pine, whose heroic central performance deserves the most commendation. It's a stunning turn once again by an amazing Pine who brings a maturity to his hot headed and brash Enterprise captain.

Not only is there action a-plenty in this latest Star Trek movie, there's just so much of it. The film begins at a breakneck pace with Kirk and McCoy racing through the undergrowth of an alien world, but after two hours, just when you think you can't cope with any more, JJ Abrams throws in a final showdown piece which takes your breath away as the parallels to the contemporary politics of war reach an epic conclusion.

But it's also in the quieter moments that Abrams and co truly deliver in this new Star Trek movie - a menacing and magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch exudes villainy and clever cerebral cunning as John Harrison, whose single minded ruthlessness signals a real threat to StarFleet; humour from Simon Pegg as Scotty and moments of laughter from Karl Urban's brilliant McCoy blend nicely into the mix; and squabbles between Zoe Saldana's Uhura and Zachary Quinto's Spock add layers of humanity to the story as it plays out. Even though Chekov and Sulu are a little sidelined, nods to pivotal moments or characters from the show's run will spark nostalgia with fans and will please, but not at the expense of alienating the newer generation. It's a vulnerable Kirk who's growing up, maturing as he makes the journey and taking some responsibility for the choices he's made, and Chris Pine conveys all of this excellently. As an added bonus, the bromance between Kirk and Spock is warm, welcoming and utterly relatable as well as funny in places. Quinto and Pine have captured the essence of the original characters and made them their own.

There's so much to love with Star Trek Into Darkness. 

From the unfolding mystery and intrigue to the set pieces which soar as the action shows no sign of abating and is cranked up to Warp Factor 11; it's packed full of surprises and twists plus there's an extremely subtle tweaking and subversion of what you might expect. 

The end result is mesmerizing - a perfect blend of blockbuster thrills, spills and excitement as this latest boldly goes into 3D, which adds depth to the Enterprise and vastness to the space scenes - as a bigger, bolder and more exciting piece than its predecessor, it's an utterly, unashamedly enthralling ride.

Easily one of the films of the year without a shadow of a doubt.


Details of PlayStation 4 Controller revealed

Details of PlayStation 4 Controller revealed

Some good news for fans of PlayStation 4.

A video's been released giving some details of the key features of the PlayStation 4 DUALSHOCK controller.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: PS3 Review

Injustice: Gods Among Us: PS3 Review

Released by Warner Bros
Platform: PS3

Imagine a world where Superman had gone mad and turned from the red, white and blue, to the red of blood over everything.

Imagine that rage had been caused by Joker, instigating the death of Supe's nearest and dearest. And then imagine you had the chance to take control of the cream of the crop of the superhero world with the option to beat the living daylights out of each other.

Imagine also if Mortal Kombat had been merged with the DC world.

That, in a nutshell, is Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Developer NetherRealm has worked on Mortal Kombat for years, so the fusion of the fighting with the superhero is to be honest, the dream of the nerd; a chance to take your favourite Superhero on and beat down the baddies. But that's where things are not quite as simple here.

Using the whole alternate reality storyline, you initially take control of Batman and other members of the Justice League, who are determined to bring down the gone bad Superman and put an end to the chaos of the alt-world. It soon becomes a case, in story mode, of fighting other versions of your own character - ie Green Lantern takes on Yellow Lantern, Batman vs Batman etc.

Control wise, it's pretty much like most other beat'em'ups you will have played many, many times before. A combination of buttons, a series of supercharged moves and an array of weapons to let loose on your opponent. Yet, by keeping the control system simple on Injustice: Gods Among Us, it makes it very easy to progress in fights without being a fighting expert. That's not to say there aren't fun moments - a wager moment in the middle of the fight can see yours - or your opponent's - health meter taken apart by gambling a portion of it on the outcome. And firing up your supermove can be a lot of fun too. A move from Joker sees Batman flung epically through the air and through several screens of damage; likewise a blast from one of the Lanterns can see you launched into space - it's these moments when you're praying your health meter doesn't decrease too much because as you sustain layers upon layers of attack, there's little you can do but watch.

Graphically, NetherRealm's pulled together a game which looks the part - it won't redefine how you see the characters - and is colourful as well as being cinematic at times. Throwing in the occasional use of the background and its elements also adds in to the novelty of the game play as well - using a well placed oil drum to beat down an opponent is a welcome move.

As well as story mode, there are two single player modes which allow you to partake in some bite-sized entertainment and mini smack downs - a multiplayer option adds in the chance for you to co-op some play or be part of a tournament of wannabes wanting to take down the current champion, for bragging rights...

All in all, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a great, fun title which offers up a wealth of play to everyone and a world of hurt to explore.


Jurassic Park 3D: Movie Review

Jurassic Park 3D: Movie Review

Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L Jackson, Wayne Knight, T-Rex, Velociraptor, Cutesy kids
Director: Steven Spielberg

The dinosaurs are back - and this time, they're in 3D.

It's the 20th anniversary of Jurassic Park and to celebrate, it's been shined up, given the 3D makeover and thrust out, once again, into the world.

In case you don't know the story of Jurassic Park (and believe me, apparently there are some), it's the tale of John Hammond, a billionaire and dreamer, who uses his science connections to build a theme park which has been populated with dinosaurs.

But when Hammond brings in dinosaur experts, Dr Ellie Sattler and Dr Alan Grant (Dern and Neill) along with Dr Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) it appears that everything that can go wrong on the island, does so.

Soon, the group's fighting for their lives as the dinos break out...

There's no denying that Jurassic Park is a classic movie which proffers up a wonderful experience of awe inducing excitement. It's one of the superlative releases ever made, with Spielberg crafting together a piece which satirizes corporate greed and lawyers, wallows in the hubris of science and shows the strength of a family bond and children.

But Jurassic Park is really about a little bit more than that - and it's the dinosaurs.

20 years ago, the work done by Stan Winston on the creature department was outstanding - they were so life-like that it was almost as if the dinos had been caught by a documentary crew in action. And to be perfectly frank, some 20 years later, they still look incredible.

Likewise, the soundtrack still soars as much as it did back then - I can't deny the initial burst of the theme gave me goosebumps all over again.

But the main reason for this release is the 3D - does it work and enhance the film?

Well, the answer is yes - for the majority of parts.

There are moments when it works really well - and those are predominantly the set pieces - such as the field shot with Alan Grant as the dinos flock and run round them; it's here the 3D gives perspective to the fields and hills and breathes some life into the animation. Likewise the scene where the glass of water vibrates as the T Rex first stomps about is more eye catching now than ever. And the sequences with the T-Rex chase and the Velociraptors attack are guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat as it plays out. Just as it did some 20 years ago.

For the rest of the film though, the 3D adds little if nothing to what was already a spectacular watch. Despite some cheesy dialogue, some awful acting and a gratuitous shot of Jeff Goldblum semi shirtless, there's little depth that the 3D can bring - and in parts, the dark of the glasses actually detracts from what's on the screen.

Ultimately though, Jurassic Park remains worth a rewatch - a nostalgic family action blockbuster that really changed the landscape for these kinds of films (plus it's a chance to marvel at chunky computer screens and marvel at how exciting touch screen technology was back then. How far we've come....) With Jurassic Park 4 hitting screens very soon, it's time to go back to Jurassic Park and marvel at it all over again.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

You've Been Trumped: DVD Review

You've Been Trumped: DVD Review

Rating: PG
Released by Rialto and Vendetta Films

In this doco, it's David vs Goliath in Scotland.

Well, to be more accurate - it's Michael Forbes and some of the residents of Aberdeenshire vs the Mega Weave and he of the "You're fired" catchphrase and pursed lips, Donald Trump.

Originally a BBC documentary, this piece follows the plans of the Don to build a massive golf course and hotel complex on the sites of scientific interest in Aberdeenshire, and on a piece of coastline which has been untouched by man for years.

Essentially, it's a tale of one man's mega-corporation's push and PR to discredit and destroy the local objectors, of whom there are only a handful - but what emerges is that ever trusty piece of film that benefits from only one side being involved. Unfortunately, Baxter was unable to get any co-operation from anyone in Trump's teams, or the local police and council to comment or be interviewed for the documentary. So, what emerges is a piece, albeit well told, that is horrendously one sided.

Baxter interviews the locals threatened by Trump's plans and who, in fairness, emerge as espousing more than just the usual NIMBY arguments by looking at the greater good.
But he manages to slightly wrongfoot and over-sentimentalise his argument and case by giving the locals a sympathetic backstory, letting them present footage of their past and links to the land while cutting to shots of the Don and his fleet of black SUVs.

It's not that You've Been Trumped isn't competently and flashily put together; it's a well oiled, slick and sleek piece of film-making. It's just one that means you're never anything but opposed to the plans from Donald Trump and his evil empire. (Cue moustache twirling). I empathise with Baxter as a film-maker here - there are no options for them to get the other viewpoint from the property tycoon as he tries to bulldoze what's described as the crown jewels of Scotland's coast; and to be fair, they've tried every which way to get that; from turning up on a site, to putting in calls and emails to the Trump's office; all of which are rebutted, refused and end up in Baxter being arrested by the police. To be frank though, Trump doesn't help himself with arrogance, pomp and pursed lips like a badger sucking a lemon, the Don manages to shoot himself in his foot and then shove the other one squarely into his own mouth. Baxter manages to get some top golfers to get their opinions on any course - and so, the case against the Don piles up higher than a sandbank being created by the construction site.

What emerges from You've Been Trumped is a piece which shows the bullying tactics, petty nature and general bluster of anyone involved in the Trump organisation. But what also shows up is a piece which is, unfortunately, never anything but in favour of the residents.

Consequently, Baxter is to be praised for trying to balance a doco as much as he can and pulling together a watchable film which tries to tell the facts but is thwarted by the shut downs of his opposing subject and the refusal of anyone to actually talk about it.

Extras: None


Saturday, 27 April 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Blu Ray Review

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Icon and Roadshow

A heady, visceral and tender tale of life, love and our connection to the world, Beasts of The Southern Wild took the New Zealand International Film Festival by storm when it opened there in July.

It's the tale of six year old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), who lives with her father in the Bathtub, a southern New Orleans delta continually threatened by rising flood waters. But, so in love with the land around her, she doesn't want to leave and her father refuses to evacuate them. 

When a storm comes though, and devastates their community, the pair trawl through the Bathtub trying to find survivors as they negotiate their way out of the Bathtub. But, events are conspiring against Hushpuppy and soon, her father's health is a major issue.

Replete with an impressive lively OST and anchored by one of the strongest child performances seen on celluloid for a long time, Beasts of The Southern Wild  is a unique vision of life and a joyous celebration of what binds us to the land and each other. 

But it all rises on the central performances of the child and her father - and thankfully by looking at life from the eyes of a kid, it's an insightful view which offers up a truly rewarding experience. When Hushpuppy accidentally starts a fire, she hides in a box, figuring that if she can't see the flames, then they don't exist. It's this magical kind of innocence which pervades Beasts of The Southern Wild throughout and proves majorly beneficial to this fable, which has echoes of Katrina etched throughout.

Thanks to mystical creatures known as the Aurochs and stunning cinematography, this vision of life may not be for everyone, but in terms of offering something new and riveting on the big screen, it more than delivers.


Fresh Meat: DVD Review

Fresh Meat: DVD Review

Rating: R16
Released by Vendetta Films

You just can't beat this mad butcher's meat.

In the latest horror-come-comedy outing for NZ film, it's off to the kitchen with a dash of exploitation and a pinch of pulp thrown in for good measure.

After a jailbreak from a security van, a gang of criminals end up on the run and in a house owned by Temuera Morrison's associate professor, Hemi and his celeb chef wife, Margaret (Kawana).

However, the family's just got their daughter Rina (Tevita) back from her all-girls school (wink, wink - according to the film) and into the bosom of her meat loving whanau.

But Hemi and Margaret have a secret to share with their daughter - they've discovered the joys of human flesh. And when the crooks crash the dinner party, the family decides it's time they were on the menu.

What can you say about Fresh Meat?

It's probably destined for cult status, with echoes of Tarantino from its slow-mo ultra-violent shoot out at the start, and its sleazy eye on exploitation right from the start as the camera lingers on Rina as she enjoys a shower with one of her fellow school girls.

But to my mind, I don't think it goes far enough and as a result ends up feeling more like a mixed stew than a gourmet meal. It's fairly clear that this occasionally vulgar film's tongue is firmly in its cheek, but by holding back on some of the gore and not going the whole hog, this finger-licking cannibal flick ends up being a bit of a damp squib rather than a full on festival of Kiwi film. Certainly after the initial guts and gore opening, it appears to run a little out of steam as it becomes confined to the hostage house of Hemi and the gang, losing its energy, bite and undeniable fizz.

Overall, Fresh Meat isn't bad - deliberately trashy, tasteless and unPC but just a little hamstrung by its own constraints. If it had had a little more  punch to be seasoned in with its black humour, knowing winks to Maori life and horror credentials, it could have been a real entry into the Kiwi cult cinema canon.

Extras: Making of, trailers, music video, behind the scenes


New Zealand International Comedy Festival Gala: Review

New Zealand International Comedy Festival Gala: Review

21 years, eh?

Most people's 21st parties were drunken messes, awash in beer and regret.
Yet, the launch of the 21st annual New Zealand International Comedy Festival was a slightly classier affair at Auckland's mighty Civic Theatre (though I don't doubt the after party was any the less messy)

It was also one of the most jam packed galas I've ever attended with some 21 comedians on the bill, with the ever amiable hosting skills of MC Jeremy Corbett. Sure, it was compared to a speed date by the host himself and for the comedians, there's nothing worse than proffering up 5 minutes of stand up as a tantalising tease into their shows before heading off the stage.

It was very much a gala of two halves, with, I have to confess the international acts having the slightly upper hand. Though local acts like Ben Hurley, Dai Henwood and Urzila Carlson rocked on stage to raucous cheers from the assembled crowd as they trotted out some new and fresh material.

Last year's Billy T winner Guy Williams showed that a year hasn't dampened his comic prowess, and gave rise to the fact that this young comic is still clearly in the ascendance thanks to some sharply observed send offs and one word off the cuff remarks. Jeremy Elwood also demonstrated, once again that comedy doesn't have to be dumbed down, throwing out some topically sharp observations as part of his criminally short set time. Likewise, James Nokise, looking like a cross between a young Billy T and one of the Ratpack, really showed like he'd grown up comically since the last time I saw him at the festival. In fact, pretty much all of the locals shone. And it was great to see Ewen Gilmour's on form as well, making the Westie one to watch.

Even the Boy With Tape on His Face, who's back after performing at the Royal Albert Hall, showed he's not resting on his laurels. Granted, he did a mini skit that I've seen him do numerous times before, but thanks to some subtle changes, showed that tinkering helps and that comedy is an artform to be perfected time and time again.

Perhaps, though, the night belonged to the International line up. Maybe it's the prevalence of the NZ comics on the local scene and the likes of 7 Days that they feel so familiar (no matter how fresh and new the material is) but several of the foreign talent offered up new and exciting tidbits of comedy gold.

Stephen K Amos felt energetic and urgent in his short set; equally Idiot Of Ants (last year's winner of best international show) demonstrated why the quartet of sketch comedy is still going strong; the likes of James Acaster, Chris Martin, Markus Birdman, and Tom Gleeson I'd seen the night before at the 5 Star Comedy Preview, so it's fair to say their acts and material weren't quite as fresh as you'd expect, but they were nonetheless funny for it, holding audiences in their thrall in their alloted slot. The show was closed by Chopper who had the best exit ever, and showed there's still plenty of comic mileage in that thug yet.

The revelation of the night was undoubtedly Tom Green though - his surreal, angry ranting belied a universal humour which caught you slap bang between the eyes. There's just something transfixing about his intense attitude to comedy that will make his show a real must see for comedy connoisseurs.

The only complaint of the night, if I'm honest, is that there weren't enough female comics in the line up. Goodness knows there are a fair few playing the festival, so it's a real shame there wasn't the split on the stage.

But as 21st birthday parties go, this was a pretty spectacular one - and a great launch to the start of the NZ International Comedy Festival. Quite simply, get among it and get a giggle.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The 5 Star Comedy Preview Review

The 5 Star Comedy Preview Review

Last night, I was asked if I'd be interested in either goose-stepping out of the SkyCity Theatre or participating in a group sex session on the stage of the same venue.

Before you start to worry about my character, let me just say that this was the start of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in Auckland, which fully gets into gear this weekend before running till the end of May.

The 5 Star Comedy Preview was the opening act before the Gala tonight to kick things off, and credit must be given to Scott Blanks, of the Classic Comedy Club, for bringing in a relative wealth of new talent to show off to an at times, as ever, reticent to get involved audience. (Seriously, if you're off to a comedy show, you are there to laugh and be involved - don't hold back as the acts deserve the instant feedback.)

MCing the event was the UK's Stuart Goldsmith, an affable and friendly host, whose countenance belies the depths of his wit and potentially, depravity. Confessing that he, according to his own words, is "dirtier than this face would suggest" and who has the outward appearance of 70% Wiggle. Goldsmith, who's here as part of the Big Show, got the audience onside from the start by tackling such topics as Auckland traffic lights, relationships, and an ability to riff on whatever takes his fancy, he's clearly one to watch at this year's shows.

Six other acts took to the stage including the UK's Andrew Bird whose brief set started off a little uncertainly with some talk of measuring in cooking, which perplexed the audience as to where he might be going. But, as ever with a strong comedian, what seems like the odd soon becomes the perfect set up for some perfectly well timed punchlines. Another set piece detailing how being a house husband led to a minor polite home invasion was delivered perfectly.

Welsh comedian Elis James, who outwardly looked like any member of the 90s Britpop scene shambled out  with a laid back energy vibe that took in such diverse material as a brief lecture on the meanings of words in Welsh, and other understated material such as a travel confusion - "I'm a local lad and it's good to be home". Dry, James is already a rising star in the UK and is being tipped as one to watch - it's easy to see why. What appears to be a comedian getting distracted is actually an extremely clever set up to get us to the end.

Aussie Tom Gleeson was potentially the star of the night. Opening with riffs on how he's joined the techno age and been taken in by Apple products before gleefully (and perhaps truthfully) suggesting what direction Steve Jobs' company could end up taking, he was on fire from the very beginning. A rambling, raucous and deeply amusing piece about a massage finished his all too brief time on stage. I think, based on 10 minutes in this show, you'd be a fool to miss his solo outing.

Continuing the UK invasion, Chris Martin (no, not that one) took to the stage to open the second half with considerable aplomb and plenty of gusto. Riffing on observations of what Auckland really doesn't need more of and taking in a fear of dogs, he exuded a stage presence which was highly contagious. A heckle telling him New Zealand had no squirrels presented him with the chance to break free of some prepared material and showed how he's clearly a talent with a devilishly quick mind and a comically eloquent turn of phrase.

Englishman James Acaster, under a mop of curly blonde hair and a Frank Spenceresque awkwardness, presented another low energy vibe but demonstrated a subtly conjoined approach to gags and weird whimsy as he took us on unexpected tangents of surreality. A riff on mariachi music went on a little too long but showed a smart deftness of thinking; Acaster may be an interesting watch at the festival and you'd be wrong to dismiss him simply because of his ultra laid-back attitude.

Concluding the show was UK comic and former teacher Markus Birdman, whose physical comedy and clear ability to shock from the get-go marks him out as someone to watch. Taking on euphemisms in teachers' reports on pupils, a mocking of the fact the British are everywhere and relationships, Birdman was a veritable hit. When talking of his split with his partner of 14 years, he was quick to pour a degree of scorn on the audience's sympathy with a very cleverly acerbic one-liner ("Thanks for your sympathy, but you've got no idea what happened") making him perhaps the most unpredictable of the night.

All in all, the fresh talent to these shores represents a real step up in terms of new material and new acts. With plenty on offer over the coming weeks, you may be hard pressed to select from the best, but you certainly won't have any problems finding something to enjoy.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Quartet: Blu Ray Review

Quartet: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Universal Home Entertainment

Based on the same titled play by Ronald Harwood, Quartet marks Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut.

Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins play a group of retired musicians, (Reg, Wilf and Cissy) who are living out their twilight years at Beecham House, a home for elderly musicians. The group used to be in a quartet and every year, the inhabitants of the house come together for an annual concert to celebrate the birth date of Verdi.

The plans this year though are disrupted by the arrival of Dame Maggie Smith's Jean Horton, a once revered singer, who used to be married to Reg. Jean doesn't sing anymore, and with tensions between her and Reg, it looks like this band ain't gonna get back together....which could be disastrous for the fund raising efforts for Beecham House.

Quartet is a gently charming comedy, which will play well to its target older audience. And, perhaps, fans of Downton Abbey, given that Dame Maggie's playing yet another version of her character from that.

Mind you, that said, the veterans are the stars of this piece and each gets their moment to shine. From Courtenay's bitter feelings towards his ex, Connolly's cheeky cantankerousness, Collins' scatterbrained approach and Dame Maggie's somewhat haughty diva, they all work with what little they have in terms of story and script. Sheridan Smith adds a level of sophistication and a touch of youth as the doctor running the house.

With one liner quips and bon mots throughout, Quartet is a pleasant enough, lightly frothy piece which sags a little toward the end; I do feel a little cheated at the end of the film (spoiler) when you don't see the quartet actually sing. Given how many hints there were that Dame Maggie's character was an extraordinary singer, and such a big thing for the quartet to reform and sing, it's a disappointment that that didn't eventuate. Although, it was probably a big ask and could have led to some terrible lip synching....

All in all though, Quartet is a solidly pleasant piece, which hits the right notes for its audience - I hesitate to use the word nice - which will proffer up a point of difference in amongst all the other seasonal mid-winter fare being released 

Extras: Commentary, featurettes, cast and crew interviews


Mr Pip trailer arrives

Mr Pip trailer arrives

Mr Pip is in NZ Cinemas 3 October 2013

Based on Lloyd Jones' seminal novel and adapted for the screen by Academy Award Nominated filmmaker Andrew Adamson - it stars Hugh Laurie.

A film by Andrew Adamson and shot on location in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, Mr Pip will be released in New Zealand cinemas on 3 October 2013.
 “I am excited to reveal this first peek at Mr. Pip to New Zealand audiences” says director, producer and writer Andrew Adamson. “Lloyd Jones’ classic novel is a wonderful tale of the imaginative power of story, and the beautiful landscapes and people of Bougainville have truly brought that power to the screen.  As we put the final touches on the film, I’m now looking forward to bringing this unique world to audiences later this year.” 
Set against the backdrop of civil war in Bougainville, the film stars Hugh Laurie (House) as the enigmatic teacher Mr. Watts who reads to his pupils from Charles Dickens’  “Great Expectations”.  Matilda, a 14-year-old student played by newcomer Xzannjah, is transported by her imagination and the world of Dickens becoming transfixed by the characters and Mr Watts’ interpretation of the story.   The tale of Mr Pip reveals that on an island at war, fiction can have dangerous consequences.  The film also stars Healsville Joel, Eka Darville and Kerry Fox.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Iron Man 4 will feature Robert Downey Jr

Iron Man 4 will feature Robert Downey Jr

Iron Man 3 has just been unleashed in cinemas on this side of the world with Robert Downey Jr reprising his role as Tony Stark.

Read the Iron Man 3 Movie Review

But Iron Man 3 saw the end of contractual obligations for Downey Jr to continue with the role leading to speculation Robert Downey Jr wouldn't return as Tony Stark / Iron Man.

However, in London director Shane Black has revealed Robert Downey Jr will return as Tony Stark....sort of. Maybe.

Speaking at the London premiere of Iron Man 3 in Leicester Square, Black told The Evening Standard: “I think he’ll be back for another one. I’m sure of it.”
The actor is yet to sign up to Iron Man 4, prompting rumours that he may be quitting the film franchise.

And for fans not yet satiated by the film, here are a stack of images from the latest Iron Man movie...

Iron Man 3: Movie Review

Iron Man 3: Movie Review

Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Don Cheadle, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, James Badge Dale
Director: Shane Black

"We create our own demons."

So goes the very first line of this threequel, opening to massive expectations and no doubt, box office following Iron Man's last triumphant outing as part of the superhero powerhouse which was The Avengers.

Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as billionaire Tony Stark - who, this time around, is suffering a little from PTSD following the events at the end of the alien Chitauri invasion masterminded by Loki. Well, you'd expect that from someone who escaped from a wormhole with a nuke in tow...

Facing a distinct lack of sleep, Stark has been distancing himself from the love of his life Pepper Potts (Paltrow), who's working hard at Stark Industries and is choosing to dwell on building other Iron Man suits within his basement.

But when bearded terrorist The Mandarin strikes, taking down everything Tony Stark holds dear, Stark has no choice but to go back to basics to try and save the day...

Iron Man 3 is not what you would expect in terms of blockbuster outing.

Sure, Shane Black's fashioned some killer crowd-pleasing, large exploding moments of spectacle but the overall feel of this flick is somewhat of a downer, darker and slightly dour affair - despite moments of humour throughout this character piece.

Stark is prone to panic and anxiety attacks - and it gives Downey Jr a new facet to play with onscreen as well as humanising the smarmy, egotistical philanthropist. But it also gives depth of vulnerability and a degree of heartbreak to his distancing himself from Potts (their relationship being the pulsing heart of this latest film) as it all plays out. Downey Jr is never anything less than eminently watchable as it unfolds, whether it's raging anger when laying down a challenge to Mandarin  and chasing after the bearded terrorist (bin Laden allegories, anyone?) or realising how mortal he is post-Avengers' incidents.

Likewise, Ben Kingsley's Mandarin character is a fabulous addition to the pantheon of Marvel baddies. To say too much about this bearded Bin Laden-esque terrorist, with his cyber-hacking broadcasts is to give too much away from the film. But he adds a menace which is befitting and the equal of Stark's theatricality as he exacts his diabolical plots. Guy Pearce brings a level of nastiness and rejected smarm as Aldrich Killian, but Rebecca Hall is frankly wasted in a role, which amounts to little more than an extended cameo. Don Cheadle gets a Lethal Weapon-esque team up with Stark toward the end of the film as Iron Patriot falls into trouble.

Despite there being plenty of unexpected moments, twists and turns, and some eye-catching action sequences, there's a horrendously saggy middle piece which sees Stark paired off with a kid and a woodshed-cum-factory as he tries to piece together what's happened and start afresh with only one Iron Man suit.  Thankfully, some wonderfully uncaring one liners sour the saccharine a little, but it's still not quite enough to lift the energy lull. There's also a bit of muddled side plotting going on with the whole Extremis / Killian storyline which somehow manages to derail and detract from the blockbuster action on offer.

Will it lead to an Iron Man 4?

That's the big question - with the Iron Man 3 ending feeling like a kind of wrap up, and Downey Jr's contract being finished with the role, you'd have to wonder if this is the end for Stark. But given this latest performance, he's irreplaceable - and Marvel would be hard pressed to bring anyone else into a role which Downey Jr has made so emphatically his own.

I think the problem with Iron Man 3 is one of expectations; they were so high following the team up of The Avengers - and perhaps wisely, those involved chose to take the Marvel Phase 2 down a deeper, more introspective route for which they should be commended; I really did enjoy the whole Stark having to rely on Stark rather than the suit angle, but couldn't help feeling that I potentially wanted a little more from the film. It's no disaster by any stretch of the imagination and is good, solid entertainment on a Friday night - if this is the direction Marvel Phase 2 is going based on the latest Iron Man movie, then I'm certainly very, very intrigued.

Oh, and make sure you stick around for the obligatory post credits sequence at the end....


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Thor - Dark World trailer is here

Thor - Dark World trailer is here

The first official trailer for Thor - Dark World has dropped - just ahead of the release of Iron Man 3 in cinemas tomorrow.

The sequel to Marvel's Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston and Christopher Eccleston.

We've got a first look at Thor- Dark World with the launch of the new Thor Dark World poster.

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