Sunday, 30 November 2014

Snowpiercer: Blu Ray Review

Snowpiercer: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

From director Joon-ho Bong, Snowpiercer's set in a future where the human population has pretty much wiped themselves out with global warming.

After finding the Earth was heating up too quickly, scientists discovered a way to cool it all down and ironically, froze the planet and killed everyone off apart from a rag tag band of survivors who inhabit a train that travels around the world.

Divvied up into classes within the train, tempers are fraying - and revolution is in the air.

Lead by Chris Evans' Curtis, the time has come for change - and when the powers that be head to the lower ends of the train inhabited by the lower classes to snatch some children, everything boils over. With a full blown assault underway and those at the front of the train desperate to quell this uprising, it's a fight for survival as the group tries to push their way through to the front carriage and change their lives for the better...

But the closer they get to their goal, the higher the personal cost....

Snowpiercer is a curious film (it's based on a series of French graphic novels) which blends action with some truly stunning production values, brilliantly realised.

Joon-ho's created a visual dystopian world within that impresses; from the grimy gritty nature of the tail end of the train where Curtis' people live in an oppressed huddle to the more luxurious front sections where the select few live it up, each door that Curtis unlocks releases a visual feast more splendid and excessive than the last.

Snowpiercer doesn't skimp on action either - with the director creating some visual smackdowns that impress and thrill in equal measure. A showdown on the train as it heads into a long tunnel is a terrifying proposition brilliantly executed and sickening in equal measures. A clash in a primary school section as well is shocking in many ways, incorporating indoctrination and lots of bullets in a way you'd never expect.

Likewise, Tilda Swinton is fantastic as the leader of the opposition, a pastiche of Thatcher with Deidre Barlow; her presence helps keep the film out of the stuffy po-faced territory and her Northern English accent is a sight to behold.

Visually, the glimpses of the frozen vistas are excellently executed, as life outside the train is showcased. The effects work is impressive and sparingly used.

But it's not perfect.

Parts of Snowpiercer feel too episodic by their very nature and don't quite hang together as the group unlocks a door, goes through that section of the train and onto the next part. Narratively, the thread dangles a little weak and a little too loosely as it plays out.

And there's one portion towards the end of the film where Evans just doesn't deliver the powerful punch it needs. A speech about the hardships they've faced feels overcooked and over-explained, lacking emotion at a crucial stage and over using exposition that's unnecessary. (There are flashes of this throughout, leaving you to feel that the whole thing's been overtly hammered home when it didn't need to have been and when the subtlety would have aided the power of the message.)

All in all, Snowpiercer tries to deliver a commentary on the classes' system - and for the most part it does so successfully, but the overall feeling is one that it could have delivered a lot more as you board this blockbuster on its 2 hour journey. 


Saturday, 29 November 2014

ZB movie reviews - NightCrawler, The Drop and The Babadook

ZB movie reviews - NightCrawler, The Drop and The Babadook

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra: Be Mine Tonight Tour Review

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra: Be Mine Tonight Tour Review

It was Auckland's turn to host New Zealand's premiere touring troubadors of the ukulele variety.

In the relatively intimate surroundings of the Winter Garden at Auckland's Civic Theatre, bathed in a stage of red light to match the red carpet, there was an inter-generational buzz awaiting their arrival.

From the young to the very old, everyone was here to have a good time as the band continued its Be Mine Tonight tour in support of their first ever full album release.


With expectancy at a poised fever pitch, the band doled out 7 rules over the speakers before filing out in front of everyone and launching into their cover of Brooke Fraser's Something in the Water. You know what to expect most of the time with the WIUO (no bad thing) - lush harmonies, beefed up choruses and a damn good time. The child in the front row whose feet couldn't touch the ground was having a damn good time - because I saw her little spindly legs rocking back and forth the moment the band struck up.

But as the group took in a smattering of some of their old faves and select tracks from the new LP with their usual charisma-filled performance, there seemed to be something slightly different about them this time.

Sure, there was electricity in the air - but it was also there on stage with some howling feedback affecting the end of a couple of their songs (Team by Lorde and Jezebel were slightly hit by it) - and more surprisingly, there were a few electrical instruments - an electric uke here, a guitar there. For the couple of purists next to me in the audience who'd come to lap up the stripped back harmonies and rousing simplicity of the singalongs, it was a bit of a shock.

However, it represents the growth of the band and to be honest, howls aside, it didn't dampen any of their enthusiasm for their onstage antics, their boundless energy and their ability to awaken the joy in your belly and send it on its way to your face.

After Raylene, Jezebel, some Afternoon Delight, Wake Up, an almost gospel like Happy by Pharrell, a tour to Tahiti and Hawai'i, the first half concluded with their frankly anthemic version of David Kilgour's Today's Gonna Be Mine ( a song which gives me goosebumps every single time I hear it) that left the crowd reeling and hoping the interval was nothing more than a brief interlude.

A second half saw a couple of surprises and ensured the Civic's builders were going to be needed to deployed after the roof was raised.

Shorty Street star Amanda Billings and long time secret band member is touring with the WIUO this time and stepped up to the plate for E Ipo; as did Th'Dudes' star Peter Urlich to shake his money maker on their cover of Be Mine Tonight, which concluded with a stunning solo from band member Steven to rapturous applause.

It was here really that the band completely found their groove, won over the crowd and ensured the second half would send us all into the stratosphere. Following up with heart-felt and singalong fave Heartache, the always theatrical and expressive Andy led the audience to a fervour before Gemma and Age gave us a Second Chance to remember.

Clothed in cricket whites, Age's lead on Howzat (whose chorus always reminds me of the UK Pearl and Dean cinema intro) had an energy and vitality which was contagious; a kid invasion accompanied Megan's next turn on stage and showed why the band has such a universal appeal before Sam, replete in self-made onesie, gave us a 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover that led to cheers from within the growing rabble on the floor.

Choosing to end with Counting The Beat (and getting Peter Urlich back on stage was a master-stroke for the second half (like David Kilgour was in the first) because it summed up the essence of what the WIUO does when it's on fire. They get you up on your feet, singing along, and dancing like crazy thanks to their contagious and infectious energy, sending you out into the world with a joy in your heart.

The WIUO are a clever bunch; they always leave you wanting more and this time was no exception (even if the second half felt a little stronger than the first); as a group of friends and musicians, they've got the mix completely right and the new album shows they're heading on a slightly different path without forgetting their roots.

When it comes to their live shows, you'd have to be a real grouch to leave with a frown on your face - and I don't believe there's such a thing as a bad WIUO show (certainly from what I've experienced before); the band's growing in musical depth and performance as tonight's show demonstrated.

That's no bad thing at all - jump on the WIUO bus; their destination is Good Times, via stop-offs for Singalong, Grin Central and Charisma city. It's a musical journey you won't forget.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer is here

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer is here

It's finally here - the one thing that fans have been waiting for.

It's the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Far Cry 4: PS4 Review

Far Cry 4: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Ubisoft

Far Cry 3 was epic.

It was a mix of a good solid story set in an open world environment that challenged you every step of the way, thanks to a despot determined to take you down.

So Far Cry 4 had a battle on its hands to try and up the ante on the next gen console.

Thankfully, while Far Cry 4 doesn't truly deviate from the last outing, it does make a compelling argument for the next gen release.

While there are similarities in plot ideals to Far Cry 3, Far Cry 4 is set in Kyrat, a fictional area of the Himalayas (which look truly outstanding on the console front). You play Ajay, a Kyrati who's heading back to the region to dispose of the ashes of your mother. But on arrival at a border and about to head into the region, the bus Ajay's on is ambushed by local tyrant Pagan Min (a sort of Patrick Stewart-esque looking character with a sweep of blonde hair) who has a connection to Ajay.

Within moments, you're flung into the depths of a civil war, where you discover you have the capability to tip the balance of power....or die trying.

Far Cry 4 is exceptional open world gaming.

From firing it up initially after the story had kicked in, I found myself engrossed and immersed in the world within; so much so, that I actually spent a day deviating from the main story to explore the island, get involved in side quests and unlocking parts of the maps by taking out radio towers spouting Min propaganda. Which should give you an indication of how much can actually be done in the game - and how far the scope is.

If you want to spend time checking out the animals or hunting them for their skins, you can. (Though watch out for the vicious little tykes the honey badgers which aren't exactly welcoming) Danger lurks at every angle - from the mercenaries waiting to take you out at outposts to the hidden creatures within the waters, there's something gunning for you whenever and wherever.

It's fair to say that for the most part, Far Cry 4 expands on its predecessor without significantly deviating far from the path of what was laid out before. Sure, the menus have been given a spit and polish, the crafting screens and loot bags all look a lot swankier than before, but the nuts and bolts of the game haven't changed too much. Thrown into the mix are Karma missions (such as freeing the hostages) which help you level up and give you a chance to work on your stealth. The PS4 version's got the chance to invite players who don't own the game along to the co-op mode, a nice touch which shows Ubisoft's not content to simply rest on their laurels and leave you to it.

The story's relatively predictable and there are rumours that there are multiple endings and alternate endings to Far Cry 4 which change everything before, but to say more is to spoil them - Pagan Min makes a psychotic adversary and is a welcome addition to the lunatics running these asylums.

Beautiful vistas, a sense of scope, a smattering of intelligence and endless amounts of time to be spent playing mean Far Cry 4 is well worth owning. While in parts it feels like a Far Cry 3 retread, the revisions and spit and polish for the PS4's grunt make it a vital addition to your collection - and a chance to escape the summer rays inside over the coming months.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Locke: Blu Ray Review

Locke: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R13
Released by Madman Home Ent

One man, a car, (relatively) endless road, a bluetooth and a pile full of problems.

That's what's facing Tom Hardy in this one man movie now on home viewing after the success of the NZIFF earlier this year.

Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a foreman for a construction company, whose life is carefully built on very solid and precisely maintained foundations. Which are about to crumble around him in emotionally catastrophic terms.

As the movie starts, Locke is leaving the site at the end of the day ahead of a major piece of work for the company he's with. Waiting at a traffic light at the start, he literally faces a fork in the road with either turning left or right determining his path through the oncoming storm.

And to say any more than that would be to betray some of the emotional beats and bombs which go off during the piece, which reeks of claustrophobia and a degree of unexpectedly mundane tension.

A soft spoken Welsh accented Hardy is eminently watchable in this piece and commands the screen for the 100 minutes of its run time - writer Steven Knight's crafted together something which may polarise some in terms of reaction and expectation over tension, but he's brought together a series of events that have long reaching consequences for all involved as Locke deals with many on the phone as the real time "thriller" plays out. Kudos also have to go to the voice acting talent - from the likes of Broadchurch star Olivia Colman, Luther star Ruth Wilson and Sherlock's Moriarty Andrew Scott, but it's Hardy who's the star of this piece. Occasionally the veneer and carefully constructed exterior starts to slip - notably with conversations to a passenger that only Locke sees in the back of his car but Hardy manages to sell all of these moments with an undying commitment to the one man show.

Like any piece of theatre that's confined to just one person, Locke rises or falls on the central performance and it's one which Hardy delivers with an unswerving devotion to the character; the only threats faced on this journey are occasional traffic and rain, but the personally devastating roadblocks which Locke faces are eminently relatable, occasionally amusing and utterly watchable.

This is one journey that you need to be a passenger on.

Extras: Audio commentary, behind the scenes


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Singstar: Ultimate Party: PS4 Review

Singstar: Ultimate Party: PS4 Review

Platform: PS4
Released by Sony Computer Ent

Christmas is coming - and as well as not being able to escape that behemoth of end of year parties, there is also the threat of drunken singing in the background.

Thankfully, Sony's decided to try and help you hide that shame with the release of the latest iteration of Singstar aimed at keeping the party at home - and the neighbours in ear plugs.

Except this time around, they've not really messed with the formula - it's exactly what you'd expect when it comes to a Singstar game. There's scoring, singing and of course, a range of the current musical tracks. (Well, 30 of them anyway)

The one big push that's been moved into this latest version of Singstar is to take the microphone away from the console by bringing in a downloadable app to help you get the party started whereever you want.

Except it's not quite as perfect as the old microphones were. While the app's easily downloadable, it's not quite as responsive as having a microphone in your hand. You have to hold it in the right place and ensure your vocals (or screeches) are going in the right direction. Fine in practice but when you're singing your heart out, the last thing you want to bother with is ensuring the mic is right. It's best to use the old microphones from the previous releases to get to what you need.

Visually, it's sleek and as potent as ever and no doubt a lot of New Zealand will be happy that Lorde's included in among the likes of Pharrell and Coldplay. In fact, whoever curated the soundtrack's done a great job, ensuring there's variety and depth; a little something for everyone. Plus with DLC, there's going to be endless debate over which tracks to go with.

I suppose in summary, really, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But for the PS4 next gen version of Singstar, I'd have potentially expected something a little more enticing. An update's been released to deal with buggy playing, voice playback and wired microphones with another update planned in December to quell the unhappiness at launch.

All in all, Singstar: Ultimate Party may get the party started, but a lack of real freshness in its execution and a few issues may cause it to teeter off rather than kick off all night long.

Elsa and Fred: Movie Review

Elsa and Fred: Movie Review

Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Noth, Scott Bakula, George Segal
Director: Michael Radford

Relying heavily on imagery from La Dolce Vita, Elsa and Fred's a remake of an Argentinian film of the same name.

An irascible and easily irritated Plummer plays Fred, a recent widower who's been moved into an apartment block in New Orleans amid concerns from his daughter (Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden). Unhappy at this turn of events and wanting to keep himself to himself with daily vigils with depression in his bed, Fred's life is interrupted by widower-from-across-the-hall Elsa (MacLaine in twinkly eyed OAP mode).

Insisting he try gently heading back on the steps to some kind of life, Fred's gradually coaxed out of his early grave and finds himself dipping his toes back into love as well...

Elsa and Fred negotiates the mediocrity of its genre and the predictability of its late-in-life-love plot thanks to the chemistry between Plummer and MacLaine; theirs is a relationship which glows with the familiarity of time and proves pleasantly sweet as the broader comedy elements blossom around them.

With Elsa's mantra that she will "show Fred the path to life", Plummer's forced to dial down some of his earlier cantankerousness and barbed comments to his daughter and her (one-dimensional) husband who are pillorying him for his cash for an investment. Which is a welcome respite because Radford's film offers little in the way of originality and fails to veer away from cliche as the frailties of old age bubble away in the background.

Tonally, there are a few shifts which come out of nowhere (including a brutally abrupt ending that jars while avoiding the inevitability of what's coming) as the film relocates to Rome in its final sprint to pay full homage to the promise it's made to Anita Ekberg's waterside seduction.

It's not that Elsa and Fred is a terrible movie - it gets by on the charm of the leads on the slightest of scripts as time goes by and it will fly with certain older sectors of the audience who are perhaps somewhat sidelined by the lack of films such as this. But some terrible acting (step forward the over-mugging Chris Noth as the son-in-law desperate to secure the investment) and some verging on racial stereotyping of ethnic home helps, and parts of this pleasant souffle leave a sour taste in your mouth.

Elsa and Fred may be romantic fantasy for the silver-haired generation, and while the Hollywood machine's to be commended for bringing an OAP love story to life, it ends up being forgettable and flouncy the moment the lights have gone back up.


Jurassic World trailer is here

Jurassic World trailer is here

The first full length look at Jurassic World starring Chris Pratt has just dropped.

Watch the first trailer for Jurassic World here

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Starred Up: Blu Ray Review

Starred Up: Blu Ray Review

Rating: R18
Released by Madman Home Ent

Prison dramas don't come searing than this.

Set in the UK, Jack O'Connell is Eric, a young offender who's transferred to a maximum security jail because of the danger he poses to others.

Within hours of being moved, he accidentally beats up a fellow inmate and puts himself on the radar as a troublemaker (even though his actions are instinctive rather than deliberate). Finding himself moved into a self-help group run by the apparently easy touch Oliver, he reluctantly begins to open up (to a degree) but it's his relationship with a fellow prisoner (played excellently by Ben Mendelsohn) causes more problems than he could ever imagine.

Starred Up is a brilliantly adrenaline filled drama that has you on the edge of your seat from the beginning sequence.

It's not your traditional arc for Eric - ie was a tough guy, but softens along the way - but is realistically handled in that he gradually lets down his guard only to come back out seething like a caged animal. O'Connell delivers a performance of searing ferocity that is both by turns terrifying and also occasionally vulnerable. It's the rare glimpses into the chinks underneath this armour that makes Starred Up so watchable and so unpredictable.

Likewise, Mendelsohn as one of the prison's top dogs is pretty damn good too; wanting the best for his kid but not wanting to see that harder edge softened at all. Gritty and exactly what you'd expect set in a male prison, this mix of volatile atmospherics and character insights makes for an undeniably edgy film that throws up many questions - can a man like Eric be rehabilitated, how soon will that powderkeg be lit and how does he survive day to day as well as outside?

But for all its dramatics and simply shot cinematics, Starred Up shows what an incredibly nuanced talent O'Connell is - it's his film and his alone in this father and son struggle that's undeniably powerful and utterly electrifying.

Extras: Interviews with cast and crew


Be Mine Tonight - track by track analysis by the WIUO

Be Mine Tonight - track by track analysis by the WIUO

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is currently on tour with their first ever full-length album, Be Mine Tonight. (Full details of where they are playing are at
As they were on the road, I asked the band to take us through the album of Kiwi classics one by one....
Read the review of the album here -

We did this track by track “analysis” of our new album for you over the past couple of weeks on the road. You can probably spot a bit of cabin fever. The people who were awake at the time answered the questions. See you in Auckland!
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra

Be Mine Tonight (originally by Th’ Dudes)
Dan: There are lots of ukes on this one. And the whole album. Possibly too many.
Sam: We went with female lead vocals – that’s the nice juxtaposition I reckon we gave it. The outro by Steve on the electric uke is mind-blowing.
Bek: It really brings out the celtic mystic folk! When we played it in Dunedin I was standing on the stage thinking “This is folk! We’re a folk band!”
Amanda: You play the ukulele and you didn’t believe we were a folk band?
Andy: I’m leaving.

Wake Up (originally by Aaradhna)
Sam: This is a great song for the mornings. James Hill [the great Canadian ukulele star] carves up a great solo on the end of it.
Amanda: Is that the one he recorded in the bathroom?
Sam: Yep, a bathroom ukulele solo. 
Bek: This song is the insomniac’s power ballad.
Amanda: I love performing this one on stage because we’ve got our dance moves going.
Carmel: I love it because I get to bring some Aaradhna sauce and Sharon Jones sass. 
Dan: I want to put an Aaradhnaphiliac joke somewhere in there.

Counting The Beat (originally by The Swingers)
Dan: We’ve counted the beat so you don’t have to.
Gemma: A Kiwi classic and so much fun to sing. In the recording studio I was just laying down a guide vocal and we weren’t sure who was going to end up singing it. We auditioned everyone in the band! My guide vocal won out.

Team (by the great Lorde)
Dan: There’s no “i” in team. There’s no bass in this version, either. Well, I don’t “play” the bass. I hit the bass until it sounds like drums. I call it sound music.
Sam: The ukulele arrangement (it’s mainly plucking) makes it feel like Andy is singing in a jewellery box – you know the ones you open up and the ballerina spins around? Andy’s the ballerina.

Long Ago (a Herbs classic)
Steve: Long Ago has a subtle shift in the shuffle.
Gemma: Our friend Pi’ikea Clark came in with his six-string ukulele and showed us a crisp rhythm that echoes the reggae of the original but in a ukulele kinda way.
Dan: Lisa Tomlins sings it. What can you say about Lisa? Jesus. How many takes did it take her to do it? One take, two takes? That’s Lisa.
Sam: She’s pretty incredible. She nails it.


Today Is Gonna Be Mine (from David Kilgour’s album A Feather in the Engine)
Gemma: Quite a challenge turning a David Kilgour twelve-string guitar epic into a ukulele anthem, but I hope we did him proud. This song is a recipe for a good day!
Sam: It’s quite an epic song. When we first recorded it I remember thinking oh man this sounds too much like a choir, but in the final mix it came up really rocking.
Gemma: James Hill plays ukulele on this one, too. He slams it.

Howzat (originally by Sherbert)
Steve: I play the baritone part – it was diabolical fun. Age rocked the solo out.
Gemma: Age’s solo sounds really dirty in a good way. And the choruses are just too much fun to sing. Over the whole album we were going for a general vibe of beloved Kiwi hits, but also songs that are great fun to do on the ukulele and reflect our sense of humour. That’s why a few of these songs crept in.

Jezebel (made into a hit by Jon Stevens)
Gemma: This song made a star of Jon Stevens back in 1980, with his high waisted leather pants and all. As a Hutt girl, I’m thrilled we’ve done a ukulele version.
Sam: I can’t hit Jon Stevens’ vocal heights so I took it down a few notches. If you can’t hit the heights, go Barry White.  

E Ipo (written by Prince Tui Teka and Ngoi Pewhairangi)
Bek: I’ve never seen Prince Tui Teka in the form of such a beautiful woman before.
Amanda: We had to transpose it to a new key so that I could sing it. We wondered about changing the gender – it’s a love song to Tui Teka’s wife Missy – but we decided to keep it in its pure form. The words are so beautiful, but you don’t need to know what they mean – it’ll still get ya.
Bek: If you’re a Kiwi, you’ll love this song.

Slippin’ Away (a Max Merritt classic)
Bek: This is an absolute classic, a total 4.00am song.
Andy: I love the way Age and Steve’s voices work together. It’s not a combo we’d heard before in the band.
Gemma: Steve’s voice suits that particular harmony. He’s our most-decorated rock star in the band and you can really hear the years in his voice, in a good way. I love the simple repetition in the song.

Something in the Water (Brooke Fraser)
Amanda: Our version makes me want to have a glass of wine or two and swing in a hammock on a balmy evening.
Carmel: There’s nothing cynical about it. It’s pure sweetness and it’s a lovely thing to fall into. And I love watching Megan bang the back of the double bass on stage.
Dan: I don’t love that.
Amanda: I love watching Dan’s face while Megan hits the crap out of his bass.

Second Chance (From Liam Finn’s album I’ll Be Lightning)
Gemma: I have loved this song since Liam first released it. I wondered if it would be possible to do it on ukulele because the most exciting thing about it when Liam performs it live is all the wild looping. We figure it out.
Amanda: Gemma and Age are my Linda Rondstadt and my Aaron Neville, my Kenny Rogers and my Dolly Parton. They make a song that’s bitter and twisted sound beautiful. And bitter and twisted.
Gemma: I asked Age to freak out on his ukulele at the end. He went there! It’s exhausting to sing, but worth it.

Till We Kissed (made famous by Ray Columbus in 1965)
Bek: Thanks, Ray Columbus.
Amanda: I like hearing that one sung by a chick.
Bek: I’m really drawn to songs that have the same chords over and over. This song has the same chord progression all the way through but it builds and builds and drops and climbs again. Like a mountain range.
Amanda: Speaking of ranges, it’s just the right place in her vocal range for Bek to sound vulnerable and strong at the same time.
Gemma: Our version is faster than the original – we wanted to give it a tango feel. I love it. I think it will be the wedding hit of the summer.

Hine e Hine (Princess Te Rangi Pai, 1907)
Bek: One of the most beautiful ballads ever written, and it’s from Aotearoa! Goodnight, Kiwi. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

Be Mine Tonight: The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra album review

Be Mine Tonight: The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra album review

As sure as summer rolls around, and as thoughts turn more to outdoor pursuits as we New Zealanders end our self-inflicted hibernation from the cruelty of winter, it can only mean one thing – the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

As perennial as Backyard cricket, beaches and togs, the band is usually to be found on the road for the pre-build up to summer, ready to ply us with good times and a soundtrack to the long days.

And this time, after a series of EPs, they’ve decided to take the plunge and release a full scale album – a thing that fans (myself included) have been clamouring for for years.

But, when I heard that the album Be Mine Tonight was to be an album of Kiwi songs, my heart ever-so slightly sank. Predominantly because these wouldn’t be songs that I, as an ex-pat, wouldn’t be instantly familiar with, and that I couldn’t instantly sing along to.

Well, what a fool I was.

I’ve had this album (available on iTunes for a relative pittance here ) for a wee while and I’m glad my minor niggling doubts didn’t manifest into full-blown monsters of angst.

Because this album is as polished and as accomplished as all of their other work – and their blistering live shows (they’re touring at the moment too – check out the dates at so you can get your blast of summer sunshine on stage).

Effortless is a phrase that seems trite to bandy at musicians, given how much we know they practise, prep and spend time in a studio. But effortless is a word I’m happy to throw at this slice of summer which if there’s any justice, will be blasting out from the best BBQs over the coming months.

From Lorde’s Team to Th'Dudes’s Be Mine Tonight, the band’s harmonious vocals are lushly mixed with the wonderfully relaxed orchestrations of these well-known (to Kiwi) songs. Counting the Beat proves to be infectious and is likely to be a stalwart of their upcoming live shows, Brooke Fraser’s Something In The Water is as gentle as a summer breeze and David Kilgour’s Today Is Gonna Be Mine has sent goosebumps firing up my neck every time its quietly insidious earworm begins.

Summer’s soundtrack has arrived – resistance is futile; give yourself to the heart in this album and take it to your bosom.

There’s a maturity to this album, a polished production which is a testament to the band’s universal appeal. By selecting the very cream of our musical crop, the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra has ensured this first album of theirs deserves to be massive. Mellowed, and mellifluous harmonies sing out proving catchy and contagious to brighten even the greyest of days (as I write this, a thick grey blanket hangs over the skies, threatening the moods the country over)

Sure, these are New Zealand’s songs – which I’m convinced will have a global appeal, but the WIUO is now, without a doubt, New Zealand’s band.

They are a troupe of musical troubadors destined to ride into your time, give you a damn good time and leave you revelling in their talent for months to come.

Halo: the MasterChief Collection: XBox One Review

Halo: The MasterChief Collection: XBox One Review

Released by 343 Industries
Platform: XBox One

I've a confession to make.

Being a long time PlayStationer, I've never ever touched a HALO game. I'm aware that in some quarters, this is close to sacrilege, but I feel honesty is the best policy.

Having got my hands on the mighty remastered version (somewhere in the region of 50GB all up), I can safely say I've really quite enjoyed the majority of my time with the MasterChief and all he entails.

Collecting together all four of the games ahead of the launch of HALO 5: Guardians next year, this remastered package is quite the exercise in dutiful enjoyment. It's pretty much dutifully ported over from its early iterations on the XBox 360 too, with the gameplay and quality improved for the next gen console.

In the first game, Combat Evolved Anniversary, you can flick back and forth between the original game graphics and the new too, so that if you're a purist, you can relive the old days. Or if you're like me, you can appreciate the work and way the next gen console's changed things. One superb example of this is on ground near a waterfall; the original version is a relatively static sheet of water pouring out of the side of a mountain. In the new version the droplets are clear, the steam gathers from the cascading water and the effect is astounding.

But you don't play Halo for the graphics, it's for the playability and its first person shooter mentality, which are all pretty much in tact here with combat being relatively easy to engage in. Even better is the chance for you to drop in and out of the games, or play them cumulatively as one long engaging narrative - it's great to have a compendium to drop in and out of and to indulge as and when you want.

Not so great though - and the game's been out for a little while is the multiplayer which has been blighted with connectivity issues since launch, which have rendered the matchmaking side of the game somewhat of a major chore and at worst, a non-functioning option. A patch has been dropped this week to try and satiate these server issues which 343 Industries have been unable to deal with at their side, but as yet, that patch isn't fully in my hands so I have to go with a jury out on this - for now.

All in all, though, The Halo: MasterChief collection is the kind of nostalgic game blast which really serves to remind you why some games are classics. Having been so taken with Destiny this year, I can see the comparisons with Halo - and now having been spending time with the game, I can appreciate it for what it's worth; an influential shooter that shaped the console and defined a gaming generation.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Double: Blu Ray Review

The Double: Blu Ray Review

Rating: M
Released by Madman Home Ent

It's another case of double identity at Madman Home Entertainment with Jesse Eisenberg standing in for the doppelganger treatment (with Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy pulling similar duties).

This time, Eisenberg stars in Richard Ayoade's interpretation of Dostoyevsky's The Double as Simon James, an office worker, who's having a bad day. Things get worse when James discovers he's been usurped in the office by his exact double - who exudes more confidence, is less nervous and is on his way to the top.

Caught up in this web is Mia Wasikowska's Hannah, who falls for the double much to Simon's horror - and it's here that Simon starts to lose control of it all.

IT Crowd actor and Submarine director Richard Ayoade's already demonstrated a great eye for highly stylised film and he follows this trend in The Double, with some terrifically framed shots and some stunning visuals that bring the drab colours of greens to life in ways which leap off the screen. There's a real sense of the absurd here as Simon's world starts to disintegrate and Eisenberg does enough to balance the differences between the two - it's great to finally see Eisenberg break away from the usual neurotic fare and playing a stronger character.

But it's the visuals which are really the triumph of the film; Ayoade's captured an essence of a nightmare that seems just close enough to reality with the dark, dingy landscapes and attitudes. Patches of dry humour scatter throughout and bring a degree of levity to the dystopian proceedings. 

Stylistically, The Double is a triumph - though I do begin to worry that Ayoade's painting himself into an admittedly wonderful corner here; I look forward to seeing what he can do with a relatively straight story in the future.


The Drop: Movie Review

The Drop: Movie Review

Cast: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace, John Ortiz
Director: Michael R Roskam

Destined to be known forever as The Sopranos star James Gandolfini's last ever film role, The Drop is a hard-hitting crime drama set on the streets of Brooklyn from Dennis Lehane.

Tom Hardy stars as soft-spoken bartender Bob Saginowski, who works at Cousin Marv's bar (run by Cousin Marv played by James Gandolfini). But the bar is one of a series of bars that operates in the criminal underworld as a "drop bar", where money's funnelled to the local gangsters.

When Cousin Marv's bar is robbed, the ensuing investigation and twists - as well as the complications caused by picking up a pitbull pup found on the cusp of death in a bin at a woman's house - and Bob's got all manner of problems in Dennis Lehane's adaptation of his own short story.

The Drop is a solid crime thriller, with an understated Gandolfini and a restrained Hardy (replete with adorable puppy guaranteed to melt the internet with the subsequent memes) proving to be the main draw-cards. Theirs is the bond which binds us through the streets of Brooklyn and negotiates the complications and vice-tightening draw of the underworld.

Choosing not to mire these two in back-story, Lehane's script teases out details and insinuates a past that's both perceivable and implied; there's a menace among the threats that works infinitely better thanks to the use of the casual overtones. Noomi Rapace's Nadia (from whose bin Bob rescues the dog) is perhaps the weak link though - her damaged persona serving only to offer up a limited amount of tension and suspense as the final act plays out.

Maudlin and melancholy, Roskam's steeped this movie in parts which are occasionally hard to engage in. While Hardy's impressive as the soft-hearted thug throughout, his character's aloofness makes it difficult to engage with as the dourness builds to an inevitable conclusion. Gandolfini seems to play a version of Tony Soprano, albeit one that's dipped in melancholy weariness, a street cynicism that suggests he's seen it all before but can't find his way out or to the top. It's a symbolic end for him / Cousin Marv, but a sign the actor was likely to further deliver greatness had he continued.

As brooding disparate threads pull tightly together at the end, the simmering mix that's been bubbling away merely comes together in a fizzle rather than the emotional crack that's really needed  - and that's despite Hardy's magnetic presence.

The Drop's impressive in parts but overall, its story-telling doesn't quite come together in the way you'd hope or expect to raise it into the echelons of truly great crime dramas.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Nightcrawler: Movie Review

Nightcrawler: Movie Review

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Director: Dan Gilroy

It's to the underbelly of Los Angeles we go in this terrific thriller set against a backdrop of nights and shady activity.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a man desperate for work and hungry for a pay off. When we first meet him, he's stealing copper wire (and in an ensuing struggle with a security guard, his watch) and trying to sell it on, while simultaneously trying to ingratiate himself into a position for a job.

After being rejected, he sees a camera crew taking footage of a dramatic rescue on a highway. Learning how much they get for this and that TV's saturated news networks will pay for anything that works under the old journalism mantra of "If it bleeds, it leads", Lou decides to join the freelance camera crew game.

Hiring a homeless person Rick (played by Four Lions star Riz Ahmed), and decking out his car with police scanning equipment, Lou finds an ally and buyer in the form of news director Nina (Russo) whose station is in ratings slump....

Nightcrawler is a compulsively thrilling film, one which trawls through the moral sludge and delights with ethical and moral issues just being part of the attraction.

The main attraction though - aside from the terrific cinematography and slick sheen of the mainly night-time production - is Gyllenhaal as the misfit Bloom, a sociopathic driven parasite of an anti-hero whose outlook is as complex as it is compelling. With a slimmed down frame and piercing eyes, his delusion is as contagious as it is frightening - in his skewed take of the world (with hints of Asperger's implied) everything makes a perfect logical sense with the kind of self-delusional belief that we've seen in the likes of Travis Bickle and William Foster in Falling Down. He's a twisted businessman perfect for a 21st Century where narcissism and selfies are the norm, and selfishness is sadly the raison d'etre. But more than just that, Gyllenhaal commands the screen from beginning to ebullient end, with nary a breath drawn in between as he pursues and bastardises his own American dream.

His interactions with Four Lions star Riz Ahmed are also electrifying too; from initial interview scenes to negotiations later on, there's a frisson of uncertainty about where it's all going that adds an edge to an already superior and tense thriller.

Equally, the up-for-the-highest-bidder values of late night US news-stations chasing ratings are under the microscope too; with Russo's news chief becoming compromised and entangled both in Bloom's web and the desire to be number one in a way that seems all too sentient of how TV ratings are warping people's sense of propriety. (Though, there are moments within that stretch credibility of a newsroom's operation).

Meshing satire and life through LA's dark gauze is a potent brew, Nightcrawler is a can't-take-your-eyes-off-it thriller that maybe could have lived larger if there had been some tighter editing ( it could be argued that the current denouement feels like a tacked-on epilogue that saps the prior scenes' potency and shock factor) but is already a superior slice of cinema, thanks to Gyllenhaal. He may be behind the camera throughout as the footage-chasing and obseqious Bloom, but throughout, he's very definitely front and centre of the screen - and in your mind long after Nightcrawler has ended.


Interview with Dan Gilroy, director of Nightcrawler

Interview with Dan Gilroy, director of Nightcrawler

When Dan Gilroy first heard about the murky, nocturnal world of freelance news reporters – the TV version of paparazzi who are armed with video cameras and nicknamed ‘night-crawlers’ – who race to the scene of murders, car crashes and fires to film footage for news programmes, he knew instinctively that it was fertile ground for a film.

The result is Nightcrawler and the central, unforgettable character is Lou, an ambitious young man who wants to succeed and live the American dream – even if it means filming other people’s nightmares.

Played brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal, at the start of the story Lou is struggling to survive in a harsh contemporary world where getting a job – any job – has become harder. 

Q: Where did you first get this idea?

A: A number of years ago I was very interested in a crime photographer from the 1930s and 40s named Weegee (the pseudonym for Ascher Fellig). He’s actually become collectable among people who collect photography. He was the first guy to put a police scanner in his car, in New York City. This was like 1940. He would drive around and get to crime scenes before anyone. He was a wonderful photographer, but I couldn’t figure out a way to do a period film, and so I put the idea aside and I moved to Los Angeles. A few years ago I heard about these people called ‘night-crawlers’ who drive around Los Angeles at night at 100mph, with these scanners going. As a screenwriter, I thought, ‘That’s a really interesting world,’ but I didn’t exactly know what to do with it. It was part of an idea. For me, ideas come piecemeal; they don’t come fully formed. That was a part of the idea, and I didn’t know what to do with until I thought of the character to plug into it, which was Lou. Once that character plugged into the world, it was like two parts of an atom that fit together, and suddenly it just made total sense to me, and I knew what I wanted to do with the world and the character.

Q: Did you meet some of the real night-crawlers?

A: Yes, Jake and I and Robert Elswit, our DP, went out a couple of nights with a guy named Howard Raishbrook, who was our technical advisor, and it was bloodcurdling. The first call we went to was a horrific car crash, in which three girls had been ejected from a car after hitting a wall head on. I’ve got to be honest: I don’t think I’ll ever get that image out of my head. I think Jake and Robert and I were rather stunned, watching it, but the gentleman who filmed it very professionally got out of the car, shot the footage, edited the footage within five minutes, downloaded it, and sold it to four television stations. Now, the gentleman who does this, I don’t judge him, and actually he’s become a friend of mine. He and the other people who do this very much see themselves as providing a service, and they legitimately are providing a service. In their minds, the stories that they’re filming become the lead stories on local Los Angeles news, so if there’s a demand to watch this, who am I to judge them? Or to say what they’re doing is wrong? Obviously Lou’s character crosses the line at certain points, and drifts into a world that’s amoral, but I never wanted to portray them or the news media or even Lou’s character in that way. I never wanted to put a moral label on it and say, ‘This is wrong.’ I think once a filmmaker applies immorality to something, it stops the viewers from being able to make a decision for themselves. My morality might be very different from yours, and what I find important might be different from what your priorities are. We wanted to create as realistic a portrayal as possible of this little niche market and the Los Angeles media world, and let people decide for themselves who the villain is and what the issues are.

Q: Where does the demand for this coverage come from?

A: It comes from us because statistically, as a race, humans seem to like to watch things that are graphic and gory. It probably goes back to Neanderthals watching a lion kill a gazelle, and saying, ‘Oh, there’s a bloody thing going on over there, that’s interesting.’ We seem to respond to watching violence.  Maybe not all of us, but a lot of people do. Look at the dilemma that Rene [Russo]’s character is in as a news director. Her ratings are based on what she shows, and the more blood you show, the more ratings you’re going to get. I think my biggest hope, at the end of the film, is that people might say, ‘I am one of those people who watches those things on TV. That doesn’t make me a bad person, but what does that say about me? Why am strangely connected with Lou? Why do I find what he does interesting, and why am I not walking out of the theatre at this point? Because what he’s doing is so reprehensiIble. We really don’t judge him, and in fact, we go out of her way to celebrate what he does, or to legitimise what he does.

Q: Has your own view on news changed during the shooting?

A: No. My view before I started the film and my view now is the same. I used to be a journalist. I used to work for Variety, a number of years ago, so I’m interested in journalism, but I’m aware that in the United States, a number of decades ago, networks decided that news departments had to make a profit, and historically they did not have to make a profit. I feel that once news departments are given the task of making a profit, news becomes entertainment, and I think we all lose something enormously important when that happened because rather than getting in-depth stories that educate us and Inform us, we get narratives built to sell a product. The narrative in Los Angeles, and I believe the narrative you’ll find in most local TV news, and Michael Moore touched on this in Bowling For Columbine, is a narrative of fear. It’s a very simple equation: if you’re not watching the station you’re in peril, because there are things outside that could kill you and your family, and if you don’t watch this, through the commercials, you’re not going to know about it. It’s a very powerful formula, and it’s very effective. That’s what drives the whole equation.

Q: Is this film commenting on the lack of privacy?

A: Well it's not dissimilar to TMZ and what the paparazzi do. What Lou does is really the news version of what paparazzi do for entertainment, and I think the line gets very blurred in there. With that kind of coverage people can get hurt. People can get killed, and then you film it.

Q: Lou seems to represent millions of unemployed young people, who are increasingly asked to go further and further to prove their value.

A: You’ve absolutely nailed the genesis of the character. I’m very aware that there are tens of millions of young people around the world who are unemployed, whether it’s globalisation or corporatisation, or whatever you want to call it. Young people just have very little hope of meaningful careers. It’s internships that don’t pan out, it’s no health insurance, and I’m very aware of that. I started with Lou as a character who desperately wanted work, and he gives a speech to the salvage yard owner early on, and in the self-help world of the unemployed, that’s called an ‘elevator speech’. The reason it’s called that is, some day you may find yourself in an elevator with someone who can give you a job, so you should be able to sell yourself in 30 seconds. Lou wanted the salvage yard job. That would have been a great job for him. He’s not out to hurt people. He’s just a desperate young man, and there are many desperate young people out there who are being forced, I think, to make decisions and take jobs that they normally wouldn’t.

Q: In many ways, this is a success story. Are you criticising a world in which Lou can be rewarded for this kind of work?

A: You could look at it as a criticism, but I actually tried to make an objective portrayal of what I believe to be true. I feel that if you came back at the end of ten years, Lou would be the owner of a major corporation. I believe that many people who rise to the head of multinational corporations make decisions that are far worse than anything that Lou does, and Lou will be well equipped to survive in that world. When you can take the pensions away from 40,000 people, and then go and buy a 400-foot yacht that, to me, is far more criminal than anything that Lou does. Lou will be well served, from his experience night-crawling, in the corporate boardroom, and he will thrive. For better or for worse – and I guess you could call it criticism – but I tried to portray what I believe to be true.

Q: Have the real night-crawlers seen the film yet?

A: Oh yeah, Howard saw it with his brothers – he works with his two brothers – and they loved it. They loved it because it was accurate. It was very important to them that it was accurate. They’ll say, ‘We don’t do that kind of stuff,’ but they wanted the police codes to be right, they wanted their jargon to be right. They said, ‘If we’re involved, it has to be real. You have to really show them what it’s like.’ It is utterly real. Everything we show, Bill Paxton’s character, people like that – I encountered them. This is the world they live in. Tonight they’ll go out. They’ll go out seven days a week.

Nightcrawler hits NZ Cinemas on November 27th

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