Monday, November 16, 2009

The Waters of Mars

Just when I'd started to think that RTD had run out of steam, based on the previous two Doctor Who specials, which had their moments but were overall, kinda naff, tonight I watched - and loved - The Waters of Mars. Brrr. What a cracker of an episode. It's scary to see how far hubris can humble a man, and I think we're about to see just that in the next two specials, which The Waters of Mars has set up beautifully.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Things currently rocking my world (or not, as the case may be)

I had the pleasure of seeing the opening night of Bangarra Dance Theatre's 20th anniversary celebration, Fire - A Retrospective at The Arts Centre on Friday night, and god, what an amazing show it was. The only other Bangarra production I've seen previously was last year's Mathinna, and it didn't especially impress me - it felt far too literal a work. But in Fire, the company's memorable and remarkable fusion of contemporary and traditional Indigenous dance traditions are beautifully and memorably showcased.

The production opens with a traditional dance from the Yirrakala Community performed by cultural consultant Kathy Balngayngu Marika and the full company ensemble, while the penultimate work is a gloriously euphoric piece from the Torres Straight Islands. Sandwiched between these pieces are a remarkable range of dances, some haunting in their beauty, others confronting in the sense of anguish they swiftly and viscerally convey. And given that this was a greatest hits package, it was a remarkably consistent and coherent affair.

Following on soon after the traditional dances which open the show, Deborah Brown is graceful and beautiful in 'Brolga', from Bangarra's 2001 work Corroboree. Thereafter we plunge into four pieces from 1995's Ochres - a groundbreaking work in its time, and still a remarkable encapsulation of the company's signature style - including the masculine power of 'Black', danced with vigour and skill by Jhuny-Boy Borja, Leonard Mickelo, Daniel Riley McKinley and Perun Bonser.

Next comes a segment exploring Indigenous social issues:, including the harrowing 'Victims' from 2001, in which four men writhe and curse under spotlights, evoking abuse and anger, rage and shame; and the poignant and hauntingly beautiful 'Blankets' from 2002.

After interval, an equally impressive and exhuberent sequence of dance works was performed, including a touching tribute to the late Russell Page, one of the major creative forces behind Bangarra in its early years, together with his brothers David (who composes the scores for much of the company's work) and Stephen, Bangarra's choreographer and Artistic Director.

Fire - A Retrospective is a stirring work: vivid, passionate, tender and angry, graceful and powerful, startling and sensual. In an already excellent year of contemporary dance works, it is a truly remarkable production, and I urge you to experience it as soon as you can.

Bangarra Dance Theatre's Fire - A Retrospective at The Arts Centre Playhouse until November 14. Bookings online or call 1300 182 183.

Paranormal Activity

I've been seeing a lot of films in the last couple of weeks - six in the last fortnight, to be exact, most of which I discussed briefly in my last blog post (I might write a more detailed review of Prime Mover later in the week, if I find time).

The most recent was a preview screening tonight of the US independent horror film Paranormal Activity, a low budget and low-fi take on the haunted house story. Much hyped, I'm sorry to say that I was very disappointed when I walked out of the cinema at the end of this evening's screening.

Directed by Oren Peli, and reputedly made for just US $15,000, the film stars Katie Featherston as Katie, a student who is the target of an increasingly active and malevolent haunting, and Micha Sloat as her affluent boyfriend Micha, who at the start of the film has splashed out on some expensive AV equipment in order to document whatever is going bump in the night in their two-story San Diego home.

While it's certainly the marketing sensation of the year, there's little that's clever or original about Paranormal Activity. Performances are weak, there's little or no internal logic and consistency to the story and its characters, and the film telegraphs its frights to a significant degree. I'll admit that the first few times spooky things started happening I was quite creeped out, but once I identified the same deep bass sound on the soundtrack each time something scary was about to happen, which serves to alert its audience to stop texting/making out and pay attention, I stopped being tense and actually started to get a bit bored.

Paranormal Activity is a ghost story for the You Tube generation. It's fun, briefly, but it's pretty dumb, as are its all-too-convincingly banal characters. See it with an audience and enjoy the screams and shrieks from the easily scared sitting near you, but don't expect too much. This is, after all, a film that gives away its allegedly 'shocking' ending in its own trailer.

Paranormal Activity opens nationally across Australia on December 3.

Rating: Two sporadically startled shrieks out of five.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Life, the universe, entertainment and finances

Normal programming will return as soon as I can drag myself away from catching up on season three of Heroes. I skipped season two altogether on the advice of several friends, and jumped into season three yesterday, only to find myself watching eight episodes back to back (my excuse being that it was hot outside and, being a delicate, retiring sort, I needed to stay indoors).

There's all sorts of things I should be doing instead - reading through the 273 emails in my inbox, planning my radio show for the next few weeks, listening to the pile of CDs I've been sent and the masses of unread media releases that are building up into a dangerous heap on the coffee table, lugging a pile of washing to the nearest laundrette, vaccumming, dishes, etc - but I think today all I can be fucked doing is watching more TV.

It's a bit indicative of my life these last few weeks since I quit MCV, and I'm justifying it by claiming that it's some much needed downtime.

In the last two weeks I've devoured three new Torchwood novels, which is amazing in itself - usually it takes me two weeks to read a single book given how busy I normally am. Of the three, my favourite was James Goss' cracking yarn, Risk Assessment - some great plot twists and an extremely memorable new character - while the weakest was the short story collection Consequences, although the latter did feature one excellent story, Andrew Cartmel's 'The Wrong Hands'.

I've also seen several films, including three at the inaugural Nordic Film Festival: the wartime thriller Flame & Citron, the cerebral gothic horror flick Sauna, and the exquisite and entertaining The Man Who Loved Ingve (pictured above), the most refreshing coming out film I've seen in ages. I've linked to reviews of all three films I wrote for Arts Hub, but as ever you'll need to be Arts Hub members to read them.

But here's a sneak preview if you're not an Arts Hub member, and as a bonus, each review excerpt contains a link to the official site of each movie in case you want to learn more. Never say I don't spoil my blog readers!

Flame & Citron: "Less a film about noble partisans fighting the good fight, and more about the way even the noblest of intentions can lead one astray in the fog of war, Flame & Citron is a dense, dark and ambitious tale, and one of the most successful (and most expensive) Danish films to date."

Sauna: "Annila has crafted a very European horror story in Sauna, with the emphasis on suspense and atmosphere rather than shock and gore. He successfully utilizes all the elements of the film’s broad palate, from the central characters’ sibling rivalry and the all-too-fresh tensions of a 25-year long war, through to a palpable sense of unease and decay and the gothic motifs of the ghost story. The film’s production design is visceral and vivid, and performances are excellent – especially Ville Virtanen as the war-haunted Eerik Spore, whose spectacles hide the self-loathing eyes of the habitual killer."

The Man Who Loved Ingve: "Featuring charming performances from some of Norway’s best young actors, and incisive direction from newcomer Stian Kristiansen (who was still studying at Sweden’s National Film School in Lillehammer at the time he was appointed to helm the production) The Man Who Loved Yngve avoids clichés and sentimentality while telling a fresh and authentic story about adolescent life. Characters are appropriately inarticulate, avoiding the faux-adult teenage dialogue depicted in such staples of US drama as Dawson’s Creek, The OC and more recent productions such as Gossip Girl; and the pangs and pains of adult life are fleetingly though accurately portrayed."

I've also seen the new Australian film about love, dreams and trucks by writer/director David Caesar, Prime Mover, which I wanted to like but didn't - to quote Don Groves from SBS Films, it's a 'straight-forward, cliché-riddled tale' - and writer/director Roland Emmerich's disaster-porn epic 2012 - which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would: it's big, it's dumb, but it's surprisingly fun.

I've also been stressing about my finances, since I don't have a new source of income to replace the money I was making working two days a week at MCV; and I've been worrying about how much I've been drinking while I've been off work - it's getting a bit excessive, in all honesty. That said, I guess I can only fight one vice at a time, and since I kicked a major speed habit earlier this year I probably shouldn't beat myself up too much. However, when I do get paid next week I think it might be time to buy some running shoes and take up some serious exercise, since I don't want to end up like my old man, who dropped dead at only 47. That's just five years away from where I'm standing...

Anyway, since I've been meaning to properly update this blog for a couple of weeks, I'm actually pretty happy with this morning's output. That's one thing I can cross off my long list of things to do, which means it's time to watch a few more episodes of Heroes!