Sunday, December 25, 2016

Chilling for Christmas

It's Chriiistmaaaaas!

I hope you, dear Reader, are having a whale of a time, perhaps with friends and family, feasting, carousing, and drinking winters wolves from the harsh, bitter Northen Hemisphere midwinter. Brrr! I say. Brrr!!

Of course not Brrr. It's been a lovely balmy summer's weekend here at the Monkeyhouse with a blessing of rain on the Friday, a good sunny day's gardening on Saturday in anticipation of a family BBQ for Boxing Day. And as for Christmas Day, well!

Long-time readers of course will know that I have something of a bee in my bonnet about the Christmas musical fare. There are three kinds, ranging from the almost-too-appropriate (your actual Christmas carol about Jesus and whatnot), on-point songs about Christmas (Deck Those Halls, We Wish You A Messy Kwazmuss, and why does nobody sing Good King Wenceslas anymore? It's historical fact, people!) and then, hopefully somewhere in Hell where they belong, those seasonal pretenders which don't even attempt to reference Christmas at all but sneak in the door by virtue of being about ... snow (Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bell Rock and its accursed bob-sledding namesake.)

But look, I do like some well-chosen Christmas music, and the Simian household this year were left wandering the streets confused and bewildered when our friend Al wasn't able to produce an annual dedication to the Church of Snoopy this year. 

But amidst all the lazy Christmas covers album cash-ins, some  people do try, bless them. And even here in Aotearoa in 2016 there were attempts to create a localised Christmas song. Noble failures to hit number one, both TV3's Denis Marsh thingy and Air NZ's rather fun Julian Dennison/Ronan Keating Summer Wonderland gag. Summer Christmas is a hard chestnut to crack, and for me there were three contenders for this year's yuletide singalong:

So, in descending order of choice the songs were:

3. White Wine in the Sun - Tim Minchin

A modern Australian miracle, which featured on Al's Xmas Album from last year. It gets me nearly every time, but I'd not known about it before Al let me know about it (and I seemt o be the last person in the world to know it at all), so moving ever closer to home:

2. Michael Fay - Able Tasmans

Which isn't really a Christmas song, but does feature the chorus "It was Christmas Day, when Michael Fay gave his money away/And Jesus dont have a lot to say - we'd all forgotten his birthday"
It makes the list because it and its parent album hit the big 25 this year, and Lord knows, Hey Spinner is still a great listen, but not quite Christmassy enough (though very singable), so the number one is this:

1. Christmas Chimes - The Chills

Very local, very much on point, and maybe MAYBE a contender for this year's Al-bum, here's a fitting celebration of Christmas comforts for everyone, whatever your particular hemisphere, from Martin Phillipps' Dunedin ensemble.

This is a remastered version from the band's 1989 BBC sessions and was intended for an unrealised seasonal EP reputedly titled Silver Bells. There's still time, Marty! Do the album for next December and a NZ first!

In the mean-time, a very Merry Christmas to all of you at home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Fourth Awakens

Rogue One, a Star Wars Story (d. Gareth Edwards, 2016) 

Well, I went and saw a new Star War tonight with my brother in law, as yet another installment in our 'due diligence' series of paternal gazumphing our boys' keenness to be part of the new Disney soft reboot shuffle. It was pretty good. Fantastic in places, a bit slow in others, a little wobbly in the plot department. Needed editing - particularly in the first half, where the movie was mainly concerned wth introducing its large cast and getting them to where they need to be in order that the main story begin.

The Star Wars universe was always classic Space Opera thanks to geography-busting hyperspace, but Rogue One's storytelling expediency has our heroes reach just where they need to be within five minutes of landing anywhere. Maybe, perhaps for the choppy first half, this is just as well, because it seems there are a lot of ducks to be set in a row in this movie before the action-packed second half gets into gear.

 That's a curious thing for this movie and its place in the Star Wars movieverse. I remember when Star Wars Insider magazine used to run a semi-regular column dedicated to readers who had found a friend who (gasp!) Had Never Seen Star Wars. That was... maybe fifteen years ago? In 2016 I think we should be able to decare that quest run to its logical conclusion. Nobody has not seen Star Wars now, surely. And yet despite its existence as a crowd-pleasing filler, Rogue One does go out of its way to explain, point out, and generally colour in the gaps for anyone who isn't already aware of the film's general story and maybe why there's no Wookie in this film.

Given that, this is (to me) the second attempt by filmmakers old enough to have at least lived through A New Hope's arrival in cinemas to pretty much tell the story from a different angle.
I suspect, in fact, that Rogue One is kin to The Force Awakens in both being irresistible attempts to re-tell A New Hope while 'improving' on the latter's limitations. A broader scope, greater diversity of races and species, more spectacle, a less lumbering baddie.

But once the story kicks in it does crack along, and though it's a well-worn observation, new droid K2SO is a fun addition - a sardonic and blackly comic foil with an intriguing hang-up. 

K2SO. Magnificent bastard.
K2SO is in places a practical effect, that approach so championed in SFX these days. There are of course two characters almost entirely reconstructed through CGI ... but as for finding our way out of Uncanny Valley, I think we're still not there, yet. But we've made good inroads, and maybe within five years we might actually be there. Suffice it to say, I think they really cracked it in A New Hope.

Should you see Rogue One? Yes, go and see it, and enjoy it. I was relieved that between the first trailer and the final cut some changes had been made. Not all reshoots need be a disaster, and it appears a different edit has done wonders to Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso, a character who really didn't appeal at all to me in those first teasers. The supporting cast are pretty good, and Ben Mendelsohn's Imperial foil a nice addition.

Still not sure whether I'm on board for Han Solo, though.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

'Evil' Lies Below

Waihinahina Park is a serene spot, located behind Woodridge and skimming the Horokiwi skyline. It commands gorgeous views of Wellington harbour, and is a lovely (if frequently windy) spot to exercise your dog, take in the scenery or just park and rest.
There's still a good standing of juvenile native bush about the spot, and a good amount of birdlife has taken to the area for its wetland look (there's even a hidden waterfall visible from the Hutt Road) The great thing is, there's little chance of it being developed in the near future, thankfully, because in its former life it was a landfill.
Yes, readers. And what's more, quite possibly under this spot likely lie the mouldering remains of a good number of  vintage TV, local and international, Doctor Who included. New Zealand often being the end of the line for 'bicycled' BBC programmes around the colonies. No longer required back home and with storage space also in limited supply at the old Broadcasting House, many now-lost episodes including, notoriously, Evil of the Daleks were bandsawed and thrown in the tip. It was a different time.

The hunt for lost and missing-thought-destroyed episodes of Doctor Who continues to this day, although it's ben  quiet activity of one man and a small army of helpers at this stage. This year there was even serious talk of diggers being used to unearth known locations for dumps containing cans and film. The old Johnsonvile tip is, apparently, a known location - though one assumes it's way down the list and, if the tip in question did become Waihinahina Park, then maybe it might be best for those concerned to leave the keys to the JCB at the depot and just enjoy the drive to this damp, green spot and its abundance of fresh air.