About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

09 July 2017

Movie: The Promise

The Promise is a bit of a complicated movie - of two facets - a semi documentary on the Armenian genocide; and a complicated romantic story involving two different love triangles. 

On a cinematic portrayal of the Armenian genocide; it is a stunning story that manages to easily show how it comes to arise, the complications on reporting on it, and the challenges on trying to save survivors. In this aspect, The Promise, really delivers with great performances from the cast in this regard. 

The love triangle however, makes little sense, distracts from the movie and really cheapens an otherwise great story-telling feat. The weakest parts of the movie, by far, are the complications arising from the love triangle; and there is really no need for this. In fact, the entire storyline could have hinged on the main characters being good friends - one does not need to be lovers in order to try save the persecuted! It is a distraction, that really damages an otherwise less reported story.

30 June 2017

Kakadu - The Musical

A bit of a late review; Joburg Theatre hosted the Nigerian musical - Kakadu - as part of its Africa Month celebrations. The musical is set shortly after Nigeria's independence and charts the decent from democracy to military dictatorship and the Biafran war; a civil war that tears the multi-ethnic community apart. 

The story itself traces a few different characters representing various groups in Nigeria, who get together and party in the popular nightclub, Kakadu. At first, without the context of the various names, it is difficult to understand the differences of the various groups; but the program was very detailed and helpful in this regard. The music - mostly American and British hits from the 1960s - leads a very energetic performance; with a show time of over 2 and half hours. The performances were superb, and was a great showcase of African story and theatrical performance.

For me, what was most interesting however, is that, despite the upbeat music and a love story of reconciliation across ethnic groups; the story is one of despair, as evidenced in the final song. That despite the massive human and mineral resources; how is it that the country has not progressed to that of a first world nation - and the lack of progress cannot just be laid at the foot of colonialism. Corruption, nepotism and ethnic strife are big stumbling blocks, which cost a lot and have very little to do with global super power interventions. A similar story is emerging in South Africa; and the story has a lot of alarm bells worth heeding.

17 June 2017

Decoda and The JPO

As the JPO is slowly regaining its feet, the new CEO and Artistic Director, Bongani Tembe, has really brought some interesting musical performances to the table. The Decoda ensemble - a group of 9 musicians affiliated to Carnegie Hall in New York, is one such example. Decoda are in South Africa for a 3 week tour - with shows still scheduled in Durban and Cape Town in the coming weeks.

The concert started with the debut performance of a commissioned piece by South African composer Matthijs van Dijk, Drop - featuring all 9 ensemble musicians and the orchestra. It's a relatively short piece - about 8 mins long, focused around the word "drop" - including water and electronic music references. It was upbeat, fun and very different to the rest of the program; and very enjoyable.

In contrast to previous JPO performances, the second piece was performed purely by Decoda - Lutoslawski's Dance Preludes. While originally written for clarinet and piano, the ensemble has rearranged it for the ensemble; and as noted in the introduction, the arrangement highlights the different instruments in the ensemble. The piece was far longer than the advertised 7 minutes in the program - and well worth the extra minutes :)

The final part of the first half  was Haydn's Symphonia Concertante, featuring the violin, cello, oboe and basson players of Decoda. This is probably the first Haydn symphony that I really enjoyed - again something really different to normal JPO performances; even though this is very much a classical music piece.

After the break, conductor Yasuo Shinozaki, led the orchestra through one of the best performances of Beethoven's 5th Symphony I have heard. It is probably my favourite classical music piece - and the tempo of the final movement was just amazing. It capped off an amazing concert - and things are really looking up for the JPO.

03 June 2017

Movie: Silence

Martin Scorsese's passion project spanning over 25 years, Silence, tracks the mission of two Jesuit priests in Japan. It's a beautifully shot movie - with stunning cinematography -  but it is difficult to judge the movie beyond its visual merits.

Primarily - this is a movie about faith and culture; and about changes in both. The story takes place at a time where Christians are persecuted for their faith; as the Japanese traditionalists see the usurping religion replacing, not only Buddhism, but also the traditions of Japan. This resistance is itself not investigated in detail - but rather, the persecution and the hiding from this persecution becomes the centre of this story; leading to torture and death - of both villagers and priests. 

My own interpretation is that this is a movie about Christianity (and by extent, Western civilisation)'s cultural superiority - about how people would rather convert, suffer and die, rather than stay in their own culture. It is unsettling and ultimately unsatisfactory - because in the end; there is very little looking at why - why would they convert? why are the officials unhappy? 

22 May 2017

Hamlet

It's probably Shakespeare's most famous play, and although I had seen snippets of performances before, this was the first time I had seen a full performance. The play itself is set on a ship - historically one of the earliest known performances of the play - which means that we are actually watching a play on the performance of a play which also happens to have a play in the performance.

The premise of the location leads to a stunningly minimal set - a smallish stage with a few crates - but this stage is surrounded by water - which is brilliantly used as part of the performance. The cast itself is only 6 persons - each playing more than one role - with a standout performance by Marcel Meyer as Hamlet (and the ghost of his dead father) - and the channeling of the ghost as a possession was a touch of genius!

09 May 2017

Reboot of the Rebooted Top Gear - Season 24

I did not enjoy Season 23, and The Grand Tour resurrected a lot of the magic of the old Top Gear. The reboot of the reboot managed to resurrect some of the old formula to good effect. It got rid of the rally cross, and brought back the old lap; albeit with an "everyday" sports car in the form of the Toyota 86. Matt le Blanc is an excellent anchor - and channels the James May weirdness in bringing heavy machinery for amusement. There are some crazy challenges - not as off beat as Clarkson shows - but still interesting - such as the taxi challenge in Kazakstan and playing Pac Man.  Extra Gear continued and brought a lot more behind the scenes views - which greatly increased my appreciation on what it takes to actually film an episode of Top Gear. 

All in all, Season 24 of Top Gear manages to resurrect the show - and it is more of a driving, car show than 3 blokes having fun. It's more balanced from the absurdities of the Clarkson era; a whole lot better than Season 23 - so there are signs of hope once more.

29 April 2017

Movie: The Accountant

The Accountant seems to be tailor made for Ben Afleck (or Keanu Reeves) - an autistic savant numbers person, who happens to be the tax guy for the mob, and basically does not have any emotional responses to most situations in the movie. The plot line is barely believable, but does manage to have some good action scenes; and while the autism drives a large part of the story it seems more of a crutch to make something more of a rather ordinary movie plot. It is fun though - so at least it has some entertainment value.

Movie: Hell or High Water

I wasn't sure that I would enjoy a pseudo-western, set in rural Texas - but Hell or High Water managed to convert a story of two bank robbing brothers to a story with depth examining a lot of social issues of poor (white) America. This is really a story about loan sharks (dressed as bankers), stagnant wages, gun culture, joblessness, abusive parents and the impact on their grown children, greed and Jeff Bridges in a brilliant performance of a cranky, but great, detective. It's a story that you start rooting for the bad guys (or at least one of the brothers); and the story somehow manages to achieve some sort of balance between heartache, justice and no-result ... a compromise that no one likes but strangely seems to work.

Movie: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is often commented as Mel Gibson's redemption - a story of a conscientious objector, who refuses to touch a rifle, but still serves (as a medic) in the front lines in the Pacific Front in WW2, and manages to save many soldiers in very dire circumstances. And while the movie is does, rightfully, portray Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) in a heroic light - the treatment of the enemy as subhuman, without any redeeming qualities, in my mind does nothing to redeem Mel Gibson. Yes, this is a war movie, written by the victors - but for all of the heroics of Desmond Doss, there was no righteous side.