World-class University Choirs to perform at Baxter Theatre Centre

World-class university choirs from Yale and UCT will join in concert in a once-off performance at the Baxter Concert Hall on Wednesday 17 July 2013. The UCT Choir and renowned Whiffenpoofs of Yale University will perform excerpts from their respective repertoires, in a concert supported by the Gordon Institute of Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) and the South African College of Music (SACM).

Every year, 14 senior Yale men are selected to be in the Whiffenpoofs, the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group.
Founded in 1909, the “Whiffs” began as a senior quartet that met for weekly concerts at Mory’s Temple Bar, the famous Yale tavern. The group has become one of Yale University’s most celebrated traditions, gathering a notable audience including Ronald Reagan, George Bush I and II, Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama. The group has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center, and for events such as The World Series, Saturday Night Live, The West Wing, and NBC’s The Sing Off. Under the baton of conductor Andy Berry the Whiffenpoofs perform throughout the year within the United States, and travel internationally during selected periods.

The UCT Choir is the most diverse musical group at the University of Cape Town. It is a fully student-run ensemble, welcoming students from every faculty and discipline, as well as alumni and external members. The fifty-person choir, currently under the direction of Kurt Haupt, was founded in 1985 and plays an active role in the musical life of Cape Town, also touring nationally.

The concert will take place on Wednesday 17 July 2013, at 20:15 at the Baxter Concert Hall in Cape Town. Tickets cost R60 (adults) and R30 (pensioners, students and learners) and are available through Computicket.

Song for Marion Movie Review: An Unfinished, Soulful Song

Unfinished SongSong for Marion, also known as Unfinished Song, is a beautiful portrait of humanity in all its bashful inadequacy and soulful hilarity. Films about someone ailing are often difficult to watch as we suffer through the pain, anguish and anticipation of the end. Yet, Song for Marion is one of those gems that sparkles, despite being encrusted in all the dirt of life and death.

The story follows the journey of Arthur (Stamp), a grumpy old man, whose gloom has sucked the joy out of his marriage and family. Being prone to melancholy and pessimism is a difficult and lonely path, yet one that Arthur embraces along with the sad truth that his wife is dying. Marion (Redgrave), on the other hand, is a spirited woman whose zest for life almost makes up for Arthur’s hermit tendencies. However, when she passes away, Arthur takes it upon himself to take her spot in an unconventional local choir.

Music has a way of getting to the heart of matters and while Song for Marion has plenty of funny one hit wonders from yesteryear, it balances them out with some truly soulful solos. Balance is something that this film gets right, managing to keep the drama in check with some solid performances, while keeping us amused with plenty of situational comedy and fun.

The recognisable starring cast includes: Terrence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton. Stamp has been in the business for decades, having earned a supporting Oscar nomination for Billy Budd in 1962. More recently, you’ll recognise him from glorified cameos in films like Wanted and Yes Man. Song for Marion is a lead for Stamp, one that will put him back on the map, thanks to some great casting.

Then Vanessa Redgrave delivers a fine performance as titular star, Marion. She takes a fragile woman and turns her into a brave and cheerful character, whose wisdom and peace shine through. It’s an integral setup role, one that Redgrave shares with Stamp as a co-lead, before making way for a fresh-faced and exuberant Gemma Arterton as Elizabeth.

Spling MoviesWhile as formulaic in structure as many concert-based comedy dramas, Song for Marion manages to retain its sweet and touching core without dipping into melodrama. The performances are composed, the direction from Paul Andrew Williams isn’t heavy-handed and everything is just able to slip into place as we journey with a disgruntled and restless man in mourning.

All in all, Song for Marion is an entertaining and heartwarming music drama with some beautifully bittersweet musical moments that bring tears of joy and sorrow. It’s these moments that really bring the film to life, anchoring and capturing the essence of these complex beings. While quietly powerful, we welcome the sweet relief offered by dabs of comedy to lighten the overall tone.

The bottom line: Splendid

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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New pop-up design store opening 7 July

Fly Me to the Moon Movie Review: …and only land 2 1/2 stars

Fly Me to the MoonUn Plan Parfait also known as Fly Me to the Moon is a French romantic comedy directed by Pascal Chaumeil. The film brings Dany Boon (Welcome to the Sticks) together with Diane Kruger, who is yet to leave a lasting impression on audiences, despite her model features and impressive list of credits.

A successful woman tries to fast-forward a second time lucky family curse by divorcing a stranger in order to marry her boyfriend without any doubts. Unfortunately, this concept comedy hinges on a make-or-break conceit that doesn’t pan out. You can’t deny the enthusiasm of the performances and film-makers, but Un Plan Parfait is overcooked… reveling in a convoluted story by playing up contrived comic moments with hard-boiled characters.

It’s a star vehicle for Diane Kruger, who is best known for supporting roles in films like Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure and Troy. While she’s a beautiful woman, she has more of a flair for drama and just seems a little out of her depth as a co-lead in a comedy. Dany Boon thrives on over-the-top comedy and has a natural charm that grows on you.

The characters are interesting but unlikable for the first half of the film, which distances and derails much of the comedy as one extreme decision supersedes another. We’re entertained by the Romancing the Stone type whirlwind adventure, but repelled by the ulterior motives of our animated ice queen as she tries to trap a frank travel guide writer. The second half aims for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days style comedy as the plot sets and obstacles present themselves.

Spling MoviesWhile Un Plan Parfait’s comes across as a bright-eyed and rip-roaring yarn, it just doesn’t hit the right notes. “Hearing” it via a family gathering does excuse some of the embellishments, but it defies logic and “just going with it” becomes increasingly difficult. As a “romcom” you know the outcome and Chaumeil makes this one all about the ride.

We’re transported from Kenya to Moscow, sampling local cuisine, culture and ceremony. The underlying travelogue helps propel the couple’s misadventures and the film’s continual barrage of comedy ranging from situational to slapstick does improve with time, but it just doesn’t amend casting and foundational problems with the story.

We’re left with a fun and largely entertaining adventure with a dull comedic edge that offers strong production values and intermittent laughs. It’s great to see Diane Kruger branching out into new genre territory and Dany Boon has magnetism, but Un Plan Parfait seems to fall short when it comes to delivering laughs and heartwarming romance.

The bottom line: Overcooked

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Spud 2: The Madness Continues Movie Review: Fun, fun, fun…

Spud 2 Movie ReviewSpud 2: The Madness Continues is the much anticipated follow-up to Spud, based on the popular series of boarding school misadventures by John Van De Ruit. Another year has passed in the life of young John “Spud” Milton. He may have moved up the pecking order and landed a regular spot on the Crazy Eight, but the girl trouble, boarding house shenanigans and parental woes have only just begun.

The first film introduced us to boarding school life, the South Africa of 1990, an array of colourful characters and the growing pains of our hero, “Spud”. Spud 2: The Madness Continues… does exactly what its title suggests and picks up where Spud left off with most of the original cast reprising their roles. Young John Milton is our narrator, taking us through the paces of the life of a “Spud” with George Orwell’s 1984 as the undercurrent.

Troye Sivan is the title star and delivers a more subdued and angst-filled performance. He maintains the same mix of vulnerable teenage curiosity and longing for love and acceptance, with most of the exposition done by way of voice-over. John Cleese returns as the “Guv”, a popular English teacher and voice for the students, who delivers a stalwart performance with some of the film’s funniest lines. His mere star presence is enough to elevate the overall tone of the production.

Jeremy Crutchley and Jason Cope make up a two-man team as the “Glock” and “Sparerib”, representing the rest of the staff. Their dynamic as principal and housemaster echoes Blackadder Goes Forth’s General Melchett and Captain Darling. When “Sparerib” isn’t the brunt of the pranks, he’s out to exact revenge on hooligans, using the prefects as an internal police force.

Spling MoviesAaron McIlroy and Julie Summers are Spud’s embarrassing parents. They keep us up-to-speed with the domestic politics of the time and their dilapidated car almost deserves an acting credit of it’s own. The two make a wonderful team with Summers playing comic foil to McIlroy’s hilarious expressions, physical comedy and clownish demeanor. You get the impression that Donovan Marsh had to reel McIlroy in a bit to ground his energy.

The Crazy Eight return in full force with Sven Ruygrok and Josh Goddard leading the charge as “Rambo” and “Mad Dog”. Much of Spud 2 revolves around their wanting to literally leave their mark on the school as they plot to get rid of “Sparerib” and go one up on the prefects. The rest of the gang includes: Blessing Yaba as “Fatty”, Tom Burne as “Rain Man”, Bryon Langley as Simon and Travis Hornsby as “Boggo”.

Then, it wouldn’t be a Spud movie without the beautiful girls. Genna Blair returns as an indecisive “Mermaid”, Charlbi Dean Kriek as a sultry Amanda with an aptly titled cameo from Tanit Phoenix as Eve. Spud’s love life gets complicated when “Mermaid” drops him for a good-looking surfer guy, played by Chris Fisher, while Amanda gets up close and personal with Spud against one of the prefect’s wishes.

Spud 2: The Madness Continues has a burgeoning cast of crazy, larger-than-life characters. The joy is in reliving the school days in all the mischief, heartache, tragedy and fun. When Donovan Marsh isn’t delivering a fun Stand By Me style hot dog eating contest, he’s delving into old school traditions, teenage angst and anti-authoritarian schoolboy shenanigans.

The material ranges from kinky to rebellious, yet there’s a naive tone underlying all the comedy and drama, with a likable tour guide. Spud’s journey has the triumphs and tragedies every step of the way, is lightly amusing, entertaining and for the most part, fun-loving. The storytelling and character intersections do most of the work, keeping things upbeat as we’re given a slice-of-school-life.

The Spud sequel has carried over most of the film-makers from the first film with cinematographer Lance Gewer, production designer Tom Gubb and editor Megan Gill on-board. This gives the look and feel of the film a consistency, but for logistical reasons, Spud 2 was shot at SACS in Cape Town instead of on-location at Michaelhouse in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands.

Donovan Marsh does a great job of wielding such a large cast, giving each character their own space, while keeping Troye Sivan as the figurehead. Fans of the Spud series will love to see their favourite characters come to life, but something seems to be missing amid all the pubescent peril… something beyond the low budget opening credits and lack of ‘91 nostalgia.

The problem is that there’s not enough depth of character. Spud does a lot of fun fly-on-the-wall storytelling, but by trying to accommodate such a sprawling cast with such a light tone, much of the heart and soul is lost in the process. While it’s an entertaining romp, it doesn’t quite connect with the audience as much as Spud did with the “Guv” in the first installation, making for a fun-loving yet fleeting misadventure.

The bottom line: Fun

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Interview with Matthew Sanna, 3D artist for ZANEWS

What motivated you to become a 3D artist?

Well I first started by doing realistic drawings and paintings and I always wanted the end product to look as realistic and 3D as possible. I wanted my work to have a soft and organic feel instead of hard drawn lines. I found myself exploring 3D images so instead of only using pencils and paint brushes, I would mold the object into a 3D image and capture the same essence using my hands.

Tell us about a few of the highlights of working for ZANEWS?

I’ve been working at ZANEWS just over 2 years now, and one of the main things is to come up with new characters that will make the show funny and enjoyable. So when I’m asked to make a new puppet, I get to work with clay where I can make 3D sculptures. This however is not based on realistic sculpture, but caricature faces of well known celebrities and politicians. I do a lot more than just sculpting. After my sculpt has been approved I make molds of the sculptures out of fiberglass and resin – mold making is also one of my passions, but my favourite part is after the whole process of making a puppet has been completed, when I can airbrush and finish the face to make it come alive.

What is your favourite piece of work to date?

I’ve recently completed a 1m x 80cm painting of my Fiance using oil paints. The reason why I love it is because when you look at the completed painting  even though its been painted on a flat surface and has a high contrast, I can still achieve that 3D effect.

Any tips for aspiring 3D artists wanting to get into the industry?

If you are an artist you have been given the ability to create. Even if you are just starting out or if you’ve been doing it for years, you should always keep practicing to improve on your skill. I believe every art form should create a feeling  – whether you are a realistic, abstract or expressive artist. Always work towards that feeling. And keep doing what you love to do.

What other creative work are you involved in?

Currently I’m not involved in any other creative work. I generally like to work on my own things for myself, but I would love to share my artwork with others whether it sells or not. I would also like to teach others how to do what I know.

Stand Up Guys Movie Review: Senior Reunion Romp Misfire

The first thing you’ll notice about Stand Up Guys is the legendary cast starring Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, with Alan Arkin as a catalyst supporting act. Each of these actors can make a film soar almost single-handedly and have developed a following and filmography most actors would trade their childhoods for. While Stand Up Guys leans heavily on its big guns, it will go down as a misfire.

While Fisher Stevens won an Oscar for Best Documentary as producer on The Cove, Stand Up Guys is only his second feature film, after Just a Kiss. The recognisable actor-turned-director has a wealth of experience in front and behind the camera and the mere fact that these stars signed on, means they have confidence in his ability to turn a debut screenwriter’s “The Hangover for old buggers” crime comedy caper into a hit.

Stand Up Guys picks up 25 years after a failed robbery as three criminals reunite. Val (Pacino) leaves prison to be greeted by old friend and partner-in-crime, Doc (Walken). There’s so much to say, yet so little, as the two old stags hit up brothels, bars and diners for a night on the town. However, the reunion is bittersweet as Doc builds up the courage to fulfill a 25-year-old vendetta on behalf of a mobster.

On paper, Stand Up Guys had loads of promise, but it just doesn’t click. While Christopher Walken and Al Pacino have charisma in their own right, they jar as co-leads. Perhaps the veteran actors were trying to give each other too much respect, space or limelight – dulling both old blades in the process. The bottom line is that it isn’t a snug fit and they spend most of the film trying to drum up some much-needed chemistry.

Spling MoviesAfter some embarrassing age inappropriate comedy and a bland “cameo” from Lucy Punch, things do improve when Alan Arkin enters the fray, taking the pressure off the duo for some three musketeer style banter and reliving the old days. Yet, the misadventure remains in second gear most of the film, not living up to the stag night endeavors of The Hangover and failing to capitalise on the inherent dramatic tension of its own crime drama premise.

For the most part we’re busy rooting for our stars to get it together, suffering mild entertainment as part of the waiting game. Alan Arkin does serve as the spark to get the comedy back on track, but pulls a Little Miss Sunshine, spoiling what could have been a late comeback.

From there, the tacky comedy aftertaste returns as the filmmakers play their trump card in an attempt to ramp up the heart of the story. A non-committal ending and a blur of middling entertainment later and you start to miss the stars who led you to watch the film in the first place.

One thing that will remain with you after watching Stand Up Guys is the name Addison Timlin. The young actress delivers an outstanding performance as a waitress, turning what little screen time she has into something really special. It’s not worth watching for Timlin’s contribution alone, but she certainly sweetens the pot.

The bottom line: Insipid

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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Poetry Reading: Janet Botes

Side Effects Movie Review: One Pill Can Change Everything…

Side EffectsAmerica’s over-medicated. Whether it’s the cold hard truth or a bitter pill in Hollywood, the trend has led Steven Soderbergh to take another jab in Side Effects. This, not long after the versatile Ocean’s Eleven director and Scott Z. Burns collaborated on Contagion, another thriller that takes a cutting look at the pharmaceutical industry.

In Side Effects, a woman’s life spirals out of control after her psychiatrist puts her onto a new drug with dire side effects. What starts as a tense drug company drama turns into an uneasy psychological thriller. Soderbergh’s social commentary on American culture sets up a smart drama about ethics and the bounds of responsibility for doctors and their patients, but this movie makes way for an old-fashioned thriller in the vein of Hitchcock. It’s difficult to say much more about Side Effects without ruining some of the enjoyment in actually experiencing the twists-and-turns.

Side Effects has a complex set of characters, who attract and repel simultaneously. We want to identify, we want to connect – but they go hot to cold in an instant keeping us at an arm’s length. Soderbergh’s cinematography closes in on the actors much like a crime drama TV series, giving them an opportunity to deliver full, nuanced performances, but there’s very little warmth or intimacy at play.

While Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones are draw cards and have worked with Soderbergh in Magic Mike and Traffic, the film really belongs to Rooney Mara and Jude Law. Law and Mara bring an unknown quantity to the picture. They share a strange yet fascinating chemistry, which adds to the chilling atmosphere of the clinical environment and subversive pharmaceutical industry.

Spling MoviesMara’s been described as “still waters run deep” and it’s easy to see in her Oscar-nominated role as Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s take on The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. She’s an enigmatic actress, whose commitment is unquestionable, inhabiting her characters to the point of actually getting the piercings. She revels in the chance to play a complex female lead, something of a rarity in Hollywood these days, and does so with great dexterity.

Jude Law is her co-lead, another actor who doesn’t pay much attention to celebrity. He’s all about the craft and attaining a purity of form, which is difficult when it comes to the business side of acting. In Side Effects, Law turns in another solid performance, although he does seem a little cold and miscast, in contrast to Contagion. There’s nowhere to hide, playing the part with his normal voice and next to no mask.  Law has a distance to this character and you can’t help but wonder how the film would have turned out with someone like Ewan McGregor.

Despite this clinical interest in the characters, the drama is gripping – keeping the audience off-balance and entertained with fine performances and some sly plot developments. We’re drawn in by the slant on pharmaceutical America and kept on the edge by see-sawing characters, who seem to slip through our fingers like mercury every time we think we’ve got a handle.

Side Effects is not Soderbergh’s best film, but certainly slots in alongside the likes of Limitless as a slick crime thriller, backed by solid performances and smart writing. While we may not be emotionally immersed, this dark, contemporary Hitchcockian thrill ride keeps us entertained as one twist overlays another.

The bottom line: Chilling

Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
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