Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Last night I went to see "Jupiter Ascending". It is a glorious eclectic cornucopia of colour, elaborate sets, dazzling wardrobes and a plot that left my jaw hanging, metaphorically, for large portions of it. It has everything - and I mean everything - that you could wish for in a science-fiction epic. Cool tech: check; space battles: check. A mere mortal, everyday human thrown into the midst of this glorious chaos: check. And of course a romantic subplot, many strange and - in some cases - quite over the top aliens (draconians, Neesh the pilot), and oh such beautiful and dramatic sets. And that wedding dress (*drools*).

This is wish fulfilment taken to the ultimate level.

So, how do describe the plot?
Jupiter's father is killed before she is born, and her mother births her in a shipping container enroute to America. Here she labours away with her mother and cousins, cleaning houses for the rich. She hates her life, as she constantly re-iterates. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away, but with portals comveniently linked to our own, three siblings squabble over the planets that are their birthright - which includes Earth. And eerie mention is made of the word "harvest".

Jupiter's life then takes a sudden and unexpected turn as she finds herself caught up in this intergalatic warfare. Firstly, with the introduction of the half-wolf splice, Caine, an ex-mercanary working for Titus Abraxus. Then we are treated to some delicious eye-candy, as Caine and Stinger (played by Sean Bean) wrestle outside a rundown farmhouse. There really is everything here: space battles over a US city, demented bureacracy, a mad-cap plot that makes sense on a superficial level - and who cares about delving any deeper?

It's beautiful, and crazy and I'm not sure what I want more - that dress or those rocket boots...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hail to the Dragonforce!

As some of you will likely know, I am a fan of heavy metal, specifically power metal. And thus it was with great excitement that I learned UK band Dragonforce were coming to perform in my home city, of Christchurch. In a pub, no less! I was first introduced to Dragonforce back in the early part of the century, when I used to chat on metal forums and met Steve Williams, the ex-keyboardist of Dragonheart, then of Power Quest. I believe it was he who sent me a copy of Dragonheart's demo and thus I was introduced to their frantic-fast paced sound. Dragonheart, of course, fragmented into Dragonforce and the aforementioned Power Quest. Since then I only acquired one of their albums - The Power Within, although in preparation for the gig I listened to the latest album, Maximum Overdrive, a couple of times.

Two of the members - Sam and Herman - were in NZ melodic black metal band Demoniac. I rather liked their works, but only managed to get my paws on two tracks, recorded off the radio and thus poor quality.
Arriving at Churchills at the specified time, I joined the snaking black-clad queue, of which most seemed to be of the 18-25 age bracket. I was one of the few solo-females. My husband is not a heavy metal fan and I have no wish to subject him to something he is unlikely to enjoy. As an aside, at a gig the previous year (Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe), another lass commented that I was brave for attending gigs alone. I found this an interesting observation - I have never felt especially scared at such events, even those in different cities. I almost feel like I am amongst kindred spirits - my brothers (and sisters) of "true metal". Also, I can place a mean elbow if required. Anyhow, after about 40 minutes of bearing the cold bite of the wind, the fun of reading people's t-shirts began to wear rather more than a little thin (I was the only "Gamma Ray" shirted punter) and finally the doors opened and we began to weave our way in. There was much flashing of ID cards, but alas my comment of "do you need to see mine?" earned a laugh. After a brief scout around the hall to see if I recognised anyone (nope) I squished my way across the carpet and staked my position up at the front of the knee-high stage.

Opening act were "Awakened Inferno". One guitarist was wearing a Cynic t-shirt, which rather amused me (I have one of their albums on cassette tape). The music started with a roar, the bass pounding deep in my sternum and sending me scurrying off to put in my ear plugs. This is the first time I have ever worn ear plugs at a concert. After my Churchills experience last year, which left me sensitive to high pitched noises but otherwise feeling like I was underwater, I have realised that too many more concerts could send me deaf. For all you young folks attending concerts - it may seem a bit like you're "wimping out" to wear ear protection but it both brought the volume down to a manageable level and also eliminated some of the distortion. Since no one was being particularly territorial over their space at this point, I managed to claim my spot between two staunch-looking fellows and remained right at the front for the opening acts. Awakened Inferno are competent musicians and I wish I could say more in praise of them - I enjoyed their set, but unfortunately didn't know any of their songs and the rest of the evening more-or-less blew them from my memory.

Red Dawn followed. I had listened to their samples online, so knew roughly what to expect. Older, more experienced musicians, the drummer and one guitarist elaborately decorated with tattoos. Overall, more charisma and showmanship than Awakened Inferno, plus I knew the songs. Being up close to the front meant that I kept making eye-contact with the drummer which was a bit uncomfortable, so I distracted myself with a bit of careful headbanging (from the shoulders and waist kids, not the neck. I have learned from experience that whiplash is Not Fun) and also avoiding being hit in the face by one of the guitars. Yes, I was that close to the band. Alas, the vocals were not coming across very strongly, and I could barely hear the singer, except on the choruses. Thinking it might be muffled by the earplugs I slipped one out, and was immediately barraged by a wall of guitars and drums. Still the music was an epic roar of sound and melody and they played the full set from the Ironhead EP.

Things started to heat up as the wait for Dragonforce began. The press from behind was bearable, but the kids behind me commenting on "getting to the front" was a warning of pressure to come. The stage at Churchills is approximately knee height and I had nothing in front of me save for a microphone stand upon which balanced a bottle of beer. They made us wait about 40 minutes, as the keyboard and keytar were set up, the microphone stands positioned and microphones tested. And then they took to the stage. Immediately the crowd surged, almost pushing me onto the stage and, although I forced it back and retained my footing, I realised this was no way to enjoy a concert and bet a hasty retreat, slipping to the side of the stage where I was still within arms reach of the band. Dragonforce were excellent, the new vocalist, Marc, pulling off their earlier tracks with skill and the backing vocalists adding their own unique twists. Watching Herman, Sam and Fred play was quite amazing. Aside from the usual heavy metal theatrics, Dragonforce are really, really fast. Fingers flicked along guitar strings, hair billowed in the wind from the fans (the air-blowing kind) and they really know how to play to the audience. Between tracks Marc conversed with the audience, his English accent strong, teased ex-NZ band member, Sam (who was English-born, NZ raised and still retains his kiwi accent) and seemed to be having a fine time. Most of the tracks I recognised, including "Black Winter Nights" from their very early days and an epic, frantic cover of "Ring of Fire" (the only cover song they've ever played, to date). The latter created a mosh-pit whirlpool, for which I remained on the outskirts. There was much air punching, jumping up and down and hair waving. Due to the nature of the venue, they decided not to go with the whole "let's walk off and pretend that we've finished" act, just announcing the encores. We could all see the playlist anyway. Funnily enough, Marc went into this lengthy spiel about how there was one track they would have to play all they'd probably get lynched, found out they'd rearranged the playlist and then they ripped into "Valley of the Damned" instead - rather to my enthusiastic glee, as it is one of my favourites. The actual "have to play" song followed turned out to be one I had never heard before, but everyone else seemed more than familiar with it, so it was an epic conclusion for them. I also got to shake hands with Frederic and the drummer, which is always neat.

I crawled home shortly after, ears still ringing despite the ear plugs, and straight into the shower. The next day, I'm stiff all over, especially in my lower back (still, better that than my neck) and have a rather nice bruise on my ankle from where someone kicked me as they entered the mosh pit. However, I loved (almost) every moment of it, the energy and atmosphere of live concerts, feeling the thrum of the music right down in your bones, screaming yourself hoarse along with your favourite songs - there's really nothing quite like it. And I'd do it all again in a heart-beat - except possibly wear bigger boots.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Creature Feature Round-up (Last of the Ls)

432: Loon
433: Lorikeet
434: Loris

435: Lovebird
436: Lungfish

437: Lynx

438: Lyrebird

439: Leaf Insect

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Creature Features 15-24 December

422: Leopard Shark

423: Limpkin

424: Linsang

425: Lion

426: Lionfish

427: Lizardfish
428: Llama

429: Loach

430: Lobster

431: Loggerhead

Tiriki's Night Before Christmas

Christmas Eve and all was still and calm. Striped stockings hung along the mantlepiece and the tree stood in the corner, dressed in red and gold. Nothing stirred, except for a tiny mouse perched on a side table, where she chewed delicately at the edge of a gingerbread cookie.
Then with a FHUMP and a WUMP something feathery and green dropped down the chimney. It tumbled and rolled from the fireplace. Then stood and shook out his rumpled feathers, casting dust all over the rug. He was a sleek green parrot with large hooked beak and bright, curious eyes: a kea.
The tiny mouse gave a terrified squeak and tumbled from the table. She scurried under the couch and back into her hole.
The kea laughed his trilling laugh and puffed out his chest. “Kia ora,” he cried. “Tiriki is here! Time for the party to begin.” Then he paused, and cocked his head, casting his beady eyes about the silent room. “Perhaps I have the wrong address,” he muttered to himself, then shrugged. “Well lookee there – they've laid out some snacks.”
With those words, he hopped over and flapped up onto the side table, his claws catching in the tablecloth. First he stuck his head into the glass and lapped up all the milk. It was creamy and good, but sticky on his head feathers. He gave himself a jolly good shake, sending pearly white droplets all over the room. Then he clasped his claw about a carrot, crunched down on one end, spitting goblets of orange all over the floor. Finally, the cookies. They crumbled in his beak, crumbs raining down on the hopeful mouse below. She had crept from her hole, eager to share in this feast.
Feeling satisfied and full, Tiriki the Christmas bandit wiped his beak clean on the tablecloth and flapped over to the mantlepiece. Here he turned his attention to the decorations.
Down came the joyful fat santa with his big round belly, in his pearly white sleigh.
Then down, one by one, came the reindeers Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Last but not least, Tiriki came to Rudolph. He picked up the red-nosed reindeer by its long neck and with a flick of his head and his long strong beak, sent the reindeer flying across the room. Rudolph hit the far wall with a horrible CRACK and one antler broke off.
But Tiriki's random acts of destruction were not done yet. Oh no, they had only just begun!
With a snip here and a snap there, the row of christmas stockings drifted one by one to the floor.
Then it was over to the tree in a single gliding swoop.
Tiriki caught his reflection in a big silver bauble. “Who's a pretty boy then?” he cooed before hooking it with his beak and flinging it at the mouse.
With a startled squeak she dropped her cookie crumb and scampered back to her hole.
Missed,” Tiriki mumbled, turning back to the tree. With a tug and a flap, the tinsel fell free, great loops cascading to the floor. Off came the decorations, one by one: the white dove, the christmas cottage, a gingerbread man, all tumbling to the carpet.
Finally, there was but one decoration left at the very top: the pretty white angel with golden hair and feathered wings. Beak-over-claw and claw-over-beak, Tiriki clambered up the tree, grabbed the angel about her waist.
Then with a CLUMP and a THUMP something landed on the roof.
Tiriki froze, claw raised, beak poised; ready to wrought his final act of wanton destruction.
Another thump, another whump and something very large landed in the hearth. It was a big brown sack. This was followed by another thump, as a plump old man with a bushy white beard landed on the sack and stepped out of the fireplace.
Tiriki cocked his head at this strange, big man. He looked like the ornament on the mantlepiece, except that instead of a white-trimmed red coat he wore a red t-shirt and shorts, more suitable clothing for the warm summer night.
HO-HO... oh,” Santa said. “What has happened here?” He stared straight at Tiriki.
The kea froze beneath that piercing blue gaze, his skinny knees knocking together with guilt. He slowly released the angel.
Have you been a bad, bad boy?” Santa asked, his voice low and scary. “Do you know what we do with bad, bad boys?”
Tiriki shook his head. He fluffed out his feathers in fear and opened his beak in a nervous grin. “No,” his voice came out as a whispered croak, “what do you do with bad boys?”
We turn them into good boys,” Santa replied cheerfully, clapping his hands together. “My, what a mess you've made. Can you imagine how upset the little girl and boy will be, when they rush down here in the morning? And they've been such good children too.”
Tiriki backed away, head hanging in shame. “Sorry,” he croaked.
You admit you're sorry,” said Santa, “that's a good start. But now you must show them that you're sorry. Now you must clean up this mess you've made.”
Tiriki looked up, his eyes shining with sadness. “But I don't know how,” he said. “We kea, we break – we don't mend.”
Well, my lad, then let Santa show you.” And with those words, Santa set down his bulging burlap sack and strode across to Rudolph. His hands were big, but gentle, as he scooped up the broken deer and cradled it in his palm. With delicate fingers, he plucked the broken antler from the carpet and pressed it back where it belonged. There came a small sparkle of silver light, the sweet scent of milk-and-honey, and the antler glued itself back in place. There was not even a single crack to show it had ever been broken.
Santa held out his arm and gestured to Tiriki. The kea took flight, gliding across to land on Santa's wrist.
Now,” said Santa, “you must put Rudolph back where you found it. Be gentle, mind.”
Tiriki scooped up the deer as gently as he could, and flew back to the mantlepiece, setting it back where it belonged. Under Santa's gentle coaching he then returned Blitzen and Donner, Cupid and Comet, Vixen and Prancer, Dancer and Dasher to their proper place. Santa placed the final piece, laughing as he did so.
A jolly good rendition,” he remarked, “although I do think it makes me look rather fat.”
The stockings were pegged back in place, the tinsel returned to the tree. Each and every decoration re-hung: some a little crooked, and some not in their right place, for Tiriki's memory was not that good. But in the end, the room looked much as it had before his unruly visit.
Santa patted him on the back. “You've done a fine job, my lad,” he said. “Now, it's time for me to do what I'm here for. You can help me, if you like.”
He reached into the sack and pulled out parcel after parcel. He passed each one to Tiriki, who hopped along the mantlepiece, slipping them into the stockings one-by-one.
For Johnny and Sarah,” Santa said, “and their mum and dad too.” He paused, grinning a great big smile at the kea. “And, oh look, there's one left.” He held up a small parcel, with shiny silver paper and a big red bow.
Tiriki cocked his head to one side. The stockings were bulging and full, they could fit no more, so who could this one be for?
This one,” said Santa, “is for you.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Week That Was 7-14th

414. Leatherback Turtle

415. Lechwe

416: Lemming

417: Leech

418: Lemur

419: Leopard

420: Leopard Cat

421: Leopard Gecko
For more information on these species, visit: