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Reviews

Cousins | Regional News

Cousins

(PG)

83 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Like many great films, the quietest moments in Cousins often ring the loudest. A story entrenched in Māori heritage, a few forced lines and predictable plot points barely detract from the near-spiritual realm it takes us to, or the significance of its creation.

Cousins was adapted from Patricia Grace’s novel of the same name, following three separated cousins throughout their youth, adulthood, and later years. Mata, who now wanders Cuba Street seemingly aimless, was adopted by a European family when her mother died and made to feel ashamed of her Māori roots. She reminisces over the short time she spent with her true whānau while cousins Missy and Makareta long for her return.

Directors Briar Grace-Smith and Ainsley Gardiner keep a firm hand on the source material and bask in the story’s inherent power. For a film that doesn’t even reach the hour-and-a-half mark to define three characters at three different points in their lives is an achievement in itself. Defining the world they inhabit in visceral detail adds the necessary colour and mystique, and director of photography Raymond Edwards deserves praise for creating an atmosphere that makes the character’s whenua (family land) appear like a rural fantasy.

The co-directors wisely centralise Mata, doing well to familiarise us with the cousins considering they are each played by three different actors in a non-linear tale. Although, with some mixed results. Sharp changes in behaviour sometimes make me lose sight of the progression of these women, though Tanea Heke (Older Mata), Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne (Adult Makareta), and Rachel House (Older Missy) deliver standout performances, plus Ana Scotney is absolutely transfixing as Adult Mata. Somehow, editor Angela Boyd manages to weave their stories with ease, they just contain too few surprises.   

Grace-Smith and Gardiner linger on poignant moments, capturing traditional cultural practices like the hongi and tā moko in intimate ways. As a Kiwi, these small moments resonate, even if the dialogue around them feels unnatural at times. Cousins will transcend you to another world, albeit a familiar one. 

That Bloody Woman | Regional News

That Bloody Woman

Written by: Luke di Somma and Gregory Cooper

Directed by: Joy Hellyer and Paul Kay

Gryphon Theatre, 24th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Through live music and storytelling, That Bloody Woman is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Turns out, when you combine classic Aotearoa history with contemporary dirty humour and a punk-rock aesthetic, it works pretty darn well.

Following the life of Kate Sheppard (Frankie Leota), the cast of That Bloody Woman takes us on the whirlwind journey of the New Zealand suffragette movement. Leota is supported by an epic ensemble (Aimée Sullivan, Kate Boyle, Allison Phillips, Jayne Grace, Megan Neill, Chris Gordon, and Angus Dunn), who jump in and out of different characters. Her challenger is none other than politician Richard Seddon (Chris Green), who is best suited to his nickname ‘Dick’.

The band at the back of the stage is the only permanent set, though interestingly, the wings have been removed to reveal backstage. Props, set pieces, and microphones are typically transported by the cast, though occasionally by two stagehands. This choice takes away from the seamlessness of the production somewhat. However, paired with the open backstage, it does make sense for us to see it all.

The lighting (Mike Slater) is colourful, bright, energetic, and absolutely reflective of the energy of the cast. The music (musical direction by Katie Morton, sound design by Patrick Barnes), performed by the live band and sung by different cast members, feels flawless and has the audience completely invested.

Each cast member is full of immense talent in every aspect, but I am most impressed by the ensemble – specifically the five women in their mismatched plaid and badass attitudes. Not only are they hilarious, they repeatedly verbalise my thoughts and feelings whenever Dick Seddon says something misogynistic.

While there are minor technical issues and a couple of questionable artistic choices (I will never find red MAGA – or ‘Make Dick Great Again’ – hats humorous), That Bloody Woman is a wonderful production. With the energy, the music, and the enlightening performances, this show is truly unique and heart-warming.

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls | Regional News

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls

Written by: Sarah Boddy

Directed by: Kerryn Palmer

BATS Theatre, 16th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls follows Lulu (Lola Gonzalez Boddy) and her mother (Sarah Boddy, known simply as Mum) as they navigate the complexities of growing up, and raising a child, in the digital age. Lulu’s relationship with Mum is going through the wringer, while her friendship with her bestie Lucy (Emma Rattenbury) has been rocky since she got with Blue. It all comes to a head when the two girls go to a party, vodka cruisers in hand. 

It sounds like the recipe for a great comedy, and for the most part the play is. But underneath the LOLs and witty one-liners (many of which are delivered flawlessly by Gonzalez Boddy), tension and terror brews. Lucas Neal’s sleek production design eloquently expresses the way social media can dominate our lives. The four screens that loom over the stage are underutilised – I particularly wanted them to show the missed calls and messages from Mum when Lulu misses curfew, matching the hectic sound design (Isaac Rajan) that builds to a climax at this point.

A huge shift occurs after this that echoes how quickly and drastically a whole world can change. It’s confronting but there is so much support offered to the audience, and the actors, who have to portray horrific events, do so with respect and dignity.

I’m not a teenager, nor am I a mother. I was able to identify with both Lulu and Mum, cringing at them and with them in turn. Boddy has risen to the challenge of writing flawed but loveable characters that we can all relate to, no matter what life stage we’re in. To see a real-life mother-daughter duo onstage living this dynamic is a real pleasure. Exceptional in their own right, their chemistry is a given. Rattenbury slots right in, elevating the atmosphere with an easy grace and giddy charm.

The Secret Lives of Sixteen-Year-Old Girls makes me want to put my phone down and hug the people I love.

Rat King Landlord | Regional News

Rat King Landlord

Written by: Murdoch Stephens

Lawrence & Gibson

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

Until recently, we were the unfortunate harbourers of a rat in our shed – a detail our professional property manager failed to mention before we moved into the flat just one week earlier. Set in a Wellington not dissimilar to ours, Murdoch Stephens’ first novel is about a housing crisis. It is also about your landlord, your rat, and the rat that is your landlord.

The disposition of Murdoch Stephens’ unnamed narrator strikes a subtle balance; too concerned with classism to be self-effacing – a sad fact in itself – yet wholly uninteresting enough to allow the author’s satire to be the focal point of the book. Like many of us, the narrator feels like the kind of young man that listens to podcasts about Das Kapital without ever having read its opening paragraph.

“Landlords I can understand, bastards that they are. Bricks and mortar seem a safe investment. But people who manage houses professionally without owning them? How could I feel anything but disdain for professional enforcers of our new feudal class? Nah, bro, back into the sea with them.”

This novel is about class and gender as targets; it’s about how land ownership and the enforcement of property laws is responsible for substandard housing and the ensuing revolution; it’s about how an individual’s revolutionary ideals can be quelled by comfortability within the very strictures they detest.

“The mobs became organised and the city came to know itself as existing under a state of siege. Armed groups marauder through neighbourhoods painting different coloured crosses on different houses: renters, owner-occupiers or landlords. The first people caught painting over their designation had their kneecaps shattered with a blast of a shotgun. A splash of red paint indicated a landlord. Blue meant owner occupier. Yellow meant renter. And on top of it all, a lurid daub of black meant rat infested. Our house had one of these daubings.”

This is a marvellous debut, one that is simultaneously surreal and all too real.

A Private Cathedral | Regional News

A Private Cathedral

Written by: James Lee Burke

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

It seems that I always finish a James Lee Burke book in bed in the wee small hours, unable to let that last chapter go unread. When finished, I feel grubby. Yes, grubby will do. But, at that time of the morning I’m not getting up for a shower. Alas, once again I’ve let Burke’s characters get under my skin. There is the dark alluvial soil of the Deep South under my fingernails, the New Orleans night means it’s too hot to sleep, yet the eyelids droop with fatigue, the mind races with the horrors of what men can do. I’m sure it’s not unlike what Burke’s hero Dave Robicheaux feels. This alcoholic sees the evil of what the men can do in his hometown of the Big Sleazy and, in the ever-present storms that lie just off the gulf are the manifestations and portents of what darkness is to come.

Robicheaux is a good, but deeply flawed man. His only sanctity is in the church, yet he has difficulty separating the devil from god, seeing man as having the right to choose between good and evil.

Robicheaux is a man one step behind the perps, the low lives that revel in child porn, prostitution, slave trafficking, drugs, and murder. He fights the demons that saw him lose two wives, one to the mob and another to cancer and his dependency on booze. And nobody writes better than Burke when it comes to the night shakes and
the nightmares of lying in a gutter and trying to fight a wave of righteous anger.

Then we have to contend with Clete Purcel, Dave’s best friend but also a man out of control. The fact that he puts four people in hospital in the first 60 pages gives you an idea of what tours of Vietnam can do to a man’s soul. As Burke describes Purcell, “He recognises virtue in others but does not see it in himself”.

Every Burke book is better than the rest. Trust me, I’ve read them all.

A Vase and a Vast Sea | Regional News

A Vase and a Vast Sea

Edited by Jenny Nimon

Escalator Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

A Vase and a Vast Sea is a selection of work from some of New Zealand’s most accomplished poets. They all bring something different to the table, a unique experience or perspective.

You can tell that this collection is a labour of love from everyone involved; every poem seems to focus on small personal, intimate moments that the writers are allowing us a glimpse into.

Good poetry is meant to make you stop and think about what the poets are trying to say, and A Vase and a Vast Sea does that without any pretension. There were more than a few times when I had to stop, go back, and re-read a part of the book to figure out 100 percent what the author was saying.

What separates this book from its competition is its prose; each poem has a strong narrative that allows people who might not be familiar with poetry the chance to understand and appreciate it more. Not everyone ‘gets’ poetry, and some of us need that narrative to get into the author’s perspective. I think it has something to do with the concept of left-brained versus right-brained people; the idea that a person has certain characteristics based on which side of the brain is more dominant. A right-brained person is more creative, emotional, and spontaneous, while those who are left-brained are more ordered and logical.

While I’m not sure how much stock to put into that theory, I would say I definitely fall into the latter, so really appreciated A Vase and a Vast Sea’s narrative. I would have been lost without it, and while I could have muddled through, it probably wouldn’t have made the same impact on me that it did.

While poetry’s not my go-to genre, A Vase and a Vast Sea made me sit up and take notice, thinking and re-thinking about what was in front of me.

Sex, With Animals | Regional News

Sex, With Animals

Written by: Laura Borrowdale

Dead Bird Books

Reviewed by: Ollie Kavanagh Penno

Laura Borrowdale is most well-known as the creator of Aotearotica, New Zealand’s preeminent erotic literary journal exploring sex, sexuality, and gender expression. Her latest work, Sex, With Animals, is an exceptional collection of prose coupled with original art by Michael Bergt, an artist who has had solo exhibitions in Santa Fe, New York, and San Francisco.

The title of this book has already caused a stir; a complaint claiming a breach of public decency was made to the Department of Internal Affairs and Borrowdale has not been allowed to advertise Sex, With Animals on Facebook. Aside from the fact that Sex, With Animals is a self-aware play on punctuation, it has an entirely different meaning than what those who have been offended by it have inferred.

The representation of sex is a common thread that links these stories, but so too is Borrowdale’s exploration of human beings as members of the animal kingdom through metaphor. So, while sex is certainly at the centre of these stories, that’s not what these
stories are about. They are about sexuality, exploring the mythological and our own personal histories. They deal with sensuality, humans, men. These stories are about the experience of inhabiting a female body.

“Julia is here because there was a moment when she was thinking of one lover, of the way his dark hair is blue under the skin when he shaves it away, of how he stands in a dancer’s pose, of how he holds her body as though it is both robust and breakable, while the lover she had just left contorted and twisted himself into something demonic on the sidewalk in front of her house. Julia never thought this would be possible for her. And yet, here she is.”

Borrowdale writes with a direct power. No matter their length, her sentences are sharp, her vocabulary and use of grammar both precise and nuanced. Borrowdale is one of the most exciting writers of prose in New Zealand today.

Synthony | Regional News

Synthony

TSB Arena, 12th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Graeme King

On Friday night at the packed TSB Arena the full might of Orchestra Wellington combined with spine-tingling electronic dance music, played through a state-of-the-art sound system, and featuring a dynamic laser-light show, to create a truly immersive experience.

Synthony has been called “a celebration of the last 30 years of dance music” and the audience, singing and dancing for almost two hours, would agree.

The set by DJ Greg Churchill warmed the crowd up, and it was clear that by the time George FM DJ and host General Lee introduced conductor Brent Stewart and Orchestra Wellington, it was time to party!

Some of the most iconic electronic dance tracks were reimagined with full orchestral power to sound like nothing heard before: Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now, Avicii’s Levels, Rudimental’s Feel the Love, and the encore of Darude’s Sandstorm were standouts. Eric Prydz’s Proper Education – powerfully sung by Jason Kerrison – and Cherie Mathieson’s sultry version of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) had the audience singing loud enough to almost raise the roof! Jason’s guitar playing on Don't Hold Back gave the song an exciting edge.

Ria Hall was in sublime form – especially with the last track You Got the Love. The other guest vocalists Hannah Rees and Nate Dousand, together with the silky-smooth saxophone of Lewis McCallum, had the audience in the palms of their outstretched hands.

It was a sensory overload – a spiritually uplifting and almost joyous occasion, and the addition to the stage of the five-piece drum group Taikoza only added to the pulsating, climactic last tracks.

However, the party wasn't over yet – there was still another set by DJ Dick Johnson to keep the capacity crowd of 4000 happy and dancing into Saturday morning.

Overall, this was a stunning production by founder Erika Amoore and arranger Ryan Youens, helped by the slick host work of General Lee. I highly recommend Synthony to anyone that likes a dance party – especially as Ibiza's probably out for a while yet.

Another Round | Regional News

Another Round

(M)

117 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Much like a drunken night on the town, Another Round has ups and downs, highs and lows, and twists and turns. Under the thumb of a captivating lead performance by Mads Mikkelsen, there is only one word that truly sums up the ride our audience was taken on: intoxicating.

Four Danish high school teachers have hit a wall. Of the four, Martin (Mikkelsen) is in the greatest funk; bored with his work, his marriage, his life. Psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) introduces his friends to a theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol content 0.05 percent too low, arguing that maintaining a level of drunkenness makes you more creative, energetic, and relaxed.

The story does not crucify these men for their actions, which would have been a simple and much less interesting direction to take it. Instead, we root for them. We see how severely unhappy they are, and how this experiment – at least at first – lights a spark in each of their lives. The actors portray this earnestly. Each character reacts to alcohol differently, and it is clearly defined how each functions with a 0.05 percent BAC versus a 1.5 percent BAC.

Another Round serves as a reminder of why the collective cinematic experience is one we cannot sacrifice. Thomas Vinterberg’s film forces you to react, be it with a laugh, a wince, or a tear. While it is fun watching these men stumble their way through the working day, it’s the realistic portrayal of alcoholism that makes the film funny and heart-wrenching in equal measure. For each member of the audience, individually, there was a moment when the laughter stopped.

It’s a shame that Another Round will likely be denigrated to foreign-language categories come awards season, as it clearly deserves to be up there with the big boys (namely, American films). At the very least, Mikkelsen deserves a best actor nod. He is one of those rare stars that does a lot with a little, captivating me with every piercing look or smirk. What a beautiful, beautiful ride indeed.