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Reviews

MLK/FBI | Regional News

MLK/FBI

(PG)

104 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

MLK/FBI is an enlightening, inspiring, and infuriating film from this year’s Doc Edge programme. While many documentaries have recounted Martin Luther King Jr’s rise and untimely demise, director Sam Pollard chooses to focus on his tension with the FBI, enclosing arcs about media influence, racial paranoia, and corruption.

Believing King to be a threat to the “American way of life”, the FBI, as directed by J Edgar Hoover, undertook widespread surveillance of his private activities in the 1960s. By tapping his phones and bugging his home and hotel rooms, they hoped to expose secrets of the minister’s sex life and communist ties. With the release of newly declassified documents, we can dissect the agency’s conduct for the first time.

MLK/FBI forces us to leave the context of the 21st century behind and observe how King’s plight was received by the American public of the day, as well as the image of the FBI that was proliferated throughout the country. By intercutting clips from various cop shows and advertisements, we are shown how Hoover carefully constructed a portrait of his organisation and its agents: heroic, clean-cut, and white.

Pollard is aware that many stories have been told about King, and thus he doesn’t swerve from his chosen subject, giving the film a concise, lean structure. It is narrated by the likes of King confidants Andrew Young and Clarence Jones, Hoover chronicler Beverly Gage, and former FBI director James Comey, whose appearance forges a connection between Hoover’s investigation of King and his of Donald Trump.

In order to criticise the FBI’s eavesdropping, we must first accept that we too should not be privy to this information. The film creates a fascinating oxymoron; in a contemporary world, where King’s legacy remains influential, we have a responsibility to understand him as a person, but if we so disagree with this behaviour, why are we here? When the tapes are released in 2027, the public will have access to recordings of King’s private affairs, the impact of which remains to be seen.

Anecdotes from MLK/FBI will likely sicken you, as they should, but it stands as a timely, superbly constructed document that all should embrace.

Giselle | Regional News

Giselle

Presented by: Royal New Zealand Ballet

The Opera House, 12th May 2021

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) presented a relaxing evening at the Opera House with an ethereal retelling of Théophile Gautier’s Giselle. Like many of the classics, Giselle could do with a shakeup; a woman dying of a broken heart and accepting the infidelities of her lover may not be so relatable to modern audiences. That said, Giselle was never created for the story, it was created for the appreciation of dance.

Choreographed by Ethan Stiefel and Johan Kobborg, Giselle has become an RNZB staple, and it is easy to see why. The production is an opportunity for the dancers to home in on their technique and immerse themselves in an otherworldly beauty.

As Giselle, Mayu Tanigaito is a force to be reckoned with. She approaches the role with tenderness and remarkable expertise. Giselle is familiar territory for Tanigaito and it is clear that the character holds a special place in her repertoire. Extended sections en-pointe leave the audience breathless and her connection with fellow dancers is unflappable.

Laurynas Vėjalis and Paul Matthews perform the roles of Albrecht and Hilarion, Giselle’s besotted lovers. Vėjalis and Matthews are two sides of a coin, Vėjalis playing the refined nobleman with graceful leaps and pirouettes, while Matthews is a little more audacious and forceful in his movements. But both are striking to watch.

In the second act we enter darker territory with the cheating Albrecht haunted by his role in Giselle’s death. Led by a delicate Sara Garbowski, a stunning corps de ballet dance as the ghostly Wilis, creating a dreamy sequence with beautiful lines and delicate footwork. The women of the company deserve an extra round of applause for their poise and cohesion.    

Orchestra Wellington, conducted by the charismatic Hamish McKeich, were a welcome accompaniment and the costume design by Natalia Stewart was outstanding. The overall production value was impressive, and along with the charming performers, it was easy to settle into an evening of escapism.    

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle | Regional News

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle

Written by: Janet Xuccoa

Cheshire Publishing Limited

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Women & Money: Mastering the Struggle can be overly convoluted in parts and with each turn of phrase I’m reminded of reading university textbooks. Though dense and heavy, it is a solid and uncompromising take on all matters financial, the creation of wealth, and the considerations wealth-building requires. Xuccoa knows her subject matter extremely well and uses case studies to help educate. The successes and pitfalls experienced by other women help to personalise circumstances that are relatable.

There’s her simple recommendations and then there’s the complex, but a favourite quick win is her advice to use cash instead of EFTPOS. It’s all too easy to imagine dollars and cents exist in a seemingly endless flow of readily available finance at the sound of plastic being swiped mercilessly through a machine.

Though the title may suggest otherwise, Women & Money is not heavily accented with the woes of women, distinctly disadvantaged by default of their gender. I was able to appreciate where gender may make a difference because of this. Xuccoa’s chapter on Building Today for Tomorrow highlights two of the biggest fears women have: they won’t have enough money to take care of their immediate needs and they’ll be stony broke in their retirement. A sobering thought indeed.

Xuccoa recognises the part emotions play in guiding financial decisions and is encouraging when she speaks to gender differences in investing. Women, she says, are more security-oriented and likely to seek steady returns rather than exceptionally high ones. This leads to them making sound investment choices over time.

Women & Money is about adopting a ‘whole-life’ approach to money and wealth. Taking control and not leaving it to chance or another individual to determine your financial goals and ultimately your financial wellbeing. Whether it’s knowledge or steps to start your own business that you desire, Women & Money transverses it all. By recognising your own habits, educating yourself, and getting on top of cash flow management, anything is possible.

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change | Regional News

The Alarmist: Fifty Years Measuring Climate Change

Written by: Dave Lowe

Victoria University Press

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

In the early 1970s, no one really thought much about greenhouse gases or the amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the planet’s atmosphere. Now we’re at a critical juncture where we can’t ignore it.

In his new book, Dave Lowe, author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, tells the story of how he and a small group of scientists spent years trying to answer the question of why the Earth’s climate was changing at such a staggering rate. It would be a journey that would take him halfway around the world and would consume almost his entire working life, but knowing what we know now, it was one definitely worth taking.

This is quite a tale, and Lowe does an impressive job telling it. A big reason for that is because he’s so honest, he never shies away from how it really is. The gist is, we got ourselves into this huge, dangerous mess, and now we have to take steps to fix it. Otherwise, things will get worse for us and the generations that follow.

While I have to admit to not being able to follow all of the science, I understood the scale of the issues facing us. Lowe explains everything in an easy-to-follow way that didn’t bog me down with complicated jargon or scientific terminology. 

I think he has what some people call the ‘common touch’ (an ability to get on with or appeal to ordinary people), which comes out in the way he writes. I appreciated that quality, and I think his style will really appeal to an audience that may not have considered reading up on climate change before, or wanted to but were just intimidated by the subject matter.

Global warming is one of (if not the) biggest threats facing our world today and will be as we keep moving into the 21st century. If you are serious about learning more, and only choose one book to buy, I highly recommend this one.

Another Mammal | Regional News

Another Mammal

Written by: Jo Randerson

Directed by: Jane Yonge

Circa Theatre, 8th May 2021

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Wellington writer Jo Randerson has made a name for herself as a creator of dark social satire and her new play, Another Mammal, delivers that in spades, along with a healthy dose of absurdism.

A married couple, simply known as Y (Anya Tate-Manning) and Z (Natano Keni), are on the brink of divorce and attempt repeatedly to resolve their differences. However, every time they confront each other, one of them has a real or imagined gun. Their failed reconciliations inevitably lead to a comedic death as a broader metaphor for humankind’s tendency to solve problems with violence.

Tate-Manning delivers a standout performance as the female protagonist, injecting her stage presence with rapid-fire dialogue, physical energy, and expert comic timing. Keni offers a more restrained counterpoint to balance Tate-Manning’s fire. As the Stage Manager, Erina Daniels creates a subtle character who initially assists the action on stage, but then becomes an important part of it. The three mysteriously benevolent and hirsute Wolf-Apes, Peter Burman, Sean Millward, and Waitahi Aniwaniwa, gradually invade Y and Z’s sparse home with a quiet and charming bemusement.

The development of this play was one of many disrupted last year by COVID-19. That experience is evidenced through the improvised feel of the dialogue, the shapeless tracksuits worn by most of the cast, the unkempt hair and long nails of the Wolf-Apes, and the bunch of fake flowers unceremoniously squirted with hand sanitiser.

The in-your-face narrative is supported by a raw set (production design by Meg Rollandi) and lighting design (Joshua Tucker) and a loud Kiwi pop-rock soundtrack that forces the audience to stay engaged and propels them ever onwards into the next helter-skelter scene.

Another Mammal will not be every theatregoer’s mug of tea, but for those who revel in the surreal and enjoy a good laugh at the persistent failings of the human race, then this is an excellent hour’s entertainment.

Let It Out | Regional News

Let It Out

Written and performed by James Nokise

The Fringe Bar, 5th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

James Nokise put a mirror up to our own ridiculousness on Wednesday night, breaking down all the comical madness we saw throughout 2020. His intoxicating energy emits infectious good vibes from the word go, and our captivated audience couldn’t wipe the smiles from their faces for the entire hour.

Let It Out shines a light on all the emotional, silly, and downright peculiar behaviour Nokise observed over the past year, starting at the beginning, when he decided to return to New Zealand to surprise his dad for his birthday… for a week. 400 days later, he’s still here, watching on as New Zealand gets weirder and weirder. There’s our outrage at the result of the cannabis referendum, our unwarranted infatuation with Ashley Bloomfield, and our collective insanity whenever Slice of Heaven plays over a loudspeaker, amongst many other gems.

While Nokise’s natural energy and enthusiasm is responsible for getting us onboard, what truly sustains us is his refined approach to the written word. He knows that in order to wring laughs from us, it’s crucial that we first grasp the premise of each bit. His confident and emotive delivery is always clear and to the point, allowing him to plunge as deep as he likes into any given topic knowing we’re right there with him.

Another of the comedian’s abilities is his character work, which is on full display tonight. Nokise can, at a moment’s notice, transform his voice and mannerisms, inviting a sudden shift in tempo that injects an added dose of hilarity. His impression of Bloomfield is so spot on I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch a COVID-19 press conference the same way again.

Transitions from bit to bit are silky smooth, but the rapid-fire pace of the set leaves us in the lurch at times. Sometimes we’re still recovering from one joke as another begins, and a tad more breathing room would give the show definition. Although, this is but a nitpick in an otherwise flawless night of comedy.

Classy Warfare | Regional News

Classy Warfare

Written and performed by Tim Batt

Cavern Club, 4th May 2021

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In his eighth stand-up hour, two-time Billy T Award-nominee Tim Batt presents a loose but consistently hilarious series of bits that never outstay their welcome and delivers punchlines that roll around in your head long after they land. His comfort onstage allows the audience to relax and settle in for a night of top-notch comedy that is sure to be a highlight of the NZ International Comedy Festival.

Batt begins by thanking us for our bravery in attending the first performance of his new show, admitting that he first has to set a stopwatch as he hasn’t even timed it yet. This would seem to suggest a scattershot show, but Classy Warfare is anything but. He spends the night ruminating on problems facing this and future generations, all with an overarching sense of anarchic glee. Without spoiling too many specifics for his remaining shows, Batt strikes a balance between playful anecdotes of childhood embarrassment, weed-induced deep thoughts, and past jobs with explorations of the absurdity of New Zealand politics, his dire financial situation, and his distrust of capitalism.

As fans of The Worst Idea of All Time (a podcast co-hosted with comedian Guy Montgomery) will tell you, Batt can chat, and it’s this enduring vibe that he bestows on our audience. For an hour, we simply feel as though we are chilling on the couch with that funny old mate of ours who hasn’t popped by for a while. The audience is clearly familiar with his style and him with his audience, yet we are still caught off guard time and time again.

A sign of Batt’s veteran status is his ability to know when a joke has come, served its purpose, and ridden off into the sunset, making his punchlines stick and his messages even more so. The puzzle pieces are all there, and I have no doubt Batt will quickly sculpt Classy Warfare into a tight-packed performance throughout the festival.

First Cow | Regional News

First Cow

(PG)

121 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Director Kelly Reichardt shows that simplicity is not to be feared. First Cow gets to the root of human behaviour, all the while reaffirming our innate connection with nature. It refuses to get lost in plot, choosing instead to send us into a daze by letting the sounds and colours of the environment wash over us.

In the present day, a woman and her dog stumble upon two skeletons buried in a forest in Oregon. We return in the early 19th century, where Otis ‘Cookie’ Figowitz (John Magaro) meets Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee) and aids him back to health. They soon reunite at a nearby village, where its richest resident, Chief Factor (Toby Jones), has just acquired the territory’s first cow. When Lu discovers that Otis can bake incredible cakes, he sees an opportunity for prosperity. All they need is some milk.

First Cow is unafraid of silence, or rather, it embraces the symphony of nature. Reichardt’s focus is connecting us with these characters, while in a way, the characters and their tale merely connect us with the Earth; Otis’ wardrobe, for example, seamlessly blends with his woodland surroundings. Decisions to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio and to allow branches or shrubbery to intrude in the frame show the director’s confidence and give the film its trance-like feel.

The story is meditative in a way few films this past year were, with the possible exception of Best Picture-winner Nomadland. The camera takes time to appreciate time-consuming tasks, until the home stretch when a sense of dread inevitably seeps in.

While part of me wishes the script allowed Magaro and Lee to grit their teeth a little more, the actors mine gold from the quiet bond between their characters. Jones delivers a standout performance as the wickedly snobbish Chief Factor. Watching our heroes screw him over time and time again never gets old.

First Cow is clear in its intentions, and whether you connect with them will be down to your own movie-going preferences. While it may seem light at first, it will weave its way into your mind and stick around for days.

Best Foods Comedy Gala | Regional News

Best Foods Comedy Gala

The Opera House, 2nd May 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

The NZ International Comedy Festival kicked off to a full house on Sunday night as roars of laughter and tubs of mayo filled The Opera House at the Best Foods Comedy Gala.

Introducing some of the best comedians in the country, MC Justine Smith keeps the three-hour show cracking along with whizbang jokes of her own. Her sense of comedic timing makes her the perfect ringmaster, while her humour – grubby, stroppy, yet somehow still charming – sets her up as a consistent audience favourite.

“I feel like I did not make the best use of my allotted time”, Ben Hurley says at the end of his set. It’s one of the funniest moments of the night, as is Nick Rado’s aggressive imitation of kids jacked up on Raro. Guy Montgomery’s takedown of the 6 o’clock news is my gala highlight. I’ve always been a huge fan of his absurdly clever, cleverly absurd comedy.

Rhys Darby and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer are both standouts, Darby for re-enacting his anything-but-calm audition for the Calm app, and Gonzalez-Macuer for his understated but hard-hitting set on anxiety. James Nokise has us chuckling with the political, while Angella Dravid has us blushing with the overtly sexual. Spouting absolute filth while looking like a deer in headlights is a whole mood, and I’m here for it.

Musically we’re spoiled with a few treats, especially from Paul Williams on keys. That voice! His song about the dangers of walking home at night echoes Laura Davis’ wicked set, which disarms the audience by entwining serious issues with laughter. Fresh from Broadway, Jonno Roberts dazzles with a ditty on the difficulties of raising children (to put it mildly), but creeps me out by lusting after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Closing the show is Two Hearts, Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore, with Tummy Rosé. A Kiwi take on The Lonely Island, this musical comedy duo always delivers a banging finale with high production values.

What an outstanding night of standout stand-up.