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The Thief Collector | Regional News

The Thief Collector


93 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I’m going to be honest with you all – though that is becoming a trend in these reviews – my favourite part of The Thief Collector is the title sequence animation by art director Scott Grossman and animator Michael Lloyd. That’s not to say the rest of the movie wasn’t enjoyable, but their work is just brilliant in that it’s reminiscent of the iconic James Bond visuals. Anyway, I digress.

The Thief Collector is director Allison Otto’s debut documentary feature. It’s a classic art-heist movie… or so I thought. On a base level, the story recounts how Willem de Kooning’s Woman-Ochre was discovered on the wall of Rita and Jerry Alter’s home in Cliff, New Mexico, 30 years after it disappeared from the University of Arizona’s art gallery on the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. This mystery was an enigma for decades until estate agents Buck Burns and Dave Van Aucker’s chance discovery. In the time that Woman-Ochre sat in a chintzy gold frame behind the Alters’ bedroom door, it appreciated from $400,000 to $160 million. I won’t spoil how they allegedly stole the artwork.

The Thief Collector is brilliantly edited by Nick Andert, featuring home videos, photographs, interviews, and dramatisations starring Sarah Minnich and Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as Rita and Jerry. Interviews include baffled family members and friends, de Kooning biographer Mark Stevens, agents from the FBI’s art-theft task force, and more.

The story gets especially interesting once it moves on from the de Kooning theft. Suddenly the Alters are calculating and experienced adrenaline junkies with endless secrets. The film takes a turn from treating the theft as an isolated event to a lifetime of ill deeds, analysing Jerry’s book of short stories The Cup and the Lip not as fiction, but a sort of clandestine confessional. Let me tell you: there are some pretty extreme ones in there.

I don’t want to ruin anything, because you can see The Thief Collector as part of Doc Edge Film Festival on the 17th of June at The Roxy Cinema. All I’m going to say is you may want to have a peek down your septic tank.  

Dakota of the White Flats | Regional News

Dakota of the White Flats

Presented by: Red Leap Theatre

Directed by: Ella Becroft

Te Auaha, 30th May 2023

Reviewed by: Kate Morris

Inspired by one of her favourite authors (Philip Ridley), director Ella Becroft wanted to make a show that she would love to watch now and still have her 14-year-old self held in suspense. Becroft can consider it a job not just well done, but perfected. Dakota of the White Flats is a high-action adventure, crafted with comedy and tension.

Red Leap Theatre is a devised theatre company whose work celebrates and uplifts women while making special room for those most marginalised. In this instance, the overlooked potential is that of two loud, unapologetic young girls.

In a run-down housing complex, we meet sharp and fearless Dakota Pink (Batanai Mashingaidze) and her best friend ‘Treacle’ (Ariaana Osborne). The pair soon discover a secret that spurs them down the murky canal on a daring rescue attempt.

Innovative stage design by John Verryt perfectly represents the urban decay that Dakota and friends call home. Two mobile scaffolds whirl around the stage to create the backdrop, covered in Venetian blind panels that are frequently raised and lowered to comic effect, while providing insight into the white flats’ colourful residents.

The lighting design by Rachel Marlow is a marvel. Clever use of different mediums – torches, spotlights, neon and shadow-work, and of course, illuminated eels and a bejewelled sea turtle, obviously – constantly builds momentum while keeping the audience in awe.

Once in a while, a show like this comes along and drives home how important live theatre and the arts are for young minds. This inventive production is a masterclass in imagination and ingenuity across the board – acting, sound, lighting, staging, music, and choreography – and the standard to which it delivers inspires. But this inspiration isn’t wasted on the young, so don't be fooled into thinking this is a show for kids. There are suitable nuances to this story only truly appreciated with the privilege of age. Becroft has fulfilled her brief: I would have adored seeing this as a young actor and I loved it now.

Laser Kiwi – Rise of the Olive | Regional News

Laser Kiwi – Rise of the Olive

Te Auaha, 25th May 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Laser Kiwi is the world’s best and only surreal sketch circus trio. Zane and Degge Jarvie and Imogen Stone have a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over a very long career of dazzling audiences, first in their hometown of Wellington, then across the motu, and now around the world. Some of the skills you’ll know (juggling, balancing acts, aerial arts) and some you won’t (chopping airborne cucumbers, metamorphosing into olives).

Upon arrival, audiences are given 3D glasses and a run-sheet featuring such act titles as Casual Chat, End of Casual Chat, I am an Olive, Imagine an Ant, and Skrrrrrt Pow Pow. Zane assures the full house that the programme won’t help us make any sense of the show, so those who came for dedicated nonsense need not fear.

He’s quite right. Even with it in front of me, I can’t match half of what I saw to what’s listed – especially $548. What I can see and what is a unique and delightful component of the show is Laser Kiwi’s own ratings of the segments. The silly, 10-second Foot First, in which a grinning Zane reveals he’s wearing crocodile socks underneath a pair of crocs, gets the first 10 of the night. ▯▯▯▯▯▯ Rap, which sees Stone showcase colossal strength, grace, and acrobatic agility in a breathtaking aerial rope routine, scores an eight.

Laser Kiwi turns botches into comedy gold, like the crackling mics (which become a highlight of the show thanks to the stroppy sass of sound technician Dean Holdaway) and a gravity-defying stunt involving catching an olive in a martini glass. It misses over and over, yet we’re wildly invested and celebrate the eventual win as if it’s our own. They push boundaries of what should be physically possible as well as what is ‘appropriate’, taking big swings that hit the olive out of the park every time… bar one. I do wonder, had that contentious joke landed, would the payoff be worth the consequences of it sinking?

My friend and I had a glorious time with the indescribable, inimitable Laser Kiwi. We chuckled and chortled, squealed and snorted, and ate up olive it.  

Hi, Delusion! | Regional News

Hi, Delusion!

Directed by: Jess Joy Wood

BATS Theatre, 23rd May 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

In a flash of spotlight, Johanna Cosgrove stalks onto the BATS stage in a slinky black satin dress, black veil, and thigh-high patent leather platform boots for an hour of unrelentingly bold sketch stand-up about her life and social observations.

Asking first “Have we f****d?”, this is not a show for the faint-hearted or easily offended and comes with an R16 rating. The F bombs and sexual references are plentiful in the following hour, as is the wickedly dark humour as Cosgrove takes us through a number of topics concerning her as she enters her third decade.

Starting with a bit of politics and how messed up Auckland is (did you know P has been detected in the central city air?), she moves swiftly into a hilarious send up of hens’ parties on Waiheke. Her love life and experiences of “overtherapised men” with no gumption comes next, along with unsuccessful sexting, a baby CEO, and why she wants a gay son. The false sense of oppression felt by those with white privilege and her allergies to “gluten, dairy, eggs, constructive criticism” come next.

We also hear about her experiences backpacking in the south of France, her views on cancel culture, Christians, and Gen Z, brawls with her sister, her parents’ cancer journeys, and her desire to play one of the leads in Daughters of Heaven. All of this is delivered with confidence, clarity, and a biting sense of humour that pulls no punches. That’s perhaps not to everyone’s taste and Cosgrove’s improvised reactions to the two people who left the auditorium partway through get some of the biggest laughs of the night.

Cosgrove’s three years at drama school shine through as she energetically demonstrates a hipster playing hacky sack in Cuba Street and a strip-club routine to Mumford & Sons’ Little Lion Man.

With its spicily candid wit and mesmerising solo execution, Hi, Delusion! cements Cosgrove as a comedy and performance force of nature. Strap in for the ride!

Dream Girl  | Regional News

Dream Girl 

Written by: Joy Holley

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Dream Girl by Joy Holley is a collection of short stories about women who wear their hearts on their sleeves, who do a tarot spread to deal with life’s burdens, and who twirl under the moonlight with hearts full of desire. The protagonists are haunted by love that slips from their reach as they cling to the details of the moments they had and what those moments could have been. 

The author starts to find her footing a few stories in. When her stories stretch desire away from just the sexual kind is when her writing really shines. Fruit brings a charge of life to the collection. The details of fruit paralleled with something all-consuming alongside a relationship gives a unique depth of insight into the compelling nature of desire. Pets showcases a friendship group’s shared ambition to have the most interesting pet, adding another stroke to what desire can be. 

Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents is a beautiful, evocative piece about young love. It follows the loss of an all-consuming friendship as the news story of the young girls from Heavenly Creatures breaks out and has a knock-on effect on society. 

Blood Magic has an eerie undertone that introduces a haunting tone to Dream Girl. The sense that you’re not aware of everything that is happening adds an exciting twist of anticipation to the later end of the collection.

Music is a huge character throughout Holley’s work – the importance of the stories it can tell and the lives it can shape. As a reader, you can picture exactly what sort of parties are being thrown and get inspired to make your crush a playlist.

I would have loved to have seen further exploration of what desire is and can be. Some stories blur together as the repetition of a mysterious love interest who ghosted becomes monotonous. But overall, Dream Girl is a dreamy, hot, and haunting read.

Ruin and Other Stories | Regional News

Ruin and Other Stories

Written by: Emma Hislop

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Ruin and Other Stories is a series of short stories about women who are on the edge of ruin and how their lives have been completely rewritten by the actions of a man. Women who will always be looked at for what they did and didn’t do, what they did and didn’t know. “Sabine knew, they didn’t really think of her. They thought about him and the things he did.” 

Power imbalance bleeds through every story and not just in the behaviour of men. There’s the stickiness of friends and sisters, twisted dynamics that unravel and tighten. Love that doesn’t always go the distance. These are stories of women who lose their power again and again and struggle to see their way through. Hislop’s writing makes you feel like you’re slipping into the skin of her characters, that their lives could easily be yours, and the questions they face you may have to one day answer. 

Ruin and Other Stories hones in on the fear of what wasn’t done and asks big questions. What is consent when you’re trying to protect someone? When do you stop trying to help? How do you know that what you did was enough?

It is not a book that can be easily devoured in one sitting. There is rape and paedophilia in almost every story. There is no break. And although not described, the relentless repetition serves as a reminder. Assault doesn’t just sometimes happen to one person,
it is not just one person’s story – it happens a lot and we can’t ignore that.

Some of the stories blur together and some stand out more than others. But Ruin and Other Stories stands as an important reminder that we still have power imbalances and some of us may have forgotten that. These women have hands that are full of nails but no hammer. How do they rebuild from ruin and who will help them?

One Heart One Spade | Regional News

One Heart One Spade

Written by: Alistair Luke

Your Books

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

One Heart One Spade captures the mood of the 70s well, an era with distinctly different attitudes and a different vibe. But despite this, it’s still uniquely Wellington as the story plays out across the streets and suburbs of the capital. Its backdrop is critically local, lending gravitas to the gritty urban feel of the crime story and to the lead characters, who feel sublimely present.

One Heart One Spade centres around the disappearance of Felicity ‘Flick’ Daniels, the missing granddaughter of a retired judge, and Detective Lucas Cole and colleagues as they investigate her disappearance. Interwoven between is the investigation of one of their own when it appears he is connected to the murder of a local drug dealer.

Alistair Luke paints a vivid picture of each character. There’s Felicity’s grandfather McEwan, poised with all the airs and graces you would expect from someone used to having power over others. His disdain for Felicity’s boyfriend Miles Weston is palpable. McEwan derisively describes Miles as a “hippie”, a “bangle-wearer”, and a shoeless one at that. Yes, by McEwan’s accounts, Miles is a wasteful person, much like the “wasters” he has spent his whole life putting away. But McEwan’s fawning preoccupation for his homegrown roses – even after his supposedly beloved granddaughter is missing – and reluctance to open up Felicity’s room in his house makes him stand out in his own right as an oddball when detectives question him about Felicity’s disappearance.

One Heart One Spade sometimes feels a little stunted, with conversations between characters intersecting a little too briefly, too succinctly, running too closely into each other. I found I wanted just a bit more out of the narrative. Regardless, the mysterious, compelling tale of the missing 21-year-old Felicity, her conceited grandfather and ex-judge with secrets to hide, and a dogged detective in the form of Lucas Cole is inviting.

It’s where the detective’s professional and personal life begins and ends that draws you in, as too does his burgeoning relationship with his new colleague Erena Wilkinson.

The Artist | Regional News

The Artist

Written by: Ruby Solly

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

It’s not often I need a dictionary on hand when writing a review, but I did in the case of The Artist. The dictionary is a Māori-English one, and my knowledge of te reo has increased markedly due to a perusal of Ruby Solly’s verse novel.

It’s a work of fiction, explains the author, and it’s based on the history of the iwi who have shaped her being. Indeed, the word “being” is central to this work, occurring in evocative phrases like “A world is sung into being” at the outset.

The natural world is incorporated here, with rivers, sand, and wind as much characters in the story as humans. The artist of the title emerges as a kind of painter of dreams, somehow connected to “the ache of potential”, another recurring theme.

Predictably perhaps, the advent of Pākehā into the Māori world provokes such stark images as “There is talk of stolen stone / of moko slipping from the face” and “we possess a pile of kūmara / as well as a pile of bodies”.

The story really gets under way when Hana (a Southern woman) meets Matiu (a Southern man). Hana’s subsequent pregnancy and experience of childbirth are dramatically described, and twins are born. But the family, relegated to the back of the pa, fail to gain acceptance from their own people and must forge their own fates.

The second half of this verse novel continues the story with the natural world and that of the dreams, ambitions, and experiences of the characters firmly intertwined. In Carving, Matiu the father introduces stones to Reremai his son. “Reremai cradles the stone – a field of potential, with the form of a wāhine swirling towards them”. And the artist’s signature appears again in Discovery, in the form of a fresh moko on Kiki’s skin.

Reading The Artist resembles walking through a forest: dreaming, wondering, sometimes suffering, touching, and being touched. Its writing is a tribute to its author just as much as to the iwi she celebrates.

Loud & Queer | Regional News

Loud & Queer

Presented by: New Zealand Comedy Trust

St James Theatre, 20th May 2023

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Loud & Queer is a one-off, two-hour show of stand-up and sketch comedy, songs, and drag performances as part of the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. The outpouring of audience support for Wellington’s queer community was palpable and exciting, and only enhanced a high-quality evening of entertainment.

Fabulous drag queen Judy Virago opened the show in one of three spectacular dresses she was to don throughout the evening. Co-host Tom Sainsbury’s dowdy arts administrator was a hilarious contrast. They were a fine pair of emcees who kept the performances rolling with interjections of their own feisty wit and repartee with audience members.

The bulk of the show was taken up by short sets from stand-up comedians Clarissa Chandrahasen, Neil Thornton, Mx. Well, Ryan McGhee, and Eli Matthewson, plus comedy duo Jez and Jace. The latter’s gauche, sexually repressed Wairarapa farming blokes and Matthewson’s story of his and his 62-year-old dad’s journeys to coming out were particular highlights in an excellent and eclectic comedy collection.

In an unexpected interlude, four members of the audience got involved doing catwalks along the stage for the chance to compete in a banana-swallowing contest. This was won by a game lady called Sandra who didn’t even wait for the countdown before she got stuck in and enthusiastically necked her fruit.

Drag acts Amanduh la Whore and Nova Starr bookended the show with stunning performances of powerful feminist songs. Starr’s rendition of This Is Me, the Bearded Lady’s song from The Greatest Showman, was a spectacular conclusion to the show, especially with the accompaniment of The Glamaphones, a 60-strong queer community choir. They had their own joyously performed set of three songs – Rainbowland, Don’t Tell Mama, and Go West.

The recent 4000-strong anti-TERF protest showed how much Wellington loves and values its LGBTQIA+ communities and Loud & Queer was a wonderful celebration of our diversity.