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Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones  | Regional News

Caburlesque: Rock & Rhinestones

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

The Fringe Bar, 4th Feb 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

For those of you who haven’t been to a Caburlesque show, think of it like cabaret meets burlesque… then pour a pound of glitter over it and amp it up to a thousand. For Rock & Rhinestones, we have SpongeBob SquarePants meeting Billy Idol, pole dancers meeting shotgun weddings, Tina Turner meeting rhinestone cowboys, and oh so much more. The theme is rock music, and the dress code? Sparkles, sparkles, and more sparkles.

The night opens with a warm welcome from our shiny-silver-suited MC Sadie Von Scrumptious, who has a good sense of timing and a knack for reading the room. Between acts, she engages us with terrible jokes (excellent) and witty banter but never for too long, keeping the momentum flowing at all times. Sadie also hosts air-guitar and best-dressed competitions straight after half time, a tried-and-true Caburlesque format that gets us involved and helps us release some of the energy and over-excitement we’ve built up over the past hour. The energy in the room is electric from start to end.

Some absolutely stunning acts take the stage over the course of the evening. Pandora Cherie mesmerises the crowd with a sensual, silky burlesque dance to Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence, while Pip E-Lysaah & The Red Queens: Gold Edition sizzle with an incredible showcase of strength and agility on chairs. Also showing a chair who’s boss is Velma Cherry, who puts on one of the most charismatic, infectious performances I’ve ever seen to Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah) by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Fun and fab Felicity Frockaccino finds the naughtiness in Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, and a moustached Maree & Giada set my jaw a-tumblin’ to the floor with remarkable pole feats as hilariously aloof cowboys.

There’s a reason these are the longest-running regular burlesque variety shows in Wellington. Get your bling on and go see for yourself.

Babylon | Regional News



189 minutes

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

If you loved Singing in the Rain but wished it had been a bit more debauched, decadent, and depraved, then Babylon is the film for you.

Written and directed by Academy Award-nominee Damien Chazelle, Babylon tells the story of three Hollywood dreamers during the rise and fall of the silent film era, from the 1920s through to the 50s. Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) is the king of silent films, but his talkies prove less popular. Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) knows she’s a star before she even steps foot in Hollywood; she gets a lucky break when she sneaks into a party but falls hard when cinema adds sound. Manuel Torres (Diego Calva) slowly climbs the ranks through his determination and commitment, but will his devotion to Nellie be too much to endure?

Cinematographer Linus Sandgren and editor Tom Cross are truly a match made in heaven. Sandgren has a way with light and colour as demonstrated in Chazelle’s La La Land, and his influence on Babylon is evident. Sandgren’s visuals combined with Cross’s fast-paced editing creates a thrilling rollercoaster ride that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Perhaps the biggest praise however should go to production designer Florencia Martin, who creates a world as fantastical, complex, diverse, grotesque, and saturated as a Fellini film.

Though beautiful, exciting, and undeniably entertaining, I think the film is decidedly unoriginal. The story seems more like a rip-off than a tribute to Singing in the Rain and The Great Gatsby. The underlying theme of Hollywood’s brutality, in which fame is delusional, and cinema is a business that uses creatives in its machine, is not only tired and over-used, but executed in a way that leaves no room for redemption or sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, the actors and crew all did a phenomenal job on the technical side of this film. The first two-thirds are engaging and decadently beautiful. However, I feel as though the final segment of the story somehow lost its way. Nevertheless, Babylon absolutely deserves a watch and some Oscar buzz.

Avatar: The Way of Water | Regional News

Avatar: The Way of Water


192 mins

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Director James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water continues the saga upon the moon Pandora. Ex-human, ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has established a family with Na’vi partner Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and they live in prosperous happiness. However, when the humans return to Pandora to extract its resources, Jake and his family are hunted. They escape to the safety of the island nations of the Metkayina people… or so they thought.

Centered heavily on the importance of family, Avatar also highlights themes of bravery and loyalty, underscoring the importance of doing the right thing and staying strong in the face of adversity. Avatar continues its commentary on environmental destruction, paralleling the ruination of Pandora through resource extraction to the devastation of our own planet by a common enemy: humans.

Avatar: The Way of Water is a visual tour de force and, unsurprisingly, a milestone in the world of CGI and VFX. Featuring new technologies from Wellington’s own Weta Workshop, the film is exceedingly beautiful. With an immersive seascape as the setting for this episode of the Avatar series, every new creature, every element of flora, every tiny detail is saturated with vitality and vibrancy; every being breathes with the eager effervescence of new creation. Russell Carpenter’s cinematography paired with a 3D experience, well balanced to be immersive but not overwhelming, ensures the viewer experiences the story from within Pandora herself, dripping and oozing with life.

Though Avatar is visually arresting and undeniably groundbreaking, the exceedingly lengthy runtime – of which a substantial amount is taken up by a repetitive unending final battle – leaves much to be desired. The dialogue’s informality feels incongruous and distracting. Though the story itself has some poignant and interesting moments, it essentially mimics the first movie with the classic trope of human vs Na’vi, good vs evil. 

Nevertheless, Avatar: The Way of Water is an incredible and unparalleled visual experience that is definitely worth a watch.

Summer Improv | Regional News

Summer Improv

Te Auaha, 20th Jan 2023

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Improv is one of my favourite things to watch. Often integrated into the action, the audience becomes one giant sponge, absorbing the adrenaline coursing through the cast as they scramble to make up scenes on the spot. It’s thrilling when things go right and equally so when things go wrong. It’s a communal experience for both its makers and those witnessing their creation: a show that can’t be repeated, will never be seen, again.

When you line up some of the best improvisers in Wellington – in this case, Alayne Dick, Jennifer O'Sullivan, Dianne Pulham, Matt Powell, and Wiremu Tuhiwai, with special guest David Correos from Christchurch – you’re pretty much guaranteed a great night.

Interestingly, the players only take one audience suggestion (the theme, Easter), instead of prompts for each scene. While I’ve seen the latter more often, I prefer the Summer Improv format – without interruptions, the action has more momentum than a bear devouring an entire jar of manūka honey that its flatmates were entitled to two-thirds of. Big shoutout to Tuhiwai here, whose portrayal of a bear that can’t get its scat sorted at home or work is one of the highlights of the night.

Animals – both fictional and real – become a recurring theme. We have the Easter Bunny (but of course), not one but two bears, and the Squirrel Squad – Trash Squirrel, Ocean Squirrel, Air Squirrel, and Forest Squirrel, a gang pictured here that I desperately wanted to assemble again. While I did fight the urge to cry out for a Squirrel Squad encore, the players incorporate many a great hark-back, consistently getting the audience in on the joke.

Just a few more gold nuggets include O’Sullivan’s wise-man Mark, Pulham’s gaslighting mother, Correos’ sober driver, Dick’s incompetent manager, and Powell’s irate flatmate. Matt Hutton’s improvised keyboard soundtrack and Sam Irwin’s snappy lighting transitions tie it all up neatly in a bow befitting for a young girl named Gavin.

Summer Improv is on for one more Friday in January, though I hope to see it become a regular fixture on our stages. It’s certainly earned its place!

Gaylene’s Take | Regional News

Gaylene’s Take

Written by: Gaylene Preston

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

I thought I knew some stuff about Gaylene Preston but I knew nothing! This book is a great insight into the way the world has moved on since the early days of filmmaking in New Zealand, especially when directed by a sheila. Gaylene was pretty resilient to get through some of the tough shoots and situations unscathed. She’s tenacious as nothing came easy, and boy did she fight for it.

It sounds like she had a lot of fun along the way and ‘faked it till she made it’. She did time in the UK, as is the Kiwi way, and worked in psychiatric wards putting on shows. I thought that was very brave but when you are young and fearless, you can do anything. She has worked with the best in New Zealand including Alun Bollinger, who she fondly refers to as AlBol (I always think of champagne). In those days you had to fill the cinemas across New Zealand and so she bought the Paramount for two weeks for $6000 to accomplish this. The Paramount, now sadly closed, used to show soft porn in the afternoons back then, but not when there was a Preston movie to screen.

Her family is her strength and she shares fond memories of her parents, even providing a sausage roll recipe from Tui (her late mum). The recipe starts: “Go down to the dairy and get frozen puff pastry, taking care to have a yarn with the shopkeeper about more than just the weather.” My kind of recipe and I will try it out.

As a storyteller, she has a great turn of phrase: “With the financial jersey not unravelling any further, we were sailing again.” “Tui was named after that dark metallic rainbow bird that swaggers and coughs through the New Zealand bush.”

I learned a lot about filmmaking and Gaylene’s successes from Gaylene’s Take. It took me back to a simpler time before tech got in the way. Happy days.

Waxing On | Regional News

Waxing On

Written by: Ralph Macchio


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

For someone who has never thrown a punch in their entire life, watching The Karate Kid for the first time in the 80s was pure wish fulfilment. And now with Ralph Macchio’s new book Waxing On, we get to see how all the stars aligned to create what many consider to be one of the best movies of 1984.

From his very first audition for the role of Daniel LaRusso, to meeting the late great Pat Morita for the first time, Waxing On goes in depth into what it was like making The Karate Kid trilogy and the impact it had on Macchio’s life and subsequent career.

His down-to-earth personality bleeds onto the page and is reflected in his writing style, which makes him a more relatable storyteller. There are no airs or graces that you might associate with a Hollywood celebrity here, nor are there the kind of outrageous stories about wrecking hotel suites or extramarital affairs that plague other memoirs. Instead, he’s humble about his achievements, honest about his mistakes, and thoroughly entertaining along the way.

Little anecdotes litter the entire book. I interpreted some as teachable moments, while others were fun little titbits that had me gasping for joy as a huge fan. One such story that caught and held my attention was the almost universal concern people had about Pat Morita’s match fitness for the role of Mr Miyagi. Even Macchio admitted to harbouring concerns about Arnold from Happy Days in one of the leading roles. Fortunately, Morita blew them all away with his audition and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s stories like these that make Waxing On such a pleasure to review.

And on that note, I always try to approach my reviews and give feedback in a balanced way, but I really can’t find any downsides to Waxing On. If you have the opportunity to pick this up, don’t hesitate – just do it. It is a must read for 2022.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar   | Regional News

The Rarkyn’s Familiar

Written by: Nikky Lee

Parliament House Press

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

The Rarkyn’s Familiar is the story of Lyss, a human bonded and inextricably entwined in a blood pact with Skaar, a creature, some say ‘monster’, from the Otherworld. Their unholy union borne from a fight-for-life encounter binds the Rarkyn to Terresmir, and to Lyss as her familiar.

In Nikky Lee’s fantasy novel lives a world where the horrors of creatures from the Otherworld threaten to breach the boundaries of Terresmir. Embroiled in a reluctant bond with a fearsome monster, Lyss experiences a symbiotic melding of powers and energies with Skaar, with the ever-present threat that “control will fall to whoever has the strongest magic”.

Each carries a secret burden as they travel to the Illredan Empire in a desperate quest to find a cure before the inevitable madness of their blood pact becomes all-consuming for Lyss. Otherworld beings, the elite soldiers of The Order, and wayward mancer Archer threaten to derail them along the way.

Skaar will fight for freedom in his bid to escape the clutches of Archer again, the cursed mancer who had once held him captive; driven to cruelty by guilt and despair, and a madness-filled quest to save someone long gone. Lyss will fight to avenge her father’s death.

The Rarkyn’s Familiar will have you questioning who is the monster – is it the one who fights for freedom? Or the one who fights for retribution?

In Skaar and Lyss, Lee has created impressive character arcs, fleshed out and splat out, where horror, fantasy, and magic collide.

Through their shared fight for survival, and as they hone their minds and magic across hugrokar (a telepathic sense) to share their thoughts, feelings, and attack plans with no need for spoken words, a reluctant regard for one another develops.

Though Lee says it took 16 painstaking years for this book to come to fruition, I got to the end of The Rarkyn’s Familiar feeling like the story and adventures of Lyss and Skaar are far from over.

No Less The Devil | Regional News

No Less The Devil

Written by: Stuart MacBride

Penguin Books

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

If you want a page-turner, then look no further than No Less The Devil. But be warned: once you get into this book, you’ll be seriously hooked. I read it on the bus home and nearly missed my stop. Then I sat in my car parked by the bus stop and read for another 10 minutes before driving home because I got to such a tense part in the plot that I couldn’t put the book down.

This murder-mystery about catching a deranged serial killer is very different to my usual favourite cosy mysteries. When I first picked it up, I read a chapter and put it down, because this tartan noir novel was a bit too dark and gritty for me. I picked it up again a week later and once I got that it was dark Scottish humour and rolled with it, I loved it.

The characters are intriguing and well developed. Detective Sergeant Lucy McVeigh Lucy is fantastic and likeable even though you find yourself shocked to be rooting for her at times. I hope we see this detective heroine again. The scenes with and descriptions of her unfit lumbering partner DC Duncan Fraser, also known as the Dunk, made me smile. The most memorable scenes though are when DS Lucy meets her match with the calculating students and teachers at a posh but unnerving private school.

The plot is fast paced and not always predictable. At first, I thought I was reading a pretty standard police procedural novel or classic serial killer mystery but then the plot started to take some unexpected turns. The writing is excellent and builds tension effectively. The detailed character descriptions draw you in, even when you know you shouldn’t be liking some of them!

This mystery is different. It’s dark and a bit discombobulating but it’s strangely fun. I recommend it.

Here For a Good Time | Regional News

Here For a Good Time

Written by: Chris Parker

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Courtney Rose Brown

Chris Parker is charming, charismatic, and chaotic. Everything in Here For a Good Time is an absolute delight. Parker takes you on a journey through his life and current musings. He’s not afraid to make fun of himself and I hope that like humourist author David Sedaris, Parker can just keep publishing his thoughts and make our days a little brighter. One of my favourite sections is how, in meticulous detail, he describes how to eat different types of biscuits (all worthy of the page and absolutely the correct way to eat them), and introduced me to one of my new favourite things: ‘a lolly to go’.

When a comedian ventures off the stage and onto the page, there’s a thrilling sense of the unknown. Without an audience to bounce off and real-time delivery, how strong is their voice alone? Well, you don’t need to worry about that here. Parker hits it out of the park, down the road, and past the dairy, where he can charm two-day-old free pies from the owner. As someone familiar with his work, it’s easy to picture him performing each chapter with all long gangly limbs flailing about, an ever-cheeky glint in his eye executed with his infectious energy. The joy of Here For a Good Time is that when reading you can’t help but laugh out loud. It’s hard to picture what it would be like to read this book without seeing him perform or checking out his Instagram skits first, but his voice, pacing, and delivery take away the need to have any knowledge of Parker’s prior work. 

The summary reads, “Here For a Good Time allows you to take Chris home for a much-needed pick me up whenever you need”, and never has a book description so aptly described the experience of reading it. Every musing he includes is like discovering a really good meme. Somehow he is able to effortlessly describe the human experience and make you laugh at the same time. I absolutely recommend it.