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Reviews

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief | Regional News

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Written by: A.F. Steadman

Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by: Cade Manava (10)

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief is a book about a boy named Skandar who loves to watch unicorns race and goes on a quest to try and find the right unicorn to match his spirit. He gets swept up in a lie when he tells his sister Kenna that he is training to be a unicorn rider, something only the best of the best get to do. Kenna then tells his whole school so he has no choice but to set out to make his little white lie a reality. On his travels he sees different unicorns. His favourite is New-Age Frost, whose rider Aspen McGrath had qualified for the Chaos Cup, the ultimate race every unicorn and rider dreams to participate in. The main characters are Skandar, his sister Kenna, and his dad. 

My favourite part of the book was the beginning because it was interesting to read about Skandar’s background and where he’s from. I also liked the end because there was much more action when the book started to wrap up. Even though at first I wasn’t that keen on reading about unicorns… mostly because it makes me think of pink and rainbows (which isn’t my usual thing), there was so much action and excitement that it changed my view on how I feel about all things unicorn.

There wasn’t much that I didn’t like apart from a few boring bits at the start. The only thing that didn’t interest me as much was that the book was about unicorns… which isn’t something that would usually catch my interest, but otherwise there wasn’t really anything that I didn’t enjoy.

Overall I enjoyed Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. It’s great to read before bed. For boys I think the age should be nine to 14 and for girls I reckon from eight to 15 would be a good age range, only because the majority of girls seem to be more interested in unicorns. Out of five stars I give it a 4.5.

Elvis | Regional News

Elvis

(PG-13)

159 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

After seeing the dramatic lives of Elton John, Freddie Mercury, and Aretha Franklin brought to life on the big screen, it’s only fitting that the king of rock ‘n’ roll has been given his turn to shine again in Elvis. The result is a bold and dramatic musical epic that gets some things very right and others a bit wrong.

From his rise to fame to his unprecedented superstardom, Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) maintains a complicated relationship with his enigmatic manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), for over two decades. Through love, loss, fame, fortune, and of course, music, the singer and some of his peers begin to question if he is truly in charge of his own destiny.

Butler’s performance steals the show. The 30-year-old stated that he felt a responsibility to Elvis and his family to live up to the icon through his portrayal. From speaking in his notable deep voice and performing his famous dance moves onstage to even singing like him, Butler nailed every single element. Hanks supported the young actor well in a rare role as the antagonist, while the casting and performances across the board were excellent.

Elvis has a unique style thanks to director Baz Luhrmann. It is told from the Colonel’s perspective even though he is clearly the villain, an element I enjoyed. However, at times it is an overload on the senses due to quick edits, comic book-style visuals, and odd mixtures of Elvis classics with modern-day pop hits. It is also a shame that not a single Elvis song is sung in full.

Even at almost three hours long, parts of Elvis’ iconic life are rushed through, but the film also never loses your attention. The ending is both sombre and powerful thanks to how Luhrmann and his writers chose to abruptly wrap up the story. It is a tragedy that the world lost Elvis at just 42, and this tragedy and the reasons are dramatically emphasised.

Elvis won’t really tell you anything new about the star, but overall, it is a captivating, exciting, and haunting feature that showcases much of Elvis’ trailblazing journey.

Ngā Rorirori | Regional News

Ngā Rorirori

Written by: Hone Kouka

Directed by: Hone Kouka

Circa Theatre, 25th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

“I want to make something that I’ve never seen before in Aotearoa.” These are the words of celebrated playwright Hone Kouka (Bless the Child) who describes Ngā Rorirori as a culmination of three artforms that intrigue him: dance, farce, and theatre. I couldn’t put it better myself: Ngā Rorirori is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I doubt I will ever see anything like it again.

Pillow (Regan Taylor) and Manuela (Mycah Keall) Rorirori stand to come into some moolah from their marae, which could become a cash cow if they impress the Chief Executive of the Department of ‘Whenua, Whakapapa and Whatever’ Ripeka Goldsmithworthy (Hahna Nichols). Newly heartbroken filmmaker Stacey Li Paul (Nomuna Amarbat) documents Pillow’s life while he tries to dazzle Manuela’s partner Rere Ahuahu (Sefa Tunupopo) instead in a classic case of mistaken identity with hilarious consequences.

I could tell you that you’re in for a surprise when Ngā Rorirori segues from dance to theatre, but I don’t think that would cover it. We open with contemporary choreography (Braedyn Togi) that aches and thrusts to measured, precise beats (compositions and karanga by Sheree Waitoa, compositions by Maarire Brunning Kouka and Reon Bell, who infuse a hip-hop and R&B flavour into the sound design). And then we’re bowled over by an unrestrained tornado of colour, sound effects, physical theatre, and clowning in scenes where actors lip sync to dialogue performed by a separate vocal cast.  Only the characters of Pillow and Stacey share the same actor both onstage and off it.

The dubbing is super jarring at first but ultimately serves to heighten the dialogue so it can thrive in the magical, elevated realm of Ngā Rorirori. Cohesion is achieved here because if naturalism was integrated at any point, it would stand in too stark a contrast with… well, everything else! One can’t really interact with a surtitle machine come to life and act normal about it now, can they?

Elements of cinema come into play with said surtitles, which incorporate te reo translations (Hōhepa Waitoa) to great effect. Aspects of French farce and melodrama, Italian commedia dell'arte, Broadway musicals, children’s TV shows, and more influences than I can count are woven into a work where te ao Māori beats fast, hard, and loud at the centre.

All the while, actors throw mammoth energy into delivering and honouring Ngā Rorirori. How big, how bizarre, how beautiful.

Matariki | Regional News

Matariki

Written and illustrated by Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

My nine-year-old enjoyed Matariki, a children’s book written to celebrate and explore Matariki. “It reminds you of the Māori ways of the world; about protecting nature and the earth,” he says.

Authors Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson, two cousins from Ōtepoti, Dunedin, delve into the meaning of Matariki. They ask, how can we celebrate Matariki? Let’s look to the stars. With rich bilingual text, we learn about each of the stars that form the Matariki star cluster.

With its earthy and uniquely Kiwi illustrations, Matariki offered an opportunity for my son and I to learn more about everything we didn’t know, which I discovered was a lot! Were there seven stars or nine? In the book there are nine but a little a visit to Te Papa’s website explained that it could be both. Different iwi share different kōrero regarding Matariki, they say. Next we visited Te Ara, The Encyclopeadia of New Zealand, which says iwi across New Zealand understand and celebrate Matariki in different ways and at different times. Te Aka Māori Dictionary came to our rescue a few times to help us pronounce words such as hiwaiterangi and waipunarangi correctly.

When my son and I were halfway through reading Matariki, he randomly asked me if I knew about Kupe and his stone and he proceeded to tell me what he knew when I told him that I didn’t. I thought this was really cool – it really hit home how we are all on a learning journey together and not only can we learn from each other, but the simple act of reading can educate, create connections, and encourage us to seek out more information to become more informed and more aware.

Matariki is a lovely simple book that encourages us to look deeper, stay connected, and celebrate Matariki by remembering our past, caring for our environment, and connecting with our people.

You’ll be the Death of Me | Regional News

You’ll be the Death of Me

Written by: Karen M. McManus

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Saashika (15)

You’ll be the Death of Me was honestly one of the most intriguing books I’ve ever read. The story follows a group of ex-friends, who are brought together once more by a horrible scene they witnessed together, and in which they look terribly guilty…

One thing I liked about this book is the plot twists and how cleverly crafted they are. Karen M. McManus is well renowned for her mystery novels, so I entered this book wondering if she would manage to uphold the high standard she has already set. And my goodness she did. I adored the fact that the plot twists weren’t just thrown in there for the sake of it, but actually made you smack your head and wonder why you didn’t realise before. All throughout, McManus teases us with little bits of information that reveal a new way the story can go, or another possible suspect. These bits connect beautifully at the end, and that is one of the things I love most about this book.

Another thing is the fact that there are many, many characters but it is never difficult to recall who they are. I have noticed that in other books where there are several different characters, sometimes they all seem to blend in together. But it is never hard to tell who is who in this book. The characters are all wonderfully diverse and distinct from one another. 

Another thing is that McManus beautifully portrays the fact that these kids are children put into a very adult situation. The characters don’t suddenly become adult-like detectives but still retain the fact that they are, in fact, children chucked into a murder situation and are struggling to find their footing. They handle teenager crushes whilst hunting a suspect down, and navigate petty grudges whilst figuring out how to prove themselves innocent of a crime they didn’t commit.

All in all, You’ll be the Death of Me is an amazing read if you are looking for that book to keep you turning the page, to keep you on your toes. It’s amazingly written, with great characters and an even better storyline.

The Bookseller at the End of the World  | Regional News

The Bookseller at the End of the World

Written by: Ruth Shaw

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Ruth Avery

The Bookseller at the End of the World is such an evocative title, I had to read it after I read articles about the author Ruth Shaw. What a wonderful book! It had everything – great characters both animal and human, interesting travel adventures, heartbreak (several times over), but mostly joy.

Ruth has lived more in one year than some people do in their whole lives. She leaves men behind and has a restless soul due to various things that happened in her past. Ruth learns how to sail and spends time living on boats. She adopts pets along the way too and even nurses a baby bird back to health who she aptly names Katherine Mansfield (Katie for short). Katie is quite a feature in the shop. Her work stories in King’s Cross in the 1980s are eye-opening. Never a dull day in Ruth’s life. Her open manner means she can talk to sex workers and gain their respect without telling them how to live their lives. She gets a hug from a staunch regular and even she was surprised.

Ruth’s life story is interspersed with excerpts from her bookshop encounters. I loved it. It made me cry and laugh. The opening chapter, Two Wee Bookshops, is fantastic. I was hooked. The interaction with the American woman who asks if the shop is open and sells books is priceless. But even better is the gentle way she encourages young children to read and the story about young Toby made me weep. I want to read it again but will have to wait a while to get over it. I would love to visit my namesake Ruth and see her wonderful empire and meet Lance, who quite rightly gets his own chapter The Adventures of Lance.

Ruth Shaw has certainly made her mark on this world and has helped countless people. This book is lovingly and thoughtfully crafted, and beautifully descriptive. A joy to read. Five stars.

The Good Partner | Regional News

The Good Partner

Written by: Karen Nimmo

HarperCollins

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Most of us bumble into relationships, without a manual, as the author states early on in this book, and then wonder why we have challenges. For example, the last time I read a relationship book it was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray several decades ago while I was single. Now I’m married and far from the perfect partner, as very few of us are, and that’s the point of this book.

Karen Nimmo is a Wellington-based registered clinical psychologist so, unlike many self-help books, this one is based on New Zealand culture and lived experiences and importantly has some efficacy behind it.

Best of all, it’s chock-full of practical, no-nonsense advice and strategies delivered in plain English.

This isn’t a book you work on with your partner, nor is it about changing your partner. It’s about becoming at ease with yourself and ultimately at ease in your relationship. The author does this by getting the reader to take a look at their ‘love bucket’ of all the things they bring to a relationship, which she then themes up into the seven pillars of relationships. I’ve read reviews that described this as a transformational book, which sounds a bit dramatic. In contrast I found it supported very gentle shifts that felt more realistic and sustainable to me.

In terms of structure and readability, The Good Partner is full of clear sub-headings so you can dip in and out of it. It also has well signposted chapters so you can flick straight to the topics you want to explore further, like conflict resolution.

I found it invaluable in supporting me and my attitude during a period of self-isolation when otherwise tempers might have frayed. Instead, I came out thanking my partner for the time we’d had together, and I meant it.

I was so impressed I signed up to the author’s regular emails and continue to learn and upskill myself on this important topic.

The Final Hours Hour | Regional News

The Final Hours Hour

Written by: Ben Volchok

Directed by: Sandy Whittem

BATS Theatre, 14th Jun 2022

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Alone in a dripping, derelict, dinghy basement at the end of the world, Victor Bravo (Ben Volchok) hosts a radio programme called The Final Hours Hour. It’s quite possibly the only radio programme on quite possibly the only radio station, Apocalypse FM. In the midst of a perpetual nuclear winter where the only thing that grows is onions, Victor endures with just a few things to keep him company. He has an old iPod, some tapes, a cassette player, a telephone, and an action figure with an onion for a head. Onion Boy watches on, bemused, while Victor valiantly insists: “It’s a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful day”.

Written before COVID but taking on a new meaning post-pandemic, The Final Hours Hour is an exploration of loss and loneliness, isolation and desolation. And onions. The onions are important. In fact, the smell of onions permeates the BATS Theatre Studio, especially after Victor blends them to make a banana milkshake sans banana, sans milk, and sans shake. Just onions, then.

The Final Hours Hour has a strong concept. We watch a man try and fail to distract himself in the unrelenting face of the apocalypse, and for brief interludes we too forget his inevitable fate. We have hope when he does. We laugh when he makes jokes, although he rarely laughs himself. And we – or at least I – become inextricably invested in The Continuing Adventures of Onion Boy, especially when a space alien gets involved. Volchok’s performance and speech work here are excellent.

The scope of Victor’s loss plays out painstakingly in an inspired and cluttered set, with sound and lighting design (all three by Volchok) emphasising place and hopelessness. The slow build is cut short by one extended scene of sorrow that doesn’t impact me as much as watching Victor just try, desperately, devastatingly, to carry on.

Humour and pathos balance precariously on diced onions in The Final Hours Hour. While they sometimes topple a tad, largely, they stand their ground.

Jurassic World Dominion  | Regional News

Jurassic World Dominion

(PG-13)

127 mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I really wanted to like Jurassic World Dominion. Growing up, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic Jurassic Park was one of my favourite films, and although the franchise has never really been able to capture the magic of the original, I had high hopes for an instalment set to close off this prehistoric universe. Instead, I was underwhelmed and to put it frankly, bored!

The future of mankind hangs in the balance as humans and dinosaurs coexist following the destruction of Isla Nublar. This fragile balance will be tested when the CEO of genetics company Biosyn, Dr Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) attempts to use the power of these primitive creatures for his own gain. Will human beings remain the apex predators on a planet they now share with history’s most fearsome creatures?

Dominion is extremely lazy. It’s almost impossible to produce a film with no inconsistencies but when you create a chase scene where a velociraptor is unable to catch up to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) but then keeps up with Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) on a motorbike only a few moments later, that is just lazy. The film is riddled with these sorts of inconsistencies, as director Colin Trevorrow decided it would be easier than coming up with intelligent explanations for why his characters travelled great distances in mere minutes and why security cameras never seemed to be working.

The original was so good because Spielberg built suspense so well. Did you know that in Jurassic Park dinos are only on the screen 11 percent of the time? Dominion is the complete opposite. Why would audiences fear these monsters when every two minutes they see Pratt and co escape from one? The dinosaurs may look amazing but the mystery and fear that used to surround them has been lost. There was no sense of wonder, nothing was new or suspenseful. The return of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) added some well-timed nostalgia, but even they couldn’t save Dominion’s weak script and predictable plot.

As sad as it may be, as Grant suggested all those years ago, it really is time to close the park down and move on.