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Reviews

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.

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque | Regional News

Caburlesque – cABBAlesque

Presented by: LadyTramp Designs Ltd

Fringe Bar, 6th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Marrying cabaret and burlesque, Caburlesque is the longest running variety show of its kind in Wellington. For this jam-packed ABBA-themed rendition, I’m thrilled to join such an enthusiastic crowd. So enthusiastic, in fact, a bunch of hecklers regularly howl for “Carol”. The Carollers are handled beautifully by hostess with the mostess Sadie von Scrumptious, whose wicked sense of humour grows on me as she introduces the fABBAlous acts in turn.

The Red Queens kick it all off with a silly and sparkly, funny and fun belly dance to The Winner Takes It All. Felix Goodfellow then treats us to a swipe-right soirée, complete with a sequined eggplant I can’t describe in any more detail here. Taking the stage next – well, taking the pole – is the talented Cardiac Mercenary, who wows the crowd with trick after trick to a metal cover of an ABBA song. The darker notes of this routine feel out of place to me, but hey, they don’t call it a variety show for nothing!

Brightening the vibe is Rosina June with a sweet little karaoke number before Felicity Frockaccino comes in hot (pink) with a wholesome yet fierce lip-sync to Dancing Queen. Anglebert Humpermink brings the big mo and big energy to Does Your Mother Know, while Pip E-Lysaah has me watching her honey-centric act through my fingers. No spoilers here but boy did I screech. Then it’s time for Maree Prebensen and Giada Caluzzi’s dazzling pole routine to Money, Money, Money. Both look so at home on the stage and their chemistry crackles when they perform together. Constance Craving’s act sees her swap out lyrics in Mamma Mia to diss the movie, and while I wholeheartedly disagree (Mamma Mia is the most delightful film and I am willing to fight you on this), it’s one of my favourite performances of the night.

Ellie Kat’s lip-sync to an ABBA medley is the perfect finale. We’re boogieing in our seats, ready to go out into the night to – hopefully – find that blasted Carol.

Brown Crown | Regional News

Brown Crown

Written by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

Directed by: Sarai Perenise-Ropeti

BATS Theatre, 4th Feb 2021

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

Brown Crown follows the journey of a young Sāmoan woman, Masina (Falesafune Fa’afia-Maualaivao), as she navigates a contemporary world surrounded by never-ending expectations and legacies to uphold. As Masina finds her place in the world, her story is shown in conjunction with the old legend of Nafanua told to her by her grandmother.

From the moment I enter the space I’m overwhelmed by the calm and intimate atmosphere created. The room is dimly lit, with the main source of light coming from the display of large, hanging photo frames in the centre of the stage, filled with images cast from a projector (set design by Sarai Perenise-Ropeti). Masina’s story is told primarily from her family living room, set in front of the frames which are filled beautifully with family photos. When we travel in time and into the legend of Nafanua, a strong and empowering woman and warrior, the action takes place behind the frames, with dim red light cast on the figures. The use of set and lighting (Matilde Furholm) to guide us through time and location is unique, dynamic, and absolutely exquisite. Including beautifully choreographed fight scenes (depicted through dance), each aspect of the piece plays a key role in the production, and each works to complement the rest.

With the exception of the lead role, Masina, each actor takes on several characters. Actors Fa’afia-Maualaivao, Kasi Valu, John Ulu Va'a, and Ahry Purcell work wonderfully together; I’m amazed at how well they all convey the unique personalities and stories of each of their characters.

Complete with intimate storytelling, modern comedy, and both traditional and contemporary dance, Brown Crown observes the exploration of culture and identity. The story reflects on the weight Pasifika women carry on their shoulders, but is one that resonates with everyone; there’s not a soul in the audience who doesn’t empathise with Masina throughout her journey.

Beautifully written and directed, this story has me covered in goosebumps, on the verge of tears, and hysterical with laughter. What an incredible opening night.

Dawn Raid | Regional News

Dawn Raid

(M)

98 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Oscar Kightley’s inspiring hip-hop documentary proves Kiwis can hustle with the best of them. With a firm grasp on the history of Dawn Raid Entertainment, the director prioritises narrative and character to give the film rhythm, tempo, and volume.

Formed in South Auckland in the late 1990s by classmates Tanielu Leaosavai’i (aka Brotha D) and Andy Murnane, Dawn Raid Entertainment is responsible for New Zealand’s first legitimate hip-hop movement. What the amateur businessmen lacked in finesse they made up for in determination, and subsequently, artists like Savage, Aaradhna, Deceptikonz, and Adeaze would dramatically change the landscape of Kiwi music. However, a hasty rise to the top would soon be followed by a devastating fall.

While Dawn Raid clearly comes from the mind of a born storyteller, Kightley hit the jackpot when it came to these key players. Brotha D and Andy are fascinating individuals who will make you laugh loudly and listen intently. We see this dynamic duo at their most opportunistic and their most naive. We watch in anticipation as these boys grow wise throughout the years, eventually making enough mistakes to become the men we see today.

The streets of South Auckland come alive in this doc. Kightley incorporates signature hip-hop imagery of the era to forever entangle the artistry with the environment that surrounds it, including in some hilarious animated sequences. This connection is also the source of Dawn Raid’s most poignant moments, when low expectations are surpassed against all odds. We feel the highs and lows that these pioneers journey through – when Savage scores an Akon feature just as he blows up, or when Wu Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck decides to rewrite a verse because he is blown away by Mareko’s abilities.

Dawn Raid is dense in its brevity, although it substitutes interesting parts of the label’s story in favour of entertaining ones. An equal focus on the creative processes of these artists, on top of the business-savvy minds behind the rise of Dawn Raid, would have rounded the film off like a well-placed rhyme.

Sunset in the Blue | Regional News

Sunset in the Blue

Melody Gardot

UMG

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t and we reviewers and critics are to blame. It all boils down to this. If an artist keeps making the same-ish album time after time, then they are lumbered with a ubiquitous attitude. It’s here that I invoke the names Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, and too many others to mention. If you change tack every few albums, and I’m thinking of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello here, then you are forever smeared with the label of not thinking about your fans. Yes, you can’t win. And yes, we have your names!

Melody Gardot falls into the former category. Her warm, velvet-glove voice envelops you. It strokes your arm and goose-pimples rise. It’s a shiver looking for a spine. Toes tingle and the sound of your heartbeat is the loudest thing in the room.

It’s not her fault that her albums follow a familiar path. Her voice, as wonderful as it is – and nobody has a voice with as flawless a microphone technique as hers – is simply incapable of branching out into a big band arrangement or incorporating a rock beat.

At first, I thought this must be an older album resurfacing, as the arrangements shimmer with the sound of the late great Claus Ogerman (1930-2016), who arranged strings for Antônio Carlos Jobim, Frank Sinatra, and Diana Krall. As it is, it’s Vince Mendoza, whose work has adorned the albums of Joni Mitchell, Sting, and Elvis. Along the way, he has won six Grammy Awards.

The opening, the self-composed If you Love Me, is just lovely. “If you love me let me know / Tell my heart which way to go / Come in close but come in slowly, now / If you love me let me know”.

Whilst a version of Moon River adds nothing to the original, the standard I Fall in Love too Easily is a cracker. An absolute delight is the duet C’est Magnifique, sung in Portuguese with António Zambujo. Being true to her roots, Gardot proves that less is more.