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Death on the Nile | Regional News

Death on the Nile


127 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Whether or not you’ve seen its prequel Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s newest rendition of the famous Agatha Christie murder-mystery Death on the Nile is well worth a watch. With a star-studded cast the likes of Annette Bening, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Kenneth Branagh himself as the inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Poirot is happily enjoying his holiday in Egypt when he is interrupted by his friend Bouc’s (Tom Bateman) invitation to join the wedding party of Linnet and Simon Doyle (Gadot and Hammer) down the Nile River. However the honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when death makes a not-so-surprise appearance aboard the cruise.

Utterly glamorous, Branagh’s rendition fully embraces the vintage aesthetic this period piece permits. From costumes to props, and even setting, the film itself is so indisputably beautiful that it comes as a shock to find it was filmed entirely in a London Studio and not along the sultry shores of the Nile herself.

The score is beautifully crafted, featuring jazz music that would have been at the height of fashion in 1937. Unique however is that the score is seamlessly woven into the story itself through the character of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), a famous jazz singer of the novel’s era who happens to be invited along on the cruise.

The editing style wholly embraces the murder-mystery genre of the film. With wide slow exposition shots interspersed with quick cuts in moments of tension, the editing leaves you on edge and desperate to uncover the killer. Similarly, the cinematography guides the viewer’s eye exactly where it needs to be, hiding clues in plain sight and revealing just enough to formulate conjectures and accusations. Interrogation scenes characterised by chiaroscuro lighting denote a sense of paranoia, whereas sweeping circular shots of Poirot pacing around his suspects create unease and restlessness, making even the viewer feel a little guilty.

Glamorous, classic, and undoubtedly fun, Death on the Nile delivers precisely as promised.

El Barrio  | Regional News

El Barrio

35 Dixon Street, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

From the moment you walk up the stairs into El Barrio, you feel as if you have suddenly walked into a restaurant somewhere in Latin America. The catchy Latin American tunes, funky interior, and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking staff all help transport you far from central Wellington before the food has even hit your table. 

Their menu is perfect for sharing and my partner and I made the most of their range of Latin American inspired tapas. We ordered caprese empanadas, crispy squid, guacamole, carne asada (grilled beef with tortillas), pão de queijo (cheesy bread), and chicken nibbles. Now before I jump into all the good stuff, I will say that the portions are very small. Six tapas were enough for two people but let’s just say they put the nibbles in chicken nibbles. 

Most of the food was delicious. The crispy squid was the staff pick and it was certainly my pick as well. As promised, it came out crispy and flavoursome, and the salsa criolla it was served with provided a nice boost of spice. Simple flavours came to life in the caprese empanadas, which were stuffed with stretchy mozzarella, tomato, basil, parmesan, and spices. The guacamole and chicken nibbles weren’t the best I’d ever had but they were still pleasant.   

My only let down was the pão de queijo. I am certainly no expert on this Brazilian specialty but to me it tasted quite bland, and a pairing of aioli didn’t really work. However, the juicy and tender beef served with carne asada made up for it and being able to make our own little tortillas was a nice touch. Considering where we were, it only felt right to order churros for dessert, and although one was slightly undercooked the rest were perfect.  

The service was good but not amazing as the staff members weren’t jumping for joy when we walked in, but they helped us with everything we needed. The food came out reasonably quickly and the Latin American cocktails were delightful. El Barrio’s awesome interior slightly outshined its food, but overall, this Latino restaurant is one that will have guests yelling ¡vamos!

Museum | Regional News


Written by: Frances Samuel

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This collection (if you’ll excuse the pun) relates to author Frances Samuel’s experience as a writer of texts for museum pieces. Perhaps it’s not surprising that an unusual occupation like that should give rise to such smart, witty, nuanced poems.

I smiled with delight at her signature Exhibition, which describes museum objects as “those red herrings of history” and refers to “my employee’s tag a cheap necklace with an outdated cameo”. It took me more than one reading to discover the poem’s meaning – artfully obscured behind a heap of such images – but I’m glad I persevered.

Climate Change posits an unlikely and novel pairing of the ornithological and the mammalian. “You be a bird and I’ll be a buffalo” is the premise, and the poet goes on to suggest why the combination of six legs and four eyes is a useful and workable one. Behind the words sits the concept of cooperation, surely so indispensable for combatting climate change, captured movingly in the last three lines: “Over and again, agreement can only come when the bird in me bleats to the buffalo in you.”

Samuel goes on to capture the world of the supernatural, most effectively with her narrative-style How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts. The writer is good at this job: “Bed sheets with elasticated corners are the best tools for the job”, she advises, and “most ghosts don’t struggle. I think they’re happy to be caught” turns out to be an ironic comment on the nature of marriage.

My favourite poem would have to be Pottery – yes, you read that right – and our writer here uses the likeness of pottery to poetry to comment on the nature of the latter. “Pots are approachable, democratic, familiar to everyone. They don’t require special knowledge to interpret and neither do poems”.

And surely that’s true, or should be, of poetry. Although Samuel’s work is erudite and clever, it isn’t self-indulgently so. She’s down to earth enough to include motherhood and exercise amongst her poetic targets. And, of course, museums.

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy | Regional News

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy

Written by: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Picking up directly from the first book One For SorrowTwo For Joy continues the adventures of the title’s main protagonists, Audrey and Ivy, as they try to solve the mysteries surrounding their school Illumen Hall and the titular Magpie Society. 

This time the actions ramped up to level 10, with the stakes getting higher and much deadlier for everyone involved. In my review for One For Sorrow a couple of years ago, I compared it with Harry Potter; now, it feels as if both Sugg and McCulloch have taken the series and moved it in an entirely new direction. A darker one filled with personalities and locations just as memorable as anything JK Rowling could ever come up with. If this were a movie, I would say that it was a cinematic experience, made with a bigger budget than the first.

The characters are the deepest and most complex I’ve seen. Each one is alive with their own motivations. We see behind-the-scenes glimpses into Ivy and Audrey, who are more developed this time around. By dividing the book into chapters that focus on each girl, we see what makes them tick as people and learn more about their motivations. 

Usually, I take the time to discuss the negatives found in the book, but there isn’t anything for me to complain about here. Everything from the first title has been beefed up and made better, and what didn’t work has been ditched. My only real grumble is that I suspect this might be the last book in the series, and I’ll have to say goodbye to The Magpie Society for good.

Bottom line, if you have read One For Sorrow, then you need to pick this up. To sum it up in just a few words: satisfying, clever, wonderful, fun.

Words of Comfort | Regional News

Words of Comfort

Written by: Rebekah Ballagh

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

Rebekah Ballagh’s Words of Comfort offers a grounding and simplistic response to grief. Navigating grief, whether it’s sideways, through it, or crawling under it, Words of Comfort offers a sense of stillness through grief’s noise.

Like a journey that has no set place or time, Words of Comfort has no prescriptive actions or ‘must dos’. Instead Ballagh encourages living in a moment, whatever that moment may be, whether it is navigating guilt and anxiety, loss and despair, or trying to tread water in the face of sadness and longing for what once was. The chapters hit you where grief hits you, right in the place where it lives on any given day: the past, the present, or the every day. Ballagh talks about being grounded, being safe, and being okay when nothing feels okay.

Ballagh suggests creating a memory box to remind you of all the moments you’ve shared with someone. She reminds us that in the process of loss we learn we were never promised a perfect life, and that it’s okay to go on living even when you are lost and have lost something or someone.

Words of Comfort is a heartwarming and gentle book that neither preaches about how someone should grieve nor assumes where grief ends or begins. Despite its gentle nature and soft calming illustrations, a small part of me wonders if these messages would seem trite to someone facing overwhelming grief, a grief that untethers you and is palpable in every breath you take. Or would it instead offer small comfort on the days when the mundane act of reading a book has only just become manageable?

I lean towards the latter. If only one quote resonates and makes someone feel a little bit better, for that moment in time, I think it’s a good thing.

“It’s okay to go on living, to have a life that carries on in a future you hadn’t imagined. It’s okay to laugh again. And it’s always okay to cry again,” Ballagh says.

The Fair Botanists  | Regional News

The Fair Botanists

Written by: Sara Sheridan

Hodder & Stoughton

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

The Fair Botanists by Scottish writer Sara Sheridan has been my surprise read of 2022 so far. It’s charming, beautifully written, and draws the reader in slowly through its rich character development supported by an excellent plot with just the right amount of tension.

The book is set in summer 1822 when all of Edinburgh is excited about King George IV’s impending visit. Elsewhere though, our characters are more fascinated by the growth of an exotic Agave Americana plant in the Botanic Gardens, which only flowers every 30 years. The plant brings together newly widowed Elizabeth and entrepreneurial Belle, as well as a cast of characters who grow on the reader as the plant grows. The female characters are by far the strongest and most captivating. But there’s a sprinkling of likeable male characters too, including William McNab, the hard-working head gardener at the Botanic Gardens who has some secrets of his own and is wrestling with his conscience.

The flowering of the plant brings tension to the plot as many characters have an interest in it and the promise and possibilities its seeds could bring. Elizabeth finds a sense of purpose through her botanical illustrations and wants to contribute by capturing the plant when it flowers, while courtesan Belle is exploring a new niche in the creation of a perfume that she hopes will make her fortune and provide her with a more secure future.

This is a historical novel and its descriptions of Georgian Edinburgh bring the setting to life. Gardeners will enjoy reading about the exotic plants and the history of the gardens. At the heart of the book though is female friendship and two women striving to find their place and their independence in a man’s world.

I loved this book from the first few chapters and couldn’t put it down. I know you’ll love it too as you follow the ups and downs of Belle and Elizabeth’s unlikely friendship.

The Batman | Regional News

The Batman


176 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

It’s interesting but when it comes to The Batman the story is probably my least favourite element (apart from Robert Pattinson’s Batman voice, but more on that later). That’s not to say I didn’t like the story but when other elements such as the sound engineering, lighting, fight scenes, and score are so good, those are the things that make me come back for more. 

Bruce Wayne, known by some as Batman (Pattinson), ventures into Gotham City’s underworld after a sadistic killer who calls himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues and high-profile murders. As the evidence begins to lead closer to Wayne’s family, the scale of the killer’s plans become even more devastating. Batman must forge new and unlikely relationships as he attempts to unmask the culprit and bring justice to the corruption that plagues the city. What he uncovers will have him questioning everything he ever believed. 

The beginning of the film was brilliant. I won’t spoil all the fun, but the new-look Riddler’s entrance sets the tone for what is going to be a grim, dark, and gritty three hours. I think Pattinson did a great job as Batman considering the pressure that comes with any such role. He delivered audiences a refreshing take on the hero, one who is clearly scarred from the nightmares of his past. His ‘regular dude’ Batman voice was a let-down, but overall Pattison was a worthy successor of the role thanks to his sombre, methodical, and engaging approach. 

Movies don’t need to be three hours to be good and that is the same for The Batman. If director Matt Reeves had shaved off 30 minutes, the story would have felt tighter as some unnecessary scenes could have been cut. It was also awesome to see Batman wasn’t perfect, often taking his fair share of punches in a fight. Everything sounded amazing, and the weaving in of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria throughout the film was both brilliant and sinister. 

Although The Dark Knight still stands atop of the podium, The Batman has begun a new era for the famous franchise. It is a dark, haunting, and intense tale told with brilliant elements and fresh characters.  

The Spitfire Grill | Regional News

The Spitfire Grill

Written by: James Valcq and Fred Alley

Directed by: Jen Goddard

Gryphon Theatre, 23rd Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

With the New Zealand premiere of The Spitfire Grill, Wellington Repertory Theatre has successfully brought to the stage a boutique 1970s-set American musical and made it relevant for a COVID-impacted 2022 Kiwi audience.

Percy (Sara Douglas) is freed from jail and heads to the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin (nothing to do with The Handmaid’s Tale) on little more than the promise of beautiful autumn leaves. There she meets the local Sheriff (Alex Robertson) and falls into a job at the only eating place in town, the Spitfire Grill, run by the spiky Hannah (Gillian Boyes), and strikes up a friendship with Hannah’s daughter-in-law Shelby (Natalie Gay). Frequenting the grill daily are Shelby’s misogynistic husband Caleb (Leon Beaton) and town gossip Effy (Amy Bradshaw). Lurking in the shadows is a mysterious visitor (Carl Johnstone) whose identity is the culmination of a steady peeling back of the secrets and tragedies of this small community that has become isolated and abandoned through economic depression.

As the three leading women, Douglas, Gay, and Boyes are strong, engaging, and polished. Their harmonies are spot on and one of the highlights of this intimate but weighty production. Ultimately, this is a story of women taking responsibility for their own empowerment and these three deliver that mission convincingly. Beaton’s excellent and expressive voice gives dimension to the otherwise unlikeable Caleb and Bradshaw’s snarky comments and facial expressions bring lightness to the heavy themes. Robertson’s Sherriff is sweet and appealing.

Balancing the sound from the band with the singers is always a challenge at the Gryphon, but Thomas Perry’s design gets it right. Angela Wei’s lighting design is excellent and Oliver Webber’s operation timed perfectly to highlight each scene in the small space and support the lyrics. The drab and frumpy clothing (Wendy Howard) fits the era and themes appropriately, and Jen Goddard’s unfussy direction works well.

This slick production of a gem of a musical is well worth a watch.

Miss Brontë | Regional News

Miss Brontë

Created by: Mel Dodge

Directed by: Lyndee-Jane Rutherford

BATS Theatre, 22nd Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

In the words of Charlotte Brontë herself, Mel Dodge’s Miss Brontë is “condensed, powerful energy”. With over 80 percent of the script from Charlotte Brontë’s own letters and novels, and the remaining 20 percent gleaned from extensive research, Miss Brontë feels as though it comes straight from the author’s own heart.

Dodge’s performance is second to none. Raw, pure, and utterly “based in truth”, Charlotte Brontë comes to life onstage in every iteration of her being; “not man, not woman, but author”. Cloaked in Letty Macphedran’s beautiful period piece costume, Brontë appears to us “a free independent human being [who] will write because [she] must” . Her childhood memories, her great loves, her heart-wrenching loneliness and grief, but most of all her unmitigated brilliance all take up residence in Dodge’s own soul onstage before us.

Matching Dodge’s performance is Marisa Cuzzolaro’s design and creation. Stage right is a writing desk, centre a dining table, and stage left a side table and armchair, all locations for Charlotte’s hours of writing. In each of these locations piles of books and papers take up residence, the stage a physical representation of Charlotte’s world and mind. The year is denoted upon the cover of each book Brontë picks up as she tells her story, and as the story and Brontë herself evolve, the stage becomes littered with page upon page of the Brontë sisters’ poetry and prose. Papers overflowing with words fly through the air just as thoughts would have flown through Brontë’s own mind, life, and heart.

Fiercely independent and steadfast in her ideals, Charlotte Brontë’s truths are laid bare in Miss Brontë as we see into a soul only glimpsed through the pages of her novels. “Imagination lifts my head when I am sinking”, the author pens, though her imagination, her stories “based in truth” depict women as intense, thoughtful, learned, complex, and human as herself and her sisters. Miss Brontë recognises the author’s soul, and for this it is unequivocally Brontë herself.