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Poor Things | Regional News

Poor Things


141 minutes

(3 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

I truly disliked Poor Things for the first 30 minutes. When it dawned on me that it is cinematic magical realism, I became enthralled.

Directed by Greece’s surrealist son Yorgos Lanthimos, Poor Things is a tribute to Frankenstein starring Emma Stone as Bella Baxter, a woman created by Dr Godwin ‘God’ Baxter (Willem Dafoe). In a smutty romp through a distorted Europe and free from the constraints of her time, Bella embarks on an adventure in the pursuit of knowledge, becoming the ultimate self-made woman.

There are so many interesting technical elements in Poor Things. Beginning in black and white, the film is dowsed in technicolour once Bella leaves the confines of God’s home. Often filmed through a fish-eye lens, the world is distorted, disorienting, and unbalancing – a wonderful choice by cinematographer Robbie Ryan to place the viewer in Bella’s shaky shoes. Shona Heath and James Price’s set design is over-stimulating, phallic, garish, and unfamiliar, the world as perceived by Bella. Holly Waddington’s costumes are impractical and outlandish. They look incongruent on Bella’s unfamiliar body, a perfect reflection of how they must feel to our heroine.

Bella’s mental growth is mirrored by her physicality. As she consumes knowledge, she must also satiate her sexual needs; as she gradually masters language, she achieves the same with her gangly limbs. I wonder, however, if rather than mirroring her academic growth, Bella’s bodily escapades are actually driving her quest for knowledge.

Bella seems to discover herself and her world through her body; only after carnal indulgences does she ponder philosophical matters. I suppose this is how all humans progress, as the physical is much easier to grasp than the metaphysical, but for Bella the quest for the empirical is almost purely driven by physical interactions. What bothers me about this is that Bella views her world and herself in relation to men. This begs the question, if Poor Things had been written and/or directed by a woman, would it still possess that voyeuristic perspective underpinned by the male gaze?

Bella engages positively with female characters only briefly, and many of her other interactions with women are strained. Is this to underscore that the world of Poor Things is a male-dominated one, highlighting Bella’s own emancipation even more? In that case, when encountering male judgement, would Bella not find refuge and comfort in female companionship throughout her journey? Therefore Bella’s perspective becomes one seen through male eyes. Is it her own gaze then or is it a reclaimed projection? Either way it is not entirely hers. She absorbs and reinterprets this gaze, subverting it, but often it feels voyeuristic. Nevertheless, perhaps the point is that where male characters see only her physical beauty, her own self-worth comes from her independence, character, and empathy.

The Holdovers | Regional News

The Holdovers


133 minutes

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

3pm on a sunny afternoon at the Brooklyn Penthouse Cinema and the snow is falling in The Holdovers. It lays in drifts on the ground, covering cars, coating branches, dampening the sounds of the world but unable to stifle the incomparable excitement that is the last day of school. The year is 1970 and happy boys with rosy cheeks looking forward to the promise of a fun vacation burst forth from the big doors of Barton Academy – a private boarding school in New England.

Except for a select few who have nowhere to go this Christmas. These ones must remain at Barton until after New Years in the care of their curmudgeonly classics professor Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) and Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), the school cook who lost her son in the Vietnam War just months ago.

Among the ragtag troupe is Angus Tully (newcomer Dominic Sessa) who is bright and caustic but erratic, a troublemaker, and a royal pain in the… you get the point. Forming an unlikely bond, the trio embark on a melancholy, albeit memorable, adventure.

Dubbed a Christmas-blues movie, The Holdovers – directed by Alexander Payne – is likely to join the holiday-cinema canon. Described as a “masterclass in melancholy” (The Guardian), it’s writer David Hemingson’s screenplay that hits me. Aside from an incredible production design team – which I am furious to learn is not responsible for one of The Holdovers’ five Academy Award nominations – and a superb trio of leading actors, it is the story that truly shines.

So many new films are a spectacle, which is not a bad thing, but the effects and the visuals, the sensationalism and the extremes are the calling cards. The Holdovers is not flashy or groundbreaking or innovative, but in my eyes, it is a work of art. There is no pretence as it captures the essence of humanity. It is simple, raw, and beautiful. It’s been a long, long time since I have seen a film that has reminded me of where my love of cinema came from.

Lads on the Island | Regional News

Lads on the Island

Written by: Sam Brooks

Directed by: Nī Dekkers-Reihana

Circa Theatre, 3rd Feb 2024

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Lads on the Island is a modern reimagining of Prospero’s retreat into a blue funk, not because of the betrayals of a treacherous family but from being dumped by his girlfriend.

Joining magician Prospero (Finley Hughes), as in the original, is the spirit Ariel (Reon Bell) who he magically enslaves as his companion in misery. The lads spend their time drinking beer, arguing about Sherlock Holmes, singing, and dad-dancing to pop songs. But the lads are not alone on their virtual island of self-pity and must deal with visitations from Prospero’s sister Miranda, Ariel’s boyfriend Sebastian, Ariel’s mum Sycorax, and Fern, Prospero’s ex (all played by Bronwyn Ensor).

This trio of actors is a delight with a warm, infectious chemistry between Hughes and Bell, and superb support from Ensor, who is particularly delicious as the all-powerful Sycorax. Bell shines as the loving, supportive Ariel who stands by his bestie despite Prospero’s fretting and whining. Far from being just another tale of a broken heart, this magical production, beautifully woven by playwright Sam Brooks and Dekkers-Reihana’s natural direction style, conjures an exquisite story of the enchanting and enduring power of friendship.

Major props to set designer Lucas Neal and lighting and special effects designer Michael Trigg. Their tiered set backed by sheer drapes is a constantly surprising and charming work of art with built-in lights that magically appear at a click of Ariel’s fingers in the detritus of Prospero’s man cave. Matt Asunder’s diaphanous sound and music and a hard-working smoke machine add extra layers of atmosphere to the intimate space. Special mention to the self-filling disco beer fridge and stage manager Marshall Rankin for their own special magic.

With a scattering of jokes about the impenetrability of Shakespeare, this is a beguiling reworking of the Bard’s most mystical characters that will leave you with warm fuzzies and a renewed belief in the simple beauty of friendship.

Kia Ora Khalid | Regional News

Kia Ora Khalid

Created by: composer Gareth Farr and writer Dave Armstrong

Directed by: creative lead Ditas Yap

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

In a schoolyard on a lunch break, four kids – Tom (Jack Sullivan and understudy Aidan Soper), Serena (Justina-Rose Tua), Trang (Ameira Arroyo), and Khalid (Ofri Earon and understudy Jet Wilton) – are playing a game of touch rugby. Well, trying to play. It’s “three-one to the girls” (a catchy song still stuck in my head), and Tom is getting crushed. He needs another person on his team, but he won’t let Khalid play. Khalid, you see, is a refugee. He’s from Afghanistan, so he’s probably “a Taliban”, Tom sneers.

Tom’s prejudice begins to waver when Trang reveals that she is a first-generation Cambodian whose grandfather was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. And Serena’s uncle Sio had to leave Samoa in search of higher pay to support his family, only to become a victim of war himself. Just like Khalid. And, actually, just like Tom’s grandfather…

Kia Ora Khalid is a children’s opera that crosses continents and bridges borders to show that, at our core, we’re not that different. No matter the colour of our skin, the language we speak, or the god we pray to, our love – our humanity – is universal.

Presented under the umbrella of Six Degrees Festival, this production of Kia Ora Khalid is performed by a cast of 16 young people aged 10 to 19 from various schools across Wellington. What incredible heart this ensemble pours into every second of their time on stage. Tackling a sung-through opera is no mean feat – let alone one by composer Gareth Farr with writer Dave Armstong, one so dynamic and powerful. With live accompaniment by a tight band of pianist Laura Stone, cellist Nathan Parker, percussionist Ari Cradwick, and clarinettist Felix McDougall (whose voice blows me away), and music direction from Jo Hodgson, the cast is more than up to the mammoth challenge.

High production values – particularly stage manager Emory Otto’s costume design, and sound designer Senuka Sudusinghe’s lighting design, which sees breathtaking moments of shadowplay – combine to create a kaleidoscope of colour and spectacle.

Kia Ora Khalid premiered in 2009 but feels timelier than ever today. Led by stage director Ditas Yap, this cast and crew should be very proud.

We, The Outsiders | Regional News

We, The Outsiders

Written by: Romina Meneses

Directed by: Romina Meneses

BATS Theatre, 31st Jan 2024

Reviewed by: Zac Fitzgibbon

Migrants are the golden threads that bind this country together. This show brings their stories to light.

We, The Outsiders is an original documentary theatre piece created and inspired by real-life stories of migrant workers living in New Zealand. Written and directed by Romina Meneses, who performs alongside Akash Saravanan and Sowmya Hiremath, it explores the triumphs and tribulations of those who come to this country, opening the curtain to their diverse, yet seemingly universal experiences.

The performers speak in an interview-esque style, presenting what feels like a live documentary. They take great care in retelling experiences without creating stereotypes, embodying not the migrants themselves, but their stories. This feels very respectful considering the diversity of those who were interviewed. I also enjoy the use of humour, woven throughout as a tool to ease tension. 

Josiah Matagi’s lighting design evokes moods of pain and paradise, emphasising well the juxtaposition of the suffering and splendour of moving to a new country. Scene changes are integrated into the performance, feeling like a metaphoric reminder of the constant changing and challenging situations migrants endure. Woven together with movement, Roco Moroi Thorn and Auria Paz’s compositions create thought-provoking, mesmerising moments throughout the piece.

Here, I catch my breath to think not only of the perspectives of migrants, but also the privilege we who live here have. On top of this, as a third-generation immigrant on my mother’s side, this production resonates with me. I know my family has endured many of the hardships portrayed in these 13 scenes.

There are so many heartfelt, beautiful moments and stories encapsulated in one short hour. Presented under the umbrella of the Six Degrees Festival, supported by Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, We, The Outsiders is for all those who call New Zealand home and those who feel far from home. I urge you all to come to this enchanting piece of theatre.

The Being Human Collection | Regional News

The Being Human Collection

Written by: Dr Carrie Hayward

Exisle Publishing

Reviewed by: Fiona Robinson

Being Human might not be the most intriguing of titles for a series of books. However, I found it an enlightening read.

The collection is made up of four short stories in small hard-backed books. It’s written by Dr Carrie Hayward, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist who specialises in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I had to look this up – it means acknowledging the full range of your thoughts and emotions rather than trying to avoid, deny, or change them.

Each story explores the roller coaster of emotions us humans commonly struggle with. My takeaway was that reading the collection creates the opportunity to sit with those complex feelings and reflect on them.

The four bite-sized books are an easy read about life’s ups and downs. When I first started reading them, I thought they were a little too simple and a bit trite. However, when I took the time to reflect, I realised I’d experienced many of the situations myself or observed them in others.

Flower in the Pocket, about a man struggling with his anger towards a noisy and untidy neighbour, particularly resonated with me because I’d seen it play out. The negative voice in our heads is illustrated in The Unwanted Friend. Our growing disconnect with the world and the people around us, as a consequence of spending time on social media or computer games, is explored in The Dragonfly in the Haze. The Lost Sun looks at the importance of living in line with our values. Some of these stories have stayed with me long after I finished reading them.

Each book concludes with a simple but effective reflection exercise at the end. I liked this practical exercise so much that I’ve used it several times since finishing The Being Human Collection. These books are packaged up in a way that would make a good gift and they would also make for a reflective holiday read.

Life Done Differently | Regional News

Life Done Differently

Written by: Lisa Jansen

High Tide

Reviewed by: Jo Lucre

It takes a brave soul to throw in the towel on a predictably routine life and venture into the unknown.

In Life Done Differently: One Woman’s Journey on the Road Less Travelled, author Lisa Jansen shares her unique journey from the moment she chose the ‘vanlife’ to travel the open road as a single, adventure-loving, remote-working woman.

Life Done Differently is a telling memoir filled with curiosity and insight into how a life path, previously undiscovered, can change your view of the world and yourself. Jansen’s jaunt takes her across the breadth of New Zealand – from Ōtaki Beach to the northern side of the Taranaki Pennisula to the wonders of Lake Taupō and beyond – as she meets kindred spirits and connects with communities along the way.

Jansen offers an honest account of her five-year life on the road. It’s not all summer loving, beach bathing, and basking in the discoveries of geographically hidden gems that only a nomad lifestyle can afford. For one thing, travelling the road also means travelling the seasons.

Jansen broke the lulls of her first winter on the road by finding housesitting gigs to avoid some of the things she hadn’t necessarily considered, like sharing a confined space with smelly, damp wetsuits and the moisture that ensues.

Giving up her affectionately named campervan, Josie, when rust issues arose, Jansen returned to Auckland for a winter in 2019, where the threat of being pulled back into a life of normal was palpable. The potential of consumerism and the rat race to swallow her up again was all too real. And so, she returned to life on the road, but a couple of seasons later the world took a turn, which meant navigating a pandemic in her new home on wheels.

Jansen paints a picture of a life less burdened, and how as a virtual marketing freelancer and author, she made her unconventional life on the road work.

If you want to live life differently, then go for it, she says. Equally, if it is a traditional life you’re after, then do that – but always be true to yourself!

On the Record | Regional News

On the Record

Written by: Steven Joyce

Allen & Unwin

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

The magic of the autobiography is that it gives us a peek behind the curtain into the lives of people we look up to or admire. It shows us that, like us, they struggled and had their fair share of troubles before finding success, and that they found a solution after persevering.

Sometimes this inspires us to find ways around our problems and gives us ideas we never thought of.

On the Record is one such book. It chronicles Joyce’s early years, from his beginnings at RadioWorks (now MediaWorks New Zealand) to entering politics and becoming finance minister for the National Party.

While he may not look like the wild type, Joyce’s ride certainly was. He had a hand in many of the rock stations that I grew up listening to. Stations like The Edge and Solid Gold FM (now The Sound), among others, were all his doing.

My favourite story Joyce recalls is when The Edge presenters Jay-Jay Feeney and Brian Reid pranked the late Paul Holmes as he was going live on air. Holmes was stewing for weeks, and all sorts of threats were made before cooler heads prevailed.

Anecdotes like this mean that even if you’re not interested in politics, you will find something in On the Record to get into. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Labourite, you might not even give this book a chance.

That would be a shame as it is an insightful look into someone who had an enormous influence in this country not too long ago and rubbed shoulders with some very powerful individuals.

While I did not agree with everything Joyce did while he was in power, I still admire the fact that he went into politics to help other people. Now, whether you voted for him or not, you have to admit there is no reason more noble than that.

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life  | Regional News

Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life

Written by: Mason Ball


Reviewed by: Kerry Lee

Written from the unique perspective of his eldest son Mason, Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life is the story of not only how New Zealand got the award-winning cartoon Footrot Flats, but of a man who fought to follow his passions and won.

From his humble beginnings growing up in a small, rural town in Aotearoa, the book follows Ball’s adventures as a would-be All Black, father, and an aspiring cartoonist. Much like many of us, he set goals and had setbacks, but never gave up.

One of his greatest creations was undoubtedly the cartoon strip (and later movie) Footrot Flats. Centred on the adventures of small-town farmer Wal and his trusty dog in outback New Zealand, it showed us that there could be humour in the trivial, and not everything had to be zany to get a laugh.

In reading Murray Ball: A Cartoonist’s Life, one of the biggest surprises – at least for me – was how closely Footrot Flats resembled Ball’s own life. Examples included the farms Ball lived around and his cousin Arthur – the real-life inspiration for Wal himself.

Like all artists, Ball took inspiration from his own life and put it onto a canvas to create something truly special. Sorry if that sounds a bit melodramatic, but that is exactly what he did.

Mason Ball’s writing should also be applauded. While his father’s life was of course non-fiction, I nonetheless found myself swept up in his dad’s adventures, and more than once caught myself chuckling and thinking, ‘I can relate to that’. That is the power of skillful writing, and hopefully, we will see more of that in 2024.

As I mentioned in my Year in Review just before Christmas last year, biographies like these are important because they make us understand that our problems are not unique to us, and that others have faced them before and come out on top.

This is worth looking out for. If you see it, get it.