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Reviews

It Must Be Heaven | Regional News

It Must Be Heaven

(PG)

101 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

What some find meandering and temperate others may find touching and poignant. Audiences of It Must Be Heaven are asked to be patient and observant, and those who are will leave the theatre charmed. As it guides us through a world full of quirks, this Palme d’Or-nominated film finds humour in celebrating just how weird we humans are.

It Must Be Heaven takes a meta look at the life of its writer, director, lead actor, co-producer, and narrator, Elia Suleiman. We experience several days in his shoes as he travels from his Palestinian home to Western cities attempting to sell a script for a movie about the Palestinian conflict.

While this plot might not sound like a laugh riot, it’s worth noting that this story thread is somewhat secondary. For Suleiman – both the character and the man behind the camera – this film is about observation. Strange happenings seem to weave their way into every day of our near-mute hero’s life, and he is happy simply watching on. These happenings could include two armed police officers trading sunglasses in a car while a woman is bound and blindfolded in the back, or a trip to a supermarket in New York where everyone is casually toting an assault rifle over their shoulder.

It’s these zany, dark moments that make It Must Be Heaven a memorable watch. For foreign film fans, its pacing and visual comedy may scratch an itch left by Jacques Tati, although Suleiman certainly brings a modern flair. The camera (Sofian El Fani) balances a consistent but not stagnant symmetry and captures purposeful palettes of colour.

The film manages to embed striking and smart moments in the absence of words, for example, the rejection statements Suleiman sits through and what they say about the Western understanding of Palestine. But for some, these moments will be too subtle, as will the jokes. It Must Be Heaven is one for those looking to delve outside of their comfort zone.

 

The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show | Regional News

The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show

The Fringe Bar, 4th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Petra Shotwell

It’s true, drag is about more than just a pretty face. The performers of The Hot Spot: A Lip-Sync Drag Show are here to do exactly what the show’s name implies – lip-sync like their lives depend on it.

The Fringe Bar is filled with a socially distanced audience, each with our own cabaret table bubbles. The show starts with the entrance of Eva Goodcoq, the sparkly hostess whose vibrant energy compensates for the quiet crowd of 35 (thanks, Level 2). After her fierce lip-sync to a Donna Summer hit, Eva puts us to work with a warmup, preparing us to scream, cheer, and click zealously.

One by one, the performers take their turn under the spotlight (tech by Pierce Barber). Whether their song is one I’ve never heard (Kou Bolt’s colourful and energetic anime-inspired number) or a banger from my favourite musical ever (Homer Neurotic’s wholesome and on-theme Beauty School Dropout from Grease), these “mouth-mashers” have me desperate for more... which is exactly what I’m given.

I was expecting the powerful lip-syncing, but not the exciting flashes of sparkly pink excess nipples by Selina Simone, or being left almost in tears after Willy SmacknTush’s passionate ballad, Dancing On My Own. Amy Thurst delivers a killer performance, then comedically rolls off the stage in her skin-tight dress. Yonic Kunt slays a Mariah Carey number, and in Eva’s words, “I’ve never seen a little black dress working so hard” at restraining her ginormous silicone breasts. The stand-out for me was Vixie; with a satisfying costume reveal, her innocent princess façade and Frozen lip-sync turned into a Disney-imbued version of WAP. I wasn't the only audience member whose jaw dropped in delight.

The performers deliver quirky concepts, elaborate reveals, and emotional storytelling without detracting from the focus on lip-syncing. Despite a couple of high-heeled stumbles and costume malfunctions, The Hot Spot exceeded expectations – it’s safe to say I’ll be returning when the show comes around again.

 

Play | Regional News

Play

Written by: Liam Coleman

Directed by: Tom Sainsbury

BATS Theatre, 3rd Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Rich (Alex Walker) is a playwright in love with more than one man. Dan (Zak Enayat) is a realtor who only wants one main meal but doesn’t mind the odd side dish. Nick (Liam Coleman) works at an art gallery and is strictly a one-man man. Polyamory, open relationships, and monogamy collide to tender, touching effect in PLAY.

PLAY features the cleverest opening segment I’ve ever seen. Though I’m dying to dissect it, I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say the first 10 minutes set my internal monologue speeding down This Must Be a Joke Road and up Long Joke Though Quay, finally arriving on Oh Thank God Street. When the scene shifts, the brilliance of the beginning seeps in. It’s a thrill to watch the cast peel back layer upon layer of metatheatricality as the best joke of the night, about Walker’s widespread appeal, lands to uproarious laughter.

Walker, Enayat, and Coleman nail the humour in Coleman’s well-rounded script with great comedic timing. Refined by Sainsbury, their performances reach hyperbolic heights and emotive depths. The very definition of a dramedy, PLAY makes you laugh (so hard you might snort) but leaves you aching for more, saddened by an ending filled with sacrifices.

In a poignant moment, Rich asks whether audiences can like a polyamorous character. The only thing that makes me unsympathetic to Rich is actually a swaggering overconfidence that only pertains to his flirting and not to the other aspects of his life or work. It’s the only instance of unbalance in the production for me. This aside, Coleman’s exploration makes polyamory accessible. By the end of PLAY, I understand the character’s desire for an intimate relationship with more than one person. I’m rooting for him and his lovers, desperate for a good outcome for all three men. There’s no villain, no one I want to win. Instead, I’m overcome by pure, human love.

Can we have a sequel, please?

Savage | Regional News

Savage

(R16)

99 Mins

(5 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

To generate empathy for a character who some would label an inhuman brute is no easy feat, but director and screenwriter Sam Kelly does just that with grace and sensitivity. Savage pulls together some of the most fleshed-out characters in New Zealand cinema. Audiences will connect with their story as well as the sorrow hiding behind their eyes.

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand’s street gangs, the film follows Danny (Jake Ryan) – later known as Damage – across 30 years of his life, from his time in a state-run boys’ home in the 60s to his emergence as sergeant at arms of his own gang, the Savages. Raised and abandoned by his impoverished family and abusive father, Danny longs for connection in an adulthood defined by aggression.

Never before has a New Zealand film taken such an unrestrained look at our society. Kelly pulls no punches, proving himself as a confident and uncompromising filmmaker; the fact that Savage is his feature-length debut is astonishing. His script packs the growth, colour, and definition of a trilogy into 100 minutes, and this is only accentuated by a cast and crew willing to commit as hard as he does.

Jake Ryan transforms as Damage, and no, it’s not just the mullet and tattoos. I find myself transfixed by his gaze and presence. Every motion is calculated, masking a man who feels isolated, unwanted, and pressured. His friend and Savage co-founder Moses is just as integral, played with warmth in childhood by Lotima Pome’e, cool in his teenage years by Haanz Fa’avae Jackson, and intimidating physicality in later life by John Tui.

Savage is as shocking and ferocious as it should be while never becoming gratuitous. Often abuse is implied rather than shown, which ultimately has a powerful impact as the characters would also rather ignore it. This is not one for the faint of heart, but it is essential viewing for Kiwis. You will leave with a little more empathy and a lot to talk about having seen one of the best films of the year.

The Revlon Girl | Regional News

The Revlon Girl

Written by: Neil Anthony Docking

Directed by: Corinna Bennett

Running at Gryphon Theatre until 5th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Aimee Smith

The Revlon Girl picks up in the disaster’s wake, as a small group of mothers come together for support following the loss of their children. Sian (Lydia Marston) has the idea to bring in a Revlon girl (Hannah Blue) to remind them how to feel bright and beautiful again. The well-meaning Revlon girl finds herself out of her depth, as some mothers can’t see how lipstick could help to heal the loss of a child.Whilst a history lesson isn’t necessary to be impacted by The Revlon Girl, having some knowledge of the horrific Aberfan Disaster helps. If you haven’t caught up on the latest season of The Crown, here is a brief explanation: in 1966, in the Welsh village of Aberfan, a giant tip collapsed and a flood of coal waste buried a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults. The disaster wasn’t a freak accident, it was the result of years of man-made errors.

A dense character piece, The Revlon Girl examines each mother’s differing experience of grief from her spot in the makeup chair. Each character is set up as a bit of a mystery, guarding her grief behind her own unique set of walls. Unravelling the characters is a slow and rewarding experience that culminates in a few well-earned tears from the audience.

Stagecraft’s production does an excellent job of leaving the lily un-gilded. Set (Amy Whitehead), lighting (Angela Wei), and sound (Corinna Bennett and Riley Gibson) largely serve to ground the piece in its 60s village setting. Costume (Jen Pearce and Meredith Dooley) works in a similar vein, with the cast wearing day dresses and cardigans that would remind many of their mother and grandmother’s wardrobe (with the exception of the Revlon girl, whose mod looks lifted from a magazine spread). Instead, performance, character, and the brilliance of the text are left to do the heavy lifting – a choice that allows me to become transfixed in the superb storytelling.

PSA: Election 2020 | Regional News

PSA: Election 2020

Written by: Thom Adams, Jamie McCaskill, and Anya Tate-Manning

Directed by: Gavin Rutherford

Running at Circa Theatre until 12th Sep 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Public Service Announcements is a long-standing recurring political satire show that pokes fun at politicians left, right, and centre.

PSA: Election 2020 features mammoth production design (Meg Rollandi and Rose Kirkup). Characters clamber and climb over, duck and dive under rubbish and rubble piled high into a Beehive configuration. Director Gavin Rutherford’s blocking utilises the levels to demonstrate status and emphasise moments of triumph and defeat. Televisions buzz static and crackle, LED lights flash and strobe (lighting design by Helen Todd), and vocal effects and overlapping voiceovers cause MPs to seem not only omnipresent, but occasionally demented (sound design and composition by Oliver Devlin). Meanwhile, politicians emerge from bins like trash.

The full firecracker cast of Johanna Cosgrove, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, Hannah Kelly, Simon Leary, Sepelini Mua’au, and Matu Ngaropo open the production with a reworking of ABBA’s Mamma Mia. It’s a flat number due to the lower register of the singing and the lack of harmonies – which come out in full force in the pertinent finale, Politician by Kora. It’s all uphill from the first song. In fact, the musical highlight of the year has to be Savage by Megan Thee Stallion, performed by Ngaropo as the whisky-swilling Winston Peters, Dekkers-Reihana as literal cartoon character Shane Jones (my favourite performance), and Kelly as the upright Tracey Martin (who can sure bust a move). I screamed out loud at the choreography (Sacha Copland) and would pay to watch this performance on a loop.

With her delicious over-annunciation, Cosgrove makes a wickedly evil vampire out of Judith Collins. I can still hear Mau’au’s pre-pubescent “hi” as David Seymour, who sports a tin hat. Simon Leary’s doped-up James Shaw is balanced by his surprisingly sweet but sycophantic Grant Robertson. Kelly nails Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s press conference tactics with striking accuracy.

PSA: Election 2020 just gets sillier and more savage (ratchet, sassy, nasty) as it goes on. But it’s all in good fun – and what fun it is.

Tenet | Regional News

Tenet

(M)

150 Mins

(2 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

With Tenet, Christopher Nolan leans into his most frustrating tendencies as a filmmaker. A convoluted plot that requires non-stop explanation leaves its cast nothing to play with and action that, although visually dazzling at times, feels empty.

The Protagonist (John David Washington), along with his right-hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson), journeys through a world of espionage to prevent forces from the future destroying our world.

At its core, Tenet is a heist film. Introducing time-inverting technology doesn’t make this more interesting, just challenging. While Inception, another heist plot that incorporates fantasy technology, was driven by drama and emotional motivation, here the story feels crammed in. Nolan chews time explaining the mechanics of time reversal. Those with a doctorate in physics may enjoy picking this apart, although the film itself seems to admit it doesn’t stack up when Barbara, a scientist played by Clémence Poésy, instructs our lead, “Don’t even try to understand it”.

The pairing of Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Jennifer Lame’s precise editing is the film’s greatest asset. Their craftsmanship is on full display from the opening action sequence, which serves as an intense mood setter. Unfortunately, the concept doesn’t lead to outstanding visuals throughout. After a while, watching people run in reverse is not that engaging. Even if you are listening intently, the sound mix is muddy and loud, leaving chunks of dialogue inaudible – a recurring problem in Nolan’s recent films.

In two-and-a-half hours, we learn surprisingly little. By the time the credits roll we know next to nothing about our unnamed protagonist, his motivation, or the threat he faces. An effort to make us care about the villainous Andrei Sator’s (Kenneth Branagh) estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) feels frivolous when World War III is at stake. Although, this faceless threat never carries weight, especially since it comes at the hands of Andrei, a hilariously stereotypical Russian bad guy who I just can’t take seriously.

Tenet sacrifices storytelling in favour of complexity. If I don’t care about the characters in the story, I’m unlikely to invest in the story itself. In the end, I was simply bored.

Lowdown Dirty Criminals | Regional News

Lowdown Dirty Criminals

(R13)

86 Mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

A crime-comedy through and through, Lowdown Dirty Criminals revels in its over-the-top plot, violence, and Kiwi humour. At 86 minutes, it lacks the breathing room needed to properly acquaint us with its likable characters, instead choosing to deliver a brief, adrenaline-fueled romp.

When Freddy (James Rolleston) loses his pizza delivery job, his best mate Marvin (Samuel Austin) sets up a meeting with a ruthless crook, Spiggs (Scott Wills). When they muck up their first job, Spiggs demands they make amends by killing a gangster, an effort that lands the duo in hot water with an even more terrifying foe, The Upholsterer (Rebecca Gibney).

Writer David Brechin-Smith plays to genre, filling his script with delicious archetypes that give the cast infinite opportunities to go big. While Freddy is our guide, Lowdown Dirty Criminals is an ensemble effort at heart. Each actor brings colour to their role, from Rolleston’s hilariously naïve Freddy and Wills’ jacked-up, egocentric Spiggs to Gibney’s deliciously evil Upholsterer. Each member of the cast is given spots of action and comedy, which they almost unanimously nail.

The film has its foot on the gas at all times. While this pace works for its exaggerated style, it relents character development in the name of fun. Don’t get me wrong, it is very, very funny. But further investment in the relationships would have dramatically turned up the intensity. We buy Freddy and Marvin as mates, but that’s where it ends. We buy The Upholsterer as a scary gangster, but that’s where it ends. Life-threatening situations feel trivial, and with an additional 20 minutes or so, we could have become more engrossed in these people and the things that happen to them.

This movie is not one for the squeamish, but perhaps in these times some crazy fun is exactly what we need. Director Paul Murphy has crafted a uniquely Kiwi take on a well-worn genre. As a result, Lowdown Dirty Criminals stands out amongst our film library.

This Town | Regional News

This Town

(M)

91 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

This Town excels in world-building and dialogue. A supporting cast of some of Aotearoa’s best balance laughs and drama, but a repetitive frame and an overreliance on its chosen storytelling devices eventually burns out its narrative.

Small-town bloke Sean (David White) is ready to move on with his life and re-enter the dating game five years after being acquitted of the murder of his family. A romance ensues with Casey (Alice May Connolly), while the bitter ex-cop who tried to put Sean away, Pam (Robyn Malcolm), continues her crusade for justice.

The film’s writer, director, and star, White, carries a heavy load. As for his pen, the story, characters, and setting of This Town are appealing and uniquely Kiwi. The fictional town of Thiston is a treasure trove of close-to-home satirical opportunities; some pulled off with gusto, some falling flat.

The sounds and scenes of Hawke’s Bay make for a glorious backdrop, but the camera is too often stagnant for the film to leave a visual impact. By the end, I’m simply bored of watching characters sit centre-frame to address the camera. This device introduces them well, but becomes a means to quickly pass by critical moments; to have a character sitting on a couch telling us all is resolved after screaming over the edge of a cliff five minutes prior deflates tension rather than building it to a bang.

Malcolm is This Town’s secret weapon. Her performance solidifies her as one of New Zealand’s most versatile talents. She plays moments of obsession, conflict, comedy, and sadness with ease, often within a single take. May Connolly brings endearing qualities to Casey, and Rima Te Wiata wrings laughs from every line as local reporter Janice McManis.

White brings a fresh style to his narrative-feature debut, but it is clearly just that, a debut. With a more refined approach, it will be interesting to see what he brings to New Zealand cinema in the future.