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Reviews

Amalia and Friends | Regional News

Amalia and Friends

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

St Andrew’s on the Terrace, 13th Jun 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

This concert was the second of three programmes featuring Mozart violin concertos and symphonies, designed for COVID-19 Level 2 conditions, with each concert to be performed twice to audiences of a hundred. The concerts are free. Orchestra Wellington is to be congratulated for their enterprise and generosity. Fans have responded enthusiastically. They packed St Andrew’s Church after extra tickets were made available following the shift to COVID-19 Level 1.

I understand that the decision to mount the three Amalia and Friends programmes was made only weeks ago and that the opportunities to rehearse together have been minimal. There was the potential for mishap perhaps, especially given the light direction provided to the orchestra by Amalia Hall as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 and as orchestra leader in the same composer’s Symphony No. 38 Prague.

Maybe there were a few points where the orchestra’s balance and cohesion were not perfect, and perhaps the second movement of the symphony was a bit laboured, but in the circumstances the players did themselves and Mozart credit. The audience was treated to a very engaging concert in an intimate environment similar, as the concert programme notes pointed out, to that which audiences in the late 1700s would have experienced with Mozart himself as soloist and conductor.

As soloist, Amalia Hall’s beautifully constructed phrasing, the sweetness of tone on higher strings, the colour in her double-stopping on lower strings, and the brilliance of the cadenzas contributed to a lovely performance. The orchestra provided a fine, committed performance throughout, but particularly in the rollicking, teasing, vigorous third movement.

For the Prague symphony, flutes, bassoons, timpani, and trumpets joined the strings, oboes, and horns which played in the concerto. This was a fine performance with plenty of contrast, energy, and intensity, with a wonderfully fiery and frenetic ending.

That Click | Regional News

That Click

90 Mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

In this decade-spanning documentary, director Luca Severi replicates the infectious energy and eccentric glamour of Hollywood through the lens of one of its most iconic photographers, Douglas Kirkland. As the title suggests, the film focuses on the passion one can develop for their craft, and the respect they can earn through precision and dedication.

If you don’t recognise the name, you’d certainly recognise the images. From a seductive linen-encased Marilyn Monroe to a red-leathered Michael Jackson leaving that movie theatre, Douglas Kirkland has eternalised show-business iconography across a storied 60-year career. That Click offers glimpses into the personality, taste, and motivation of a genius, as told by past clients – Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams, Baz Luhrmann – and the man himself.

Upon introduction, Kirkland appears to be an unsung hero of Hollywood. Severi quickly clarifies that his praises are sung loudly, with great after great utterly beguiled by his skill, work ethic, and morals. Severi’s choice to accentuate these sides of Kirkland goes a long way to restoring any lost faith in the wonder of Hollywood. In a time when photoshoot horror stories with seedy photographers are finally coming to light, Kirkland’s practice proves the value of safety and consideration for one’s subjects; this is a man who turned down Marilyn Monroe, instructing her to seduce the camera rather than the photographer behind it.

“I wanted to get the snaps,” Kirkland says, “because that’s who Douglas Kirkland is.”

The quick-cut editing and upbeat soundtrack perfectly accompany Kirkland’s larger-than-life aura. His eccentricity could rival that of Austin Powers, although he is totally trustworthy. He is simply excited by the opportunity to make someone look their best.

That Click has focus, but it fails to weave its timespan together into a complete or well-paced narrative, instead feeling like a snapshot of an amazing life with entertaining anecdotes to carry us along. Still, the second the credits rolled I was compelled to pick up a book of Kirkland’s photography, which perhaps says more about the film than anything I could write here.

Silicon Valley, Baby. | Regional News

Silicon Valley, Baby.

58 Mins

(2 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Just because you journey to the place where it all happens, doesn’t mean it will happen for you. Silicon Valley, Baby. details the highs and lows of attempting to get a start-up off the ground in the global centre of technological innovation – Silicon Valley.

Finnish couple Erika Haavisto (director) and Kalle Freese relocate from their homeland to San Francisco to forage for investors for the latter’s new line of instant coffee “that you’ll actually want to drink”, Sudden Coffee. Kalle’s mission and sole purpose is to change the lives of billions for the better with his invention, but cracks soon form in his master plan.

Silicon Valley, Baby. is an intimate experience. Unpolished in structure and execution, it presents nothing but the truth. Kalle is an interesting person, and even though the film is directed by his devoted partner, Erika has no qualms in portraying him honestly, warts and all. Driven to a fault, Kalle considers himself the future Zuckerberg of instant coffee. He is undeterred by this self-imposed pressure, which allows the audience to spot red flags before he does.

This is a tale as old as time. Kalle’s obsession is attention-grabbing from a voyeuristic perspective, but we’ve heard this story before, and it’s been told in better and smarter ways. Erika features heavily; she is enamoured with Kalle, much more than her audience will be. She fails to find appropriate time to focus on the most intriguing element of the film – herself. Her existential responses to Kalle’s choices, including questioning his humanity and whether she, by comparison, is a “totally boring person”, make for the documentary’s most compelling and unique moments. Sadly, they pass by in a flash, as do major bombshells in the narrative.

Rise and fall stories are inherently absorbing. The best of them reveal the darkest and brightest sides of us. When all is said and done, Silicon Valley, Baby. peters somewhere in the middle.

Sweet Magnolias | Regional News

Sweet Magnolias

(13+)

Season one. Available on Netflix

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

I can’t help but immediately compare Sweet Magnolias to Virgin River. Both are romantic Netflix dramas set in small-town America and star a very attractive red head who loses her husband but finds solace in other relationships. Both also feature a rather dishy male love interest, which might explain why I binged them in a few days. Where Sweet Magnolias doesn’t beat Virgin River is in its exploration of grief. Where it does better is in its celebration and elevation of female friendships.

Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher) divorces Bill (Chris Klein) after he gets nurse Noreen (Jamie Lynn Spears) pregnant. With three kids between them, Maddie’s world is turned upside down – especially when Bill announces he’s marrying Noreen. For me, Swisher’s wooden performance is what lets Sweet Magnolias down. Her limited emotional range means I don’t believe her character’s response to this trauma. Maddie’s arc is more like a flat line; she even looks a little bored during a steamy sex scene with Coach Cal (Justin Bruening).

Luckily, Swisher is supported by two fantastic actors, Heather Headley as lawyer Helen Decatur and Brooke Elliott as chef Dana Sue Sullivan. Headley carries the emotional weight of the season with a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman scorned, while Elliott’s giggly flirt fest with a hot guy who’s got a nice car practically steals the show. The chemistry between the three leads is real and palpable; while I didn’t always buy into Swisher’s solo performance, I believed and cherished the heartfelt connection between these characters. The love between them is accentuated by pretty cinematography (Brian Johnson) and soft lighting, almost as if they glow when they’re together.

Sweet Magnolias is the kind of programme you can pop on in the background while baking brownies. You won’t be glued to the screen, but you’ll find its sweetness sneaking up on you until suddenly, you’re hooked. Though unexpected for an otherwise slow-building show, the cliff-hanger ending surely means a second season is in store. I for one will be tuning in.

Knives Out | Regional News

Knives Out

(M)

130 Mins. Available on home video.

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Sam Hollis

Knives Out is a good-old-fashioned whodunit, complete with the bloody murder of a family patriarch, an endless list of motivated suspects, a smooth detective, and more twists than one cares to count. It is mystery in its purest and most entertaining form.

While police rule the dramatic death of well-known crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a suicide, private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives an anonymous payment that urges him to think otherwise. As Blanc investigates, conflicts within the Thrombey family are brought to light, and everyone becomes a suspect.

After his experience making Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s clear writer and director Rian Johnson wanted to make a subversive follow up. The whodunit genre is inherently captivating, but risky – a switched-on audience will see right through any plot holes and call BS on any sudden deus ex machina.

Thankfully, Johnson did his homework. His screenplay and direction are tightly linked to deliver the right information at just the right time; a trail of breadcrumbs designed to ensure maximum impact to the audience. Editor Bob Ducsay is also crucial in this success. As we are tossed around time to achieve the aforementioned impact, Ducsay’s cuts keep the pace and maintain the plot’s intelligence.

If Johnson and Ducsay carry the film’s structure, the cast is certainly responsible for injecting an unabashed sense of fun. Craig chews scenery with glee. Ana de Armas, playing Harlan’s private nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera, brings necessary heart and warmth to the screen amongst a sea of cold, manipulative players. Standouts in the supporting cast include Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s resilient, no-nonsense daughter Linda and Chris Evans as his spoilt grandson.

While the story and characters endow Knives Out with joy, the film doesn’t consistently seize opportunities to innovate visually beyond some well-timed blocking and the odd dolly zoom. However, Johnson’s direction is poised. Not a second of screen time is wasted, constantly building towards what is a satisfying conclusion to a truly grand mystery.

Sorry For Your Loss | Regional News

Sorry For Your Loss

Written by: Cian Gardner

Directed by: Dr Laura Haughley

Circa Theatre, 16th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Jezelle Bidois

Simplistic in its design, brilliant in its execution, Sorry For Your Loss is a play with an incentive of teaching the viewer about the importance of chosen identity. The story follows Cian Gardner’s upbringing and her search for acceptance in the void that is left by an absent father. Filled with humour and sincerity, Dr Laura Haughey directs Sorry For Your Loss in such a way that Gardner’s story becomes entrenched in our minds in the days following the initial performance.

At the dimming of the lights, Gardner enters the stage to immediately interact with the audience. She makes use of her acting space and stands right against the front row, slowly scanning over the filled seats to talk about how she “could use a drink herself”. Within the first five minutes, she is able to both ease the viewers with her wit and create a space of suspenseful expectation. The comfortably informal atmosphere that the actress creates from her entrance continues throughout the entire performance. As the plot unravels, Gardner beautifully characterises each individual in her story with realistic posturing and mannerisms.

The simplicity of the set design is made into a visual spectacle with the use of lighting by Alec Forbes. He changes the size of space it focuses on, providing various dimensions for Gardner to act in. And the near bare stage comes alive with an atmosphere that can only be created through Andy Duggan’s music. From filling the space with comfortable tunes to creating tension with the echoing sound of one key, Duggan sets the mood for the entire story.

Sorry For Your Loss teaches us what it means to be a wāhine toa. Gardner’s story makes you laugh hysterically upon entry and tear up as you leave. From her colourful recollections of her childhood to a tumultuous inner conflict, the whole play exudes a genuine warmth that touches all those who are present.

Släpstick | Regional News

Släpstick

The Opera House, 13th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Colin Morris

The last slapstick performance that I saw was The Suitcase Royale in 2014, which rendered me speechless with its inventive storyline, wisecracks, prat falls, and sound effects. Tonight, is no different. It’s a nigh lost artform; this is frantic mayhem writ large.

In many respects Släpstick is more of a tribute to musical theatre than pure slapstick, which would have run its course after several sketches. Over an hour and a half (and there wouldn’t have been a member of the audience who didn’t think they got their money’s worth), we were treated to a run of ageless classics from the roaring 20s right through to Queen.

We are told that the Släpstick company plays over 100 instruments, and it seemed as if they brought out every one for a tootle. Accordion, guitars, double bass, banjo, trombone, keyboards, percussion, pan flutes, saxophones of every key, and violin. I lost count after that.

It’s an honour and a privilege to be in the company of a company who keep the tradition of deadpan humour alive whilst remembering the music of the likes of Kurt Weill and Charlie Chaplin. Songs such as Smile, The Man I Love, Harvest Moon, O Sole Mio, are real highlights, especially Unforgettable, in which the singer can’t recall what comes after ‘Un’.

Did I mention Swan Lake? The black-and-white silent film The Lady with the Dog with the time-honoured dastardly villain? Then there is the fairground spiv who makes several appearances enticing the audience to throw the ball at cans, catch a magnetic fish (there was a massive cheer when a lady caught one), and shoot at a cymbal. Classic.

Two favourites then: Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head sung in German, and three sets of buskers – one group playing pan flutes that bought the house down – all playing different tunes but overcoming everything to play together.

It’s a performance of almost balletic proportions, so fluid is the movement that the obvious setting up of a skit is never seen.

Shows like this make me want to run away and join the circus.

Aldous Harding, Weyes Blood, and Purple Pilgrims | Regional News

Aldous Harding, Weyes Blood, and Purple Pilgrims

The Michael Fowler Centre, Mar 13th 2020

Reviewed by: Aimee Smith

It’s impossible not to get excited knowing Aldous Harding is returning to Wellington soil for the New Zealand Festival of the Arts. Homegrown music shines in a night tied together by a rolling tide of vibrato, and the intersection of folkloric fantasies and the late-night ruminations from a house party.

The night is ushered in by New Zealand up-and-comers Purple Pilgrims. The sister act has the task of turning the corporate Michael Fowler centre into the appropriate setting for a night of psychedelic indie folk, and Clementine and Valentine Nixon delve into it with total commitment. Their lush tones and layered electronic tunes create an atmosphere reminiscent of Tolkien’s elvish realms.

Weyes Blood follows, and if Purple Pilgrims took us on a journey to fairyland, our American act plants us on more solid ground. Natalie Mering has the confidence and wry comedic stage presence of a classic crooner with the vocal power to match as she delivers her ‘sad cowboy songs’. Weyes Blood makes the perfect centrepiece for the night, and one we are lucky to be experiencing in the midst of COVID-19 related cancellations.

Rather than transport us to other realms, Aldous Harding feels more like the fae who has travelled here to deign us with a visit. While in reality she is from Lyttelton, her impressive vocal range – which deftly switches from deep resonance to light and husky – implies a creature otherworldly. Combined with an almost clown-like stage presence, the result is intense and captivating.

Nothing bonds an audience and performer quite like the raw, exposed nerve of something going wrong – and tonight, it does. Do we like to see a talented performer being put through their paces, or does empathy make us want to help out in the only way we know how – excessive applause? Either way, those unplanned, off-the-cuff moments created by technical mishaps make room for a one-off magical experience that leaves no one feeling disappointed.

Dimanche | Regional News

Dimanche

Written by: Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, and Sandrine Heyraud

Directed by: Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux, and Sandrine Heyraud

TSB Bank Arena, 12th Mar 2020

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

An ingenious combination of mime and puppetry, film and soundscape, Dimanche is a production about climate change. Over a series of vignettes, we follow different species as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world. A polar bear and its cub, a bird and its baby, and a human film crew and family are all performed or brought to life by Christine Heyraud and Dimanche’s creators Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud.

Dimanche is world-class stage sorcery. Scale and perspective are concepts to be toyed with, not adhered to. For instance – and this is just one of the many examples of sheer brilliance on display here – a toy car drives along the hilly contours of a human body. All of a sudden, audiences are transported inside the car itself, where windscreen wipers and a wheel create an entirely believable reality. Brice Cannavo’s sound design hits the illusion home, transitioning from music as it would sound inside the car to the way someone might hear it outside. Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin’s lighting design more than supports the magic; at times, it creates it. For the car scene, an overhead ceiling light shrouds the rest of the stage in pitch black emptiness – a convention that’s repeated to breathtaking effect when an entire house is drowned by a tsunami.

Waw ! Studios and Joachim Jannin have created outstanding puppets, including a life-sized polar bear and a grandma so detailed I initially thought she was real. A bit with this puppet and a dodgy stairlift is a comedic highlight of the show.

Beneath the whimsy and joy, Dimanche carries a dire warning. Earth is a ticking time bomb, and it’s entirely our fault. What’s more, we’ll do everything in our power to ignore the consequences of our actions. We might even, quite literally, eat a roast chicken in the eye of the storm.

Dimanche should be shown – even taught – in all schools, lecture halls, and workplaces. Its message is clear, but never has it been so deafening.