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Reviews

Death on the Nile | Regional News

Death on the Nile

(M)

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!

The Batman | Regional News

The Batman

(PG-13)

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.

Drive My Car | Regional News

Drive My Car

(M)

179 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

Drive My Car has not only won 37 awards, but it has also been nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture. However, there is always one big question that surrounds any film nominated for that quintessential award – is the film actually good, or is it just kind of boring? When it comes to Drive My Car, my answer is it’s a bit of both. 

Drive My Car is a 2021 Japanese drama about a renowned stage actor and director, Yūsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), who after his wife’s (Reika Kirishima) unexpected death, receives an offer to direct a production in Hiroshima. There he meets Misaki (Tôko Miura), an introverted young woman appointed to drive his car. In between rides, secrets from the past and heartfelt confessions will be unveiled and despite their initial misgivings, a very special relationship develops between the unlikely pair.

The film is a piece of art. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi has defiantly stepped away from the modern pressure of creating a film that needs to be fast-paced, funny, or full of action. If the film’s three-hour run time wasn’t already bold enough, the opening credits don’t even appear onscreen until about the 40-minute mark. The pace gave me time to reflect on the sombre events that occur during the film, however, some variety would have been refreshing, as I did also find myself wondering when something a bit more exciting was going to ‘happen’.  

The cinematography in Drive My Car is amazing. Cinematographer Hidetoshi Shinomiya uses majestic symbols to convey meaning throughout the film. There are plenty of beautifully framed shots of the actors and landscapes but perhaps what is most engaging, is the way in which deep topics and meaningful relationships were developed. This was both powerful and emotional and the outstanding performances from the cast also helped convey these deep meanings.

I wouldn’t call Drive My Car the Mona Lisa of the movie world, but it is a work of art that I enjoyed. A film that won’t be for everyone, it could have been thirty minutes shorter, however, it is still a hauntingly beautiful feature and a refreshing take on the drama genre.

The Adam Project  | Regional News

The Adam Project

(PG13)

106 mins, available on Netflix

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

I am a big believer in judging a film for what it is. For example, if I watch Dodgeball, a comedy about grown men throwing dodgeballs at each other, I’ll be completely satisfied if I walk away having laughed a bunch of times – I’m not looking for a masterpiece. The Adam Project does its job. Director Shawn Levy has created a fun adventure that families can enjoy for a few hours before likely forgetting about the film a few weeks later. 

In a dystopian 2050, fighter pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) steals his time jet and escapes through time on a rescue mission to 2018. However, he accidentally crash-lands in 2022 instead where he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell). The duo team up on a mission to save future Adam’s wife (Zoe Saldaña) but in doing so the pair must come to terms with their past while saving the future.

The story was decent but what really impressed me was Scobell's performance. Anyone who has seen any Reynolds movie in the last five years knows exactly what they are going to get from the star who seemingly plays the same character in all his latest films. However, Scobell, who also had the added pressure of it being his first big role, did an awesome job. He nailed 12-year-old Adam by being cheeky, funny, and emotional when needed. And even though Reynolds again stuck to what he knows, I can’t say he didn’t do a good job. 

The film had me laughing out loud at times and I did feel a little something when things got a bit more serious and emotional towards the end. Some of the CGI was average, especially the de-ageing ‘deep-fake’ used on Catherine Keener who plays villain Maya Sorian – it looked terrible. And I still have no idea how time travel works despite Adam’s father (Mark Ruffalo) explaining it a bunch of times. The Adam Project did what it needed to do. Will I watch it again? Probably not, but it was still an entertaining ride that I think most people will enjoy. 

Dog | Regional News

Dog

(PG-13)

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Channing Tatum and a dog. Two of the best things in the world. Safe to say I was fizzing to watch Dog and it did not disappoint – although I would have scored it at least half a star more if Magic Mike had dropped in to say hey.

Written by Reid Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, and directed by Carolin and Tatum in his directorial debut, Dog is an instant family classic. Calling it a family flick might be a stretch as there are some lewd elements, hence the PG-13 rating, but ultimately it’s a buddy comedy with some deeper underlying currents that elevate it from good to doggone good. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The movie follows Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum), who must escort the dog of the fallen Sergeant Rodriguez to his funeral. Trouble is, the sweet-faced Belgian Malinois is anything but. Both man and dog are suffering PTSD, and while Briggs does his best to represses his, Lulu’s approach is a little more – er, rip-your-face-off-and-eat-it, I believe is the technical term.

If Briggs can drive Lulu to the funeral from Oregon to Arizona without incident, he’ll be reinstated into service – something he wants desperately but would be the most destructive thing for him. Sadly, speaking of destruction, Lulu is set to be put down after her dad’s funeral, raising the stakes of the film and making the audience love her even more.

Lulu is played by three different Belgian Malinoises and is absolutely the star of the show here. Her ridiculous antics, like headbutting Briggs in the throat, nearly leading him to his death on a pot farm, and annihilating a teddy bear, are pure joy. But it’s in her bond with Briggs, a more vulnerable Tatum, that the true strength of the film lies. The rest of it is fluff: Dog is about two broken soldiers healing each other.

Army Ranger Noah (Ethan Suplee) sums it up best when he talks about his dog Nuke, who served alongside Lulu in Afghanistan.

“I’ve been working him every day for six months. When he stopped struggling, that’s when I realised maybe I could stop struggling too.”

Smilestuff | Regional News

Smilestuff

Devised by: Daniel Nodder

Directed by: Austin Harrison

Te Auaha, 8th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Some days are good, and some days are not so good, but each day is valid and each day is followed by a fresh new one. Smilestuff encompasses all the ups and downs and in-betweens of life, giving space and acceptance to the bad days while inspiring us to find joy in even the smallest moments.

Smilestuff is a movement-based solo performance. Daniel Nodder’s performance looks light as feathers, easy, and free, but every movement is incredibly intentional and impactful. Nodder seamlessly involves the audience throughout the work, making them integral parts of the story, engaging them directly as well as through balloons and other items.

Throughout Smilestuff, both Ben Kelly’s musical accompaniment and Campbell Wright’s lighting design are as integral as the performer himself. Spotlights are used as an interactive companion to Nodder’s character: the spotlight becomes a keyboard on the floor that Nodder (and Kelly) plays, or a mirror in which Nodder discovers various facial expressions and emotions, a friend that dances alongside Nodder, and even the spark of life inside himself.

Smilestuff is infused with childlike wonder and innocence. From the moment Nodder discovers the use of his limbs, each movement is tender and pure. Nodder learns the basics before going through the motions of everyday life, each moment saturated with the simple joy of being alive. However, with living comes other complexities; Nodder quickly learns that as time wears on, each moment will not necessarily be as joyful as it was in the beginning. Finding himself in a slump, unable to come to terms with the burdens of life, musician Ben Kelly re-awakens Nodder’s joy and through a moment of quasi-puppetry Nodder lip syncs to Kelly’s beautiful rendition of Nat King Cole’s Smile.

Smilestuff celebrates the joy in everyday life and in mundanity, imploring us to cherish every moment. In the same breath, it recognises that joy cannot be constant. In this challenging time, everyone should go see Smilestuff.