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Issue 16, 2016

Justice

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News

  • Bar takes sexual harassment seriously, due to immense public scrutiny

  • “You can’t smoke with us”: Local bars struggling under weight of new legislation

  • Page six—OUSA needs a timeout

  • Disability and barriers to employment

  • Lecturers: They’re just as stressed as us

  • Joyce and his “unashamedly elite fund”

  • Really good cheats or inefficient examiners?

  • BAs back on trend

  • Election coverage part III: ‘Let’s go Jo’ Coughlan lost her table manners

  • Fun News

  • Features

  • one-in-100

    One in a Hundred: Crime and No Punishment

    Eve tackles the myriad problems that underpin the sexual violence justice system. She looks into the role of an M.E.K (Medical Examination Kit), and how the evidence gathered can be both useful, and problematic. Content Warning: this feature contains distressing descriptions of medical and legal aspects of rape and sexual violence.   The sexual assault […]

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  • mental-health

    Therapeutic Justice: The case for Mental Health Courts

    In 2013 Amanda Bynes was accused of drunk driving whilst in the middle of a somewhat public mental breakdown. Her erratic behavior, which included throwing a bong out of a 36th floor window and tweeting that she wanted Drake to “murder my vagina,” were all symptoms of untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Since she was […]

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  • bro

    BROS101: Introduction to Brogressive Politics

    Self described Cool Guy Ashton-Martyn and Tough Guy Mills are best mates and have written this piece about recognising progressive dudes with problematic behaviours, aka brogressives. When we first met a dude who could tell us the difference between equity and equality we were like “wait, what?” We’d just clawed our way out of Christchurch, […]

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  • one-in-100

    One in a Hundred: Crime and No Punishment

    Eve tackles the myriad problems that underpin the sexual violence justice system. She looks into the role of an M.E.K (Medical Examination Kit), and how the evidence gathered can be both useful, and problematic. Content Warning: this feature contains distressing descriptions of medical and legal aspects of rape and sexual violence.   The sexual assault […]

    by

  • mental-health

    Therapeutic Justice: The case for Mental Health Courts

    In 2013 Amanda Bynes was accused of drunk driving whilst in the middle of a somewhat public mental breakdown. Her erratic behavior, which included throwing a bong out of a 36th floor window and tweeting that she wanted Drake to “murder my vagina,” were all symptoms of untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Since she was […]

    by

  • bro

    BROS101: Introduction to Brogressive Politics

    Self described Cool Guy Ashton-Martyn and Tough Guy Mills are best mates and have written this piece about recognising progressive dudes with problematic behaviours, aka brogressives. When we first met a dude who could tell us the difference between equity and equality we were like “wait, what?” We’d just clawed our way out of Christchurch, […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • Social Justice in the Justice System—Art as a catalyst for change

    There are some radical things going on around the world. People, artists, communities, and organisations seem to produce some of the best work when they are stuck staring at the face of adversity. I wonder if the social projects that come out of this adversity are more art than art?

    One such radical thing is a project that was established the year I was born—serendipitous I reckon, 1993— in Houston’s North Ward district called Project Row Houses (PRH). This project was founded by artist and community activist Rick Lowe. They sought to establish a positive, creative, and transformative presence in this historic community. Inspired by American artist Dr John Biggers and the German artist Josef Beuys, PRH is a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, historic preservation, affordable and innovative housing, community relations and development, neighborhood revitalization, and human empowerment.

    PRH was conceptualised and realised as the community was on the verge of demolition. The City of Houston had slated an entire row of housing for demolition with no plan to re-house the residents. Artist Rick Lowe managed to purchase the row of housing before demolition began, convincing an over 500 strong group of volunteers to immediately start work on the houses and neighbourhood. The vision was to restore the houses to retain the architecture as part of the social fabric of that neighbourhood’s African-American history and culture. As a physical asset, the row has played a crucial role in the revitalisation of the community, all before taking into account the individual projects that have been undertaken within the active, creative, and community spaces. They cleaned streets, painted facades, renovated interiors. The volunteers of this project re-established a foundation on which a strong and sustainable community could be built.

    PRH gained funding, and with an initial 20 houses built a vibrant campus of galleries, artist residencies, commercial spaces, gardens, and subsidised housing and childcare for young mothers looking to advantage themselves. The project continues to grow as it receives more and more funding, already having doubled the number of houses owned to 40+. This is all I want my art to do! To take arts funding and use it for good! To propose alternative ideas, histories, and ways of sustaining communities. This is people-centric art. Art that mutually benefits the maker and the audience. The work is both beautiful and inclusive, social and aesthetic. It is not one art object, but the sum total of its parts: the people, the events, the social initiatives, and the community engagement. One whole social artwork. I propose that it is more art than any art I could find in a gallery in Wellington.

    Although you don’t have to look too far elsewhere in Wellington to find projects working for social justice. Like I say, you just probably won’t find it in the galleries is all. Peoples Coffee’s Arohata Project is one near and dear to me. The Arohata Project was initiated by Peoples Coffee owner Matt Lamason and it started in 2013 with a comprehensive barista training course at the Arohata Women’s Prison. The vision being that there would be the capacity to grow the project to the point where prisoners being released would leave with the means to be able to find meaningful employment with the hopes of aiding rehabilitation and reintegration. Three years later and they are still working hard at it, with Lauren Tennent on the ground training at Arohata, as well as working closely with Matt to build the project and grow its impact. Imagine a program that could train prisoners whilst in prison, then on release be able to offer further training, support, and the potential for meaningful employment and reintegration. Not just with coffee, but with anything! I have been thinking about all sorts of industries that could use this model in a way that would be mutually beneficial for the industry and our society. The quicker we kick the prejudices towards prisoners, the quicker and easier reintegration becomes.

    I think that art—and I do think about these projects as art—can be a real catalyst for change. Especially when it is taking real-world steps to making a difference on both an individual and a public level. Certainly these projects are not specifically artworks, but they do operate in all of the ways that art intends to. They engage and improve the audience’s quality of life, they bring people together, they educate, they encourage community, and they challenge and / or reflect our society. Where there is art for art’s sake, I say this is art for people’s sake. Social justice for the win.

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  • Stranger Things, Season One

    ★★★★★

    In small town Indiana, 1983, twelve year old Will Byers mysteriously vanishes into thin air. His mother Joyce and brother Jonathan seek help from the town’s pill-popping chief of police, Jim Hopper—jaded since the death of his own young daughter. Will’s best friends, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, desperate to find their friend and spurred on by a love of comic books and mystery novels, set out on their own to find Will and come across a young girl alone in the woods, dressed in a bedraggled hospital gown with her head shaved. After the boys take her home to Mike’s basement, she recognizes a photo of Will and though near-mute indicates to knowing where he is. Known only as Eleven after the number tattooed on her wrist, the boys discover that she possesses amazing supernatural powers and that someone or something is out to get her, and it is a race against time for everyone to find Will before whatever it is gets them too.

    While watching Stranger Things you can tell its creators, the Duffer Brothers, are genuinely passionate about what they’re doing and intend it to be a love letter to the films they grew up with—the references are plentiful, to E.T., The Goonies, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, and Stephen King novels among others. In interviews they talk fondly of wanting to inspire all the emotions that come with 80s adventure and paranormal classics, and I feel like they hit the nail on the head with everything that they sought to achieve. Stranger Things is defined by its warmth and its willingness to believe in incredible things, instilling a sense of childlike wonder and awe in the viewer as we watch and learn through the eyes of a group of Dungeons and Dragons obsessed tweens, with an underlying sense of uneasiness as reality is blurred with the sinister world of the Upside-Down. Beautifully atmospheric, one of the most gripping scenes sees a distraught Joyce set up a ouija board of fairy lights across her wall in an attempt to communicate with her lost son, creating an instantly iconic image for science fiction to come.

    If I’m being honest, there is not a single thing I don’t love about this show. I know I give a lot of pretty positive reviews, but that’s because I’m obsessed with television and familiar enough with my own tastes that I know when something is going to be worth my time watching. Stranger Things is a perfect show. The acting is amazing, assembling the best youth cast since Freaks and Geeks, with the standout being Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven who will blow your mind harder than her mind can blow up trucks. Seeing Winona Ryder again is wonderful after what seemed like her semi-blacklisting for a little bit of shoplifting and she is very compelling if a little one-note as Will’s frantic mother. The soundtrack is phenomenal, from the eerie synth-y opening theme to the heartbreaking uses of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” and a Peter Gabriel cover of “Heroes” by Bowie. For a show that is so upfront about being an homage to particular 80s classics it never seems like it is rehashing anything or trying too hard. Best of all, Stranger Things reminds you of being young and being curious and staying up really late getting lost in a fantasy book. I want to get lost in the world of Stranger Things and for a moment there I did, and I promise you will find yourself craving even more strange happenings at the end of this brilliant first season.

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  • Young and Hungry: Festival of New Theatre

    For 22 brilliant years the Young and Hungry Festival has been inspiring young people to engage in everything from acting, stage-management, playwriting, and more. This year the festival produced three plays, shown in succession (from 6.30–10.30pm) for a two-week season at BATS Theatre.  

     

    Bloody Hell Jesus (Get Your Own Friends)

    Writer: Lucy Craig

    Director: Jane Yonge (VUW Alumni)

    Assistant Director: Ruby Hansen (VUW student)

    Plot: Bloody Hell Jesus follows a journey of four best friends from kindy to high school. Through confronting their shallowness, joining a metal band, and meeting Hipster Jesus, the four friends realise they have their own lives to live.

    Themes: The play explores friendships and religion, but more specifically the idea of letting go of friendships and of the people in your life who are holding you back.

    Set / Lighting: The set by Talei Timakata consisted of two skate ramps creating a U-shape at the center of the stage. Actors used these ramps in creative ways, highlighting the element of fun that Young and Hungry brings to the stage. The skate ramp becomes a metaphor for being on the cusp of something exciting and potentially dangerous. And as you slide down the ramp with a rush of adrenaline you enter new and unknown territories—particularly relevant to young people.

    Sound: With original work from Andy Gartrell and his foot pedal, sound was a highlight of Bloody Hell Jesus. Each scene was suitably matched with a back track, played by Gartrell and creating everything from funky to heavy-metal tones for each scene.

    What we thought: The three-piece band was a massive highlight. There was great playfulness on stage!

     

    Like Sex

    Writer: Nathan Joe

    Director: Samuel Phillips (VUW Alumni)

    Plot: The play starts with a bang. Literally. Through a series of interlocking scenes, the audience follows the private lives of seven high school students who are all connected by one act—sex.

    Themes: The play explores all things sexual—from cheating scandals, to coming out, to losing virginity. It deals with all the gritty stuff head on.

    Set / Lighting: Performed in a traverse-stage, it’s like watching a tennis match as your head swivels backwards and forwards to soak in all of the action. The lighting allows you to watch the reactions of the audience members sitting opposite you—a daring decision when considering the nature of the subject matter involved.

    Sound: All of your favourite chart-topping hits but without the lyrics bring a decidedly edgy vibe to the play.

    What we thought: It’s a complex and thought-provoking exploration of sex and intimacy. The portrayal of sex scenes (creative props were used such as a desk lamp to represent a blow-job) and the physical engagement of all of the actors brought an energetic presence to the show. However there are a few moments—such as the school ‘slut’ being redeemed because a male decides to befriend her, and the word lesbian being whispered like a dirty secret—that made one feel slightly uncomfortable.

     

    Dead Days

    Writer: Owen Baxendale (VUW Alumni)

    Director: Debra Mulholland

    Plot: The play begins with apprentice-mortician Max (Morgan Hopkins) celebrating his 21st birthday alone. The show becomes increasingly dark from this point onwards as dead people awaken and start challenging the living.

    Themes: The play is about catharsis, not taking your life for granted and speaking up for yourself.

    Set / Lighting: The set is in a funeral parlour and is sympathetically macabre, with shelves of embalming fluid and dead bodies covered by white sheets that are illuminated by clinically bright lighting. The space is cold and ominous.

    Sound: Eerie transition music is reminiscent of a mix between child-like nursery rhymes and horror films.

    What we thought: This show should not have been put at the late-night slot of the Young and Hungry season as it discusses disturbing issues which probably shouldn’t be considered at 10pm.  

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  • Plastic EP Release NZ Tour

    Melbourne based band Plastic will be hitting our shores for three shows in Auckland and Wellington. The boys are no strangers to New Zealand, and in fact the majority of them can call Auckland their hometown. We caught up with them ahead of their tour to chat about butter chicken pies and what to expect since they’ve been across the ditch.

    I know ¾ of you are originally from Auckland, what has the biggest change been for you moving to Melbourne?
    Our tolerance for 40 degree days.  

    You started out as a more folk-based group called Five Mile Town. What was the basis for changing your project?
    To put it briefly, I guess we just started a new band because we weren’t Five Mile Town anymore, and none of the music we wanted to write reflected anything (we felt) we had done before. A new band needs a new band name right?

    This is your first time back in New Zealand since you moved to Melbourne, how do you think Melbourne has influenced your live sound?
    I’d say almost not at all. The bigger influence has just been growing as musicians and people. Melbourne is just where we’ve been while that’s been happening.

    Tell us about any projects on the horizon, can we expect an album after this tour?
    Our next album is going to be 3D printed. Expect a pop up gallery tour in the sea-scout halls of NZ coastal towns maybe. Either way I’m sure something plastic is next right?

    What’s the best thing been about playing live for you guys?
    Packing down our equipment and being too tired to party afterwards, we’re getting really good at that.

    What are you all most excited for on this tour?
    In alphabetical order:

    • Almost breaking even.
    • Butter chicken pies from Wild Bean Cafes down State Highway One.
    • Everything else

    If you could curate your own music festival line-up, who would you want to play and why?
    Deerhoof playing their entire 14 album discography. That’s the full line up; no other bands.

    Be sure to check out Plastic’s EP Release tour date at MOON on August 4.

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  • Gucci Mane—Everybody Looking

    ★★★★★

    Unlike my usual style of linking food to music, I chose not to do so for this review after hearing multiple commentators  dismiss  this album. I believe it denotes a subtle turning point in the Atlanta rap scene, and the wider rap industry as a whole, and so I will do my best to comment on why I believe it to be the case.

    There aren’t many artists out there who command as much respect, as much reverence, as Gucci Mane. Miraculously dodging a murder charge in 2005 due to insufficient evidence, and with twelve other charges to his name he is an unlikely role model. Perhaps one of the only things more impressive than the length of his rap sheet (see what I did there) is his absolutely massive discography. His nine studio albums, 18 digital albums (a slightly higher quality mixtape that is often charged for), 49 mixtapes, and a soundtrack speak volumes for his work ethic. One legend claims on the day of his release Gucci travelled straight to the studio where he recorded six songs, before attending a party that evening.

    This work ethic has been reflected in his latest release. Since Gucci has been out of jail he’s managed to record an entirely new album that reflects how, maybe this time, he really has no intention of returning ever again. Everybody Looking is a turning point for Gucci. For the first time in his life, he looks healthy. The first time I saw his video for “Guwop Home”, I wouldn’t have recognized him if it wasn’t for his distinctive facial tattoo. He’s lost so much weight, he sounds different, and yet his trademark flourishes; his uncommon flow, remains.

    More than anything else his new verses are filled with a hunger, a mad desperation to get his message across. With sparse but huge features from Kanye, Drake, and Young Thug, Gucci flexes his influence and helps deliver some incredibly potent verses.

    Before we can even begin to discuss why this is such an important album for the southern rap scene, it’s important to discuss just how influential Gucci is to the scene and that rap genre as a whole. His style, something he’s cultivated since 2005, has been a huge factor in the way other artists rap. Without Gucci people like Young Thug and Waka Flocka wouldn’t exist. His incredibly early adoption of producers Zaytoven and Mike Will Made It has helped propel them into successful positions and played a part in the way trap-style beats are used in modern rap. He helped shape the Atlanta sound of the early 2000s, a sound that has been entering the wider pop scene in recent years.

    It is this sense of deification that’s been kept in mind with this album. Gucci recognizes his influence not only towards other musicians but to the wider community as a whole. “1st Day Out Tha Feds” muses on his prior actions, and the influence they have had on those close to him: “I did some things to some people that was down right evil / Is it karma coming back to me, so much drama / My own mama turned her back on me, and that’s my mama / I lost three people close to me in one summer.”

    Yet despite this subtle shift in subject matter and heightened awareness of his own actions, Gucci manages to create an album that those in the wider Atlanta community can relate to. He speaks to the young, urbanized, downtrodden, and marginalized African American inhabitants of the South: those who see drug dealing as a legitimate escape from the unfair situation they have been dealt by society.

    Now that Gucci is not glorifying his drug selling past as heavily as he used to, it would be fair to assume that the quality of his output has degraded. Intoxication and art have gone hand in hand for a long time, with artists like Bowie, Winehouse, and Cobain producing some of their best work under the influence. It’s a staple subject matter for a huge number of artists, and some have commented that the glorification of dealing in rap is a social issue. It’s important to note that they exist as some use it as an excuse to delegitimize the genre.

    But this is by far the best Gucci album I have ever heard. There’s a fervent respect for the empire that he has helped to create, but a determined attempt to make something that helps point out the downsides of the lifestyle it glorifies without sounding condescending or fake.

    This is not something I will ever be able to accurately comment on. While I can speculate, this is not an album that was made for me. I’m a white guy who grew up in New Zealand. Our life experiences, our situations, are worlds apart. It’s a situation that very, very few reading this review—shit, this magazine—will ever be able to relate to, and that’s perhaps what makes it so important. Instead of trying to change the world, he’s trying to make music that speaks to those who need it most, and he makes it sound fucking good while he’s at it.

     

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  • Who’s covering who?

    Drax Project, a Wellington based four piece, started off with just two members: Shaan Singh on saxophone and Matt Beachen on drums. Add Sam Thomson (bass) and Ben O’leary (guitar), a Universal label sign, and handfuls of gigs around the country (including opening for Gorillaz, SBTRKT, and a crazy EP release gig at Te Papa) and you’ll understand why I had to go and see what’s so intoxicating about them.

    On one level, Drax Project play indie pop with hip hop backbeats. But the complexity of their music sonically and harmonically and the level of finesse required to create such a balance comes from professional musicians and producers who possess incredible textural understanding.

    Though Drax Project started out as a covers band, their original music stood out from what they cover, and had the crowd repeating the lyrics throughout the entire night. Undoubtedly the best part was their ability to break down their songs into their constituent parts to create a build-up, and every member had an opportunity to display their ability. The audience screamed and shouted as soon as Shaan picked up his saxophone, and Drax Project knew exactly when to work the crowd, each musician performed solos at the peak of the song.

    Moments when the music was devoid of lyrics were naturally when Drax Project was most free and the crowd loved to lose themselves not in the complex musical material, with a well balanced mix of danceable beats, hip hop, pop, jazz, and alternative music. This unconventional blend translates incredibly well live and Drax have curated a career of live performances from it.

    Drax have established their recorded music and they successfully translate live. That they played yet another new song in their encore shows they aren’t going away anytime soon.

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  • Skins

    Valve Corporation is a company that seems to be almost universally admired in spite of all the mistakes they make. Making consistently high quality games and offering incredible discounts on a store filled with almost every game imaginable is certainly a good way to get in the good books of gamers, but trust is not easily gained and is very easily lost. The latest controversy involving a Valve product is starting to make me wonder whether Gabe Newell really knows what’s happening at his company, or if he’s so high up the ivory tower that he simply doesn’t care.

    So, for the uninitiated: Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a massively popular competitive FPS by Valve. The game has a loot drop system, where during gameplay a crate containing a skin for an in-game weapon of varying rarity will drop randomly. After paying a micro-transaction (boo) to unlock the crate, you can then use the Steam Marketplace to trade skins with other users for Steam store credit, with some worth the equivalent thousands of dollars. The virtual economy surrounding skins led to them being used as currency, with third party sites using Steam’s API enabling players to cash out skins for real money or, most famously, gamble with them. Just put up some skins into a pot and if your number comes up you win the lot.

    The thing is, CS:GO is quite popular with kids and teenagers: when it comes to gambling  having kids involved is not only illegal, it is abhorrent. There may be those out there that say skin gambling is OK because there’s no real money involved, but if some kid uses mummy’s credit card to buy skins and gambles away all of them, there’s a real loss there.

    The real controversy over skin gambling began in early July when it was revealed two YouTubers, Tom “ProSyndicate” Cassell and Trevor “TmarTn” Martin, were the co-owners of a skin gambling website, one which they had used and promoted to their audience with absolutely no disclosure. I cannot begin to tell you how angry this makes me. These guys were admired by millions of impressionable young people, which places them in a position of trust. These scumbags were more than willing to betray that trust to squeeze a bit more money out of their fans, and in doing so crossed numerous boundaries. They used their knowledge of the site’s backend to manipulate their winnings. They outright lied and said they were just sponsored by the site. They got young people to think gambling skins was not only okay, but it was a fun and easy way to make money!

    Excuse me while I prepare to spit some bile.

    Fuck these guys. Fuck them and their lying, manipulative, money-grubbing, criminal arses. I hope the law comes down hard on these gutless fucks, making it crystal clear that if you manipulate your audience like them you’ll get what’s coming to you.

    Valve has since issued numerous cease-and-desist notices to most skin gambling sites, hopefully ending this black market for good, but it’s too late. This whole economy should never have been allowed to happen, let alone become a series of successful enterprises. Who knows how many poor kids have wasted their money on it.

    I think it’s appropriate to end on the words of former Napier Boys’ High headmaster Ross Brown, who once told me, I never make promises I can’t keep and bets I can’t pay Damn straight.

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  • deleted scenes for lovers

    ★★★★

    Author: Tracey Slaughter

    Publisher: Victoria University Press

     

    Domestic, contemporary New Zealand is bleak and gritty in this collection of short stories from Tracey Slaughter. With a keen eye for detail, she observes and dissects places that we will all be able to recognise.

    Consider the opening scene of the story “the next stop”: “There were maybe five vinyl chairs, or seven, to wait on between the counter and the corner. Orange, with black metal legs, and if you sat down on them you’d feel fish and chip grease suck up to your thighs… You wouldn’t want to even pick up those thin, oily mags, but you’d probably get desperate not to stare into space at some point.” Sound familiar?

    These stories are not lovely. In “note left on a window” a young woman camps out in the ramshackle caravan where her boyfriend took his life. In “consent” a young girl is groomed and abused by an older man. “go home, stay home” observes the adult world of a house party, filled with sleazy men and desperate women. Throughout the collection lurks the problem of class—how we are restrained by it, how we cannot truly leave our pasts behind. Children are mingled in with these adult worlds, taken places they shouldn’t be. Slaughter is drawn to scenes of discontent, even misery, and reading more than one at a time is a hard slog. You’ll need to take a break, sit back, and let the quiet tragedy sink in.

    It would be easy to feel depressed by these stories, as largely they deal with fraught relationships and the ways in which people can be ugly towards one another. That’s not to say, however, that they are not worth your time. These are the realities of ‘middling’ middle New Zealand, and while Slaughter does not hold back on the bleakness, there are moments of hopefulness and heart, too. Her command of language is impressive—it will leave these stories and characters seared into your memory.

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  • Ruins

    ★★★

    Author: Rajith Savanadasa

    Publisher: Hachette

     

    I didn’t want to like this book. It seemed boring and ‘realistic’—a personal red flag. Begrudgingly, however, I am forced to concede that I was impressed by this first offering from young Australian author Rajith Savanadasa.

    The book begins with familial chaos. We are introduced to an average Sri Lankan family through the eyes of their uncomplicated and indefensibly sweet maid, Latha. While figuring out which character is which is difficult at first (Savanadasa uses a multitude of nicknames and honorifics), it’s made easier by him changing the narrator, chapter by chapter, to bring us into the minds of all five members of the Herath household.

    What won me over, though, was Savanadasa’s exquisite observation of the personalities of each family member. Each was so distinct and perfectly captured that I couldn’t help thinking, “dang, this writer knows his stuff.” There was no concealment of ugly traits, no black and white arguments; everything was complex and frustrating and real. Reflective, I suppose, of the reality of the Sri Lankan politics that formed a background to the narrative.

    The Sinhala vs. Tamil conflict intrudes into the very core of this family. With a Tamil mother and a Sinhala father, the division that cuts through their country also cuts through their home. The mother can’t seem to escape her past, a pain manifested in her quest to find what happened to a Tamil boy she used to see on her street. The father resents this, just as he resents the control that the government has on his newspaper business, but in his powerlessness, the potential good in his character bows down. Their son is also—let’s just say it—a douche, and their daughter wallows in the private throes of unrequited love. Crazy all round.

    If you want to be faced with the truth that all families are equally tragic, no matter where they are, or appreciate multilinguality in your novels, then read this book.

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  • Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

    ★★½

    Director: Jake Szymanski

     

    While mostly watchable, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates neglects basic elements of plot in favour of inconsistent jokes and familiar ‘comedic’ routines, resulting in a flat, un-progressive, and un-funny story. The set-up is that Zac Efron and Adam DeVine play brothers (and partners in finance) who become the embarrassment of their immediate family because they effectively ruin every social gathering through heavy partying. On the condition that they must bring dates to their sister’s wedding so they can attend, they cross paths with two women arguably more destructive than they are (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick), both of whom play it coy so that they get a free trip to Hawaii, where the plot can then spend the rest of its time indulging in shenanigans, misunderstandings, and fuck-ups.

    The movie does subvert some expectations and the duration of the film is not spent waiting for the two leads to find the ‘ideal dates’ before the wedding. This brings a sort of farcical quality to the events, seeing as the two dates are effectively lying to the main characters about themselves. Both sets of leads actually work well with each other, and the better moments in the film come from their interactions, which seem improvised and natural. In comparison, the main jokes just seem to fall flat when they occur: for example, watching someone getting hurt or finding them in a compromising situation just feels cringe-worthy. Also like most other American comedies, there is a pervading sense of the film’s setting being used as a contributing factor in its creation. When Jurassic Park’s filming location is both explicitly mentioned and factored into the plot, expect seeing a written cheque to Universal Pictures rather than a dinosaur.

    Overall, it’s a mixed bag in its results. It shows that at times even DeVine’s exasperated, shrieking performance can make or break a scene.

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  • The Purge: Election Year

    ★★★

    Director: James DeMonaco

     

    The Purge series owes its success to one central and abused concept: one night a year all crime, including murder, is legal, making viewers consider what they might do in a similar situation. The first film, the cinematic equivalent of untapped potential, did little to explore this concept, opting for a fairly standard home ­invasion thriller. Its sequel is widely considered an improvement, expanding the world in which these films take place and peppering it with social commentary, but still left much to be desired. All this brings us to The Purge: Election Year.

    In an attempt to be relevant in our current political and social landscape (the tagline is “Keep America Great,” sound familiar?), franchise director James DeMonaco doubles down on the social commentary of the previous film, centering the story on independent presidential hopeful Charlie Roan who is determined to end the violent ‘holiday’ that is Purge. When her opposition attempts to target her, it is up to returning character Leo Barnes to help her survive the purge night. While the heavy­ handed political allegory is an interesting element in the story, it is never fully effective, instead often feeling like little more than a set-up for more of the violence and mayhem the franchise is known for.

    The main place where Election Year excels in the franchise is its characters. Unlike past Purge films, Election Year gives us characters that we actually root for, and dare I say, at times actually give the story emotional weight. Most of this success is attributed to the newest cast members, specifically the always-entertaining Elizabeth Mitchell, who manages to create a solid sympathetic character out of what little she is given to work with. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for Frank Grillo’s Leo Barnes, one of the highlights of the previous films, but this can be attributed to a perceived lack of motivation for his character.

    The point here is that Election Year isn’t going to bring in much of a new audience to the franchise but if you are looking to indulge in some of the violence and mayhem purge night is known for, you’ve come to the right place.

    by

  • Ghostbusters (2016)

    ★★½

    Director: Paul Feig

     

    The last sentence in my previous article about Ghostbusters (2016) is haunting my ass.

    Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig, stars SNL comedy actresses Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, comedian Melissa McCarthy, as well as Chris Hemsworth in the re-incarnation of the 1984 cult classic Ghostbusters. The characters take the form of a Dr Erin Gilbert of Columbia University, Patty Tolan, an MTA worker, Dr Jillian Holtzmann, an eccentric engineer, and paranormal scientist Abby Yates. And of course, Kevin, the secretary. The film is also replete with cameos from multiple cast members from the original Ghostbusters—Sigourney Weaver, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson.

    The film starts with Dr Gilbert up for academic tenure, however this is suddenly implicated by the re-print of a ‘paranormal’ book written years earlier by herself and childhood friend Abby Yates. The event reluctantly draws Dr Gilbert back into paranormal research and investigation once more. Following a jump in ghost activity due to occultist Rowan North (Neil Casey), the Ghostbusters (including Dr Gilbert)  soon band together to stop the imminent paranormal invasion of Manhattan.

    There were moments like the Ghostbusters’ logo being spray-painted on a train-station wall, or the way that Patty joined the team, that were predictable and you could see coming, but were just as enjoyable to watch being realised. There were some cool effects, some fancy gadgets, some neat music, some nice call-backs to the original. But overall, the film was entirely uninspiring.

    The plot was just… lacking. The motivations driving the behaviour of Rowan, an off-beat occulist who falsely recognises a spike in paranormal activity, were never properly explained—beyond a clichéd need for revenge due to perceived mistreatment. They didn’t seem legitimate to me. Additionally, he completely changed personality as soon as he got into Kevin’s body, in a way that was neither justified nor executed plausibly. It wasn’t that Kevin’s personality was slowly infecting him, which could’ve been an interesting and potentially comical struggle to watch. And it wasn’t that he was just showing a different facet of his nature; instead it was an abrupt, unexplained, and complete shift in temperament.

    It would have been more accurate to have more ethnic diversity in the cast, among the scientists and otherwise. However, I don’t think that in order to do so Paul Feig should sacrifice Leslie Jones’ character, because she was fantastic. The problem is that by reducing representation to only a few roles, characters have to somehow be emblematic of an entire race, which resorts to basic stereotyping and ignores their individual complexity. We should be able to have more than one character of colour, you know? And they should be seen in jobs as various as air traffic controller to president, because that is a true reflection of reality.

    Just because objectifying women is off the table doesn’t mean we need to introduce an appealing and dumb male secretary for the women to ogle. While some of the gags were amusing, in my opinion it was taken too far: there’s subverting the male gaze, and then there’s undermining your position by disregarding that men are also dehumanised as sex-objects enough already.

    If doing justice to the original meant a film with a washed-out plot, and a call back to the original tech with a shiny modernised twist, then Ghostbusters achieved its purpose. But there wasn’t any bold storytelling, but in the end the film didn’t deserve all the controversy it has received (and the actresses certainly don’t deserve hate for taking the job).

    by

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    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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