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Issue 12, 2017

Issue 12

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News

  • The 2017 Budget — what it means for students

  • Hall residents break things, mums can no longer visit

  • Palestinian Hunger Strike Ends

  • IS kill 29 people in attack

  • Greenhouse Gas Inventory released

  • Abductions in Chechnya condemned by students

  • UoA Students Occupy Vice-Chancellor’s Office

  • Anti-Anti-Vaccinations

  • Halls of Residence Roles to be Cut Under Proposal

  • Features

  • mikkee

    Remaining here too long

    – SPONSORED – My experience of suburban living is coloured by the necessity of the commute. Suburbia compartmentalises the domestic and private from the public, the urban, and, ideally, the political; the suburb is the space in which actions are governed foremost by the values of the family. What happens, then, is that the suburban […]

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  • BONK

    Those who come before

    – SPONSORED – Written by the Scotney family (with thoughts from Laura and Tim)   Where do we stand? Responsible for a publication with an 80 year legacy, here for eight months, then gone — the responsibility deferred. Albert H. (Bonk) Scotney founded Salient in 1938, and he did so within a specific historical context. […]

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  • Jess

    To not be silent

    – SPONSORED – CW: Discussion of sexual harassment   Our evening transitioned seamlessly from bobbing to the slow paced, gentle voice of Frankie Cosmos into a slow trek up in the crisp night air back home. We headed towards the glowing traffic lights that marked the sharp turn onto our road. Far down the length […]

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  • mikkee

    Remaining here too long

    – SPONSORED – My experience of suburban living is coloured by the necessity of the commute. Suburbia compartmentalises the domestic and private from the public, the urban, and, ideally, the political; the suburb is the space in which actions are governed foremost by the values of the family. What happens, then, is that the suburban […]

    by

  • BONK

    Those who come before

    – SPONSORED – Written by the Scotney family (with thoughts from Laura and Tim)   Where do we stand? Responsible for a publication with an 80 year legacy, here for eight months, then gone — the responsibility deferred. Albert H. (Bonk) Scotney founded Salient in 1938, and he did so within a specific historical context. […]

    by

  • Jess

    To not be silent

    – SPONSORED – CW: Discussion of sexual harassment   Our evening transitioned seamlessly from bobbing to the slow paced, gentle voice of Frankie Cosmos into a slow trek up in the crisp night air back home. We headed towards the glowing traffic lights that marked the sharp turn onto our road. Far down the length […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • Larger Than Life — Chris Rex Martin & Tainui Tukiwaho

    At one point during Larger Than Life, Te-Whakakotahitanga-o-Ngā-iwi-o-Te-Motu Boy-George Jackson (the full name of Tahi, played by Shadrack Simi) calls his lost love to stage in order to serenade them. The problem is there are only three actors onstage during Larger Than Life, and all are intimately involved with the performance of aforementioned serenade. The devised solution to this is to beckon a participant from the audience to act in the old flames place. The woman, although a little uncomfortable and worried looking at first, is won over by Shadrack Simi and Brady Peeti’s gentle singing, until she starts swaying, then singing along, until she’s met by rapturous applause at the end of the set-piece (as well as a cheeky kiss on the cheek from Chris Rex Martin, the third performer who chose her out).

    It doesn’t have much effect on the plot, but it does act as a kind of self-contained metaphor for the audience’s own experience during Larger Than Life. Although I, and I assume a few others, came to Larger Than Life unsure of what would happen, worried about if it would turn out to be more of a family-friendly affair rather than something that would keep even the surliest of millennials (myself included) entertained, the Te Rēhia Theatre company masterfully wove a story rich in belly laughs, political satire, Pākehā and Māori anxieties, and even an appropriately emotional ending.

    And dick jokes. A lot of very good dick jokes.

    The elevator pitch (although I’m inclined to give as little away as possible) is that “Larger Than Life” is actually the moniker of E-Honda, Tahi, and Rua, three Māori youth from the rural heartland of the North Island, and that the stage show is actually the first comeback show from Ngaruawahia’s third-best childrens novelty act from the ’80s. They sing and spin their tall tale of their first big break, an epic trip to Wellington in order to support the legendary John Rowles. The brilliant opening, showcasing a linguistic mix of comedy, a clear clash in personalities, and one very broken stage prop perfectly sets the tone for the evening’s proceedings. From there, the content gets even more creative — nothing is off limits, with Robert Muldoon, “those red stickers on cars,” apartheid, New Zealand media, and Pākehā claiming Māori heritage are all targets for ridicule. The songs cross an even broader range: from an ode to a dying sheep to a plea to mothers cooking.

    It would be jarring or unconvincing if it wasn’t for the usually excellent performances from the the trio: Simi & Peeti embody the divas perfectly, each with their own set of unique quirks and motivations (“I want to be the gayest!” is a punchline that lingers long after the curtain falls). Their long-suffering, guitar strumming brother E-Honda has the hardest job: playing the straight man, the comic relief, the antagonist, and the lovable younger brother all at once. It doesn’t always payoff — when stood next to the incredibly animated performances of his fellow actors, sometimes his delivery of key comedic or political lines can come off understated or in a manner that deems them unimportant before they’ve even been spoken.

    He is also tasked with being the voice of political reason, and this is where the usually excellent writing also suffers. The political content is shoehorned into short monologues and spoken at breakneck pace, meaning the audience miss most of the content, and when it’s almost entirely devoid of jokes, it feel uncomfortably preachy, which might turn a few non-liberal fans off (then again, this is Wellington we’re talking about). The use of a few words — “cancerAIDS”, one n-bomb — may turn heads, and not in a good way. Then again, as they say at the end, their intention is to push the envelope, and move towards the discomfort. The storyline satirising Pākehā exploiting Māori talent and legend for their own financial gain is far more effective, and it’s brilliance is that it does not explode into offensive name-calling until the peak of the action.

    The twist ending may turn a few heads as well. The complete leftfield direction the piece takes in the last ten minutes is incredibly affecting, but it does also feel rather out of step with what came before it. Although I admit when I heard at the end that the piece was still in development I was a little surprised, as it feels in no way a show done by half measures. Te Rēhia Theatre have created a show rich in content, that leaves you feeling not stuffed with pretentious or overly-serious songwriting, nor starved of laughter. Sure, it’s not the full 47 K-Bar and 15 Big Mac spectacular that the fictional Larger Than Life team would be satisfied with, but it is a refreshingly honest and earnest production that the real-life Larger Than Life team should be proud of.

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  • Manaia — Atamira Dance Company

    I am by no means a veteran of the world of dance. Unless you count furiously gyrating and unconvincingly lip-syncing to Roxy Music’s 1973 classic Street Life for an assembly talent show when I was 12, I have never “danced”. Manaia, which is part of the Kia Mau Festival in Wellington, served as my first introduction into the world of dance that I was not forced to see by my peers (looking at you, school trip to Billy Elliot). As I went in essentially blind, aside for knowing the production was brought to us by the Atamira Dance Company, and that it was to “showcase the strong female choreographic voice” at the centre of one of the leading Māori dance companies in Aotearoa, I thought I’d give my raw impression of what I saw next to each three of the director/choreographer’s unique visions.

     

    “Pito” — choreographed by Nancy Wijohn, performed by Kelly Nash

    Programme: Exploring themes of maternal connections that transcend space and time (and even death), Pito, meaning “to be human and to be at peace,” looks to reimagine what it means to die. It looks to interrogate pain and loss to find something worth learning and living for.

    My Impression: A confession: I wasn’t let in to see Pito. Me and my companion turned up about two minutes late, and were greeted by the notice that they weren’t allowing latecomers until the start of the second piece. So, I can’t really give an honest review of my impression: but, we could hear at least a wealth of beautiful orchestration and live music from the performance above whilst stuck downstairs in the bar drinking overpriced Mac’s. When we entered during the interval, the rapturous applause for Pito was only just dying down, and as we sat down we could hear people behind up whispering “that was beautiful,” so I would imagine the sight matched the tremendous sound.

     

    “Te Waenganui” — choreographed by Gabrielle Thomas, performed by Nancy Wijohn, Imogen Tapara, and Ngaere Jenkins.

    Programme: Te Waenganui is the space inbetween (fitting then that it would play second in a three-act bill), and the performance explores the three fingers of the manaia — birth, life, and death. The piece builds from Rev. Māori Marsden’s thesis of the whare wānanga: that it views the world as a series of moving, flowing rhythmic patterns of energy. The performance looks to complicate the relationship between the physical body, the spiritual existence, and the space between.

    My impression: Three is a magic number especially in the context of Manaia, but I would imagine it could be potentially painful for a performance like this. As most of the piece depends on complete unity between each element, any performer who moves out of step or forgets their next movement runs the risk of ruining the entire choreography. Yet, none of the performers made a false step — in fact, each of the three moved between roles seamlessly: whether as an isolated individual, as part of a support for that individual, or as something else entirely. Their movements brought to mind different bodies — of birds, snakes, preying mantises — that became entangled in each other until they inevitably burst apart. Each performer is dependent on one another, just as every element of the manaia needs its counterpart to create a whole. The movements cut through the folk-drone instrumentation beautifully, and the moments when each performer comes into contact with another are worth the extended periods they spend drifting away from each other.

     

    “Mā”, choreographed by Kelly Nash, performed by Sean MacDonald, Hannah Tasker-Poland, and Milly Kimberly Grant.

    Programme: Reframing and reinterpreting a Māori legend, depicts the demigod Maui’s attempts to create an eternal and immortal life for himself through exploitation of the female form, re-entering the vagina of goddess of death Hine Nui Te Po. being half of Māmā, the piece provides a counterbalance to the maternal themes of Pito, with Nash writing that they intend to link social and ecological decay with men’s patriarchal domination.

    My impression: Mā depicts multiple births and rebirths, multiple body transformations, and multiple elements that unnerve just as well as they entertain. At the heart of the piece is Milly Kimberly Grants frankly unbelievable performance — she sings, screams, and creates dense soundscapes, and often creates a noise somewhere in between these three things. She silences the audience whenever a graphic set piece is greeted with nervous laughter, her piercing gaze as much a character of the performance as Maui or Hine Nui Te Po. The use of screens and unfamiliar objects creates an uneasy atmosphere, with mouths, eyes, breasts, vaginas superimposed onto flesh and wood and manipulated by the performers. It’s sensual and surreal all at once, and it makes a similarly strong statement on the exploitative nature of men, whether human or demigod.

     

    Manaia, choreographed and performed by Atamira Dance Company.

    Programme: Promised a strong artistic vision that reframes and reimagine concepts and legends of indigeneity in Aotearoa, performed and created by a strong female voice integral to the company.

    My impression: I got what Atamira Dance Company promised and much more. If all dance can be as strong as this, you can catch me at the next Swan Lake premiere — and I won’t be late.

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  • The Basement Tapes

    Six years ago, someone close to me died. I still haven’t sorted out her things. Each item is simultaneously vital, and meaningless. I’m angry at the things: they have outlived her. Subconsciously, they haunt me. They are a reminder of what no longer exists.

    — Director Jane Young, speaking on the motivation for The Basement Tapes at BATS theatre.

     

    Roll up, roll up; hold up, hold up; po’ up, po’ up.

    I love to… I wanna… I’m tryna…

    I’ma rock the boat, work the middle ’til it hurt a little.

    — Excerpt from Kanye West’s “Fade”, the song that soundtracks the first scene of the piece, featuring central performer Stella Reid twerking all over the space and using an old radio as a makeshift instrument. This follows a brief prologue wherein our protagonist fearlessly attempts to negotiate a vegan pizza combo deal with a small Pepsi from Dominos.

     

    The juxtaposition of those two introductions to the world of Basement Tapes is some indication of the multitudes that it contains within. The writing both amuses and affects, and Reid’s performance is as much non-verbal as it is defined by her witticisms and monologues. Some laugh-out-loud moments are sandwiched jarringly next to scenes marked by the awkward laughter turning to baited breath, and a whispered “what the fuck” or “oh god no” from the row behind you, but that’s part of the charm.

    Basement Tapes prides itself on the ability to lull you into a false sense of security with its comedic sequences to the point where you feel immensely comfortable with the protagonist and wouldn’t even mind chatting to her for a bit afterwards if she’s not too busy (as many audience members do after the finale). Then, it sucker punches you with a pang of emotion or a wave of dread, realising the protagonist isn’t even entirely comfortable sharing the same space as you.

    Take the play’s premise: a granddaughter is to clear out her grandmother’s old basement, and while looking through the hoarded objects and solving word puzzles in back issues of old newspapers, comes across a tape recorder and a pile of cassettes. Through these, she uncovers her grandmother’s old memories, committed to tape before her death. However, when Reid’s character realises that the first tape refuses to replay her grandmother’s recording, her response is not to predictably launch into a maudlin monologue, nor to shrug it off and go back to sifting through junk. It is to interrogate the inanimate object under harsh lamplight, replete with a butchered Brooklyn Goodfellas-esque accent and crazed facial expressions. What follows when the tape is finally placed back into the player shows a real sense of tangible loss felt by the granddaughter in the absence of her grandmother, but also cleverly foreshadows the final twist in the tale as well as terrifying the hell out of the audience by the section’s conclusion.

    The team behind Basement Tapes use the space given and the props sourced to the absolute very best of their abilities. Despite the horror and melancholia inherent to the show’s DNA, I can still recollect a range of moments where disused radios, tubing, and ’80s record sleeves were used as lightsabers, microphones, and punchlines for the excellent script. The bitches brew of audio-based theatre, site specific theatre, comedy, and  horror might turn some off, but there is still the emotional core — the central problem of how you grieve for a person you never fully knew.

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  • Three Days in the Country

    I was surprised I could even make it out to the theatre. Exams are looming, the arrows of assignments are firing my way, and I felt a sniffle of a cold coming on. Nevertheless, I found myself sitting at Circa Theatre not knowing what to expect from this play, which was adapted from Ivan Turgenev’s A Month In The Country. The pressures of university were soon forgotten as I found myself caught up in this fantastic play, which succeeded in being both comedic and deeply moving.

    Set on a country estate in Russia in the mid-19th century, hearts are broken and love is confessed when a handsome young tutor stirs the hearts of all the women in the household. From that comes an exploration of love in all its forms; from friendship to unrequited love to the burning passion that keeps people awake at night.  

    Circa treated me to a simple set, beautiful classical music, and actors who were as engaged in the story as much as I was. It wasn’t long at all until I was pulled, completely, into this world of passion and drama. I guess this is what going to the theatre is all about. I don’t always go there to watch some postmodern masturbation which doesn’t make sense and doesn’t aim to be understood. Sometimes the simple and familiar plays are the most heart-warming.

    There are many things to praise about this play. What I appreciated the most was that both the big and small moments were calculated and performed perfectly. Gavin Rutherford’s Rakitin would explode into a barrel of emotion during an intense scene as he confessed his love to the leader of the household, Natalya. His descriptions of love were a strong testament to the enduring power of romanticism. I was struck by the lines he spoke as he warned us not to “succumb to its terrible intensity.” He also mocked our universal behaviour as he cried “here is my heart, please stamp on it again.” Another actor worth a mention is Harriet Prebble, who played a young girl with Little House of on the Prairie innocence. She had the audience in the palm of her hand as she stood up to exclaim, “I know lust, there is a wild feeling inside of me. I know what poetry means.”

    We may roll our eyes if we are living in our cynical stage, but it felt real. She pulled it off so well that you couldn’t help but be taken in with this discovery of passionate love. According to the Beatles, it is all we need. It is not just in the epic dramatic moments that the play shined. Moments of humour, witty one-liners, and subtle expressions on actors’ faces brought me further into the story. You know that the play is worth your time when you want to spend more time with all of them after the show is over.

    In between study and exams, I highly recommend you go and watch this show. It is entertaining, funny, and moving. It has enough period appeal for Downton Abbey fans and drama for those who like Gossip Girl. It also argues for the authenticity of the emotions that we can brush off as being too sentimental and saccharine. Being honest to ourselves, sometimes other people in our lives affect us so much that we have to stand up in a large crowd to pronounce that we now “know what poetry means” and that “all the love songs make sense.” Love has its problems, and this play doesn’t gloss over the danger of pouring out emotions. Yet it doesn’t shy away from telling us that love is all-consuming, selfish, and motivates all of our thoughts and actions.

     

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  • Wonder Woman (2017)

    It’s almost soul affirming to report that the DC Cinematic Universe has produced a film that is actually fantastically enjoyable, which is no mean feat considering they’ve been getting progressively worse over the last few years.

    As a superhero film it’s not what one would call groundbreaking (it being an origin story, as well as a Word War One film), but it is brave enough to bite off some heavier thematic material than many of its contemporaries. In fact, the film and its main character, Amazon Princess Diana/Wonder Woman feel refreshingly relevant, even this late in the game for the superhero genre. Although the first act has its hang ups, once the film (and its main character) get into gear everything is smooth sailing.

    Gal Gadot is physically exceptional, and is pretty much every stunt person in the film. So much of the action carries a proper weight to it, and the choreography is incredible. The filmmakers do indulge occasionally into what I call “rubber body syndrome” where the combination of a real actor and a CGI double don’t quite blend properly, but it’s only noticeable every now and then.

    Aside from the intelligibility of the action (a first for a new DC film) we also get what has been completely lacking in the past few films; characters we care about. Wonder Woman has the perfect balance of qualities to make her likable, but flawed, and tested enough to make her interesting. The rest of the cast also pull their weight, with the Amazons and supporting soldier characters filling in the emotional edges. Even Chris Pine, as Steve Trevor, is given enough depth and comedy to work with.

    All in all it’s a worthy adaptation of a truly classic character, and DC has succeeded in creating a film with stakes, social commentary, empathetic characters, and spectacle.

    P.S. I want a spinoff where 300 of Zack Synder’s Spartans square off 300 of Patty Jenkins Amazons.

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  • What To See

    In lieu of my opinion, here are some places you might like to go form your own over the break. If you think of something good, write to me: arts@salient.org.nz

     

    Adam Art Gallery: Acting Out

    “Works by a selection of New Zealand and international artists who address the physicality of the body.”

    > July 9

     

    Bartley and Company Art: Into the Anthropocene

    Conor Clarke, Anne Noble, and Deborah Rundle “question and explore the dominant paradigms that have led the world to the position it is in today.”

    > June 24

     

    Bowen Galleries: Four Young Artists — Two From Auckland & Two From Wellington.

    Works by Nicholas Pound, Tom Tuke, Yvette Velvin, and Rachel Weeber. Opens Monday, June 12, 5.30 pm.

    > 1 July

     

    City Gallery Wellington

    Has four shows on: Colin McCahon: On Going Out With the Tide; Martino Gamper: 100 Chairs in 100 Days; Petra Cortright: RUNNING NEO—GEO GAMES UNDER MAME; and Shannon Te Ao: Untitled (McCahon House Studies).

     

    The Dowse

    Has five shows on: The Mind in the Hand: Drawing from the Dowse Collection; This Time of Useful Consciousness: Political Ecology Now; Richard Stratton: Living History; Emma Fitts: From Pressure to Vibration — the Event of a Thread; and Dark Objects.

     

    Enjoy Public Art Gallery: Indecent Literature

    “Robbie Handcock’s paintings explore historic depictions of gay sexuality in order to question contemporary queer existence.”

    > June 24

     

    MEANWHILE: No One is Sovereign in Love

    Works by Freya Daly Sadgrove, Laura Duffy, Robbie Handcock, Alexandra Hollis, Ruby Joy Eade, and Aliyah Winter — curated by Simon Gennard.

    > June 10

     

    Pātaka

    Has six shows on: Boundless—printmaking beyond the frame; Kereama Taepa—Whakapī; INFLUX—Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust Exhibition; Recollections + Wayne Youle; New Zealand Potters—Tableware; and Te Kāhui O Matariki—The Art of Matariki.

     

    Peter McLeavy Gallery: I Object

    “A sculpture exhibition of gallery artists: Andrew Barber, Oleg Polounine, Peter Robinson, and Yvonne Todd.”

    > June 17

     

    play_station: a trip to the beach

    Works by Nicholas Pound, Emma McIntyre, and Anh Tran. “With the nature of a road trip in mind, these three artists are off to the beach.”

    > June 17

     

    Precinct 35b: Gone with Makura

    Will Bennett’s paintings “trace the steps of NZ criminal and prison escapee Joseph Pawelka.”

    > June 15

     

    Toi Pōneke: Pūkana whakarunga! Pūkana whakararo!

    “Contemporary artworks by leading and emerging Māori artists are paired with virtual taonga from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, accessed via visitors’ mobile devices.” Curated by Suzanne Tamaki.

    > June 24

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  • Master of None, Season Two

    Master of None is a Netflix original show created by comedian Aziz Ansari (best known for his role as Tom Haverford in Parks & Recreation) and writer Alan Yang (also Parks & Recreation), in which Ansari plays a fictionalised version of himself, Dev Shah, an up-and-coming actor in New York who is good with food and bad with women. The first season was released in late 2015 to near unanimous critical acclaim. I remember loving it at the time but worrying that it wouldn’t be able to continue the quality through to a second season. When the teaser for season two appeared online earlier in the year, I had completely forgotten about it but was thrilled. Also featuring Eric Wareheim (who I hate on Tim & Eric, but love on this) and Ansari’s own parents, Master of None is a funny, thoughtful, and often very moving reinvention of the contemporary sitcom.

    The end of the first season saw Dev’s relationship with his girlfriend Rachel fall apart and Dev running away to Italy to start a pasta apprenticeship. Season Two picks up a few months later in the city of Modena; Dev makes pasta in a small shop run by an old woman and her grandchildren, Francesca and Mario, and is enjoying his new life in Italy but isn’t quite content. When his apprenticeship finishes, Dev returns to New York and reconnects with his casting agent, who quickly finds him a job as a host on the Food TV reality show Clash of the Cupcakes, but his loneliness leads him back down a familiar road of cocktail bars and online dating apps. When Francesca and her fiancée Pino visit from Italy, Dev finds himself torn as he begins to enjoy his time with the taken Francesca more than any of the dates he has been going on.

    Within only a ten-episode season, Master of None manages to weave in some stand-alone episodes that are completely wonderful, in particular “Thanksgiving” — an emotional coming-out story about Dev’s lesbian friend Denise (Lena Waithe, who also co-wrote the episode), co-starring Angela Bassett (!) as her mother, that spans twenty years in a half-hour. “New York, I Love You”, named for and inspired by the film of the same title, is a palette cleanser of an episode half-way through the season, showing delightful snippets of beautifully lit little pockets of New York City. If Dev’s spontaneous move to Italy at the end of Season One seemed like a cliffhanger, brace yourselves for the last five seconds of the season finale “Buona Notte” and the coming inevitable 12–18 month wait for any kind of answer. Oh, and saying “allora!” a lot.

    Less of a comedy than its predecessor, Master of None’s second season is more of a drama about funny people (I’m constantly thinking of Difficult People’s “when did comedies just become half-hour dramas?” in our year 2017, aka “television’s golden age”). The episodes range in length from 30 minutes to over an hour, with frequent stylistic, aesthetic, and storytelling changes, e.g. the first episode “The Thief” is entirely in black and white. Tonally, the overall season is closer to the first season episodes “Parents” and “Indians on TV”. If you’re a fan of Ansari’s prior stand-up work, particularly the specials filmed after he discovered intersectional feminism, you’ll probably enjoy the show as it shares similar themes, but be prepared for a lot more musing and self-reflection (though long-time fans of Aziz should watch out for a cameo from his notorious cousin Harris).

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  • Pirates of the Caribbean

    Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

    Dadda dum dum dadda dum dum dadda dum dum dada dada.

    Easily the greatest high seas adventure movie ever made, the first Pirates film exploded in 2003 like a well timed gun powder cask. It combined real world heroics with supernatural antics, and seamlessly blended practical filmmaking with spectacular CGI. It also happens to be one of my favourite blockbusters. What makes this film great is elusive, principally because of Johnny Depp’s signature performance as the pirate who does not need an introduction. At his funniest he is hysterical, and when it comes to the action and stunt-work neither the character nor the filmmakers settle for anything less than outstanding.

    To flesh out the narrative come Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Although much of their chemistry is supreme Hollywood melodrama, the charm of the film overcomes this and Knightley in particular gives of plenty of energy and charisma. But beneath the star-studded ensemble is a the brilliant execution by director Gore Verbinski, who keeps the plot moving at a smooth and seamless pace wherein dialogue, characterisation and action set pieces all move as one. In classic Pirates fashion, many of the most dramatic and humorous lines come between clashes of swords.

    Perhaps what makes this film so utterly watchable is the awe that the film itself seems to relish in, as there are so many true “holy shit” moments, and there’s also a sense of mystery to the whole world on display. With the edges of the map far from filled in, the possibilities are endless, as is the entertainment value.

     

    Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

    God I wanted to love this film, but upon leaving the theatre I thought  “Hollywood can’t even be bothered filming a real fucking sunset anymore.” This comes towards the end of the film, but prior to that there were three entire convoluted acts filled with equally questionable content.

    Although relatively short for a Pirates film, there is a sense that the 258 plot points are all being crammed by the handful in each scene with careless abandon. The dialogue is abrasively awful, especially from the two new principal characters. People encounter each other, leave, get captured, and it’s pretty much rinse and repeat for the next two hours. Characters whose motivations are plain and clear from the beginning get lengthy monologues of drivel so that the even the most inattentive viewer knows what’s going on. There were at least two sub plots added in the last twenty minutes that made me go, “Fuck you movie, just no.

    The film actually looks worse than the first, which came out 14 years ago. There isn’t a single real ship to found, and the green screen is third rate. The action is lacklustre in comparison to any of the films before it, and no set pieces give even a hint of awe.

    The chief culprit (aside from the directors who I also can’t be bothered searching on IMDb), is Johnny “Paycheck” Depp. Never has Jack Sparrow been more painfully unfunny or worn out. His character makes no change or progression throughout the entire film and his antics are actually just stupid. He’s no longer the best pirate anyone has ever seen; he’s just a drunk idiot who only escapes situations by sheer cinematic luck. His role was essentially that of a hollow decoration on an ugly, undercooked, mismatched, flavourless, uninspired, cake.

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  • Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada

    Developer: Omega Force

    Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games

    Platform: PS4, PC (Windows)

    Review copy supplied by publisher

     

    The Warriors franchise is one that tends to dip under the radar for most gamers, despite there being dozens of games within it. In fact, there are so many games that it can make your head spin trying to keep up with them. The main series, Dynasty Warriors, is based on the historical novel from China, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and has eight main entries with another eight spinoffs; Samurai Warriors is a spinoff set in Japan’s Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States Period, with four main entries plus two additional spinoffs. There’s also the Warriors Orochi sub-series, a crossover between the two previous series, plus all of the games licensed from anime and other gaming franchises, including Gundam, One Piece, Fist of the North Star, The Legend of Zelda, Berserk, and Dragon Quest!

    That’s a lot of games. They also all play almost exactly the same.

    Spirit of Sanada is, of course, another Samurai Warriors game, one which looks to reinvigorate the franchise while keeping in everything the fans love about them. While most Samurai Warriors games feature a variety of figures from the Sengoku Jidai, this entry focuses specifically on the Sanada clan, led by Masayuki Sanada and his two sons Nobuyuki and Yukimura, over 54 years.

    The core gameplay of this entry follows the Warriors formula: you control your character through a battlefield, hacking and slashing your way through hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies while completing objectives, culminating in a fight with an enemy commander. It’s a simple formula, but it somehow works. Compared to many of its contemporaries in the hack-and-slash genre, the Warriors franchise is not renowned for its combat being very deep. You can, for the most part, get through levels without pressing anything other than a couple of attack buttons. The sheer number of enemies faced, however, sets it apart, with there often being hundreds of enemies on-screen at crucial points of each level. I found the combat to be surprisingly engaging considering its simplicity, especially after building up a meter and pulling off a flashy Musou attack.

    Spirit of Sanada adds to the Warriors formula by placing an emphasis on RPG elements. Characters and items can be levelled up through their use in battle, while weapons can be upgraded using a crafting system, with certain “exploration” levels being available to collect materials. The “Sanada Six Coins” meter affects ally morale, which can be boosted by performing tasks in hub areas and fulfilling certain conditions in battle; activating a Stratagem drains the meter, but triggers actions which can drastically affect battles. These are all nice extras which give Spirit of Sanada a unique feel from other games in the franchise, something which has been necessary for some time.

    Graphically the game is not very impressive; while it uses the engine from Samurai Warriors 4, a three-year old game, it falls victim to frequent framerate drops on my PS4 even though it is capped at 30 FPS. Character animation within cutscenes is often stiff, and even while controlling them they do not exactly move gracefully, especially outside of battle. The enemy AI, largely by necessity, is not the smartest around and thus enemies often stand still, waiting for your blade — this can be forgiven considering the sheer number of them at any given time.

    If you’re already a fan of the franchise, Spirit of Sanada is likely what you’ve been looking for in a Warriors game for ages, one which gives the series a breath of fresh air and brings it away, if only slightly, from the formula for which it has been criticised. As a relative newcomer, I’ve enjoyed my experience with this spinoff, and I look forward to diving even deeper.

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  • Two Belles in Love (Lian xiang ban) — Li Yu

    “Just trust fate!” proclaim the colourful Fragrance Gods throughout the course of Two Belles in Love, to the point where it becomes more than just a motif, and it almost feels like I’m being forcibly audited by Scientologists. They have already made themselves familiar with the audience, moving into the crowd before the action starts to ask unfamiliar questions: “Do you have a favourite smell? Do you believe in love at first sight?” While I don’t believe in love at first sight, and don’t believe that “a freshly opened quart of Wild Buck” would be an appropriate answer to the former, I did trust fate in the sense that I trusted that night’s group of THEA 323 students, credited with performing the tale, would entertain throughout.

    We start with the ever present Fragrance Gods introducing our titular Two Belles, taking a few jabs at the tropes of romantic theatre that promise more than the cast can deliver despite their best efforts. As nice as the slowly, gently fingerpicked guitar playing is, my hopes are quickly dashed as I realise that the pacing of the piece follows suit, with most of my time dominated by anticipating the next line. The inspired performances of Nicole Topp-Aman as sardonic servant Hualing and Daniel Fitzpatrick’s bombastic performance as long-suffering husband of Jianyun (Emma Katene) stand out as full-blown steroid injections to the body of work presented, making me yearn for some kind of spin-off show following their antics. The singing ranges from godly to decidedly ungodly: Katene and Georgia May’s central relationship feels most honest and real during their beautiful duets, their differing harmonies finding each other perfectly in the best of Ailise Beale’s compositions. Other solo songs and group performances do not fare as well on the ears.

    This is not to even mention the other aural assaults presented through the incessant drumming that marks the end of every other line: was it a gong? Was it a tin? Whatever it was, even now I can still hear the dreaded percussion interrupting my thoughts just as efficiently as it interrupted anything resembling a well-worked comedic moment. It acts as the theatrical equivalent of the laugh track, giving the audience a cue when a facial expression is supposed to be funny or when they are to pay attention — ironically, its inclusion reflects a lack of faith in its actors’ abilities. The argument against getting rid of it altogether might be that it pays homage to traditional forms of Chinese theatre, whether it’s the Kun opera staged in Beijing in 2010 cited in the programme or something else entirely. I would assert in return that if a production can begin a 350-year old piece of literature with a tribute to the late George Michael’s “Faith”, then it can also afford to take liberties with its inclusion of dramatic pot banging.

    As the Two Belles thank the imperial grace that their love can be rekindled in the finale, I find myself thanking the imperial grace that the play is nearly over. This is not due to any personal vendetta against updating a piece so of its time, nor is it to say that there is nothing of merit presented by the earnest cast over the 100-minute epic. There is a subdued snarkiness to some parts of the script, with main characters and narrators referencing systems of patriarchy, somewhat illicit sexual acts, and even the conventions of the type of play they are undertaking. Individual performances shine, and there are some great laughs to be had.

    But even a fair amount of diamonds can’t save the rough. And boy, can it be rough at times.

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  • Criticism

    The clearest form of opinion in writing is the critique. The review. The essay.

    Writers are biased critics. Critics will over-extend when they attempt to write. And university reviewers can make definitive statements six ways from Sunday, but honestly they’re flying by the seat of their pants.

    Opinions about literature aren’t as cool as they used to be. People don’t read books anymore, they fidget spin (What are those?).

    But this is university. The beating heart of a free society. This is where ideas put down in writing start to matter, because now you have the freedom to try them out. Which is why you have to be careful you don’t inhale too much fake news, or else you’ll pass out and wake up in The Hunger Games (I thought we had more time!).

    Instead, read more, read widely, and read critically.

    In recognition of this issue’s theme of “Opinion”, here are a number of hilarious and incisive critiques from writers and critics alike:

     

    “This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room.”

    — Virginia Woolf

     

    “The current memoir craze has fostered the belief that confession is therapeutic, that therapy is redemptive and that redemption equals art, and it has encouraged the delusion that candor, daring, and shamelessness are substitutes for craft, that the exposed life is the same thing as an examined one.”

    — Michiko Kakutani

     

    “This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

    — Dorothy Parker

     

    “A good book is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, what human nature is, what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.”

    — Susan Sontag

     

    “What do we mean — it is a common term of praise — when we say that a book is ‘original’? Not, usually, that the writer has invented something without precedent, but that she has made us ‘perceive’ what we already, in a conceptual sense, ‘know’, by deviating from the conventional, habitual ways of representing reality. Defamiliarisation, in short, is another word for ‘originality’. I shall have to recourse to it again in these glances at the art of fiction.”

    — David Lodge

     

    “Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”

    — Henry Louis Gates Jr.

     

    “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

    — Christopher Hitchens

     

    “I think of writing a poem as putting oneself in the moment, at the moment — an action more comprehensive, intuitive, and mysterious than mere thinking…”

    — C.K. Stead

     

    “A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.”

    — Azar Nafisi

     

    “We wouldn’t know that we are a multicultural society by looking at our literature. Māori writing has gained much more focus than it had previously, but there is still a lot missing. There is a lot missing from people of other backgrounds too. I think it would be good to be more proactive about encouraging writers from all sorts of backgrounds as New Zealanders, because until that happens, our literature is not whole, it is not showing fully who we are in this country.”

    — Patricia Grace

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  • Elis James and John Robins on Radio X

    Elis James and John Robins on Radio X is a superb podcast. Elis and John are two stand-up comedians who present a show every Saturday on the UK indie station Radio X. Guided by the mysterious Producer Vin, the show features lots of fun regular segments and text-ins, such as Humblebrag of the Week, where the hosts despair over boasts disguised as moans on social media, and the Keep it Session Sessions, where they recommend their favourite music. However, the essence of the show is the wonderful dynamic between Elis and John.

    The success of a podcast lives and dies in the chemistry of the hosts; shows like No Such Thing As A Fish and Babysitting Trevor are great examples of this. Elis James and John Robins on Radio X particularly stands out in this regard. They became friends over ten years ago when they were both starting out as comedians, so they have lots of funny stories about each other to draw on. Like the best comedy duos, they bounce off each others’ differences to maximum effect. Elis likes football, history, and Adidas, and is generally cheery; John likes Queen, snooker, and poetry, and is often plagued by a melancholic yearning for the past. It’s a laugh, I promise!

    Although the crux of the show is the friendship between Elis and John, the community they have created among their listeners is also important. Listeners are encouraged to email, and three years of broadcasting have created an extensive lexicon of silly words and catchphrases that make listening in feel like you’re part of a special club.

    The show also discusses issues in their listeners lives, particularly mental health, or “the darkness.” Although the ability of popular culture to discuss mental health issues is improving, often it can be heavily signposted. It is a reflection of the reality of mental health for many that it is a theme that slips in and out of the show as it comes up, as a common issue.

    As we approach exam season, do yourself a favour and tune in to Elis James and John Robins on Radio X. It’s warm, intelligent, moving, and, above all, very funny.

     

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  • Safe Cultures, Not Safe Spaces

    CW: Discussion of sexual assault

    For those of you who eagerly await Pitchfork’s every social media update with bated breath, you’ll likely be clued in on the current sexual abuse scandal surrounding indie band PWR BTTM. For those who aren’t aware, Ben Hopkins, who alternates between drums, guitar, and vocals for the two-piece, was accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse against one woman in a Jezebel article, and then a raft of further allegations came out on social media from a variety of sources. As a result of this, the band was dropped by their label, their music has been removed from most streaming services, and their upcoming tour for their recently released album Pageant has been cancelled. In other words, PWR BTTM’s musical career is over.

    For those, like myself, who have experienced sexual assault firsthand as well as through the accounts of family and friends, and been incredibly frustrated by the way violence is incompetently addressed by relevant authorities and society at large, this is something of a victory. It is heartening to see repercussions being dealt out at this level of severity, as these kind of issues are rarely taken seriously in the public sphere.

    The fact that PWR BTTM is made up of two musicians who are openly queer and non-binary (they both use they/them pronouns) cannot be ignored. Queer communities have generally taken a much harder line on sexual assault and consent and it’s also much easier to demolish the careers of those who are already outsiders. With so little LGBT+ representation in the music industry, it is hard to see artists that are unabashedly queer and gender variant, and who do things like request gender neutral bathrooms in the venues they play at, be taken down in the way that they have, while many other straight, cis perpetrators of such abuse and worse still have flourishing careers. The fact that the current president of the United States is a known sexual abuser is a testament to this, and a list of famous perpetrators could fill out all the pages of this magazine, with those like Chris Brown, Woody Allen, and Casey Affleck among them.

    However the fact that PWR BTTM are queer, and have actively tried to empathise with victims and to promote the fact that they create “safe” spaces for their fans, makes this all the more of a betrayal. It also exposes the inherent problem in assuming that because a space is queer and trans-friendly, it is automatically a safe space.

    Safe spaces are an idealistic concept. It’s clear that no space can ever truly be safe for everyone. That’s not to say that safe spaces aren’t an admirable endeavour, it’s just that, in a lot of music scenes, including Wellington’s, mechanisms to support safe spaces are created and dealt with in a very tokenistic manner. A promoter or collective will state that they don’t tolerate racism or homophobia and that if anyone feels uncomfortable, they should talk to a specific person. They then feel as if they’ve discharged their duty for making that space safe. However, there is very little commitment to actually addressing underlying issues of, for example, the often-internalised misogynistic attitudes that lie at the heart of many parts of the music scene, and are often covered by a veil of faux-activism and wokeness. When assaults occur, repercussions often come far too slowly and without the necessary severity. The inherent problem is when safe spaces are set up by cis, white, heterosexual men, who aren’t really aware of what it truly feels like to be unsafe at a gig — how are they supposed to provide spaces that feel subjectively safe to those who experience unsafety and discomfort regularly at bars and gigs?

    Emma Hall-Phillips, a Wellington-based electronic musician who DJs under the moniker Aw B, recently set up a collective called Moments that prioritises women/femmes, LGBT+ people, and people of colour when booking artists, and puts on awesome electronic music nights. At their most recent gig there was a phone number that people could call and people who would really listen if anyone was uncomfortable, and a diverse crowd, which created a really lovely, queer-friendly, and respectful vibe. She creates a safe space by holding the musicians she books accountable for their actions (one of the acts who was billed for the most recent gig was taken off the lineup because multiple people came to Emma with accounts of abusive behavior from him). Emma also identified how spaces can be made unsafe through the attitudes of bar staff at venues. They often won’t take any action against an alleged assault unless there is some kind of concrete proof, which is very difficult to provide in these kinds of situations. A potential remedy for this would be more rigorous training for bar staff in terms of how to adequately respond to these kinds of sensitive issues.

    However, HEX, a well-established Wellington rock band made up of women, point out that safe spaces can undermine the fact that abuse isn’t site-specific — it exists wherever people exist. Having safe spaces can be seen, in a way, to legitimise the fact that most of the world is unsafe space, and remove the collective social responsibility to try to create safe spaces wherever we are. HEX believe that the conversation needs to focus on creating safer communities, which is a much harder issue to tackle. This is obviously not to say that safe spaces aren’t important and useful, just that they are often used as an empty piece of terminology. The focus needs to shift to being more transformative of the current, dominant culture. There needs to exist a strong sense of responsibility for the creation and maintenance of safe spaces, and transparency and open lines of communication need to be present when undesirable things happen.

    This is one of the great failings of our modern culture: silence. We are so willing to sweep bad stuff under the rug when it happens, as this is easier than dealing with the social censure, discomfort, and embarrassment that can come with actively calling out harmful behavior. However, we need to take responsibility for the shitty things we do and say, the way our own behaviour makes other people uncomfortable, and our complicity in the behaviour of those we choose to surround ourselves with when we let them get away with something like yelling lewd comments at a stranger without reproach. Cis men especially need to be aware of the way in which they take up space and move through it, and how this can be very much exhibitive of their privilege. In this way, often without even being aware of it, they can make others feel uncomfortable or even threatened.

    Solo artist and DJ Alexa Casino points out that safety, for her, is being around people she feels comfortable with, and this generally doesn’t happen when you’re surrounded by white guys. “I feel when you bring in performers and artists who are gender minorities/people of colour/queers, you also invite their fan bases, meaning that crowds are more balanced and it isn’t just a sea of fish who all look the same.” We need to acknowledge our own privilege, and as Alexa says, if you don’t understand why someone else feels unsafe, that doesn’t make their feelings invalid; it only affirms that you have the privilege not to share the experience of minority class oppression. She argues that instead of providing simple consequences for behavior that has been normalised by patriarchal structures, we need an overhaul of the current culture of a nihilistic lack of responsibility and hedonism when we go out, so that safe spaces aren’t special, they’re just expected.

    PWR BTTM is the first account in modern times of the appropriate response being made to allegations of sexual abuse. Although it’s difficult that this was done to a queer, non-binary band, it at least shows that the music industry is starting to commit to attempting to stamp out sexual abuse and unpack the patriarchal structures that it stems from. The fact that these abuses occurred in purportedly “safe” spaces makes it all the more problematic. It shows that we as a society need to commit to creating a culture of being more socially responsible for our own actions and the actions of those we choose to surround ourselves with, rather than just employing very surface-based mechanisms to attempt to make a space seem safe. As HEX believe, “creating safe space is like vacuuming in a dust storm. It’s not addressing the actual cause of risk, which is, of course, people and our behaviors.”

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  • About the Author ()

    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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