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Friday, 24 May 2019 12:56 am

Slumdog Millionaire gets Oscar: see what our reviewer thinks

NewsWire critic Alexandra Johnson gives her view of the Oscar best movie winner. See her views and those of other reviewers who were out watching, reading and (mostly) enjoying a range of entertainment over summer. Here are some of their reviews:

MOVIES

Unglamorous Bolly

Slumdog Millionaire reviewed by ALEXANDRA JOHNSON

slumdog-millionaire1Based on the novel Q and Aby Vikas Swarup, Slumdog Millionaire is an explosive story of human suffering, immorality and triumph over adversity.
 
Directed by Danny Boyle, it opens by soaring into an Indian city, skimming across the fragile roofs of a colourful slum and onto the neighbouring runway, where boys play cricket with sticks. An aeroplane roars up over their heads, and evil security guards chase the boys off the tarmac on motorbikes. 

We have at once the play of power, the juxtaposed good and evil, which continues throughout the film.
 
In Dickensian style, it leaves no plotline untouched.  It is a horrifying depiction of malevolent brutality, a charming love story, a police drama, the tale of a poor man made rich.

Jamal, a beautiful young man from the slums of Mumbai, is arrested on suspicion of cheating in a game show, in which he is one question away from winning a million dollars.
  
Using a compelling fragmented narrative, we are taken step by step through the startling and brutal events in which Jamal learned the answers to the questions.

The film flits between our protagonist being tortured with water and electric shocks, to him sitting in the hot seat of an inane TV show where you can win money, to tales of his hideous childhood.
 
With the exception of Jamal and his sweetheart Latika, there are not a lot of nice people in this film.

From the street-urchin pimp who intentionally blinds children so they can better sing for their supper, to the rampaging horde who kill Jamal’s mother, to his brother who rapes his sweetheart before forcing her into prostitution, to the police who torture him while trying to extricate from him how he cheated on the show, they all personify evil. Even the game show host wants him to fail.

Latika is beautiful and bland, her character serving only as a love interest to Jamal. While it is clear Jamal is in love with her from the beginning, she treats him more as a sibling, at least until the end of the film, when they are united due to his appearance on the game show.

This film tries to be everything, and in many ways it is successful. It is soppy and sadistic, appealing and repulsive. But it titillates with its depictions of suffering and extreme poverty, and it fails to do justice to those whom it represents, the slum dwellers of Mumbai.

Good and evil are painted in wide, bold strokes and for that reason it is a simple film.
 
But it is crammed with colour and energy, fizzing along till the Bollywood musical finale brings it to its happy close.

Milk without human kindness

milkMilk– reviewed by MIYUKI McGUFFIE

Three days after seeing Milk I am still thinking of Harvey, Cleve, Scotty and Dan, characters/real people featured in the biopic about America’s first openly gay man to be elected to public office (as a “city supervisor” – similar to our city councillors).

The film follows Harvey Milk’s life from age 40 – when he leaves his office job in New York to start a new life in San Francisco with lover Scott Smith – to his death in 1978.

Harvey is shot by fellow city supervisor Dan White,  who also shoots the mayor, George Moscone. The exact motives behind the murders are implied but unexplored, which is fair enough – the movie is called Milk, not White – but I would’ve liked to have some insight into the character/real person who was driven to commit these crimes. 
 
Dan is introduced about halfway into the film (a chronologically relevant point) as an ex-soldier, ex-cop, fire-fighter with a wife and child, campaigning to represent the business and family interests of his constituency.

We are given a vague idea of his professional relationship with Harvey when they work together to implement legislation relevant to their respective areas and of his personal feelings about Harvey when Dan invites him to his son’s christening.

They fall out after Harvey votes in favour of a mental health facility Dan has been campaigning against. In turn, Dan opposes Harvey’s civil rights bill for homosexuals in the workplace. 

Scenes showing Dan watching Harvey on television in his underpants and showing up drunk at Harvey’s 48th (and last) birthday do little to represent what might be going on in Dan’s head in the lead-up to the murders.

You’d think that knowing what was going to happen would ruin the suspense, but it doesn’t. Each new character/real person introduced in the film immediately becomes a suspect: Is it going to be them? When’s this going to happen? Can I trust this person?

Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk intersperses news footage of historical events surrounding the gay rights movement in the 70s with filmed scenes, including a visual narrative of Harvey recording a tape to be played in the event of his assassination. Though the assassination theme wasn’t really played out all that well, and I’m not sure if it was meant to be or should have been.

According to Harvey Milk’s page on Wikipedia, he began to receive “increasingly violent death threats” but all we see of this in the film is a stick figure with severed genitals and a typed letter passed on to him before a big speech.

There is hardly any talk amongst his friends or colleagues about this issue. As far as the audience is concerned, these two threats are isolated incidents, with no connection to his eventual death. 

I don’t know if I appreciate Milk‘s cinematography. The shaky, out-of-frame shots that work while focusing on Harvey from a crowd during a potential riot, don’t work as well in the bedroom during a sex scene, and the super slow pan out from Harvey and Scotty outside their camera shop doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.

The casting, however, was excellent. Every actor fitted their role perfectly, from Sean Penn as Harvey Milk to Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) as uncomfortable, indecipherable Dan White.

Hair, make-up and costume did well to match the actors’ appearances with their real-life counterparts, as pictures shown during the wrap-up prove. Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) is unrecognisable as Cleve Jones (a young gay who worked for Harvey’s campaign) who was a historical consultant for the film and is still a human rights activist to this day.

 But the story itself is what deserves most of the credit.

Harvey Milk really went from closeted New York nobody to gay San Francisco hero. Dan White really murdered two people, one of whom he used to be friendly with. Scott Smith really lost someone very dear to him and Harvey’s community lost a dedicated and affluent leader.

Milk made me sad, but the most heartbreaking thing is that it all actually happened. Good on Gus Van Sant for making this movie, but recognition is best reserved for the characters from the film – the people on this earth who were involved in the gay rights movement and the people who were affected by Harvey Milk’s death.

Overly embattled hordes

Mongol – reviewed by ANNE CORNISH

mongolmain1I’m a sucker for promises of new revelations and fresh insights into historical figures.

Want to lure me into a dark alley, bash me over the head and take my cash and credit cards? Here’s how. “Pssst – missis. Over here. New revelations and fresh insights into Julius Caesar / Cleopatra / Napoleon / Rasputin / Bill Gates…”

So when I read Russian director Sergei Bodrov promising me that very thing with his movie “Mongol – the untold story of Genghis Khan” – I lined up at Waikanae’s flash new Shoreline cinema and handed over my EFTPOS card.

It is a well-executed movie. I liked the style, the authentic Oriental actors, the costumes, the awe-inspiring locations. And I loved the music, especially the throat singing from Mongolian folk-rock band Altan Urag.

But although I now have a little more insight into the culture of the place and time, there was an overall flavour of the same old corny epic movie conventions.

Heroic Temudgin (Genghis) overcomes incredible odds to become the great Khan. This guy, even when he is a kid, manages to escape various captors numerous times, run away, beat people up, with a bloody great yoke around his neck. We see scenes of him running on foot from people on horseback. Yeah, right.

The scope of the movie is huge, and there are layers of meaning that can be taken from it. If you want a good old epic saga with lots of battles, this should do it for you.

The opening scene (1192, year of the black rat) in a stony grey, grim city, pouring with rain, is very bleak. Then it moves to the open plains, riding on horseback. Impressive portrayal of the landscapes in all the different seasons, from stony mountain passes to trekking across ice, to green pastures. Plenty of small scale plundering, looting, etc.

A big battle scene, which starts with travel through some lovely forest, then they have to cross a stony plain. Lots of noise, voices, loud moaning, clanging of steel, sounds of flesh being cut. . I didn’t watch. Temudgin’s side wins. All sitting around in the tent singing in their Mongolian way.

Another battle. Clank…aargh!…with an undertone of Mongolian throat singing. (I’m not looking.) Right down to last man standing.

Poignant scene between Temudgin and his old ally Jamukha. Real, real close up. Now Temudgin is a slave. Another trek, through the snow. The leathery skins of the prisoners. He is sold in the slave market at Tengul.

Things I learnt about the culture of the time –
• Mongols don’t kill children.
• Mongols don’t make war over a woman.
• For Mongol, horse is more important than woman.
• Mongols change their masters when they want to.

The character of Temudgin’s wife Borte was portrayed as a strong woman who had a great influence on him. Their men killed a horse thief who turned out to be their ally’s brother. Custom says they should send the killer’s head to Jamukha, and the killer himself is willing. But Borte says no. This leads to trouble later.

When Jemukha’s army is coming, Temudgin won’t leave his family. Borte says: “You should leave us and save yourselves as all Mongols do. Everyone will understand.” Man, this was a brutal culture.

A final battle between him and Jemukha to rule Mongolia. Enormous army facing him. This heroic battle beautifully crafted and filmed. Huge plains with lines of horsemen, then close-ups to mail clad warriors, then into the yukky bit – noise, grunting, yelling, horses neighing, whoops and thumps, and the throat singing underpinning.

With the dramatic tension between his father’s adherence to the old rules at the cost of his life, and Temudgin’s desire to bring new ways to the Mongolians, there was enough story telling as well as spectacle, to hold my interest.

The major role of Temudgin was played by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, and his blood brother Jamukha by Chinese actor Honglei Sun, with the rest of the cast being Mongolian. All the lead characters were well acted, making convincing portrayals of people who lived in a very different reality from our modern cushy lifestyle.

And Bodrov says not a single horse was hurt in the making of the film. 

Trademark grunting by a veteran

clintGrand Torino – reviewed by REESH LYON

The occasional trademark grunt assures you this film features the legendary Clint Eastwood.

Dirty Harry returns to the screen, this time older and with a different name, but still with a stare that can see into a man’s soul, strangle it and spew it out. About 10 minutes into Gran Torino – which Eastwood also directs – I knew my Dad would love this film.

It is the redneck character spouting the obligatory one-liners and insightful grunts that are sure to please Eastwood aficionados. “I’ll blow a hole in your face, then go inside and sleep like a baby,” is one example that springs to mind. I was raised watching Clint Eastwood spaghetti-westerns, so it’s great to see the classic Eastwood persona reprised for what is rumoured to be the big fella’s last on-screen role.

The film moves slowly at times and the plot is a bit predictable, but the actors do well – not only Eastwood, but also the unknowns who have struck the big-time landing these roles.

Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a hard-case Korean War veteran who has lived in the same neighbourhood for eons. He is increasingly disappointed with each Asian family that moves into what used to be  a run-of-the-mill, middle-class, white suburb.

The somewhat cheesy plot arises when ethnic minorities start causing trouble and Kowalski strikes up an unlikely friendship with the Asian family living next door. Initially holding them in contempt,  he get super-pissed off when the family’s teenage boy tries to steal his beloved 1972 Gran Torino.

The timid teenager – Thao Vang Lor, played by Bee Vang – is forced by his elders to help Kowalski with household chores after the incident, which has brought shame to the family. This is where the awkward but amusing neighbourly friendship begins to blossom – and Kowalski even finds it in his heart to drink their beer.

With the neighbourhood overrun by ethnic gangs and the area turning to the dogs, does anybody have the guts to stick up for the good guys? “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn’t have f***ed with? That’s me.”

If you love Eastwood, go and see it, and if you don’t love him…you’re not still reading are you?

Not so revolutionary

revolutionary-roadRevolutionary Road – reviewed by SARAH CODDINGTON

If you were planning on Revolutionary Road(director Sam Mendes) being a romantic reunion of Titanicstars Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio, think again.

But you can count on leaving this film and being thankful that your relationships are nowhere as bad as those of  main characters April (Winslet) and John Wheeler (Dicaprio).

Living in 1950s suburban America, the Wheeler’s have everything a family of that time could hope for – two children, a house with a picket fence and accommodating neighbours.

The couple feels constrained by societal expectations. April is a house wife who longs to be in the work force and John is stuck in a job that he is only in to follow in his father’s footsteps. Their negative lifestyle leads to a destructive marriage that is made up of a series of extreme turns in emotions.

April is a fickle character. She no longer loves John, but still chooses to stay in the marriage. She does not know what or who she wants. Meanwhile, John is caught up in April’s wacky emotions and deals with it by throwing tantrums – which Dicaprio does so well. Both also enjoy a quick fling on the side every now and then.

The film is a saga of continual bickering till about half way. If you are expecting the characters to resolve their issues and make a turning point, don’t bother watching it. At some point I actually became content that nothing was going to happen.

April dreams of reviving their relationship to how it was when they first meet. She decides she wants to break free and move the family to Paris. John thinks it is a great idea and you start to think there is some hope for the future of their relationship.

Then his current job offers him a promotion. With every positive action comes with a negative fall. Life also offers April a different path and what seems like an omen when she falls pregnant for the third time. At this point the relationship takes a dark turn.

The movie finally offers some action and starts to take shape. It is one of the only points where I felt the script was taking direction. The rest of the time the audience is just observing the couple’s everyday life and dramas.

The depressing end goes hand-in-hand with the solemn mood of the entire film.

I vant to suck your blood…sort of

twilightTwilight (the movie) – reviewed by AARON CASKEY

Twilight is a film adaptation of the first of Stephanie Meyer’s popular series of young-adult novels about a girl, Bella Swan, who falls in love with the not-as-young-as-he-looks vampire, Edward Cullen.

The film employs the classic eroticism of the vampire as a metaphor for teen relationships. However, it fails to convince.

It is a fairly standard portrayal for the vampire myth, but tries to show the struggle from the point of view of Edward, an unwilling predator battling against his desire to devour the thing he loves.

Edward’s initial attraction to Bella is simple animal lust. To him, she is the most delicious meal he can conceive of, a tasty piece of bacon that he cannot resist. Not trusting his self control, he tries to avoid her, but this compounds things as his disinterest only attracts the ubiquitously desired Bella.

Although the acting and cinematography are not terrible, the creepy, intense staring and teen angst do not make a good substitute for the lack of chemistry between the leads.

The story is nonsensical and inconsistent. There are allusions to events outside the main story that are not built on and some of the minor characters promise hidden depth that is never explored. This is not an issue for fans of the books, and the inevitable sequels will expand the background.

But the main problem with Twilight is that it does not comprehend its own message. It is trying to sell an impossible ideal: that abstinence is the best way to deal with overpowering desire, and that desire is a demon that should be fought, not accepted.

The Cullens act as the poster family for this ideal. A disturbingly happy group of “vegetarian” vampires (in that they don’t eat people, only animals), they live in an idyllic house surrounded by nature and enjoy family games of super-powered baseball.

The bad guy of the film is the counter-example of the self-indulgent, uninhibited monster. But he is introduced too late, and not given enough substance as a character. The final show-down lacks any sort of suspense, and thematically does little more than punctuate the film’s dodgy morals.

Twilight is a light dessert served for the teenage girls who have ravenously consumed Stephanie Meyer’s books. For those looking for a more substantial meal, it’s best to look elsewhere.
 

BOOKS

Better than Bebo

twilight2Twilight (the book) – reviewed by KRISTINA KEOGH

Getting a teenager to read anything that’s longer than a Bebo profile is a hard task according to most parents, but Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight has done just that and has become one of the most read books this summer.

Meyer has stepped into the place that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series has left behind, but is attracting not only teens but adults, too.

The story has sucked me in, which I was not expecting, but the  the book’s attraction is puzzling.

Twilight is told through the eyes of Bella Swan, who moves to Forks, a small town where the sun rarely shines, to live with her father for a while. It is mainly set at Bella’s school, which is where she meets Edward and his family of “vegetarian” vampires, who  feast only on the blood of animals, not humans.

An unlikely romance ensues between Bella and Edward, but theire relationship is bound for failure as her scent drives him crazy and he really wants to drink her blood and eventually kill her. They seem to fall in love overnight, and they slowly get to know each other and become part of the other’s world. 

But their relationship is flawed, with Edward being way too overbearing towards Bella, which results in them having an almost father-daughter relationship. He has a real desire to protect her from the world and she is way eager to make him happy and is willing to do anything for him, which in this day and age almost makes her seem  pathetic.

Although finding a vampire in your hometown and falling in love with him is highly unlikely, there is at least one character in the book  a teenage reader could relate to. There are some strong female characters in the movie to make up for Bella’s feebleness, but they are all vampires, who have to be strong, warrior-like woman.

This book has become so popular that it’s hard to find on your local book store shelves. To get it from a library takes weeks. Is reading Twilight part of the obsession that young people have these days, to keep up with the latest trends? With the book at 494 pages long, there has to be a strong desire to keep up with friends, but once you get started you can see why nearly everyone is reading it.

One thing that really annoyed me  was  nearly every sentence  begins with the word “I”, which is probably why so many self obsessed teenagers love it. But it became very distracting as the plot developed – even for someone who is as unobservant as I am.

Although the story line of “girl meets vampire and falls in love” is  unrealistic, issues that some of the characters face are in fact some that teenagers face in today’s society – asking someone to go to the prom, divorced parents and young love. It seems to be a modern twist on the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, loving someone who is forbidden.

 I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next one.

Understanding the man who owns the news

murdochThe Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch– reviewed by PAUL McBETH

Against the backdrop of the pinnacle of Rupert Murdoch’s career, the takeover of the Wall Street Journal, Michael Wolff’s biography The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdochhas given us the ultimate insight into the mega-media mogul’s psyche – or so Wolff would have us believe.

He seamlessly weaves the histories of the Murdochs and the Bancrofts (the former owners of the WSJ) into the story of the multi-billion dollar takeover of the paper in 2007, and goes a long way to humanising the oft-maligned owner of Fox News.

He writes fluidly and with great panache – and he knows it. The opening paragraph sets the scene for what is an interesting and lively character study from start to finish:

Rupert Murdoch, a man without discernible hubris – or at least conventional grandiosity – had nevertheless begun to believe that his takeover of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal, something he’d dreamt about for most of his career, might actually indicate that he and his company, News Corporation, had a certain destiny, a higher purpose of which the world should be made aware.

From the outset, Wolff wants us to know how close he got to the Murdochs, with the blurb  claiming he had “unprecedented access to Rupert Murdoch himself, his associates and family”.

And it doesn’t let up. Wolff wants us to believe  he’s seen through to the heart of the family and can make definite statements on them, from oldest daughter Prudence giving her support to embattled new wife Wendi (“Nobody understands better than Prue”) to the ambition of younger son James (“James, now destined to take over the empire…may be the kid his father understands least of all”).

Not that this makes bad reading. It may (and does) come across as a little overbearing at times, but when he shows his almost juvenile delight in recounting various thwarted Murdochs telling their persecutors to “f*** you”, you see a writer enjoying his work, and this spills over for the reader.

Wolff wants to show the evolution of the great opportunist who lives by the adage “If you borrow a little, the bank owns you; if you borrow a lot, you own the bank” into someone who is, “well, almost a liberal.” He likes the fact that Murdoch is first and foremost, a “newspaper man” and you can almost taste his hope when he writes “Eight months after he had taken over the Wall Street Journal, the paper arguably was a better one.”

As an avid (some would say morbid) follower of the media, I’m the perfect audience for his Murdoch biography. But in New Zealand, where our tabloids have been pushed out by the broadsheets, and there’s a limited Murdoch presence in the country (he sold his print stake in INL to Fairfax in the 90s, leaving only his share of Sky TV), it doesn’t resonate as strongly as it would in Australia, the UK, or the US.

Not that losing this context matters too much – Wolff is a fine writer telling an interesting story – and that always make for a good read.

A six-way good night out

Six people. Six minutes. Six books. Those were the ingredients for an enjoyable evening at The Jimmy Bar and Café at the St James Theatre in Wellington, which began, of course, at 6pm.

An evening with six top authors – reviewed by SABRINA DANKEL

“Summer Books Alive” was hosted by Kiwi author Jo Anderson, who wanted to give six New Zealand writers the opportunity to present their work by reading six minutes from their “outstanding literature published in 2008”.

Armchairs, coffee tables and bar stools were arranged in front of the little stage, but those people who came after work shortly before six o’clock remained unseated, because the free event attracted more people than expected. 

Seated or not, the mixed audience of all age groups could enjoy a diverting evening and got to know the true promise of the authors’ abilities and talent.

Christchurch-born Kate De Goldi was the first writer on stage and after a short introduction of the plot, she read out of her novel The 10pm Question, in which a 12-year old boy philosophises about the facts of life.

The chosen paragraph tells a simple anecdote about the boy’s cat, her hunting behaviour and the family’s reaction – an incident which has happened in my own family many times in a similar way, just as in many other families, I presume. But the author’s choice of names and the style of writing make this daily incident to something special and amusing.

knox1

Elizabeth Knox, the second writer (pictured above), tied in with her colleague’s story and told a little anecdote about her own cat, before reading out of The Love School: Personal Essays.

Her book includes autobiographical pieces and gives the reader (and the listeners) insight in her past. The chosen paragraph is a piece about the author herself back in 1981, when she was 21, and also tells of a simple incident: her lunch-break.

Not so much with humour, but with philosophic meditations and retrospection, Elizabeth Knox succeeds in turning a banal incident into a piece of literature that awakens the interest of the listeners.

The third writer/reader before the short break was Bridget van der Zijpp, whose book, Misconduct, her first novel, tells the story of a woman who burns her former partner’s car and struggles through life.

The read-out scene describes how the protagonist has met her (now former) partner, and the listeners want to know what happened to their relationship that caused so much anger in her that she really does something so drastic as burning his car.

A 10-minute-break gave the audience the opportunity to buy the books and have a little chat with the authors, before the second half of the evening began with an excerpt from high school teacher Bernard Beckett’s Acid Song, a novel which was written mainly “during the school holidays”.

The audience burst out laughing when he read the confusing dialogue about Jo and his girlfriend Jo with so much expression of his stagecraft, so that the performance appeared more like theatre than literature. The linguistic jokes and the way the author recited his work turned that six-minute period almost in a little play and for me, this was one of the highlights of the evening.

A strong contrast to this amusing performance was Jenny Bornholdt’s excerpt from her collection of poems called The Rocky Shore, which seemed deeper and more melancholic and led the listeners into reflection. 

Although it is poetry she writes, her work appears more like prose and tells a story of retrospection. If she had not mentioned before that she had to self-edit her work because it was too long for six minutes reading, nobody would have noticed because the result was still convincing.

Duncan Sarkies, the last reader that evening, came up with a surprise for the audience when he gave one of his books to a listener, in order to celebrate that he just got the message that his book is being published in the UK.

His novel, Two little boys, is a comedy about Nige, who accidentally runs over a Norwegian backpacker, and his friend Deano, who is supposed to give him support but unfortunately is not good at dealing with crises.

Like his five colleagues before, Sarkies played with words and managed to turn a trivial dialogue into an entertaining piece of literature that raised much laughter and turned out to be an almost perfect finale.

All six authors revealed their acting talent, but Duncan Sarkies surpassed even  that by actually singing a part of his work (a part which has been sung by a character in the book).

Jo Anderson’s promises of an evening with “outstanding literature” were fulfilled and it was as worthwhile for the audience to attend as it was for the authors themselves, who had a great opportunity to promote their books. 

 

LIVE PERFORMANCE

Live reggae, sun, marijuana

bob-marley-one-loveOne Love celebrations for Bob Marley’s birthday – reviewed by SANDRA DICKSON.

This is not Jamaica in the Caribbean, but the velodrome in Hataitai, Wellington.
 
It is the late king of reggae’s special day – but it’s also Waitangi Day, when we remember the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi through protest, celebration, or just by being grateful we’re not wage slaves for the day.
 
Radio Active has hosted the successful One Love musical tribute to Bob Marley on February 6 for more than a decade, and it always seems to be bathed in sunshine.

Urban myth says New Zealanders own more Bob Marley albums per capita than any other country.

But by celebrating  Marley’s legacy of peace and racial harmony on Waitangi Day, Wellington One Lovers are also countering the continuing injustice suffered by Maori, and the expressions of anger and despair the day often brings around the country. 

Of course, some would say this is partying while the house burns, and there is certainly an element of that for some of the 15,000 revellers enjoying the sun and views of coast and town belt offered from the top of Hataitai. 

There is irony too, in the association with peace for Bob Marley, accused of rape by wife Rita in her autobiography.

The atmosphere, however, is also undeniably accepting of New Zealand’s bicultural realities.  Unity, justice and racial equality are on the agenda of musicians in the heat of another Wellington scorcher, and tino rangatiratanga and New Zealand flags fly in the breeze alongside the emblems of Jamaica.

No need, here, to consult, discuss or decide whether a Maori sovereignty flag is appropriate. 

This year, local musicians Unity Pacific, Little Bushman and the Black Seeds help the crowd to their dancing feet.  Those not keen to dance try to find some shade on the grass terraces surrounding the bike track, enjoying undisturbed views of the stage.
 
The queues for the beer tent are long, but it’s all good-natured banter, with the smells of spicy food and other herbs blending in the air.  The crowd is an eclectic mixture of bureaucrats and skate-boarders, teenagers and hippies, young and old.

The music is the main draw-card of course, and after being warmed up, the crowd responds enthusiastically to the retro rock sounds of Little Bushman.  Fronted by ex-Trinity Roots and Fat Freddy’s Drop main man Warren Maxwell, Little Bushman have been tipped for success since forming back in 2006.  I was underwhelmed the first time at the 2007 Parihaka Peace Festival, but then I didn’t like Pink Floyd the first time around.

Two albums later, their Led Zeppelin psychedelic sounds fit the festival feel of One Love perfectly.  The band are tight, grooving their way through their set, punctuated with enough guitar licks and drum rolls to keep even the most stuck-in-the-70s fans happy.  Nods to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, with more directionless tracks (read: still not a Pink Floyd fan) no longer on the play-list. 

By the time headliners the Black Seeds hit the stage, the crowd are warmed up.  The area in front of the stage is a heaving mass of dancing bodies, many just partially clothed, and the summer funk fits the bill perfectly.  Tracks from all four albums get a play, with Into the Dojo and last year’s less strong Solid Ground getting a special work-out.

Crowd fave Cool Me Down showcased the Black Seeds as exceptional live performers.  Funky horns and rhythm to grab even the most reluctant of dancers recall Sly and the Family Stone. 

So True from On the Sun was the sing-along track of the day, with front-man Barnaby Weir comfortable working the audience in a set which stayed more friendly than stadium-esque. 
 
The blander sounds of Solid Ground were more effective live, but there is still a sense of the Black Seeds drifting here into the middle-of-the-road.  Falling asleep at the wheel at this point√ would be a shame – their blend of funk, dub and reggae is not only the perfect way to celebrate the king of reggae’s birthday – it’s an emblematic sound for Wellington.

By the time the Black Seeds wind down, the crowd is dispersing quietly, meandering up into the forest to walk over the hill, or wandering down to Hataitai and transport home.
 
Another year of peace and unity at the Velodrome.  Unless, of course, you have been hired to clean up the mess.  Plastic and paper debris lie strewn all over the ground, perhaps a reminder of why this venue, so perfect for live music, is not used more regularly. 

I’m pretty sure Bob Marley’s messages of peace and love, if he were still singing in 2009, would extend to the earth.

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