ALBUM REVIEW: BARRY MORGAN – THE TOUCH OF YOU


Barry Morgan’s a piano man but he’s not singing songs. The man who put the “organ” into “Morgan” is the alter ego of comedian, Stephen Teakle, who originally rose to fame on Spicks & Specks. On his debut album, The Touch Of You he pulls out all the stops (that’s an organ joke) with eight instrumental songs that sound as big as his wind-swept hairdo and as wide as his enthusiastic smile.

For most people the organ is typically associated with the sounds of church or hold music, like muzak. But here we get a retro guy from the city of churches (we’re told his shop is in Adelaide’s Sunnyside Mall) and some rather real sounding music. Consider that he couples warm and velvety tangos with some lounge-style grooves and a few sultry bossa novas, for a start.

Across eight songs the listener is treated to some finger-snapping beats that are equally cheery, strange, daggy and pure kitsch. “Big Bossa” opens things with a cheeky bossa nova beat that is all rolling sounds punctuated by some hop-skip flourishes. The following, “Sands Upon My Hands” is a much more fluid number. It adopts a snake charmer’s guise before it segues off into a haunting place that is also strangely full of charm (ha ha) and that’s before you’re lulled into the ballad-pop of the title track.

“Fanfare” has an apt name, as it could be the soundtrack to some clowns getting in or out of tiny car, or just a carnival in general. “Let’s Go, Let’s Swing (The One Finger Method) meanwhile, calls to mind a mime with an easy gait while “Waltz For Barry” is all about star-gazing. Not only does the latter and album closer sound like we’re hurtling through space but you can also hear parts that are reminiscent of New Order and the bass section sounds a lot like Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me”.

Barry Morgan is an accomplished performer and The Touch Of You is full of madcap novelty and nostalgia. It also proves that the organ is an extremely warm and versatile instrument (particularly when it boasts an in-built drum-machine and effects pedals). The songs are a mix of retro cool and free-forward, futuristic thinking, meaning they often sound like they should be in that episode of The Simpsons where they all visit a theme park to see what “The people in the sixties thought things would look like today”.

The Touch Of You may be an instrumental offering but Morgan lets his organ speak for herself and the Aurora Classic is one feisty woman. This debut album is a retro throwback flavoured with just the right amount of cheese, sunny happiness and ragtime romps to make it nerdy, but cool. And if nothing else it will make you wanna party like it’s 1979…

 

Originally published on 25 June 2012 at the following website: http://lifemusicmedia.com/?p=22540

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FILM REVIEW: PINK RIBBONS, INC.

Producing an exposé on the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s pink ribbon sounds like an attack on a sacred cow. Yet documentary filmmaker, Léa Pool’s Pink Ribbons, Inc. is not about stigmatising the raising of money for a worthy cause. Instead, it uses frank discussion to encourage debate about a grass-roots initiative that has grown into an industry that is not as rosy as it initially seems.

The National Film Board Of Canada funded the documentary, so things do tend to favour what is happening in North America. It is also based on Samantha King’s book, Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy but it is easy to draw parallels between what is occurring overseas and in Australia. Here we’ve seen discussions on The Gruen Transfer about how large corporations recruit these poster-children for corporate causes but the reality is often motivated by more than simple altruism.

In America the “pinkwashing” of brands now means that people can buy pink ribbon handguns and pink-endorsed mustang convertibles. There is the obvious moral questionability about the former while the latter is a bit more subtle. The car is manufactured by Ford, an organisation that has used pollutants and cancer-causing chemicals in its plants. There’s also discussion about the hypocrisy of campaigns like the Yoplait yoghurt pink tub where they were donating to the cause while also using ingredients that were deemed carcinogenic.

The visuals on offer include new and archive footage taken from fundraising walks in America and these are interwoven with thoughtful interviews with people including activists, doctors, researchers, survivors, corporate executives and stage four cancer victims (that’s the final one before death). There is a marked contrast between watching the fundraisers that are styled like an Oprah special with inspirational speakers and celebratory or upbeat music, and the candid interview subjects offering sobering and informative critiques of it all.

The fact is that billions of dollars have been donated to this cause over the years but the incidence of the disease has increased exponentially (from something like 1 in 22 in the 1940s to 1 in 8 today). It shows that this is a complex issue and encourages debate about why most of the money has been poured into treatment while little has been thrown into researching prevention or investigating the cancer’s cause(s).

The stage four cancer sufferers are perhaps the most heart-breaking of all to watch. They have the most bitter pill to swallow because what they have is incurable and yet the prevailing message in the media is that this disease is virtually “normal”. Then there’s the overuse of words like the “fight” or “battle” with the cancer, where the implication is that if you don’t overcome it, you simply weren’t trying hard enough. Plus, there’s another patient who describes the little comfort a pink bear is when you’re faced with such a dire diagnosis.

The fact is that while this film raises legitimate questions, there will be people that dismiss it because in the general scheme of things there are bigger and badder evils then people giving away money to a “good cause”. But that would be ignoring the main takeaway message from this well-argued piece, and that is how essential transparency is. Because this clarity will ensure that marketing is not rated higher than medicine and will make people think before they “pink”. The optimal solution of course, is that they we all will donate straight to researchers and charities rather than increase another corporation’s bottom line.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. presents the unpleasant truths about breast cancer’s pink ribbon without sugarcoating things. It uses articulate interviewees who pose rational arguments and ask the difficult questions about a complicated issue. It is provocative and will leave you with more questions then answers, but ultimately its intelligent and informative approach lifts the veil on this commercialised and corporatised disease. And it will make you realise that things aren’t always pretty in pink.

Review score: 3.5 stars

Originally published on 25 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-pink-ribbons-inc-ctc

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ALBUM REVIEW: BEARHUG – BILL, DANCE, SHINER

If there was ever a band that sounded like they were giving a giant bear hug to J. Mascis then it’s – ahem – Bearhug. Frontman and singer, Ryan Phelan even sounds a lot like the Dino’s J. And while that grey-haired, skateboarding elf and king of distortion no doubt gives good hugs, the band’s debut record Bill, Dance, Shiner also nods at other 90s guitar bands form the US of A by offering a careful homage without being passé.

Across nine tracks the guys deliver cool and carefree indie rock numbers of the lazy and lo-fi variety. They’ve toured with the likes of Broken Social Scene so it should come as no surprise that these youngsters have often been likened to those Canadians. The boys have also previously released two acclaimed EPs and since then have honed their skills at their rehearsal space at Hibernian House. (Now there’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere about these bears doing anything but hibernating there!)

“Over The Hill” officially opens the proceedings with a fast and poppy love song. The backbone is found in some driving drums that are coupled with guitars that simultaneously chime and fuzz while Phelan does his best deadpan impersonation of ol’ Mascis. The following, “Shiner,” changes tact a little with something far mellower that also crackles and gives the effect of everything taking place on the deep floor of a glistening, blue sea.

A natural offshoot of this is can be found in the rousing summer beat of “Angeline”. It’s meant to be a two-part tale of romantic escapism coupled with the book of Springsteen and about when everything goes to hell with good intentions. While the opposing forces of idealism and reality are readily heard, musically this one actually seems a lot closer to Vampire Weekend or The Drums rather than the Boss, but who’s counting?

Just as the listener gets comfortable with all the sugar and sunshine on offer (like “Home” which sounds a little like Jebediah) the guys go and decide to throw some more unexpected curveballs. “Cherry Red” provides some tear-soaked finery before it segues off into a gentle hum. “When I Shake” and closer, “Cold Stream” meanwhile, are a lot more dream-like and swirling with a trip to the land of Nod as fitting an ending as any to this rather complex and powerful affair.

Bearhug may not be reinventing the wheel but these nine personal tales of romance are delivered in such a relaxed and laidback fashion that it often feels like the boys are sitting on a large, comfortable armchair as they take the listener on the best kind of journey through the past. This portrait may promise rather insular consolation but this is often at odds with the sweeping and vast musical layers that are found in their music. But no matter what, their debut is very likeable, welcoming and as feel-good as a classic pop record. And that’s not considering that it’s also exuberant and pretty to boot, which begs the question, “Are there any honey pots left this lot don’t have their paws in?”

 

Originally published on 19 June 2012 at the following website: http://theorangepress.net/2012/06/bearhug-bill-dance-shiner/

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE DECEMBERISTS – WE ALL RAISE OUR VOICES TO THE AIR (LIVE SONGS 04.11 – 08.11)

You gotta love a show that begins with the front man declaring: “Good evening. I just thought I would mention before we begin that this is NOT a Keith Urban concert. If you want to be at a Keith Urban concert you will be sorely disappointed”. That is Colin Meloy– songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for The Decemberists. And in one fell swoop he proves that this group’s gigs are anything but your average folk affair.

We Will Raise Our Voices To The Air (Live Songs 04.11 – 08.11) is a two-disc set taking in 20 indie folk songs. The tracks were recorded on the band’s 2011 tour of America including a hometown show in Portland. Although the cuts were drawn together from 12 different shows, the album is surprisingly cohesive. At times this collection plays out as gloriously twisted, because the songs are upbeat, the humour offbeat and this makes the proceedings fun where it is obvious that the band and fans were having an absolute ball.

The album includes seven cuts from The King Is Dead and some older tracks. This makes it a rather fitting introduction to the band because the listener is introduced to their warm and lively music including grandiose ballads, sunny pop and Americana tunes that are as American as apple pie. Using instruments like the pedal steel, acoustic guitar, violin, mandolin, piano and harmonica plus brass, they share their literate stories that play out like chapters of history intertwined with pure folklore.

Opening track, “The Infanta” – the song responsible for the album’s title – begins things with a rollicking drumbeat. It’s an epic cut that seems to it somewhere between The White Stripes’ “Conquista” and a Wild West shoot ‘em up. Then it’s on to “Calamity Song” or the one with the rather apt name. Although rather sunny and punctuated by upbeat keys and lush acoustic guitar, it’s actually about the end of the world.

“The Soldiering Life” continues the positive good vibes with a sound not too far removed from Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours”. One female punter – clearly caught up in the moment – yells, “Stand up and dance!” Meloy replies: “Folks are welcome to do that at any moment. Chris Funk calls it the Footloose moment. It’s something you don’t want to force”. Except that the crowd oblige only to be rewarded with “We Both Go Down Together,” a shiny pop song not unlike one by R.E.M. that is about a joint suicide.

On disc two we get “Billy Liar” a fun sing-along where Meloy assures: “Each one of you has a beautiful singing voice”. It’s not the only moment involving audience interaction because in “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” he gets the crowd to collectively scream like a whale is swallowing them. Then again, the band had been doing some self-indulgent yodelling earlier on, so perhaps it was time to allow the latter to shine.

There is some country swagger in “All Arise!” while “Rox In The Box” is a dusty narrative full of drama and inspired by The Chieftains. Meloy was also self-deprecating as he called “Dracula’s Daughter” the worst song he’d written. But in fairness this does segue into “O Valencia!”

We All Raise Our Voices To The Air sees Meloy and Co. living up the album’s closer, “I Was Meant For The Stage”. The 20 tracks are energetic, melodious and despite melodramatic are extremely enjoyable. The set shows The Decemberists are a veritable tour de force thanks to their collective, easygoing nature and their cerebral and creative folk pop that brims with zest and panache. Like all great shows, this one soars so high it makes you feel like you’ll reach the stars or kiss the sky.

Originally published on 15 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32893/The-Decemberists–We-Will-Raise-Our-Voices-To-The-Air-Live-Songs-0411–0811

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EP REVIEW: THE DIRTY EARTH – SELF-TITLED EP

Prince has a dirty mind. Magic Dirt have dirty jeans. And now Sydney get The Dirty Earth. They are a 5-piece rock band that formed in July 2011 and have just released their eponymous, debut EP. The Dirty Earth came together due to a mutual appreciation of groups like MC5, The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. But the fact they’re fronted by Mandy Newton will no doubt see them likened to Baby Animals, the aforementioned ‘Dirt and possibly even Divinyls due to their strong and feisty front woman.

‘Never Again’ sees a sound that is all classic, Oz rock with chugging guitars and power chords aplenty. There is even a hint of The Cranberries in the often-repeated lyrics that seem almost custom-built for audience interaction in a large, live setting. This feeling of emergency and just managing to bring things over the line is replicated in “Tidelands”. The group are just two songs in and they already assert and prove themselves to be as full of energy as 50 five years olds on a concoction of red cordial and sherbet.

On ‘Tell Me I’m Here’ they all sound like they’re throwing multiple punches, although at one point I could have sworn I heard a part that was reminiscent of the sadly missed Kiwi band, Betchadupa. But what is easily more prominent, however, is the AC/DC style of buzz saw guitars and a no shit attitude that is found on the remainder of their tracks.

For my money though, ‘Pretty Face’ is the strongest cut on offer here. It features the following lyrics:

“Always been a sucker for your pretty face, anytime, any place”.
I can imagine many a bloke thinking this about a beautiful woman. But the fact that Newton’s singing it with her soaring vocals makes it a right opportunity to put your hands up in the air. It’s great to hear her voice also become little gravelly and overall, the track is all power and passion. A rolled up ball of heavy rock swagger, filthy bass and hooky, garage rock riffs.

Make no mistake, Mandy Newton is one gutsy mamma, confident but not too cocky as she leads her band of rock men. Straight to a garage near you, The Dirty Earth play guitar riffs that are like their namesake (dirty) and ones that are also raw, grungy and of course, rocking. With five songs clocking in at 17 minutes, their debut plays out faster than it takes for you to dash out for a pack of cigarettes. And it’s far better for your health…

Originally published on 11 June 2012 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/dirty-earth-self-titled-ep-cd-review

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LIVE REVIEW: BARRY MORGAN @ NOTES NEWTOWN (22.06.2012)

Barry Morgan is the man. He puts the “organ” into Morgan and the “boss” into bossa nova. He was originally discovered on Spicks & Specks and is the alter ego of performer, Stephen Teakle. At his album launch at Newtown’s Notes he pulled out all the “stops” (sorry, it’s an organ gag) by performing cuts from The Touch Of You, a solid debut that is already proving to be this year’s most “coveted” organ-based album.

This gig was easily the weirdest show we’d all seen in years. It wasn’t strictly comedy nor was it purely a concert. Perhaps it was closest to a panto (complete with audience participation) because part of the idea was to sell his beloved organ to the patrons, which he achieved both literally and figuratively. They enjoyed most every part of his organ-work, particularly the demonstrations that were flavoured with just the right amount of kitsch and cheese. Heck, even the merch was a goofy combination of t-shirts, badges, postcards and stickers showing every inch of this man’s love (and by that I mean his amazing smile).

John Deeks (AKA the voiceover from Wheel Of Fortune) introduced Morgan as the magician and musician of tuition, as the latter bounded on stage in his trademark safari suit. The Aurora Classic 1981 organ was front and centre stage and two Leslie speakers flanked the edges with one propping up a bottle of Campari. Morgan admitted he packs a “lot of wood” and his sheer enthusiasm proved a great opening to the dance-like number that kicked off the proceedings. It was full of silliness and up-down variation as a Barry Cam camera captured every moment of his crystal fingers at work.

One thing about Morgan is that he is a ham and he clearly loves to exaggerate, like a balloon pig if you will. His over-the-top facial expressions are reminiscent of Dave Grohl’s acting. Yet when he talks he has a relatively unassuming Aussie accent (I was expecting a more Eurotrash one, but never mind). The character is also as flamboyant as Bob Downe, while his gags have more double entendres then the Are You Being Served? box set.

Morgan kept the energy quite high with the call and response (I say “Morgan” you say “Organ!”) He also blew kisses during “The Touch Of You”. But it wasn’t all pink frosting because “Sands Upon My Hands” was one shining example of Morgan’s proficiency while actually playing. It sounded like he had a mini-orchestra at his fingertips as the song boasted the sounds of an Egyptian snake charmer, a melodramatic carnival and a tango played on the oboe, and all of this added extra spice to the earlier sugar.

The madcap musical magician continued through some rolling grooves and punchy backbeats but it was his little demonstrations that got perhaps the best audience response. In a space of minutes the organ was transformed into a Steinway Grand for a classical piece; a harpsichord for the Adam’s Family theme; those “Dueling banjos” from Deliverance; and ultimately, the theme from Skippy.

The show was brought home with some audience participation as Morgan took two girls and a guy through “Let’s Go, Let’s Swing (The One Finger Method)”. It’s a recipe that proved even beginners could create some of their own great music by barely lifting a finger. The set was then capped off with a cover of “You Are My Sunshine,” the sale of a keyboard (with complimentary steak knives) and “DJ Barry” where he would don some 3D glasses and bust a move.

The show had been anarchic. At times it was a little awkward if a joke or some banter fell flat but this only added to the character and the strange fun of it all. Instead of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll we had been served a mix of innuendo, Campari and bossa nova. And while this doesn’t have the same ring to it as the former, there was no need to worry because Morgan had more than enough rings on his fingers to compensate and dazzle. He’d certainly achieved the latter because let’s face it; we’d all delighted in the pleasure that we received from Barry’s organ.

Originally published on 23 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/live-review-barry-morgan-notes-newtown-22-06-2012

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EP REVIEW: MOSMAN ALDER – BURN BRIGHT

There’s a scene in “Nowhere Boy” when a young John Lennon turns to the even younger Paul McCartney and asks, “How’d you get to be so smart?” It’s always a curious thing to see something so mature coming from the pen or hands of someone without the breadth of experience behind ‘em. And in many ways Brisbane’s Mosman Alder seem to fit this to a tee.

The six-piece have just released their five-track, debut EP. The press photo shows a group that are easily in their early 20s and yet their music is so refined and diverse that it’s as sophisticated as a particularly good drop of red. It could be due to the fact there are so many different personalities at play. Or it could just be that among their ranks is no less than: a classical pianist, a heavy-metal drummer, a Scottish violinist and a bassist whose relative was in Powderfinger.

The name Mosman Alder came about because the former is the name of a place near Cairns. The latter meanwhile is the wood their guitars are made from and is also the name of a Celtic God of the Underworld. The truth is a lot of mythology and mystery has found its way into the lyrics. Frontman, Valdis Valodze’s writes less about his own personal life, instead favouring more vivid and mystical stories. And yet, the material still manages to be emotionally charged and glowing, which is no mean feat.

“Jasmine” opens with an epic sound that includes some Chieftains-like strings, plenty of sadness and alcohol plus Valodze’s deep, baritone croon. These caramel vocals are what drive a lot of the songs and only add to the sprawling and theatrical space the group navigates. This terrain includes the depths of the heart and mind and is done with an absolute ease as they pass through some rather striking visuals like the “Jasmine on her grave”.

Another image that stays with you is in “Raisin Heart” i.e. one of the latter shriveling up so much that it resembles the former. It has a lush atmosphere and that already powerful voice is joined by some female harmonies that soar straight up to heaven. Although it sounds like it has come straight from a leather-bound fiction book or yellowed scroll written in quill ink, in reality it was written while traveling through Germany and reading Kafka.

“Mr Pinckney & The Beast” is some smack-bam, propelling rock. It should therefore come as no surprise that one of the co-producers on this effort was none other than Sean Cook, previously from Yves Klein Blue. It also comes with the positive line: “We all rise up from the darkness below your feet”. The final tracks include “The Ice Queen Of Silver Screen,” one with keys that flutter like butterflies and twinkle like stars while “These Hands” sounds like it has come straight from a black and while film soundtrack but is certainly more colourful.

Mosman Alder are one wise band that produces grand melodramas under a mysterious cloak. At just 20 minutes, it is dynamic and exquisitely crafted. Sure, it’s a bit dark but it is also mostly beautiful and extremely interesting thanks to its textured, indie pop/rock sounds. One for fans of The National, The Go-Betweens and The Middle East, with a debut this good you can rest assured that this group’s future is going to burn bright.

Originally published on 3 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/nd/albumreviews/burn_bright_mosman_alder

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FILM REVIEW: PLAY IT LIKE GODARD (J.C. comme Jésus Christ)

Have you ever cooked something and had all the right ingredients but it’s still turned out not quite right? Well, that’s a lot like the experience of watching Jonathan Zaccaï’s Play It Like Godard. This French mockumentary held a lot of promise – from its premise to its title – and yet it still left you with the feeling that there was at least a little something missing.

Originally named J.C. comme Jésus Christ in French, the flick was less Godard, more God complex. The idea was that a “documentary film crew” would have full, cart blanche access to J.C. (Vincent Lacoste (The French Kissers)) for ten days. J.C. was styled as one “interesting” character having won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the age of 15 and the César at 16.

The synopsis also painted the star as a mixture of Jean Luc-Godard and Justin Bieber. But what is supposed to be a Jim Carey-esque “life as a TV show” or Big Brother-style portrait of a creative directorial genius, shows little more than an exasperated yuppie “artist” bossing people around. But this is mainly reserved for his parents who deliver his favourite cereal almost on cue, leaving J.C. to deliver some unfunny monologues.

This docu-fiction attempts to take aim at fame and fortune and the usual fawning that occurs with precocious child prodigies. There are some funny and absurd moments but for the most part it is far too subtle for a non-French audience with the droll/deadpan delivery likely to go over most people’s heads.

The other problem is that J.C. appears to wear a perpetual sneer – not just for his casting director, teacher-turned-script girl or the other film types in his employ – but it often seems for the audience. He may have a bouffant Dylan-esque hair style and Buddy Holly glasses but his arms are constantly crossed and you do feel like this narcissistic “Rock ‘n’ Roll Prince Of Cinema” is having the last laugh by patronising people.

Play It Like Godard is redeemed – at least somewhat – by some nice scenes of Paris and the short run-time. But the rest of it remains either “cute” or a good idea sabotaged by a cynical caricature that while weird and ambitious just doesn’t work. Play It Like Godard is pleasant enough but you are left feeling that a lot of it has either been lost in translation or is lurking in the shadows of the star’s self-proclaimed talent or ego.

Review score: 2.5 stars

Originally published on 18 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-play-it-like-godard-ctc

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FILM REVIEW: HIGH TECH, LOW LIFE

The Internet has offered opportunities for people that previously didn’t have outlets for their voices to be heard. Two shining examples of this are the subject of Stephen Maing’s documentary, High Tech, Low Life.

While living in China, both have been subject to the “Great firewall” that blocks and filters internet content. But with the help of some loopholes they have found their soapboxes ready, provided they use an online platform.

Zhou Shuguang AKA Zola was originally a 27-year-old vegetable hawker. He says he was a “nobody” until he discovered the Internet. But after realising that a lot of the news he received (from the state-run outlets) was of either the “good” or “happy” variety- he wanted to get to the bottom of things. He would go on to cover topics like the homeless situation and an important rape case involving the son of a government official.

Zola says there are six things the audience wants to know. These are: time, place, character, cause, development and conclusion. It’s an interesting insight from a guy who appeared to start off in this game due to the allure of fame and one who now admits he doesn’t know what journalism actually is.

By contrast the 57-year-old Zhang Shihe AKA Tiger Temple‘s work is a lot less self-serving and almost the result of general activism. The retiree was the country’s first “citizen journalist”. He fell into the role after witnessing a woman being murdered on a street in 2004. He took photos and when the police arrived at the bloody scene their first response was to berate him for taking pictures rather than deal with the actual crime.

Temple is one interesting character. He sings and plays harmonica and his blogs are offered from the perspective of his cat, Mongolia, because he figured the Chinese government wouldn’t censor a talking feline (they didn’t). He travels the countryside talking to farmers affected by polluted land (rather Erin Brockovich-like) and individuals made homeless in the then lead-up to the Beijing Olympics. He connects with his interviewees and goes the extra mile by giving them food and money or by passing on their details to NGOs and other relevant parties who can offer services beyond his reporting.

Director, Stephen Maing does a fine job of telling and interweaving the parallel stories of these two bloggers. He includes excerpts from their posts and proves that while they are separated by a generation and different personal approaches, they are actually rather similar in their resolve to challenge the status quo and give a complete and accurate picture about what is happening in the world around them. Early on Zola says: “I live in an environment where all of the news is good news”. But he believes this is rubbish and proves this with his stories, even though he uses a more playful, Gonzo-like approach. This includes taking photos of himself on the beat that are reminiscent of those typically found on a Facebook wall, even though sometimes these are wildly inappropriate.

Four years in the making, High Tech, Low Life does an excellent job of showing the gut determination that these two important figures have despite being harassed, arrested, intimidated, evicted and receiving widespread disapproval for their work. It also informs us about what the two have achieved, like ensuring that residents have received fair compensation from developers and assisting with the displaced. They are simply two regular and charismatic Joes helping normal people within the confines of the law and in an environment that is undergoing numerous changes.

High Tech, Low Life is a documentary about a worthy topic, particularly as the government and private sector continue to monitor the internet in China while closer to home in Australia we have our own issues with proposed internet filters and Wikileaks. But thankfully the final message is one of hope because they want to educate people and cause them to question and criticise an imperfect system. The two are also training up and readying themselves to pass the baton on to a new generation of citizen journalists. And as such, this illustrative and sensitive documentary should prove an important piece in the educational puzzle as it deftly deals with the responsibilities, risks, rights and services of (citizen) journalists and should be shown in schools and universities everywhere.

Review score: 3.5 stars

Originally published on 18 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-high-tech-low-life-ctc

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FILM REVIEW: THE COMEDY

The Comedy is not at all what you expected. With a lack of strong, laugh-out-loud jokes the title actually seems like a misnomer. A far more appropriate one would’ve been How To Lose Friends & Alienate People. Except that was already taken.

The film’s director, Rick Alverson, has described it as “A look behind the cost of American utopianism and its unintentional by-product of numbness and disconnect”. He’s also called it “A provocation, a critique of culture based at its core around irony and sarcasm and about how ultimately hollow it is”. One thing’s for certain, it is definitely dark and self-indulgent entertainment.

I wanted to like this film. I went in with high expectations as both a comedy fan and when I saw that the cast boasts no less than: Tim Heidecker (Tim & Eric), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Richard Swift (The Shins), Gregg Turkington (Neil Hamburger) and Eric Wareheim (Tim & Eric). But I was ultimately disappointed. I hated Heidecker’s main character, Swanson (especially his misogyny and racism). So no matter what way I look at it I can’t see it as anything more than a narcissistic dance by a bunch of too-old pranksters who just go around irritating people and pushing buttons.

The premise is that Swanson and his buddies are all spoilt white guys with too much money and free time on their hands. Among the group is a “smart” one, a “cool” one and a “musical” one but really, most of this world orbits around the 35-year-old Swanson. With his father comatose, he is bored and fills in his days (when he’s not taking on $7.25/hour dishwasher jobs just to be ironic) by patronising and baiting people.

There’s a cringeworthy opening scene where Swanson talks at length about prolapsed anuses and insults a deadpan male nurse by insinuating that he is inadvertently eating his father’s sh*t. At parties he defends Hitler and feudalism. And during the day he gets his kicks by pretending to be a gardener and asking for a dip in the pool and bribing a cabbie $400 just to go for a joyride.

On paper some of these things don’t sound all that bad and I won’t deny that the film did induce some laughs. But Swanson’s character is so abrasive in other scenes that it really is a stretch to feel anything but hatred for this sociopath. Consider his flicking his near dead father’s forehead for fun. Or just sitting there, nonchalantly eating chips while his date is having a seizure. This is particularly callous and then there’s just the plain offensive mimicking of black people as slaves and discussing – at length mind you – the homeless’s penises.

Make no mistake this film is provocative and not for the faint hearted. I found Swanson so irritating and obnoxious at points that I either wanted to yell at him or kick his head in. The fact is by comparison he makes characters like David Brent or comedians like John Safran appear positively cute and cuddly because the idea is to push boundaries so far and for most people they will be crossed at least once.

The Comedy takes a hard hit at some revolting hipsters living in Williamsburg. A decisive film, I can imagine it having a cult following because I think those that like it will probably love it while those on the flipside will find this disaffected look too disconnected from reality- just callous and plain cruel. By pushing buttons and sh*tting on boundaries these caustic, bile-fuelled vignettes make for awkward and difficult viewing. And while there were people in the cinema that doubled over in laughter, there were others that left and for the most part this just made me want to cry out in pain. But it’s best you go be the judge…

Review score: 1 star

Originally published on 16 June 2012 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-2012-review-the-comedy-ctc

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