ALBUM REVIEW: LAURA IMBRUGLIA – WHAT A TREAT

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Laura Imbruglia’s third album, What A Treat comes with a gift, a Pozible-funded jigsaw. It proves a funny link between the past and future, a description that’s also applicable to her ten album tracks.

Imbruglia’s music is by her own admission: “Lyric based, depresso pop with regular visits to the jaunty zone”.

On What A Treat, Nat’s little sister emphasises the latter because she’s gone and done a Tegan & Sara. She’s crafted a bouncy, pop record without eschewing her indie roots. Like those Canadian twins, this means the music is like landing face-first into a giant marshmallow before some dark, lyrical undercurrents make you sit up and pause to reflect.

Singles, “Awoooh!” and “Why’d You Have To Kiss Me So Hard?” have already wowed audiences. The first proved a rollicking good time and the opportunity to have a good howl at the moon while the latter boasts the punk attitude and dirty guitars which made her debut so popular.

On the title track and “If I Ever” Imbruglia coos tweely and the country vibe is endearing and annoying, but mostly languid.

Imbruglia is at her best when she’s showcasing her versatility, like in some stomping, 12-bar blues or the melodic, piano-slamming ditty “Straight To The Bar”, which has quirk and lyricism in spades and would make Darren Hanlon proud.

What A Treat is an honest and evocative record that gets you nostalgic for the past and quietly confident about the future. Imbruglia’s tales of unrequited love and poor decisions are relatable and she’s at her best when she rounds those musical bases.

 

Originally published on 28 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/319004/treat.htm

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BOOK REVIEW: DAVID GILLESPIE – THE SWEET POISON QUIT PLAN COOKBOOK

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Take a close look at the chocolate cake on the cover of this book. It not only looks delicious, but it’s a chocolate torte with coffee mascarpone and it doesn’t contain any sugar (just like those recent, cookbooks from Sarah Wilson). It is one of the 80 recipes in The Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook and they all look just as tasty as this one.

The book is by David Gillespie, a former corporate lawyer turned health crusader. He’s a father of six and has written numerous books including Big Fat Lies, Sweet Poison and Toxic Oil. He was previously 40 kilograms overweight and wanted to find out the reason why he – like many people today – was fat. He found that the reason why we’re all so overweight is that we consume too much sugar.

Table sugar is half glucose and half fructose and it is the latter (and the sweet part) that is the problem. In his introduction, Gillespie again uses an alarmist tone, saying if you consume sugar for too long, it will kill you. He describes how sugar is highly addictive; it attacks your ability to control your appetite and has links to: fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Type II diabetes, depression, anxiety, dementia, premature aging, high blood pressure, chronic kidney failure, infertility and gout.

A more in-depth analysis of sugar is offered by Gillespie in Sweet Poison and Sweet Poison Quit Plan. This cookbook instead takes us down the “fun” route by offering us a healthy alternative to eating sugar. The recipes are actually devised and tested by Gillespie’s wife, Lizzie and a professional chef, Peta Dent. The sugar is replaced by dextrose, a healthy alternative to sugar and the commercial name for glucose. The recipes have been designed specifically for this ingredient and for olive oil (as Gillespie points out the dangers of seed oils in his other book, Toxic Oil).

The cookbook contains over 80 recipes that include Australian favourites like ANZAC biscuits, lamingtons and Pavlova. There are also special occasion cakes and everyday things that can be used to fill children’s lunchboxes. The recipes cover virtually all the bases with: cookies, cakes, biscuits, ice-creams, jellies and special cultural and festive recipes also offered.

The main pitfalls of using dextrose are that it’s not always easy to find (Gillespie says that Coles does not stock this and that you may have to go to a home-brewing supply shop to find it). It also absorbs liquid more easily than sugar and the sweets don’t keep as long as the traditional ones prepared with sugar (especially if they are kept out of the fridge). Also, the recipes may not be sweet enough for people who have high sugar diets (or ones that have not completed the “sugar quit” program).

The Sweet Poison Quit Plan Cookbook’s main strength is that it offers workable, easy-to-follow recipes and these are coupled with gorgeous, glossy photographs where the final results look positively scrumptious. This means that any other difficulties or pitfalls in using this ingredient seem minimal or at the very least, the benefits seem to outweigh the negative aspects. Gillespie again uses a no-holds-barred style in his writing but this should shake readers out of their complacency when designing their diets- because as this book proves, the news doesn’t have to be a completely bitter pill to swallow.

Originally published on 23 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/reading-with-the-au-david-gillespie-the-sweet-poison-quit-plan-cookbook

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FILM REVIEW: GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY

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Jeff Buckley may have sung “So Real” on his ground-breaking, Grace album, but the bio-pic of his and his dad’s lives concentrates on their mystical qualities. Maybe it was their untimely deaths – Jeff by drowning in Memphis’ Wolf River at age 27 and Tim at age 28 from an accidental overdose – that turned them into alt-rock and folk legends. ButGreetings From Tim Buckley showcases their considerable talents by focusing on the ethereal and whimsical qualities that peppered their short, entwined lives.

The film is directed by Daniel Algrant and has two distinct halves. The first of these interleaved episodes is in 1966 and shows Tim Buckley (Ben Rosenfield) on the road as he records and plays in coffee houses, talks about the Vietnam war and has casual relationships whilst his pregnant wife is at home. The other half and arguably the story to get more attention is the one about Jeff. In 1991 he is called up to participate in a tribute concert for his Dad in Brooklyn. He is conflicted about his involvement in celebrating a man he “didn’t know”.

The junior Buckley has an enormous pair of shoes to fill as does Penn Badgely (Gossip Girl) who is playing his role. Jeff is haunted by his Dad and is constantly being compared to him due to the physical resemblance. But he is resentful and bitter towards the man that abandoned him (in some ways this is comparable to Julian Lennon) and they’d meet on only two occasions when Jeff was quite young. Badgely does an excellent job of capturing the temperamental artist plagued by melancholy and ambivalence . He really only lightens when he is paired up with a fictional love interest (Imogen Poots) who helps him “discover” his Dad.

The soundtrack relies heavily on Tim Buckley’s music. This almost reaches transcendental heights during the concert at the very end. Here, Badgely does an a capella cover of Tim’s biggest hit, “Once I Was”. You could say that this is where the younger Buckley’s career began- if not actually, then at least spiritually.

The film does try to draw parallels between the two Buckley’s lives and this often works. But at other moments this feels like they’re trying to push the story to fit into a tidy arc. One thing’s for certain though, the musicality of the two – and especially Jeff – is captured here beautifully. The highlights include Jeff jamming with his guitarist Gary Lucas (Frank Wood) and him messing around in a record store trying to impress the girl by impersonating seventies singers (Buckley had a four-octave range falsetto).

Both Badgely and Rosenfield look strikingly similar to the men that they’re portraying. Badgely has the cheekbones and rocks the stretched tee and shaggy hair look while Rosenfield is resplendent with his mane of brown, Dylan-like curls. Both also carry themselves with a sort of broody grace, which adds to the dark undercurrent of the film and helps hint at the tragedy that will befall these two creative and carefree spirits.

The biggest disappointment for Jeff Buckley fans will be the noticeable absence of his music (and only teasing with a few notes of it in the jam scene doesn’t quite cut it). The story also fails to devote time to his actual career and death. These things will apparently be covered in the Jeff Buckley-specific biopic Mystery White Boy, which is currently in production.

Also, covering the lives of not one but two such monumental legends in just 100 minutes means a lot of the story is left out and often the characters feel like they are not fully formed or properly realised. For fans wanting a more in-depth analysis of either troubadour, I suggest reading a biography or going back to the source material- either Grace or one of Tim’s nine studio albums.

Greetings From Tim Buckley is a sweet, sentimental and respectful biopic. It tells the lives of these two sensitive men with a gentle tone. While by no means comprehensive, it does create the appropriate emotions and mood and is a pleasant enough family drama. It’s a nice if not forgettable, meandering love letter to the Buckleys and often feels like a missed opportunity. Because it certainly had the potential to linger in your heart and mind just like those ten amazing albums. Now that’s grace…

Originally published on 20 June 2013 at the following website: 
http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-greetings-from-tim-buckley-usa-2012

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FILM REVIEW: WHAT MAISIE KNEW

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What Maisie Knew could actually be called Matilda. The former is an adaptation of the Henry James novel but it also shares a lot in common with the latter, Roald Dahl book. There is the brilliant and mature-beyond-her-years little girl who has to take care of herself because her parents only do so when it’s convenient. Although both sets of parents are far too selfish and self-absorbed, both of these young darlings find the love and affection they should receive in people that aren’t their family.

The James novel was written in 1897 and at the time he was chronicling and criticising the rich in British society. At the time, writing about a divorce and joint-custody battle would’ve been considered a very novel thing. These days marriage breakdowns are more commonplace and it’s a scary thought that this story still has applicability.

Instead of the glitterati in England, here the parents are a bunch of Bohemians from Manhattan. There’s the psychotic mother, Susanna (Julianne Moore) who’s an aging rock star and on the verge of a mid-life crisis. The bastard father, Beale (Steve Coogan) is a business-obsessed, art dealer whose idea of child-bonding is to take a six year old out for an espresso.

Onata Aprile plays the lead and title role and does an excellent job. The film rests on her tiny shoulders and much of this dramatic story is told from her young perspective. Her parents’ arguments are background noise to her playing and the two are in an all-out tit-for-tat battle for her. Except when each of them has the opportunity to parent her, neither wants to take responsibility. Her father willingly leaves her with a doorman while her mother drops her off outside a restaurant where a friend could be inside.

Beale gets into a new relationship with the nanny (Joanna Vanderham). He marries her and almost immediately, Susana takes up with and marries one of her groupies, Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgård– who plays a warm-if-naïve-nice guy that is a million miles away from his role as Eric the Vampire in True Blood). Both of Maisie’s parents’ significant others are younger, blonder and kinder people. They pick up the slack and form lasting attachments with the girl as they can see how precious, bright and lively she is.

There isn’t a lot to the actual plot of this story. It’s basically about two dead-beat, dysfunctional parents shunting their vulnerable, little girl back and forth. The mother plays manipulative and emotional games and the proceedings share a few things in common with the misery memoirs that focus on abuse and neglect. But Maisie – to her credit – takes their toxic ways in her stride. There are no temper tantrums, just a single tear she sheds that shows how their carelessness is affecting her.

What Maisie Knew is ultimately a sad and unnerving family melodrama set against a beautiful New York City backdrop. It’s full of excellent, down-to-earth performances and is a subtle tale. At times it’s a little too one-note and perhaps would’ve been better suited as a TV special rather than a feature length film. It tackles a serious but still applicable subject and uses a sensitive hand to create a close observation of unconditional love, sacrifice and the importance of family.

 

Originally published on 20 June 2013 at the following website: 
http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/what-maisie-knew-usa-2012

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FILM REVIEW: WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS

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We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks looks set to polarise audiences as much as the organisation’s founder, Julian Assange does. The documentary is the latest film from the Oscar-winning, Alex Gibney (Taxi To The Dark Side, Enron: the Smartest Guys In The Room). It attempts to paint a portrait of this organisation with snappy animation and a good musical soundtrack. But it has also made headlines as Wikileaks and Assange have criticised Gibney for omitting facts, misrepresenting others and employing selective editing. Gibney denies all this and says that Wikileaks have only viewed a transcript, not the complete film.

The story’s two main stars are Assange and Bradley Manning, the US soldier charged with “aiding the enemy”. His trial commenced on the 3rd of June this year and he faces 21 other charges for the act of whistle-blowing he allegedly performed. This allegedly involved releasing to Wikileaks 250,000 US embassy cables, Afghan and Iraq war logs, detainee assessments from Guantánamo Bay and videos of US attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. This also includes the infamous and explosive “Collateral Murder Video”, which showed civilians and journalists being killed in Iraq. Neither Assange nor Manning was able to be interviewed for this documentary. Gibney claims that Assange had demanded $1 million for an interview and Wikileaks denies this.

Instead, the story of both of the men is told through stock footage, animations and a series of talking head interviews. The subjects include former, senior US security staff; hacker, Adrian Lamo; former Wikileaks spokesmen and volunteers; Manning’s friend; Manning’s supervisor; journalists; academics; a barrister from Wikileaks’ legal team; and a representative from the Australian Federal Police.

We Steal Secrets shows that this story is one complicated web. It tells how Wikileaks officially launched in 2007. In time, Assange’s star would rise and he would become known as the “Rock star hacker”. But it also shows his downfall, as Assange could face charges for alleged sex crimes in Sweden and is now living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after being granted political asylum.

In the film, Manning is portrayed as a lonely, tragic hero- a computer nerd perfectionist who is incredibly bright and someone that was not cut out for the army. He is said to have been struggling with his identity at the time and was repulsed by the information he saw in the course of his job as an intelligence analyst. One of the talking heads says that Manning should’ve been discharged earlier, rather than given access to such top-secret and covert information.

The audience will feels lots of empathy for Manning, especially after they read and digest the excerpts from his web chats with Adrian Lamo (the hacker who would turn Manning in). It’s heartbreaking to see Manning’s confidence is broken by Lamo. Their correspondence is also used by Gibney to full, dramatic effect.

Assange doesn’t get off so lightly. He is initially portrayed as a noble, teen hacker using the handle, “Mendax” during his involvement in the Nortel affair. This earlier period was tackled in more depth in Underground: The Julian Assange Story. Although Wikileaks commenced in 2006, by 2010 Gibney claims that Assange had become corrupted by fame and success. His former associates at Wikileaks describe Assange in a less than glowing manner and even say he is an egomaniac.

We Steal Secrets is ultimately the tumultuous and dramatic story of power and influence about two renegades in the digital age. It offers important new information to this long and complex story and attempts to do so in as clear a manner as possible. Somewhere in the middle of all this the truth may be found, but for now this film packages the story as a gripping and sensational thriller-via-documentary. It also questions, “Are Julian Assange and Bradley Manning heroes or traitors?” But rather than answer this it throws up more questions, adds fire to an already lengthy debate and proves that you can’t really pigeonhole either man with such simplistic labels.

 

Originally published on 20 June 2013 at the following website: 
http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/we-steal-secrets-the-story-of-wikileaks-usa-2013

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FILM REVIEW: THE LOOK OF LOVE

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The Look Of Love could and probably should scream “great film”. It pairs director, Michael Winterbottom with comedian, Steve Coogan (they are the men who worked on 24 Hour Party People and the TV show, The Trip). The story is about a legend. The name Paul Raymond may not mean much but he was England’s answer to Hugh Hefner and the script was written by Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy). But for all of its pedigree and promise of glitz, glamour and tawdriness, this film is just a likeable-enough romp that is more lukewarm than hot stuff.

Raymond was a self-made man whose story is your classic rags-to-riches tale. He left Liverpool with five bob in his pocket and started his showbiz career as a mind-reader. By the nineties he would be Britain’s richest man. He did this by turning his sights to erotica, men’s magazines, night clubs, property ownership and other risqué shows and productions. Some people called it filth, exploitation and sleaze while others saw this as entrepreneurship and giving the people (mostly men) what they want.

The film actually shares a few things in common with Coogan’s other works. There is a hint of his character, Alan Partridge, in the mass of bad hair and arrogant lines that Raymond comes packaged in along with some seventies-styled fur-coats and moustaches. The other parallel is with 24 Hour Party People and Coogan’s treatment of the larger-than-life owner of Factory Records, Tony Wilson. The Look Of Love also deals with the subject matter in a similar way to that classic biopic. It toys with conventional film formats to ultimately tell the story of a Northern Englishman, except that this one won’t enjoy that same cult status because it also contains a series of misfires.

Raymond is the “King Of Soho” and we jump around and touch on different points in his life- as an old man dealing with the loss of his beloved daughter to a heroin overdose; as a young guy when he was just starting out in the biz; and the heady coke-filled days in the 70s that are Studio 54 but with a lot more nudity. A lot of episodes from Raymond’s life are tackled but he still feels like an incomplete caricature and little more than a womanising buffoon at times than an actual person. This could be due to his cold-hearted, lack of self-awareness and resemblance to extreme characters like Partridge and Austin Powers.

The most telling elements in Raymond’s personality shine through in the relationships (or the lack thereof) that he has with three important women and his estranged sons. There’s his late daughter, Debbie Raymond (a fantastic Imogen Poots) who had been built up as his heir apparent despite a noticeable lack of talent. There’s his long-suffering first wife, Jean Raymond (Anna Friel) who initially turns a blind eye to their open marriage and the gorgeous girlfriend, Fiona Richmond (Tamsin Egerton). All three actresses put in solid performances that occasionally outshine the star.

The film is freewheeling and muddled at best. It seems unsure whether it wants to be a light comedy, an honest biopic, a drama or a soft porn flick. The story often switches between decades and the film boasts fictional news reports and two documentaries-within-documentaries. Plus, some of the older sections are in black-and-white while rest is in full, exaggerated colour. The nudity is always shown in colour and it is used to the point of saturation, meaning at times it blends into feeling like gratuitous background noise.

The Look Of Love is redeemed however, by its snappy dialogue including various sharp one-liners and an excellent musical soundtrack. The latter features: T-Rex, Donovan, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry, among others. Another highlight is the huge list of cameos which reads like a veritable who’s who of English entertainment: Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, David Williams, Chris Addison, Dara O’Briain and Simon Bird.

The latest collaboration between Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan is certainly not their strongest work. But it is an exercise in hedonism, overstatement and sauciness. It is also a tale about an interesting character, even if the film doesn’t always show this. At its best it is playful, glamorous and funny and at other moments it’s repetitive and leaves a bad aftertaste. The Look Of Love is ultimately a kitsch and colourful biopic that is not for the faint-hearted or easily offended.

 

Originally published on 19 June 2013 at the following website: 
http://www.theaureview.com/reviews-the-look-of-love-uk-usa-2013

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FILM REVIEW: OH BOY

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A day in the life of a slacker, twenty-something living in Berlin may not sound like everybody’s cup of tea. But this guy’s more concerned with coffee anyway. The actual day is a rather momentous one with a series of mishaps and unfortunate events, making this story seem a little different to the one originally described. In fact, Oh Boy could be a lot like your own life due to the absurdities that pepper it and the colourful characters that inhabit it.

The film is the directorial debut from Jan Ole Gerster and has recently won numerous awards at German’s own version of the Oscars. Gerster also wrote the film’s screenplay and this light comedy is full of funny moments, witty observations and sharp dialogue. The pace occasionally drifts by like its slacker star but when this is coupled with a jaunty jazz soundtrack, it’s fair to say things are kept fun and upbeat.

Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling) is a law school drop-out who has been living off his father’s allowance. In the course of a day his laziness earns him a relationship, sees him scuffle with an overzealous public servant and results in him having a confrontation with his father. When his Dad realises his son hasn’t been to class in over two years he asks the guy what he’s been doing. His son responds: “I’ve been thinking. About you, about me”.

The film is shot completely in black and white, lending it an artistic feel not unlike Anton Corbijn’s Control, especially in the later scenes where a montage is filled with German buildings and landscapes. But that’s where that similarity ends. Instead, Oh Boy has more in common with an episode of Seinfeld (i.e. celebrating or bearing witness to the absurdities in daily life like the impossible quest for a “regular” cup of coffee) or the neurotic styling of a Woody Allen film.

Oh Boy is centred around one strange day and Fischer encounters some rather quirky characters along the way with a mix of pithy observations, physical comedy and outright contempt. There’s the depressed neighbour and a formerly overweight school friend adding to the list of freaks and ghouls that inhabit this particular version of Berlin’s urban circus. One thing this film doesn’t do is take itself too seriously and it’s all the more enjoyable for it.

Gerster’s directorial debut is a quaint and charming film that plays out like a series of comedy sketches or episodes that have been stretched out to reach the feature length. Some of these hit the mark more than others but you do have to remember that the whole shebang plays out like the lead has gotten out of the wrong side of bed. Fischer is on a journey to find normality in craziness in what is ultimately a contemporary and hip Berlin postcard.

Oh Boy is a fine looking film that is warm, charismatic and relatable as it celebrates some of life’s hurdles both big and small with recurring themes and jokes along the way. At times weird and at other moments silly but utterly pleasant, this film celebrates a passive onlooker that is an outsider in his own life. There’s a lot more happening beneath the surface than some mere, throwaway fun and in Oh Boy Jan Ole Gerster certainly proves that he is one director to watch.

 

Originally published on 17 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/sydney-film-festival-review-oh-boy-germany-2012

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FILM REVIEW: CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915

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Poor Camille Claudel. The famous artist would create a lasting legacy of sculptures and drawings that are still important and relevant today. But she was also one tortured artist. Camille Claudel 1915 attempts to capture all of these emotions and feelings. It’s also a French biopic that is a claustrophobic chronicle of three days in her sad life.

Claudel sounds like an interesting character but this film doesn’t really capture the essence of all this. She had a long affair with fellow artist, Auguste Rodin and had an early, creative period. But she would eventually end this relationship after Rodin refused to leave his wife. Despite this, Claudel acted like the woman scorned and descended into madness and despair. Her family would put her in the remote institution Montdevergues, near Avignon in France.

Director, Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Outside Satan) uses these solemn grounds as the setting for Claudel’s story. The three days are based on letters she sent to her younger brother, Paul Claudel (Jean-Luc Vincent). It’s questionable whether Camille actually belonged in such a place. She was angry at Rodin and was paranoid that people were out to poison her. But in the film she is often portrayed as being lucid and holding a sense of contempt for the arguably more handicapped in-mates (who are played by actual disabled people in the same way as the nurses are real-life nuns and staff members).

Juliette Binoche does an excellent job as the lead character. She is subtle and convincing as the artist who is forced into a painful situation. It’s a tedious life in the institution and her only beacon of hope is a visit from the brother who can have her released. But Camille is a lot like Angelina Jolie’s character in Changeling- the more she argues for her sanity, the more the institution seems determined to restrain her.

The film is very minimal, there are sparse visuals and the greyish colour hue only adds to the tedium of this prison. There is also very little music and background noise. Instead, there are long pauses where the silences prove deafening and things only change when this is offset against long, wordy monologues of dialogue. Instead, much of the story is told on Binoche’s face with Dumont favouring close-ups and creating something equally authentic, unsettling and demanding in the process.

It’s arguable that the full story of Claudel’s life is actually crystallised in the events that pre-date these three institutionalised days. These are also the more exciting and important moments in her life- but these have largely been tackled before in the eponymous film starring Gérard Depardieu, released in 1988. The two are very different beasts as the current one was mostly improvised and this character is so much more tragic. The doom and gloom make it difficult to warm to Claudel, especially as her life is so boring and repetitive. But Binoche – to her credit – has done a good job with the material in helping create such a mature, emotional and melancholy character.

Watching Binoche’s pained exterior in the film is a lot like how you would imagine life was like from Claudel’s perspective in her most lucid moments. At times it’s pretty and tranquil but for the most part it is dark and plain exasperating and troubling. It’s terrible that she was never able to return to her work but perhaps even more tragic that this missed opportunity of a film fails this woman who has suffered enough to account for several lifetimes.

 

Originally published on 17 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-camille-claudel-1915-france-2013

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FILM REVIEW: PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER

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Peaches wrote and sang the song “Free Pussy Riot!” Madonna almost got into trouble for dedicating her performance in Moscow to the guerrilla-style-performing, feminist collective of political activists. Pussy Riot fuses riot grrl power with a raw and gritty performance art style. They first came to prominence in early 2012 when they were imprisoned after their fifth gig and Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer is a documentary that feels like a good telling of the first few chapters of this story.

The film covers the rehearsals and planning that went into the girl’s most infamous gig and the subsequent fall-out. It shows that things had been brewing for a while-they’d performed their previous show at Red Square and sung the self-penned, “Putin P***ed Himself.” We’d learn that these women- Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokhina had been involved in performance art and socio-political causes for some years.

On 21 February 2012 these three young women along with two others who remain anonymous (reports indicate they were not arrested and fled the country to avoid capture) entered the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. It’s the largest Russian Orthodox church in the city. The women would don bright, balaclava-like ski hats, sleeveless dresses and tights. They would attempt to deliver their “Punk prayer”. This music had occasionally muddled lyrics that protested the union of the church and the state plus promoted feminism; protested Russian President, Vladmir Putin; and generally rallied against the authoritative Russian regime and increase in nationalism.

Naturally, the church-goers took exception to this. The Pussy Riot members known as Nadia, Katia and Masha would come under fire for wearing inappropriate clothing plus they were seen to be trespassing, disrupting the service, inciting religious hatred and engaging in all-out hooliganism. The three girls were charged with these misdemeanours and faced up to seven years imprisonment.

They were eventually sentenced to three years at a labour camp and one was later released on appeal. The film follows the case in detail with footage from the bail, court and appeals hearings. There are also police interviews with the three members, as they were unable to be interviewed by the filmmakers, directors Mike Lerner (Hell and Back Again) and Maxim Pozdorovkin.

The film shows how the story broke in the more “tolerant” West. There, the band received lots of support, especially from musicians and other people in the arts. In some countries, such an act would be nothing more than a crime against taste. But in Russia some of the more religious extremists (who are also given air-time in this documentary) liken the act to a desecration as bad as taking a dump on Russia and their talk makes the trials sound more like a Salem Witch hunt than a judicial process.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer attempts to be comprehensive by offering some background information about the girls’ lives. Both Masha and Nadia are mothers and Nadia and Katia were former members of the political street art collective, Voina. Some of the girls’ conflicted but supportive parents are interviewed and this often proves more interesting than the farce that is their trial. The women are shown to be ultimately very clever, passionate, opinionated, strong-willed and articulate.

The documentary is a lot like their music. It’s rough-around-the-edges and full of messages but it could be better executed. The fact is that this anti-establishment tale is only the initial chapter and we are none the wiser about the collective’s other members (How many are there? What are their plans and philosophies, etc). But despite leaving some things unexplained, this documentary offers a sympathetic view of the women and provides some important information about their trial by media. It’s great, but we all know that the more exciting stuff is yet to come once they’ve all been released.

 

Originally published on 17 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-pussy-riot-a-punk-prayer-russia-uk-2013

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

FILM REVIEW: THE STONE ROSES: MADE OF STONE

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Everyone seems to have a story about The Stone Roses. Maybe it was the young band that listened to the group’s eponymous debut and decided to make their very own record. Perhaps you were one of the lucky privileged that saw them at their come-back shows or at one of their infamous gigs during their nineties heyday. The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone is a rockumentary but it’s also the ultimate fan’s story.

Director, Shane Meadows (of This Is England fame) was a self-proclaimed “Northern monkey” who fell in love with the local lads back in the day. He was supposed to attend their Spike Island show in 1990 but a bad acid trip would stop this. Fast-forward to 2011 and the fanboy in Meadows was beside himself when (a) his all-time favourite band announced they were re-forming and (b) they asked him to document it all.

The film is a documentary but it also encompasses a lot of other elements. There are photographs and archive footage used to give a cursory re-telling of some of the band’s history plus quotes from Alfred Hitchcock and William Burroughs. But the main emphasis is on the then present day. There is a lot jamming and preparations for their hometown, come-back shows in 2012, including a series of warm-up gigs in Continental Europe and one in England’s Warrington, near Liverpool.

The film uses a lot of footage shot in black-and-white. Some colour footage is used minimally in the older material and this means it comes into its own when used in full effect during the big finale. These are the spine-tingly good Heaton Park shows performed in their hometown of Manchester. The group played three gigs to capacity crowds of 75,000 each night and they looked positively mind-blowing.

A full rendition of “Made Of Sone” is offered and it is absolutely explosive. The colours are as vivid as the band’s single sleeves and the experience is a lot like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where we leave the boring black-and-white for the full Technicolor experience. The band are playing with all their might and the fans are going crazy- one is moshing on an ice-cream truck, another holds a flare, there’s a group tearing at scaffolding and an even larger number ripping off their own clothes. It is euphoria and madness at its most visceral and potent.

Another highlight in the film is the inclusion of an old, awkward interview with guitarist, John Squire and front man, Ian Brown. The pair give a combination of monosyllabic answers and arrogant-yet-hilarious quips. It’s a telling piece and a good insight into their creative-yet-occasionally-difficult personalities. It’s probably also applicable to bassist,Gary “Mani” Mounfield and drummer, Alan “Reni” Wren, as all four helped contribute to the group’s initial break-up and subsequent sniping. It is scenes like this when coupled with montages, sound bites and old archive footage (but no talking head interviews) that serve to paint the history – however limited – of the band.

The modern-day stuff includes vox-pops with fans at the 1100-seater Parr Hall show in Warrington. There is another funny sequence where various fans bunk of work and race down there (some with young children in tow) in order to secure one of those coveted spots. Not everyone’s clambering will pay off- there is one poor man looking like a child with his face pressed up against the glass window offering his car, house or a job just to get inside. But it was worth it- at the concert Liam Gallagher will declare the band to be the best one to come from Manchester and the fans laughed, danced, cried and sang their way through the songs that have been the soundtrack to their lives.

Meadows does a respectful job documenting the group’s comeback. When Reni walks off-stage before the encore of the band’s Amsterdam show, Meadows shows the audience’s disappointment but he does not pry or sensationalise. The Stone Roses will continue the tour and eventually patch things up but we’re none the wiser about how they got there or what initially made them reform. The director is obviously a true fan and he maintains a distance by allowing his film to be a love letter of the highest order.

The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone does not preach to the converted but it does a fine job of offering up a musical scrapbook while dotting over a great band. The film shows the emotional, visceral and vivid elements of their amazing live show and the powerful music will allow viewers to be swept away in the warmth, wit and wisdom of it all. A must-see for Stone Roses fans, the rockumentary is a celebration of creativity and nostalgia that proves once and for all that history can and often does repeat.

 

Originally published on 13 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-the-stone-roses-made-of-stone-uk-2013

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

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