FILM REVIEW: PHILOMENA

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Catholic guilt can be one pervasive beast and if ever there was a film to embody this phenomena it’s Philomena. This is the tragic drama/comedy that is inspired by a true story. It crosses three nations, several decades in time and shows the misdemeanours of an institution that should’ve protected its vulnerable charges.

The film is based on the 2009 book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee which was written by BBC Correspondent, Martin Sixsmith. The stars are Judi Dench and a surprising, Steve Coogan (who doubles as co-writer of the script along with Jeff Pope). The latter actor puts in a performance not unlike his recent turn in What Maisie Knew but it is Dench that steals the show as the film’s eponymous character.

Philomena begins in the 1950s when a teenage girl (Sophie Kennedy Clark) has a tryst at a fairground and becomes pregnant. She is shunned by her family and the only option at the time is to go and live with the nuns at Roscrea and work in the Magdalene Laundries. It is there that she would work every day and will only be permitted to see her baby boy, Anthony, for one hour a week. The nuns say that this arrangement is punishment for her sexual dalliance but things worsen when – at the age of three – Anthony is adopted by wealthy Americans for a princely sum and Lee is not allowed to say goodbye.

Lee would eventually remarry and have a daughter but she kept her agony over her lost son private until 2003. This is the year when her son would turn fifty and she resolved to reconcile or at the very least, find him. Lee would have a chance meeting with the journalist, Martin Sixsmith who had recently lost his job as a government adviser and who originally discounted the events as a “human interest” article. He eventually changed his mind and would be integral at finding out the truth behind what happened.

The film is a slow-burning drama that sees Lee and Sixsmith embark on a journey, first to confront the abbey and then to go to America on a road trip of sorts. The pair are an unlikely match – an odd couple – as Sixsmith is a snobbish, Oxford alumnus who looks down on Lee as little more than an old biddy who has been shaped by her penchant for romance novels, Reader’s Digest magazines and the Daily Mail. But the truth is that Lee is a far more complex and layered character than initially meets the eye. As the story progresses through the present and some flashbacks, she does offer up some clever, mother-like wisdom as well as sticking staunchly to her faith and at other moments rambling rather painfully about plots to films and books.

The content of the film is rather divisive as it paints the nuns in an unfavourable light (Sixsmith calls them the “Sisters of Little Mercy” but this is somewhat appropriate, all things considered). It also deals with greater spiritual issues and conflict as well as showing characters grappling with their sexuality. At its worst the movie veers off into sanctimonious and preachy territory while at its best it is poignant and challenging as it tugs at your heartstrings. There are a few threads to the plot as baby Anthony’s fate is revealed but perhaps the biggest pitfall is the fact that the audience discovers what happens to him far too quickly in the proceedings. This makes the subsequent acts rather onerous, predictable and anti-climactic.

At times Philomena also struggles to find a voice because often it is unsure whether it wants to be a strict, misery memoir like Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes or if it wants to be a light-hearted, comedic romp not dissimilar to The Odd Couple. The over-reliance on the latter aspect actually detracts from the pain in the story because it is too flippant when you consider what actually happened in this extraordinary turn of events.

Ultimately, Philomena has perfect performances where real depth and emotion are explored but it is let down by a script that suffers from a series of flaws. While the tale is compelling enough, you cannot help but feel like this is a case of a missed opportunity or two, as a far superior film could’ve been realised but wasn’t.

 

Originally published on 24 December 2013 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2013/12/24/film-review-philomena-uk-usa-france-2013/

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ALBUM REVIEW: SPIDERBAIT – SELF-TITLED

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It’s been almost a decade since Spiderbait’s last studio album. Now, the trio are back with their most assured, varied, and considered record to date.

The first single ‘Straight Through The Sun’ is a frantic track that could be the sequel to ‘Black Betty’. It sees Kram (aka Mark Maher) howling amid a wave of distorted bass, fuzzy guitars, and immediate drums. The song suggests that the band may have rested on their laurels but, thankfully, the musical path widens for the rest of the album.

‘It’s Beautiful’, with vocals from Janet English, is a shimmery pop number that draws parallels to English’s previous side project, Happyland. Her lilting tune provides an agreeable yet stark contrast to Kram’s rocking drawl.

The eponymous LP is adventurous, combining hard-nosed riffs with some real sweet spots. Like Regurgitator, the trio create genre mash-ups, throw in some private jokes, and lob a few curveballs in among the light and heavy moments.

The volume is turned up considerably for ‘What You Get’, a headbanging ruckus that leads a tidal wave of destruction akin to Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’. However, the following track ‘Freakazoid’ takes on a more Blur feel and is one that sees the band pulling back.

Spiderbait proves that the Aussie rockers are mature enough to know what they like without rehashing their old style. The trio’s comeback record has 14 tracks that build on their previous free-spirited, fun, and honest sound, proving that Spiderbait’s party is far from over.

Originally published on 23 December 2013 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/374559/spiderbait-2.htm

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DVD REVIEW: THE DOORS – R-EVOLUTION

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There’s no denying that in their heyday The Doors wrote and produced some revolutionary music. The quartet were also working as vanguards to help shape what was the birth of the music video. By today’s standards the clips from the sixties look dated and probably wouldn’t get a second click. But in spite of all this, there are still people that talk about the band – over four decades on – with a twinkle in their eyes.

The Doors, for better or worse, are no strangers to opening up their archives for the fans. They recently offered up performances of their Hollywood Bowl and Vancouver shows. There has also been the When You’re Strange documentary, the Oliver Stone film and the group’s very own DVDs. The band’s previous releases include the Live at the Bowl concert plus a collection of their music videos. It’s interesting then that The Doors: R-Evolution promises to offer people previously unreleased and restored footage of the group, as one might think that this has already been done before.

This set boasts 19 clips and some of these videos are the official ones while others are taken from various TV appearances. There are also bonus features like a commentary with the surviving members and the late Ray Manzarek plus the documentary, Breaking through the Lens and some outtakes from one shoot. There is the unnecessary Ford Training film with a score by The Doors and one of their cuts from the Isle of Wight festival, ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’, which had already appeared here in a Shebang performance and their overexposed music video. A lot of these music videos have already appeared on The DoorsCollection (and this DVD was far more comprehensive, as it included their famed Ed Sullivan performance, among others).

The Doors: R-Evolution does succeed in part because it shows how an L.A. band were as they were starting out and how they progressed. Initially they did as they were told by the TV show producers and directors. In most cases this meant having to mime and do some questionable acting. In the ‘People Are Strange’ video this mining was done on a windy street while in ‘Light My Fire’ they goofed around on a beach, as those in charge took a literal meaning and showed a house burning down.

Thankfully, the group took over the reins with time and came up with their own concepts for ‘Unknown Soldier’ (which was later banned). The sexy, ‘L.A. Woman’ was also directed by Ray Manzarek (who this release is dedicated to). The collection also includes the bands’ other hits plus weaker material from later on in their career.

‘Gloria’ has some old, rehashed footage while ‘Ghost Song’ sees the group acting like the surviving Beatles and finishing off their late band member’s song (in this case putting Jim Morrison’s poetry to music). Some of the band’s other clips feel a lot like the clips to John Lennon’s solo songs from around his death, in that they drudge up the same few parts ad nauseam.

The Doors: R-Evolution is a hodgepodge set where you go from snickering at men in stockings, dancing girls and one naive band one minute to seeing a mature group of artists sitting on top of the world at the next. The songs still continue to amaze and this collection does at least include a lot of their biggest hits. But this release also feels half-done as it’s not as comprehensive as its predecessors and while it has been lovingly restored with fresh video and 5.1 sound by Bruce Botnick, you can’t help but feel at times like it’s a bootleg rather than an official release. In short, this is a half-decent introduction to the band, but on its own it will really only be worth the attention of those diehard and completist fans.

Originally published on 22 December 2013 at the following website: http://sfmedia.com.au/the-doors-the-doors-r-evolution-dvd-review/

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COMEDY REVIEW: AKMAL & CLINT PADDISON @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (10.12.2013)

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Comedian, Akmal Saleh was chuffed to be doing his very first show at the Sydney Opera House. He was there to film a new DVD and was surrounded by a generous audience of fans, family and friends. He declared the proceedings “first class” because “Everyone was wearing shoes and socks” and there was no need to ask the manager to “Turn the TV off”. His humour was quite cheeky, a little crass but ultimately quite fun.

Clint Paddison did a warm-up slot of about fifteen minutes. He acknowledged that he does a lot of corporate stand-up gigs and in some ways his material was a reflection of this experience. He did a routine about management acronyms and corporate speak gone awry. It was a little long, especially when he dragged this out into a bit about Australian bush slang. It was very clever though, and he had managed to talk for ages in this very vein. It was almost like the ocker equivalent to Seinfeld in that the routine was about absolutely nothing.

This material was also rather informative. Paddison told us how much he had laughed when he’d first been told there is no “I” in “We” when in fact Iodine has the chemical symbol “I” and there is a tiny percentage of this in every wee. Paddison was also a warm comedian who delivered a clever set. It was an intellectual start to the evening but he did manage to end with a smart-a** practical joke. He sent Ray White a postcard of a puppy he’d recently sold to keep them as informed about his life as they’d done previously (when they’d advised him about a house in his street that they’d sold). This jokes certainly helped set up what was to come during Akmal’s performance.

Akmal Saleh was crass in his sense of humour and proud of it. The jokes at times weren’t for the faint-hearted and he did straddle the lines between joshing and attacking some poor audience members in the front row. At times his sense of humour made me think of Stephen K Amos in that there was a very funny and clever man at the heart of it, but sometimes he went a little too far at offending people.

One such time was when Saleh appeared on Good News Week and his mouth got him into trouble with the people from Rockhampton. He had had a run-in with a lady that had culminated in her punching Akmal in the face. But Akmal’s response to the situation was to tell everyone about it and put down the entire city. This footage went viral and he even received death threats. On the flipside, Saleh at least is unafraid to tell it like it is and is completely honest with his thoughts and opinions.

Akmal spoke about growing up in Punchbowl and his Egyptian heritage. He encouraged audience interaction and heckling. At one point however, he did say that no drunken person has ever gotten up at a Symphony Orchestra concerto and tried to play a violin. He also spoke about playing to an audience of one and his Comedy Store debut – on the night of the State Of Origin – which was very funny and ended up rather curiously with a lift home.

This comedy show was very hyper and high energy. Towards the end Saleh even broke into an impromptu Q&A session where one audience member questioned how “normal” the comedian was. Saleh’s response was to say he was probably ADHD, having grown up with a very short attention span and playing practical jokes involving rusty egg beaters and running from the cops. Saleh’s performance was a long one at close to two hours and it could’ve been tightened in parts (especially when he went too far picking on the audience). There was some clever material and some more obvious observations but above all it was bold, a tad crass but also entertaining.

 

Originally published on 10 December 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/sydney/comedy/akmal-saleh-clint-paddison-the-playhouse-sydney-opera-house-10-12-13

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