DVD REVIEW: KIDS ON SPEED?

Sydney, AUSTRALIA: Essential Media, Kids on Speed(Photo by Sabine Albers)

 

Kids On Speed? is a factual and fly-on-the-wall series which follows five children who are suspected to have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s a powerful and revealing show that looks at this much-maligned, misunderstood and stigmatised illness that has been met with controversy (due to its resulting in more children being medicated). This documentary attempts to inform and debunk some myths associated with this disorder. It also manages to cover a lot of ground but it could have been a longer series and a little bit more comprehensive in detail.

The series is written, directed and produced by Marc Radomsky. It follows four families who have reached the ends of their tethers with their hyperactive, misbehaving and unruly children. They all agree to take part in a nine-week, multidisciplinary program where psychological behaviour therapies are combined with learning strategies and medication (if it is deemed necessary). One thing this series fails to describe is the impact the child’s diet is possibly having on their underlying condition.

The first episode introduces the children. Seth is an impulsive six year old who has young parents and his father Ryan was diagnosed with ADHD when he was the same age as his son. There are the siblings, Emily (11) and Samuel (6) who come from a large family and who constantly fight, scream and egg each other on. James is an emotionally immature, ten year old who has a terrible temper and violent streak and Corey (7) is now home-schooled after he threatened to hurt the kids at school (as well as himself). This initial episode covers the fortnight that was dedicated to assessing and diagnosing the children using evidence from home and at school and against the recognised diagnostic criteria.

The experts leading this program are: psychologist Prof. Mark Dadds, educational specialist, Dr. Samantha Hornery and paediatrician and ADHD Expert, Prof. Michael Kohn. After working together and with the children for two weeks they diagnose Seth with severe Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), mild ADHD and possible sleep deprivation while Samuel and Emily have ADHD which has most likely developed into ODD. Corey has ADHD, ODD, severe anxiety and possible autism. James is the most difficult child to diagnose but they initially think he has emotional immaturity and ODD.

This documentary series reveals how the parents have to be retrained in the areas of discipline, rewards and praise as well as being consistent with the child and a united force with each other. In some cases, they see some very positive results and this is often through a combination of behavioural strategies and medication. An issue with the series is that there is no postscript to describe what happened (including any further successes or relapses) following the conclusion of filming.

Ultimately, Kids On Speed? is a challenging social experiment that is very honest and revealing and will no doubt resonate with parents and friends of children who have ADHD and/or ODD. It’s not a definitive documentary by any means and it could have been longer (three hours seems short to condense five children’s lives for nine weeks). Despite this, it is still a thought-provoking, engaging and informative analysis of the trials and tribulations of a complex disorder, whose cause is not yet known and one that is only becoming increasingly more prevalent in society.

 

Originally published on 08 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/08/tv-dvd-review-kids-on-speed-australia-2014/

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DVD REVIEW: PERFECT SISTERS

PerfectSisters_still6

 

Perfect Sisters has some good features but that doesn’t mean it’s free from flaws. The film is based on a real life story, a case involving two Canadian sisters who performed matricide. But despite being based on a true crime story, this film is often unbelievable, flippant and lacking in emotion and tension.

The movie is an adaptation of a book by Bob Mitchell, The Class Project: How to Kill a Mother: The True Story of Canada’s Infamous Bathtub Girls and it also marks the directorial debut of Stanley M. Brooks, who is known for being a producer. The result is something that blends together fantasy, a family drama, a social melodrama and a comedy. So what could have been an intense, haunting and disturbing feature instead seems to take a more superficial middle ground where the plot is all a little too conveniently stitched up.

The story goes that Linda Anderson (Mira Sorvino) is an alcoholic, party-loving deadbeat of a mother. She fails to hold down a steady job and allows her daughters to be subjected to her string of violent and abusive boyfriends in order to pay the rent. Her most recent beau, Steve Bowman (James Russo) is no exception and even makes sexual advances towards her youngest daughter.

The sisters do have each other though. Beth (Georgie Henley (The Chronicles Of Narnia)) and Sandra (Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)) have an almost co-dependent relationship. It is also obvious that these two young actresses have a clear, on-screen chemistry that will convince audiences that they are really siblings.

Eventually the girls tire of their miserable and dysfunctional home lives (especially after requests for outside help are ignored) and they joke about killing their irresponsible mother. They believe they can make it all look like an accident. In the film the girls are made to look like victims (they are even shown fantasizing about an “idealised” mum) in a series of strange vignettes but the worst of these is the insensitive and out of place one where they imagine killing their mother in various different scenarios. In real life and in media reports, the sisters seemed a lot more cold-blooded and ruthless, they enjoyed spending a huge insurance payout after the death and seemed less concerned with bettering themselves and their dreary lives (at least at the time).

This film suffers from an unfocused and forced script as well as voiceovers and montages that detract away from the real, stranger-than-fiction story. Ultimately this makes for a plodding film that feels more like a television special. Perfect Sisters is at least redeemed in the final act by a series of interesting and gripping events but the whole thing feels like a bunch of missed opportunities and people trying to salvage things that were way beyond repair.

 

Originally published on 05 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/05/dvd-review-perfect-sisters-canada-2014/

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FILM REVIEW: THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT

the human

 

When we consume every day, household products we assume that the ingredients have all been tested and are safe for humans to use. But what if this assumption was wrong? The Human Experiment is a documentary that looks at the pervasive, hidden chemicals that are found in all of the things we commonly use- from cosmetics to furniture, cleaning products to sunscreens and more. It also suggests that we are playing a game of Russian roulette with our health.

The film is the third documentary to be made by journalists, Dana Nachman and Don Hardy with actor, Sean Penn narrating the story (this is the second collaboration between Penn and the filmmakers after they worked together on Witch Hunt). The film is an explosive and emotional one that looks deeply into the lives of individuals whose conditions may have been exacerbated by exposure to chemicals. The crew also interview activists and lobbyists working together towards greener laws as well as offering input from doctors, academics and American politicians.

In the pharmaceutical industry, organisations are arguably more accountable. They must first show that a product is safe for use before it is placed onto the market. With consumer goods, however, the companies are allowed to assume that their products (and ingredients) are safe for consumption unless it is proven otherwise (along with sufficient evidence). One of The Human Experiment’s goals is to change this, making powerful and profitable businesses more responsible from the outset.

The story looks closely at a 37 year old woman who was diagnosed with a stage 2 breast cancer despite being a non-drinker, having a healthy diet and being active. They also look at a couple who are having difficult conceiving a child because the woman has Polycystic Ovary Syndrome but to medics she presents as a 25-year-old who should be able to fall pregnant naturally. They also interview a family with a non-verbal, autistic son who is 12 years old and isn’t toilet trained as well as a young teen activist and a businessman who has made significant changes at his company.

The film argues that over the past 45 years there has been an increase in the rates of asthma, childhood brain cancer, ADHD, children’s leukaemia, early on-set puberty, genital deformities in baby boys, life-threatening birth defects and more. This higher prevalence does not prove causation (although the film often attempts to paint it this way). For some chemicals the jury is not yet out, meaning some may be completely benign while others could be very harmful or even deadly.

It is interesting to see the film explain how large corporations employ discrediting and distracting tactics in order to push their own agenda and convince people that their products are safe. But one can’t help but question whether this film has gone too far down the opposite route and into the realm of preaching. And on balance it is only telling one side of the story (although in some cases they point out that the supporters of chemicals had declined to be interviewed).

The Human Experiment is an interesting documentary that should be considered the initial chapter in opening up a dialogue about toxic chemicals. It is good that films like this can draw these sorts of social issues to people’s attentions and explain it in an engaging format so that they can then be empowered to go off to research and make up their own minds. Ultimately, this documentary is an emotionally-charged film that enforces the idea that there are high stakes involved in our choice of household goods and if nothing else, this film will make you think.

 

Originally published on 04 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/05/environmental-film-festival-review-the-human-experiment-usa-2013/

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FILM REVIEW: TEENAGE

teenage

 

It may be hard to believe but there was a point in history where the idea of the teenager didn’t exist. You were either a child or an adult, there was no other option. Teenage is a documentary that is directed by Matt Wolf and is adapted from the book, Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture by Jon Savage. The film tracks the evolution of the teenager and is an ambitious and artistic time capsule that is not a definitive article by any means.

Teenage lovingly draws together old photographs and clips from newsreels, TV, films and advertisements, plus newly re-created scenes that are in keeping with the periods. The film focuses on the time between 1900 and 1950 and sadly fails to address the subject’s biggest point (the 1960s and beyond). As a result the overall outlook tends to err more on the side of bubbly exuberance than on the modern teenage phenomenon of depression and angst.

The old photographs and stills are combined with voiceovers based on old diary entries and interviews with teenagers from the time. Actors like Ben Whishaw, Jena Malone, Jessie Usher and Julia Hummer represent the teens that are: an English male, an American female, an African-American male and a German female. This is the film’s other pitfall, as it only draws on the experiences of teens living in those three countries, not any others. Another issue is that the first-person narratives delivered by voiceovers are supposed to resonate with the audience, but on a few occasions these feel artificial and hollow.

The film makes some sweeping generalisations about teens from the boy scouts, the bright young things, the jitterbugs and the Hitler Youth. At times the term “teenager” seems a bit of a stretch (especially in one case describing a 19-year old). But it is a bold look at youth culture, work, politics and war, although there is a tendency for these incidents to be overshadowed by the history of the time, rather than offer any real insight about the teenagers’ true experiences.

The film’s big positive is its contemporary score by Bradford Cox (Deerhunter). The music is good at setting the different moods with dark atmospherics resembling New Order’s work for the gloomier times to more upbeat music during the more vibrant periods. Another great addition is a clip of Judy Garland singing “I’m An In-Between” about being older than a girl but not yet a woman.

Teenager is ultimately a dreamy and episodic anthropological study and poetic, visual essay. It’s fast pace will hold your attention and leave you wanting more (perhaps even a whole series on the topic). This stream-of-conscious style documentary is an intimate portrait about our pubescent years that is a little confused about the point it’s trying to make. There is no question however, that this project smells like teen spirit.

 

Originally published on 05 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/05/sydney-underground-film-festival-review-teenage-usa-germany-2013/

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FILM REVIEW: SLOW FOOD STORY

slowfood

 

When you shop at a farmers’ market or eat at a restaurant that displays the food’s providence on the menu (and the ingredients are local and fresh), chances are the name Carlo Petrini doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But he is the man who is responsible for the rise in these things. Petrini is the founder of the Slow Food movement, they are a group of food enthusiasts who advocate good, clean, tasty and fair food products and are also the subject of the documentary, Slow Food Story.

The film is narrated by Petrini’s best friend, Azio Citi and is written and directed by mutual friend, Steffano Sardo(who also has family members involved in the movement). The film is an interesting one but it does at times suffer from hagiography, which is no doubt the result of the film’s participants being too close to the subject. At times the story is also a little muddled and lacks a clear arc, as lots of ideas are presented (often with few details provided) about the many topics associated with Petrini and Slow Food.

The film’s director has said that it was difficult to condense so many topics into such a short timeframe and that it is difficult to distinguish Slow Food from the life of Carlo Petrini. For this reason the film jumps between the two subjects and often focuses more on the visionary man than his creation. It begins with his childhood, living in the regional Italian town of Bra where a total of 27,000 people live. In his early days, Petrini was involved in left-wing politics and activism and he also staged various rallies and other events around food (he was also contributing articles to the La Stampa and La Republica newspapers at the time).

Petrini was also involved in launching the first-ever comprehensive book about the wines of Italy (this was launched in response to the methanol scandal in the eighties, which claimed several lives). In 2004 he also founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Northern Italy. But his biggest contribution to society would have to be his founding of the Slow Food concept.

This idea – which spawned a movement – was created in 1986 in response to the first McDonald’s restaurant opening in Italy. The golden arches were an eyesore amongst the historic, Roman buildings but what they represented was even worse. Petrini was upset that these homogenised fast foods were impersonal and industrialised and threatened local tavernas serving homemade recipes from local products, not to mention Italian tradition and heritage. Petrini is an ebullient, witty and charismatic character who is often seen in this film giving talks and interviews. By the end you are won over by his lovely personality and laughing at the story about his first meeting with Prince Charles.

Petrini is a larger-than-life character and this documentary fits his personality. It contains quirky animations and characters, as well as vintage footage (some of which doesn’t always fit- at one point there is a strange segue to show two Italian twins’ music). Ultimately, Slow Food Story is a feel-good documentary that is visceral, thought-provoking and colourful. But it would’ve helped if more meat had been added in places and fat cut away in others. In short it’s a good meal but it’s not always excellent.

 

Originally published on 04 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/04/environmental-film-festival-review-slow-food-story-italy-ireland-2013/

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INTERVIEW: FILMMAKER, DON HARDY ABOUT THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT

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We as consumers may not realise that using everyday products is a lot like playing a game of Russian roulette. All sorts of consumables are laden with chemicals and independent testing is often rare or non-existent. Chemical companies are also very profitable and powerful machines, but there is hope as individuals out there strive to make these organisations more accountable. The stories of these people along with others who are adopting cleaner and healthier lifestyles are the subject of the documentary film, The Human Experiment. The Iris’ Natalie Salvo interviewed filmmaker, Don Hardy to learn more about this social issue.

Can you briefly describe The Human Experiment for us?

The Human Experiment asks the question: With thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday products, have we all become unwitting guinea pigs in one giant human experiment? Our film goes behind the scenes in the fight to protect all of us from these toxic products before they cause irrevocable harm to our health.

The film follows a band of unlikely activists who are fighting back. Ranging from Howard, a conservative businessman, to Maria, a Latina house cleaner, they are staking their lives on this battle to protect our health. And their opposition is goliath. The powerful and well-funded chemical industry is heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, pulling unseen strings to create an aura of scepticism and confusion.

What encouraged you make this film?

My partner Dana Nachman and I have been working together for more than a decade and she came to me with the idea. Initially I was very sceptical. I didn’t want to believe that many of these chemicals, which are in the products I was using every day, could be sold to consumers without being tested for their safety. As we dug deeper into researching the story it became clear there was a fight raging between activists who believe there is a serious risk to health and chemical companies with billions dollars on the line, so we decided to begin documenting their story.

Why should people care about what chemicals are in household items?

People should care because we all use these products every day. We use them on our children. They’re inside of us. And the increased rates of cancer, asthma, ADHD, genital deformities in baby boys, and birth defects are staggering. Many people are looking for answers and many leading experts are considering chemicals as a likely candidate. The truth is, until these chemicals are tested we will never know for sure. Hopefully our film will help bring this issue to light for more people and we can all join together to force our governments to require companies to pay for independent testing of their products before they can be sold to consumers. It can be done. The European Union is already doing it.

Do you have any tips for people who want to avoid toxic chemicals in their household goods?

Buy less – The number one thing you can do is buy less stuff. Limit your exposure by reducing the amount of products you use every day

Buy smarter – There are good resources available for consumers where they can find products which have been tested for their safety like:

Our website –  thehumanexperimentmovie.com

Skin Deep database – http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Good Guide – http://www.goodguide.com/

Take off your shoes when you enter your house – we track a lot of nasty stuff into our homes from outside.

Dust often – many chemicals travel…they end up on the floor where our children play and on surfaces we touch.

Open your windows – outdoor air quality is much better than indoor air quality so open up your windows whenever you can.

How can people get involved in this movement?

Share what you know with your friends. We have a very active group on our Facebook and Twitter pages. You can follow what’s happening with the movement there and you can join the conversation.

https://www.facebook.com/TheHumanExperiment

https://twitter.com/ChemicalMovie

Sean Penn is the documentary’s narrator. How did he get involved in this project? Do you have any other celebrities or high profile people supporting this cause?

We’re so lucky to be working with Sean again on this project. This is our third collaboration with him and he has taught us a lot about storytelling and production. His voice sets the perfect tone for the film and packs quite a punch. He’s a great guy to have in your corner.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for this movement? Does it look positive?

It’s hard to be positive about this issue when you see how much money chemical companies have and how much our government is stuck in gridlock. However, we believe change needs to come from all of us on the consumer level. If we all band together and decide to stop buying products from companies that don’t care about our health, they will be forced to change their products. Hit them where it hurts…their bank accounts.

Do you have any final comments or things you’d like to add about The Human Experiment for readers of The AU Review?

We’re very proud of our film and feel extremely fortunate to be able to share it with audiences all over the world. This issue affects every man, woman and child on the planet, so hopefully we can all join together to stop the experiment.

 

Originally published on 01 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/01/exclusive-interview-filmmaker-don-hardy-on-his-documentary-the-human-experiment-usa-2013/

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