Nicholas Sparks’ books – just like the film adaptions of his novels – are really only for hopeless romantics. They often require a suspension of disbelief and cynicism. But if the viewer can set these things aside then they’ll often find a pleasant yet predictable romantic drama and tearjerker.

The Best Of Me is the ninth adaptation of Sparks’ work and comes courtesy of director, Michael Hoffman. This story of boy-meets-girl involves a smart man named Dawson who works on an oil rig (James Marsden) and an unhappy married woman called Amanda (Michelle Monaghan). The two were lovers in high school (the younger characters are played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato who look nothing like the grownup actors) and the pair are ultimately reunited. This occurs because their mutual friend – an old widower named Tuck (Gerald McRaney) – passes away, leaving his estate to the two former lovers.

The story is told concurrently with the two finding love in the past (1992) and rediscovering and rekindling their relationship in the present (we witness lots of sweeping shots of tranquil landscapes and kissing in the rain and under a tree). Like many of Sparks’ stories this one involves a boy from humble means and a rich girl whose family disapproves and they both have an epiphany (does this sound like The Notebook to anyone?)

The film also has lots of moments where the characters discuss fate and destiny and their importance. At its worst this philosophical navel gazing is like a schmaltzy greeting card. At times the proceedings are too saccharine and cloying, but there are also other moments that are bittersweet as the pair find, loose and rediscover “true” love.

The Best Of Me is predictable and at times far too reminiscent of other Nicholas Sparks adaptations. It is also a nice piece of escapism for anyone wanting a simple but overly sentimental story. At its best it is engaging, warm and emotional, although for some people all of this softness and light will be smothering and slow.


Originally published on 29 October 2014 at the following website:

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Brilliant Creatures is a two-part television series that celebrates four iconic Australians. Feminist and libertarian,Germaine Greer; writer/broadcaster/memoirist and poet, Clive James; the late firebrand, art critic, Robert Hughes; and savage satirist Barry Humphries all share things in common. The most important thing is that they left Australian in the fifties and sixties in order to make their marks on the world. This show gets the icons and their friends to talk about the journey and their influence with a great sense of celebrating history and nostalgia.

The show is hosted by Booker prize winner, Howard Jacobson. He begins by talking about James’ childhood in an unassuming house in Kogarah and Hughes’ schooling at Riverview College. Both Greer and Humphries shared a mutual disdain for Melbourne and this sowed the seeds for their escape. Once they were overseas, these tall poppies were liberated and they eventually flourished by finding stiff competition in the likes of London and New York and expressing their intellectual prowess with a great sense of bold, Australian uncouthness.

A lot of archive footage including clips and photographs are used to set the scene and provide both historical and cultural context. Australia was considered by many to be a blessed land for making it out of World War II relatively unscathed. But for these big fish, this pond was simply too small for them and they were bored living here.

It is fitting that Jacobson interviews James, Greer and Humphries, enabling them to reminisce and offer their own personal recollections of the different periods. Among this history lesson is also a series of interesting talking head interviews with a long and industrious cast including: Eric Idle, Michael Parkinson, Phillip Adams, Kathy Lette, Bruce Beresford, Melvyn Bragg, Martin Amis, Thomas Keneally and Grayson Perry.

Ultimately, Brilliant Creatures is an interesting and evocative look at the Australian invasion of England and beyond. It is non-linear and could have been improved if it were a little more ordered. But one thing is for certain this is a worthy historical chapter and a great romp through the virtual verbosity of our very own Fab Four.


Originally published on 17 September 2014 at the following website:

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Hector & The Search For Happiness is about a psychiatrist who sets out on an overseas journey in order to find joy. The idea is hardly a new one, especially as the self-help genre has already seen the likes of Eat Pray Love and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, among others. Unfortunately, Hector’s story is neither a profound spiritual one nor is it a particularly funny or light comedy. Instead, it’s a rambling and hollow romp that is merely pleasant.

Simon Pegg of The Cornetto Trilogy fame stars as the eponymous Hector in this adaptation of a novel by François Lelord. Pegg’s performance is a solid one but the character is difficult to like and appreciate. This guy is more like a man-child and he is already rich insofar as he has a good job, an attractive and sweet girlfriend (an underused, Rosamund Pike) and a nice, inner-city apartment. But Hector is not content with his lot and decides to embark on a trip.

Along this journey of self-discovery, Hector meets a wealthy businessman (Jean Reno) and a sexy, Chinese woman (Ming Zhao). He also meets a drug lord in “Africa” (the actual country is not specified) and he is imprisoned by their militia. He also gets some advice from a Tibetan monk (Togo Igawa) before meeting up with old flame (Toni Collette), who manages to slap some sense into him with the help of a happiness expert, Professor Coreman (Christopher Plummer).

As Hector has new experiences and learns stuff, he writes down his lessons in a journal. But these sit somewhere between garden-variety pop psychology and the contents of a fortune cookie. These are also featured in animated sequences which make for a different touch by director, Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana). But ultimately, the lessons and guidance feel shallow, obvious and sanctimonious as they’re all things we’ve heard before. It also isn’t helped that Hector isn’t a particularly likeable or engaging character as he is a selfish and self-important white man who feels a sense of entitlement to everything.

Hector & The Search For Happiness is a long, clichéd, contrived and predictable film that doesn’t really succeed as a comedy or a drama. Its soft handling and pithy observations do nothing to endear an inherently unlikeable character and the laboured episodes from his silly life. A series of great cameos could not redeem this uneven and ultimately forgettable film.


Originally published on 13 October 2014 at the following website:

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Won’t somebody think of the children? This may be Helen Lovejoy’s catchphrase from The Simpsons but it could also be used to sum up the documentary,InRealLife. The film could have asked a series of timely and important questions about the Internet but instead it feels like heavy-handed and judgemental scare-mongering.

The film is written and directed by Beeban Kidron who is best known for her work in Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. She is also no stranger to directing documentaries and making films about important social issues. InInRealLife she questions what affect the internet is having on young and vulnerable minds. She says she was prompted to make the film after seeing so many teens being constantly connected to electronic devices but really, in statements like this she comes across sounding like a prejudiced luddite.

Kidron interviews some English teenagers who are candid in what they reveal. One might also argue that they seem like more extreme cases, like a teenager who put herself in a situation where she was gang-raped in order to save the phone she had previously prostituted herself in order to get. There are also two 15 year old guys who are porn addicts that have difficulty maintaining real-life relationships (but at least they are perceptive enough to offer some interesting insights into this). There’s also a 19-year old who was kicked out of Oxford because he didn’t do his coursework after spending hours gaming (but this procrastination may have had nothing to do with technology).

InRealLife also tackles the issues of data privacy, storage and cyberbullying. Kidron also talks to the bereaved parents of a boy who committed suicide because of this. Among these personal stories, Kidron also presents interviews with academics and computer experts including Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Walesand Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame. These add an air of credibility to the documentary, but the Internet is such a vast and complex subject that in some cases the points they made are hardly new or revelatory. In other situations, too many points are tackled either at once or in quick succession, meaning the execution feels hollow as things barely scratch beyond the surface.

The documentary also features a muddled interlude with some YouTube stars including a pointless discussion with Tobuscus (Toby Joe Turner) . Some video montages of YouTube clips featuring some things that were previously viral hits also seem at odds with the rest of the story. At other points in the film, Kidron also uses shots of blinking servers and large clumps of cabling in stark and cold computer rooms and in tunnels below the ground and these are coupled with dark and ominous industrial sounds. This music is overbearing and this footage is used repeatedly and only adds to the finger-pointing feel of this conservative and patronising film.

InRealLife looked like it had an agenda from the outset and that was to shock people with its content and the factoids that are sprinkled throughout. But overall it feels in cohesive and like information overload with data that seems skewed towards the more negative aspects of the Internet. The film lacks focus and feels unbalanced and incomplete (very few positive views of the Internet are expressed and representatives from major technology firms declined to be interviewed). Ultimately, InRealLife may pose some valid and worthwhile questions about how the Web affects our society and culture, but if fails to provide a complete or informative insight into such a multi-faceted, important and complicated subject.


Originally published on 17 September 2014 at the following website:

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