FILM REVIEW: SERENA

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Serena is an adaptation of a Ron Rash novel that at times is considered even too strange to be fiction. This period drama starts off as a sumptuous, romantic tale set in North Carolina during the Depression. It is a slow burn to begin with but in the final act it turns into a bizarre melodrama where a suspension of disbelief is not just recommended but essential.

The film is directed by Susanne Bier and sees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) working together again. The former plays George Pemberton, an ambitious entrepreneur who is building his own logging empire. The latter plays the eponymous lead character, a spirited and independent woman who was never going to sit on her laurels, much less sip tea in society or do needlework.

The two characters have a whirlwind romance and the actors also share a noticeable chemistry. Upon meeting, Pemberton says, “I think we should be married” and in the next scene they are. When Pemberton brings Serena to his home and introduces her to the business (where he also declares that she is equal to any man there) this upsets his business partner, Buchanan (David Dencik) who appears to harbour feelings for the boss. Tragedy then strikes but the various subplots involving a corrupt sheriff (Toby Jones), a business manager (Sean Harris), a crazed logger (Rhys Ifans) and the mother of an illegitimate child (Ana Ularu) feel very forced and convoluted.

There is no denying that Serena is a pretty picture. There are lots of sweeping shots of misty mountaintops and forests and the costumes boast the flash and pomp of the era. But this style cannot redeem a film that began as a realistic-enough period drama from descending into full-blown madness or a preposterous melodrama of epic proportions.

The themes in Serena are interesting- from betrayal to obsession and jealousy via greed, many human follies are examined. But despite some great power plays plus corruption, lies and tragedies involving love and loyalty, this film simply isn’t as good as it should have been.

In all, this disturbing tale seems to skip over some aspects of the plot while granting too much time to other elements. The result is something that at its worst is banal and strange and at its best is just plain ordinary. This movie may have boasted some fine produce for ingredients but something got spoiled in the cooking.

 

Originally published on 28 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/28/film-review-serena-usa-france-czech-republic-2014/

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TV REVIEW: THE MOLLY MELDRUM STORY

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If he’s not the King then Ian “Molly” Meldrum is undoubtedly the Queen of Australian music. The broadcaster, raconteur, producer, TV presenter, journalist, band manager and passionate music fan has seen and done it all. To celebrate some 50 years in the music industry as well as his upcoming induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame,Music Max have put together a special and biography that celebrates the mirth and madness that is The Molly Meldrum Story.

This two-hour special will soon premiere on Max. The producers of this were fortunate in that they had unprecedented access to the subject as well as Jeff Jenkins, Meldrum’s biographer. This means the story is often told in Molly’s own words and is accompanied by a huge archive of footage, photos and recent interviews that document his periods as the host of Countdown and star of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, among other things. There is a great wealth of fabulous anecdotes and legendary stories about this colourful character, as well as some funny bloopers, which keep things light and joyous.

The list of interviewees is enormous and reads like a who’s who of Australian music. There are music industry heavyweights, Michael Gudinski and Michael “Chuggy” Chugg. There are also artists from the Countdown period including: John Paul Young, Todd Hunter (Dragon), Brian Mannix (Uncanny X-Men), Greg Macainsh (Skyhooks), Ross Wilson, Leo Sayer, Marcia Hines and more.

Then there are the younger artists who loved the show and Molly too, like: Kasey Chambers, Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate) and Kram (Spiderbait). There’s also Russell Morris because Molly produced his biggest hit, “The Real Thing” as well as Glenn Wheatley because his band, The Masters Apprentices were produced by the man in the hat. Heck, even people that didn’t benefit from Countdown like Midnight Oil and Mark Seymour even stop by!

The Molly Meldrum story doesn’t descend into pure hagiography which is commendable as Molly is an icon that is loved by lots of different people. This was evident in the outpouring of support that he received after he had a bad accident in 2011.This special doesn’t hold back in revealing Meldrum’s partying ways; his manic and experimental methods for doing things; his melodramatic personality all-round; and even his propensity to have things descend into a bout of fisticuffs. After all, this man was once punched in the head by Jimmy Barnes’ wife, Jane!

The Molly Meldrum Story is insightful, fascinating and a relatable tale of rags-to-riches. From his identity struggles as a teenage Beatles fan to his becoming an accidental critic and TV presenter, this shows that a lot of ground is covered. There is even time to address his obsession with Egyptian paraphernalia and his famous rock star friends (his little black book would be enormous). This special is entertaining, fun and a must-see for any self-respecting music fan. And as the man in the hat would say: “Do yourself a favour!”

 

Originally published on 25 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/25/tv-review-the-molly-meldrum-story-music-max-australia-2014/

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DVD REVIEW: WAY OF THE WICKED

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The Way Of The Wicked is the film version of a dead-end. At first glance it offers some promise as it’s a story about a satanic, teenage boy who has telekinetic powers. But it’s not long before the proceedings go from haunting to staid and the drama becomes predictable and forgettable.

The story begins with Robbie (Ryan Grantham) who is bullied by two other kids. The trio have a confrontation which results in one of the thugs dying in mysterious circumstances. This prompts a creepy local priest (Christian Slater who appears in the film for little more than 10 minutes) to question whether Robbie is the devil incarnate. These accusations prompt Robbie’s family to leave their small hometown.

Five years pass and Robbie (now played by Jake Croker) returns to the community where he meets up with his former friend, Heather (Emily Tennant) who is now a very pretty and popular young lady. Robbie had had a crush on Heather when he was younger and he moves to rekindle their friendship. This is much to the ire of Heather’s boyfriend – an obnoxious jock named Greg (Aren Buchholz) – and Heather’s father, a local detective named John Elliot (Vinnie Jones utilising his London accent, which seems out of place in this small, American town). Greg has a series of accidents before dying due to mysterious circumstances, prompting people to square the blame at Robbie.

In Way Of The Wicked, director, Kevin Carraway takes his inspiration from Carrie and The Omen. But this film is nothing but a painful homage or slice of second-rate dredge when compared to these horror classics. Here, a disturbed teenager is at the forefront of some strange events and appears to have supernatural powers, but the similarities between the three end here.

The script by Matthew Robert Kelly is nothing short of lacklustre with awkward and implausible lines (like a father calling his teenage daughter, “Babe”). There are also lots of odd situations stitched together (like a now defrocked priest keeping watch on the teens from various bushes and shadows). The performances are variable with some of the actors flitting between over-the-top deliveries and melodrama (see: Jones and Tennant) while others are completely wooden and monotonous (see: Crocker).

In all, Way Of The Wicked is a weak, paranormal, teen romance that is about as suspenseful as a lukewarm cup of tea. The characters are not particularly engaging and the plot suffers from being overly simplistic. Even a supposed twist could be seen by anyone with half a brain from a mile off. In sum, this Z-grade film is lacking in positive qualities and is ultimately just another throwaway teen flick.

 

Originally published on 16 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/16/dvd-review-way-of-the-wicked-usa-canada-2014/

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FILM REVIEW: MY OLD LADY

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My Old Lady is a family melodrama that proves there’s no such thing as a free lunch. When a down-and-out American inherits a large apartment in Paris from his late father he thinks all of his pay days have come at once. But the residence comes with some strings attached, namely an old lady, her prickly, unmarried daughter and some large skeletons in the closet.

The film is an adaption of a play by Israel Horovitz and it also marks the directorial debut for this 75-year old playwright (and father of Beastie Boy, Ad-Rock). The film is a rich portrait of quietly observed characters that is slow, nuanced and better suited to its original home, the stage. It sees Kevin Klineplaying Mathias Gold, a bitter and penniless New Yorker who blames his father for every problem in his life (and this has continued despite the old man dying).

The “Old Lady” in question is Mathilde Girard played by Dame Maggie Smith, a former bohemian and 92-year old English expat living in Paris. She sold the apartment to Gold’s father in a viager agreement a few decades back. This is a French tradition that meant that little money was paid up-front but as a result she gets to live there rent free until death and she is also entitled to a monthly stipend (payable originally by Gold’s father and assumed by the son after he had inherited the property).

Kristin Scott Thomas plays the old woman’s icy daughter, Chloé Girard, who is forthright in her convictions. She wants the apartment to stay out of the hands of greedy developers. But this is at odds with Gold’s wishes because all he wants to do is amass a tidy $9 million for the place. The film is a little contrived in parts (especially in the relationship that subsequently unfolds between Gold and the junior Girard). That said, the chemistry between all three lead actors is obvious and they all put in fabulous performances.

My Old Lady has a beautiful backdrop in Paris and explores the parent-child relationship in detail, particularly when it turns toxic and is laced with resentment, self-pity and ruminations about how things should have been different. It achieves this through a series of sub-plots and monologues which mean it would have been better suited to the stage rather than the screen. It is also a sensitive drama that occasionally veers off into territory that is like a dark and whimsical comedy and at its worse it is bland. But for all of the solid performances, intricate emotions and vivid characters, there is still a little something missing from this familial portrait.

 

Originally published on 16 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/16/film-review-my-old-lady-uk-france-usa-2014/

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THEATRE REVIEW: BRAZOUKA @ ENMORE THEATRE

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Brazouka made it feel like the Rio Carnival had come to the Enmore. It saw comedian, Billy Connolly acting as the voice of authority and it had the promise of dusky temptresses plus colour and candour from the get-go. It was also a setting where gyrating uncontrollably wasn’t frowned upon but in fact actively encouraged. Brazouka is also the story of Braz Dos Santos, a name that may not mean much to people outside of the world of dance until you play some zouk music and the “Lambada”, yes that eighties song by Kaoma!

The show is produced by Connolly’s wife, Pamela Stephenson-Connolly who is a relatively new fan to this style of Brazilian dance. This show tells the story of Santos from his underprivileged beginnings in Porto Seguro in Brazil where he was forced at the age of 10 to be a fisherman with his brother, Didi to help feed the family. That was until a bad storm set the two brothers on a path towards the Lambada where they’d eventually be asked to go to Paris and the rest is all history. This is an interesting and inspirational rags-to-riches tale but it did seem like this incredible story was secondary to the amazing dance sequences and costumes this evening (even though the dialogue was mostly Dos Santos’ own words).

Brazouka featured 18 different dancers. There were 10 men (including Dos Santos) and eight women. This group form part of a new Brazilian dance troupe. They are all complete professionals who approach every dance with a kind of seamless grace and beauty that makes it all look so fun and effortless. They give the impression – with their artful precision – that they’d been performing these moves for decades, except that they share a youth’s exuberance, passion and enthusiasm for it all.

The costumes were amazing. They ranged from the tiny little skirts and G-strings that featured in Kaoma’s music video through to long floating skirts plus outfits worthy of cheerleaders, tourists and goddesses. There were even costumes that looked like they’d come straight off a belly dancer or two. The showstoppers, however, were when the gorgeous dancers performed their final number, as the men were buff and bare-chested and wearing black pants and heels. The ladies wore huge headdresses and skin tight suits with Brazouka written in glittery writing and tiny G-strings on top, giving the impression of being completely naked as they sashayed about.

The music included the more traditional Latino pop and Afrobeats but there were also some mainstream songs thrown into the mix including Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” and “Diamonds”. A highlight of the evening was hearing the actual “Lambada” not once but twice. These two renditions had everyone clapping along joyfully, there wasn’t a face in the house that wasn’t beaming in wonder.

The dances were varied to suit the music. Some dances could even be thought of as influencing Zumba because while Dos Santos wasn’t involved in creating this particular style, there is some cross over between the two genres. So one minute you could enjoy a sexy Lambada or a spicy rumba that looked like it was straight out of Dirty Dancing. Another number might see some cheery swing or even a goddess delivering a slower, more interpretive dance routine with fast ballet moves before another moment was pulsating with Afrobeats and bongos. The most outstanding parts of the evening were the high octane aerials, flips, jumps and dips. These steps were nothing short of amazing and quite often had people applauding or gasping from their seats.

Brazouka was a hypnotic, visceral and dazzling shock to the senses in much the same way as Cirque du Soleil’s shows often are. The beats were infectious, the colours were as bright as a hot rainbow and the dancers were all so passionate, emotive and energetic. The whole thing is a grand spectacle for anyone who enjoys witnessing the power of the dance and especially when it unfolds before you in such resplendent glory.

 

Originally published on 14 November 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/theatre-review-brazouka-enmore-theatre-sydney

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DVD REVIEW: SPIKE ISLAND

Still from Spike Island

 

Imagine The Inbetweeners if they were an aspiring jangly rock quintet living in Manchester in 1990. The result would be Spike Island.The film tells the story of a gang of lads who just want to get off with girls, be in a band and meet their idols, The Stone Roses at the latter band’s Spike Island show. This coming-of-age drama is ramshackle, euphoric and an earnest celebration of one part of the Madchester scene.

The story is a fictional one that feels forced but is based on a true event. The Spike Island concert would become as legendary as The Beatles’ rooftop gig or The Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. The film is directed by Mat Whitecross and written by Chris Coghill, who clearly know their Manis from their Hookys. And while the premise seems good enough, the plot is insubstantial as there isn’t enough here by itself to fuel a full-length feature. Instead, a series of subplots involving the major characters in various forms of hijinks and mischief are introduced with varying effect.

Elliott Tittensor plays “Tits” who is the leader of the pack. His wayward brother has sorted the group out with tickets to Spike Island. Or has he? Tits and his mates soon encounter a series of different obstacles to the gig, including parental sickness, a bizarre love triangle, a violent father, a van without petrol and a driver that hasn’t considered a map. The characters are all likeable and interesting enough but what really endears this film is the classic music by The Stone Roses, which forms the bulk of the film’s soundtrack.

Spike Island doesn’t have the same panache as a John Hughes film but it’s also more than just another teen movie. It is one brimming with bundles of joy, energy and heart (and the odd, daggy cliché). Fans of the Roses or the nineties will love this fun and nostalgic romp (that includes cameos from stars of Misfits and Game Of Thrones). But there will also be more than a few of us wishing we had actually been there at the time or that we had a film of the Spike Island gig itself, but that would involve some kind of second coming…

 

Originally published on 10 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/10/dvd-review-spike-island-uk-2012/

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FOOD REVIEW: GAZZI RESTAURANT & BAR IN WORLD SQUARE, SYDNEY

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Gazi is a former gasworks site located in Central Athens that has been transformed into a popular café, bar and restaurant precinct. It’s also the inspiration behind Gazzi, a new modern Australian restaurant that has launched in World Square shopping centre. Located in Liverpool Lane and open for breakfast, lunch, dinner plus lighter meals and drinks in between, it is proving to be a little green emerald in a precinct that is on an upwards trajectory.

The 50-seater restaurant and bar is owned by Con Lepouris, an experienced operator in the Sydney food scene. Lepouris is also the owner of a small café on Market Street. He said, “With Gazzi, we wanted to create a new dining experience for the CBD based on fresh, gourmet cuisine accompanied by a range of quality beers, wines and cocktails. We are hoping patrons will find it along the lines of the food offerings in Surry Hills, Alexandria and Rosebery – but with the convenience of being in the CBD”.

 

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The AU Review had the opportunity to sit down to dinner at this new café. The venue was just four days old but already the mains of: ocean trout, pork belly and wagyu beef burger had proven popular among the locals. The outer façade of Gazzi is rustic, with its funky, blue-green and white metallic chairs. But it also boasts a leafy, bohemian feel thanks to its use of plants and leaves. It means that the vibe inside is both cosy and relaxing, with tea lights on each table adding an extra softness to the setting.

 

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To start we tried the salt and pepper calamari with parmesan aioli and chilli salt. This was seasoned to perfection and the calamari were very consistent in size. The aioli was smooth and sensual and flavoured with just the right amount of garlic, while the parsley that accompanied it was fresh and flavoured with lemon juice. These golden crescent moons burst with a battered crunch and you also had the option of mixing these pieces with the aioli, the large sea salt flakes on the table or squeezing more lemon juice from a large wedge that was on the plate.

 

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Our entrée also featured the antipasto board that could be shared by at least two people but was fit for a king. It covered many different flavour combinations and textures. The meats included strips of prosciutto and a deep burgundy bresaola, which was swimming in flavour. There were also semi-dried tomatoes that were seasoned with lush herbs. The plank also included a small flask of olive oil and the cheeses included a fluffy white mozzarella and a lemon and pepper curd, which was absolutely divine.

 

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The most surprising element in the antipasti was one of the restaurant’s tapas, the truffle butter popcorn with sea salt and black pepper. These little puff balls had a hint of smoke and a woody taste, but they also worked well when combined with some of the bolder flavours. Other elements dotting the board were star anise flowers, a large selection of black olives and some strips of chilli.

The first of the mains that we tried was the ravioli of lamb shoulder with Kalamata olives, chilli, truss tomato, confit garlic, marinated feta and baby spinach. This dish was a very pretty one that featured a lovely combination of colours. The lamb was not an obvious taste in the pasta but the salty fetta was a welcome addition to the deep, red sauce.

 

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This dish was well-complimented by the Taplow Maze, Central Ranges NSW 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. This was one of a few red wines on the menu that also included additions from the Shiraz, merlot and pinot noir varieties. The cocktails menu also included Gazzi’s interpretations of classics like the Bloody Mary and Cosmopolitan as well as newer blends like Summer Punch and Boysenberry Bellini. A selection of white wines, champagnes, local and imported beers and house spirits were also available.

The second main we tried was the chuck and brisket wagyu burger on brioche with baby cos, vine ripened tomato, misa pitchu sauce and hand cut chips with parmesan aioli. This dish was the most disappointing one of the evening. The chips were golden but very different in shape and texture and the aioli was the same kind of smooth sauce we sampled during the entrée. But the most discouraging was the burger because while it was good, it just wasn’t great. Gourmet burgers have seen a real rise in recent times and while this one had some nice ingredients, it wasn’t as juicy or to the same standard as the places that actually specialise in this area, although perhaps to compare the two may be a little harsh.

 

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The dessert was much better, the affogato boasted three scoops of creamy vanilla gelati plus a shot of Frangelico and Gazzi’s signature, espresso coffee. It all came together quite nicely. But the real winner was the milk chocolate panna cotta with fresh berries. This panna cotta was different from your traditional ones in that it was decadent and like a thick, rich chocolate custard that would hold its own, even when you tried to cut through it. This was topped with strawberries, blueberries and a sugary biscuit and there was a thick, double chocolate macaroon on the side that was delightful. It was a sweet slice of heaven.

 

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John Oakley, the General Manager of Gazzi describes the restaurant and bar as a “One stop shop” and a “chameleon” because it offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. It gives local office workers the opportunity to have a refined and fresh express lunch that is cooked to order. Or couples and groups could have a comfortable dinner or drink. It’s early days for the establishment but the team – which includes chefs that have worked with Bill Granger – are keen to evolve and adapt. Oakley says: “It’s about finding out what works. It’s all new to us all”.

 

 

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Oakley says that they had originally wanted to incorporate something that was a little bit different into World Square. They intend to have a seasonal menu that will make the most of fresh produce and this is something that is very different from the restaurant’s neighbours, which are mostly takeaway shops serving breakfast and lunch. Gazzi also eventually plan to branch out into catering and functions. If one things certain, this café looks poised for a bright future thanks to its winning combination of foods (The AU Review recommends the antipasti plate and panna cotta in particular) plus the attentive service staff and nice and friendly atmosphere all-round. As Oakley says: “It’s exciting for us and we’re happy to be in World Square”.

Gazzi Café & Bar
Address: 680 George Street (Shop 10.28) – World Square Shopping Centre, Sydney, Australia
Gazzi is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. For more information please visit: https://www.facebook.com/gazzicafebar

 

Originally published on 10 November 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/lifestyle/eat/gazzi-restaurant-bar-world-square-sydney

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FILM REVIEW: GET ON UP

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The James Brown biopic, Get On Up captures the very essence of the legendary, Godfather of Soul. It is a frenzied account that goes through story arcs like some people change clean clothes. But first and foremost is the amazing music by a true vanguard and the electric and infectious performance by Chadwick Boseman (42). Overall it is an entertaining portrait of the troubled singer, chameleon entertainer and – by his own admission – “The hardest working man in show business”.

The film is the second offering from actor-turned-director, Tate Taylor (The Help). The story does touch on Brown’s impoverished childhood living in a shack in the Deep South with his unfit parents (played by Viola Davis and Lennie James) but it does not cover these events first. Instead, each anecdote or part of the story (such as his parents rejecting him, an almost comical 1988 arrest, the TV performance where he stole the show from The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger is a producer here) are all interspersed in a non-linear manner, which makes for a rich but sometimes confusing tale.

Lead actor, Boseman may not physically resemble Brown but he is very convincing in the way he gyrates, struts and acts like the man (especially when re-enacting some live performances). He is also ably joined by Dan Aykroyd (who plays Brown’s long-suffering manager) and Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) (Brown’s tried and tested friend and band mate). The supporting actors all put in good performances but their parts are often eclipsed by the egomaniacal weight that is known as James Brown (who even manages to upstage Little Richard (Brandon Smith) when the former meets the effeminate show man for the very first time).

Get On Up sees some re-enactments from Brown’s visceral stage shows and him soaking up the limelight as a chart-topper and perfectionist. But it is the additional and more unconventional anecdotes that make this story an interesting tale about one larger-than-life character. Consider: Brown graduating from poverty only to become a goffer at a brothel and having to fight other poor, young African-American boys for white people’s entertainment. There was also his going to prison for stealing an outfit and finally, the time when he opened fire on an assembly of suits because he was mad at one of them for using his bathroom. His life story is incredible and while the film’s producers could’ve spent more time describing the Soul Man’s drug abuse, domestic violence and the racial issues he encountered in more depth, this would’ve pushed out the run time, which was already substantial.

This musical biopic was an ambitious undertaking (there are even moments where the fourth wall is broken down, injecting a more direct-style of energy to the proceedings). James Brown was a truly complicated man with many different facets, including a dark side. Get On Up’s plot may jump around but the film remains an entertaining and informative, wild ride. It’s a kind of uncompromising, crazed and unconventional mix that reflects the subject matter to a tee.

 

Originally published on 1 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/01/film-review-get-on-up-usa-2014/

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