ALBUM REVIEW: PHILADELPHIA GRAND JURY – SUMMER OF DOOM

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Philadelphia Grand Jury still know how to party (party), and their new single ‘Crashing & Burning Pt. II’ and comeback record Summer Of Doom prove it.

The short and sharp 12 tracks are a raw and red-hot deal that segues off on more tangents than a drunk uncle, and it’s all as bubbly and fun as an enthusiastic teenager.

The trio recorded the album in a whirlwind ten days in Berlin, and often live. This lends the proceedings an energetic and rough-around-the-edges vibe in which some diverse musical styles are referenced – think of everyone from The John Steel Singers (‘Get Happy Again’) to José González (‘Better Send Someone’), and some loud and fast punk in most of the other tracks.

Summer Of Doom is a sprawling and ambitious stroll towards the sun, full of layers and textures and simple yet clever lyrics. It’s sometimes one big Pro Hart-style mess, but mostly it’s full of colourful, rocking indie, punk and soul tunes.

A welcome second trip from the well-loved Philly Jays.

 

Originally published on 28 October 2015 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/philadelphia-grand-jury-summer-doom

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DVD REVIEW: UTOPIA SEASON 2

The ABC's new satire Utopia

 

A lot of people want to live in Utopia but not many would want to work there. Or at least the “Utopia” that’s depicted in the eponymous TV show by the Working Dog production team. The series is a comedy one that feels so real it could have been a documentary if it wasn’t so darned funny.

The series stars Rob Sitch who also serves as the show’s director, co-producer and co-writer. The program is also written by Sitch and his Working Dog colleagues, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner. These are the same people responsible for Frontline and The Hollowmen and this show shares a few things in common with the aforementioned, as well as The Office.

Utopia is set in the offices of the NBA or National Building Authority, a fictional government department responsible for infrastructure and planning. They should be responsible for project managing big-ticket items like urban developments, railway lines and roads including tunnels and bridges. But instead the team get bogged down in other activities like meetings, charity days, computer upgrades that don’t work and ridiculous levels of security and red tape, as well as other absurdities that are typical of white-collar work.

This fast-paced show features an excellent ensemble cast with Celia Pacquola (Offspring) playing the only person besides the CEO to get things done. There’s also the sweet but incompetent Katie (Emma-Louise Wilson), office manager Amy (Michelle Lim Davidson (Play School)), the meticulous Hugh (Luke McGregor) and the innocuous Scott (Dave Lawson). The Project’s Kitty Flanagan and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann also do an excellent job as an image-obsessed PR manager and an oblivious and impractical government official, respectively. The show also includes some great cameos from musician, Ella Hooper, celebrity chef, Shannon Bennett and comedians, Colin Lane and Anh Do.

Utopia is a funny program showing a lot of worker bees being distracted from their jobs and having to negotiate administration and red tape, spin doctors, image makers and the egos of government officials. It shows how ideas have to be compromised and often evolve to a point where they fail to resemble anything that was originally planned. In all, this is a contemporary and topical show that features some strong acting and story lines and despite revelling in the absurdity of life in an office, is actually an accurate indictment on life as a modern, working dog.

 

Originally published on 26 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-utopia-season-two-australia-2015/

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LIVE REVIEW: JUST FOR LAUGHS – THE STAND-UP SERIES (HOSTED BY DAVE THORNTON) @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (23.10.2015)

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The Just for Laughs stand-up series does what it says on the tin. It’s a show that features local comedians doing stand-up routines and is also part of the Just for Laughs Sydney Comedy Festival. It’s also a mini comedy gala hosted by Dave Thornton and included some billed and some surprise guests. It proved to be a fun little evening, which definitely had its moments.

Dave Thornton has hosted the show before and once again did an excellent job of warming the crowd up and acting as the glue between the acts. He was funny when he talked about how crazy the signs on toilet doors have become (the simple male/female universal signage has been replaced by top hats and feather boas and in the stupidest example in a hipster café, a rake and a shovel). He was self-deprecating as he described his not being useful in an apocalypse and at the same time, talked up tradies. He had a very funny story involving a laid-back plumber who made a cool $200 in 10 minutes.

Dirty Laundry Live’s Lawrence Mooney spent a good part of his set impersonating Malcolm Turnbull and getting upset about missing Tony Abbott. It wasn’t bad but he did spent a little too long on some unfocused political material. Mel Buttle (The Great Australian Bake Off) went into a bit too much detail about her pelvic ultrasound and her fear of snakes. Her set could have done with an edit or two.

Steen Raskopoulos should be commended for taking an ambitious approach to his set. He reviewed Frozen (haven’t we moved on yet?) while dressed like a priest. He also ran a very funny freestyle rap competition. Raskopoulos’ set probably works better on TV as a series of sketches. In the context of a live environment and specifically a comedy gala it had its moments but you also got the sense that this wasn’t achieving all that it could have done.

The two best comedians of the evening were undoubtedly Wil Anderson (Gruen) and Celia Pacquola (Utopia). The Gruenhost’s delivery was very tight and polished as he told us about his osteoarthritis. It’s a horrible-sounding condition affecting 50% of people over 70. It’s also one that isn’t helped by health professionals who doll out advice like keep a pair of barbeque tongs handy in case you need to pick stuff up. Pacquola on the other hand was very funny whilst describing modern dating and being a single girl who went to a cat café. Her funniest joke was when she was defining that anxious feeling you get when your flatmate jumps into bed with you, until you realise you live alone!

The Stand-up Series offered up lots of local comedians doing their best routines. The night was a bit hit and miss with some comedians offering up hilarious, A+ material while others could have done with an edit or a slightly different platform to work with. In all, this was a fun, little comedy night celebrating home-grown talent in an iconic, Aussie venue.

Originally published on 26 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/comedy/just-for-laughs-stand-up-series-hosted-by-dave-thornton-sydney-opera-house-23-10-15

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LIVE REVIEW: JUST FOR LAUGHS COMEDY GALA (FEATURING DANNY BHOY, TOMMY TIERNAN, STEPHEN K AMOS, AL MURRAY, DAVE HUGHES, WIL ANDERSON & CELIA PACQUOLA) @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (24.10.2015)

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The Just For Laughs Sydney comedy festival turned five this year, and to celebrate it held two all-star comedy galas at the iconic Sydney Opera House. The lineup of seven comedians included top-notch international and local talent giving us all about ten to 15 minutes of their funniest, A-plus material.

Celia Pacquola opened the night, making some great points about Tiger Airways (why would you name an airline after an animal that doesn’t fly and kills people?) as well as modern dating, rings and wristies. It was a cheeky set, almost the opposite of Danny Bhoy’s material, as he made some funny swipes at politics, religion and celebrity.

Dave Hughes and Tommy Tiernan did more personal material about their families. Hughes played the part of the loveable Aussie bogan well, as he described travelling with three young kids in his own unique style. Tiernan, however, was the flattest comedian of the night.

Wil Anderson was a polished performer, with some hilarious material about his osteoarthritis and meeting a crazy survivalist in Alaska. Stephen K Amos was also very well prepared, offering up a thoughtful spot on racism and homophobia, and he even brought in his own bag of Allen’s chicos to really bring the message home.

One of the zaniest performances of the evening was The Pub Landlord, AKA Al Murray. He sloshed beer around the Opera House stage and made some great exchanges with the audience. It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-style slot, but it really seemed to suit the gala format and was a good little interlude.

The short and sharp sets from these seven talented comedians left many people wanting more, as they’d each done a stellar job of taking us on a ride and making us laugh.

Originally published on 27 October 2015 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/just-laughs-all-star-gala

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TV REVIEW: RICHARD E. GRANT’S SEVEN DEADLY SINS “LUST”

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Kevin Mitchell once sang about his “animal” and being insufferable whilst in heat but it’s hard to know whether the Jebediah front man considered this “lust”. The latter is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s also the subject of a new TV series which questions whether the seven deadly sins are bad vices or just good old-fashioned animal instincts that are fundamental to evolution.

The series is directed by Richard Curson Smith (Pinochet’s Last Stand) and it’s a real genre-hopping documentary that is full of different vignettes. On the one hand you have the award-winning Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I, Girls) delivering pieces to camera that are equal parts dark, playful and mysterious and quoting the likes of Shakespeare and Dante, to name a few. But on the other hand there are interviews with scientists, behavioural psychologists and evolutionary psychologists who provide explanations about why lust is a good biological trait to have (for example it can improve social interactions between animals and it helps ensure the species doesn’t die out, etc).

This series is shot in 3D and it features some amazing nature photography. The visuals alone are on par with a David Attenborough documentary. But the actual tone itself is muddled because it tries to be inquisitive, cheeky and offer a light touch as well as being straight, informative and educational. This can make it hard for the viewer to reconcile that these different vignettes are all part of the one TV program.

Richard E. Grant’s Seven Deadly Sins is extraordinary and eye-opening. It means you will never look at the world in quite the same way ever again. This ambitious production features lots of amazing visuals and it is informative, it’s just a shame that things get a little too wild and woolly at times.

Originally published on 21 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/tv-review-richard-e-grants-7-deadly-sins-lust-animal-planet-usa-2015/

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TV REVIEW: SAY YES TO THE DRESS CANADA

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What women want is something that has befuddled many men. But what guys don’t realise is that the answer to this question is quite simply a silly little reality program called Say Yes To The Dress Canada. The show is the equivalent of cotton candy in that it’s sugary and superficial but it’s also a rather guilty pleasure you can consume in order to feed your “inner princess”.

The program is set in Amanda-Lina’s Bridal Boutique in Woodbridge, Canada. It’s a fly-on-the-wall style reality show that follows women shopping for their wedding dress. It doesn’t seem like it’s an all too tricky premise but there is a bit more to this than tulle and satin. Plus, it’s also a series of half-hour TV episodes that have already inspired numerous spin-offs.

Say Yes To The Dress Canada is more than just tagging along on a shopping expedition with people you don’t know. It also shows family relationships (often when they are at the most tense and heightened) as well as the bride-to-be’s personality and how she treats other people (including her friends). It’s often quite obvious that the customers have an image of what they want in their minds but the reality can be very different. In truth, a lot of girls follow the advice of the person fitting them because these people should know, they’ve only sold hundreds or thousands of dresses.

This program is a vapid and consumerist one. But it also appeals to women who just want to watch some escapist fluff and see pretty outfits. It’s a program where people can live vicariously through the brides-to-be as they embark on an expensive journey into a consumerist fantasy-land. In all, this is a pleasant, feel-good series and a guilty pleasure that is just like that hidden block of dark Belgian chocolate. MMMMMMM.

Originally published on 20 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/tv-review-say-yes-to-the-dress-canada-canada-2015/

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BOOK REVIEW: TJ HAMILTON – BUYING THYME

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TJ Hamilton’s Buying Thyme is a naughty book that’s easy to read. The debut novel from a former police officer-turned-writer draws on her experiences working in Sydney where she was forced to mix with underground figures. Hamilton does a great job of really humanising and creating an engaging main character named Miranda, a girl who loves wearing old INXS t-shirts and jeans by day even though at night she is a much sought after and well paid escort.

The novel begins with a lot of sexiness and secrecy, at times even sharing a few things in common with 50 Shades of Grey. The reader gets exposed to a lot of graphic and explicit sex scenes as Miranda shows how much of a hold she has over her male customers. But Miranda is also quite a vulnerable character and the tables are turned when some of her clients start pulling tricks on her.

Miranda is in a bizarre love triangle and her feelings are torn between two men. There’s the rich and powerful, Joe Tench, who becomes more attractive after he drops his domineering mask and shows Miranda his softer side. But she’s also drawn in by the allusive Tom Smythe, a mining heir who holds his cards very close to his chest.

This book really gets interesting about half way through when the suspense kicks in. Buying Thyme is actually the first book in a two-part series. There are no surprises that the ending here is rather unsatisfying because it leaves the reader hanging. Buying Thyme is ultimately a high-octane story that will draw readers in and leave them wanting to hear more stories about Miranda’s tales of sex in the city.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-buying-thyme#comment-132408

DVD REVIEW: GEMMA BOVERY

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The film, Gemma Bovery tackles the question of whether life can imitate art. Or at least whether some characters in a story can have similar experiences to their literary namesakes. This French and English film has some good moments but for the most part it feels too uneven and unfocused to really cut through.

The filmmaker behind the excellent, Coco Avant Chanel, Anne Fontaine directs this adaptation of a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. This comic was in turn based on the literary classic, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. This film is not the first time that Simmonds’ books have been adapted for the big screen, as we’ve previously seen Tamara Drewe which was based on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

Fabrice Luchini stars as Martin Joubert, a literary lover and former publisher who has returned to Normandy to work in his father’s bakery. He has a no-nonsense wife (Isabelle Candelier) and a disappointing son (Kacey Mottet Klein). Joubert is disheartened by his son because the teen only wants to play computer games and watch TV. But despite this, Joubert was a rather contented man and relatively happy in his marriage but this changes with the arrival of some new neighbours.

Gemma Bovery (the beautiful Gemma Arterton from Tamara Drewe) and her husband Charles (Jason Flemyng (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) move to a small, French provincial town, just across the road from the Joubert house. Joubert becomes infatuated and obsessed with Gemma and fears she will become just like the literary character her name resembles. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and it’s not long before Gemma becomes an adulterer and has a few extramarital relationships.

This quirky film can’t decide whether it’s going to be a rom-com, cautionary tale, tragedy, some food porn or an adaption. Instead it seems to be a difficult mish-mash of different styles, leaving the final proceedings feeling really unfocused. Bovery’s life is shown in detail to represent the boredom she feels, but it doesn’t really tell us much and feels so pointless. There’s a moment in the film where Joubert says “Nothing happens but it’s interesting” when describing Flaubert’s work, but in this case only half of the statement is true.

Gemma Bovery could have been a very clever and witty satire drawing on the graphic novel and the classic book. Instead it all looks rather pretty but it really lacks any substance. The whole thing feels too empty and ordinary and at the end Gemma still feels as mysterious as ever. In all, this light-hearted look at love and all of its trapping is an uneven tragicomedy that tries to do too much and really fails to do anything properly.

Originally published on 15 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/gemma-bovery-dvd-review/

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THEATRE REVIEW: A FLOWER OF THE LIPS (UN FIOR DI LABRA) @ KING STREET THEATRE NEWTOWN (07.10.2015)

Flower - group shot with

 

A Flower of the Lips (Un Fior di Labbra) may be a new play by Sydneysider Valentino Musico, but it’s also a love letter. It’s a biographical story about his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi and is a love letter to this legendary man as well as Musico’s relatives, Calabria and Italy as a whole. This stark and bold play, which has its Australian premiere at the King Street Theatre raises many questions about divided loyalties and offers no easy answers.

This production is the fourth collaboration between Musico and director Ira Seidenstein, and the pair previously worked together on Meat Pies & Mortadella and 25Eight at Tap Gallery. The art direction is by Vince Vozzo, an eight-time finalist of the Wynne Prize. His main contribution is a large charcoal drawing that is the backdrop. This is particularly important as the show’s main character owned a charcoal works and the picture evokes the setting in the early 20th century and shows Italy’s then king, Victor Emmanuel III as well as Aloi’s ghost.

Musico was inspired to write the play after learning of the family legends and mystery surrounding his great-grandfather, Bruno Aloi. The latter’s life was cut short at age 34 and his death was never properly investigated. Aloi had been an informant to the Italian police, revealing the names of deserters from the army during the First World War, even if they were his own family members (and all this despite being a committed family man). This contributed to his being gunned down in his prime and leaving behind a wife and five children.

The show is quite simple. It’s a series of vignettes that reconstruct Aloi’s life and death, or at least what Musico learnt from his family’s memories as well as some archived papers from Italy. Four actors appear on the stage for the duration of the show with Yiss Mill as the actor/author, Musico narrating and signposting each event while Marcella Franco does a good job as the enigmatic Aloi. Michelle De Rosa is excellent, alternating between young male characters, Agostino and the Shepherd Boy as well as Aloi’s feisty wife, Rosaria. Jamila Hall and Kiki Skountzos round out the cast.

The play is full of symbolism but this may be lost on some audiences. The dialogue is peppered with some Italian words, which could make things difficult for individuals that don’t understand the language. The events all transpire in a kind of reverential semi-circle (to represent the church that Aloi built in Calabria) and the actors who are not actively taking part in the scene sit and watch the darkness unfolding. It’s an interesting idea but there are moments where things feel a bit too personal or private so the audience fails to understand the true meaning of the dialogue or feel part of the action.

Burno Aloi was an interesting man and A Flower of the Lips attempts to immortalise him and pay tribute to his legacy. It’s a dark play that poses many moral questions about the boundaries between what’s right and wrong. It’s also a passionate, beautiful and wordy epitaph and celebration of Calabrese Italians from the past, present and future.

Originally published on 9 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.stagewhispers.com.au/reviews/flower-lips

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DVD REVIEW: DANNY COLLINS

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Just like starting over. Danny Collins is a film about an aging rocker who is strongly influenced by John Lennon. This dramedy is a predictable and formulaic film but it is redeemed by some great performances and its pleasant foray into the world of music.

The film marks the directorial debut of Crazy, Stupid, Love writer,D an Fogelman. It is very loosely based on a story involving a British folk singer named Steve Tilston. The musician gave an interview in 1971 and made some disparaging comments about fame affecting one’s song writing ability. John Lennon took exception to this and sent the artist a letter but Tilston did not get to see this until 2005.

In Danny Collins, Al Pacino does an excellent job playing the titular, larger-than-life character who is standing in for Tilston. Collins was an aspiring singer-songwriter who had little success with his own material and instead turned to performing hackneyed songs by other people. He sold out in a big way but also managed to hit the big time and play large-scale arena shows.

It was an empty, vacuous existence of sex, drugs, trophy wives and rock ‘n’ roll. But Collins only really wakes up to this after his long-suffering manager (the wonderful, Christopher Plummer) delivers a letter that John Lennon had sent to Collins in 1971 advising the young man to keep it real and stay true to his music. Collins is rightly upset and ponders what might have been if he had received the note earlier. This results in a serious bout of soul-searching.

This journey of self-discovery sees Collins holed up in a Hilton hotel trading cheeky barbs with the manager (Annette Bening) and attempting to build a relationship with his estranged son, Tom Donnelly (Bobby Cannavale) who was the product of a one-night stand between Collins and a groupie. Life is messy and Donnelly has a heavily pregnant wife (Jennifer Garner) and a daughter with ADHD (Giselle Eisenberg).

Al Pacino cannot sing to save his life and at times Danny Collins is awfully cheesy and sugary. But the film does boast an excellent soundtrack of John Lennon solo songs (and Collins’ breakout “hit” actually sounds like a third-rate version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”). There are some great moments showing the power of second chances and redemption. But there is also a big disappointment in the special features. They are simply a single image gallery of mock-up record sleeves by “Collins”.

Danny Collins is a film full of stereotypes and clichés but it still manages to be quite pleasant and enjoyable. At the end of the day it has a good heart and the performances are top-notch. The film has an excellent premise and its execution is well-meaning so you can have a fun enough time without sitting there imaging what might have been.

Originally published on 12 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-danny-collins-usa-2015/

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