FILM REVIEW: LOVE THE COOPERS

coopers

 

Bah, humbug. Love The Coopers was supposed to be a warm-hearted and pleasant, Christmas ensemble movie about one dysfunctional family. Instead, the film is the equivalent of an empty gift box. It appears fine, nice even, but inside it is completely hollow.

This film is the first one to be directed by Jessie Nelson (I Am Sam) in fourteen years and it is written by Steven Rogers (P.S. I Love You). The story draws together four generations of the Cooper family (and a few interlopers) for a Christmas Eve dinner. The set-up is very predictable and contrived, meaning these characters all seem to converge together in a kind of neat bow.

Diane Keaton and John Goodman star as Charlotte and Sam, a couple who were once hippies and who have been together for decades. Their marriage has fallen apart but Charlotte is determined to have one last happy Christmas with the family. But this is all for show as all of the members of this clan are harbouring secrets.

Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) is bitter and angry about feeling left out. She’s lived most of her life in her sibling’s shadow so she decides to shoplift her sister a brooch. Emma gets caught and then has a ridiculous exchange (read: pop psychology and life lessons) with a closeted police officer (an underused, Anthony Mackie) as the latter embarks on an epic search for a police station. Charlotte and Emma’s father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), was lonely but has recently found himself connecting with a young waitress (Amanda Seyfried) at his local coffee shop but this looks set to end because this is her last day of work.

Then there is the next generation. Charlotte and Sam’s children include the divorced and jobless Hank (Ed Helmes) and his ex-wife who is invited to dinner, along with their three children. There’s also Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) who picks up a Christian, Republican soldier (Jake Lacy) at an airport just to avoid questions about her single status. There’s also a farting aunt (June Squibb), a swearing child (Blake Baumgartner) and an over-bearing and incessant narrator (a surprising and unbilled, Steve Martin) who constantly spells out the painfully obvious.

Did you catch all that? Do you need a minute? Because Love The Coopers does take in a lot of different subplots and half-baked characters and it all feels quite messy and disjointed. The film is meant to be a dramedy but the jokes are virtually non-existent. What is found in abundance are clichés and unlikely situations, making it all feel far too hollow and poorly constructed.

Love The Coopers is a Hollywood take on family dysfunction but it feels about as real as fool’s gold. It tries to make you realise that love and connectedness are what Christmas is all about, but instead it is far too lightweight and predictable to really cut through. The convoluted story and a series of flashbacks, along with the frankly stupid narration, fail to elevate this film to anything more than Christmas shlock that you would return at the earliest possible moment.

Originally published on 29 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/love-the-coopers-film-review/

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DVD REVIEW: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (AUSTRALIAN EDITION) SERIES 7

Fusion TIFF File

Who Do You Think You Are? is such a personal TV series you almost feel like you’re sitting in someone’s lounge room having a cuppa. The Australian edition is modelled on the original one from the U.K. Both shows see prominent personalities retracing aspects of their family tree/history. It’s ultimately a fascinating program and in Australia’s case it can occasionally be a multicultural one.

The program is now in its seventh series and once again you see celebrities playing detectives to the lives of themselves and their ancestors. There are stories about challenges and struggles and these form a rich tapestry illuminating and celebrating identity and culture. It’s also the kind of program that can make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

The first episode of the seventh series stars the actor Geoffrey Rush who is in for a few surprises. He’d previously figured his family were all a bunch of farmers but in reality his German ancestors were part of a long dynasty of musicians. Toni Collette has easily one of the most complicated family histories out of the lot. Her grandma died shortly after giving birth to her mother’s sister, which meant her grandfather would abandon his children. Then there’s her paternal grandfather whose identity remains unknown.

This series is very entertaining and educational. Dawn Fraser learns she had a South American freedom fighter in her family while TV chef Luke Nguyen discovers there are other refugees among his ancestors (and not just his immediate family). Ray Martin gets back to his Aboriginal roots while Peter Rowsthorn (Kath & Kim) learns about the convicts in his family’s past. Greig Pickhaver (HG Nelson) and actor David Wenham can look with pride at their ancestor’s roles in the Australian Defence Force and in the World Wars.

Who Do You Think You Are? is one intimate program that is a fascinating watch and leap through the history books. The stories are universal and relatable as they show how people overcame various trials and tribulations in order to succeed. In all, this is one revealing and incredible observational documentary that holds up a mirror for every day Australians to gaze upon and celebrate in all its glory.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/think-series-7-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: Suite Française

2014, SUITE FRANCAISE

 

Loving thy neighbour can be complicated in times of love and war. And World War II is the setting for the romantic, period drama, Suite Française. The film is a subtle and unoriginal story about an unlikely couple and their acting out of some forbidden love.

The film is directed by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and he doubles as the script-writer along with  Matt Charman (Bridge of Spies). The story is an adaption of a novella by the late writer, Irène Némirovsky who was originally born in Russia and was of Jewish origin. The story of the book’s author is actually an interesting one as she would eventually move to France and convert to Catholicism. She penned a few books and stories but she would die in 1942 from typhus at Auschwitz. Her manuscript for Dolce or what would later become, Suite Française was not discovered until years later by her daughter and became a best-seller in the naughties.

Suite Française is a work of literary fiction about World War II and tells the story about the good-hearted and well meaning, Lucile Angellier (Michelle Williams). She is trapped and living with her icy and ruthless mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas) at the latter’s country estate in France. Their domestic bliss is shattered when Lieutenant Bruno von Falk (Matthias Schoenaerts) a German soldier moves in after the invasion and subsequent occupation of France. The Lieutenant proves to be a sensitive and cultured man who plays the piano.

Lucile and the officer fall in love with each other and are characters you can easily empathise with, but questions about collaboration and compassion abound. There is also a strong sub-plot where Sam Riley (Control) plays a poaching and injured farmer who kills a horrible German solider and is subsequently forced into hiding. The supporting cast also includes Ruth Wilson and our very own, Margot Robbie.

Suite Française is certainly not the most original story in a film genre that is already burgeoning with different ideas and stories. It’s also a tad confusing to see the actors speaking in English accents whilst portraying French people, especially as the German characters are allowed to speak in their native tongue. If viewers can get past these minor quibbles they can enjoy one intense and engaging romance and adaption. It’s a film that is suspenseful and engaging and boosted by a great cast and some good performances. In all, this is a fine period drama and tragedy showing how unfair life can be in love and war.

Originally published on 24 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/suite-francaise-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: HILARY SPIERS – HESTER & HARRIET

hester-and-harriet

 

Hilary Spiers is an author who has made it her job to write stories about “Ordinary women in sometimes extraordinary circumstances”. Hester & Harriet – her latest novel – is supposed to fit this bill but unfortunately, is just plain dull. The book is pleasant and the ideas seem well-intentioned enough, but the premise is too weak to justify a 394 page narrative.

The novel stars the titular Hester and Harriet, two sisters and older women who have been widowed and live together. The pair generally like their own quiet lives, with Hester spending her time as a fussy and ordered cook while Harriet is a scary driver. Their domestic bliss is shattered when the pair happen upon a waif, a young refugee woman named Daria and her baby at a bus shelter.

The sisters take in the illegal pair and are soon forced to welcome their feisty, teenaged nephew Ben who has had a falling out with his parents. The story revolves around the characters learning the full story about Daria leaving Belarus to live in England and how she came to be a homeless single mother. There are also encounters with the town gossip (Penny) and a homeless man named Finbar (he is easily the most underused, unique and interesting character here).

The idea behind Hilary Spiers’ work is an easy enough one to follow but her prose can be a bit challenging at times. Spiers will often throw in some uncommon or old English words which may leave you occasionally scratching your head. In all, this book is similar to the film My Old Lady because it’s a weak premise involving some older characters that overstays its welcome, which means something that could have made a pleasant and light-hearted novella is just plain boring and difficult to read.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/hester-and-harriet/9566782

DVD REVIEW: LIFE STORY EPISODES 1-3

lifestory

 

Life Story is nothing short of amazing. The incredible nature film starring Sir David Attenborough and produced by the Emmy award-wining team that made Life is an intense ride that is supported by a sensitive soundtrack performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It conveys a thrilling roller-coaster of emotions, as it chronicles the birth, life and deaths of many animals.

The first three episodes introduce the audience to various creatures after they are born and as they grow and build homes for themselves. There are some meerkat pups shown leaving their burrows but it’s a less perilous start to life than the barnacle geese in Greenland. The latter birds are forced to jump off a 400-foot cliff face before they’ve even learned to fly in order to join their parents as they search for food. It’s quite nerve-wrenching to witness these goslings take a leap of faith that can kill them (or expose them to predators) in order to survive.

Another animal that is shown facing off with its predators is the humpback whale who must undertake a long migration after only six weeks of life. If they’re not strong enough they can become exhausted and fall prey to sharks. This series has also managed to capture in stunning ultra HD some whole new behaviours in animals. In the case of the whale, a calf was shown being protected by a large male that wasn’t its father. It’s fascinating stuff.

Life Story is an incredible series where Sir Attenborough informs and educates the audience as well as offering moments of great entertainment. It’s all one big journey through the joys, sorrows, pains and happiness that life encompasses, where real challenges must be faced every day in order to survive and successfully reproduce. In all, this is a ground-breaking program from some truly accomplished filmmakers.

The special features include an interesting interview with Sir David Attenbourough, as well as some insightful behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Originally published on 16 November 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-life-story-starring-sir-david-attenborough-uk-2014/

Visit The Iris’ homepage at: http://iris.theaureview.com/

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DVD REVIEW: LISTEN UP PHILIP

listenupphilip

 

We all know someone like the main character in Listen Up Philip. The star is a self-absorbed egoist who is trying at the best of times. So to dedicate an entire film to him and his exploits can make for uncomfortable and tedious viewing to say the least. This story is also a plainly pretentious one but it does have some moments where its quirky, comedic style will make you laugh.

Listen Up Philip is the third feature from writer and director, Alex Ross Perry. The latter has clearly been schooled by the likes of Woody Allen and curmudgeon, Philip Roth, to name just two. This film is a bohemian comedy/drama/character study with a light jazz soundtrack. It also shares a sensibility with Allen and Roth’s style of anxious thinking.

The titular Philip Lewis Friedman (played brilliantly by Jason Schwartzman) is a narcissist and snooty writer. He enjoyed great success with his debut novel but his follow-up one looks like it could suffer from “second album syndrome”. At the very least it looks like it will be the recipient of a bad review from an important publication. So the insecure Philip makes an impulsive decision to forego all participation in press interviews and coverage. He instead decides to accept an invitation to country New York to spend time with a person that appreciates his “talent”.

Philip ditches his long-suffering and talented photographer girlfriend (the gorgeous Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)) and settles in a cabin with his new mentor, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). The new tutor is a bitter and jaded writer who is just like Philip, only a few decades older and more successful. The two bring out the worst in each other, they’re insufferable and arrogant. And Philip becomes even more clueless and annoying when he has to reduce himself to teaching creative writing at a university in order to maintain his cash flow. Naturally, Philip’s abandoned girlfriend wakes up to his wicked ways, dumping him and buying herself a cat.

This film has a retro feel to it from the choice of font in the titles to the softly-lit video that is shot on grainy, hand-held 16mm cameras. The props and Philip’s choice of tweed jacket also lend it an old feeling. It means that the film often feels like a seventies comedy even though there are moments of black and dry humour. There is also a rather obtrusive narrator (Eric Bogosian) who is often the most insightful character of them all.

Listen Up Philip is an ambitious, quirky and brave film. It throws curveballs by changing the perspectives of the main character at times and it asks the viewer to emotionally invest in perhaps two of the most unlikable people to ever grace the screen. It’s at times an endurance test to say the least. At the end of the day most people probably known a Philip or an Ike and can appreciate the satirical look at their suffocating egos and pretentiousness, but whether you’d want to spend an entire movie with them is an entirely different story.

 

Originally published on 9 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/listen-philip-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: RUDDERLESS

rudderless

 

Rudderless is a dramatic and emotional film about music but that doesn’t stop it from hitting some bum notes. The story deals with a grieving father who is off on a directionless course after the tragic and premature death of his teenage son. It’s a shallow and melodramatic tale about forgiveness and redemption with things being too unlikely and underdone for it to really strike a chord.

Billy Crudup (Almost Famous) stars as Sam Manning, a man who once had it all including a wife, teenage son and a high-profile job at an advertising agency. After he wins an account from a large client he decides to celebrate with his son, Josh (Miles Heizer) except that the latter decides to blow his dad off. Tragedy strikes and Josh dies in a college shooting and the audience are left knowing and learning very little about the boy.

The plot then fast forwards two years and Sam is now a loner with a greying beard and he seems to have aged quite quickly in this time. His source of income is now by working as a house painter and he lives in a boat that’s permanently docked in a lake. Sam has had a mighty fall from grace and is struggling to come to grips with his son’s death. But this changes when he receives a visit from his now ex-wife, Emily (Felicity Huffman who is married to the film’s actual director, William H. Macy).

Emily gifts Sam with old demo CDs and notebooks containing song lyrics by their late son, Josh. Sam teaches himself how to play his boy’s songs and eventually performs one at an open mic night. This show leads to an unlikely friendship with Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a troubled youth who would have been the same age as Josh. Quentin convinces Sam to start a band and the group name themselves Rudderless. They enjoy some success as Quentin and Sam’s friendship blossoms but this is all threatened when a large curveball is thrown into the mix in the third act (this is something that is introduced but not satisfactorily resolved).

Rudderless  is only the second film to be directed by Fargo’s William H. Macy, who also doubles as a co-writer along with Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison. The film features a lot of original folk-rock songs and other music by Eef Barzelay, Charlton Pettus and Simon Steadman. Unfortunately, the musical performances are often at the expense of providing an adequate back story to the supporting characters. We never really learn much about Josh apart from his musical talent and then there are appearances by Selena Gomez and Laurence Fishburne who are caricatures of an angry ex-girlfriend and a kindly, old music store owner, respectively. The biggest omission is information about the shy and awkward Quentin’s past, as we learn he had a rough childhood but that’s about it.

In the end Crudup and Yelchin do the best they can with the script and they both seem to share a great chemistry, which lends itself to a father and son-like relationship. But one also gets the sense that this could have been a stronger film except that things have coasted and drifted off-course, particularly in the final act. This is ultimately a dark story that has enough lighter moments to prevent it from completely wallowing near the ground. But when some new information is gradually revealed it does make things feel a bit too hollow and unbelievable. In all, Rudderless is both buoyant and black and mostly pleasant, but you just wish they would have ventured beneath the waters/surface for a little more depth and meaning.

Originally published on 9 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/rudderless-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER WOMAN

blackpanther

 

Marlene Cummins is nothing short of inspirational. The blues musician and Koori radio presenter was a member of the Brisbane chapter of Australia’s Black Panther party in 1972. Although she usually considers her history to be an “oral” one that’s in line with her indigenous heritage, her significant story is also the subject of the excellent TV documentary, Black Panther Woman.

The film is directed by Rachel Perkins who has also made the outstanding films, Bran Nue Dae and Mabo as well as the TV series, Redfern Now. “Black Panther Woman is a short film (at only 53 minutes) so it is inevitable that some of Cummins’ history is going to be glossed over. The interviewees include former Black Panther members and activists like: Sammy Watson Jr., Lionel Fogarty and Lynellda Tippo, but there is one glaring omission. The Panther’s charismatic Australian founder, Denis Walker (the son of poet, Kath Walker (Oodgeroo Noonuccal)) and Cummins’ lover in the early seventies is only shown in archive footage and in text stating that he refutes some of Cummins’ memoires. It’s unclear whether he declined to be interviewed or wasn’t approached.

Despite a few minor flaws, this film is a wonderful one. It shows Cummins’ desire as a child to become educated but then she had the $15 her uncle sent her for uniform money taken away by her father and used to feed her family instead. As a result, Cummins leaves home and the idealistic teen becomes a member of the Australian Black Panthers. The group share similar beliefs to their American counterparts and disagree with the non-violent methods adopted by Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his followers. The Brisbane chapter would stage protests outside of government offices in Queensland, put on theatrical plays and go on “Pig patrols” where they would monitor the police force in a state that was renowned for taking a heavy-handed approach to law enforcement.

Cummins is also asked to speak at a Black Panther conference in the United States alongside American activist, Professor Kathleen Cleaver as well as Black Panthers from India and Israel, to name a few. Cummins is a warm, emotional and articulate talent. She describes her involvement in indigenous issues and how they helped in the setting up of social services for indigenous people and breakfast programs for young aboriginal children. She also makes some explosive revelations about her own demons and addictions and also speaks out about the rape she experienced by two respected indigenous elders many decades ago and why he chose to stay silent at the time.

Black Panther Woman is a film that is observational and offers up some commentary about complex and difficult issues and does so with sensitivity, grace and aplomb. It’s at times heart-wrenching and dark and at other moments is inspirational and deep. In all, this woman played an important role in Australian history and Black Panther Woman celebrates the many facets of this as well as applauding a strong and independent woman and her great many achievements. Excellent.

Originally published on 9 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/black-panther-woman-dvd-review/

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LIVE REVIEW: NEIL DIAMOND @ ALL PHONES ARENA SYDNEY (09.11.2015)

neildiamond

 

You wouldn’t let your daughter date a Rolling Stone, but chances are you’d let your mum spend a night with Neil Diamond. The 74-year-old played an epic 25-song set at Allphones Arena with songs spanning decades of hits (including many cuts from his Hot August Night double album) as well as some new tracks. It was no mean feat for a man who first toured Australia back in 1976.

This was an evening all about good old-fashioned manners, from the announcer welcoming patrons to the actual star himself. Diamond was a gracious artist, frequently walking across the length of the stage to make sure every single person in the room got a chance to be sung to or connected with.

The show began with a Diamond-penned track made famous by The Monkees and the Shrek film, ‘I’m A Believer’. This big band version was filled to the brim with horns and some old razzle-dazzle. Another song made famous by a different group (UB40) was Diamond’s ‘Red Red Wine’, which had just the right amount of pop and reggae thrown in.

The star was backed by a tight, 13-piece band of musicians who were adept at playing lots of different instruments. This helped create different moods and flourishes, from the cool pop groove of ‘Crunchy Granola Suite’ all the way to some softer wistful ballads like ‘Love On The Rocks’.

A long and sprawling interpretation of ‘Cherry, Cherry’ still boasted that great acoustic guitar hook and allowed Diamond to step back and introduce his entire band. But the biggest song of the night was undoubtedly ‘Sweet Caroline’, during which a huge sing-along in the grey-haired crowd ensued, as well as a hilarious moment when three older women held up huge, Bridget Jones-like knickers. Enough said.

There were moments of pure sentiment and home movies (‘Brooklyn Road’) through to swaying pop songs, all from a man just happy playing his plain old daggy self. Diamond can still smoothly croon away like a youngster, but he also has the worldly wisdom of a gentleman who has learned a thing or two about the art of love.

Originally published on 10 November 2015 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/neil-diamond-allphones-arena

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BOOK REVIEW: MARGARET ATWOOD – THE HEART GOES LAST

the-heart-goes-last

 

Margaret Atwood is no stranger to writing, as this talented Canadian author has won the Booker Prize and been shortlisted for countless others. She has written over 40 novels but I am a stranger to her work and The Heart Goes Last is my first introduction to this prolific writer. The book was excellent and it has convinced me to delve deeper into her amazing catalogue of works.

The Heart Goes Last is about a young couple named Stan and Charmaine. The pair are initially happy and wealthy but they are subsequently hit hard when a financial crisis takes place in their American town. They are forced to live in their car and fight off other people who are also desperately poor. Stan is told he is overqualified for jobs (even though he will accept almost anything, but he does draw the line at engaging in criminal activity with his brother, Conor) and Charmaine makes money as a barmaid. The pair share a grim existence until they happen upon an ad for Consilience.

The term Consilience comes from the combination of “cons” and “resilience”. The pair sign up and think everything will be hunky dory. In exchange for a house and jobs in a tranquil setting reminiscent of some starry-eyed retro period like the 1950s, the pair are forced to give up their freedoms every second month. On the alternate months they – like countless others – will be imprisoned in a gaol while another couple with live in their house. It’s a strange set-up but it’s also a social experiment that is engaging in some more sinister elements.

The novel is a cautionary tale attempting to warn readers to be careful what they wish for. It’s also an excellent social commentary that uses aspects of satire and comedy to riff on an almost real-life existence. In many ways this book is reminiscent of Ben Elton’s “Dead Famous” in its pithy observations of modern life. Atwood is also very clever, witty and unique as she weaves together her beautiful and well-constructed prose.

For many readers, their enjoyment of The Heart Goes Last will hinge upon how much they relate to the main characters and how far they can suspend their disbelief. I sympathised with the characters so much that when things did veer off on some weird tangents in the final act I was still sold and remained along for the ride. In all, Margaret Atwood’s novel is a sharp, fresh and witty look at a very human and insatiable desire for utopia and how this can lead to dystopia, dissatisfaction and an acute sense of modern life being rubbish. This is an utterly original and clever look at all of these things and so much more. Excellent.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/heart-goes-last/9382912

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