BLU-RAY REVIEW: ODDBALL

oddball

 

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but a certain Maremma certainly got a new job in the small, Victorian town of Warrnambool. The Italian sheepdog was used to guard the town’s dwindling population of penguins. It was such a success it was declared a modern-day miracle or fairy-tale and the film Oddball tells this fascinating story in a pleasant but prosaic manner.

The film is the debut feature by veteran TV director, Stuart McDonald (who is best known for his work with Chris Lilley). The movie is loosely based on the real-life events that happened to an eccentric chicken farmer named Swampy Marsh, who is played here as a big, loveable teddy bear by Shane Jacobson (Kenny). It’s an interesting story but this film doesn’t always do it justice because at times it requires a large suspension of disbelief to get over all the plot contrivances and the very neatly stitched-together ending.

The wonderful, Sarah Snook plays Marsh’s daughter and a penguin conservationist. She injects some vital energy into the piece but at times is a tad underutilised. The same can also be said about the strange dog-catcher, the funny comedian, Frank Woodley and the town’s mayor, who is played by the delightful, Deborah Mailman. Marsh’s cute granddaughter Olivia is played by Coco Jack Gillies (Mad Max: Fury Road) and is a good sparring partner to her Pop.

The film is a little clumsy at times but it does tell the story of ten or so penguins who were living on Middle Island and how they needed help to stay alive so that the place could remain open as a sanctuary.  It was no mean feat as the population had been decimated from thousands to handfuls by rogue foxes. There were also other villains to be found, each possessing their own hidden agendas. But despite this, Oddball is a warm and likeable family fable.

The Blu-ray edition’s special features include five long featurettes. These look at the real Oddball and the Maremma shepherd dog in general. There is also lots of information about the penguins, the township of Warrnambool and the predators and pests we can count in Australia’s flora and fauna. These are very educational and include interviews with historians, conservationists and Warrnambool’s former town mayor. These could have been edited down a little as they do clock in at around the five hour mark in total and because some features include the same snippets of interviews as the previous ones, which can get a little tedious.

Oddball is a charming little Australian film about a photogenic dog and some pretty little penguins. The animals and the town absolutely shine and the photography of the 12 Apostles is exquisite. The actors mostly put in good performances (although occasionally these can be a little hammy) but they are let down at times by some problems with the script. In sum, this is a movie the family can enjoy because it’s a magical and positive tale about some admirable dogs who worked hard to save the sweet, local inhabitants of Middle Island. It’s good but the film is ultimately missing some magic pixie dust.

Originally published on 24 January 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/oddball-blu-ray-review/

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DVD REVIEW: LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX SEASON 3

Programme Name: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3 - TX: n/a - Episode: Last Tango In Halifax S3  (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Gillian (NICOLA WALKER), Celia (ANNE REID), Alan (DEREK JACOBI), Caroline (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Photo by: Ben Blackall

 

The power of love is a curious thing, as the characters in the British television drama, “Last Tango In Halifax” know all too well. The show is set in the English countryside and features a strange, blended family of sorts. It also straddles the line between pure soap opera and realistic social observation about life, love, relationships, secrets and betrayal.

The series was written by Sally Wainwright who was inspired by the real-life events that occurred to her mother in finding and rekindling love at a ripe, old age. On TV, former childhood sweethearts Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) have lived full lives apart from one another. They spent over fifty years being married to other people and raising daughters. But one day luck intervenes when their respective grandsons set up Facebook profiles for their grandparents and the two reconnect and eventually rekindle the old spark.

In the third series the plots revolve around everyone’s relationships as well as some smoke and mirrors and skeletons being dragged out of the closet. At times it becomes quite complicated. Caroline’s (Sarah Lancashire) girlfriend, Kate (Nina Sosanya) is pregnant with the couple’s first child. The two really seem to be revelling in domestic bliss in this nuclear family with Caroline’s son. But tragedy strikes and Caroline is left in a tailspin.

Caroline’s step-sister, Gillian (Nicola Walker) isn’t fairing much better. She’s busy racking up notches on the bedpost with gusto as well as fielding marriage proposals. She accepts one from her former brother-in-law but as if that isn’t strange enough, there are further complications as he’s also the brother of the ex-husband she murdered. The oldies’ lives are similarly complex with Alan’s long-lost-lost son reappearing and threatening to jeopardise his father’s new relationship.

Last Tango In Halifax is well-acted and does have its moments where it manages to cover some important issues. But the writers made a huge mistake by eliminating a popular character this series and the subsequent episodes just plod along after the fact. The show is also incredibly white-washed and middle-class and this could leave some viewers wanting more. In all, it’s a rather warm family drama that does succeed at times by keeping the viewer guessing. But it also means it can be as messy and confusing as real life often is.

Originally published on 23 January 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/last-tango-halifax-series-3-dvd-review/

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THEATRE REVIEW: THE RABBITS @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE WALSH BAY (14.01.2016)

rabbits

Photo by: John Green

The Rabbits is an Australian opera adapted from a picture book that is anything but child’s play.

The original story was written by John Marsden, who penned the Tomorrow series, and was illustrated by Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing). It’s an allegorical tale that examines the colonisation of Australia with the titular characters playing the invading British settlers, and a group of native marsupials representing the Aboriginal people and their subsequent plight.

The original book is less than 300 words long but it’s a powerful story. For the live setting this has been expanded with the addition of a new character, a narrator called Bird, performed by the show’s composer – the classically trained soprano and pop singer, Kate Miller-Heidke. Acclaimed playwright Lally Katz provides the libretto and Iain Grandage offers the superb musical arrangements.

The show has already won several Helpmann Awards and in some ways it’s easy to see why, because the story is an emotionally poignant one and a sad reflection on our nation’s history. It depicts the invasion, colonisation and the Stolen Generation, but does end with a glimmer of hope. That said, it is not perfect, and there are some scenes that fall a little flat or feel a little long and drawn out (and the show itself only goes for one hour).

The artists do an excellent job performing the material. The marsupials are played by Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock, Marcus Corowa and David Leha – led ably by Lisa Maza – and prove incredibly charming and emotive. The rabbits (Kanen Breen, Nicholas Jones, Christopher Hillier, Simon Meadowsand Robert Mitchell), on the other hand, are more like pantomime villains and everything is delivered in a flamboyant and over-the-top manner. This actually works in this strange environment where the show is already a hybrid of opera and musical theatre and the soundtrack is a mash-up of pop ballads and experimental and classical styles.

The Rabbits is a dark and ambitious piece that doesn’t pander to the audience. It tells a tragic and uncomfortable chapter in our history and stays true to the essence of the book. This is particularly the case in the rendering of the set and costumes by designer, Gabriela Tylesova. The Rabbits is one nuanced and atmospheric tale that commands the viewer to sit up and listen, without leading them down a rabbit warren.

 

Originally published on 19 January 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/rabbits

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LIVE REVIEW: THE CHILLS @ MAGIC MIRRORS SPIEGELTENT FOR SYDNEY FESTIVAL (13.01.2016)

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Oh you pretty things. As Hyde Park’s Sydney Festival Village heaved with people paying their last respects to the one and only David Bowie, a little band from New Zealand played a nice venue called the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. They were The Chills and they played a set that was brimming with beautiful, indie pop music.

This little group that could have had their fair share of ups and downs over the years. For some time this was the primary vehicle for the final remaining, founding member and songwriter, Martin Phillipps. Their recent album, Silver Bullets has seen a return to form, with the current line-up having played together for approximately a decade and also managing to capture some of that magic, Dunedin sound that fans of the Flying Nun record label talk about with much admiration and respect.

This evening was as much about celebrating the strong new comeback album as it was about celebrating the old songs. There were some punters that would have been hearing all of these tracks live for the very first time. This is not a band that has toured Australia often which is a shame, as they put on a rather sweet show to say the least.

The set started with the lush “Night of Chill Blue”. It was one pretty and sublime song that set the tone for the remainder of the evening. Phillipps’ creations straddle the lines between shimmering love songs that echo with a bittersweet quality as well as having their fair share of moments where they delve into the deep and meaningful world of social issues and politics. It’s a heady mix that can see Phillipps declaring his ability to fall in love one moment in a song like “Wet Blanket”, and then take pot shots at the U.S. later on in “America Says Hello”.

The group were a tight one where the complex and jangly guitar riffs worked together with the keys and the violin played by Erica Scally. The latter created a very atmospheric tone, full of different textures and techniques. New songs “Aurora Corona”, “I Can’t Help You” and “Warm Waveform” were all well received and fitted well alongside older favourites like “House With A Hundred Rooms”. The music was very vibrant and youthful and could have been played by artists several decades younger than the front man. It also meant the tunes wouldn’t be out-of-place on a playlist alongside the likes of R.E.M., The Church or even Cloud Control.

The Chills played some great kaleidoscopes of swirling pop at Sydney Festival and more than one of their self-proclaimed ‘heavenly pop hits’. The set was a fitting batch of songs for a warm, summer night and while the group have never reached the upper echelons or levels of the Thin White Duke being celebrated nearby, they’d certainly found their niche and entertained one happy, sold-out Sydney crowd. The Chills finished up with “Rolling Moon” and left people feeling joyful and basking in their opulent pop tunes. It was just gorgeous.

Originally published on 18 January 2016 at the following website: http://music.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-festival-review-the-chills-magic-mirrors-spiegeltent-hyde-park-13-01-16/

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DVD REVIEW: BATKID BEGINS

batkid

 

Holy smokes Batman… On 15 November 2013 a viral phenomenon took place. It was known as “Batkid” and it’s a story that dominated the press and social media at the time. Now it’s also the subject of a documentary film called, Batkid Begins. It is ultimately one hopeful and uplifting tale that is overwhelmingly positive in its depiction of humanity being on its best behaviour, if just for one day.

The story is directed and written by Dana Nachman (The Human Experiment) and is about Miles Scott, a young boy aged five (almost six) who is in remission after being diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukaemia at 18 months. Scott had endured years of chemotherapy and steroid treatments and the wonderful people from the Make A Wish Foundation decided to grant him his heart’s desire for a day. Scott wanted to be Batman (a superhero he had come to admire as he watched re-runs of the Adam West incarnation while receiving cancer treatment).

Enter Patricia Wilson, the executive director of the Greater Bay Area Make A Wish organisation. This woman was determined and perhaps a little foolhardy in agreeing to get the wheels in motion to grant this wish. The idea snowballed from a kid donning a superhero outfit in a park to a full-scale production which involved shutting down San Francisco city (which was redubbed “Gotham City”) and came complete with staged capers and adventures.

This film fuses together animations, sentimental schmaltz (a beatific choir sing a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”) and a play-by-play description of the actual event as well as interviews with those who planned and were involved with the monumental day and the aftermath. Among the interviewees is Eric “EJ” Johnston, the man who played Batman and the individual that was integral to this wish actually happening. His duties included teaching Miles some acrobatic stunts, co-ordinating devices to play messages from the police chief and roping in his wife, Sue Graham Johnston and friend, Mike Jutan to play a damsel in distress and The Penguin, respectively.

Batkid Begins does not really question or justify whether this act (above other wishes) was the most valid and worthwhile. It also doesn’t offer information that’s particularly new. But where it does succeed is in sprinkling some magic pixie dust and fashioning a feel-good story that really shows how people can band together and make a difference, in a big way. This is one beautiful, powerful and uncomplicated story about how one good deed performed on a single day in a large city for a sweet little boy rocked the world. Gorgeous.

Originally published on 10 January 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/batkid-begins-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: DEEP WEB

Deep-Web

 

The documentary, Deep Web doesn’t have the right name. It really should be called “Silk Road” or “The Trial of Ross Ulbricht”. This tech documentary is a short, one-sided and interesting one that barely scratches the surface of digital privacy rights and the dark web as a whole.

This film is narrated by Keanu Reeves and is written, directed and produced by his former, Bill & Ted cast mate, Alex Winter. The latter is no stranger to documentary filmmaking as he previously produced, Downloaded about the rise and fall of Napster. In his latest effort, Winter is a little less focused and it’s hard to know whether the film he wanted to make was about the dark web, the Silk Road, digital privacy or the trial of the Silk Road’s alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht. All of these topics are worthy of in-depth discussion and analysis and are touched upon here.

This documentary argues for a free and open source internet. At present the internet as most people know it is just the surface web or the combination of all the indexed web pages out there. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lurking amongst the unindexed material is the deep web, a place where people can use the Tor browser to maintain relative anonymity in their surfing. They can also trade currency (bitcoins) that cannot be traced by governments and banks. It was in this environment that the Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit drugs, firearms and other banned items thrived (in addition to many copycat sites).

Deep Web builds its arguments by interviewing Wired journalist Andy Greenberg, who also serves as a consulting producer. He got the original scoop of being granted a question and answer-style interview with Dread Pirate Roberts (the Silk Road’s administrator and the handle of the possible founder of this online marketplace, whose name came from the film, The Princess Bride). The other interviewees include: Ulbricht’s parents, Lyn and Kirk as well as his attorney, Joshua Dratel and crypto-anarchist, Cody Wilson, among others.

There is some footage of law enforcers and investigators. But this film ultimately feels very one-sided and pro-Ulbricht (even going so far as to use archive videos and photographs of him as he was unable to be interviewed). It is unclear whether this film is so biased because the director is simply a supporter of Ulbricht’s or whether we are all bearing witness to a serious miscarriage of justice. (Ulbricht was found guilty of multiple charges relating to money laundering, drug trafficking and computer hacking. He had been charged earlier of attempting to procure murders but these were subsequently dropped).

Deep Web is an important film that’s far too short. It should hopefully open up a dialogue for some significant discussions about digital rights and privacy as we are all vulnerable to potential breaches of this. This documentary is good and does present some interesting facts but it is a little too one-sided and unfocused at times. The Deep Web is ultimately a complex and controversial piece that requires some more in-depth investigation and analysis.

 

Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/deep-web-dvd-review/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: GIRLS SEASON 4

girlsseason4

 

Since it first aired in 2012, Girls has always been a divisive program. It comes as no real surprise seeing as the show’s creator, executive producer and occasional writer and director, Lena Dunham polarises people. Over the years Girls has inspired some heady debates and sent the characters on some emotional rollercoasters. Series four builds on all this while also seeing these young ladies growing up and maturing.

This season sees a lot more of Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath gracing our screens. Hannah accepts a prestigious spot at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. It means her already rocky relationship with boyfriend, Adam Sackler (the excellent, Adam Driver) is tested to the limits. The pair have “no plans” when they set out on a long distance relationship of sorts. It’s not entirely shocking that Hannah lasts about five minutes in Iowa but the real surprise is the carnage that awaits her back in New York.

The lives of Horvath’s friends are similarly complicated and messy. Jessa Johansson (Jemima Kirke) is battling her own inner demons and finally joins AA. She also begins dating an awful artist named Ace (Zachary Quinto). Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) finally passes that pesky, final subject and graduates and gets a huge wake-up call. She discovers that landing a job in the real world is not as easy as it looks. But she does redeem herself by helping her ex-boyfriend and friend, Ray Ploshansky (Alex Karpovsky) out when he runs for local office.

Poor Marnie (Allison Williams) isn’t as lucky. She has an affair with her musical collaborator, Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) even though he’s still dating his girlfriend, Clementine (Natalie Morales). Marnie and Desi have a tumultuous relationship and even end up getting engaged towards the end of the season. But things aren’t quite as quaint and breezy as the indie folk songs they sing (in real life these are written by Dunham’s actual boyfriend, Jack Antonoff of the band, Fun and Williams actually can sing).

The show doesn’t stop from pulling the hard punches with issues like abortion, homosexuality, addiction and home births just some of the things that are tackled. Dunham and her writing team continue to write witty and well-constructed programs where there’s more than a few home truths about friendships, careers, love and sex included in the mix. There are also some great moments of tension and lightness featured in this dramedy and the cameos include Spike Jones, Gillian Jacobs, Marc Maron and Maude Apatow, to name a few.

The special features on the Blu-ray edition are excellent. There are lots of deleted and extended scenes as well as audio commentary with Dunham, her fellow actors and crew. There’s two different blooper reels a well as music videos of Desi and Marnie singing “Breathless” and the latter going solo on “Riverside”. There is also an “Inside the episode” segment where Dunham discusses each instalment as well as a making of featurette.

Girls is a great little program that is bittersweet, relatable and beautiful. It’s a bold TV series where dysfunctional relationships and awkward people are put to the test and the main characters negotiate the lines between adulthood and the steps preceding it. In all, this is a show that examines maturity and expectations with a more realistic frame than sitcoms like Sex In The City and Friends ever did. As such, it makes for art that resembles life and stuff that doesn’t hold back on its constant rawness and glory.

 

Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/girls-season-4-blu-ray-review/

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DVD REVIEW: HALT & CATCH FIRE SERIES 1

halt.and_.catch_.fire

 

Harder, better, faster, stronger. These may be Daft Punk lyrics but they’re also applicable to a TV show called Halt & Catch Fire (named after computer processes that overload the CPU and typically require a restart of the computer). This series is set in Texas in 1983 as a group of fictionalised individuals tried to take on IBM (who had a monopoly of the market) in order to develop their own portable PC. The program is full of melodrama and while it’s engaging at times it can lag a bit at other moments.

The series was written and created by Christopher C. Rogers and Christopher Cantwell and was inspired by the latter person’s father who worked in the industry at the time. The show stars the handsome Lee Pace as the ambitious and complicated, Joe MacMillan Jr. He is a fast-talking visionary and former IBM executive who is hell-bent on carving out his own territory. So he talks his way into a post at a small computer company, the fictional Cardiff Electric.

MacMillan’s main driver wasn’t to necessarily change firms but to seek out one man named Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy (Argo)). Clark is a defeated engineer who has the potential to design a great machine as he and his wife, Donna (Kerry Bishé (Argo) had done this a few years ago but other forces meant that they ultimately failed. Macmillan also goes to give a talk at a computer science class and spots the excellent, young female prodigy Cameron (Mackenzie Davis). She’s a spiky lady but she’s also a brilliant coder and someone who predicts the internet at least a decade in advance.

The series spans over ten parts and the viewers get to see the trio’s ambitions, betrayals and greed happen alongside their main aim to build a revolutionary machine. The material itself could have been quite dry and dull but the program is peppered with enough plot twists and drama to keep it interesting. The two main problems are that the episodes could have been tightened and some of the dialogue could have been a bit more polished to seem a little more realistic than it currently is.

The special features are satisfactory. They include “inside the episode” segments where the cast and crew are interviewed as well as some short featurettes about recreating the period and paying homage to the tech giants, including the creation of the fictional company, Cardiff Electric. In part this series is styled to be like Mad Man but it doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights. It’s also not a patch on the recent, Silicon Valley, which deals with some of the same issues (albeit in a contemporary environment) and in a more fun and comedic manner.

In all, Halt & Catch Fire has its moments and it’s a good premise but it is let down by some minor flaws in its execution. One gets the sense that there is untapped potential to be found amongst these bits and bytes. But that said it still makes technology accessible and can entertain the audience with the story behind the innovators that influenced the technological boon and shaped the modern computing world of today.

Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/halt-catch-fire-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S THE HOLLOW CROWN SEASON 1

thehollowcrown

 

How do you sum up a series like The Hollow Crown and do it justice? The program is an epic four part one that covers the Shakespearian plays known as the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV (broken up into two parts) and Henry V. The result is a lush, historic drama that is given some contemporary twists while still remaining true to the source material and relevant to the present day.

The series is produced by Rupert Ryle-Hodges but has different directors. Rupert Goold directs Richard II and his casting of Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as the titular king may have initially been a curious one but it has ultimately paid off. Whishaw is electric as Richard (and he won a BAFTA for his performance). He plays Richard as an effeminate, other-worldly being at times borrowing mannerisms from Michael Jackson and at other moments being positively Christ-like. In less capable hands this could have been a disaster but here he is mesmerising as he falls from grace.

Richard II makes a big mistake and puts his own personal interests ahead of his own country. He initially directs Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) and his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) to fight a duel. But then he changes his mind and simply banishes the pair. This sets Bolingbroke off on his own course of action, as he plans to overthrow Richard and he succeeds.

In the next instalment Bolingbroke is now King Henry IV and is played by Jeremy Irons (The Borgias). He has matured but is still dealing with issues regarding his kingship. This play is broken down into two separate parts (and totals over four hours in runtime) and is directed and in part written by Richard Eyre. This play is the most meandering one of the tetralogy and despite being named after the father, tends to be more focused on the son and his coming of age. Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) is Prince Hal and he prefers the company of commoners. He especially enjoys thieving, drinking and staying in pubs in the company of fellow low-lifes and prostitutes.

In Henry V (directed by Thea Sharrock) Hal is now the reigning monarch and paying for the sins of his father (and is again played by Hiddleston). He has his own battles to be fought in France as well as his own girl (Mélanie Thierry) to woo. This program is the most film-like of the four episodes and it turns the play into a kind of tense, war story. It is still emotional and gripping as it begins with the King’s death and works backwards to show all the events that preceded it. These episodes are very highly charged to say the least and there are also some very famous speeches included amongst the proceedings.

The special features on the DVD are disappointing and include just four short featurettes about he plays and the kings. Although these segments include brief interviews with the cast and crew, there was a lot more that could have been said about the series as a whole. The fact that they’re among Shakespeare’s most famous plays and are rendered here on-screen instead of in a theatre (which allows soliloquies to be transformed into voiceovers and other scenes to be rejigged and played out alongside each other) have a huge impact on things. Plus, the fact they’re all documenting an important part of English history and still maintain relevance today is sadly all glossed over.

The Hollow Crown is a broody drama series that looks at the true costs of war and the price of power, love and betrayal. It can be a bloody mess at times as family members are pitted against one another and individuals are left struggling for redemption. This series is a rather cohesive one in that some of the characters are used in subsequent instalments, meaning the viewer is allowed to watch them blossom amongst a fine supporting cast. In all, this is a mesmerising account of some dispossessed and deceased kings who may be gone but their legacies are certainly not forgotten.

Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/william-shakespeares-hollow-crown-season-1-dvd-review/

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