BOOK REVIEW: KELLY DOUST – PRECIOUS THINGS

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Oh you pretty things… Kelly Doust’s debut novel is a celebration of all things precious. It’s a rich, historic fiction book that intricately threads together the stories of the owners of a beaded coronet. This fashion piece is like a cat with nine lives because over the course of the book we learn that it has lived in different countries and continents and has enjoyed being reinvented as a choker, headband, collar and artwork.

Doust has previously written five non-fiction books about craft and fashion. For Precious Things the author tapped into her love of vintage clothing by offering a vibrant account of the different people that wore the collar and their own individual stories. This begins with a woman that is about to get married to a man she barely knows in Normandy and then to death-defying acts with a trapeze artist at a circus. There are dancers in Shanghai and an artist’s muse and model in Italy and eventually it was used by a different model during a now-famous magazine shoot. The main thing is the piece belonged to some very strong, independent and important women through time.

The flashbacks are evocative and lush but there are also a lot of different stories and these could have been fleshed out a little more or at least visited more than once (in some instances). It is often the case that the reader may find themselves getting into the groove of a particular voice or character only to be drawn into a new life of the collar or into the present day. The current owner of the collar is Maggie, an auctioneer working in London and juggling the busy demands of family, a career and being a loving wife and mother. Her character is the one that features the most prominently through the book.

Kelly Doust should be applauded for coming up with such a creative idea and for crafting such an ambitious novel that threads together so many different elements. In addition to all of this, Doust has also managed to capture one important common thread and that is the insatiability of the human spirit and how love and family should prevail and be considered more important than our wants and desires. This novel is for anyone who has ever looked at something and thought, “If only it could talk” because it offers a very vivid, romantic and imaginative tale that celebrates life, love and lust through the ages.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27429391-precious-things

BOOK REVIEW: VANESSA DE LARGIE – DON’T HIT ME!

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Trigger warning: This post includes information about domestic violence and may be distressing for some readers.

Vanessa de Largie’s book will leave you torn. It’s a diarised account of the domestic violence she suffered from 2001–03. On the one hand you wish this book didn’t exist (and that de Largie didn’t have to live through such pain, horror and terror) but on the other hand it’s good to know that others will have somewhere to turn to if they or someone they know is caught as a victim.

De Largie is a successful actress and writer and in some ways she reminds me of Tara Moss. De Largie is a very eloquent, outspoken and vocal in her views on feminism and female sexuality. In Don’t Hit Me! her style is very direct and immediate, and she commands you as a reader to listen to her tragic tale.

This book makes no apologies about being an unconventional and non-traditional one. The story is made up of different vignettes, poems and fragments, which means that the volume can be read in a non-linear way or in fact however the reader may choose. No matter which method the reader decides to employ, the prose is often very graphic and confronting in its detailing the psychological and physical abuse she endured, and the manipulative and controlling behaviour she was subjected to by one violent and unstable man.

Don’t Hit Me! is a bold statement and also one rich and vivid account of de Largie’s life. It’s a book that is told in an effective, no-holds barred way where it is steadfastly raw and gritty. De Largie should be commended for tackling the elephant in the room head-on and opening up the dialogue on an important issue that is too often ignored or swept under the carpet.

Originally published on 24 May 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-dont-hit-me-by-vanessa-de-largie-booktrope-books-2016/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to the arts at: http://arts.theaureview.com

BOOK REVIEW: SUZANNE MONDOUX – HOW I BECAME A DRAGON

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How I Became A Dragon is a book with a good premise but it seems like the author was a bit too close to the subject matter. Suzanne Mondoux is an explorer, writer and environmental professional and she has penned a story that is supposed to be told from the perspective of an elephant that is slaughtered for its ivory. But instead the novella seems to be more about an idealistic conservationist named Heatha and is often an informative, non-fiction-like book detailing some corrupt practices by people and organisations in the Congo.

In Africa it seems that these beautiful animals are endangered and threatened by two different sources. There are the poverty-stricken natives that hunt endangered species because this is one of the few opportunities they have to put food on the table. The other threat is via highly organised, international cartels that steal the ivory for sale overseas. And often the organisations that are supposed to guard against these illegal practices are corrupt and supporting these very activities.

This novel was poorly characterised. The elephant that dies does not even feature that prominently and really doesn’t have a strong voice (this is in contrast to Quinn, The Rottweiler: A Story Of A Dog Dealing With Cancer where Maryly Turner did an excellent job of telling the tale from the dog’s perspective). How I Became A Dragon focuses too heavily on Heatha and includes too much commentary about IWF, TAWLE and MEAF and it is doubtful that an elephant would have such intimate knowledge of these things. In fact, the parts where the conservationist saves a mangabey monkey are actually the most engaging aspects of the entire book.

How I Became A Dragon should have been like a love letter to elephant conservation but instead it is a disjointed novella that isn’t sure whose story it wants to tell or whether it just wants to be an informative and educated look at corruption. This novella is clearly very well-researched but it isn’t properly realised. At the very least one hopes that it will make readers question the ivory trade in the view to stamp out such horrific practices in the future.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27563840-how-i-became-a-dragon

BOOK REVIEW: HARMONY VERNA – DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA

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Daughter of Australia is an epic love story and slice of Australiana. But it’s also amazing to note that the author is not even an Aussie. The novel is actually Harmony Verna’s debut one and she has beautifully captured our land of boundless plains with her gorgeous and evocative prose. Daughter of Australia is ultimately a very easy-to-read book that is engrossing and hard to put down.

The story begins with a sweet little girl being abandoned in the West Australian desert. She is on the verge of death but luckily she is also saved by a passing miner named Ghan. This disabled and big-hearted man takes the child to a doctor and eventually she recovers and goes to live in a local orphanage. But she is so traumatised by this past experience that she becomes a mute.

At the orphanage the little girl named Leonora (after the town where she was found) is cared for by a well-meaning priest. Another orphan child named James also ends up befriending Leonora. James is a boy with a heart of gold because he abhors injustice and cruelty. The pair become firm friends but their relationship does not last because eventually Leonora is adopted by a rich American couple and James goes to live in country Australia with extended members of his Irish family.

The two children grow up having difficult lives in their own unique ways. Leonora is trapped by a brutal aunt and forced into an unhappy marriage with a mean and ambitious mining tycoon. James on the other hand has a life of hard graft on his aunt and uncle’s vast and unforgiving property. The pair are eventually reunited when Leonora’s husband purchases land and mines in rural Australia and James comes looking for work. This reunion will leave readers asking whether the two old friends will be able to rekindle their past affections or will the divide between two classes be a bridge too far?

Daughter of Australia has been likened to Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and it’s easy to see why. This novel is also worthy of comparison to Bryce Courtney’s Jessica. Daughter of Australia is ultimately a rich book that tackles a number of different threads and issues like: race, love, class, jealousy, work, grief and fear. The characters are vivid, engaging and feel like real people. This book is ultimately a delightful Australiana one and journey towards discovery and identity. It’s also one where beautiful language is juxtaposed against the harsh, Australian outback. It’s simply gorgeous!

***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-daughter-of-australia

DVD REVIEW: 7 CHINESE BROTHERS

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There’s a joke in Wayne’s World about the main character having a large collection of name tags and hair nets. In 7 Chinese Brothers the filmmakers have taken that scene as inspiration and dragged it out into a 76 minute movie.  The film is a slacker-driven, character study that seems as aimless as its leading man.

The film is written and directed by Bob Byington and stars Jason Schwartzman. The latter seems to be playing a rather similar role to his previous one in Listen Up Philip. In 7 Chinese Brothers Schwartzman plays Larry, a man child and alcoholic who is fired from the restaurant he works at because he is caught stealing. As payback he decides to key a colleague’s car and somehow he manages to blag his way into another minimum-wage paying job at Quick Lube.

Larry settles into a monotonous everyday existence at the car mechanic. He is a lonely guy who has a bull-dog named Arrow for company (the actual dog belongs to Schwartzman and he is arguably the best actor here). Larry is also besotted with his no-nonsense manger, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta) and he has no living family members save for his sharp-tongued grandma (Olympia Dukakis who is so much better than this). The latter lives at a care home where Larry visits her frequently (but these social calls are also a way for Larry to replenish his drug supply thanks to a helpful nurse (TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe)).

It is hard for the audience to really care or root for such a loser. Larry is unemployable and unqualified and his life is so tedious to watch. It’s hard to be invested in a film with such one-sided conversations and such a flimsy and light-weight plot, especially when this character study is about such an unlikeable guy and his pointless journey to nowhere. The special features are also rather uninspiring and include a short Q&A with Schwartzman, Adebimpe, Byington and Arrow the dog.

This film is named after an old R.E.M song but the comparisons stop there. 7 Chinese Brothers is ultimately a silly film with a name that doesn’t fit. It tries to be cool and indie with a good score courtesy of Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio and cameos by Ben Kweller, Alex Karpovsky of Girls and Alex Ross Perry. But this all seems like its pure style and no substance. In all, 7 Chinese Brothers is an offbeat film that is too forgetful and lacking to really cut through.

Originally published on 18 May 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/7-chinese-brothers-dvd-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

LIVE REVIEW: ERIC BURDON & THE ANIMALS + THE KEVIN BORICH EXPRESS @ ENMORE THEATRE (17.05.2016)

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Eric Burdon always had a voice that made him sound like a weathered old bluesman, and now his body has finally caught up. The lead singer of The Animals recently celebrated his 75th birthday, and this Enmore show proved that although older and wiser, he can still effect pure nonchalance.

The Kevin Borich Express opened with ‘21st Century’, a rocking piece of raw power that had something in common with Jimi Hendrix’s work. Kevin Borich demonstrated some amazing guitar skills as he teased and conjured up great blues licks for songs like ‘Snowball King’. ‘Fight On’ was a thoughtful look at cancer, while ‘Gonna See My Baby Tonight’ served as a sweet lullaby to end a sharp and entertaining set.

When Eric Burdon performs he is basically saying, “For better or worse, you take me as I am.” He wore sunglasses for the whole concert as well as a crazy, psychedelic shirt that was so loud it made crowd members blush. He would often resort to reading his lyrics off a screen, and when he wasn’t doing that, he pottered around the stage and offered quips about fantastic Aussie seafood, or at other points ignored the audience completely in order to chat with an offsider. The guy is the epitome of devil-may-care cool.

‘Spill The Wine’ had a real, funky groove as Burdon’s young six-piece band (another incarnation of The Animals) played a tight track that was true to the original. Burdon still has a great, gravelly voice and scratchy vocals that show only limited signs of aging.

‘When I Was Young’ was reinvented as a mid-paced ballad that bled straight into ‘Inside Looking Out’. Burdon and band also performed a number of cover songs; some of these hauntingly good, like Lead Belly’s ‘In The Pines’ (made famous by Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged In New York), while others did not work at all (see David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, on which the lyrics were still fluffed and Burdon couldn’t hold a candle to Ziggy).

The Animals’ biggest hits were the real highlights of the night. ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ and ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’ sent shivers down the spine of everyone in attendance. The evening concluded with ‘It’s My Life’, and never before had the lyrics seemed so apt – for better or worse, Eric Burdon is Eric Burdon, and he ain’t changing.

 

Originally published on 19 May 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/eric-burdon-animals-enmore-theatre

Visit The Brag’s homepage at: http://thebrag.com/

FOOD REVIEW: MOVENPICK SYDNEY

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The days of going out for ice-cream and eating a scoop in a cone or a cup are over thanks to Mövenpick. The Swiss brand (owned by Nestlé) has recently launched their 25th Australian store in Sydney. This is a flagship store; a dessert boutique that offers customers a full dining experience including an outdoor seating area resembling a hidden laneway in Melbourne. The store serves up waffles, crêpes, fondants, pastries and other desserts that complement the fine experience that is eating a Mövenpick ice-cream.

 

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Mövenpick’s founder Ueli Prager once said, “We do nothing extraordinary; our success lies in the fact we do simple things in an extraordinary way”. It is this desire to not overcomplicate flavours that really rings true in Mövenpick’s desserts. There are 24 different ice-cream varieties, each with a subtle, fresh taste. The ice-cream is free of artificial colours, flavours and additives. There is an emphasis on fresh ingredients, which is bliss meaning when trying ice-creams such as the strawberry and mango varieties, as you can actually see, savour, enjoy and taste the pieces of fruit.

 

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A new addition to the Mövenpick family is the blueberry cheesecake ice-cream which offers a unique spin on an iconic dessert. It is available for $4.95 for a single scoop and also as a shake ($7.95) and with waffles ($16.95). The ice-cream has also been used in a new dessert collaboration between Mövenpick and former teacher-turned-cake maker and dessert creative, Katherine Sabbath. For a limited time customers can try the rich chocolate shortbread tartlet filled with a scoop ofMövenpick ice-cream, complete with a dark chocolate and raspberry chocolate shard, drizzled in a raspberry coulis ($12.95).

 

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Katherine Sabbath has remained true to Mövenpick’s modest ethos by offering a dessert that appears minimal in looks, yet offers a balanced and different array of flavour profiles. The chocolate tart is crunchy and sweet like an after-dinner biscuit, while the cheesecake ice-cream is creamy, decadent and has a subtle floral and berry flavour. The freeze-dried raspberry offers a more intense tartness, while the shard looks so pretty and precious; it’s rather like the jewel on the crown. The dessert is also served on a plate that looks like Seinfeld’s black and white cookie! The overall package is very yummy and looks bound to please any discerning foodie or ice-cream fan.

 

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Mövenpick also offer a range of other desserts, with their sorbets proving a real hit in summer, while winter sees a spike in sales for waffles and fondants. The ice-cream brand began in Switzerland in 1948, initially providing fine food to restaurants. It has gone from strength-to-strength, evolving from outdoor kiosks and take-way stores, to the new look dessert parlours, perfect for relaxing in the company of good friends around a table, or in large booths just like a retro diner! It’s a fun experience and the ice-cream really shines thanks to its natural and premium ingredients that scream quality.

 

Do yourself a favour and try a flavour.

 

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Originally published on 18 May 2016 at the following website: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/405/#8

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

COMEDY REVIEW: THE DOUG ANTHONY ALLSTARS @ ENMORE THEATRE (15.05.2016)

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If you assumed The Doug Anthony Allstars would mellow due to the passing of time, you were wrong.

Tim Ferguson and Paul McDermott were sans nice guy Richard Fidler for their comeback show at the Enmore Theatre, but this just made the performance more sharp-tongued and edgy as ever, as they provided an evening of outrageous and confronting jokes where nothing was off-limits.

Paul ‘Flacco’ Livingston accompanied the pair and played acoustic guitar. The trio reworked songs like ‘Lola’ to be about ‘Ebola’ and the ‘Y.M.C.A.’ turned into a recruitment tune for ISIS. Ferguson offered up a cheeky feminist poem while McDermott lashed out at the “sad” and “desperate” reunion acts with their “worthless” merch, tongue pressed firmly in cheek.

McDermott described his lot the best when he said he was “working with a pensioner and a cripple”. Ferguson is wheelchair-bound these days due to his multiple sclerosis, and it offered lots of fodder for comedy, with the former Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush star laughing about his debilitating disease. He told us about how he speeds through customs thanks to some choice moves like the tilt, the paws, the shoulder and the teeth, while McDermott admitted he’d been suffering too on account of his dandruff.

The latest incarnation of The Doug Anthony Allstars may well be even wilder and more aggressive and provocative than ever before – perhaps because the group’s members have reach an advanced stage of grumpy old man in their approach to the universe. Either way, their Sydney return was very funny and cheeky as they picked on themselves as well as new, topical items and life in general. They asked to be remembered as the brilliant young men who took on the world over three decades earlier before closing with a particularly rousing rendition of ‘I Fuck Dogs’. Their angry, almost punk-style comedy and Python-esque cheek are still alive and well, and prove they remain one unholy trinity of misfits.

Originally published on 17 May 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/doug-anthony-allstars-0

Visit The Brag’s homepage at: http://thebrag.com/

THEATRE REVIEW: DAFFODILS [INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS] @ RIVERSIDE THEATRE, PARRAMATTA (12.05.2016)

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Some shows work best when certain things are kept to a minimum. Prince’s “Piano and a Microphone” concerts were one such example as is the kiwi cabaret known as Daffodils [inspired by true events]. The play is a love story inspired by writer, Rochelle Bright’s parents and grandparents meeting at the same spot in New Zealand in a field of daffodils.

The staging is very bare bones. On the left we have a Teddy boy electrician named Eric (Todd Emerson) standing barefoot on a carpet and singing into a microphone with a punchy enthusiasm. On the right is the woman he eventually calls his wife, Rose (Colleen Davis) who is resplendent in a red party dress and singing her own soaring vocals into another microphone. The pair are like two islands, they don’t touch or look at each other because they really only meet through words and song and it is a testament to Emerson and Davis’s great performances that they can achieve so much with so little direct engagement.

It is the music in Daffodils that really holds this boy-meets-girl love story together. The track listing also looks like a who’s who of New Zealand music with the likes of Chris Knox, Crowded House, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn, The Swingers and The Mint Chicks among the references. The music is played by an indie trio made up of Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin and Stephanie Brown. The latter also worked as the arranger for the show and plays the role of the narrator or Rochelle Bright in this story. The songs are raw and stripped down versions of the originals and they really heighten the emotion in the room as the story unfolds.

The proceedings begin with Eric and Rose meeting while the latter is drunk and “feeding the ducks” in Hamilton, New Zealand. The sweet hearted, Eric offers to drive this Presbyterian farm girl home even though she lives hours away. A romance blossoms despite Eric going overseas for a trip. The pair eventually reunite and marry and the scenes of the nuptials are accompanied by real black and white super eight footage of Bright’s parents while a whimsical version of Chris Knox’s “Not Given Lightly” plays. At other moments in the play there are other videos and photographs shown and these are courtesy of Garth Badger. 

The couple negotiate the muddy waters of child-rearing, mortgages, unemployment and other domestic issues but life is not always a bed of roses or sea of daffodils. There is love, betrayal, death and misunderstandings, aplenty. A haunting version of Crowded House’s “Fall At Your Feet” really drives home the differences in the male and female’s perspectives in this intimate and personal tale. In fact, this story feels like such a private one it’s almost like the pair are recounting their own experiences from their lounge rooms and in front of around a hundred of their closest friends and family.

Daffodils is not just a classic romance, it’s also a love letter to some excellent, New Zealand music. This nuanced and emotional show is brimming with some intense moments as the audience are led in deep into the world of Eric and Rose and what it really feels like to walk a mile in their individual shoes. This play may be a story from our New Zealand cousins but it’s also a universal saga where the spoken words and music culminate to tell the tragic, romantic ballad of Eric and Rose.

Originally published on 16 May 2016 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/review-daffodils-riverside-theatre-parramatta-12th-may-2016/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to the arts at: http://arts.theaureview.com

BLU-RAY REVIEW: FORREST GUMP

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It’s been over 20 years since audiences were introduced to an idiot-savant named Forrest Gump. The whimsical dramedy was like Gump’s own telling of this one American life. It was ultimately an extraordinary story told in a magical way and was a well-deserved recipient of the Best Picture Oscar at the 67th Academy Awards.

The film is a sentimental adaptation of a novel by Winston Groom and the screenplay was written by Eric Roth. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis who had helmed the Back to the Future films and would go on to work with Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Forrest Gump is a captivating and rich story that is full of both dark and sweet elements meaning there will be moments that will make you want to laugh, cry or will tug at your heart strings.

The Oscar-winning, Tom Hanks stars as the simple but charming, Gump. The film opens with the famous scenes of the pure white feather floating through the air before we stop to sit with Gump at a bus stop as he gently tells us his life story. It’s one full of wide-eyed optimism and some famous one-liners and it’s a tale that can appeal to everybody because it is told with such sincerity.

We learn that Gump has met US presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon as well as helping people to uncover the Watergate scandal. Gump has also met some famous rock stars, he taught Elvis Presley dance when the hound dog stayed at the Gump family home quite early on in his career and Gump also appeared with John Lennon on the Dick Cavett show. When Gump wasn’t busy rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous he also managed to run across the country, play college football, play ping-pong for America, fight in Vietnam and evolve into an astute businessman and shrimp boat captain.

Gump’s childhood friend and lifelong love was Jenny (Robin Wright). She had a series of issues to contend with in her life and hers was nowhere near as successful as Gump’s. Jenny tries her hand at singing, stripping, political activism, drugs and sex. Jenny’s life was a complicated one because she was abused by her father when she was young. By comparison, Gump was encouraged by his adoring mother (Sally Field) and she had her own unique way of explaining things to her mentally-challenged son, like likening life to a box of chocolates because “You never know what you’re gonna get”.

Forrest Gump is still captivating to watch thanks to its vivid storyline and some excellent lead performances. A special mention should also be made about the film’s fabulous soundtrack because it reads like a who’s who of popular American music from the mid to late 20th century. The film is also a visual delight thanks to the ultra HD video and the tireless work of Ken Ralston the special effects supervisor and his team. It is thrilling to watch the meetings between Gump and various stars as well as watching Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) transform from able-bodied to a double amputee. You’d swear it was all real and this is particularly amazing when you consider that CGI was not used as commonly back then as it is today.

The Blu-ray edition has an extensive number of informative special features. These include feature-length documentaries about the making of the film including the art of screenplay adaption, the visual and sound effects and casting the younger version of Forrest Gump (Michael Conner Humphreys). There is a Q & A-style panel with Hanks, Roth, Zemeckis and Sinise as well as lots of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Two theatrical trailers are also included as well as some screen tests and an extensive look at the film’s soundtrack with Rolling Stone’s Ben Fong-Torres. The latter is joined by musicians like: Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Ray Manzarek, Roger McGuinn, Scott McKenzie, John Phillips, Pete Seeger and Jackson Browne, to name a few.

Forrest Gump is a Southern dream about an American hero. It’s an emotional and inspiration film that seems to be made out of fine, magical pixie dust. While the story may be a long one, it’s worth every minute to step inside the sweet, charming and sentimental world of Forrest Gump and his friends as they celebrate a life that was well-lived.

Originally published on 11 May 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/forrest-gump-blu-ray-review/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com/

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