DVD REVIEW: HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT

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How To Make An American Quilt is a film that is written by, directed by and starring women. It’s a dramatic story that looks at a group of women and the love, hurt, lies and betrayals they have experienced in their course of loving men. The story isn’t’ an overly preachy one but it does try to cover a bit too much ground. This means it’s like a missed opportunity where you are often just scratching the surface of all the characters and their different backstories.

The film was originally a novel by Whitney Otto and was adapted for the screen by Jane Anderson with our very own, Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker) at the helm. Winona Ryder (Little Women) stars as Finn, a flighty Berkeley masters student who seems to go through thesis and research ideas like some people go through clean clothes. Finn is the product of a broken home so she’s a little apprehensive when she is asked for her hand in marriage by her well-meaning boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney.)

Finn’s response to the proposal is to go and live in California with her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn.) It is there that she is introduced to her gran’s quilting group. These strong women have come together to make Finn’s wedding present, a gift about the meaning of love. As the group sit around sewing and sharing their stories they open up to Finn about their own broken hearts and bittersweet romances. Some of these flashbacks have culminated in broken dreams, single motherhood or longing over what might have been. In other instances the women found themselves either in the arms of another man or their beau’s arms wrapped around another woman’s.

This story is tender and it tries to get you to think. Finn’s own character has a lot of introspection and navel-gazing to do. There’s the marriage proposal and her thesis to contemplate as well as the promise of an exciting summer fling with the seductive Leon (Johnathon Schaech.) Finn also enjoys the refuge and counsel offered by these wise older women who have been through a lot before and essentially had a lot of adventures and life experience that they can talk about.

How To Make An American Quilt is not a perfect film where the characters rich backstories from a detailed and cohesive tapestry. Instead, it barely skirts around the surface of these vignettes meaning it’s all a little haphazard, just like in real life. In all, this is a good little film where some strong performances take us on a journey through some methodical stories about love, loss and life. It’s like a lukewarm chicken soup for the soul, it could’ve been tasty but it is lacking a bit in bite.

 

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/how-to-make-an-american-quilt-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE HUNTING GROUND

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The Hunting Ground is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one. The documentary looks at the epidemic of sexual assaults taking place on American university campuses. It also shows the victims that are silenced, ignored or discouraged to report the cases to the authorities. This film is ultimately a raw, frightening and probing one that will challenge your thinking.

This film is written and directed by Kirby Dick who was also responsible for The Invisible War about sexual violence in the military. The Hunting Ground includes lots of talking head interviews with clinical psychologists, academics, writers and victim advocates. But perhaps the most confronting interviews are with the rape survivors themselves. Often these are strong, young, eloquent women who had great dreams for their careers and studies as well as good grades.

The futures of these young women victims (and occasionally young men) are jeopardised by opportunistic thugs taking advantage of a broken system. This documentary proves that the institutions themselves are the most defective. Representatives at the intuitions often actively discourage victims from reporting the crimes and they also try to bury the true incidence rates of these assaults. They do so in order to ensure that they still get funding from private donors and to maintain an image that will result in an enthusiastic queue of new students lining up to study there.

This documentary also includes some re-enactments of the crimes and it begins with a group of students reacting to their college acceptance notices. It’s a jubilant moment that’s at odds with the information that is to come. This film also has a pop soundtrack featuring music by Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga and Birdy. While it’s commendable that the filmmaker has supported a group of female artists, some of the music was a tad unnecessary.

The Hunting Ground does interview a rapist but that discussion is not the most enlightening because we do not get a sense of his true motivation. Apart from this one interview, the movie does tend to side with the individuals that claim the sexual assault. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing as this group have had enough of the odds stacked against them on their campuses and in their communities. But it does mean this documentary is not a balanced one, especially as the heads of various universities also declined to be interviewed.

If there is one hopeful message to take away from this film it is that there are around 100 colleges under investigation by the US government for their treatment of sexual assault cases. This film also shows some amazing women like Andrea Pino and Annie Clark who work tirelessly to assist other rape survivors. The Hunting Ground is ultimately a nightmare that shows that one in five women will be sexually assaulted at university. This is frustrating stuff that will break your heart and make you mad, but it’s essential to watch in order to prevent it from being swept under the carpet any longer.

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-hunting-ground-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: REGRESSION

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Regression is a film that lives up to its name because for you to recall any of it you’d have to go back and watch it again and again. The film is a dark one set in 1990 in rural Minnesota. It’s also one that is based on real-life events. But the story and characters are ultimately too weak and underdeveloped to lift this beyond the realm of a mediocre thriller.

The film is written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar (The Others). It seems that Amenábar was a bit too close to the subject matter. The majority of the characters feel as light-weight as holograms. Regression also often has as much horror, suspense and tension as a wet blanket.

Emma Watson stars as a troubled, 17 year-old girl who accuses her alcoholic father, John Gray (David Dencik) of rape. The Dad spends a lot of time reassuring the investigators that his daughter is nice girl who would never make this up, despite his having no recollection of the crime. The police officer investigating the case (Ethan Hawke) is initially sceptical but he begins to change his tune after he witnesses some regression therapy sessions between a psychologist (David Thewlis) and the accused. These basically culminate in memories being planted.

At times it feels like the investigator has flipped a switch. He becomes so doggedly assured that the allegations are true and that Gray’s family must be involved in a ritualistic cult. Never mind if this implicates one of his fellow officers. The dark acts involve lots of sex, rape, human sacrifice and even the consumption of human flesh, yuck! The subject matter is provocative but the film is so formulaic and far-fetched that you can’t take it very seriously (even if the film itself tries to do so!)

This story is ultimately quite dubious, especially as the therapy is pure charlatanism. This flat film tries to be raw and mysterious but in many instances it seems quite predictable, ridiculous and forgettable. Some underwhelming performances (from quality actors doing the best they can with the turgid source material) make this regression session too dull and boring for its own good. Yawn.

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/regression-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: POH & CO SEASON 2

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Poh & Co. is a cooking and reality TV show starring Poh Ling Yeow, the former runner up of MasterChef Australia and the presenter of Poh’s Kitchen. This program has a homely, old school feel. In it Yeow spends time cooking and laughing while in the company of her family, friends and Scottish terrier dogs in suburban Adelaide. The result is a helpful and unpretentious series that is not dissimilar to River Cottage Australia.

The second season has nine separate parts and it tracks Yeow and her friends as they realise their dreams of opening a café in Adelaide’s Central Markets as well as their taking over a commercial kitchen. This space allows Yeow to come up with new ice-cream flavours and to expand their market stall with the help of her best friend, Sarah Rich. The latter is now married to Yeow’s ex-husband and manager, Matt Phipps, but this is not mentioned at all in the program.

Yeow seems incredibly happy and busy with her new husband, Jono Bennett and all of the things they have going on. The two have a large garden in their backyard and this series includes some home renovations like designing a feature wall inside and a glasshouse in the yard, as well as an urban beehive to top things off. Another guest on this series is a fellow MasterChef alumnus, Andre Ursini as well as Yeow’s mother and Aunty Kim plus a bunch of eccentrics from the markets.

Poh’s recipes seem like a good mix of different flavours. She likes combining different ingredients and techniques in an uncomplicated way. A real highlight is the rainbow cake she makes for a children’s party because it looks like it belongs at a mad-hatters tea party. Other recipes include her mother’s laksa, tea-smoked duck, crème caramel, kimchi and American-style smoked ribs, to name a few. The food is mouth-watering and a pure feast for the eyes. It was disappointing however, that this DVD contained no special features.

Poh & Co. is all about having fun with gorgeous food in the presence of friends and family. This vivacious artist and chef is an absolute joy to watch. She makes things fun and her outlook is rosy, even when her life seems quite busy and chaotic. In all, this program is a low-key one full of great advice and food and it’s one where dreams become reality and new ideas are hatched and can run free. Wow!

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/poh-co-series-2-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: BETTER THAN SEX – WOMEN WRITE ABOUT SEX & ROMANCE IN THE DIGITAL AGE

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Better Than Sex may have a big title but it’s ultimately a bit of a misnomer. The book is actually a collection of essays by 16 female writers who discuss sex, love and romance in this modern, digital age. This is the third book about and by contemporary women to be compiled and edited by author and journalist, Samantha Trenoweth. It offers some interesting and engaging discussions about a range of topics and offers a number of different perspectives.

The point of this book was to see whether women have more or less choice in the current landscape of love or one that incudes Tinder, internet dating, selfies and internet porn. A number of the authors (Zan Rowe, Maggie MK Hess and Van Badham) try internet dating with varying degrees of success. Other writers like the happily married, Zoe Norton Lodge and Emily Maguire examine topics like desire and how they keep the spark alive. Roxane Gay offers us a moving piece of short fiction about grief and guilt but it feels like it belongs in a different anthology altogether.

Catharine Lumby looks at how teenagers are navigating the minefield of internet porn, sexting and dating that is played out on social media while Rosie Waterland describes naked selfies. Lena Dunham offers a fabulous piece on marriage and her own ambivalence towards it. And Celeste Liddle offers us some insightful ideas about the clash between individuality and community that often affects Aboriginal women and what they do to reconcile these rather disparate elements.

This volume will challenge you and make you think differently about some ideas and will have you nodding or disagreeing with others. The book is a very direct, no-holds barred look at love in the digital age. It’s also a rather personal and engaging read by a number of female writers. It also allows you to walk a mile in their shoes. Excellent.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/better-than-sex/10055725/

DVD REVIEW: THE RIVER COTTAGE COLLECTION 3

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Some people may be fans of River Cottage Australia set in Central Tilba in NSW. But what they may not know is that the man behind this fabulous idea is English celebrity chef, food writer and activist, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The latter has presented a number of different River Cottage specials in the UK. In Australia we are now lucky to have The River Cottage Collection 3 available on DVD. This draws together the specials, Three Go Mad, To The Core and Scandimania.

This set is a rather eclectic one given that the three specials contain such different subjects. Scandimania is more of a travel program where Hugh visits Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Three Go Mad has very special guests from British television visiting the River Cottage farm in Dorset and cooking up a storm while To The Core is a cooking show that will challenge your thinking about fruit.

The Scandinavian special includes cooking as well as some history and stereotypes. In Sweden there is a rather indulgent section about Abba, a visit to the group’s museum, some dreadful karaoke and an interview with Björn Ulvaeus. The Denmark instalment has an interview with Noma’s René Redzepi plus segments about wind farming, European sperm banks and Danish pastries. The series concludes in Norway where Hugh interviews the Ylvis Brothers, visits a prison island and feasts on sea urchins.

Sometimes it’s the guests that make the UK River Cottage such a fascinating show. This is particularly the case in the set’s highlight, Three Go Mad. This particular one was divided into three parts, one with actors like Felicity Kendal (The Good Life) and Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes (both of Ashes to Ashes fame.) The special on the comedians offers the most familiar faces with Robert Webb (Peep Show,) Lee Mack (Would I Lie To You?) and Ruby Wax. This program was all about getting celebrities as enthusiastic about working on the farm and cooking as Hugh and his team. This is particularly evident in the Christmas special where a scrooge-like Kathy Burke is won over by a salt crusted baked sea bass stuffed with fennel and bay leaves. Yum!

The final DVD is about all things fruit. In this series Hugh tries to change our way of thinking and get us to incorporate more fruit into our everyday cooking, including savoury dishes. While the thought of a sirloin steak with strawberries may not initially whet your appetite, the way the dish is finished makes it look scrumdiddlyumptious. This four-part set is designed for each of the seasons and offers some great tips and tricks. The only downside is that in some cases these fruits are native to the UK and are unlikely to be found in Australian supermarkets. But it’s still good to learn about different flavours and textures.

The River Cottage Collection 3 is another fine instalment about all things food and farming from the River Cottage crew. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a warm, engaging and enthusiastic presenter. His love of food is really obvious and infectious. These programs are all interesting and they should get you thinking differently about food and to step back and appreciate it in all its finery.

Originally published on 14 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/dvd-review-the-river-cottage-collection-3/

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DVD REVIEW: CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES

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Cancer is a cruel disease. It’s also a very common one. It’s estimated that one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with it. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is a comprehensive and informative documentary series that offers us a history of cancer (including how researchers came to understand the disease) plus how treatments have been discovered and what happens next in this important field.

This series is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee who also appears here as a talking head in this program. The show is directed by Barak Goodman and it counts Ken Burns as an executive producer. Over the course of the filming, two individuals from the production team would die from cancer, including narrator Edward Herrmann and producer, Laura Ziskin.
The DVD is divided into six, hour-long episodes although in America it was presented as three, two-hour long programs.

The show combines interviews with: researchers, advocates, oncologists, patients, philanthropists and other doctors and nurses working in the cancer field. It combines archive footage and photographs (that are presented in the best quality video and audio.) Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies  is ultimately a very important documentary because it hits home that no one is immune to cancer and that this disease has a number of causes, including some that are unknown while others that can be linked to inherited genes, viruses, chemicals, etc.

In episode one we learn about how cancer has been around for hundreds of years. It was even mentioned in some Ancient Egyptian scrolls. The focus then shifts to the pioneers, the mistakes and breakthroughs of the last 100 years. Some of the first major breakthroughs were by Sidney Farber or the father of modern chemotherapy. In the following episode there are discussions about surgery and radiation and the idea that some of the drugs that treat cancer can also cause this dreaded disease.

By the 1940s the medical fraternity still considered cancer as a single disease that would have a single cure. A lot of research would follow and would aid in the understanding of this disease. This resulted in some researchers looking into the role of oncogenes (genes that under some circumstances can transform a cell into a tumour cell) as a way of detecting and fighting cancer.

There is a discussion about the horrific radical mastectomies that were once routine and believed to be the best treatment for breast cancer. This was later disproven and different trials lead to the discovery of better treatments (including certain drugs.) There was a shift in thinking about cancer to encourage prevention and early detection. The series ends with the formulation of the HPV vaccine that can account for a substantial number of breast and ovarian cancers.

Cancer: The Emperor Of All Maladies features clear and concise descriptions of cancer including its evolution and the way we think about, understand and treat this disease. It offers possible treatments for the future (targeted therapies and immunotherapy) as well as what has worked and failed. This documentary straddles the lines between hard science and history as well as offering up the real, human impact of cancer (by showing actual cancer patients and their families.) This documentary is essential viewing because it covers such a fundamental issue for humans as we stare down the barrel of either being diagnosed with the disease or knowing someone that has been there.

Originally published on 11 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cancer-the-emperor-of-all-maladies-dvd-review/

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ITUNES REVIEW: THE SWEET ESCAPE (COMME UN AVION)

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There has been a lot said about the importance of the journey over the destination. Sometimes the trip teaches you more than the end point and some people have likened life to a journey. The French film, The Sweet Escape (Comme un avion) seems to capture all of this. It’s a rather aimless romantic comedy showing one man’s response to his mid-life crisis.

The film is written and directed by Bruno Podalydès. It also stars the latter in the lead role of Michel, a 50-year-old graphic artist who is restless. Michel seeks a sea change away from his hum-drum, urban lifestyle and a long marriage to his supportive wife (Sandrine Kiberlain.) Michel originally toyed with the idea of learning to fly but instead decides on a kayak as his mode of transport and this leads to some funny results.

Michel’s journey sees him set off a few kilometres down the river. He eventually settles into a sparse existence camping on a riverbank and frequenting a nearby restaurant. It is here that he meets and befriends the restaurant’s widower owner, Laëtitia (Agnès Jaoui) and the gorgeous waitress, Mila (Vimala Pons.) Michel purposely cuts his journey short but he tries to keep up the pretence of continuing the grand adventure to his wife. In reality, he’s just sitting around drinking absinthe with some eccentrics and satisfying some of his carnal desires.

The Sweet Escape is a beautifully shot film with a diverse soundtrack that veers into pop, classical, folk and dance territories. This film is ultimately a subtle reflection on one man’s existential crisis and while it is pleasant enough, it is lacking a point or a solid sense of direction. In all, this journey off the beaten track seems fine at times but at other moments it is like being stuck on a road to nowhere.

Originally published on 11 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-sweet-escape-comme-un-avion-itunes-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MICHELINE LEE – THE HEALING PARTY

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Micheline Lee’s debut novel, The Healing Party is so intense and personal, it almost feels like a memoir. The story is about a dying mother and how her evangelical, Christian family rally around to support her while they wait for God to grant them all a miracle. The book is ultimately quite a rich and complex one about grief, hope, faith and love.

The story’s narrator is Natasha Chan, a creative 25-year-old who was raised as a Christian Charismatic. The devotees of this particular religious order pray, preach, sing and speak in tongues. Once Natasha finished high school she became estranged from her family and fled from Melbourne to Darwin. While she is spiritual in a new age sense, she rejected the faith that she was brought up to believe as gospel.

Natasha receives a phone call from her elder sister Anita that will change her life. Their mother has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Natasha said she would return to Melbourne immediately to face her family and the conflicted emotions she had about individual members and their obedient senses of faith.

The Chan family is made up of the strong and steely mother, Irene, who is adored by many for being straightforward and a natural beauty. There is her husband, Paul, a convert to the Charismatic faith and one enthusiastic and unrelenting devotee. He is also an intense artist, manipulator and womaniser. It is hard for Chan’s daughters to reconcile all of these contradictory elements to his personality and Natasha finds this the most difficult of all. The Chan girls are made up of the bossy elder sister, Anita, the fanatical, Maria and the reserved and anorexic, Patsy.

One day Paul Chan declares that he has received a message from the Lord. Irene will be healed of her cancer thanks to a miracle, provided that everyone believes and does not question this. The family plan a fabulous healing party with their friends in order to celebrate. But Natasha is left reeling, her relationship with her family was already quite fractured and fraught. She also can’t help but think that their belief in the miracle is a denial of the inevitability of death.

The Healing Party has gorgeous, evocative prose. Micheline Lee uses a deft hand to navigate some rather complicated topics and for the most part makes the story feel like a real emotional rollercoaster. While some readers may find the religious elements a tad over-bearing, preachy and tiresome, the story is ultimately a warm and raw reflection on some rather difficult subjects like death, dying and forgiveness.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28797084-the-healing-party

ALBUM REVIEW: THE JOHN STEEL SINGERS – MIDNIGHT AT THE PLUTONIUM

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The John Steel Singers are no strangers to producing bright, poppy sounds. But on their third studio album, Midnight at the Plutonium their venue of choice is a disco in the seventies and a soundtrack punctuated by smooth basslines, sweet melodies and hypnotic synths.

Single, “Weekend Lover” boasts local champions Donny Benet on keys and Jonathan Boulet on vocals and they seem to have created some healthy rivalry, because it comes across like a competition for the highest falsetto and tightest pants. The result is an awesome party anthem with a fabulous video clip to boot.

“Can You Feel The Future” is nothing less than a bizarre, eight-minute epic that started life as a psychedelic jam and includes some sultry saxophone lines and a bass that bubbles like an effervescent soft drink. It’s the complete opposite to the slower, more dream-like “Taxi or Walk?” This short interlude of introspection doesn’t last long, however, because it’s clear that this record has sold its soul to seventies funk and pop.

Midnight at the Plutonium is the sound of a confident in a playful mood, tinkering away on various pieces of instrumentation for its own amusement. Good times.

 

Originally published on 19 May 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/archive/music/all/review/all

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