FILM REVIEW: LONG STRANGE TRIP

Long Strange Trip is a documentary about the Grateful Dead that feels just like being at one of the band’s concerts. It is a sprawling, swirling psychedelic affair that lives up to its name as it celebrates a band that has notched up over 50 years in the music business as the reigning kings of the counter-culture movement. This documentary occasionally feels like a hagiography but it’s a fun and justified one because it’s ultimately a free-spirited love letter to one crazy, joyful psychedelic band.

This film was a labour of love that was around 15 years in the making for director and self-confessed Deadhead (the name rampant Grateful Dead fans wear as a badge of honour) Amir Bar-Lev. Martin Scorsese – who is no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll documentaries (see Shine A Light, The Last Waltz, etc.) – also serves as executive producer. The Long Strange Trip is broken down into a series of different acts in a loosely-based chronology to tell the story of the group and its fans while also giving some historic context.

A lot of time is naturally devoted to the band’s messianic front man, Jerry Garcia. It talks about his anti-authoritarian stance and his love of things like: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, drugs and beat poetry, especially Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. It also shows how the trappings of fame and stardom (something the group never actively courted as they are the most unlikely celebrities out there) were what contributed to Garcia’s premature death at the age of 53 in 1995.

The story of the Dead is traced back to the early days in the hippie movement and their natural habitat in Haight-Ashbury. It also covers the long recording sessions where the group were hyped up on nitrous oxide and the aborted film project, which was due to the group lacing the film crew’s cups with LSD. It also looks at their resurgence in the eighties and how they became like a travelling circus because when crazed Deadheads who “Needed a miracle” (to borrow from the band’s lyrics) as they had lucked out on tickets to Grateful Dead shows decided to simply set up street parties outside of the band’s concerts instead. Party time, excellent!

This film naturally includes a fabulous soundtrack that showcases the band’s music. These songs are complex ones where you can hear the influence of each member’s love of different musical genres like: bluegrass, folk, classical, avant-garde and the blues, as these styles permeate almost every note. This music attracted scores of different fans. There were deafheads, wharf rats, acid heads, coke fiends, spinners (people who spun around dancing ad nauseam), tapers (fans who rabidly bootlegged the band’s shows with the group’s blessing) as well as those who worshiped at the altar of Garcia.

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead are interviewed here while Garcia appears via old videos. Even the group’s elusive lyricist, Robert Hunter appears here though his contributions are as mysterious as his lyrics. Sam Cutler the former tour manager of The Rolling Stones and the Dead is also interviewed and he is a funny and fantastic talent who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. One distinct difference with this documentary is the absence of industry types that tend to be given too much airtime in music documentaries.

Long Strange Trip expertly threads together interviews plus rare archive footage including photographs and films. At around four hours it covers a lot of ground. But it’s also staggering to think that there were still topics that this documentary failed to address like: Woodstock, the individual band member’s solo projects and the individual band member’s childhoods (only Garcia’s is briefly touched on.)

Long Strange Trip is about the magic, myth and madness that was the Grateful Dead. This epic four hour rock documentary is a freewheeling journey through one experimental group’s bizarre world. The film is essential viewing for Deadheads and assorted other freaks who consider themselves Deadheads-in-the-making. This film ultimately proves that once you start loving this band of weirdoes there is a point of no return from this long, strange trip.

Originally published on 20 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-long-strange-trip-usa-2017-celebrates-the-magic-myth-and-madness-that-is-the-grateful-dead/

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BOOK REVIEW: LINDY WEST – SHRILL – NOTES FROM A LOUD WOMAN

 

Lindy West was one of the highlights from this year’s All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House. So it is unsurprising that this Guardian columnist and Jezebel blogger’s book, Shrill – Notes From A Loud Woman is funny, accomplished and excellent. West’s book is ultimately a hybrid between memoir, with personal anecdotes, and essays, where she writes about important issues and uncomfortable truths in a compelling and articulate way.

For those people who are unfamiliar with West’s work, the Seattle-born writer first came into prominence while working as a film critic for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger. Her review of Sex & The City 2 went viral. Initially her work focused on reviews of the arts, film and comedy but over time she started to become an activist for causes she felt strongly about, and a lot of these causes are covered in some detail in Shrill.

This volume opens with West’s account of growing up as a shy, fat girl. She admits that she was once so overwhelmed and consumed with shyness that she was unable to ask her classroom teacher if she could be excused in order to go to the bathroom. In the end Lindy peed her pants and she tried to blame this on a nearby water jug.

For years West grappled with the shape of her body and society’s demands, where women are often taught from birth that we should be small both physically and in presence. But over time West realised that she could not ignore the fact that she was fat. She also came out of her shell, and all of these things meant that Lindy eventually came to the realisation that she wanted to obliterate those views that permeate society.

Lindy’s fat activism means she’s received her fair share of negative retaliation. Her former editor, Dan Savage tried to weigh into the fat debate, using the argument that accepting fatness contributes to the obesity epidemic. West, however, addressed the argument raising the idea that fat people should not be considered acceptable human punching bags. West’s arguments were both well-considered and thoughtful. It is this same style that was particularly evident in West’s TV debate with comedian Jim Norton, over rape jokes in comedy,  and as well through much of this book.

Shrill includes a lot of things that are clearly quite personal to Lindy. One of the hardest parts to read is where she takes on one of her meanest internet trolls. They had created a Twitter page where he pretended to be West’s father, Paul, shortly after he had passed away. The troll also wrote that Paul West was the “Embarrassed father of an idiot.” This broke Lindy’s heart and she penned an essay about the ordeal. The troll eventually apologised to her and the two had a frank and open discussion on an episode of This American Life. Score sheet Lindy West: 1 Trolls: 0.

In Shrill, West should be commended for tackling some uncomfortable topics (abortion, rape, periods, etc.) and for being outspoken, witty and sassy in her remarks. West makes some compelling arguments, whilst also letting the reader in on some very intense and private moments from her own life (including her love for her husband, Ahamefule J. Oluo). Shrill is ultimately a bit of a rollercoaster ride where you’ll laugh, cry, feel rage and be jubilant at West’s uncompromising and relatable anecdotes and prose. West clearly knows how to strike a chord with readers, so some things are a laughing matter, others will appeal to your grey matter, and then there are even more topics that just matter. Period.

 

Originally published on 19 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-lindy-wests-shrill-will-make-you-laugh-cry-rage-and-feel-jubilant-at-her-uncompromising-prose/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: HOUSESITTER

Housesitter is a film that shares a few things in common with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Both star Steve Martin playing a character where he has to deceive some people and both are directed by Frank Oz. Housesitter was never a film that was going to win any awards but it is ultimately a fun and forgettable little lightweight comedy.

The story goes as follows: Newton Davis (Martin) is an architect working away in a hum-drum job. He builds his dream house in his idyllic hometown and proposes to his childhood sweetheart, Becky (Dana Delany.) Things are looking pretty sweet until Becky rejects Newton’s proposal.

Three months later Newton is still reeling from the rejection. But he finds solace in the arms of a quick-thinking waitress named Gwen Phillips (an effervescent Goldie Hawn.) Gwen is a compulsive liar. She initially tells Newton that she’s Hungarian. But she’s just a free spirit who enjoys reinventing herself and living new lives. The pair have a one night stand but Newton leaves before the morning arrives.

This film requires a huge suspension of disbelief with respect to what happens next. Gwen has a napkin containing a drawing of Newton’s dream house and decides that this is enough to jack in her waitressing job and set up house in the vacant one that Newton built (when she doesn’t even know the exact address.) In Gwen’s first hour in town (after finding “the house”) she sets up accounts in Newton’s name and tells everyone (including his ex and his parents) that she is Newton’s wife. This is the first of a web of lies that become more and more convoluted and complicated.

When Newton learns about what happens he isn’t that mad because he views the situation as an opportunity to get back together with his ex-girlfriend. Newton’s ex becomes jealous of Gwen and Newton’s love and marriage even though their wedded bliss is a sham. Gwen may be a liar but she at least improves Newton’s life for the better- by reuniting him with his father, helping him win a promotion at work, etc. But is it love?

This film basically sees Steve Martin playing the same character he always plays- the over-the-top anxious/serious guy. He seems a tad too old for this role. Goldie Hawn is also the same age as Martin was at the time (46) but she is better-preserved and more believable in her role. Hawn is the real star here and she carries this film as the attractive and sensuous eye candy as well as playing a ditzy woman on the surface but quite a calculating and well-meaning liar as you dig a little deeper.

Housesitter is a zany little comedy caper that could do with a few more laughs. It has some pleasing moments and it’s an easy watch but it’s not an excellent movie by any stretch of the imagination. This outrageous and over-the-top comedy is an enjoyable little piece of escapism but don’t expect it to stay with you beyond the closing credits.

Originally published on 19 March 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/whole-truth-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: MISSION CONTROL: THE UNSUNG HEROES OF APOLLO

 

Stop and take a moment to think about what you were doing at the age of 27 or what you will do if it’s yet to come. If you’re a musician it is likely that you are dead but if you were working at NASA during the Apollo era then you had a hand in putting man on the moon. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a documentary that takes a leaf out of Hidden Figures’ book because it puts the focus on the boffins that achieved great things by working at mission control and it is one truly fascinating story.

The film marks the directorial debut of David Fairhead who has worked as a film editor for several decades. Fairhead was also the editor of the previous SXSW documentary, The Last Man on the Moon. In Mission Control Fairhead is close to the subject matter as he wears the multiple hats of director and editor yet he manages to produce a compelling, if rather technical story.

This documentary includes and focuses on interviews with the men who worked at NASA during the Apollo era. This includes astronauts: Charlie Duke and the late Gene Cernan as well the founder of mission control, Dr Christopher Kraft. It also includes a huge roll call of men who worked as flight directors, in life support systems and other areas. There are also two female interviewees: Ginger Kerrick and Courtenay McMiller who currently work at NASA.

This is a story that focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s one that doesn’t gloss over the failures of Apollo 1, which resulted in the deaths of Gus Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee during testing. Instead the documentary talks about how this was a major turning point for the team. In the aftermath of this tragedy the group at mission control bandied together and adopted the mantra of “tough” and “competent”. It was one that would see these ordinary men of different social backgrounds (with an average age of 27) including many who were either fresh graduates or soldiers setting out to achieve something that most had figured was mission impossible.

In 2017 people like talking about things like “digital disruption” and “working out loud” and yet it’s amazing to think that from the 1950s to the early 1970s when computers were dumber than today’s average mobile phone that people could achieve feats like those that were accomplished. Consider: Apollo 8 was the first mission to leave Earth’s orbit and to subsequently reach and orbit the moon before returning safely to earth as well as Apollo 11 where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the small step that turned out to be a giant leap for mankind when they walked on the moon. The story is jubilant at these successes and it’s interesting to hear the proud and passionate engineers and scientists talking about the nail-biting moments where things went wrong and how they overcame some setbacks with quick-thinking, teamwork and good decision-making.

Mission Control includes archive footage that has never been shown before as well as old newsreels and powerful animations simulating the journeys into space. These latter moments in particular help to cut through some of the drier, more technical parts.

Our fascination with space continues to this day with an enthusiasm that remains unfettered. It is also a spiritual experience to witness scenes like the lunar sunrise where the perfect accompaniment comes from some recitations from the bible’s book of Genesis. Even those who aren’t religious could enjoy this moment and perhaps think of David Bowie singing, “Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”

David Fairhead’s directorial debut is living proof that people can achieve big things by putting their heads together. To put man on the moon was a huge, staggering challenge that is still spoken about today (even if it’s just when comedians like Jerry Seinfeld joke about it). These scientists and technical specialists are an inspiration, as they had the vision, expertise, ability and quick-thinking to achieve one hell of a magnificent feat. This means that films like Mission Control should be mandatory viewing for anyone working in a team because it is like watching a love letter to NASA’s rocket men.

Originally published on 18 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-mission-control-the-unsung-heroes-of-apollo-uk-2017-is-a-love-letter-to-nasas-rocket-men/

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BOOK REVIEW: PAMELA HART – A LETTER FROM ITALY

 

A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226447

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FILM REVIEW: LOVING

 

Loving is a film that shares a few things in common with A United Kingdom. They are both based on true stories and at the centre of each film you have a married, interracial couple who just want to live together as husband wife and leave the politics out of the bedroom. Loving is a beautifully-shot and subtle drama about one inspiring romance.

The film is named after the real-life couple, Mildred and Richard Loving. Ruth Negga is really sensitive and expressive in her Oscar-nominated performance as Mildred and she shares a noticeable chemistry with our very own Joel Edgerton who plays Richard. These two actors should be commended for their respectful and convincing performances.

The Lovings were married in Washington in 1958. They married here because they feared they would encounter problems by getting married in their home-state of Virginia. The latter state still had a draconian law that was a relic from a bygone period (where slavery was the norm) that banned mixed-race couples from marrying. The couple were dobbed in to the authorities and eventually arrested.

Mildred and Richard Loving were released without having to serve prison terms because they agreed to leave their home-state and extended families in order to live elsewhere. The pair initially agreed to this proposal and lived in Washington. But they eventually returned to Virginia because they were homesick and they just wanted to live a quiet life and not bother anyone.

The couple that were the inspiration behind this film were also rather reluctant civil rights activists and stars. Richard Loving was a man of few words. Joel Edgerton dons a blonde buzz-cut and portrays him as a quiet and devoted construction worker who has a keen interest in drag-racing. When asked what he wants his lawyers to say in court in the couple’s defence he simply responds, “Tell the judge I love my wife.”

The Lovings were also rather reserved and dignified throughout the entire ordeal. Mildred would write to the then Attorney General, Robert Kennedy seeking an intervention and eventually the American Civil Liberties Union took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Director and writer Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) script does not take cheap shots and nor does it play up the melodrama, the courtroom tactics or other histrionics involved in this case. Instead, Nichols leaves the audience to witness the quiet moments of tender domesticity between these two lovebirds as their love grows and they build a house, family and life together while also tackling the U.S. bureaucracy.

Loving is not a film that is filled with beat-up drama or other unnecessary bells and whistles, instead it is quiet meditation on true love, courage and commitment. This story about racism and politics remains an important one today as the government continues to try and wield power over who can marry (to think that Australia still does not have gay marriage is utterly deplorable). Loving is ultimately a subtle and nuanced domestic drama that is a study in the true power of love.

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-through-the-repellent-fence-usa-2017-uses-art-to-make-an-important-political-statement/

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BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

When we think of an “Australian story” the ones that typically spring to mind are predominantly about the country, bush or the past. So what is a reader to do when they want something that reflects their own modern life in the Western suburbs of Sydney? Thankfully, Peter Polites has answered this in his debut novel, Down The Hume, one that seems like a likely successor to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.

Polites is the associate director of SWEATSHOP, a literary movement based in Western Sydney which is devoted to empowering marginalised communities. Polites was also a co-writer of the Sydney Festival show, Home Country, an epic story about culture and identity that was performed in a Blacktown carpark. When we consider Polites’ previous work it is unsurprising that he also brings his experiences as a young, homosexual man of Greek descent to his debut novel. The book’s main character Bux also has these same character traits, but Bux also loves a violent, abusive drug-enabler and gym-obsessed man named Nice Arms Pete.

Down The Hume is a little like a car speeding at full force along our nation’s famous highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The book is a complex one that negotiates important topics like machismo, hedonism and a deep sense of existential yearning. The text itself is also quite raw and confrontational. The story is told in the first person and you very much get the sense that you are along in the passenger seat for the ride with Bux, come what may.

We follow Bux through addiction to prescription medication, as well as some tender moments where he bonds with his mother (another person who had a “vanishing” and abusive man in her life) and a friendship with an elderly gentleman who he cares for at his nursing home job. Bux is a paranoid and jealous lover who takes to stalking his boyfriend Pete, whom he suspects of cheating.

Each of the chapters of the book are named after places in Sydney and sometimes these moments read like little vignettes or discrete episodes; Bux grapples with the implications and ideas of culture and identity as a man of Greek descent wearing an outfit typically worn by Middle Eastern men. In another moment he has to reconcile his position as a homosexual man with the weight of familial expectations on his head (in one flashback his family had assumed that he’d want to settle down with a nice girl and have a family.)

Down The Hume is a dark noir story. It uses sharp, street-wise language to create a multifaceted tale that reads like urban poetry. Peter Polites is ultimately a refreshing new voice in contemporary literature and his dynamic prose proves that there is so much more to Australian stories than the expected bush gangs, convicts and farms of yore.

Originally published on 13 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-peter-polites-down-the-hume-shakes-our-expectations-about-australian-stories/

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FILM REVIEW: THROUGH THE REPELLENT FENCE: A LAND ART FILM

 

As Donald Trump continues promoting his idea of building a wall between the US and Mexico it’s heartening to see that there are some people taking a different approach. Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film is a documentary about a land art installation that attempted to reinforce the notion that borders are an arbitrary idea and that some fences cannot divide people. This is ultimately an insightful and hopeful tale about an important and relevant issue in politics.

This film is directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas who made the 2016 SXSW Audience Award winning documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven. In Through The Repellent Fence, Douglas follows an inter-disciplinary artist/activist collective named Post-Commodity. The group is made up of three Native Americans: Cristóbal Martínez (Chicano), Kade L. Twist (Cherokee) and Raven Chacon (Navajo) as they go through the process with the help of some volunteers of assembling the land art installation, The Repellent Fence.

This artwork was a 2m long installation that ran perpendicular to the US/Mexico border for four days in 2015. It consisted of 28 large, helium-filled balloons. Half of these spanned communities in the US and the other half spanned communities in Mexico. It was designed as a way of reflecting on why some people attempt to create artificial barriers. It also tried to suture together all of the different communities that it touched.

The balloons in this installation were a play on the ones that are sold and used by people to keep birds out of their gardens. These balloons feature a symbol called the “open eye” and they don’t always work at keeping these creatures away. In the context of the artwork, the balloons are symbolic of the previous acts that were taken out in order to marginalise, repel and destroy the culture of the indigenous people living within and beyond the different country’s borders in the Americas. In using the image of the “open eye” these indigenous artists were seeking to reclaim their own iconography and make this a piece of land art that was very much rooted in a tribal context.

This documentary also includes some information about land art in general and gives a brief history of this art movement that really only began in the 1950s and 1960s. There are scenes showing Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. There are also interviews with art writer Lucy Lippard and Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. We also follow Chris Taylor from Texas Tech University as he – like the other participants – gives context, history and other information about these incredible land art installations.

The Repellent Fence is a film with an important message and one that seems to become more urgent through these fearful times. It observes how we should all collaborate and work together with the land and not attempt to control people, nature and other things. This film is ultimately a warm, inspiring and feel-good documentary about what can happen when individuals come and work together to restore power to the people.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-through-the-repellent-fence-usa-2017-uses-art-to-make-an-important-political-statement/

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BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO WIN AT FEMINISM – PRESENTED BY REDUCTRESS AND BY ELIZABETH NEWELL, SARAH PAPPALARDO & ANNA DREZEN

 

How to Win at Feminism is a book that needs to be taken along with a large grain of salt as it is supposed to be a funny and subversive – if misguided – look at feminism for millennials. The writers even include acknowledge this, with, “At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of cute klutzes who wrote an effing book” but is this admission at the end of the book one that is too little too late? If How to Win at Feminism achieves anything it is to prove that for some people feminism isn’t and will never be a laughing matter.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226256

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