TV REVIEW: RICHARD E. GRANT’S SEVEN DEADLY SINS “LUST”

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Kevin Mitchell once sang about his “animal” and being insufferable whilst in heat but it’s hard to know whether the Jebediah front man considered this “lust”. The latter is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s also the subject of a new TV series which questions whether the seven deadly sins are bad vices or just good old-fashioned animal instincts that are fundamental to evolution.

The series is directed by Richard Curson Smith (Pinochet’s Last Stand) and it’s a real genre-hopping documentary that is full of different vignettes. On the one hand you have the award-winning Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I, Girls) delivering pieces to camera that are equal parts dark, playful and mysterious and quoting the likes of Shakespeare and Dante, to name a few. But on the other hand there are interviews with scientists, behavioural psychologists and evolutionary psychologists who provide explanations about why lust is a good biological trait to have (for example it can improve social interactions between animals and it helps ensure the species doesn’t die out, etc).

This series is shot in 3D and it features some amazing nature photography. The visuals alone are on par with a David Attenborough documentary. But the actual tone itself is muddled because it tries to be inquisitive, cheeky and offer a light touch as well as being straight, informative and educational. This can make it hard for the viewer to reconcile that these different vignettes are all part of the one TV program.

Richard E. Grant’s Seven Deadly Sins is extraordinary and eye-opening. It means you will never look at the world in quite the same way ever again. This ambitious production features lots of amazing visuals and it is informative, it’s just a shame that things get a little too wild and woolly at times.

Originally published on 21 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/tv-review-richard-e-grants-7-deadly-sins-lust-animal-planet-usa-2015/

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TV REVIEW: SAY YES TO THE DRESS CANADA

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What women want is something that has befuddled many men. But what guys don’t realise is that the answer to this question is quite simply a silly little reality program called Say Yes To The Dress Canada. The show is the equivalent of cotton candy in that it’s sugary and superficial but it’s also a rather guilty pleasure you can consume in order to feed your “inner princess”.

The program is set in Amanda-Lina’s Bridal Boutique in Woodbridge, Canada. It’s a fly-on-the-wall style reality show that follows women shopping for their wedding dress. It doesn’t seem like it’s an all too tricky premise but there is a bit more to this than tulle and satin. Plus, it’s also a series of half-hour TV episodes that have already inspired numerous spin-offs.

Say Yes To The Dress Canada is more than just tagging along on a shopping expedition with people you don’t know. It also shows family relationships (often when they are at the most tense and heightened) as well as the bride-to-be’s personality and how she treats other people (including her friends). It’s often quite obvious that the customers have an image of what they want in their minds but the reality can be very different. In truth, a lot of girls follow the advice of the person fitting them because these people should know, they’ve only sold hundreds or thousands of dresses.

This program is a vapid and consumerist one. But it also appeals to women who just want to watch some escapist fluff and see pretty outfits. It’s a program where people can live vicariously through the brides-to-be as they embark on an expensive journey into a consumerist fantasy-land. In all, this is a pleasant, feel-good series and a guilty pleasure that is just like that hidden block of dark Belgian chocolate. MMMMMMM.

Originally published on 20 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/tv-review-say-yes-to-the-dress-canada-canada-2015/

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TV REVIEW: MY GIANT LIFE

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My Giant Life is a reality show that means well but is far from good. The program is about four white, American women who are six foot, six inches or taller. The program attempts to get audiences interested by offering up their stories but a series of bad camera angles and scenes that highlight their heights and sizes make this offering feel like side-show alley.

The four women are strong and likeable characters. There is Nancy, a 17 year old from Texas who is an amazing basketball player. She’s six foot nine while her brothers are all over seven foot and her Mum is six foot seven. She longs to be asked to the senior prom and it’s hard for her because she has a crush on a boy who’s a lot shorter than she is.

Haleigh doesn’t mind dating a short man. The 22 year old volleyball player is dating Bryan who is five foot, eight inches. The two seem very much in love and Bryan proposes to her during the second episode, even though Haleigh’s father doesn’t really approve. Unfortunately, Colleen/Coco is not as lucky in love. She’s a beautiful woman who used to play volleyball but she’s also finding it tough dating men online.

Lindsay is an actress who is very outspoken. She holds the Guinness World record for being the tallest woman in a leading role and she’s been estranged from her father for well over a decade. All of the women talk about the difficulties and challenges they face every day, from the looks and snickers from people in public to things not being built or designed for tall people like dishwashers, aeroplanes, washing machines, cars, clothes, etc.

The show is supposed to educate people to not be so awful and to make us feel empathy towards these girls (who often present challenges that people may not have even considered). That said, there are some cringe worthy moments, like the women being forced to pose for photographs in public, a prospective date running away from a girl and things being shot and placed in such a way as to inflate their already large frames.

While this show may help people struggling with body image issues associated with being tall there is a huge disconnect between the show’s intentions and its actual execution. My Giant Life is ultimately very one-sided (it’s about four White American women after all) and they represent a marginal fraction of society. In all, this apparent celebration of tall, strong women fails to do as it planned as it seems to be poking fun at the stars and that’s what they already have enough of in their daily lives. This is a real shame on the show’s part and a missed opportunity.

Originally published on 6 October 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/tv-review-my-giant-life-episodes-1-2-usa-2015/

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DVD REVIEW: SILICON VALLEY SEASON 1

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Silicon Valley is a TV show that takes a byte out of life in that American, computer wonderland, showing various male geeks working at large technological companies. The series is by Mike Judge (Beavis & Butt-head, King of The Hill) who actually worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. This TV show is a satirical comedy-drama that is subtle, energetic and authentic.

The show stars Thomas Middleditch as Richard Hendrix. He is a shy computer programmer who gets easily flustered, especially in social situations where he is rather awkward. He designs a system called Pied Piper which allows users to check whether the music they’ve created has infringed on an existing copyright. That is a rather dull idea but what is more appealing is the data compression algorithm he designed as part of this because it has far greater possibilities.

This algorithm manages to fuel a bidding war between Hendrix’s boss Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) at Hooli (a company not unlike Google) and a venture capitalist named Peter Gregory (the late Christopher Evan Welch). Hendrix has no business acumen but he does have dreams of being the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates so he decides to start a company with the latter’s money and he recruits his quirky roommates along for the ride. They are the Satanist, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks), the acid-tongued Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and the well-meaning, Big Head (Josh Brener).

This group all live in a house that is owned by the arrogant and outspoken, Erlich (T.J. Miller) who sold his start-up company for some money a few years ago. But these days he’s quite happy to sit on his laurels and exploit his tenants by taking 10% of the earnings made from their passion projects. As these techno-geeks have no business plan or experience, they also recruit the worldly, Jared (Zach Woods (The Office (US))) to help. The episodes look at everything from having to make a deal with another company in order to retain their organisation’s name to dull parties by large corporate entities (which Kid Rock and Flo Rida make cameos and perform at) to designing a company logo that won’t offend people.

Silicon Valley is a funny and vibrant show. Like Frontline and The Office, it satirises the work environment and makes some very clever observations. Across the eight episodes in season one we see these young whiz kids wanting to succeed like other geeks have even though they’re only starting out and things are never simple. In short, this is an insightful and smart character-driven comedy that will appeal to wider audiences than just that select few who can program in five different languages.

 

 

Originally published on 27 May 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2015/05/27/dvd-review-silicon-valley-season-1-usa-2015/

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DVD REVIEW: OLIVE KITTERIDGE

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Olive Kitteridge is part curmudgeon and all chameleon. The difficult high school teacher is caustic and thorny as a mother and wife living in a bleak town in Maine in the seventies and eighties. The mini-series is a slow, nuanced affair that contains as many layers as an onion. It’s something that will keep you on your toes and give you lots of food for thought thanks to its being a realistic study of some ordinary lives.

The series is an adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s book who is also a co-writer of the series along with Jane Anderson. Olive Kitteridge is directed by Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are Alright) who dubbed the story a “traumedy”. It’s a serious drama peppered with dry humour and is often like a Lionel Shriver novel crossed with Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Olive Kitteridge was initially a set of short stories about tragedy, love, pain and loyalty but the episodes are surprisingly cohesive in their earthy tones and overall outlook.

Frances McDormand stars as the eponymous character and is absolutely brilliant (she also doubles as an executive producer along with Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman). The story is told largely from Olive’s perspective and it shows her relationships primarily with her sappy and romantic pharmacist husband, Henry (Richard Jenkins) and the fractious association with her no-nonsense son, Christopher (John Gallagher Jr. plays the adult Christopher). There are other interesting characters here too, like the young widower, Denise Thibodeau (Zoe Kazan). Olive receives her with contempt after she goes to work in Henry’s pharmacy. There are also some great cameos from Bill Murray and musician, Martha Wainwright, who plays a lounge singer.

The series looks at 25 years in Olive’s life and is every bit as intelligent as it is real. This means the mundane and ordinary are often celebrated (just like the English TV series, The Office). These moments are combined with Olive’s one-liners, zingers and opinions as well as other anecdotes and events that colour and reveal a lot about the characters. The series is mature and full of intriguing people, not least Olive who believes she is depressed (the show begins with her contemplating suicide and holding a gun).

Olive Kitteridge has some flaws but it is well-meaning in its human exploration of small-town life. This social commentary may have some cynicism and misery but it is also entertaining. This understated show may prove a hard slog or challenge for some viewers but if you can see parallels between yourself and Olive or other people you know you should be pleasantly surprised.

 

Originally published on 22 March 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2015/03/22/tv-dvd-review-olive-kitteridge-usa-2014/

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TV REVIEW: THE MOLLY MELDRUM STORY

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If he’s not the King then Ian “Molly” Meldrum is undoubtedly the Queen of Australian music. The broadcaster, raconteur, producer, TV presenter, journalist, band manager and passionate music fan has seen and done it all. To celebrate some 50 years in the music industry as well as his upcoming induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame,Music Max have put together a special and biography that celebrates the mirth and madness that is The Molly Meldrum Story.

This two-hour special will soon premiere on Max. The producers of this were fortunate in that they had unprecedented access to the subject as well as Jeff Jenkins, Meldrum’s biographer. This means the story is often told in Molly’s own words and is accompanied by a huge archive of footage, photos and recent interviews that document his periods as the host of Countdown and star of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, among other things. There is a great wealth of fabulous anecdotes and legendary stories about this colourful character, as well as some funny bloopers, which keep things light and joyous.

The list of interviewees is enormous and reads like a who’s who of Australian music. There are music industry heavyweights, Michael Gudinski and Michael “Chuggy” Chugg. There are also artists from the Countdown period including: John Paul Young, Todd Hunter (Dragon), Brian Mannix (Uncanny X-Men), Greg Macainsh (Skyhooks), Ross Wilson, Leo Sayer, Marcia Hines and more.

Then there are the younger artists who loved the show and Molly too, like: Kasey Chambers, Paul Dempsey (Something For Kate) and Kram (Spiderbait). There’s also Russell Morris because Molly produced his biggest hit, “The Real Thing” as well as Glenn Wheatley because his band, The Masters Apprentices were produced by the man in the hat. Heck, even people that didn’t benefit from Countdown like Midnight Oil and Mark Seymour even stop by!

The Molly Meldrum story doesn’t descend into pure hagiography which is commendable as Molly is an icon that is loved by lots of different people. This was evident in the outpouring of support that he received after he had a bad accident in 2011.This special doesn’t hold back in revealing Meldrum’s partying ways; his manic and experimental methods for doing things; his melodramatic personality all-round; and even his propensity to have things descend into a bout of fisticuffs. After all, this man was once punched in the head by Jimmy Barnes’ wife, Jane!

The Molly Meldrum Story is insightful, fascinating and a relatable tale of rags-to-riches. From his identity struggles as a teenage Beatles fan to his becoming an accidental critic and TV presenter, this shows that a lot of ground is covered. There is even time to address his obsession with Egyptian paraphernalia and his famous rock star friends (his little black book would be enormous). This special is entertaining, fun and a must-see for any self-respecting music fan. And as the man in the hat would say: “Do yourself a favour!”

 

Originally published on 25 November 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/11/25/tv-review-the-molly-meldrum-story-music-max-australia-2014/

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DVD REVIEW: BRILLIANT CREATURES

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Brilliant Creatures is a two-part television series that celebrates four iconic Australians. Feminist and libertarian,Germaine Greer; writer/broadcaster/memoirist and poet, Clive James; the late firebrand, art critic, Robert Hughes; and savage satirist Barry Humphries all share things in common. The most important thing is that they left Australian in the fifties and sixties in order to make their marks on the world. This show gets the icons and their friends to talk about the journey and their influence with a great sense of celebrating history and nostalgia.

The show is hosted by Booker prize winner, Howard Jacobson. He begins by talking about James’ childhood in an unassuming house in Kogarah and Hughes’ schooling at Riverview College. Both Greer and Humphries shared a mutual disdain for Melbourne and this sowed the seeds for their escape. Once they were overseas, these tall poppies were liberated and they eventually flourished by finding stiff competition in the likes of London and New York and expressing their intellectual prowess with a great sense of bold, Australian uncouthness.

A lot of archive footage including clips and photographs are used to set the scene and provide both historical and cultural context. Australia was considered by many to be a blessed land for making it out of World War II relatively unscathed. But for these big fish, this pond was simply too small for them and they were bored living here.

It is fitting that Jacobson interviews James, Greer and Humphries, enabling them to reminisce and offer their own personal recollections of the different periods. Among this history lesson is also a series of interesting talking head interviews with a long and industrious cast including: Eric Idle, Michael Parkinson, Phillip Adams, Kathy Lette, Bruce Beresford, Melvyn Bragg, Martin Amis, Thomas Keneally and Grayson Perry.

Ultimately, Brilliant Creatures is an interesting and evocative look at the Australian invasion of England and beyond. It is non-linear and could have been improved if it were a little more ordered. But one thing is for certain this is a worthy historical chapter and a great romp through the virtual verbosity of our very own Fab Four.

 

Originally published on 17 September 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/09/17/tv-dvd-review-brilliant-creatures-australia-2014/

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DVD REVIEW: TWO MEN IN CHINA

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One country. Two men. Three cities. Two Men In China sees friends- comedian and writer, John Doyle (who is best known as “Rampaging” Roy Slaven) and scientist and activist, Tim Flannery once again taking a trip. This is the pair’s first overseas sojourn as the two have previously travelled across the Great Divide as well as visiting the Murray River and the Top End. This series proves to be an engaging and mostly insightful look at Australia’s biggest trading partner, China.

The three-part documentary looks at the cities of: Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) in more detail. The intrepid pair interview a diverse range of interviewees from traditional citizens and experts, to Australian expatriates along with the movers and shakers of new and booming industries. The series is full of Doyle’s provocative interview questions, observations and postulations as well as Flannery’s more sober and informative contributions. The two are a solid pair that share an easy camaraderie with one another, but in some scenes a little more context and variety would’ve helped (like when Chengdu is described as being known for the parks, bars and women).

Two Men In China occasionally covers some rather strange and untraditional ground. At times the behaviour of Doyle could possibly be interpreted by Chinese viewers as going a little too far at being the ocker Aussie taking the p**s. An example of this is when Doyle joins in during an outdoor tai chi class and starts inventing new moves like passing a football and playing a round of golf. It’s a fine line between being humorous and downright offensive to a different culture.

Thankfully, there are other scenes which prove to be more enlightening, like the frightening scene at the bear sanctuary where the barbaric process of collecting bear bile is described. This series does try to strike a balance between off-beat and serious topics and more colourful and funny ones. This means one scene could be about renewable energy and conservation and others can be about public match-making events and exclusive penis restaurants (not to mention the bonus scenes poking fun at the road handbook and the depiction of perhaps the only meat pie shop in the entire country).

Two Men In China is a difficult show to describe because it’s a real hodgepodge of different interviews and a heady mix of funny, silly and informative moments. At times this series captures the essence of this great and rapidly changing country thanks to the inquisitive enthusiasm exhibited by the two presenters, but at other times it does seem to miss the mark. In all, the show proves that China is one misunderstood and exotic mega power and a land full of wonderful contradiction and opportunity.

 

Originally published on 30 June 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/06/30/tv-dvd-review-two-men-in-china-abc-tv-australia-2014/

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ALBUM & DVD REVIEW: VARIOUS – THE ROCKWIZ DUETS VOLUME IV WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS

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In over a decade Rockwiz has become a musical institution. It has a large family of artists that have graced the Espy’s stage and created some memorable and forgettable moments, particularly in the duets that close the show.

The compilation series is now up to instalment number four with the only mainstays being the Rockwiz Orchestra- Peter Luscombe (drums/percussion), Mark Ferrie (bass) and James Black (guitar/keys).

Each week they can tackle anyone and everyone, with this set alone featuring music by the likes of: Bob Dylan, Crowded House, The Stones, The Pixies, Beyoncé and Nick Cave, among others.

The CD includes 22 duets while the DVD has 31 performances. Some are special and intense while others are more about being quirky and fun. There are some faithful renditions while others are influenced by the artists involved and in most cases this is a younger musician inspiring an elder statesman of the industry.

Two versions of “Stumblin’ In” are included, one with Jack Ladder and Leone Carmen and the other with Chris Cheney and Suzi Quatro. The latter is the better version of the two, especially when you consider Cheney’s great guitar solos and the two denim-clad rockers doing the track justice.

The same cannot be said for Shellie Morris and Ross Wilson’s take on “Louie Louie”, which is mid-tempo tripe that lacks the raw anger of the popular version. It’s so corny; it even comes with syncopated dancing.

Another down point is Dave Mason (The Reels) and Sally Seltmann’s “As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone” where the theatrics dominate and overshadow the proceedings. Mason’s spoken-word improvisation is difficult to hear and some fans will think the pair is murdering the original. Ditto, The Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”, as performed by Patience Hodgson and Jae Laffer.

There are some redeeming moments on this set however, with Ella Hooper and Dan Sultan proving they can tackle R&B and The Beatles with aplomb, while Sarah Blasko has such a powerhouse voice that she carries “Hearts On Fire”. The same can also be said of Marcia Hines in “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which fits this lovely lady like a glove.

The latest Rockwiz duets boasts lots of different songs as tackled by young and consummate professionals alike, with lots of finesse and a real sense of camaraderie. Not all tracks will appeal to everyone but there is no denying that when the chemistry’s there it makes for some intriguing listening, indeed.

Originally published on 11 November 2013 at the following website: www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/film/362110/the-rockwiz-duets-vol-iv.htm

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TV REVIEW: MASTERS OF SEX

MASTERS OF SEX (SEASON 1)

 

It’s hard for us to contemplate a world where sex was a giant mystery. But in the late fifties the word “pregnancy” could be censored from television, Elvis caused a stir by shaking his hips and married couples often slept in separate, single beds. Welcome to 1957, the year when two pioneers, William Masters and Virginia Johnson took sex out of the bedroom and into the laboratory for a probing look under the microscope.

Masters Of Sex is a 12-part, fact-based drama series based on Thomas Maier’s 2009 biography of the same name. Like the book, the television program tells the real-life story of Masters (Michael Sheen (Twilight, The Queen)), an American gynaecologist who conducted ground-breaking research work at Washington University. Masters started off his studies by talking to prostitutes. The primary working woman is played here by Shaun Rylee as a burping, beer-swilling, straight talker who convinces the stuffy, straight-laced Masters to get a female research partner after he shows his ignorance regarding the female perspective.

Enter Johnson (Lizzy Caplan (True Blood)), an ambitious, twice-divorced mother of two who was hoping to gain a degree in sociology. The show depicts Masters and Johnson’s professional and personal relationship as they try to debunk myths and misinformation about sex in an ultra-conservative era. It was one that would see them garner opposition and branded all sorts of things like “perverts”, “unscientific” and “pornographers”.

The pair was passionate about their work and they took their cues from Alfred Kinsey who had interviewed people about their sexual experiences in the forties and early fifties. But Masters and Johnson pushed the envelope further in trying to dispel copulation’s mysteries. They observed, measured, recorded and quantified things like heart rate, metabolism and the brain activity of hundreds of men and women while they masturbated or had sex. They would discover the four stage model of human sexual response (excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution) and explore topics like: intimacy, behaviour and desire in depth.

The TV show is like Mad Men in that it is faithful to the era and is a well-acted period drama. The costuming is perfect for the late fifties with well-coiffed men in suits and women dressed exclusively in dresses and skirts. The soundtrack also supports this period with jazz and pop tunes from the time. It is occasionally rather risqué, revealing and no holds barred in portraying the polygraph-like instruments the pair designed and their uses. This included a large phallus that contained a camera and there is naturally a fair bit of nudity.

Masters Of Sex shows two contradictory and complex characters and pioneers working hard against the restrictive social conventions and norms at the time. They faced controversy head-on as they got underneath the sheets and their opponents’ skin in order to challenge previously-held taboos and debunk what were once widely-accepted myths.

The research by Masters and Johnson would eventually be one crucial piece in the puzzle that kick-started the sexual revolution. The show isn’t just a product of the period, as it does have some parallels with the contemporary documentary,The Sex Researchers. Masters of Sex is ultimately like the two therapists and main subjects themselves in that it is interesting, ambitious and a tad clinical. But it is also a rewarding and revealing look at the world before Sex In The City, Viagra and porn became mainstream.

 

Originally published on 30 September 2013 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2013/09/30/tv-review-masters-of-sex-usa-season-1-episode-1/

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