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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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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THEATRE REVIEW: MICHAEL GOW’S AWAY @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (UNTIL 25 MARCH)

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Michael Gow’s Away is one of Australia’s most popular plays and this latest production makes it easy to see why. The current Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Production sees the play return to its second home at the Sydney Opera House (the show played here one year after it debuted at the Stables Theatre in 1986.) It’s a story that is in some ways deceptively simple and in others is quite layered and complex in its symbolism, imagery and references to different texts. This is a portrayal of three different Australian families going away on holiday in 1967 and one that remains an important and vital slice of home-grown theatre.

Away is directed by Matthew Lutton (Edward II) and stars Liam Nunan (The Golden Age) as a young, aspiring actor named Tom. He falls in love with a strong and independent young woman named Meg (Naomi Rukavina in her STC debut.) The pair met when they were performing together in their school’s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Young love is a beautiful thing but this romance comes under fire thanks to Meg’s snobbish, ball-breaking mother Gwen (a terrifying, Heather Mitchell). Gwen believes her daughter is too good for this young boy — he’s the son of English immigrants (Julia Davis and Wadih Dona). Gwen also refuses to let up on her stronghold over the family, including her husband (Marco Chiappi), as well as the apron strings, much to Meg’s chagrin.

The other family out on holiday are the school principal (Glenn Hazeldine) and his shell of a wife, Coral (Natasha Herbert). This older couple is grappling with grief because their only son died in the Vietnam War. This is not the only allusion to death in this play, Tom has leukaemia and he learns that his diagnosis is bleak despite his parents’ best efforts to try and shield this dire news from him. This notion of children passing before their parents meant that Away was also described as being a meditation on the AIDS epidemic because this was happening in real life as Gow was writing it.

The lines in this play are very clever and sharp and Gow’s writing in superb. There are also some great little jokes peppering the script. Gow successfully traverses the lines between poignant and meaningful moments and themes like death, loss and conflict and other points that are quite joyous and fun (young love and the idealism of English immigrants in their new-found home, etc.)

The set itself is quite a minimalist one and this makes the audience focus on the actors and their different conflicts. There is a major change in the play where a storm erupts (thanks to some imaginary fairies) and thereafter the actors are bathed in a stark, white light. It’s interesting that in these moments where the tangible things are stripped away that the play’s most narcissistic and wealth-obsessed character can stop, take stock and learn about more important things in life than mere objects.

The actors prove a formidable ensemble cast. They are also extremely adept at realising this highly-versatile script and the many moods and themes that are often referenced in it. The actors should also be commended for their portrayal of Shakespeare’s finest characters and these complex and uniquely-Australian ones.

There is also some different musical interludes by composer J. David Franzke. The music during the scene changes is quite evocative and atmospheric, at once bringing to mind the carefree sixties and at other moments supporting the play’s darker themes.

Away is one entertaining and absorbing show about three different Australian families tackling with important, everyday issues in a tense and difficult atmosphere — the family Christmas holiday. There are moments that will make you laugh and other times where you will despair and cry. Away is ultimately a theatrical beast in every sense, because it plays with the notion of art in such a clever and skilful way and it appeals to our emotions in the most base, visceral and human sense. Amazing.

Photo credit: James Green

Originally published on 26 February 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/theatre-review-away-is-an-enduring-and-symbolic-look-at-life-conflict-the-family-christmas-holiday/

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

BOOK REVIEW: DAVID M. BARNETT – CALLING MAJOR TOM

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Major Tom may have been a junkie in David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” but in David M. Barnett’s book he’s just grumpy, old curmudgeon. The book is the first humorous one to be written by Barnett, an English journalist and author of the Gideon Smith series. Calling Major Tom is a fantastic book, a heart-warming and funny read with a fabulous premise and a cast of interesting characters and it’s also one that would appeal to fans of Ben Elton and Graeme Simsion.

The story requires some large suspensions of disbelief. These are namely that an unlikely, anti-social astronaut by the name of Thomas Major would a) mistakenly telephone a dysfunctional family from Wigan in Manchester and b) continue to interact with them on subsequent calls as he continues his voyage to Mars. If the reader can get past this then they are in for an excellent kind of space oddity.

Barnett does a superb job with his character development. He tells the back story of Thomas Major through a series of flashbacks where we learn about a number of the tragedies the star endured. These events helped shape Tom into the difficult and unlikely astronaut for the British Space Agency he ultimately would become. Originally the role of astronaut on the first solo mission to Mars to set up colonies was to go to another man but after he dies Tom seizes the opportunity to leave earth forever. The press love that Tom is in the role because it is shortly after the death of David Bowie and they love the idea that another “Major Tom” is floating in a tin can in space.

The other characters in this book are the Ormerod family. They are led by Grandma Gladys who is fiercely loyal about protecting her grandchildren but unfortunately also seems to be suffering from dementia. The latter individuals include Ellie, a strong young woman who is trying to keep her family together after her mother died and her father was sent to prison. There is also the young and clever James who is bullied by some young thugs at school. The Ormerod family manage to forge a connection with Major Tom and they make him realise how much more the earth has to offer him.

Calling Major Tom is an uplifting and unique book about friendships, memories and sadness. It finds the right balance between light comedy and heartfelt sentiment while also containing a swag bag of pop culture references. David M. Barnett’s book Calling Major Tom could be an early contender for best novel of 2017 because it proves that there is so much more to life on Mars.

***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/29547280-calling-major-tom

DVD REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

cafesociety

 

It seems that La La Land is not the only film to look affectionately at some halcyon days in Hollywood. Woody Allen’s Café Society manages to do this as well as celebrating the jazzy nightlife of New York. This is a light yet fun film that is like a love letter to old money and its trappings, even though it is set in the thirties, a time where most would normally stop and think about the Great Depression.

Café Society once again sees the famed director doubling as the film’s narrator. It is also brimming with the kind of witty repartee that Allen and his work have become synonymous with. It also finds time for some navel gazing, posing some existential questions and sticking the knife into organised religion. This is a funny and romantic story but in true Allen fashion, it’s one that rules with the head rather than the heart.

Jesse Eisenberg does his best Woody Allen impression and stars as Bobby, a kid with stars in his eyes. He is seduced by Hollywood’s bright lights and leaves his family behind for L.A. Steve Carrell is a Hollywood heavyweight and Bobby’s Uncle Phil. The latter takes pity on his nephew and offers the boy some work doing odd job at the company he owns.

Bobby initially enjoys the girls, glamour and debauchery of la la land but eventually he comes to see through it all. He realises that a lot of it is excess, fakery and vanity. This sentiment is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who actually cracks a smile for once and puts in a decent performance.) The chemistry between these former cast mates is quite obvious and really makes the romance seem plausible.

The two youngsters bond over a mutual love of Mexican food. Vonnie initially plays her cards close to her chest because she’s intelligent and street-smart and because she has an elusive boyfriend she started dating shortly before meeting Bobby. The latter was always going to be hooked on his Uncle’s secretary, he was smitten early on and it’s almost inevitable that he will have his heart broken.

Eventually Bobby returns to New York to work with his gangster brother in a nightclub. It’s here that he meets a divorcee (a fresh-faced and bubbly, Blake Lively.) A new romance blossoms but this bliss doesn’t last for long because Vonnie soon visits New York and the club with another unwelcome visitor in tow.

Café Society celebrates style, youth and beauty. It’s a rather flimsy, predictable and lightweight film but it’s also one that offers enjoyment in spades thanks to its beautifully-shot scenes and witty dialogue. This is a look at a rich part of America in the thirties and it shows where professional dreams can clash with romance (although this is nothing new.) This is the sort of film that will not profoundly affect you but one where you can sit back, relax and enjoy as a sort of date with the society set with all of the trimmings.

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cafe-society-dvd-review/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: F IS FOR FAMILY

f-is-for-family

 

The letter “f” is at the beginning of a few different words. There’s the animated Netflix series, F Is For Family. There’s also “fail,” “f**ed,” “flimsy” and “forgettable.” It is easy to sit back and say that the aforementioned series about a dysfunctional family lead by a beer-swilling boob that works in a boring job is unoriginal insofar as that description could be used to describe numerous TV shows (Married With Children and The Simpsons are just two that immediately spring to mind.) F Is For Family is not a perfect show but what it does do well is that it is honest and offers no apologies, if it wants to use crude animations, characters swearing and making jokes that were acceptable in the seventies but are deemed racist today then it will take you there for better or worse and whether you want to or not.

The series is created by comedian Bill Burr and Michael Price (The Simpsons.) It should come as no surprise that the series obviously draws inspiration from both of its creators. For Burr it is in the long and angry rants that the Korean War-veteran father, Frank Murphy regularly delivers (a character that is also voiced by Burr.) There are also plenty of one-liner jokes that are quite obviously ripped off of The Simpsons because as South Park once declared, “The Simpsons already did it.”

F Is For Family stars the Murphy family. There is the father Frank, a disgruntled former baggage handler who has recently been promoted to middle manager at Mohican Airlines. There is his long-suffering wife (Laura Dern,) a woman who aspires to be more than just a housewife and a lady that voluntarily sells plast-a-ware (a take on Tupperware) to people. Kevin Murphy (Justin Long) is like a grown-up Bart Simpson in that he’s an underachiever and proud of it. His younger brother, Bill (Haley Reinhart) is a pathetic little wimp and wallflower and a kid who is easily manipulated and taken advantage of by the youngest Murphy, Maureen (Debi Derryberry.)

This show is a serialised one so we follow the storylines through the six episodes of the first series. Frank begins by trying to outdo his rich and handsome next-door neighbour by purchasing a colour TV that he cannot afford. Frank is not an overly likeable character, especially when he demands a hot meal and peace and quiet from his wife and kids. He also undermines his wife’s chance at a job and he is a terrible parent. Frank invents “Summer in Alaska” in a bid to get his children to go to bed in the afternoon and he offers “helpful” advice like, “Be nice to your sister. Someday you’ll be sleeping on her couch after your first divorce!”

F Is For Family has its moments but it could do with some more jokes. It could also resist the urge to resort to stereotypes and perhaps remove some characters altogether (the family’s German neighbour for instance, is a presumed Nazi but is actually a Holocaust survivor and these jokes often leave a bad taste in your mouth.) F Is For Family is a parody of a dysfunctional family set in the 1970s and is inspired in part by Burr’s childhood. It uses dark humour, basic animations and some distasteful jokes in order to make a point. While this can be rather enjoyable at times, at other moments it feels like yet another dysfunctional family in a sitcom running through the same old jokes on repeat.

Originally published on 28 December 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/f-is-for-family-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: ROSEHAVEN SERIES ONE

rosehaven

 

Rosehaven is a comedy show that finds the funny in lots of things. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, a buddy comedy and a sitcom set in rural Australia. This eight-part series debuted on the ABC in 2016 and it was a hit with audiences. This is because it’s a funny show about two rather unlikely friends and their lives in the fictional town of Rosehaven.

The show is written and created by Australian comedians Celia Pacquola (Utopia) and Luke McGregor (Luke Warm Sex). It’s not the most original premise for a program but it is one that has a big heart. This could be because Rosehaven manages to find the comedy in the characters’ adventures and misadventures.

McGregor stars as Daniel McCallum, a character that you sense is not a huge stretch for him to write or play. McCallum had previously left his childhood town of Rosehaven in Tasmania to work on the mainland of Australia. But his mother’s ailing health means that her shy, anxious and nervy son must return home to help run the family real estate business. Cue a lot of the local townspeople greeting the grown-up Daniel by his childhood name, “Danny” and making the assumption that he couldn’t “Hack it on the mainland.”

Pacquola stars as McCallum’s vivacious and confident best friend, Emma Dawes. You get the sense that the pair’s friendship has survived an awful lot, not least Emma’s marriage. The series opens with McCallum playing the bridesmaid for his best friend but the marriage doesn’t last much longer than the actual ceremony. Emma is left abandoned by her new husband on her honeymoon in Bali. So she goes to Tasmania to seek refuge and new opportunities with her best friend, Daniel. It helps that Emma is a fast-learner and a natural talent at the real estate game and that she’s not fazed by the town’s eccentrics (think a hoarder, some vigilante neighbourhood watch members, a 24-hour emergency butcher and more).

The series pokes fun at the shenanigans the pair encounter while trying to run the small real estate office owned by Daniel’s mother (an powerful and occasionally scary, Kris McQuade) in the quiet and idyllic, eponymous town. McGregor and Pacquola have a wonderful chemistry and it’s obvious that they’re close friends in real life. The pair also have great lines that really bounce off the other quite well with McGregor’s reticent straight man often proving to be the comedic foil because he is a pushover for the more devilish, quick-thinking and enterprising Emma.

Rosehaven’s first series proved to be a charming and likeable one. The show has some clever jokes and wonderful laughs and it is a testament to the exciting writing by Pacquola and McGregor that they did not have to resort to cheap jokes about the local townspeople who to be fair are a bunch of eccentrics. Instead this is a fun comedy program that will have you cheering on these adorable adolescent-like adults and their blooming business because it will make you want to sit back and hope that this little family enterprise and friendship becomes hot property.

Originally published on 29 December 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-rosehaven-series-one-australia-2016-is-a-funny-comedy-misadventure-about-two-unlikely-friends/

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FILM REVIEW: ROSALIE BLUM

rosalieblum

 

French film Rosalie Blum is a new adaptation of the graphic novels of the same name by Camille Jourdy. It’s a quirky dramedy told across three separate parts, taking in the different viewpoints of three separate characters.
In act one we are introduced to Vincent Machot (Kyan Khojandi). He is the king of predictability, a man who lives with his overbearing mother in a flat, and who can divide his time neatly between that spent at work on his own business, and his encounters with his cousin, cat and parent.

One day, a series of circumstances forces Machot into a grocer’s shop in a provincial part of France. The shopkeeper is one Rosalie Blum (a dowdy-looking Noémie Lvovsky). Confronted with this mysterious older woman, Machot can’t help but shake the feeling that they already know each other – so, naturally, he becomes her stalker, going through her garbage in order to satisfy his curiosity, if not the audience’s. From her perspective, Rosalie is aware that she’s being followed, and enlists the help of her gorgeous young niece Aude (Alice Isaaz) to spy on her stalker.

First-time director Julien Rappeneau uses his time to slowly reveal how these three characters are really connected, and while the concept has potential, the actual execution is dull.

The Belle And Sebastian song ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’ is a welcome distraction (though the sentiment of that title is probably going a bit far, even if this film struggles to maintain any momentum). Still, Rosalie Blum is little more than a flat and forgettable game of hide-and-seek in which nobody seems to win.

Originally published on 29 December 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/rosalie-blum

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FILM REVIEW: UP FOR LOVE (Un homme à la hauteur)

upforlove

 

Up For Love (Un homme à la hauteur) is a French film that isn’t sure whether it wants to be dramatic and have a serious message or to be lightweight and farcical. The story is a remake of an Argentinean film named, Corazón de León. It is about a tall woman who grapples with falling in love with a short man. The story is ultimately too flippant and exploitative to really cut through.

Jean Dujardin (The Artist) stars as Alexandre, a charming and witty architect. In real life, Dujardin is over six feet tall so here he is digitally enhanced to appear like a diminutive man (around four feet tall) who had problems with his pituitary gland whilst growing up. This alone feels entirely at odds with the film’s overall message of accepting people for who they really are.

A successful lawyer and blonde bombshell divorcee, Diane (Virginie Efira) leaves her phone at a monument one day and luckily it is picked up by Alexandre. The pair chat over the telephone and share a meaningful conversation before agreeing to meet in person. The two soon fall into a passionate relationship but Diane struggles with Alexandre’s height. Her feelings are compounded by the insensitiveness of the people around her. Diane’s ex-husband calls her “Snow White” at one point while her mother recklessly drives into on-coming traffic after hearing her daughter’s relationship is becoming serious.

This film, Up For Love by director, Laurent Tirard feels rather disingenuous. There are one too many cheap shots at short people and the storyline is quite predictable and clichéd. It’s a shame because this film is nicely-shot and could have been so much more. The actors are certainly charismatic and likeable enough and the story isn’t a completely throwaway one. The problem is that the tone is too light-hearted and flippant to be taken seriously and the jibes are often too awkward and cringeworthy, rather than funny.

 

***Please note: a free double pass to this film was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://entertainment.beautyandlace.net/user-reviews-up-for-love

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