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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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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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: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

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BOOK REVIEW: MARGOT LEE SHETTERLY – HIDDEN FIGURES – THE STORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HELPED WIN THE SPACE RACE

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For too long the African-American women who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, a precursor to NASA) were missing from the history books. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures, and the Oscar-nominated film of the same name are poised to redress this problem and give recognition where it’s due. The story is an important and inspirational one, exposing how these women overcame racism and sexism to play their own significant roles in the U.S. space race.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/221784

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DVD REVIEW: I AM JOHNNY CASH

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A lot of people would be familiar with Johnny Cash’s life and music thanks to the biopic, Walk the Line. But I Am Johnny Cash is a documentary about the late man in black that manages to be a great watch and offers us some more information about this iconic singer-songwriter. I Am Johnny Cash is not a comprehensive or definitive film but it is an entertaining look at his life and legacy as his family, friends and famous fans gather together to look back and describe Cash’s life in an honest and frank way.

Derik Murray and Jordan Tappis direct this documentary and frame the story around a number of Cash’s famous songs including “Cry Cry Cry,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk The Line” and “San Quentin.” It begins by describing how Cash’s mother would sing gospel songs in order to escape the drudgery of working in the cotton fields. It also talks about Cash’s fractured relationship with his father and it was one that suffered a terrible blow when Cash’s brother Jack passed away following an accident at the age of 15. This death was something that left an indelible scar on Johnny.

This documentary is forthright in describing the good and bad times in Cash’s career and saves the viewer from having to watch a hagiography. There’s Cash’s first marriage to Vivian Liberto and the births of his daughters as well as his long absences away from home after he began having success in music. There was also his amphetamine addiction and the career downfall he suffered in his twilight years. There is also lots of footage with Cash and his second wife, June Carter Cash. It was a marriage that lasted the long haul because the pair were like soul mates, so much so that even Cash’s daughter Rosanne admits that she could understand the reason why things worked out between her father and step-mother.

The film includes a number of black and white photographs as well as archive footage, including videos from Cash’s television series, The Johnny Cash Show. The latter sees Cash interviewing famous celebrities like Bob Dylan (the pair would record a duet together) as well as Joni Mitchell and Ray Charles. This documentary also includes a number of talking head interviews with Cash’s contemporaries, collaborators and famous fans including: Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp and Eric Church, to name a few.

I Am Johnny Cash is a celebration of one complex and mysterious artist. This film manages to describe some key elements from his life but there was also some room for further discussion and exploration. The film features lots of Cash’s music and it is an honest portrayal of an anti-authoritarian, political songwriter and a charming, larger-than-life character who really was an all-American hero.

Originally published on 7 January 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/johnny-cash-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: AMANDA WEBSTER- A TEAR IN THE SOUL

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For years Amanda Webster had an idealistic view of the past. The smart, sixth-Generation Australian, who has published books about autism and whose father and grandfather were respected doctors, had assumed that everyone – including her Indigenous school friends – had enjoyed a comfortable upbringing that was similar to the her own.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201612/209506

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BOOK REVIEW: ANNA ROMER – BEYOND THE ORCHARD

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Beyond the Orchard is an Australian saga spanning multiple years, taking in different generations and perspectives. It seems to have a lot in common with the late Bryce Courtenay’s work insofar as it’s an epic slice of Australiana. The book is the third novel by Anna Romer (Thornwood House) and a rich and detailed tapestry where some different characters lives are all interwoven together through a series of secrets and lies.

The story stars Lucy Briar, a young woman whose mother passed away when she was just a young girl. Briar is now all grown up and has been living in London for the past few years. She is also newly engaged. Lucy left Australia for the UK a few years ago after a relationship with an older man (the father of a friend of hers) had gone awry.

Lucy is called back to her childhood home after she is invited to her friends’ wedding. Before Briar arrives in Victoria she receives a message from her estranged grandfather that is completely unexpected. He wants to meet her and set the record straight on a few things regarding the past. Sadly, Lucy’s grandpa does not get the opportunity to follow through with his promise. But little by little Lucy undertakes he own detective work and uncovers a rich and complicated family history and some life events that involve her relatives as well as love, loss, death, despair and redemption.

Anna Romer’s novel is a rather ambitious one that threads together the perspectives of various characters living at different points in history. She also adds additional textural flourishes in the form of extracts from a book written by Lucy’s father Ronald. These extra storylines add greater depth and meaning to the existing characters and their motivations because it is a case of art imitating life.

Beyond the Orchard feels like it’s a real story because it is so atmospheric and emotional. It’s a testament to Romer’s fabulous writing that the characters seem as rich and complex as real people. Romer’s prose is well-written and sometimes quite poetic and beautiful. This book is a well-constructed one where mystery and romance make for one haunting and intriguing family history.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://bookgirl.beautyandlace.net/book-club-beyond-the-orchard

FILM REVIEW: ZERO DAYS

zerodays

 

Imagine a scenario where a computer virus has the ability to affect a country’s power supply. It sounds like the plot of a thrilling, science fiction film. It is frightening to think that this could be the future of cyberwarfare, especially when one considers this in light of the Stuxnet event. Zero Days is a terrifying documentary about this very attack.

Zero Days is the latest documentary from prolific filmmaker, Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.) Gibney does an excellent job of covering a highly classified event and breaking down this complex computer catastrophe into some easily digestible and easy-to-understand elements. While there are some questions that are left unanswered – both the Israeli and American governments have denied responsibility for the attack – this film does lift the veil on some aspects of this important piece of cyberwarfare and it will get us thinking (and worrying) about what comes next.

The Stuxnet virus was first identified in 2010. It was a very sophisticated and targeted piece of computer code. It was apparent to those in the know that this was not the work of a lone hacker. Gibney interviews some representatives from the anti-virus companies, Symantec and Kaspersky Labs who explain the mechanics behind it all. They prove excellent talent as they show how interconnected everything is and how computer malware can compromise and affect physical, real-world items.

In this case a number of nuclear centrifuges in Iran were destroyed by this malware. Gibney also describes things within the context of the assassination of some Iranian nuclear scientists. This documentary also shows what happened when the attack occurred and how it left the nuclear boffins and IT experts scratching their heads.

The most illuminating interviewee is actually an actress named Joanne Tucker. She is playing the role of a number of anonymous intelligence analysts, including individuals that work at America’s National Security Agency. This commentary provides an informative take on how analysts could infiltrate and compromise systems and the other things that they were and are able to achieve. It’s scary stuff that proves that the battlelines for the next major war will literally be in cyberspace and through computers and technology, not the battlegrounds and artillery of yesteryear.

Alex Gibney’s fresh and topical documentary is a terrifying and slick look at cyberwarfare. This entertaining and comprehensive documentary serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when technologies are compromised and information falls into the wrong hands. Zero Days does an excellent job of chronicling a subject that could have remained shrouded in the shadows and offers us a bitter pill as food for thought.

Originally published on 17 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-alex-gibneys-zero-days-usa-2016-is-a-terrifying-and-slick-documentary/

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