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: ALONE IN BERLIN

 

Alone in Berlin is a story from the Second World War and the recent film adaptation means it is likely to be condemned to the history books. The film is based on the international best-selling novel, Every Man Dies Alone, a book about real-life Berliners Otto and Elise Hampel. The film is a slow and plodding affair that is grossly under-realised and lacking in nuance.

 

The film is directed by Vincent Perez and features actors speaking in English but reading and writing in German. The wonderful, Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson star as a married couple who lose their only son after the youngster is killed fighting on the frontline (in real-life this was Elise’s brother.) The pair put in emotional and convincing-enough performances although it is bizarre to hear them speaking in German-accented English.

 

After their son’s death in 1940 these two working class parents pour their grief, anger and devastation into some small acts of civil disobedience. They write out postcards with anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler and anti-war sentiments. They would pen almost 300 of these and distribute them to various locations across Berlin. They were careful to take precautions, not leaving their fingerprints or distributing the materials to the same places. The Gestapo were unnerved and furious by these acts, as they viewed these individuals as traitors (Daniel Brühl leads the investigation here.)

 

By distributing these postcards this couple were engaging in a very dangerous act and they understood that they were risking their lives in order to do this. But they continue to carry out this operation because it’s a coping mechanism for them and it’s a protest against the things that they were witnessing in a country that was ruled by a tyrannous dictator. There is one scene with an elderly Jewish neighbour that is especially heart-breaking to watch.

 

The film itself is pleasant enough on the eye, if a little bland. The mood is a sombre one and an orchestral, Hollywood soundtrack attempts to ramp up the tension and emotion in the story, but this is ever enough. This is a true story of courage and subversion but it feels like a candle where the light has been snuffed out.

 

Alone in Berlin is a look at two stoic individuals who protested against the Nazi regime in their own unique way. It’s also a fascinating story that could have been realised and made into a much better movie. This film is ultimately too slow and subtle in capturing the amazing feats performed by two hurt, determined and fearless parents.

 

***Please note: a free 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-movie-alone-in-berlin

FILM REVIEW: MISS SLOANE

M3 Jessica Chastain stars in EuropaCorp's "Miss. Sloane". Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes © 2016 EuropaCorp Ð France 2 Cinema

Miss Sloane could be renamed, “Ms Stone.” The film is about an ambitious and icy woman who acts as a lobbyist for a firm that is advocating on behalf of a gun control bill in the States. It’s a tense, political drama with as many power-plays, twists, turns and slights of hand as The Ides of March.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) stars as the titular character and really carries this film. She is the ruthless Elizabeth Sloane, a woman who survives on a diet of amphetamines, power, the company of male escorts and cheap Chinese food. Sloane is not a likeable character by any stretch but Chastain gives such an absorbing performance that it is hard for us to turn away.

We meet Miss Sloane as she prepares to plead the Fifth Amendment at a senate ethics hearing. The film then tells her story through a series of flashbacks. It shows how she earned a reputation as a formidable, world-class lobbyist and how she defected from a large agency who won a contract from the gun lobby in order to work at a small boutique firm who were advocating for a gun control bill.

Sloane is a complicated character. She enjoys 3am phone calls to her underlings and the public humiliation of people. She also has no qualms spying on her colleagues and competitors, selling out rats and milking the bleeding heart vote by exposing a colleague (Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion)) as the former victim of a high school-shooting. Yet when Sloane defects from her pro-gun agency to the one supporting gun control, there are at least some questions regarding her motives and whether she is taking a moral stance. Another big question is whether Sloane’s over-confidence and cockiness will mean she misses some important fact or find herself exposed to a blind spot or two.

This film is written by first-time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden (this is a serious departure in tone from his previous films, Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.) The supporting cast features Jack Lacy, Mark Strong and John Lithgow who put in rather able performances but are eclipsed by the dynamo work from Chastain. Miss Sloane is quite an eye-opening and detailed political tragicomedy and an exposé of a corrupt system and its steely-eyed and determined participants. This film is ultimately a wild ride with the big boys and one strong woman and a game you can’t help but find yourself getting lost in for the most part.

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

 

Originally published on 01 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-miss-sloane-usa-2016-proves-a-strong-woman-can-play-with-the-big-boys/

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BOOK REVIEW: MEREDITH JAFFÉ- THE FENCE

thefence

 

The characters in Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel The Fence may live in the pleasant-sounding, Green Valley, but the neighbourhood is far from idyllic. It’s actually the setting for two feuding next door neighbours. At times some parts of this story would not be out of place on A Current Affair or Today Tonight with the title, “Shocking neighbours.” This novel ultimately shares a few things in common with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap in that it is a well-written family drama set in suburban Australia.

Jaffé is a writer and former book critic for The Hoopla. When you consider these experiences and her writing in The Fence, it is obvious that Jaffé knows how to tell a good story. This novel starts off a little slowly and it does contain some unlikeable characters but it does hit its stride as the tension mounts between the two households.

Gwen Hill is an elderly lady who has lived in the same street in Green Valley for decades. She and her husband were the first residents in this cul-de-sac and it is here that she raised her children and made a life for her family. Hill also created an immaculate garden that she is immensely proud of and she also forged a close relationship with her next door neighbour, Babs.

Michael is Babs’s son and after both of his parents pass away he and his wife decide to sell the family home. Gwen is shocked and she takes an immediate disliking to her new, young neighbours. At first it is hard to warm to Gwen and her stubborn and opinionated ways.

The neighbours are the Boyd-Desmarchelliers family. Francesca Desmarchelliers is the mother of four rowdy young children and the family bread-winner in a highflying, corporate role. Her husband, Brandon Boyd stays at home and looks after the children and the house. It is immediately obvious that Gwen and Francesca are quite different in terms of their opinions but they also share a determined doggedness. When Desmarchelliers decides to build a large fence for privacy and to keep her children and the family pets safe, this sets off a series of chain reactions that soon escalate out of control.

The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between Gwen and Francesca’s perspectives in monthly increments. As a result of this the reader becomes absorbed in this tale of two women and will often find themselves choosing an allegiance with one of these neighbours. For some it will be a case of oscillating between both sides while others may be left sitting on the fence.

Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel is a clever and witty one where she captures what could have been quite a dark and territorial part of Australian society but injects this with a lightness and humour. The story seems quite simple but it’s actually quite a complex social comedy and layered family drama. This is one very promising debut that shows that even the simple idea of a home among the gum trees with a husband, kids and a white picket fence can actually be more than what it seems.

***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-the-fence

FILM REVIEW: TRUMBO

trumbo

 

Trumbo always had big shoes to fill but this film doesn’t quite fit. This biopic is based on the legendary, Hollywood scriptwriter, Dalton Trumbo but the script fails to have the same power and gravitas as the man’s actual work (the Oscar-winner wrote Spartacus, Roman Holiday and Exodus, to name a few).Trumbo is ultimately an overlong, political biopic that is pleasant at times but is also let down by the fact that it tries too hard and isn’t quite sure whether it wants to honour the man or simply tell his story.

At one point Dalton Trumbo meant big business. The brilliant and prolific writer was one of the highest paid in Tinseltown. But in the aftermath of World War II, America experienced a state of political paranoia, especially when the Soviets were concerned. This proved a real problem for Trumbo who was a principled and outspoken member of the Communist Party.

In 1947, Trumbo and nine other men became known as the “Hollywood 10” and were questioned about their political affiliations by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The proceedings smelt of a witch-hunt and the group decided they would not name names. They were then thrown into gaol for contempt of congress and upon release were blacklisted from working in Hollywood. But this made Trumbo more determined and ambitious than ever and spawned his career as a talented ghost-writer.

Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston stars as the eccentric and eponymous creative. He does a fabulous job of capturing Trumbo’s mannerisms and strange penchants (Trumbo often wrote scripts in the bath while sucking on a cigarette and grasping a glass of whiskey). The film is directed by Jay Roach who is known for his comedy films, Austin Powers and Meet the Parents. The script is written by John McNamara and based on Bruce Cook’s biography. It seems like the ingredients were all great ones but there was a little something lost in the process, meaning this is at best a “good” film.

Like the recent Molly TV series, Trumbo weaves together archived footage and re-enactments of some famous people (like John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger). Some viewers will enjoy watching the brief excerpts from Spartacus and Roman Holiday but these do serve as a reminder that this film fails to reach those lofty heights. Trumbo also includes some great cameos by Helen Mirren (as a villainous gossip columnist), John Goodman as Frank King, a B-list film producer and Diane Lane and Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s long-suffering wife and daughter, respectively.

Trumbo is based on some very weighty historic material but it is told in quite a flat and straightforward manner. This means that it is quite detailed and informative but it is certainly not as entertaining as it could be. Trumbo is ultimately a well-acted, timely and relevant film about a dark chapter in Hollywood’s history, it’s just a shame that it lacks the raw power to be considered a “classic”.

Originally published on 15 February 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/trumbo-film-review/

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FASHION REVIEW: COLLETTE DILLIGAN: UNLACED @ POWERHOUSE MUSEUM SYDNEY

collette dinnigan

 

image credit: Holly Blake/Vogue Australia

Collette Dinnigan is a woman’s designer. Her clothes and underwear creations are always very feminine, fun and romantic. The Powerhouse Museum is currently hosting an exhibition about this acclaimed fashion designer, who is celebrating 25 years in the industry. Ultimately, this is an accessible and dynamic look at one inspirational creator and her wares.

The exhibition is divided up into a series of rooms. In one section patrons can watch a two hour video, which shows excerpts from her catwalk shows as well as a documentary. In another part, kids can sit down and colour-in worksheets to design their own clothes and make models. They can certainly draw some inspiration from Dinnigan herself, as a special room has been imagined and installed by the designer. This is a particular highlight and draws together the countless amount of research, sketches and hours of concept development as well as other things that have consciously or unconsciously shaped her work.

There are also plenty of outfits. One room showcases three different wedding gowns while another looks at the influence of Asian and floral themes on Dinnigan. There’s some special red carpet designs featuring outfits that have been worn by none other than Erin McNaught, Taylor Swift, Miranda Kerr and others. These all have a real “wow” factor as they feature lots of intricate beading and sequins coupled with classic designs.

There is a small section dedicated to Dinnigan’s children’s range (which she launched after the birth of her daughter, Estella). There is also a large room where 100 outfits that span Dinnigan’s career are displayed alongside videos of models walking towards you (as if on a catwalk). This is also accompanied by a hip, rock soundtrack in the background that screams “cool”.

Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced does a great job at celebrating her many inspirations: colour, art, travel, flowers, landscapes and details from vintage clothes and antique things. It also shows how dedicated she is to using the medium of lace, by working with families that have been doing this for generations and still remaining innovative and coming up with fresh, new ideas. One of these was when Dinnigan re-imagined underwear as outerwear. And while some people may find this a bit too out-there it is always done in a tasteful and stylish way.

In all, this exhibition is a testament to this adventurous, determined and successful designer and celebrates this woman in all her dazzling glory. The exhibition is realised by award-winning stage designer and artist, Anna Tregloan and features archive material from Dinnigan as well as the Powerhouse’s own collection. It’s a colourful tribute to an inspiring woman and an important look at some things that should not remain stuck in the closet.

Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced is on at the Powerhouse Museum from September 5, 2015 to August 28, 2016. For more information, go to: http://www.powerhousemuseum.com

Originally published on 14 September 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/collette-dinnigan-unlaced-powerhouse-museum-sydney-exhibition-open-until-28-august-2016

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BOOK REVIEW: TRICIA STRINGER – HEART OF THE COUNTRY

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Heart Of The Country is a historical fiction novel that lives up to its name. The book is by Tricia Stringer who has lived in rural Australia for many years and really gets at the heart and core of this great, Southern land. This novel is the first in what should be an extremely enjoyable and promising trilogy and slice of Australiana.

The story is an epic one focusing on three white families as well as some indigenous Australians they befriend. The book begins when Thomas Baker, a naïve but hard-working free settler after he arrives in South Australia. His mother had passed away earlier and his father did not survive the long passage from England. Despite experiencing grief, Baker has a steely resolve and wants to make something of himself in this strange, foreign land.

Baker accepts a job as an overseer at a country property. To work there he needs to buy a horse and he meets a conniving and unscrupulous ex-convict named Seth Whitby (and sometimes Septimus Wiltshire) who swindles the trusting man out of his money. This is not the first time the pair will cross paths but things do improve for Baker once he settles at his new homestead and meets his spirited and single neighbour, Lizzie Smith, who he will eventually marry.

Heart Of The Country shares a few things in common with Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and some of the late Bryce Courtney’s works. Stringer’s writing is very vivid and engaging. She provides excellent descriptions of the barren landscapes while also offering some great characterisation. The characters are all very interesting and in most cases they are very relatable and endearing (with the exception of the rogue Whitby/Wiltshire).

Stringer’s book is a novel but the story feels very authentic and true. The reader gets a real sense of the troubles that the first convicts and settlers faced when they first arrived in Australia and the different relationships they shared with the indigenous people living here. The environment and landscape feel quite brutal and unforgiving and it is inspiring to read about people who were so fiercely determined, strong and resilient, meaning they got through the good times as well as the bad ones.

Heart Of The Country is an excellent fiction book about the community in Adelaide in the 19th century and the love, hate, greed and opportunism they were faced with. The book is beautifully written and very well put together, spanning over three generations of events. The moments of tense drama will hook you in while the vivid prose and descriptions will make you feel like you’re also in the passenger seat. In short, it’s one fine read.

Originally published on 22 June 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/books/book-review-tricia-stringers-heart-of-the-country-2015

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BOOK REVIEW: KOOSHYAR KARIMI – LEILA’S SECRET

leila's secret

 

Leila’s Secret is the second autobiographical book by the award-winning, Iranian-Australian author, Kooshyar Karimi. It is a controversial story that is likely to anger people because there will be those that vehemently agree and others that disagree with his views on religion in Iran. Karimi is ultimately a great storyteller that offers a book that is compelling and easy-to-read, despite tackling some very difficult subjects.

The story is told from two different points of view. There is the perspective of Karimi himself. He is a man who was born to a Jewish mother named Homa and who grew up in poverty in Tehran. Homa married a Muslim man (and she converted to Islam) but he had failed to disclose that he already had two other wives. This did not stop Homa, who had big plans for her son to go to medical school and help the poor. Karimi excelled and also wrote in his spare time and worked as a translator.

In Leila’s Secret, Karimi tells the story of how he went from learning to become a doctor, to performing abortions and hymen repair surgery for marginalised women who faced being stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage. It is heartbreaking to hear Karimi’s story and how he heard about such desperate cases that he couldn’t turn the women and girls away. One of the ladies he assisted was a bright and feisty young woman named Leila.

The other side of this book is told by Karimi delivering Leila’s perspective. It is told in the first person and was put together based on his own memories of the woman and her story and other aspects that he fictionalised. It would have been interesting to hear this story from Leila’s very own perspective but this would have been very difficult to achieve. As it stands, Leila is an interesting heroine, a girl who yearns to go to university but can’t because her traditional family prevent her from leaving the house except for some brief and irregular visits to the library (which they frown upon anyway). It is on one of these occasions that she meets a handsome shopkeeper and this will have devastating ramifications.

For readers that remember Norma Khouri’s fictional story, Forbidden Love, Karimi delivers something in a similar vein but his book is a factual look at life in Iran when he practised there as a doctor in the eighties and nineties. It shows a determined man who is willing to put other people’s welfare above his own safety and an intelligent and strong young woman who is let down by a patriarchal system. In short, it’s an interesting, frustrating and heart-wrenching read that is impossible to put down.

 

Originally published on 11 May 2015 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/books/kooshyar-karimis-leilas-secret-2015

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FILM REVIEW: TESTAMENT OF YOUTH

testamentofyouth

 

Vera Brittain was a feminist trailblazer, pacifist and activist. Her memoir about World War I, Testament Of Youth, was a detailed account of her coming of age and experience as a volunteer nurse on the frontline.

Her story has recently received its second adaptation (the first was as a TV series decades ago), and while it’s not a seamless transition to the silver screen for director James Kent, it is still a good and worthy story.

This period drama stars Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) as the rebellious, headstrong and determined Brittain. Vikander absolutely shines in this role and encapsulates the heroine’s extraordinary spirit with a classy but respectful air as well as showcasing the full extent of her emotional struggles. Brittain is no saint but thanks to Vikander she is portrayed as an amazing, independent woman and role model.

The costumes in this film are quite sumptuous at times and the cinematography is warm and beautiful during the periods of peace, and raw and gritty during the war. Brittain had had a promising career awaiting her after she passed the Oxford entrance exam but she puts this all on hold after her brother Edward (Taron Egerton); his friend, Victor (Colin Morgan); and Brittain’s fiancé Roland (Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington) enlist and are sent to the Western front.

Testament Of Youth offers a unique, complex and female perspective on the devastation of war. It shows the life of an upper-middle-class British family and lovers struck by tragedy (and the Swedish-born Vikander does a great job with the accent). The film is well-crafted and mostly true to the memoir, and elegant and restrained in its telling. In short, this film is something that will continue to haunt and resonate; a touching reflection on the human suffering and misfortune that is typical of war.

 

Originally published on 8 April 2015 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/testament-youth

 

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