FILM REVIEW: LOVING

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE WHOLE TRUTH

 

The Whole Truth is a courtroom drama and thriller that spends its entire runtime getting to the truth of a matter. The film is one that – for the most part – keeps the audience guessing in much the same way as Doubt did. This ultimately makes for a story that is not a bad one to watch, even if there are areas needing improvement and the ending is a tad predictable.

Keanu Reeves stars as a hard-drinking, defence lawyer named Richard Ramsey. He also narrates the story but his delivery is so detached and flat and the content adds so little to the film that for the most part it seems like these are obtrusive elements are like a fly that you’d love to swat away. Reeves’ performance is also rather uneven and unconvincing as he attempts to play a guy trying to defend an open-and-shut case on behalf of a family friend.

A wealthy personal injury lawyer named Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi in a rare dramatic role) is found dead. He was stabbed and has a knife protruding from his chest. His son Mike (a poker-faced, Gabriel Basso) kneels above his estranged, old man’s body and mutters, “Should have done this a long time ago.” The police take this as a confession and it is Ramsey’s job to try to defend the boy and possibly get him acquitted of murder.

The main problem is that Mike won’t talk, not even to his lawyer. So Ramsey adopts a strategy of making it look like the prosecution is winning the case until some extra, crucial pieces of information are revealed. But are some of these red herrings that have been planted or are they the actual truth?

Boone is painted as a philanderer and a tyrant who assaulted his wife (a troubled, Renée Zellweger). The information is revealed via a series of flashbacks with director, Courtney Hunt (Frozen River) attempting to keep the audience on their toes until the very end.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion) also appears in this film. She plays Janelle and is brought in as a young, eager-to-prove herself co-counsel to assist Ramsey. Mbatha-Raw’s role is a largely thankless one. Janelle attempts to suss out the truth and discovers that there could be more to this story than meets the eye. The only thing that seems certain here is that there are many shades of grey and at least a few people are telling secrets and lies.

The Whole Truth is a drab-looking film. It’s shot mostly in-doors in the grey courtroom and is rather dull in depicting the events leading up to it so it’s really an unnecessary one to view on Blu-ray. It also tries to weave together a bunch of different subplots while forcing the audience to question just who Boone’s killer was and what was their motive. For a straight-to-video film it certainly has its movements but you also get the sense that with a few adjustments it could have been so much better.

Originally published on 8 March 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/whole-truth-dvd-review/

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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/

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DVD REVIEW: INDIGNATION

indignation

 

Indignation is a film that is based on a book by Philip Roth but it struggles to reach the lofty heights of its source material. The story is a coming-of-age one about a clever, Jewish boy and the battle of wits he is forced to engage in at his conservative college in 1951. It’s a beautifully-shot drama and dialogue-driven piece that makes for a more atmospheric novel than it does film.

Logan Lerman stars as Marcus Messner, a working-class Jewish boy from New Jersey. He wins a scholarship to a small, traditional college in Ohio. This placement means he avoids being drafted into the Korean War. Lerman is a clever kid who becomes an atheist and he takes exception to the college’s strict rules, especially the one where it is compulsory for the students to attend chapel. He also rejects the friendship of his fellow Jewish students and is subsequently thrust into a number of verbal sparring matches with an anti-Semitic, horrible and opinionated dean (Tracy Letts who has a few things in common with the dean/authority figure in Scent of a Woman.)

Another of Messner’s rites of passage involve his damaged but gorgeous classmate, Olivia (the excellent, Sarah Gadon.) The two go out on a date and at the end she performs oral sex on the virginal Messner. This act throws Messner into a tailspin of confusion and part of this can be chalked up to the sexual repression that was rife in the fifties.

Indignation is a subtle and dramatic period drama. The fact that a lot of the story is based around Messner and his growth as a college student and some general clashes of ideologies make for rather slow viewing that is better suited to one’s own imagination. The featurettes include some interviews with the cast as well as director, James Schamus (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) as well as some information about the costumes and deconstructing the scene (the argument between the student and dean is the most powerful and potent of the entire film.) Indignation features some great performances and it’s an emotional character study but it is also one that is perhaps best left in the hands of Messer Roth himself.

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/indignation-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB

astreetcatnamedbob

 

A Street Cat Named Bob is the heart-warming and feel-good true story about a young and homeless recovering drug addict living in London with his cat.

James Bowen (played here by the occasionally whiny Luke Treadaway) is down on his luck, busking in Covent Garden and living in public housing until a chance meeting with a ginger tomcat changes his life. The pair become inseparable, with Bob the cat sitting by James’ side as he faces up to his heroin and methadone habits, becomes a Big Issue seller and looks to turn his life around.

Bob plays himself in the film (along with some stunt cats), and he steals the show. Cat enthusiasts will love the fact he has many close-ups and mishaps to enjoy, and that scenes are even shot from his perspective at times.

A Street Cat Named Bob is not a particularly gritty film, but it does include some funny moments and some interesting and well-realised dramatic subplots with James’ estranged father (Anthony Head) and a fun but contrived romance with his kooky vegan neighbour (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Named Bob is a Hollywood take on addiction, for James’ struggles are often downplayed in service of getting the story moving. But if you can overlook this sanitation, and you’re after a film about hope, companionship and redemption, then this biopic ticks many of the right boxes.

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/street-cat-named-bob

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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: A UNITED KINGDOM

a-united-kingdom

 

A United Kingdom could be renamed “Politics and Prejudice.” This film tells the extraordinary true story of when Seretse Khama, the King of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), fell in love with and married a determined English woman named Ruth Williams.

This film stars David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) as the two lovers in this bi-racial marriage, and they put in strong performances and share a persuasive and lovely chemistry.

The union between this African man and white woman was challenged by the South African government of the day, which had just introduced its apartheid legislation. That government also put pressure on the British to publicly intervene. The couple had to deal with with society’s conservative ideas at the time, as well as mounting pressure from their respective families.

When Williams gave birth to their first child in the sweeping African plains, Khama was exiled and stuck in the UK.

Sure enough, A United Kingdom offers an inspiring and sentimental story of love conquering all, with geography, politics, family and the establishment failing to keep the couple apart.

It’s a beautifully-shot and convincing dama from director, Amma Asante (Belle) and a safe yet moving look at an important chapter in history. This was a brave couple who united and took on the world, and such a story of unity seems more timely and relevant today than ever.

Originally published on 7 December 2016 at the following website: https://issuu.com/furstmedia/docs/brag_692

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: SING STREET

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Sing Street is a feel-good musical about the in-between days found nestled between childhood and adulthood. The film is an optimistic one set in Dublin in the 1980s. It was a halcyon time in the post-punk era where a kid could start a band by picking up an instrument and people across the world were falling in love with and saying they wanted their MTV! much like this film- it was a colourful time indeed.

This story is a semi-autobiographical one by writer and director, John Carney. The latter is no stranger to the world of music as he was formerly a member of Glen Hansard’s group, The Frames and the pair had a hit film in 2006 with Once. Carney is almost like an Irish Cameron Crowe here because Sing Street certainly has some things in common with “Almost Famous” even if the protagonist in this film is an aspiring musician rather than a rock journalist.

Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as Conor, an idealistic dreamer and sensitive, arty kid. Conor’s parents are suffering from money problems and the disintegration of their marriage. To save money, Conor is moved from his elite private school to a Christian Brothers one. This move means that Conor is sometimes subjected to abuse and taunts by the local bully and a mean-spirited teacher/brother.

Conor meets the gorgeous, aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton) but he realises she is more worldlier than he is and that she is also out of his league. In order to impress the girl Conor decides he will form a band with a ragtag group of misfits he has befriended at school. Conor’s brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) is a stoner and music fan who serves as his brother’s musical mentor much like Zooey Deschanel was when she coached her on-screen brother William in Almost Famous. The soundtrack is also excellent with the likes of The Cure, Hall & Oates and A-HA featuring quite prominently.

The band make big strides writing their own songs and producing their own music videos. Their sound is a kind of teen angst-fuelled pop one that is influenced by the music and looks of the time including new wave and the romantics. The young actors all put in excellent performances in Sing Street with Conor quite often resembling a young Robert Smith of The Cure fame. Boynton and Walsh-Peelo also share a noteworthy chemistry as young lovers. The special features are satisfactory and include a few making of featurettes with Carny as well as Adam Levine plus videos of the cast auditions.

Sing Street is an exuberant romp and dramedy that is cut from the same cloth as one of John Hughes’ coming-of-age stories. The film is like a love letter to the craft of song writing and the characters are so darned likeable that you will be rooting for them all to succeed and hit the charts sometime soon. Sing Street is ultimately an accessible, multi-faceted story that is so fun to watch it will leave you singing its praises.

Originally published on 28 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/sing-street-blu-ray-review/

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DVD REVIEW: NINA

This image released by RLJ Entertainment shows Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone in a scene from, "Nina." (Suzanne Tenner/RLJ Entertainment via AP)

If the late, great Nina Simone were alive she’d have a few things to say about her bio-pic, Nina. The film skips over a lot of crucial points in Simone’s life and instead focuses on her darker moments, her last decade when she was working with and under the tutelage of her assistant, Clifton Henderson. This leaves the story feeling incomplete and hollow and it is likely to leave viewers with more questions than answers.

Nina Simone was an outspoken, African-American woman, a talented and classically-trained pianist and a civil rights activist. The decision that writer and director, Cynthia Mort made to cast Zoe Saldana (an Afro-Latina woman of Dominican and Puerto-Rican descent) seems a tad strange. Saldana does her best with the material she is offered and she even sings in the film, but it’s asking a lot of the audience to suspend their disbelief in order to believe that Saldana sounds exactly like Simone.

Another hard thing for the audience to “buy” is how Saldana physically portrays Simone. In the film Saldana’s skin is darkened so that she exhibits Simone’s natural complexion but there are scenes where it is apparent that the actress is wearing heavy make-up. Saldana is also wearing a prosthetic nose. The film The Graduate springs to mind when you consider Nina, because Saldana was just 34 when she played this role and yet she is supposed to be playing a hard-drinking, sixty-something year old woman who is riddled with cancer. When you consider all of these issues together it is hard to believe that someone closer to Simone’s then-age and physical resemblance was not chosen for the lead role.

This film occasionally feels like Love & Mercy in that it covers a period when a musician battled their mental illness. But while the Brian Wilson bio-pic gives due credit to his creative period in The Beach Boys, in Nina Simone’s recording accomplishments are relegated to a short and fleeting montage. The film alludes to some of the prejudice she encountered (including the fact she was denied entry to the Curtis Institute and that she had to speak out in order for her parents to be admitted to her school concert in front of white townspeople) but a more dramatic and meaningful piece would have centred on these key moments and elaborated on them, especially when you consider the lyrics in Simone’s songs.

David Oyelowo (Selma) plays nothing more than a bit part here. He tries to make the most of things but you really don’t get a sense of who Simone’s assistant really is and why he chooses to have this job. The film shows the meeting between the singer and the assistant but it really doesn’t explain why he chooses to stay with the volatile artist, especially when his role seems to predominantly involve being a pimp, enabler and someone who is forced to endure Simone’s wrath.

This film hits a series of wrong notes and mis-beats despite the actors doing the best they can in the circumstances. The music in Nina may whet fans’ appetite for Simone’s music but the film will leave people with more questions than answers. Fans will be better off seeking out Simone’s original works or the documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? a film that captures more of Simone’s essence in a trailer than in Nina’s whole 90 minute runtime.

Originally published on 03 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/nina-dvd-review/

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