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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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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DVD REVIEW: FOR THE LOVE OF MEAT

ftlom

 

For The Love Of Meat is an original and eye-opening documentary series. This three-part show by former food critic and chef-turned-gourmet farmer, Matthew Evans aims to find out more about the animals we eat. Evans is no stranger to documentary films about food production with his previous series, What’s The Catch shining a spotlight on the fishing industry. For The Love Of Meat looks poised to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor as it gets us all to be more mindful about the protein we choose to eat.

Aussies love their meat. We eat on average a staggering 90 kilograms per person each year. This figure is around three times the OECD average and it leaves us second to America. But how much do people really know about meat? Evans looks at answering our questions with episodes dedicated to chickens, pigs and cattle (perhaps a second series could look at sheep, game and ducks?)

The first episode is a very difficult one to watch. Evans tries to demystify the different labels surrounding chicken (like organic, RSPCA-approved and free-range.) He is thwarted by his attempts to film in a “factory” farm. He does however, deliver some staggering statistics about the conditions battery hens are subjected to including being left in light for many hours per day so that they keep eating and living their short lives in cramped, dirty pens.

Organic farming is presented as a more sustainable solution. But Evans also counters this with the realistic fact that these birds cost more to produce and ultimately purchase. It is also quite harrowing to learn that chickens are smarter than we original thought, as they are capable of learning numeracy, empathy and self-control.

The second episode about pigs looks at the contentious issue of farrowing pens. These structures are like cages that sows are subjected to in order to stop them from accidently squashing some piglets while they are feeding from her. Evans also looks at alternatives to this pen including a swap pen and free-range pork. He also learns about a top-to-tail approach to cooking pork with former MasterChef contestant, Adam Liaw, who makes a Malaysian pork broth.

The final instalment looks at cattle and the environmental impacts of this farming, i.e. land-clearing and methane-gas emissions. An alternative is posed with the trial of feeding the cattle seaweed with early studies showing that this could help reduce or eliminate methane emissions. Chef, Shane Delia also appears and makes a Spanish dish out of beef’s tail. We also learn a staggering fact- that a 180 kilogram cow only has about four kilograms of eye-fillet steak. The message here is that we should look to cook with other secondary cuts of this large animal.

For The Love Of Meat is not overly preachy or forceful. It does not try to ram home the message of veganism or vegetarianism. Instead, Evans produces a knowledgeable and well-thought out program that poses a lot of questions for us to consider. It should make us stop and think about the environmental and health impacts of the food we eat. This show is ultimately a fresh and innovative look at food production and the questions it poses will ensure that we all have a lot to talk about when we sit down to dine, eat and chew the fat.

 

Originally published on 29 January 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/love-meat-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: PETER KURUVITA’S COASTAL KITCHEN

peterk

 

Peter Kuruvita’s Coastal Kitchen shares a few things in common with recent cooking shows like Poh & Co. and River Cottage Australia in that he uses the local neighbourhood for food inspiration. Kuruvita is no stranger to TV screens with the restaurateur previously presenting series about his homeland, Sri Lanka, as well as Mexico. For Coastal Kitchen Kuruvita uses his sea-change from Sydney to Noosa as inspiration for many of the culinary treats on display here.

This six-part series is all about celebrating local produce and flavours from Queensland and the areas surrounding the Sunshine Coast, with the featured destinations, including: Noosa, Gympie, Maleny, Kenilworth, Mooloolaba, the Glasshouse Mountains and Kin Kin. Each episode has a different theme or focus with instalments about indigenous foods or bush tucker, seafood, locally-grown farm produce and food for health, to name a few. Kuruvita is a laid-back and calm presenter, an enthusiastic interviewer and a passionate foodie. These things are all apparent in his bubbly, on-screen presence and technique.

Each episode features recipes that Kuruvita has devised and some of these are Sri Lankan in origin (i.e. curries and dahl soup.) There are also other dishes where he has adapted the traditional recipe to add a twist of Sri Lankan flavours to the mix. Examples of these include the Sri Lankan egg curry pho and the pippies with Sri Lankan XO sauce. Over the course of the series Kuruvita learns how to make cheese, goes fishing, discovers artisan bee-keeping, and learns about tempeh, a bi-protein soya bean.

Kuruvita often offers handy tips and tricks in his cooking demonstrations. One useful piece of advice is when he tells viewers to soak shellfish overnight so that you can remove any excess sand if this has not already been done. The extras are good and include lessons in how to fillet and scale raw fish and how to serve a cooked fish. The only complaint is that there should have been more of these because not everyone is a MasterChef or a cook for that matter.

Coastal Kitchen demonstrates how beautiful and peaceful Queensland is and how it is poised to become an important foodie destination. Kuruvita’s relaxed delivery and passion for the local food and produce makes for a refreshing and entertaining watch. Coastal Kitchen is such a pleasant and enjoyable show it might convince others to embark on their own sea change because it encapsulates all of the benefits of coastal living. Divine.

Originally published on 22 January 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/peter-kuruvitas-coastal-kitchen-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: I AM JOHNNY CASH

cash

 

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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DVD REVIEW: TAKE DOWN

Take Down - Behind The Scenes

 

Take Down (aka Billionaire Ransom) is what you would get if you made cardboard cut-outs characters and put them in a world that was like Brat Camp-meets-The Hunger Games. The film is a thriller that is short on character development and suspense. It means that what ensues feels rather slow, tedious and contrived.

The story stars a bunch of annoying and spoilt little, rich kids. The king of these privileged brats is Kyle Hartmann (Jeremy Sumpter), a rather callous young man. He is a hedonistic lad that enjoys getting drunk and high. The problem is that he decides to do this before getting behind the wheel of a car. An accident follows and he leaves a woman for dead. Charming.

Hartmann’s father (Sebastian Koch) feels that the only way to straighten his son out is to send the boy to a survivalist-type camp on a remote island off the coast of Scotland. It’s here that the teens (including our very own, Pheobe Tonkin) have to learn how to survive on this rough and rather beautiful terrain. But things take a dangerous turn when the camp is infiltrated by a group of opportunistic kidnappers (who are led by Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick). These misfits are hoping to extort the rich parents of the little monsters for $1 billion. The story becomes a different kind of survival tale to say the least.

This film is written by Alexander Ignon (Ransom) and directed by Jim Gillespie (I Know What You Did Last Summer). This film has some action but it is not in the same realm as those aforementioned films. Take Down is severely lacking in suspense and violence and feels too aimless at times (a fact that isn’t helped by some choppy pacing as well). When all of these rotten ingredients are combined with a load of under-developed characters (and some spoiled teens who aren’t even remotely likeable) it becomes such a pointless drama that it’s not so much a case of fight to survive as it is asking ourselves, “Who gives a feck?” In short, it’s completely disappointing.

 

Originally published on 4 January 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-take-down-usauk-2016-is-a-contrived-thriller-that-tries-too-hard-to-be-brat-camp-meets-hunger-games/

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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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DVD REVIEW: GRAFFITI BRIDGE

graffiti-bridge

 

The late, great Prince was an undisputed, musical genius. But this same praise cannot be said about his filmmaking skills. Graffiti Bridge was considered a kind of sequel to the film, Purple Rain, but it was a disaster at the box office and as a story because it is an incoherent mess of clichés about love, life, music and spirituality.

For Graffiti Bridge Prince wore several hats including lead actor (reprising his Purple Rain role as The Kid) as well as director, writer and soundtrack composer. The film is a Prince machine in every sense of the word but it is obvious from the results that the Purple One was a little out of his depth because it is little more than a mess of different and competing ideas.

The story goes that the owner of the Glam Slam, Billy has passed away and left his nightclub to be divided equally between The Kid and the former one’s old foe, Morris Day (himself.) The pair have a bet to decide who will take over the ownership of the club. Over the course of the film there are some strange moments like Day urinating on a pot plant before setting it on fire. There is also a bizarre love triangle between these two men and a kind of higher force or angel named Aura (Ingrid Chavez.)

Purple Rain was a success because Prince handed over the reins to Albert Magnoli and William Blinn in the writing department and to the former for the directing. The soundtrack to Purple Rain was also Prince’s best album but Graffiti Bridge has none of these things going for it. The songs are adequate, although the spiritual ballad seems sanctimonious. The plot is also flimsy at best and at its worst seems like nothing more than an extended music video clip.

Graffiti Bridge does have Morris fronting Prince’s pseudo-group, The Time as well as cameos by Mavis Staples, George Clinton and Tevin Campbell. It is also obvious that Prince had good intentions for this film in trying to explore his spirituality, sexuality and musicality. But none of these things make a particularly good film. At the end of the day Prince should have stuck to making music – or if he had to venture into films making concert movies – because at the end of the day, Graffiti Bridge proves to be a bridge too far.

Originally published on 13 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/graffiti-bridge-dvd-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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