BOOK REVIEW: EMILY REYNOLDS – A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR MIND

 

English freelance journalist Emily Reynolds was a teenager when she first developed bipolar disorder. It proved a hard diagnosis because it took around a decade of visits to health-care professionals and a cocktail of different medications in order to settle on the right ones. While on this journey, Reynolds researched and read the books that were available about mental illness, but she was unable to find one that resonated with her own unique condition. A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind is a result of Reynolds filling this gap.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/225677

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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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THEATRE REVIEW: DOGFIGHT THE MUSICAL @ LEND LEASE DARLING QUARTER

dogfight

 

Dogfight The Musical is not designed to be safe or comfortable viewing, but it’s certainly a visceral experience.

The stage show is an adaption of the 1991 Warner Bros. film with the original screenplay by Bob Comfort and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. In the hands of the Blackout Theatre Company, it’s a production that will reverberate with you and make you stop and think.

The story is about a group of entitled and testosterone-fuelled young marines in San Francisco, who decide to spend their final 24 hours before deployment (they will eventually go to fight in Vietnam) with some partying and casual cruelty. The group engage in a dogfight, a bet where winnings are awarded to the guy who brought the ugliest date along (this is often unbeknownst to the poor, unsuspecting females).

Jenna Woolley is fabulous as Rose Fenny, a plain, idealistic and unsophisticated waitress. She is roped into this game – her first party nonetheless – by an inept, young hothead named Eddie Birdlace (Ryan Henderson). The latter eventually has some reservations about what he has done but it seems his fraternity of brothers – dubbed the Three Bs – wins out for the most part. At least he spends part of the second act trying to be sensitive and make amends for his wrongdoings and he does receive some form of comeuppance in the end.

The Blackout Theatre troupe features a bunch of very talented youngsters in the starring and ensemble roles (Brendon D’Souza is hilarious as a flamboyant lounge singer, Briony Burnes is a spirited Marcy while Jed Arthur makes a rather cheeky rapscallion in Bernstein). The cast’s voices are all wonderful and pitch-perfect, and these capture the musical score that borrows from ’60s pop, folk, rockabilly and the vocal groups of the era.

The musical numbers are true to the period and are also quite emotional and evocative. At times these seem to take precedence over the dialogue in the scenes.

The costumes by Brooke Clark are excellent and there was a clever use of props for the different scene transitions.

All of these ingredients make for a show that’s disarmingly bold and brutal at moments, as well as thought-provoking and wistful at other times. Dogfight is very much a product of the time it’s trying to evoke, because it highlights the gender stereotypes and machismo that are synonymous with old-school institutions like the armed forces. It’s an important story that is well-rendered here, because at the end of the day it shows that this rose by any other name or situation can prove to be just as sweet.

Originally published on 9 February 2017 at the following website: http://scenestr.com.au/news/arts/dogfight-the-musical-lendlease-darling-quarter-theatre-review-20170209

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FILM REVIEW: JACKIE

jackie

 

Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) has been depicted on the silver and small screens before but Jackie is the first film to really capture the complex nature of this remarkable woman. The film is not strictly a biopic in that it only focuses on a number of key events in Kennedy’s life prior to and in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination in 1963. But what this drama does do well is hone in on these important points to create an intense and visceral film that really gets at the heart and nature of this tragedy.

The film is written by Noah Oppenheim (Allegiant) and it is one that lifts the veil on this iconic figure’s private world. Natalie Portman puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Kennedy by capturing her vulnerability, strength and grief as well as other essential things like her accent and mannerisms. Kennedy’s role in the aftermath of the assassination is elevated and in doing so this film could have turned into a kind of exploitative voyeurism but instead it tells things from her perspective and handles the proceedings with the poise and grace that this former first lady of the United States was known for. It also handles the sensitive subject matter with a rather delicate hand (save for the graphic depiction of the events of 22 November 1963.)

Director, Pablo Larraín (No) and his production team have paid careful attention to recreating the look and feel of the period. Kennedy is shown wearing the famous pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat that was smeared with blood as she travels in Air Force One and defiantly declares that the world should see what it had done. The film also recreates in black and white a special that Kennedy had starred in a few years prior to John F Kennedy’s death where she describes her contributions to decorating the White House. The other major plot point sees a forward magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) quizzing Jackie in the weeks following her husband’s death. Jackie’s answers are frank, smart and illuminating.

Jackie is an intense film that has a certain starkness to it. Portman is often shown in close-ups and she conveys a multitude of emotions that were experienced by this young widow- from having to console her two young children and grieve her husband to her fiery determination in trying to ensure that his legacy was upheld. Jackie also has a rather intrusive string score by Mica Levi. At its best it reinforces the tragedy, particularly in the scenes where Kennedy walks alongside her husband in the funeral march where JFK’s body is led by a horse-drawn carriage (and this scene is just like what happened to Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

This latest film about Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) is not a comprehensive biopic but it is a searing and intimate portrait of an amazing woman and the complicated emotions and circumstances she experienced in the wake of JFK’s death. This film is not a linear story but is instead a rather messy and chaotic one that reflects the raw and gritty real-life events that it is trying to portray. In all, this is one bold and heartfelt look at a tragic chapter in U.S. history.

Originally published on 9 January 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-natalie-portman-gives-a-searing-oscar-winning-performance-in-jackie-usa-2016/

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BOOK REVIEW: ARMANDO LUCAS CORREA – THE GERMAN GIRL

german-girl

 

The German Girl is about a little-known event from World War II but it’s an important story nonetheless. The book is the debut novel from journalist, Armando Lucas Correa. It is also a fictional re-telling of the transatlantic passage of the St Louis ship that travelled from Hamburg to Cuba in 1939. It’s a story that remains relevant today as we need to consider the plight of refugees throughout the world.

This story alternates between the perspectives of two young women. There is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hannah Rosenthal. She is the daughter of a professor and a member of a wealthy, German family. She is Jewish but in some respects she is accepted by the German community because she looks Aryan, much to the chagrin of the “ogres” (the name that she as a child gives the Nazis.)

Over time, the Rosenthal family is like many of the other Jewish families living in Germany at the time, in that they are subject to discrimination and maltreatment. Eventually the situation becomes so untenable that they sell everything they have in order to buy tickets to travel across the sea and gain passage to Cuba in the hope of eventually settling in America. But things do not go according to plan because Cuba reneges on its promises (i.e. on the previously-issued visas that were awarded to the majority of the passengers.)

Anna Rosen is the other key narrator here. She is Hannah’s long-lost niece who is living in New York with her mother. Rosen’s father seems like a mystery to Anna because he was killed in the tragedies that took place in America on September 11. Anna’s father never got to know that he would become a father someday. Rosen’s aunt reaches out to her niece and the two bond over family history, sadness and shared tragedy.

The German Girl is a cautionary tale about an overlooked chapter in history. It’s an emotional story filled with uncertainty, horror and heartbreak. This is ultimately a well-researched and emotive book that offers another important perspective on the atrocities of the Second World War and patriotism in general.

***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-german-girl

BOOK REVIEW: ANNA ROMER – BEYOND THE ORCHARD

beyond-the-orchard

 

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: MISS SAIGON

Actors Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada perform as Chris and Kim during a photocall for a new production of "Miss Saigon" at the Prince Edward Theatre in London May 19, 2014. The production marks the 25th anniversary of the musical by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

The musical was written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil who also wrote, Les Misérables. The story is actually based on Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s opera about a tragic romance. In Miss Saigon the writers have taken the leads out of Japan and placed them into Vietnam with the romance blossoming between an American soldier and an innocent, young bargirl.

Eva Noblezada makes her professional acting debut as a vulnerable, 17-year-old girl named Kim. She is orphaned and accepts a bar job in Dreamland in order to survive. This seedy establishment is run by a French-Vietnamese hustler named The Engineer (Jon Jon Briones.) He is obsessed with money and concocts a “contest” where he crowns one of his working girls, “Miss Saigon” in order to charge a larger sum and commission for her services.

Kim meets an American G.I. named Chris (the dreamy, Alistair Brammer). Kim is naïve and sweet while Chris feels a bit lost in this strange environment but he also means well. The pair soon fall in love and marry. But they are separated during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Kim is left abandoned and pregnant and Noblezada does a fine job of making the audience really feel for the character. Kim also has to negotiate through the return of her cousin (Sangwoong Jo) who had been arranged to her in marriage by her late parents. But all she hopes for is a reunion with her beloved Chris.

The staging in this modern production at London’s Prince Edward Theatre is eye-catching with a helicopter appearing above the stage during the fall of the city and some black and white photography is also shown. There is also a grittiness to the poverty the poor characters experience and it’s hard to look away. The soundtrack is also a gorgeous and emotional one and the costumes are fabulous with Kim in demure pieces that set her apart from the raunchiness of the experienced, working girls. The ensemble also wear some glittery, showgirl outfits in “The American Dream” number when The Engineer reveals his big plans to move to the States.

Miss Saigon is a powerful story boasting equally large and sensitive ballads. This dramatic tale is a moving one about love, sacrifice and hope. The adaptation to the silver screen works well with the film capturing the simmering tension of the musical with close-ups honing on and emphasising the actor’s faces. This works well for the most part but at other points it does come at the expense of enjoying the ensemble’s dancing and the scenery, but this is just a minor quibble. Miss Saigon is ultimately a beguiling, melodious and downright beautiful experience that will tug at your heartstrings and leave you misty-eyed.

Originally published on 11 November 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-miss-saigon-translates-well-to-the-screen-in-its-25th-anniversary-will-leave-you-misty-eyed/

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BOOK REVIEW: ANTHEA HODGSON – THE DRIFTER

anthea-hodgson

 

If Anthea Hodgson’s debut novel were a song it would be John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The story is a rural romance set in Western Australia and it’s about two free-spirited individuals and a wise old aunt. The two former characters could be classed as “drifters” and they are thrown together and forced to confront their demons and re-evaluate life.

 

 

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website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201609/202013

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FILM REVIEW: HELP US FIND SUNIL TRIPATHI

help-us-find-sunil-tripathi

 

Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi is an excellent documentary and cautionary tale. It tells the story of a Brown University student who went missing in 2013 and how he was wrongly accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers. The film is a sensitive one about an amazing character and a sad indictment of social media and how a vocal few could turn into digital vigilantes and participate in a crazy witch-hunt.

The film is directed by former CNN journalist, Neal Broffman and written by Heather O’Neill. It is a story with lots of layers and depth. At the start we meet the family and friends of Sunil “Sunny” Tripathi. We learn that he was a kind person, talented musician and an intelligent student. He loved playing the saxophone and learning about philosophy. A beautiful portrait of him is developed through a series of home videos and photographs.

Sunil had difficulties at university and many believe he was suffering from depression. In March 2013 he left his apartment in Providence and he vanished. His family and friends launched a search party and reached out to people through social media and traditional broadcasters in order to find him. Sadly, this was largely to no avail.

On April 15 2013 the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and Tripathi’s elder brother and sister were there supporting a friend. Shortly afterwards the FBI released two blurry photographs of the suspects. An individual on Reddit falsely accused Tripathi as being one of the individuals in the pictures and all hell broke loose. The family were harassed by hungry journalists seeking an exclusive and the internet turned into the Wild West full of racist taunts and threats. The individuals online made huge leaps and presented unsubstantiated claims as fact and basically tried to punish Sunil even though we are supposed to treat individuals as innocent until proven guilty.

The filmmakers were unable to interview any of the people who wrongly accused Tripathi so this film can be a tad one-sided. But they do interview two representatives from Reddit and the users who made those hateful and ignorant comments have their writings shown in graphics that punctuate the film. The bloodthirsty journalists who left voicemails in the early hours of the morning are also represented through the audio they left on the Tripathi’s phones.

This story ultimately shows us the real Sunil Tripathi. He was an innocent, articulate and loving young man who was unfairly subjected to mob mentality and digital vigilantes. This is ultimately an emotional, thoughtful and important tale that will leave you frustrated and sad about our broken system and the internet in general.

Originally published on 15 September 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/suff-review-help-us-find-sunil-tripathi-usa-2015-an-emotional-thoughtful-and-important-documentary/

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FILM REVIEW: SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR

salem

 

It’s frightening to think that the events that are depicted in the documentary film, Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four happened at all, never mind as recently as in the 1990s. The film is a damning look at the trial and convictions of the San Antonio Four, a group of low-income homosexual Latina women who were accused of gang rape. The story is ultimately an important one about homophobia, prejudice and a miscarriage of justice.

In 1994 a pregnant Elizabeth Ramirez cared for her two nieces for one week at her apartment. The girls were Stephanie and Vanessa Limon and they were aged just seven and nine years old. The pair were looked after by their aunt and their aunt’s friends: Kristie Mayhugh, Anna Vasquez and Cassandra Rivera. Vasquez and Rivera were in a committed relationship and had been parenting the latter’s two children for some time.

The two Limon girls made allegations of rape against the four adult women. It was a rough time in America where homophobia was rife and the public were fascinated by stories of satanic worship, witchcraft and abuse. In some cases allegations of abuse were made against homosexuals and this film has some brief scenes about two other individuals who were charged with abuse around this same time and seems to indicate that they were charged for a large part because of their sexual orientation. After the bizarre trial of the San Antonio Four, Ramirez was sentenced to an eye-watering 37.5 years for multiple convictions while her friends received 15 years in prison for sexual assault and 10 years for indecency.

This film is a little like the Making A Murderer series in that it attempts to look at the lives of these four women before the alleged crime as well as the case and sentencing. The Netflix series is by far a more comprehensive and better organised one, but it is important to note that the 90 minutes here constitute the debut feature documentary by director and broadcaster, Deborah Esquenazi.What Southwest of Salem does do well is focusing on the heart-wrenching ramifications of the events (as two of the women were separated from their biological children and all of them from their families) and it allows the group to tell their story and maintain their innocence through candid interviews. In spite of being informative and providing some background, it does leave some questions unanswered.

The women were subsequently released (Vasquez in 2012 and the remaining three in 2013) after over a decade in prison. They were released after one of the alleged victims, Stephanie Martinez (née Limon) recanted her testimony. There was also new evidence from one of the expert witnesses Dr. Nancy Kellogg who admitted that advances in medical science had rendered her previous statements as false. The women were free but their rights are still curtailed and they are seeking exoneration. Their case is currently in the hands of the Texas Court of Appeals.

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four is a powerful documentary about a system that failed a marginalised group of four women. It’s a story that is demanding of your attention, particularly as it seemed to have alluded much of the media’s attention for some time. This film is ultimately a very emotional and visceral one where you will be angry about the past but hopeful about the future…

Originally published on 14 September 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/queer-screen-film-festival-review-southwest-of-salem-the-story-of-the-san-antonio-four-usa-2016/

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