BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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

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

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DVD REVIEW: THE JINX: THE LIFE & DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST

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The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is the television equivalent of peeling an onion. This true crime mini-series is a well-structured and well-edited look at the eccentric New York real-estate heir, Robert Durst. The recipient of the 2015 Emmy award for the most outstanding documentary or nonfiction series is a worthy winner, as the program is an engrossing and compelling look at the three murder cases linked to Durst.

This six part series is directed by Andrew Jarecki who also acts as the producer along with Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. Messer Jarecki is also the same man who directed the feature film, All Good Things in 2010. The latter film starred Ryan Gosling and was a fictionalised look at the events that are also tackled by this mini-series, namely the disappearance of Robert Durst’s wife, Kathie in 1982. The feature film impressed Robert Durst so much that he got in touch with the filmmaker and offered to be interviewed as well as unprecedented access to his personal archive.

The series is excellent and gives a lot of information about Kathie’s disappearance and the highly suspicious circumstances that surrounded the event. It also looks at two other crimes that Durst has been linked to- the execution-style death of his long-time friend, Susan Berman in 2000 (her father had been a member of the mafia) and his neighbour Morris Black. Durst admitted to killing Black in “self-defence” and was acquitted of this charge even though Black had been found dismembered in Galveston Texas.

The series does take liberty with the timings of certain events and it goes for the entertainment value rather than presenting something that is purely factual. The Jinx is a dark and entertaining drama program that threads together interviews with the creepy, frank and troubled Durst as well as family and friends of the missing and deceased. There are also interviews with attorneys and police officers who were involved in the cases. Rather than be a dry or clinical retelling of what was believed to have occurred, the filmmakers use archive photographs and footage as well as recreations/re-enactments and site visits to the crime scenes plus some strategically-timed reveals and cliff hangers.

The Jinx is a well-shot and edited piece of documentary filmmaking. It’s a contradictory piece that straddles the lines between investigative journalism and entertaining tension and suspense. This ultimately makes for some engrossing melodrama that is best enjoyed by viewers that know nothing or as little about the case as possible. This then allows the story to be revealed before their very eyes, complete with all of its gobsmacking revelations and smoking gun evidence. The result is an extraordinary true crime tale that towers above the rest.

Originally published on 10 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/jinx-life-deaths-robert-durst-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: POLDARK TV SERIES

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Poldark is a TV series that will be loved by fans of Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy. It’s a sumptuous, period drama based on the novels by Winston Graham and is set in Cornwall in the 18th century. This is the second time it has been adapted for television (the first was in 1975) and it is a relevant, moody and complex melodrama.

The series is divided into eight parts and focuses mainly on the first two books that were penned by Winston Graham (there is a second series in development for the other novels). In the first episode we meet Ross Poldark (the gorgeous and well-cast, Aidan Turner) who has just returned home after fighting in the American War of Independence. But there have been some big changes in Cornwall as well as America.

Poldark had been injured in battle and now has a scar down the side of his face. He had been presumed dead so his family are shocked to see that he is in fact, alive. The love of his life, the elegant Elizabeth (played by the graceful, Heida Reed) has recently agreed to marry Poldark’s pathetic cousin Francis (Kyle Soller). Poldark is also left reeling from the death of his father and an inheritance that is in a state of disarray.

Graham has done an excellent job of creating some very complex and detailed characters as well as throwing in lots of different plot twists and turns. Some of these events are not the most surprising or unique but the story overall is very energetic and engrossing. This is really a testament to how great and classic a character Messer Poldark actually is.

Ross Poldark is a man of wealth and has a good family name. But instead he enjoys the company of the common people. He has strong values and is loyal and opinionated which make him a good man overall and a saviour to some. His godliness is best shown in his actions towards an unkempt urchin named Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson) who will eventually become his wife. Tomlinson does an outstanding job in getting at the heart of her character’s transformation, from humble and filthy beginnings to blossoming into Poldark’s sparring partner and an almost accepted member of society.

The special features are disappointing with some simple shorts containing interviews with the actors and some behind-the-scenes footage being offered. These don’t do justice to the great, old-fashioned tale that the series is. The video is quite beautiful as the locations chosen from around Cornwall are exquisite, although at times these are a little washed out.

Poldark is a lush and captivating drama that will engross you. It’s a stirring story about betrayal, rivalry, tragedy, heroes and villains. In all, this is a complex and dark tale about an upstanding gentleman who would make a good role model thanks to his fair treatment of those most in need. This elegant and broody tale will leave viewers wanting more as they swoon over the windswept locations and the devastatingly handsome leading man.

 

Originally published on 10 September 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/poldark-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE SECRET RIVER

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The Secret River has already been adapted into an acclaimed and successful stage play and Kate Grenville’s original, historic novel was a multi-award winning piece of literature. The latest adaptation sees the story transformed into a searing, two-part mini-series. The result is a complex look at a dark piece of colonial Australia.

The series is directed by Daina Reid (Paper Giants) and was written by Jan Sardi (Shine) and Mac Gudgeon. It tells the story of William Thornhill (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a poor Thames bargeman who was sentenced to deportation and life in the penal colony of NSW. Thornhill lives there with his determined, settler wife Sal (Sarah Snook (Not Suitable for Children)) and their kids. Sal eventually earns a pardon for her convict husband.

Thornhill then moves his young family to the Hawkesbury River, a wild piece of strange bushland so he can start a new life on his own acreage. The only problem is that this land has been occupied by the indigenous Dharug people for tens of thousands of years (this tribe is led by Grey Beard who is played by Trevor Jamieson who also appeared in The Secret River stage show). The emancipist and the traditional land owners clash over the property and a series of misunderstood exchanges lead to some dire consequences.

This series boasts some amazing performances by all of the actors and in the end this all helps to make for one visceral and rather challenging show. The story is enthralling, engrossing and tragic as the audience sees how the different characters interact with each other. The mysterious and poker-faced Thomas Blackwood (Lachy Hulme) has chosen to learn the indigenous peoples’ language while others co-exist and befriend the indigenous people. There are other former convicts whose behaviour is utterly deplorable (comedian Tim Minchin is excellent but almost unrecognisable as Smasher while Samuel Johnson is equally shameful as Saggity) as they consider the indigenous Australians mere savages.

The locations used for filming this series are not true to the book but they are picturesque and were chosen because they still look like they did some 200 years ago. The soundtrack by Burkhard von Dallwitz is at times subtle and at other moments is quite striking. This provides the right balance and supports the emotional weightiness of the subject matter. The special features meanwhile, are good but minimal as there is simply a featurette about the making of the series, which contains interviews with the cast and crew.

The Secret River is an important and tragic historic narrative that deals with greed, desperation, dispossession, identity and belonging. It’s a compelling and epic drama about colonial Australia that has a degree of relevance, even to this day. This is ultimately a tense and challenging piece of art that examines some thorny issues with a deft hand as it exposes one particularly dark chapter in Australia’s history.

Originally published on 14 July 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/secret-river-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: GOOD OL’ FREDA

GOF still - courtesy of Freda Kelly

 

When people think of John, Paul, George and Ringo, a name that doesn’t immediately spring to mind is Freda Kelly. But this humble, Liverpudlian woman was the group’s secretary; manager, Brian Epstein’s assistant; and the head of their fan club for 11 years. Good Ol’ Freda is a quaint little documentary about an inspiring woman who had one of the most coveted jobs in the world, when Beatlemania was at its peak.

In 1961 the then typist and 17 year old, Freda Kelly would be introduced to the Cavern Club, a place that smelled of “Disinfectant, rotten fruit, and sweat”. It was here that she’d get her first glimpse of The Beatles (who were playing with then drummer, Pete Best). They wore leather and were a far cry from the crooners and Cliff Richards of the day. From there, Kelly would go on to watch hundreds of their gigs and befriend the band. Some members would even drive her home plus she had a regular vantage point in the Cavern and would often sit backstage talking in the band room. She would eventually accept a job offer from Mr Epstein, even though this role displeased her father.

It was not long before The Beatles hit the big time and this naive girl was forced to grow up overnight. There were some mistakes along the way, like when she gave out her own home address for the fan club and received thousands of letters. But Kelly would remain a mainstay and survive Epstein’s temperamental nature, as she was a no-nonsense woman who got things done.

Kelly once asked Ringo Starr to sleep on a pillowcase a fan had sent in. She would also get autographs of the boys for the fans whenever she could and even sent out clippings of their hair and old shirts because she understood what it was like to be so devoted to the group. She was The Beatles’ friend and even became a virtual member of their individual families, going so far as to visit Ringo Starr’s mother, Elsie Starkey at the latter’s home at 10 Admiral Grove.

Freda Kelly is naturally a rather private person and this documentary directed by Ryan White (Pelada) is one of the few occasions she has every spoken publicly about the band. There has never been a tell-all memoir and in this film she does not rake over old muck or even reveal if she went out with any of the group’s members or not. The details of her own life are also rather scant. We learn of an ex-husband but not of their divorce and of two children (one of whom died young in circumstances that were not described).

Good Ol’ Freda is not the most comprehensive, contemporary or informative story about The Beatles. But it is entertaining, engrossing and colourful. Over the course of 86 minutes Kelly shares many wonderful anecdotes about these funny lads and really comes across as a warm, endearing and dependable woman. It’s a true testament to her that four original Beatle songs were licenced by the elusive Apple and Ringo Starr even takes some time out to send a sweet message to Kelly and her grandson Niall during the closing credits. This movie was made so that Niall would one day know about Kelly’s achievements as a young woman.

The documentary contains lots of archive footage and recordings, including The Beatles’ 1963 Christmas message plus old concert and interview footage. There are lots of never-before-seen photographs and there are many stories that have been as yet untold (something that is practically unheard of when you consider that the Beatle phenomenon must have been mined from every possible angle). The film is presented from Kelly’s point-of-view and is almost like sitting down for a cuppa and a biscuit with her save for the additional interviews with: Beatle publicist, Tony Barrow; Kelly’s daughter, Rachel Norris; Joey Bower (Fourmost); Billy Kinsley (The Merseybeats); fan club assistant, Julie Underwood; and Paul McCartney’s stepmother, Angie McCartney.

Good Ol’ Freda is an exciting, fun and feel-good film about The Beatles’ secretary’s magic carpet ride as the then tiny group from Liverpool conquered the world. This documentary is rich in sweet, nostalgic memories from a heady, halcyon time. Ultimately, this is a rich story about a loyal, devoted and admirable woman who ran a tight ship, achieved great things and above all, never sold out.

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

Originally published on 21 April 2014 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2014/04/21/film-review-good-ol-freda-uk-usa-2013/

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