A Letter from Italy is a romantic story that isn’t just ruled by its heart. It’s a novel inspired by Louise Mack, the first female war correspondent who worked during the First World War. It’s a book that shows how a determined and strong journalist negotiates the trials and tribulations of being a woman in a male-dominated industry and also through a time of tumultuous change.

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Winter at Westbeth is a film that’s all about “the art.” And celebrating it at every age. This documentary looks at three young at heart, elderly, American artists who live in a vibrant, housing complex called Westbeth Artists Housing in New York. It is ultimately a film that is like a love letter to the power of creativity and pursuing your passion.

The three subjects of this film are all aged 75 years and older. There is Edith Stephen, a former danced turned filmmaker, Ilsa Gilbert, an author of vivid poetry and the late Dudley Williams, a man who performed modern dance with Martha Graham. The three show no signs of retiring or slowing down, they still doggedly pursue their creative endeavours and the things that make them happy. It’s an uplifting message and something that we can all take a little something away from.

The film does have its light moments, like when Stephen applies her green eyeshadow on camera but it also doesn’t shy away from showing some more complex and even dark emotions. Williams describes caring for his late partner and these scenes are both heart-breaking and profound. It’s a testament to filmmaker and cinematographer, Rohan Spong that he has forged a highly personal connection with his subjects and that he brings out the best from his on-screen talent in their talking head interviews. It’s also commendable that he invites the audience into a world where these artists are still vital and relevant and worthy of our respect and admiration.

Winter at Westbeth is a fine, fly-on-the-wall documentary that will inspire us all to leave behind the daily grind and go and live in a creative hotspot like Greenwich Village because it’s a place where artists are supported by the community and a place where they can offer so much more in return. This is one beautifully-realised film that showcases three unique souls and artists and one that manages to capture their essence in a truly joyful and life-affirming way. Utterly charming!

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website:

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Stephen K Amos knows Australians. The English comedian has been visiting our fine country for over a decade and he even has the nasally accent down pat. His show at the Enmore Theatre for the Sydney Comedy Festival was a rather clever look at life both in general as well as different observations and anecdotes from his own.

The show began with Amos giving a quick disclaimer telling us not to expect deep meaning and pathos. It was all about the funny and some of the recent events in his life, including his shows in Newcastle that had given him inspiration on the comedic front. Amos talked about negotiating a difficult door in a hotel and some rather strange problems with breakfast (it was a place where you could have your eggs any way you like but the kitchen had apparently run out of “omelette mix”).

Amos held his own in tackling some rather difficult subjects including politics and Australia’s casual racism. The funny man had been a recent guest on Australian breakfast TV and was told he didn’t need make-up despite being on ultra HD (the make-up artist neglected to fess up and admit that he didn’t have the appropriate colour foundation on-hand). And let’s not forget the stupid talk show host who was convinced that Amos had starred in the Hollywood film, 12 Years a Slave. There was also his popular riff on the jellybeans called Chicos (you’ll have to look this one up yourselves).

The internet, technology and social media were also popular topics for Amos who doesn’t need to be reminded about when his birthday or anyone else’s is, thankyou Facebook. There was also a funny gag about Amos’s version of portable music where he once inadvertently picked up his Mum’s sewing machine rather than a record player in a similar case. Amos is a rather eloquent speaker and he even had a few great one-liners, especially when he described one stupid guy as: “His head was so empty the wheel was turning but the hamster was dead”.

The Englishman made some fine jokes and he did this with great consideration, often by taking his time to set up the material before the eventual pay-off. Amos is a rather clever comedian that in general hits his stride in the live environment and this is something that we Aussies have come to know and love.

Originally published on 8 May 2016 at the following website:

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Mama mia- Italy boasts in excess of 500 different grape varieties. As Australians this can make ordering Italian wines a tad confusing, especially when most people’s knowledge only extends to Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the like. But thankfully the team from Gambero Rosso are here to the rescue.

Gambero Rosso publish Italian wine guides. It all started as a simple supplement of a few pages that was printed in a daily newspaper in Rome back in 1986. By 1988 the first compendium was published and in 1997 the first English edition was printed. The guide has gone from strength-to-strength and now employs some 60 expert blind tasters who visit 2402 Italian wineries to sample 22,000 wines for the volume.


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The team from Gambero Rosso also hold events and have recently embarked on a world tour named, “Tre Bicchieri” or “Three Glasses”, which will visit Japan, China, Germany, London and America. It is named after the highest rating offered in the guide. The wines are assigned scores of one glass for good, two for very good and three for exceptional or extraordinary.


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In addition to Gambero Rosso’s ratings, the Italian government also has its own unique classifications like DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for wines with controlled production methods and vineyards that grow grapes in protected geographical spots. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest grade and guarantees the quality of the DOC score. The system is modelled on the French food and wine system.


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The Sydney event saw representatives from industry and members of the press sampling wines from eight distinct Italian regions including: Veneto, Sicily, Lombardy, Tuscany, Trentino, Marche, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Puglia. There were over 40 different wines to sample including sparking and traditional whites, reds and rosés. It was interesting to talk to representatives from different vineyards and learn more about their different wines and grapes.


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This event also included a masterclass with more sampling which included four sparkling wines like the floral and refreshing Valdobbiadene Brut Prior 2015and the complex Franciacorta Extra Brut 2009 with its complex taste and aromatic herb notes. The Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Ris. 2008 was more acidic but the Franciacorta Brut Rosé had a longer-lasting finish.

The Pieropan family own one of the oldest wineries and they use very mature grapes that are aged in a barrel for 18 months. Their Soave Cl. La Rocca 2013. was a surprisingly light drop and the same could be said about the FCO Pinot Bianco Myò 2014 with its floral scent reminiscent of daisies and gooseberries. If the former was all sugar then the following Braide Alte 2013 was the spice and all things nice with its blend of different drops including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The Primitivo di Manduria Talò is something you’d have difficulty finding in our local hotels but it had a rich taste and a sweet finish. This made the Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. 2011 seem quite earthy and structured in comparison.


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The Tre Bicchieri wine tasting and masterclass event was an educational and informative session about Italian wines for trade and industry. The guide is considered the bible of Italian wines and for good reason. The book – like the exhibitors – helped showcase the best elements of Italian wines and celebrate all of the unique grape varieties and drops in all of their finery.

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Originally published on 2 April 2016 at the following website:

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Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set is a documentary that is supposed to celebrate five influential food bloggers and show their enviable jobs as they attend fine-dining establishments. The result is a movie that looks fabulous but it is rather slow and tedious to watch. The documentary’s elitist nature also makes it hard for the viewer to relate to the proceedings, because this is a group of predominantly self-important and obnoxious writers.

The film begins with British blogger, Andy Hayler complaining about receiving Moët & Chandon rather than Bollinger. It’s hard not to dismiss this guy straight away as a smug and privileged white man. The former software developer does at least have credibility because he has visited every Michelin-starred restaurant over the past five years and he has developed an elaborate rating system for scoring his meals, so he does at least know what he’s talking about.

The other veteran blogger is Steve Plotnicki, the former head of a hip-hop record label. He is perhaps the most outspoken and opinionated of the lot. He is shown in this film arguing with the acclaimed chef, Wylie Dufresne at the latter’s WD~50 restaurant. The writer had called one of Dufresne’s creations the worst dish he had ever eaten, which seems a bit over-the-top. It’s hard to relate to these bloggers because a lot of them are rich people who are in powerful positions that others could only dream of. This often means that the best moments are the rare ones where the chefs are interviewed as it’s interesting to learn about their take on their own industry and craft.

Katie Keiko Tam is the newest blogger and she spends a lot of the film looking a tad green and out of her depth. But you do have to admire her for her hard work (she at least toils away at a day job in order to fund her expensive hobby). The same cannot be said about Perm Paitayawat whose food adventures are funded by his family’s wealth. The final blogger is a former model named Aiste Miseviciute who seems more mysterious than enlightening.

Foodies shows some great shots of food and like Julie & Julia this film will make you hungry as you sit and watch it. This documentary does have some moments where it’s interesting to witness eating with a focus on pleasure rather than sustenance and to see the cameras turned away from those usually taking the food pictures, to make them stars in their own right. The only problem is that some of these bloggers are not great “talents” in terms of interviewees, with some not being particularly colourful or insightful while others spend too much time over-intellectualising things. It can be quite trying to watch at times.

This documentary was never going to change the world but it did at least achieve what it had set out to do: to show the more extreme examples of foodies and some exclusive, out-of-this-world food experiences. It’s just a shame that things become too repetitive and you get the sense that there was never enough original material for a full-length feature. To use an analogy that the stars would understand, perhaps this film should have been just a main meal rather than a 10-course degustation. In all, this does have some good moments but you do have to get past the obnoxious and self-indulgent stars and that could just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Originally published on 4 November 2015 at the following website:

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Woman In Gold is about righting the wrongs of the past. The film is based on a single case involving art restitution for a woman who was born in Vienna but was forced to flee the country at the start of World War II. The film is a luminous and rich drama that is filled with fine details as it intricately weaves together these stories from the past with the struggles and courtroom antics that followed.

Helen Mirren does an amazing job starring as Maria Altmann, an Austrian-American woman who pursues an art restitution case after discovering that her sister had tried to go down this road prior to her death. Altmann is the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of a portrait by Gustav Klimt. It was originally titled, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” but was renamed “Woman In Gold” after the war in an attempt to hide the picture’s provenance. The painting had taken pride of place in the Bloch-Bauer’s house but it was looted when the Nazi’s began their occupation of Austria.

Altmann enlists the help of a bumbling, inexperienced and hungry lawyer named Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds in a departure away from his typically handsome leading man roles to playing an affable nerd). Schoenberg is the grandson of composer, Arnold Schoenberg but he also shares Altmann’s determination. The two lodge a claim in order to recover the painting. In doing so, they also reclaim Altmann’s heritage and force her to confront the ghosts of the past. It’s a matter that is filled with set-backs and triumphs (or a protracted legal battle that spans five years and even reaches the U.S. Supreme Court).

An integral player in this story was Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl), not that you can really see this in the film. Czernin is an investigative journalist who put in the hard yards behind the scenes. The film also paints a portrait of Altmann’s childhood as well as her risky and dramatic escape from Austria and her teary goodbye to her father. Altmann was then newly married and she wound up settling in America with her husband (the younger Altmanns are portrayed well by Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany and Max Irons). The supporting cast is also fine and features Charles Dance, Katie Holmes and Elizabeth McGovern, in largely unrealised roles.

Woman In Gold is not a perfect masterpiece but it does do a good job of straddling the lines between courtroom and period drama and its handling of a complex subject. The story is a sad and extraordinary one that is about an often-forgotten aspect of war. The subject matter has previously received silver screen treatment in the form of documentaries like The Rape of Europa and Stealing Klimt but it’s also nice to see it get an emotional and fictionalised treatment. The special features however, are a tad lacklustre with just a short featurette included.

Maria Altmann was an inspiration as well as an engaging and steadfast character to boot. Woman In Gold does her memory and her heritage justice in this portrayal of an important David and Goliath battle that paved the way for similar cases to be heard. In all, this is a story taken from some significant pages in the history books and it’s a beautifully tragic tale told in an artistic and nuanced way.

Originally published on 4 November 2015 at the following website:

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