BOOK REVIEW: LINDY WEST – SHRILL – NOTES FROM A LOUD WOMAN

 

Lindy West was one of the highlights from this year’s All About Women festival at the Sydney Opera House. So it is unsurprising that this Guardian columnist and Jezebel blogger’s book, Shrill – Notes From A Loud Woman is funny, accomplished and excellent. West’s book is ultimately a hybrid between memoir, with personal anecdotes, and essays, where she writes about important issues and uncomfortable truths in a compelling and articulate way.

For those people who are unfamiliar with West’s work, the Seattle-born writer first came into prominence while working as a film critic for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, The Stranger. Her review of Sex & The City 2 went viral. Initially her work focused on reviews of the arts, film and comedy but over time she started to become an activist for causes she felt strongly about, and a lot of these causes are covered in some detail in Shrill.

This volume opens with West’s account of growing up as a shy, fat girl. She admits that she was once so overwhelmed and consumed with shyness that she was unable to ask her classroom teacher if she could be excused in order to go to the bathroom. In the end Lindy peed her pants and she tried to blame this on a nearby water jug.

For years West grappled with the shape of her body and society’s demands, where women are often taught from birth that we should be small both physically and in presence. But over time West realised that she could not ignore the fact that she was fat. She also came out of her shell, and all of these things meant that Lindy eventually came to the realisation that she wanted to obliterate those views that permeate society.

Lindy’s fat activism means she’s received her fair share of negative retaliation. Her former editor, Dan Savage tried to weigh into the fat debate, using the argument that accepting fatness contributes to the obesity epidemic. West, however, addressed the argument raising the idea that fat people should not be considered acceptable human punching bags. West’s arguments were both well-considered and thoughtful. It is this same style that was particularly evident in West’s TV debate with comedian Jim Norton, over rape jokes in comedy,  and as well through much of this book.

Shrill includes a lot of things that are clearly quite personal to Lindy. One of the hardest parts to read is where she takes on one of her meanest internet trolls. They had created a Twitter page where he pretended to be West’s father, Paul, shortly after he had passed away. The troll also wrote that Paul West was the “Embarrassed father of an idiot.” This broke Lindy’s heart and she penned an essay about the ordeal. The troll eventually apologised to her and the two had a frank and open discussion on an episode of This American Life. Score sheet Lindy West: 1 Trolls: 0.

In Shrill, West should be commended for tackling some uncomfortable topics (abortion, rape, periods, etc.) and for being outspoken, witty and sassy in her remarks. West makes some compelling arguments, whilst also letting the reader in on some very intense and private moments from her own life (including her love for her husband, Ahamefule J. Oluo). Shrill is ultimately a bit of a rollercoaster ride where you’ll laugh, cry, feel rage and be jubilant at West’s uncompromising and relatable anecdotes and prose. West clearly knows how to strike a chord with readers, so some things are a laughing matter, others will appeal to your grey matter, and then there are even more topics that just matter. Period.

 

Originally published on 19 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-lindy-wests-shrill-will-make-you-laugh-cry-rage-and-feel-jubilant-at-her-uncompromising-prose/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO WIN AT FEMINISM – PRESENTED BY REDUCTRESS AND BY ELIZABETH NEWELL, SARAH PAPPALARDO & ANNA DREZEN

 

How to Win at Feminism is a book that needs to be taken along with a large grain of salt as it is supposed to be a funny and subversive – if misguided – look at feminism for millennials. The writers even include acknowledge this, with, “At the end of the day, we’re just a bunch of cute klutzes who wrote an effing book” but is this admission at the end of the book one that is too little too late? If How to Win at Feminism achieves anything it is to prove that for some people feminism isn’t and will never be a laughing matter.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226256

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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/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage dedicated to the arts at: http://arts.theaureview.com

BOOK REVIEW: DAVID M. BARNETT – CALLING MAJOR TOM

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Major Tom may have been a junkie in David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” but in David M. Barnett’s book he’s just grumpy, old curmudgeon. The book is the first humorous one to be written by Barnett, an English journalist and author of the Gideon Smith series. Calling Major Tom is a fantastic book, a heart-warming and funny read with a fabulous premise and a cast of interesting characters and it’s also one that would appeal to fans of Ben Elton and Graeme Simsion.

The story requires some large suspensions of disbelief. These are namely that an unlikely, anti-social astronaut by the name of Thomas Major would a) mistakenly telephone a dysfunctional family from Wigan in Manchester and b) continue to interact with them on subsequent calls as he continues his voyage to Mars. If the reader can get past this then they are in for an excellent kind of space oddity.

Barnett does a superb job with his character development. He tells the back story of Thomas Major through a series of flashbacks where we learn about a number of the tragedies the star endured. These events helped shape Tom into the difficult and unlikely astronaut for the British Space Agency he ultimately would become. Originally the role of astronaut on the first solo mission to Mars to set up colonies was to go to another man but after he dies Tom seizes the opportunity to leave earth forever. The press love that Tom is in the role because it is shortly after the death of David Bowie and they love the idea that another “Major Tom” is floating in a tin can in space.

The other characters in this book are the Ormerod family. They are led by Grandma Gladys who is fiercely loyal about protecting her grandchildren but unfortunately also seems to be suffering from dementia. The latter individuals include Ellie, a strong young woman who is trying to keep her family together after her mother died and her father was sent to prison. There is also the young and clever James who is bullied by some young thugs at school. The Ormerod family manage to forge a connection with Major Tom and they make him realise how much more the earth has to offer him.

Calling Major Tom is an uplifting and unique book about friendships, memories and sadness. It finds the right balance between light comedy and heartfelt sentiment while also containing a swag bag of pop culture references. David M. Barnett’s book Calling Major Tom could be an early contender for best novel of 2017 because it proves that there is so much more to life on Mars.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29547280-calling-major-tom

BOOK REVIEW: LEE ZACHARIAH – DOUBLE DISSOLUTION – HEARTBREAK & CHAOS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

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The combination of a political analysis and a memoir about the dissolution of a marriage could be considered similar to oil and water.  But in the hands of Australian author, Lee Zachariah, this book is quite a funny and rather seamless slice of gonzo journalism. Zachariah draws parallels between the Liberal party’s entry into office in 2013 and his marriage to his girlfriend as well as the aftermath of 2016, which saw Australians starring down the barrel of an uncertain election and Zachariah also facing an ambiguous future with respect to his relationship and life in general.

Double Dissolution is based around Zachariah’s series of articles for Vice Magazine about the 2016 Election, although none of his pieces are included here. Instead, diarised accounts of the highways, bad coffee and campaign bus are included as well as vox pops and interviews with volunteers, voters and politicians like: Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young and senator and leader of his own political party, Nick Xenophon. This book is pitched at all readers with political fans being able to enjoy the commentary while those less enamoured with politics can at least get enough context to understand Zachariah’s perspectives and encounters with those vying for power. Zachariah does a fabulous job of this, providing just enough information to be educational while never being dry or boring.

Some of the funniest parts of this book are Zachariah’s little asides and extra thoughts that can be found in the footnotes. He draws parallels between what is transpiring before him and various slices of pop culture. These links are never forced or tenuous. Zachariah has previously cut his teeth on TV shows like The Chaser’s Hamster Wheel and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and he certainly knows how to craft and tell an entertaining yarn or ten.

Double Dissolution is not the most deep or comprehensive look at Australian politics or the 2016 federal election and nor does it purport to be. Instead it is perhaps the most entertaining look at these topics. Zachariah is an interesting, gonzo character and his perspectives and commentary are quite intelligent and well-put. Perhaps this foray onto the campaign trail will see Zachariah run for office some day? Because as this book proves, he can’t be as bad as what we’ve previously had!

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/double-dissolution/10478633/

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/

Visit Impulse Gamer’s homepage at: http://www.impulsegamer.com

BOOK REVIEW: LEE LIN CHIN & CHRIS LEBEN – ICED BEER & OTHER TANTALISING TIPS FOR LIFE

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Iced Beer & Other Tantalising Tips for Life is a short book that is billed as a sort of advice manual by the self-proclaimed “Prime Chinster of Australia”, or Gold Logie nominee, newsreader, and inimitable fashionista known as Lee Lin Chin. This book is a confident look at the important things in Chin’s life and one in which she squarely puts the majority of people down (although to be fair, most of them were morons anyway). Chin is assisted here by The Feed’s Chris Leben, a man that Chin jokes cannot string a sentence together but who manages her social media accounts (because Chin hates technology).

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201701/216547

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

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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FILM REVIEW: THE LAST LAUGH

thelastlaugh

 

Everybody has their own line with respect to what they consider funny versus what is taboo. For some people there is no topic or thing that is off limits while others believe that some subjects – irrespective of the quality of the joke –are in poor taste. The Last Laugh is a documentary that examines all of the different sides to this argument while framing things through the prism that is the Holocaust. This film is ultimately an important conversation and dialogue that poses more questions than it offers answers.

Filmmaker and writer, Ferne Pearlstein has made an ambitious documentary that segues off into other topics like aids, molestation and 9/11 but predominantly focuses on the relationship between the Holocaust and comedy. She frames part of the tale through a warm and vibrant survivor named Renee Firestone, a lady who lost her sister at the camps and who subsequently went on to work as an educator and activist. She is a woman that takes a positive approach to life and feels she can laugh and enjoy things. But there are some scenes where she is shown some rather subversive material by contemporary comics like Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais where she fails to find their jokes funny.

Firestone proves a very interesting interview subject, especially when her outlook to life proves to be such a stark contrast to another Auschwitz survivor who feels she can no longer laugh and enjoy things because she’s plagued by the shadows of the millions of Jewish people who were killed. This documentary also includes another fascinating and surprising discussion about the cabarets and revues that took place at the concentration camps. It’s intriguing to see that some people were able to react to these horrifying circumstances by trying to make other people smile and laugh.

This film includes interviews with lots of comedians and comedy writers including Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks (The Producers’ creator who poked fun at Hitler and the Nazis for years but who draws the line at joking about the Holocaust) as well as Seinfeld writer, Larry Charles. The film includes scenes from the famous sitcom about nothing including the jokes about the Soup Nazi and when Seinfeld was caught making out with his girlfriend during Schindler’s List as well as scenes from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Hogan’s Heroes and stand-up slots from Silverman, Gervais and Chris Rock, to name a few.

The Last Laugh covers a lot of ground in its 90 minutes. It includes the sombre tales of some Auschwitz survivors while asking whether it is okay to make jokes about tragedies like these. This documentary is a balanced one and the opinions are quite varied with some sitting in the pro free speech camp while others believe there is a line that should not be crossed. This film is provocative and outrageous at times and at other moments is quite intelligent and thought-provoking. This film proves that there is no resounding case for the affirmative or the negative, but instead that the discussion and debate needs to continue.

Originally published on 14 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/jewish-international-film-festival-review-the-last-laugh-usa-2016/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

Visit The Iris’s homepage at: http://www.theiris.com.au

BOOK REVIEW: MEREDITH JAFFÉ- THE FENCE

thefence

 

The characters in Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel The Fence may live in the pleasant-sounding, Green Valley, but the neighbourhood is far from idyllic. It’s actually the setting for two feuding next door neighbours. At times some parts of this story would not be out of place on A Current Affair or Today Tonight with the title, “Shocking neighbours.” This novel ultimately shares a few things in common with Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap in that it is a well-written family drama set in suburban Australia.

Jaffé is a writer and former book critic for The Hoopla. When you consider these experiences and her writing in The Fence, it is obvious that Jaffé knows how to tell a good story. This novel starts off a little slowly and it does contain some unlikeable characters but it does hit its stride as the tension mounts between the two households.

Gwen Hill is an elderly lady who has lived in the same street in Green Valley for decades. She and her husband were the first residents in this cul-de-sac and it is here that she raised her children and made a life for her family. Hill also created an immaculate garden that she is immensely proud of and she also forged a close relationship with her next door neighbour, Babs.

Michael is Babs’s son and after both of his parents pass away he and his wife decide to sell the family home. Gwen is shocked and she takes an immediate disliking to her new, young neighbours. At first it is hard to warm to Gwen and her stubborn and opinionated ways.

The neighbours are the Boyd-Desmarchelliers family. Francesca Desmarchelliers is the mother of four rowdy young children and the family bread-winner in a highflying, corporate role. Her husband, Brandon Boyd stays at home and looks after the children and the house. It is immediately obvious that Gwen and Francesca are quite different in terms of their opinions but they also share a determined doggedness. When Desmarchelliers decides to build a large fence for privacy and to keep her children and the family pets safe, this sets off a series of chain reactions that soon escalate out of control.

The story is told in the third person but the focus shifts between Gwen and Francesca’s perspectives in monthly increments. As a result of this the reader becomes absorbed in this tale of two women and will often find themselves choosing an allegiance with one of these neighbours. For some it will be a case of oscillating between both sides while others may be left sitting on the fence.

Meredith Jaffé’s debut novel is a clever and witty one where she captures what could have been quite a dark and territorial part of Australian society but injects this with a lightness and humour. The story seems quite simple but it’s actually quite a complex social comedy and layered family drama. This is one very promising debut that shows that even the simple idea of a home among the gum trees with a husband, kids and a white picket fence can actually be more than what it seems.

***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-fence

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