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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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: FOR THE LOVE OF MEAT

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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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BOOK REVIEW: CAREK STELSON – SACHIKO – A NAGASAKI SURVIVOR’S STORY

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The story of Sachiko and other hibakusha are important, as they chronicle a fundamental part of history. This book also supports Yasui’s work as an activist for peace, as it is a cautionary tale about nuclear weaponry, but also one of hardship and human resilience. At 144 pages there were elements that could have been elaborated on further, but it remains a well-researched piece of narrative non-fiction and essential reading for anyone interested in learning from the perils and tragedy of war.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201611/207492

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DVD REVIEW: FORCES OF NATURE

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In Forces of Nature Professor Brian Cox answers the questions a child is likely to ask you. Why is every snowflake different? Why are honeycombs made up of hexagons? What is motion, etc.? This documentary series takes a leaf out of David Attenborough’s book by combining stunning natural scenes (where the high-definition video alone is worthy of a six out of five rating) and a learned presenter who can explain things in a relatively easy way.

This four part series is an ambitious one where the audience gets to traverse around the globe and watch the Northern Lights in one segment, to some volcanoes in Indonesia elsewhere and even the Serengeti Plains and some cliffs in Nepal. For the most part, Cox takes a back-seat and allows the mesmerising footage to speak for itself. When Cox does offer commentary and pieces to camera it is to use biology and physics to explain things like gravity, electromagnetism and symmetry in nature, as well as ways we can understand the universe and all its forces.

Professor Cox is an excellent presenter. It is obvious that he is a scientist who is passionate about his craft. It’s also apparent that he’s a great teacher. There is no doubt that this man knows what he’s talking about because Forces of Nature proves he is able to describe quite complex phenomena in a gentle, easy-to-understand way.

Forces of Nature is divided into programs about shape, colour, motion and elements. It is all about celebrating the complicated, everyday world and natural phenomena in general. This should be essential viewing to everyone as it strikes the perfect balance between information, entertainment and education. Professor Cox loves and enjoys celebrating science and it’s only natural that you should feel the same way too.

 

Originally published on 27 October 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/forces-nature-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: ZERO DAYS

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Imagine a scenario where a computer virus has the ability to affect a country’s power supply. It sounds like the plot of a thrilling, science fiction film. It is frightening to think that this could be the future of cyberwarfare, especially when one considers this in light of the Stuxnet event. Zero Days is a terrifying documentary about this very attack.

Zero Days is the latest documentary from prolific filmmaker, Alex Gibney (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.) Gibney does an excellent job of covering a highly classified event and breaking down this complex computer catastrophe into some easily digestible and easy-to-understand elements. While there are some questions that are left unanswered – both the Israeli and American governments have denied responsibility for the attack – this film does lift the veil on some aspects of this important piece of cyberwarfare and it will get us thinking (and worrying) about what comes next.

The Stuxnet virus was first identified in 2010. It was a very sophisticated and targeted piece of computer code. It was apparent to those in the know that this was not the work of a lone hacker. Gibney interviews some representatives from the anti-virus companies, Symantec and Kaspersky Labs who explain the mechanics behind it all. They prove excellent talent as they show how interconnected everything is and how computer malware can compromise and affect physical, real-world items.

In this case a number of nuclear centrifuges in Iran were destroyed by this malware. Gibney also describes things within the context of the assassination of some Iranian nuclear scientists. This documentary also shows what happened when the attack occurred and how it left the nuclear boffins and IT experts scratching their heads.

The most illuminating interviewee is actually an actress named Joanne Tucker. She is playing the role of a number of anonymous intelligence analysts, including individuals that work at America’s National Security Agency. This commentary provides an informative take on how analysts could infiltrate and compromise systems and the other things that they were and are able to achieve. It’s scary stuff that proves that the battlelines for the next major war will literally be in cyberspace and through computers and technology, not the battlegrounds and artillery of yesteryear.

Alex Gibney’s fresh and topical documentary is a terrifying and slick look at cyberwarfare. This entertaining and comprehensive documentary serves as a cautionary tale of what can happen when technologies are compromised and information falls into the wrong hands. Zero Days does an excellent job of chronicling a subject that could have remained shrouded in the shadows and offers us a bitter pill as food for thought.

Originally published on 17 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-alex-gibneys-zero-days-usa-2016-is-a-terrifying-and-slick-documentary/

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DVD REVIEW: GLORIOUS GARDENS FROM ABOVE VOLUME 2

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Glorious Gardens From Above Volume Two does what it says on the tin. It is a gardening program that is set in the U.K. that grants us access to breath-taking, birds eye views as well as rolling up the metaphorical sleeves and getting your hands dirty as you get amongst it. This is all testament to presenter, Christine Walkden’s warm and down-to-earth presenting style.

Walkden is no stranger to gardening. She’s a horticulturist by trade and she studied at the Lancashire College of Agriculture. She’s had postings that have included working in Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens as well as on-screen presenting roles in various BBC horticultural programs. This current series mixes elements of the handy tips and tricks of a traditional gardening program as well as interesting interviews and rich facts about the history of the gardens it features, as well as the work that goes into keeping these maintained.

In this second volume Walkden travels through Scotland, Gloucestershire, Cumbria, Staffordshire, Norfolk, Hampshire and Aberdeenshire. Along the way she visits the Royal Botanic Gardens as well as Castle gardens and estates that are surrounded by stately homes. Walkden also visits community and neighbourhood gardens and she brings the same level of enthusiasm to these smaller projects as to the vast estates. It doesn’t matter if Walkden is wandering amongst grand topiaries, flowers, hedges and rockeries or she’s speaking to individuals growing humble fruits and vegetables in glass houses. The common theme is that it’s obvious that Walkden has more than a green thumb, she also has a green heart. In every episode Walkden also takes time to pay tribute to an important person who has contributed to the upkeep and wellbeing of the featured garden.

Glorious Gardens From Above is a celebration of all things green and is basically one large garden party. It’s an informative program where Walkden takes time to describe a different plant, flower or tree as well as providing the history and context for each garden, including showing its influence on others and the contribution it has made to society in general. Walkden is a no-nonsense presenter who is extremely knowledgeable about her craft and offers some great insights into gardening. The fact she also presents this alongside some million dollar views makes this not unlike a romp through an enchanted forest with Walkden playing the role of fairy godmother.

Originally published on 8 October 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/glorious-gardens-volume-2-dvd-review/

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

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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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DVD REVIEW: THE STORY OF GOD

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Morgan Freeman has played God before. In the documentary series, The Story Of God it does what it says on the tin. It sees Freeman travelling to a number of different countries to explore religion and God. It’s a respectful and informative series that suffers because it is rather short for such a big subject.

The program itself is split into six separate episodes. The first looks at life beyond death and the realm of grief. It was Christianity and Christ’s crucifixion that gave people hope of life after death, while the Hindus believe in reincarnation and karma. There is a look at the Egyptian tombs and the day of the dead ceremonies as well as how death could be dealt with in the future. It shows that there may be a possibility for robotic androids to have our thoughts and feelings as input.

The apocalypse episode looks at the importance of the city of Jerusalem in Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It also examines the Roman army battles of the past and the radical extremists of today. There are also scenes showing Buddhists seeking enlightenment as the true revelation of God. There is also a quick look at the doomsday cults where its members meet the grisly end of mass suicide.

Freeman also looks at topics like creation, who is God, why evil exists and the idea of miracles. This series also dedicates time to other religions besides the major ones and touch on the Aboriginal dreamtime and Zoroastrians, to name a few. Freeman is a charismatic, inquisitive and reverent interviewee despite his own self-proclaimed atheism. It doesn’t matter if he’s interviewing the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo or a reformed radical extremist turned educator. The list of talking heads is impressive and broad with professors, archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists offering very informative commentary.

The Story Of God is a hopeful one. It highlights the commonalities between religions and offers up an insightful perspective on the different belief systems that exist both today and in history. Rather than drowning itself in dogma or being overly sanctimonious or preachy, this film is a fascinating watch. The series also boasts gorgeous videos of time-lapse photography and sweeping Go-Pro footage as well as Freeman’s gentle narration and affable and inquisitive nature that often proves rather infectious. Watch this and there is no doubt you will walk away feeling enlightened.

Originally published on 2 September 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/story-god-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: CANCER: THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES

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Cancer is a cruel disease. It’s also a very common one. It’s estimated that one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with it. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is a comprehensive and informative documentary series that offers us a history of cancer (including how researchers came to understand the disease) plus how treatments have been discovered and what happens next in this important field.

This series is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee who also appears here as a talking head in this program. The show is directed by Barak Goodman and it counts Ken Burns as an executive producer. Over the course of the filming, two individuals from the production team would die from cancer, including narrator Edward Herrmann and producer, Laura Ziskin.
The DVD is divided into six, hour-long episodes although in America it was presented as three, two-hour long programs.

The show combines interviews with: researchers, advocates, oncologists, patients, philanthropists and other doctors and nurses working in the cancer field. It combines archive footage and photographs (that are presented in the best quality video and audio.) Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies  is ultimately a very important documentary because it hits home that no one is immune to cancer and that this disease has a number of causes, including some that are unknown while others that can be linked to inherited genes, viruses, chemicals, etc.

In episode one we learn about how cancer has been around for hundreds of years. It was even mentioned in some Ancient Egyptian scrolls. The focus then shifts to the pioneers, the mistakes and breakthroughs of the last 100 years. Some of the first major breakthroughs were by Sidney Farber or the father of modern chemotherapy. In the following episode there are discussions about surgery and radiation and the idea that some of the drugs that treat cancer can also cause this dreaded disease.

By the 1940s the medical fraternity still considered cancer as a single disease that would have a single cure. A lot of research would follow and would aid in the understanding of this disease. This resulted in some researchers looking into the role of oncogenes (genes that under some circumstances can transform a cell into a tumour cell) as a way of detecting and fighting cancer.

There is a discussion about the horrific radical mastectomies that were once routine and believed to be the best treatment for breast cancer. This was later disproven and different trials lead to the discovery of better treatments (including certain drugs.) There was a shift in thinking about cancer to encourage prevention and early detection. The series ends with the formulation of the HPV vaccine that can account for a substantial number of breast and ovarian cancers.

Cancer: The Emperor Of All Maladies features clear and concise descriptions of cancer including its evolution and the way we think about, understand and treat this disease. It offers possible treatments for the future (targeted therapies and immunotherapy) as well as what has worked and failed. This documentary straddles the lines between hard science and history as well as offering up the real, human impact of cancer (by showing actual cancer patients and their families.) This documentary is essential viewing because it covers such a fundamental issue for humans as we stare down the barrel of either being diagnosed with the disease or knowing someone that has been there.

Originally published on 11 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cancer-the-emperor-of-all-maladies-dvd-review/

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