DVD REVIEW: STREETS OF YOUR TOWN

timross

 

Streets of Your Town is a romp through history, suburban Australia and its architecture. Comedian, Tim Ross, a self-confessed modernist tragic who has performed his own live shows in significant Australian buildings takes us on a journey through different Aussie structures, from the significant ones to the humble family home ranging from the 1950s to today. This two-part documentary could have been longer and is ultimately a love letter by Ross to Australian architects and buildings, but the series is not without a few structural trappings.

This fly-on-the-wall program from director, Sally Aitken (Getting Frank Gehry) begins in the post-war years when materials like concrete, steel and glass were used to make sleek and functional, modernist designs. In this special, Ross describes important buildings like the Sydney Opera House, Rose Seidler House, The Australian Academy of Science Building and Blues Point Tower. He also interviews a number of interesting individuals including Kevin McCloud (Grand Designs,) writer, Kathy Lette and philosopher, Alain de Botton.

The final part of the series tackles the impact of immigration on Australia’s homes, particularly the ones from the eighties where columns, arches and balconies saw them dubbed “Late 20th century immigrants’ nostalgia.” There is also the recent phenomena of upsizing the family home such that media rooms and en-suites are a must and are no longer a negotiable commodity.

Over the course of this programme Ross and his team go into detail about Australia’s pioneering architects including Robin Boyd, Harry Seidler and Syd Ancher, to name a few. Ross is also a little condescending at times when he dismisses the McMansions of today even though they are punctuating the suburbs. He calls them ugly in an aesthetic sense and he also believes that many old buildings should be cherished and preserved.

Streets of Your Town is an interesting documentary series about Australian architecture, history and suburban life. Ross is a passionate and rather opinionated presenter and sometimes his ideas may not accord with his viewers, as he is a little biased towards modernism. But at the end of the day this intriguing show demonstrates just what it takes for a house to be appreciated and considered a home.

Originally published on 12 December 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/streets-town-dvd-review/

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

BOOK REVIEW: FIONA HIGGINS – FEARLESS

fearless

 

Fearless could be the plot of a reality TV show. You take six wealthy individuals with first world problems and fly them to Bali under the guise of “helping” them overcome their fears. But instead you endanger their lives, sit back and watch what happens. It’s an interesting drama about courage, friendships and the decisions we make.

This novel is the third one to be written by the author of The Mothers’ Group. Fiona Higgins has also penned her memoirs and she has spent the last couple of years living in Indonesia. It’s clear from reading Fearless that Higgins knows the cultural landscape of Bali and she offers us an engaging look at what many of us Australians consider an attractive holiday destination.

The fears that Higgins describes in this novel are all common ones: flying, heights, public speaking, intimacy, death and failure. This book is broken up into each of these parts and is told in the third person. Higgins slowly reveals why each of the characters have chosen to participate in this retreat before something big happens. For Australian visitor, Janelle it was to inject change into her boring life while Italian tourist, Lorenzo is hoping it will cure his infertility problems. Another Aussie, Cara is drained after the death of her child while Englishman, Henry arrived at the proceedings by luck or sheer accident, you can decide.

Fiona Higgins has done an excellent job of developing her characters and managing their rich stories both in the past and in the present. This book is easy to read and an interesting one that is part self-help book and part survivor story. It’s the kind of tale that will make you stop and think about your own life while you question what you would do if you were faced with life-threatening circumstances. At the end of the day will you sink or be fearless?

***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/fearless/10246880/

DVD REVIEW: DNA NATION

dnanation

 

DNA Nation is a documentary that is both illuminating and frustrating. It’s an ambitious TV series that seeks to answer the question of who we are and where do we come from. This project will ultimately challenge our ideas of culture and identity but it is by no means perfect or definitive. Its main flaw is that it oversimplifies the science in favour of playing up what the filmmakers believe are the more “entertaining” aspects at the heart of the show.

The program is produced by Blackfella Films and it brings together the former athlete, Ian Thorpe, actress and Eurovision host, Julia Zemiro and former Great Outdoors presenter, Ernie Dingo. Zemiro has a vivacious presenting style but there are moments – particularly in the first episode with the Hadza people in Tanzania – where she is a tad patronising. Dingo on the other hand does an excellent job of connecting with the subjects that he is interviewing and he is very charismatic and likeable. There are moments where Thorpe looks like a fish out of water and he really seems to be outside of his comfort zone. This is particularly evident when he asks yet another long-winded question and seems forced when participating in activities (it’s almost like you can read his mind and see that this is something he does not want to do.)

Episode two sees the group travelling to Kenya for an archaeology lesson because this is where the oldest human remains were found. In episode three the presenters’ stories diverge. Thorpe and Zemiro travel to North Israel and Turkey before the former travels to the nomadic herders of Kurdistan before eventually settling in Scotland, while Zemiro learns about Phoenicians in Sardinia and meets her genetic equal in England. Ernie on the other hand goes to India and Timor-Leste and eventually winds up in the Australian outback where he learns that 1600 generations of his family have lived in Western Australia.

This TV show wants to delve deeper than a series like Who Do You Think You Are? to get a sense of human evolution and to highlight our similarities and differences. This documentary does have some interesting moments but there are other times where the science feels too dumbed down and some of the presenters are too cringeworthy to really make an interesting point. This series was a great idea and the premise was good but ultimately it was let down by some problems in its evolution. Geddit?

Originally published on 22 September 2016 at the following website:  http://www.impulsegamer.com/dna-nation-dvd-review/

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

BOOK REVIEW: GAYLE FORMAN – LEAVE ME

leave-me

 

It’s interesting that in her debut novel specifically written for adults, award-winning Young Adult author Gayle Forman has picked such a mature and relatable topic. Leave Me is the story of an over-stressed, over-worked and under-appreciated mother of four-year-old twins who is forced to stop and re-evaluate her life. It’s a book that is easy-to-read and is likely to strike a chord with audiences who can see a little something of themselves in the main protagonist, even if they don’t always agree with her actions.

Maribeth Klein is a woman in her mid-40s. She is stuck in the rat race and continues going about her hectic schedule while ignoring the pains in her chest. This eventually develops into a full-blown heart attack and Klein subsequently requires emergency bypass surgery. Her mother flies in to join the family and assist with her recuperation. But instead of concentrating on her respite at home, Klein decides to pack her bags and run away/abandon her family.

This story is a very engaging one, particularly at the beginning where it is easy to relate to Klein’s role as a busy Mum working at a glossy magazine. She is a brave woman but she’s not always the most likeable or logical character. There will be some readers who will fail to understand how she could just get up and leave. Klein does embark on a journey of discovery of sorts thanks to spending time with her new young neighbours and having a flirtatious relationship with an older cardiologist. These supporting characters could have been a little more developed.

Leave Me is an interesting book about love, success, failure, dislocation, regret, fear and redemption. There is a little something we can all take away from this book, even if we don’t always agree with things or if we’re left a little dissatisfied with the questions left unanswered at the end. In all, this is one swift read that readers can connect with because at the end of the day this story is simply just a sign of the times.

***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-leave-me

BOOK REVIEW: RACHAEL JOHNS – THE ART OF KEEPING SECRETS

theart of keeping secrets

 

Rachael Johns knows how to tell a good story. The author has written numerous romance novels and chick lit books. Her latest novel, The Art of Keeping Secrets is a well-crafted and emotional piece of fiction. It’s also a story that is a testament to the power of female friendship.

The story is about three women who have been friends for the past five years while their sons have been studying together at high-school. The trio have a regular book club meeting but they’re also heavily involved in each other’s lives. You have the down-to-earth Felicity (known to everyone as “Flick”) who is a non-nonsense woman and a keen taxidermist. She seems to be living a textbook romance despite being married to her near-perfect husband Seb for years. But is their marriage all it’s cracked up to be?

Emma is the divorced mother of Caleb and twin teenage girls, Laura and Louise. She is a superwoman juggling the new demands of full-time work and single motherhood. She appears to be coping but she is also harbouring a number of secrets of the head and heart. Then there’s Genevieve (known as “Neve”) who is a looks-obsessed make-up artist and a single mum who has a close relationship with her son, Will because she has always been the sole parent in his life. The only problem is she hasn’t told Will the truth about his father’s true identity.

This novel is told in the third person and split into separate chapters focusing on each of these strong women. Their friendship is a real and inspiring one and the trio are almost like sisters. They’ve shared lots of things together and they’ve also had their share of ups and downs and lived to tell the tale afterwards. So they should be able to make it through anything that life throws at them, right?

Rachael Johns has crafted an excellent little book in The Art of Keeping Secrets. She reveals things slowly with just enough to keep the reader hooked and interested. The reader is basically strapped into an emotional roller coaster of a journey, bumps and all! In sum, this book is a fun read about three strong, everyday women and it examines the choices they make and how their secrets, lies and betrayals have lasting impacts on the individuals living around them. Fascinating stuff.

***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

DVD REVIEW: THE RIVER COTTAGE COLLECTION 3

rivercottage

 

Some people may be fans of River Cottage Australia set in Central Tilba in NSW. But what they may not know is that the man behind this fabulous idea is English celebrity chef, food writer and activist, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The latter has presented a number of different River Cottage specials in the UK. In Australia we are now lucky to have The River Cottage Collection 3 available on DVD. This draws together the specials, Three Go Mad, To The Core and Scandimania.

This set is a rather eclectic one given that the three specials contain such different subjects. Scandimania is more of a travel program where Hugh visits Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Three Go Mad has very special guests from British television visiting the River Cottage farm in Dorset and cooking up a storm while To The Core is a cooking show that will challenge your thinking about fruit.

The Scandinavian special includes cooking as well as some history and stereotypes. In Sweden there is a rather indulgent section about Abba, a visit to the group’s museum, some dreadful karaoke and an interview with Björn Ulvaeus. The Denmark instalment has an interview with Noma’s René Redzepi plus segments about wind farming, European sperm banks and Danish pastries. The series concludes in Norway where Hugh interviews the Ylvis Brothers, visits a prison island and feasts on sea urchins.

Sometimes it’s the guests that make the UK River Cottage such a fascinating show. This is particularly the case in the set’s highlight, Three Go Mad. This particular one was divided into three parts, one with actors like Felicity Kendal (The Good Life) and Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes (both of Ashes to Ashes fame.) The special on the comedians offers the most familiar faces with Robert Webb (Peep Show,) Lee Mack (Would I Lie To You?) and Ruby Wax. This program was all about getting celebrities as enthusiastic about working on the farm and cooking as Hugh and his team. This is particularly evident in the Christmas special where a scrooge-like Kathy Burke is won over by a salt crusted baked sea bass stuffed with fennel and bay leaves. Yum!

The final DVD is about all things fruit. In this series Hugh tries to change our way of thinking and get us to incorporate more fruit into our everyday cooking, including savoury dishes. While the thought of a sirloin steak with strawberries may not initially whet your appetite, the way the dish is finished makes it look scrumdiddlyumptious. This four-part set is designed for each of the seasons and offers some great tips and tricks. The only downside is that in some cases these fruits are native to the UK and are unlikely to be found in Australian supermarkets. But it’s still good to learn about different flavours and textures.

The River Cottage Collection 3 is another fine instalment about all things food and farming from the River Cottage crew. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a warm, engaging and enthusiastic presenter. His love of food is really obvious and infectious. These programs are all interesting and they should get you thinking differently about food and to step back and appreciate it in all its finery.

Originally published on 14 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/dvd-review-the-river-cottage-collection-3/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: CONCUSSION

concussion

 

Concussion is an inflammatory story that is told in a subtle and benign way. It’s a film that covers the real-life events of a Nigerian-American pathologist’s discovery of a brain disorder called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). It’s one that is caused by repeated trauma to the head and was initially discovered in the brains of some former football players. This film is an educational one but it could have been harder hitting in driving home its ultimate point.

Will Smith is virtually unrecognisable as Dr Bennet Omalu, a man that was steadfast, dogged and driven in making this discovery. The CTE disease is irreversible and marked by symptoms of aggression, dementia, memory problems and suicidal thoughts. This film is a tad uneven as it seems confused about whether it wants to be Dr Omalu’s biopic or a thriller or a hard-hitting look at the uphill battle that occurred when taking on a corrupt institution (in this case America’s National Football League (NFL).) Concussion is pure hagiography because it portrays Dr Omalu as a Christian do-gooder taking on the establishment.

Alec Baldwin stars as Dr Julian Bailes the former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. Gugu Mbatha-Raw has a minor role as Omalu’s love interest and is largely underutilised. The most important elements of this film are how the NFL tried to thwart Dr Omalu’s attempts to make this information public as well as the racism he encountered. This is a moral tale of epic proportions and an intriguing subject. The inspiration for the story came from a GQ Magazine article penned by Jeanne Marie Laskas and the story was directed and adapted for the big screen by former investigative journalist, Peter Landesman.

The Blu-ray edition offers excellent sound and video presentation. It also offers a number of different special features. There is a commentary with the director and some deleted scenes. There are also a number of featurettes that include interviews with the cast and crew and the real-life individuals that inspired the characters. The participants all give interesting insights into this fascinating story.

Concussion is a nuanced and well-acted dramatic story that has some room for improvement. It is perhaps the most mature Will Smith film to date and it offers an informative look at an important issue. There was room for it to be rendered in a tighter, more impactful way but at the end of the day this sombre film will challenge your ideas about some competitive sports. This was ultimately a film that had to be made and it offers us some very sobering and difficult moments to pause and reflect on.

Originally published on 4 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/concussion-blu-ray-review/

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

DVD REVIEW: PENELOPE KEITH’S HIDDEN VILLAGES

penelope keith

 

Ray Davies of The Kinks once sang about being a member of the village green preservation society but as Australians the concept of the “village” is a rather foreign one. Thankfully, we have someone like actress, Dame Penelope Keith of To The Manor Born fame to navigate our way through this quintessentially British phenomenon. Her gentle travelogue TV series, Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages is a quaint and breezy look at English culture and tradition.

Keith is a villager herself, having lived in Milford, Surrey for almost 40 years. For her TV show however, she takes her guidance from a 1932 book called the Batsford Guide. It was a series of books that chronicled many different aspects of village life. It also featured some beautiful illustrations by Sir Brian Batsford. In this three-part TV series Keith offers us some stunning visuals of her own (read: verdant landscapes, grand gardens and buildings, thatched cottages, etc.)

Dame Penelope is a very natural and charming presenter. It is obvious that she is very enthusiastic about the subject matter as her style is very positive, luminescent and self-deprecating. She also manages to find the right balance between being informative and interesting. In Norfolk she tries her hand at the local dialect and giggles at place names like: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and Little Snoring. She also watches clog dancing, bell-ringing and a synchronised dance routine involving wheelbarrows. She visits fetes and shops and travels via small plane, goes fishing at sea and even develops a need for speed around a racing circuit.

This light-hearted series is certainly not essential viewing but it is a pleasant and nostalgic ride through village life as it celebrates progress, tradition and other quirks and foibles that make life so much fun. Keith is a very charismatic presenter and she manages to strike a chord with the audience as well as the villagers (even the more eccentric ones). This quaint program is a very pleasant one that will challenge our thinking of the sleepy world of villages- make us jealous and perhaps even want to live there.

Originally published on 4 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/penelope-keiths-hidden-villages-dvd-review/

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

BOOK REVIEW: LUKE DEVENISH – THE SECRET HEIRESS

the-secret-heiress

 

The Secret Heiress is a rich, historic fiction book set in Castlemaine, Australia in 1886 and 1903. The novel is by screenwriter, playwright, author and academic, Luke Devenish. The latter is no stranger to writing about history as his two previous books were set in Ancient Rome. His latest offering is a rather mysterious one set closer to home.

The novel is told in two separate, interwoven parts. Initially we meet Ida, a naïve farm girl who is offered an amazing opportunity to work as a housemaid at the exquisite, Summersby House. Ida accepts the job because it’s a great opportunity for a poor girl who has been told that she’s not very bright. It’s possible that her intelligence was not given its full credit because she is a rather inquisitive young lady nonetheless.

Ida has a rickety start at Summersby. Her mistress, Miss Gregory is found dead on Ida’s first day. But Ida perseveres because she hopes that someone at Summersby will still want to employ her. That somebody proves to be the charming and handsome gentleman, Samuel Hackett and the former fiancé of the late Miss Gregory who wishes for Ida to continue her work at the stately home. Things initially seem okay but then a serious of mysterious events start taking place and these contribute to a rather strange and vivid mystery entangling all of the characters.

The other main thread in this book stars Biddy MacBryde, a young lady with a cheeky disposition who works as a Reverend’s kitchen maid. Her big mouth sees her fired and eventually she is lured to the elusive surrounds of Summersby where she is employed as a friend/companion to one of the residents. She also possesses a natural curiosity for the house’s inhabitants and what she discovers is a rather complicated story entrenched in the past.

Luke Devenish’s prose is well-written but there are moments where it is a bit too detailed and flowery for its own good. The novel is a sprawling and ambitious one that is engaging. But there are some moments where it is a tad too confusing and difficult to understand- namely where the identities of the twin sisters, Margaret and Matilda Gregory are described. The characterisation is rich but the names are too similar and the structure is a little too messy and this can confuse some readers. Thankfully this is all resolved eventually in what is a rather neat and satisfying ending.

The Secret Heiress is a complex book filled with layers of lies and deceit. It’s an interesting story and Devenish should be commended for setting a dark and gothic tale in Australia. There are some minor problems that let this book down but ultimately it is quite a dark and stirring read set in an opulent house and grounds. Nice.

***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-secret-heiress

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