BOOK REVIEW: PAMELA HART – A LETTER FROM ITALY

 

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.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226447

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FILM REVIEW: LOVING

 

Loving is a film that shares a few things in common with A United Kingdom. They are both based on true stories and at the centre of each film you have a married, interracial couple who just want to live together as husband wife and leave the politics out of the bedroom. Loving is a beautifully-shot and subtle drama about one inspiring romance.

The film is named after the real-life couple, Mildred and Richard Loving. Ruth Negga is really sensitive and expressive in her Oscar-nominated performance as Mildred and she shares a noticeable chemistry with our very own Joel Edgerton who plays Richard. These two actors should be commended for their respectful and convincing performances.

The Lovings were married in Washington in 1958. They married here because they feared they would encounter problems by getting married in their home-state of Virginia. The latter state still had a draconian law that was a relic from a bygone period (where slavery was the norm) that banned mixed-race couples from marrying. The couple were dobbed in to the authorities and eventually arrested.

Mildred and Richard Loving were released without having to serve prison terms because they agreed to leave their home-state and extended families in order to live elsewhere. The pair initially agreed to this proposal and lived in Washington. But they eventually returned to Virginia because they were homesick and they just wanted to live a quiet life and not bother anyone.

The couple that were the inspiration behind this film were also rather reluctant civil rights activists and stars. Richard Loving was a man of few words. Joel Edgerton dons a blonde buzz-cut and portrays him as a quiet and devoted construction worker who has a keen interest in drag-racing. When asked what he wants his lawyers to say in court in the couple’s defence he simply responds, “Tell the judge I love my wife.”

The Lovings were also rather reserved and dignified throughout the entire ordeal. Mildred would write to the then Attorney General, Robert Kennedy seeking an intervention and eventually the American Civil Liberties Union took their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Director and writer Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) script does not take cheap shots and nor does it play up the melodrama, the courtroom tactics or other histrionics involved in this case. Instead, Nichols leaves the audience to witness the quiet moments of tender domesticity between these two lovebirds as their love grows and they build a house, family and life together while also tackling the U.S. bureaucracy.

Loving is not a film that is filled with beat-up drama or other unnecessary bells and whistles, instead it is quiet meditation on true love, courage and commitment. This story about racism and politics remains an important one today as the government continues to try and wield power over who can marry (to think that Australia still does not have gay marriage is utterly deplorable). Loving is ultimately a subtle and nuanced domestic drama that is a study in the true power of love.

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-through-the-repellent-fence-usa-2017-uses-art-to-make-an-important-political-statement/

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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/

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DVD REVIEW: THREE HEARTS (3 COEURS)

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Three hearts. Two love stories. One film. Three Hearts (3 Coeurs) is a French film involving a love triangle. But this is not your standard challenge for romance. The two women vying for the man’s affections are actually sisters. What ensues is a subtle and nuanced drama that reflects on chance, destiny and a kind of love that it is often quite messy.

The film is by Benoît Jacquot and it stars a sort of who’s who of French cinema. The still-beautiful Catherine Deneuve stars as the knowledgeable but tight-lipped family matriarch while her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni is playing her on-screen daughter, Sophie. The latter is left behind in France and meets a hapless tax officer, Marc Beaulieu (Benoît Poelvoorde). He offers to help out with some accounting work for the family after Sophie’s sister, Sylvie (the intriguing, Charlotte Gainsbourg) leaves the family business in order to travel to America with an ex-boyfriend.

Beaulieu and Sophie fall in love and marry and all seems to be going well until Beaulieu realises that his wife is the sister of a mysterious woman he once met. Beaulieu had met the gorgeous Sylvie one night many years earlier when he missed his train to Paris from the small, provincial town where she lived. Beaulieu and Sylvie hit it off that night, chattering away about anything and everything and they had made plans to meet again but fate intervened. Beaulieu was left with no contact details for the enigmatic object of his affection.

Three Hearts is a contrived, romantic tale and the characters would have benefited from being more richly realised and characterised. The film contains an off-moment involving some Chinese businessmen and the soundtrack can be a little too ominous and overbearing at times (the sounds would have better suited a thriller, not a drama.) But despite some flaws, Three Hearts is redeemed by some stellar performances and its melancholic love story and tragedy. This is ultimately a sad, bizarre love triangle where lady luck often wields a hand of heartbreak and despair.

Originally published on 30 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/three-hearts-3-coeurs-dvd-review/

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BLU-RAY REVIEW: VINYL SEASON ONE

vinyl

 

A story clouded by lost brain cells, self-aggrandisement and bullshit. This is what the TV series, Vinyl sells you. It’s a heady dramatic turn through the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and hedonism that was the music industry in New York in 1973. This ten part TV series is a slow-burning, nuanced one that feels like a love letter to the period and the genre and a celebration of the redemptive power of rock ‘n’ roll.

This program has got a pretty impressive pedigree to say the least. The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger is a creator and producer along with Martin Scorsese (who also directs the pilot). Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos) is also a creator and executive producer and the series stars Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire). Vinyl takes in both fictional and real-life events and artists and it is clear that it has been meticulously researched as it is very true to the period. While the series starts off a tad slowly, the later episodes really hit more of the right notes and will hook the viewer in.

Cannavale stars as the record executive, Richie Finestra and the principal owner of the fictional label, American Century. He is a liar and coke fiend but despite these vices has also managed to maintain a friendship with his business partner and the head of promotions, Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano who puts in a strong, dramatic performance). Finestra is married to Devon (Olivia Wilde) a former model and associate of Andy Warhol’s (John Cameron Mitchell). Devon is now sober and a restless mother to two young children.

The fortunes of the owners of American Century looked set to change when Polygram wanted to buy the company. But at the eleventh hour Finestra sees The New York Dolls and his interest and enthusiasm in music is restored. The deal is off, he decides to keep the company and attempt to turn their fortunes around for the better. The label is home to some jocular A & R reps and an ambitious coffee/drug girl Jamie Vine (an enchanting, Juno Temple) and she discovers a young, punk outfit The Nasty Bits (lead by Jagger’s son, James).

The soundtrack to this series is fantastic with David Bowie’s “Suffragette City”, “Life On Mars” and “Jean Genie” played alongside tracks like “Hey Joe” (made famous by Jimi Hendrix), The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again, Pink Floyd’s “Money”, The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In a Black Dress” and two Eddie Cochran hits that Led Zeppelin liked to cover, “Somethin’ Else” and “C’Mon Everybody”. In some instances the original track is used, in others it is a live version or a cover. The series also portrays some famous musicians in their youth- like Bowie (Noah Bean), John Lennon (Stephen Sullivan), Elvis Presley (Shawn Wayne Klush), Bob Marley (Leslie Kujo) and Peter Tosh (Aku Orraca-Tetteh), among others.

The series is not a perfect one. Some of the sub-plots are not satisfactorily explored (many of the female characters feel like quick punctuation marks to the whole tale), the flashbacks are sometimes a tad confusing and the pilot was overlong (at 113 minutes). But once you sit back and immerse yourself and get into the groove there is a lot to enjoy in this vibrant series. The individuals navigate through difficult marriages, a murder investigation, creative issues, brushes with the law and the mob, sexism and the tragedies of drugs and more. Vinyl is an enthusiastic look at the seventies but it’s not hagiography, the filmmakers are happy to show the real and raw grittiness of the environment, and this is especially important when the story is told through the eyes of the troubled main character and particularly as we follow his downward spiral.

The visuals in this series – like the soundtrack – seem quite true to the era. The colour palette looks like it could have come from an old video from the seventies and the costumes, scenery and props are also fitting for the decade. The special features on the Blu-ray are satisfactory and include audio commentaries, a featurette and some “Inside the episode” looks at the program with Terence Winter.

Vinyl is a sprawling TV series and a rich look at an exciting chapter in music. It stars a bunch of mad misfits and details their manic misadventures through friendship, booze, drugs and other excesses from this colourful period. In all, this is one fun and nostalgic look at the grit, glitz and glam that was the seventies New York music industry. Rock on!

Originally published on 13 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/vinyl-season-one-blu-ray-review/

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FILM REVIEW: THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

infinity

 

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a film where the numbers don’t quite add up. This is a biopic about a genius mathematician set in picturesque Cambridge in 1914 and boasts a stellar cast (including Stephen Fry). But the sum total isn’t greater than the individual parts for this drama. The film is ultimately a solid one but you can’t help but feel like its subject deserved a whole lot more, especially in respect to creativity and uniqueness.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) stars in his most serious role to date as Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a poor Hindu man who has a brilliant gift with respect to pure mathematics. He is newly married but he has trouble caring for his beautiful wife (Devika Bhise in a very thin role) and his controlling mother (Arundathi Nag). Ramanujan is convinced by a friend (Dhritiman Chatterjee) to send his work to some academics in Cambridge and what follows is an inspirational, fish-out-of-water tale.

The man responsible for bringing Ramanujan to Cambridge is G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The pair become good friends, despite their differences. Hardy lives up to his name and is a logical atheist while Ramanujan’s work is based on a lot of intuition and divine inspiration, as he is a devout Hindu. Over five years Ramanujan is subjected to racism and discrimination while staying at Cambridge but he also proves to be an excellent collaborator with Hardy.

Ramanujan is doggedly determined to complete his formulae and theories. The film doesn’t always give full credit to this man as often the mathematical feats are merely implied. And it is only at the end of the feature that the viewers learn how Ramanujan’s work continues to make waves because it is now being used by people to study and learn about black holes.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a moving and feel-good story but it is also a tad too slow and nuanced for its own good. The film is not immune to some historical inaccuracies and hagiography (Ramanujan’s wife was only a child when they were married and this is not depicted in the film). In all, this is an extraordinary story that is told in a rather ordinary way and it could have been so much more thanks to its great performances and the intriguing man who is the subject.

***Please note: a free pass to this film was given to the writer through a Beauty & Lace giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: http://entertainment.beautyandlace.net/user-reviews-the-man-who-knew-infinity#comment-50532

DVD REVIEW: PHOENIX

August .2013 Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

There’s more to the film, Phoenix than meets the eye. The story is an adaptation of the novel, Return from the Ashes and is set in Berlin after the Second World War. It’s is also a dark and disturbing tale about one Jewish woman’s journey home to Germany after she survived horrific injuries at Auschwitz.

 

The film is directed by Christian Petzold who adapted the story along with Harun Farocki. Phoenix is actually another collaboration between Petzold and lead actress, Nina Hoss (the pair worked together on Barbara and several other films). The latter is absolute captivating as Nelly Lenz, a singer who survived the Concentration Camps with disfiguring injuries. She has returned home a shell of a woman, mentally broken by the experience and bearing the physical scars of a gunshot wound to the face. Fortunately Lenz can have plastic surgery and while this can restore her looks, she will never look like she previously did (this premise does require a large suspension of disbelief).

Lenz is initially taken in by her friend Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf). Winter is well-meaning but she is also finding it difficult to live in Germany after everything that happened during the war. She tries to convince her friend to move to Palestine. But Nelly has other ideas, she’s still hopelessly devoted to her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) and she hopes to find him. The questions is, “Will Johnny be able to recognise Nelly?”

This film is a slow-burning one that is highly-charged and emotional, especially in the final scenes. It has a recurring jazz theme of Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s atmospheric song, “Speak Low”. It confronts the audience and forces them to ask some difficult questions about love, identity and betrayal. And while things can seem a tad implausible at times, the film does manage to hold its own thanks to some important performances (especially in the case of Hoss who manages to convey so much suffering and emotion in a simple, pained look or expression).

Phoenix is a raw and subtle film that has some things in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The ending is a little unsatisfying after such a tense and dramatic build-up but it is still a rich, detailed and original look at life immediately after World War II. In all, this is a nuanced film where knowledge is power and people may not be what they initially seem, which means it is set to keep the viewer on their toes.

Originally published on 7 May2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/phoenix-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: SARA FOSTER – ALL THAT IS LOST BETWEEN US

all-that-is-lost-between-us

 

All That Is Lost Between Us will have you transfixed and wanting to rush to the very end in order to figure it all out. The novel is the fourth one from England-born, Perth-based writer, Sara Foster. It’s an intense, psychological drama that is brimming with secrets, lies and deception.

The story has four alternating narrators. The main one is 17-year-old Georgia Turner, a girl that is harbouring a dark secret. She’s also one of the victims in a hit and run incident that sees her cousin, Sophia placed in an induced coma. Questions are swiftly asked about whether the driver deliberately sort out these two teenagers or whether they were subject to a horrific accident.

Another key narrator is Georgia’s mother, Anya, a school psychologist who is juggling distant children and a marriage that is crumbling around her. Anya’s chapters are unique in that they’re told in the first person, which lends the prose a more intimate feel to the other storytellers; because Georgia, her computer game-playing brother, Zac and their selfish father Callum’s stories are all told in the third person.

All That Is Lost Between Us covers just 48 hours in the lives of the Turner family but it also packs a lot of things in. This is a weighty and nuanced tale that poses some important questions while also hooking the reader in as it slowly drip-feeds different clues and lobs a few curveballs into the mix. Foster has done a good job of constructing this world out of so many different parts and vignettes because in the end, this novel still feels like one cohesive whole.

Sara Foster’s latest novel is a beautifully-written family drama and thriller that is set in England’s atmospheric, Lake District. It’s a modern-day domestic drama that shows how relationships that were once close can become frayed and distant. In short, this is an immediate and emotional tale filled with sensitivity, pathos and depth.

***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-all-that-is-lost-between-us

BOOK REVIEW: AMANDA ORTLEPP – RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE

running-against-the-tide

 

Running Against The Tide is the second novel from Sydney-based writer, Amanda Ortlepp (Claiming Noah). It’s also an intense mystery that stars a strong woman named Erin Travers. She is a lady that has packed up her life and two teenage sons into a car and travelled from NSW to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia in order to leave an abusive relationship. It’s a relevant and timely story that offers some real food for thought in our contemporary society where prejudice is common and domestic violence figures are high.

Ortlepp has done an excellent job of creating a complex story that is almost like an onion. It’s a slow and nuanced tale that reveals Travers’ narrative little-by-little as well as the troubling events that occur in the small and sleepy close-knit town of Mallee Bay, which is known for its oyster farming. Ortlepp writes well and offers very descriptive prose and rich characterisation of the Travers family and their neighbours, Jono and Helen. But while there is some darkness and drama to the story, there are some points where it is a little too slowly paced to retain the reader’s attention and the ending was far too rushed.

Running Against The Tide is a realistic book that will have readers wanting to know what actually happened and who’s responsible for some troubling events in the town (like arson and theft). It’s a story that will keep you on your toes and leave you guessing as prejudices and fractured relationships are the order of the day. It also means the reader’s own prejudices will colour their view and interpretation of this Aussie whodunit. Clever 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/book-club-running-against-the-tide

THEATRE REVIEW: THE RABBITS @ ROSLYN PACKER THEATRE WALSH BAY (14.01.2016)

rabbits

Photo by: John Green

The Rabbits is an Australian opera adapted from a picture book that is anything but child’s play.

The original story was written by John Marsden, who penned the Tomorrow series, and was illustrated by Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing). It’s an allegorical tale that examines the colonisation of Australia with the titular characters playing the invading British settlers, and a group of native marsupials representing the Aboriginal people and their subsequent plight.

The original book is less than 300 words long but it’s a powerful story. For the live setting this has been expanded with the addition of a new character, a narrator called Bird, performed by the show’s composer – the classically trained soprano and pop singer, Kate Miller-Heidke. Acclaimed playwright Lally Katz provides the libretto and Iain Grandage offers the superb musical arrangements.

The show has already won several Helpmann Awards and in some ways it’s easy to see why, because the story is an emotionally poignant one and a sad reflection on our nation’s history. It depicts the invasion, colonisation and the Stolen Generation, but does end with a glimmer of hope. That said, it is not perfect, and there are some scenes that fall a little flat or feel a little long and drawn out (and the show itself only goes for one hour).

The artists do an excellent job performing the material. The marsupials are played by Hollie Andrew, Jessica Hitchcock, Marcus Corowa and David Leha – led ably by Lisa Maza – and prove incredibly charming and emotive. The rabbits (Kanen Breen, Nicholas Jones, Christopher Hillier, Simon Meadowsand Robert Mitchell), on the other hand, are more like pantomime villains and everything is delivered in a flamboyant and over-the-top manner. This actually works in this strange environment where the show is already a hybrid of opera and musical theatre and the soundtrack is a mash-up of pop ballads and experimental and classical styles.

The Rabbits is a dark and ambitious piece that doesn’t pander to the audience. It tells a tragic and uncomfortable chapter in our history and stays true to the essence of the book. This is particularly the case in the rendering of the set and costumes by designer, Gabriela Tylesova. The Rabbits is one nuanced and atmospheric tale that commands the viewer to sit up and listen, without leading them down a rabbit warren.

 

Originally published on 19 January 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/rabbits

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