Long Strange Trip is a documentary about the Grateful Dead that feels just like being at one of the band’s concerts. It is a sprawling, swirling psychedelic affair that lives up to its name as it celebrates a band that has notched up over 50 years in the music business as the reigning kings of the counter-culture movement. This documentary occasionally feels like a hagiography but it’s a fun and justified one because it’s ultimately a free-spirited love letter to one crazy, joyful psychedelic band.

This film was a labour of love that was around 15 years in the making for director and self-confessed Deadhead (the name rampant Grateful Dead fans wear as a badge of honour) Amir Bar-Lev. Martin Scorsese – who is no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll documentaries (see Shine A Light, The Last Waltz, etc.) – also serves as executive producer. The Long Strange Trip is broken down into a series of different acts in a loosely-based chronology to tell the story of the group and its fans while also giving some historic context.

A lot of time is naturally devoted to the band’s messianic front man, Jerry Garcia. It talks about his anti-authoritarian stance and his love of things like: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, drugs and beat poetry, especially Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. It also shows how the trappings of fame and stardom (something the group never actively courted as they are the most unlikely celebrities out there) were what contributed to Garcia’s premature death at the age of 53 in 1995.

The story of the Dead is traced back to the early days in the hippie movement and their natural habitat in Haight-Ashbury. It also covers the long recording sessions where the group were hyped up on nitrous oxide and the aborted film project, which was due to the group lacing the film crew’s cups with LSD. It also looks at their resurgence in the eighties and how they became like a travelling circus because when crazed Deadheads who “Needed a miracle” (to borrow from the band’s lyrics) as they had lucked out on tickets to Grateful Dead shows decided to simply set up street parties outside of the band’s concerts instead. Party time, excellent!

This film naturally includes a fabulous soundtrack that showcases the band’s music. These songs are complex ones where you can hear the influence of each member’s love of different musical genres like: bluegrass, folk, classical, avant-garde and the blues, as these styles permeate almost every note. This music attracted scores of different fans. There were deafheads, wharf rats, acid heads, coke fiends, spinners (people who spun around dancing ad nauseam), tapers (fans who rabidly bootlegged the band’s shows with the group’s blessing) as well as those who worshiped at the altar of Garcia.

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead are interviewed here while Garcia appears via old videos. Even the group’s elusive lyricist, Robert Hunter appears here though his contributions are as mysterious as his lyrics. Sam Cutler the former tour manager of The Rolling Stones and the Dead is also interviewed and he is a funny and fantastic talent who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. One distinct difference with this documentary is the absence of industry types that tend to be given too much airtime in music documentaries.

Long Strange Trip expertly threads together interviews plus rare archive footage including photographs and films. At around four hours it covers a lot of ground. But it’s also staggering to think that there were still topics that this documentary failed to address like: Woodstock, the individual band member’s solo projects and the individual band member’s childhoods (only Garcia’s is briefly touched on.)

Long Strange Trip is about the magic, myth and madness that was the Grateful Dead. This epic four hour rock documentary is a freewheeling journey through one experimental group’s bizarre world. The film is essential viewing for Deadheads and assorted other freaks who consider themselves Deadheads-in-the-making. This film ultimately proves that once you start loving this band of weirdoes there is a point of no return from this long, strange trip.

Originally published on 20 March 2017 at the following website:

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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.

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For most people the iconic artist, Andy Warhol is synonymous with the colourful pop art of Campbell’s soup cans, portraits of Marilyn Monroe and the record sleeves from The Velvet Underground and The Rolling Stones. What some people may not realise is that Andy Warhol was an accomplished commercial illustrator and draftsman who worked in advertising during the same period as shown in the TV series Mad Men. The Art Gallery of NSW’s Adman: Warhol before pop will educate and enlighten patrons about Warhol’s advertising work by drawing together over 300 objects, including some that have never been on public display before.

This exhibition includes drawings, photographs, artist’s books, shop-front window displays, vintage advertisements and personal items on loan from The Andy Warhol Museum in the late artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh. It is fascinating to walk through and track Warhol’s career in this exhibit. It begins in 1949 when the then Andrew Warhola was a new graduate from the Pittsburgh Carnegie Institute of Technology. Warhol would then shorten his name and move to New York where he was buoyed by the possibilities available in this big city and some early advertising assignments. Warhol showed an early knack for this work; he won several awards and his clients noticed that Warhol had a knack for communicating and persuading people with his eye-catching works and the different techniques he employed.

There is no doubt that Warhol was a true creative. He developed his own blot-line drawing technique and some of these pictures are on display here. These works allowed Warhol to make multiple copies of the same picture but no two were exactly the same. This along with his early work with hand-carved rubber stamps could also be seen as early precursors to his iconic silkscreen prints of the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Deborah Harry, among others. At the time, Warhol was quizzed about his new method and technique and he said, “The reason I am painting this way is that I want to be a machine.”

Warhol has a great ability to experiment with different media and methods. In this exhibition, you can view very sensitive, intimate and homoerotic drawings and studies that he completed for his “Studies of a Boy” book and then view some collaborations he did with his mother (namely, her own distinctive typography) that became advertisements at a time where illustrations were used rather than photographs. You can also see some of his souvenirs from a world trip and then view his first forays into the pop world where he appropriated images from newspapers and magazines and when he first drew a woman’s shoes alongside a Coca-Cola bottle.

There is no question that Messer Warhol liked playing with and even thumbing his nose at convention. He signed his works at a time when fine artists used pseudonyms when they were employed to do commercial pieces. He was also influenced by many different people, places and things. A trip to Thailand saw Warhol spotting lots of gold leaf in traditional art and architecture so he used this in his own volume called A Gold Book, which he gave away to friends and prospective clients as well as in some of his subsequent silk screens.

Adman is an excellent coup for the Art Gallery of NSW as it shows a different side to one of the 20th century’s most influential artists. In this presentation, the colour is used sparingly but it is obvious that the techniques are first-class and that the creativity, humour and sensitivity really get a chance to shine through. Adman: Warhol before pop allows us to witness Warhol’s personal growth and journey as he negotiated the advertising world before becoming a successful artist in his own right. This exhibition should make you stop and consider Warhol’s work in a completely different light and that’s surely a sign of great art and an awesome exhibition if there ever was one.

Originally published on 26 February 2017 at the following website:

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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.

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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:

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Mavis! is a little documentary about a big personality. It’s a film about legendary singer, Mavis Staples. This story is ultimately a celebratory one about her life and while it is warm and feels good, at times it seems like pure hagiography and a documentary that is far too short.

The film is a promising one by Jessica Edwards who is making her feature length debut. The director has managed to assemble some fine talent for this film including: Bob Dylan, Jeff Tweedy, Chuck D, Sharon Jones and Bonnie Raitt. There are also interviews with Staples’ band members, civil rights activist, Julian Bond and Stax Records’ Al Bell, among others.

The best talent in Mavis! is undoubtedly the film’s charismatic namesake. The story chronicles her humble beginnings as a member of a Gospel group with her pioneering, guitar-playing father, Pops and siblings, Pervis, Yvonne and the late Cleotha. The film also touches on how the group transitioned from Gospel to the blues and rock ‘n’ roll and how it wasn’t always well-received (and if you’re unsure, just think of the reception that Bob Dylan received when he went electric).

Mavis Staples is a talented and unique performer. Her quotes are funny and honest and she can still have a profound effect on an audience while in concert. This film uses a lot of footage that was shot on the stage and in the present day and for this reason perhaps it would have made a more captivating concert film. While some archive footage and photographs are offered and the interviewees deliver some information, one can’t help but feel like this documentary is barely scratching the surface and suffers from being too short. Staples’ private life and relationship with her family feels like a very short and unimportant footnote when it could have been an integral part of the story.

There is no question that Mavis Staples is a special artist with a long legacy (her role in The Staples Singers and in supporting Dr Martin Luther King Jr. were but two important chapters in her life). But Mavis! doesn’t always do justice to this vibrant, ground-breaking and amazing woman. The film has its good moments, an excellent soundtrack and a tone of celebration or jubilation but it could have been so much more. In short, this inimitable singer and exuberant lady deserved a far more visceral and emotional documentary than the paint-by-the-numbers, Mavis!

Originally published on 27 April 2016 at the following website:

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MatildaandMe web


The documentary, Matilda & Me is more about the latter than the former. It’s a film that looks at Tim Minchin’s background and history, charting his rise from aspiring actor to successful comedian and renowned theatre composer. The movie is ultimately a fun and vibrant one about two great characters- the fictional, Roald Dahl creation, Matilda and the clever and creative larrikin, Minchin.

The film is written and directed by Minchin’s sister, Nel Minchin as well as Rhian Skirving (Rock n Roll Nerd). The former gives us quite a personal look at her brother Tim, showing us old photographs and home movies and narrating Tim’s story. Mr Minchin may have been introduced to theatre and creative things while still at school but he was an unlikely choice when it came to Matilda. There was a long road to success and some of this journey even included some couch-surfing at playwright, Kate Mulvany’s place. But it seems that the stars aligned with Matilda because this strange choice of composer would write some award-winning lyrics and music for the Roald Dahl classic.

Matilda & Me features a diverse range of interviewees. There is Mr Minchin himself as well as his siblings, Dan and Katie, wife Sarah and friends Andrew Denton and Eddie Perfect. There is also Dahl’s cool wife, Felicity, Andrew Lloyd Webber and actress, Mara Wilson, who played the lead character in the 1996 film. There are also interviews with those involved in the stage production like: playwright, Dennis Kelly, director, Matthew Warchus and the four girls selected to play the lead character in the Sydney production: Georgia Taplin, Bella Thomas, Sasha Rose and Molly Barwick.

The story is ultimately an inspiring one just like the book. It shows how Minchin went from a modest childhood living on a farm and near the beach in WA to becoming hot property thanks to a successful and award-winning musical playing on Broadway and in the West End. Minchin himself is quite an engaging and interesting character. He can be quite outspoken and vocal (the recent Cardinal Pell song is testament to that) but he is also quite modest and quick to downplay his hand in the success of the show.

The DVD extras include some behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews. They include subjects like “Meeting the Matildas”, “A look at the magic of Roald Dahl” the “When I Grow Up Song” and interviews with associate choreographer, Fabian Aloise and actor, James Millar who plays the scary principal, Mrs Trunchbull in the Australian adaptation.

Tim Minchin may have set some tongues a wagging with his blue eye makeup, long hair and bare feet but he was the perfect person to work on the stage adaptation of Matilda. Roald Dahl’s magical tale has been given a new life on stage and Matilda & Me captures some of that enchanted pixie dust and the essence of the creative driving force behind it all. This documentary puts its spotlight squarely on Tim Minchin’s star and gets an intimate look at the creative composer who took the story of a little girl and ran with it and a man that looks poised to do a whole lot more.

Originally published on 27 April 2016 at the following website:

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The documentary, Deep Web doesn’t have the right name. It really should be called “Silk Road” or “The Trial of Ross Ulbricht”. This tech documentary is a short, one-sided and interesting one that barely scratches the surface of digital privacy rights and the dark web as a whole.

This film is narrated by Keanu Reeves and is written, directed and produced by his former, Bill & Ted cast mate, Alex Winter. The latter is no stranger to documentary filmmaking as he previously produced, Downloaded about the rise and fall of Napster. In his latest effort, Winter is a little less focused and it’s hard to know whether the film he wanted to make was about the dark web, the Silk Road, digital privacy or the trial of the Silk Road’s alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht. All of these topics are worthy of in-depth discussion and analysis and are touched upon here.

This documentary argues for a free and open source internet. At present the internet as most people know it is just the surface web or the combination of all the indexed web pages out there. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lurking amongst the unindexed material is the deep web, a place where people can use the Tor browser to maintain relative anonymity in their surfing. They can also trade currency (bitcoins) that cannot be traced by governments and banks. It was in this environment that the Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit drugs, firearms and other banned items thrived (in addition to many copycat sites).

Deep Web builds its arguments by interviewing Wired journalist Andy Greenberg, who also serves as a consulting producer. He got the original scoop of being granted a question and answer-style interview with Dread Pirate Roberts (the Silk Road’s administrator and the handle of the possible founder of this online marketplace, whose name came from the film, The Princess Bride). The other interviewees include: Ulbricht’s parents, Lyn and Kirk as well as his attorney, Joshua Dratel and crypto-anarchist, Cody Wilson, among others.

There is some footage of law enforcers and investigators. But this film ultimately feels very one-sided and pro-Ulbricht (even going so far as to use archive videos and photographs of him as he was unable to be interviewed). It is unclear whether this film is so biased because the director is simply a supporter of Ulbricht’s or whether we are all bearing witness to a serious miscarriage of justice. (Ulbricht was found guilty of multiple charges relating to money laundering, drug trafficking and computer hacking. He had been charged earlier of attempting to procure murders but these were subsequently dropped).

Deep Web is an important film that’s far too short. It should hopefully open up a dialogue for some significant discussions about digital rights and privacy as we are all vulnerable to potential breaches of this. This documentary is good and does present some interesting facts but it is a little too one-sided and unfocused at times. The Deep Web is ultimately a complex and controversial piece that requires some more in-depth investigation and analysis.


Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website:

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Kurt Cobain’s life has already been looked at from every possible angle. The late, Nirvana frontman and icon has been the subject of at least two feature films (Last Days and Kurt & Courtney) not to mention countless biographies and magazine articles. But Brett Morgen’s Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is quite possibly the most thorough and definitive biography and documentary about the man and the legend.

For this film, Morgen was given unprecedented access to the Cobain archive including his prolific work in his journals plus artworks, tapes, photographs and home movies. The director was also given creative freedom from Cobain’s family (even though his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain serves as an executive producer here). Kurt Cobain was ultimately a complicated fellow and Montage of Heck attempts to show how complex and tortured this artist was by capturing his essence and devoting just as much time to his successes as his foibles.

The story is told virtually chronologically initially with Cobain’s parents, Don Cobain and Wendy O’Connor; his sister, Kim and his stepmother, Jenny Cobain. The former two were young when they had Kurt who at first was a happy and cherubic toddler who seemed so sweet, cute and innocent. Things changed when he grew up into a hyperactive child and his parents divorced. This meant he experienced lots of shame and embarrassment and was shuttled around from household to household and virtually rejected by his only family.

Morgan describes a lot of Cobain’s childhood and his teenage years through animations. Some of these are recreations of what it might have been like for Kurt while others see his own drawings brought to life. The title, Montage of Heck is taken from a mixtape that Kurt made in 1987 and this documentary is a sprawling, multimedia gem that sees Cobain’s words woven together with his art, writing, music and pictures as well as rare home movies and present day talking heads (but Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman, Dave Grohl is noticeably absent from these).

Other interviewees in this documentary include Nirvana bassist, Krist Novoselic; Cobain’s first girlfriend, Tracey Marander; and his wife and Hole frontwoman, Courtney Love. The latter is honest in her answers and candid as she reveals that Cobain aspired to earn a tonne of cash and spend his time doing drugs. Cobain’s deterioration into mental illness, addiction and troubles with the press are also chronicled here. This is particularly sad and will leave some viewers questioning what might have happened if he hadn’t committed suicide and got the help he needed. That said, the moments of him at home with Courtney and his daughter Frances are very tender and sweet indeed.

The special features on this DVD are a tad disappointing, especially when you consider how great the actual film is. A trailer is offered as well as extended interviews with Don Cobain and the director (the latter one was also played at the end of the film during its theatrical release). These extras don’t really do this creative and innovative feature justice, especially when you consider the truly inspired moments in this documentary (like the string and children’s choirs singing and transforming Nirvana songs).

Montage of Heck is a raw and intense film. It tries to get to the core of Cobain’s troubled, creative and dysfunctional existence and at times it does this too well, making you feel like you’ve intruded on a very private or intimate moment that wasn’t meant for your eyes. At the end of the day Cobain was a charismatic, smart and talented artist who was plagued by many different contradictions and demons. Montage of Heck is as much a celebration of the man as it is a heart-breaking look at his busy and complicated life.

Originally published on 15 June 2015 at the following website:

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Brilliant Creatures is a two-part television series that celebrates four iconic Australians. Feminist and libertarian,Germaine Greer; writer/broadcaster/memoirist and poet, Clive James; the late firebrand, art critic, Robert Hughes; and savage satirist Barry Humphries all share things in common. The most important thing is that they left Australian in the fifties and sixties in order to make their marks on the world. This show gets the icons and their friends to talk about the journey and their influence with a great sense of celebrating history and nostalgia.

The show is hosted by Booker prize winner, Howard Jacobson. He begins by talking about James’ childhood in an unassuming house in Kogarah and Hughes’ schooling at Riverview College. Both Greer and Humphries shared a mutual disdain for Melbourne and this sowed the seeds for their escape. Once they were overseas, these tall poppies were liberated and they eventually flourished by finding stiff competition in the likes of London and New York and expressing their intellectual prowess with a great sense of bold, Australian uncouthness.

A lot of archive footage including clips and photographs are used to set the scene and provide both historical and cultural context. Australia was considered by many to be a blessed land for making it out of World War II relatively unscathed. But for these big fish, this pond was simply too small for them and they were bored living here.

It is fitting that Jacobson interviews James, Greer and Humphries, enabling them to reminisce and offer their own personal recollections of the different periods. Among this history lesson is also a series of interesting talking head interviews with a long and industrious cast including: Eric Idle, Michael Parkinson, Phillip Adams, Kathy Lette, Bruce Beresford, Melvyn Bragg, Martin Amis, Thomas Keneally and Grayson Perry.

Ultimately, Brilliant Creatures is an interesting and evocative look at the Australian invasion of England and beyond. It is non-linear and could have been improved if it were a little more ordered. But one thing is for certain this is a worthy historical chapter and a great romp through the virtual verbosity of our very own Fab Four.


Originally published on 17 September 2014 at the following website:

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