FILM REVIEW: ALONE IN BERLIN

 

Alone in Berlin is a story from the Second World War and the recent film adaptation means it is likely to be condemned to the history books. The film is based on the international best-selling novel, Every Man Dies Alone, a book about real-life Berliners Otto and Elise Hampel. The film is a slow and plodding affair that is grossly under-realised and lacking in nuance.

 

The film is directed by Vincent Perez and features actors speaking in English but reading and writing in German. The wonderful, Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson star as a married couple who lose their only son after the youngster is killed fighting on the frontline (in real-life this was Elise’s brother.) The pair put in emotional and convincing-enough performances although it is bizarre to hear them speaking in German-accented English.

 

After their son’s death in 1940 these two working class parents pour their grief, anger and devastation into some small acts of civil disobedience. They write out postcards with anti-Nazi, anti-Hitler and anti-war sentiments. They would pen almost 300 of these and distribute them to various locations across Berlin. They were careful to take precautions, not leaving their fingerprints or distributing the materials to the same places. The Gestapo were unnerved and furious by these acts, as they viewed these individuals as traitors (Daniel Brühl leads the investigation here.)

 

By distributing these postcards this couple were engaging in a very dangerous act and they understood that they were risking their lives in order to do this. But they continue to carry out this operation because it’s a coping mechanism for them and it’s a protest against the things that they were witnessing in a country that was ruled by a tyrannous dictator. There is one scene with an elderly Jewish neighbour that is especially heart-breaking to watch.

 

The film itself is pleasant enough on the eye, if a little bland. The mood is a sombre one and an orchestral, Hollywood soundtrack attempts to ramp up the tension and emotion in the story, but this is ever enough. This is a true story of courage and subversion but it feels like a candle where the light has been snuffed out.

 

Alone in Berlin is a look at two stoic individuals who protested against the Nazi regime in their own unique way. It’s also a fascinating story that could have been realised and made into a much better movie. This film is ultimately too slow and subtle in capturing the amazing feats performed by two hurt, determined and fearless parents.

 

***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-movie-alone-in-berlin

DVD REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

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It seems that La La Land is not the only film to look affectionately at some halcyon days in Hollywood. Woody Allen’s Café Society manages to do this as well as celebrating the jazzy nightlife of New York. This is a light yet fun film that is like a love letter to old money and its trappings, even though it is set in the thirties, a time where most would normally stop and think about the Great Depression.

Café Society once again sees the famed director doubling as the film’s narrator. It is also brimming with the kind of witty repartee that Allen and his work have become synonymous with. It also finds time for some navel gazing, posing some existential questions and sticking the knife into organised religion. This is a funny and romantic story but in true Allen fashion, it’s one that rules with the head rather than the heart.

Jesse Eisenberg does his best Woody Allen impression and stars as Bobby, a kid with stars in his eyes. He is seduced by Hollywood’s bright lights and leaves his family behind for L.A. Steve Carrell is a Hollywood heavyweight and Bobby’s Uncle Phil. The latter takes pity on his nephew and offers the boy some work doing odd job at the company he owns.

Bobby initially enjoys the girls, glamour and debauchery of la la land but eventually he comes to see through it all. He realises that a lot of it is excess, fakery and vanity. This sentiment is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who actually cracks a smile for once and puts in a decent performance.) The chemistry between these former cast mates is quite obvious and really makes the romance seem plausible.

The two youngsters bond over a mutual love of Mexican food. Vonnie initially plays her cards close to her chest because she’s intelligent and street-smart and because she has an elusive boyfriend she started dating shortly before meeting Bobby. The latter was always going to be hooked on his Uncle’s secretary, he was smitten early on and it’s almost inevitable that he will have his heart broken.

Eventually Bobby returns to New York to work with his gangster brother in a nightclub. It’s here that he meets a divorcee (a fresh-faced and bubbly, Blake Lively.) A new romance blossoms but this bliss doesn’t last for long because Vonnie soon visits New York and the club with another unwelcome visitor in tow.

Café Society celebrates style, youth and beauty. It’s a rather flimsy, predictable and lightweight film but it’s also one that offers enjoyment in spades thanks to its beautifully-shot scenes and witty dialogue. This is a look at a rich part of America in the thirties and it shows where professional dreams can clash with romance (although this is nothing new.) This is the sort of film that will not profoundly affect you but one where you can sit back, relax and enjoy as a sort of date with the society set with all of the trimmings.

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cafe-society-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: NADIA MARKS – AMONG THE LEMON TREES

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Love is a wonderful thing. We all want to experience it. Many musicians, artists and writers have used it as inspiration, but it was perhaps Darren Hanlon who put it best when he sang, “Love is just a lazy generalisation that we use for a hundred different feelings and as many situations.” Journalist and author, Nadia Marks knows a lot about this kind of love, as she proves in her debut novel for adults, Among the Lemon Trees. She says that the Greeks have no fewer than four different types of love: Agápe is the big love, storgé the tender other love, philia friendship, and éros sexual love.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201701/218733

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BOOK REVIEW: TRICIA STRINGER – A CHANCE OF STORMY WEATHER

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A Chance of Stormy Weather was originally self-published in 2004 by Australian, rural romance writer, Tricia Stringer. It was also one of her most requested books, as some readers thought it was good at distilling what life in the country is really about. This fictional story is not Stringer’s best work but it is still a well-written and pleasant-enough novel.

This book is about the marriage between a Sydney girl named Paula and a farmer from South Australia named Dan. The two had a whirlwind romance and got married not long after they initially met (and why this was the case is not properly explored.) This then sets things up for a fish-out-of-water tale as the book takes in the events that surround their first few months of marriage.

Paula is a naïve city girl when it comes to her new life. She doesn’t know much about the country (even basics like what kind of meat mutton is allude her) and she’s not used to driving along dirt roads. Paula is sometimes a difficult character to warm to. She is pretty idle when she initially arrives at her new home (granted some of this could be chalked up to the culture shock that she experiences) and she is sometimes quite silly (it’s hard to believe that she was burned in a previous relationship only to rush into the arms of another man.)

Dan on the other hand is an easier person to like. He’s a hard-working guy who’s trying to forge out a living and be self-reliant. But he is also hiding some secrets from the past, most importantly the present status/nature of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Katherine. There is also Dan’s meddlesome aunt, Rowena who is always on hand to offer her two cents worth and Paula’s parents are occasionally present to interfere with their daughter’s relationship under the guise of “meaning well.”

A Chance of Stormy Weather glosses over some important elements in the main characters’ romance (as well as their lives before they met one other) and it is ultimately a rather predictable story of a fish out of water. It’s also a book where the characters are not the most endearing or easy to warm to. Stringer has a fine reputation for telling engaging stories about the lives of individuals living in rural Australia and while this book seems to tick some boxes well, there was also room in this vast country expanse for some additional improvements.

***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-a-chance-of-stormy-weather

DVD REVIEW: INDIAN SUMMERS

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The chapter in India’s history when it was subject to colonial rule has been shown on our screens before. It was the theme in The Jewel in the Crown television series and there have been countless films and things about Mahatma Ghandi. Indian Summers is a TV series that covers this well-trodden path. It may not be the most original rendering of this story but it is one pleasant, beautiful and nostalgic drama.

The second series begins some three years after the first one left off. Some things have changed with respect to the characters in this time. The most noteworthy is that civil servant, Aafrin Dalal (the gorgeous, Nikesh Patel) has become a rebel and is promoting terrorism. The private secretary, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) is married and has designs on the viceroy’s role. Whelan’s sister, Alice (Jemima West) is shackled by an unhappy marriage to one angry and careless man named Charlie (Blake Ritson) while her heart is somewhere else.

This series deals with a number of different storylines and threads including matters of the heart and the state. Club owner, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) is as manipulative as ever while Sooni (Aysha Kala) is the most inspiring. The plots also throws up a number of different moral dilemmas. Over the course of ten episodes there are a few deaths, one marriage and some reunions. The series is supported by a great cast who capture the full gamut of different emotions. Indian Summers also succeeds at chronicling an important chapter in India’s history and maintaining a certain pace while keeping the tensions high.

The setting is absolutely stunning. The story and series is set in Simla in the foothills of the Himalayas but Indian Summers itself is shot in Penang in Malaysia. We can forgive this artistic licence when we consider how much care and detail has been applied to the creation of props and the wonderful costumes. All of these things add up to make a sumptuous period drama that is like pure eye candy. The special features include an adequate making of featurette that reveals some good insights into how this show was made, but there was also room for more information.

Indian Summers is a colourful drama that is brimming with some spice and so many different threads that at times it feels like a tapestry. This is not the most crucial series you’ll ever watch but it does cover a significant part of India’s history as it seeks independence from the British rule. This serial is an interesting look at the politics and the personal proclivities of the locals and individuals living abroad as they face all manner of different challenges that life throws at them. In short this is a sprawling story told in a way that is as pleasant as a stroll through the English countryside.

Originally published on 24 October 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/indian-summers-season-2-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: ZOË MARRIOTT – BAREFOOT ON THE WIND

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Many of us are familiar with Disney’s version of Beauty & the Beast. The film shows the cursed Beast who captures the beautiful Belle, and it is only after Belle sees the creature’s inner “goodness” and falls in love that the spell is broken. Some people may consider that the Beast is actually rewarded with Belle’s love and not punished for his wrongdoings. Author Zoë Marriott has decided to redress this imbalance and tell the story from a feminist’s perspective.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201610/205159

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FILM REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

cafesociety

 

Woody Allen’s latest film should be renamed “High Society.” This beautifully-shot comedy is a nostalgic but throwaway look at the glitz and glamour of some halcyon days in Hollywood and the smoky nightlife of New York. It’s ultimately like a pleasant and lightweight dream that celebrates money even though the thirties was synonymous for some with the great depression.

Café Society is like most of Allen’s films in that it is full of snappy dialogue and features the famous director as a sleepy narrator. One of the best pieces of advice this film offers is to “Live everyday like it’s your last because one day you’ll be right” as well as other existential points and jabs at religion. This may be a romantic tale but in true Allen style this romance is one where your head is in charge, not your heart.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg doing his best Woody Allen impression) stars as a wide-eyed kid who is initially seduced by the bright lights of Hollywood. Bobby’s Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood hotshot. He takes pity on his nephew and offers the kid some odd jobs. Bobby seems to enjoy elements of La-La land (his encounter with a first-time prostitute is hilarious) but he soon comes to hate the excess and fakery of it all. It’s a sentiment that is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who proves she doesn’t need to pout her way through every film.) Stewart puts in a fine performance where the chemistry with her former cast mate, Eisenberg is particularly obvious.

Vonnie is given the job of showing Bobby around town. The two youngsters bond over Mexican food and Bobby becomes completely smitten. But Vonnie holds her cards closely to her chest. The reason she does so is because she’s smart and savvy and because she also has an elusive boyfriend that she started dating a year before meeting Bobby.

Eventually Bobby returns home to New York. He takes a job working in a nightclub with his gangster brother. Bobby meets a divorcee at the club (an effervescent Blake Lively) and romance blossoms. The pair seem happy until Vonnie shows up at the club with someone Bobby knows all too well.

Café Society is like The Great Gatsby in that it celebrates youth, beauty and jazz. The story itself is quite flimsy and predictable but it’s a film that offers entertainment and enjoyment, pure and simple. This depiction of love triangles and professional dreams is one opulent ride and a fun look at a brief but rich period in the thirties in America. In Café Society’s world the depression never happened and everyone was free to enjoy themselves, rambling through the richness and splendour that was the society set. This is ultimately fun for audiences to watch but don’t expect it to change your life or your riches.

Originally published on 18 October 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-woody-allens-latest-cafe-society-usa-2016-offers-a-nostalgic-but-throwaway-look-at-the-great-depression/

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BOOK REVIEW: ANTHEA HODGSON – THE DRIFTER

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If Anthea Hodgson’s debut novel were a song it would be John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over.” The story is a rural romance set in Western Australia and it’s about two free-spirited individuals and a wise old aunt. The two former characters could be classed as “drifters” and they are thrown together and forced to confront their demons and re-evaluate life.

 

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website:

website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201609/202013

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ITUNES REVIEW: THE SWEET ESCAPE (COMME UN AVION)

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There has been a lot said about the importance of the journey over the destination. Sometimes the trip teaches you more than the end point and some people have likened life to a journey. The French film, The Sweet Escape (Comme un avion) seems to capture all of this. It’s a rather aimless romantic comedy showing one man’s response to his mid-life crisis.

The film is written and directed by Bruno Podalydès. It also stars the latter in the lead role of Michel, a 50-year-old graphic artist who is restless. Michel seeks a sea change away from his hum-drum, urban lifestyle and a long marriage to his supportive wife (Sandrine Kiberlain.) Michel originally toyed with the idea of learning to fly but instead decides on a kayak as his mode of transport and this leads to some funny results.

Michel’s journey sees him set off a few kilometres down the river. He eventually settles into a sparse existence camping on a riverbank and frequenting a nearby restaurant. It is here that he meets and befriends the restaurant’s widower owner, Laëtitia (Agnès Jaoui) and the gorgeous waitress, Mila (Vimala Pons.) Michel purposely cuts his journey short but he tries to keep up the pretence of continuing the grand adventure to his wife. In reality, he’s just sitting around drinking absinthe with some eccentrics and satisfying some of his carnal desires.

The Sweet Escape is a beautifully shot film with a diverse soundtrack that veers into pop, classical, folk and dance territories. This film is ultimately a subtle reflection on one man’s existential crisis and while it is pleasant enough, it is lacking a point or a solid sense of direction. In all, this journey off the beaten track seems fine at times but at other moments it is like being stuck on a road to nowhere.

Originally published on 11 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-sweet-escape-comme-un-avion-itunes-review/

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

DVD REVIEW: SGT. BILKO

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Sgt. Bilko is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This comedy farce is a remake of a sitcom from the 1950s called The Phil Silvers Show. In the movie version, Steve Martin acts as a frantic and crafty Sgt. Bilko (a character not too far removed from his one in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and he guides us all through a series of different japes and misadventures.

Bilko is not your typical army sergeant. This man in uniform is the motor pool supervisor on paper but in reality he is a conniving and money-hungry rapscallion. The sergeant is the mastermind behind his platoon’s get-rich-quick schemes (these mostly involve illegal gambling syndicates and competitions as well as hiring out army vehicles to the highest local bidder.)

The commanding officer, Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) seems uncaring, inept and oblivious to Bilko and Co.’s antics. But things change when Maj. Colin Thorn (the late Phil Hartman) pays the barracks a visit. The Major is Bilko’s enemy (although on screen Martin and Hartman prove great comedic foils for one another). The Major is back to seek revenge, even if he has to fabricate and plant it. The sub-plots also see Maj. Thorn trying to steal Bilko’s long-suffering fiancé, Rita (Glenne Headly) and some questions about whether a military hover tank will actually work.

This film is not the most hilarious, thoughtful or original one out there. But this comedy film is pleasant enough and should be enjoyed by fans of physical, slapstick humour. The script was written by former Saturday Night Live writer, Andy Breckman and is directed by Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) so these two are no strangers to comedy. Sgt. Bilko is ultimately an over-the-top, offbeat and wacky film that will have you cheering on the loveable, eponymous rogue because who hasn’t dreamt of receiving “An honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work?” It’s cheeky but fun to dream…

Originally published on 26 June 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/sgt-bilko-dvd-review/

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