FILM REVIEW: MISS SLOANE

M3 Jessica Chastain stars in EuropaCorp's "Miss. Sloane". Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes © 2016 EuropaCorp Ð France 2 Cinema

Miss Sloane could be renamed, “Ms Stone.” The film is about an ambitious and icy woman who acts as a lobbyist for a firm that is advocating on behalf of a gun control bill in the States. It’s a tense, political drama with as many power-plays, twists, turns and slights of hand as The Ides of March.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) stars as the titular character and really carries this film. She is the ruthless Elizabeth Sloane, a woman who survives on a diet of amphetamines, power, the company of male escorts and cheap Chinese food. Sloane is not a likeable character by any stretch but Chastain gives such an absorbing performance that it is hard for us to turn away.

We meet Miss Sloane as she prepares to plead the Fifth Amendment at a senate ethics hearing. The film then tells her story through a series of flashbacks. It shows how she earned a reputation as a formidable, world-class lobbyist and how she defected from a large agency who won a contract from the gun lobby in order to work at a small boutique firm who were advocating for a gun control bill.

Sloane is a complicated character. She enjoys 3am phone calls to her underlings and the public humiliation of people. She also has no qualms spying on her colleagues and competitors, selling out rats and milking the bleeding heart vote by exposing a colleague (Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion)) as the former victim of a high school-shooting. Yet when Sloane defects from her pro-gun agency to the one supporting gun control, there are at least some questions regarding her motives and whether she is taking a moral stance. Another big question is whether Sloane’s over-confidence and cockiness will mean she misses some important fact or find herself exposed to a blind spot or two.

This film is written by first-time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden (this is a serious departure in tone from his previous films, Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.) The supporting cast features Jack Lacy, Mark Strong and John Lithgow who put in rather able performances but are eclipsed by the dynamo work from Chastain. Miss Sloane is quite an eye-opening and detailed political tragicomedy and an exposé of a corrupt system and its steely-eyed and determined participants. This film is ultimately a wild ride with the big boys and one strong woman and a game you can’t help but find yourself getting lost in for the most part.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

 

Originally published on 01 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-miss-sloane-usa-2016-proves-a-strong-woman-can-play-with-the-big-boys/

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BOOK REVIEW: MARTIN SIXSMITH – AYESHA’S GIFT

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Ayesha’s Gift is a book that could also be called “Ayesha’s Curse” because it is brimming with sorrow. It’s the fictionalised account of the real-life events that saw Philomena author and former BBC foreign correspondent, Martin Sixsmith assist in investigating the death of a British-Pakistani man. The book is ultimately a rather multi-faceted detective tale where a murder is solved, cultures collide and a kind of quiet respect, empathy and trust is forged between two unlikely main characters.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/224417

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DVD REVIEW: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S THE HOLLOW CROWN SEASON 1

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How do you sum up a series like The Hollow Crown and do it justice? The program is an epic four part one that covers the Shakespearian plays known as the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV (broken up into two parts) and Henry V. The result is a lush, historic drama that is given some contemporary twists while still remaining true to the source material and relevant to the present day.

The series is produced by Rupert Ryle-Hodges but has different directors. Rupert Goold directs Richard II and his casting of Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as the titular king may have initially been a curious one but it has ultimately paid off. Whishaw is electric as Richard (and he won a BAFTA for his performance). He plays Richard as an effeminate, other-worldly being at times borrowing mannerisms from Michael Jackson and at other moments being positively Christ-like. In less capable hands this could have been a disaster but here he is mesmerising as he falls from grace.

Richard II makes a big mistake and puts his own personal interests ahead of his own country. He initially directs Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) and his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear) to fight a duel. But then he changes his mind and simply banishes the pair. This sets Bolingbroke off on his own course of action, as he plans to overthrow Richard and he succeeds.

In the next instalment Bolingbroke is now King Henry IV and is played by Jeremy Irons (The Borgias). He has matured but is still dealing with issues regarding his kingship. This play is broken down into two separate parts (and totals over four hours in runtime) and is directed and in part written by Richard Eyre. This play is the most meandering one of the tetralogy and despite being named after the father, tends to be more focused on the son and his coming of age. Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) is Prince Hal and he prefers the company of commoners. He especially enjoys thieving, drinking and staying in pubs in the company of fellow low-lifes and prostitutes.

In Henry V (directed by Thea Sharrock) Hal is now the reigning monarch and paying for the sins of his father (and is again played by Hiddleston). He has his own battles to be fought in France as well as his own girl (Mélanie Thierry) to woo. This program is the most film-like of the four episodes and it turns the play into a kind of tense, war story. It is still emotional and gripping as it begins with the King’s death and works backwards to show all the events that preceded it. These episodes are very highly charged to say the least and there are also some very famous speeches included amongst the proceedings.

The special features on the DVD are disappointing and include just four short featurettes about he plays and the kings. Although these segments include brief interviews with the cast and crew, there was a lot more that could have been said about the series as a whole. The fact that they’re among Shakespeare’s most famous plays and are rendered here on-screen instead of in a theatre (which allows soliloquies to be transformed into voiceovers and other scenes to be rejigged and played out alongside each other) have a huge impact on things. Plus, the fact they’re all documenting an important part of English history and still maintain relevance today is sadly all glossed over.

The Hollow Crown is a broody drama series that looks at the true costs of war and the price of power, love and betrayal. It can be a bloody mess at times as family members are pitted against one another and individuals are left struggling for redemption. This series is a rather cohesive one in that some of the characters are used in subsequent instalments, meaning the viewer is allowed to watch them blossom amongst a fine supporting cast. In all, this is a mesmerising account of some dispossessed and deceased kings who may be gone but their legacies are certainly not forgotten.

Originally published on 31 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/william-shakespeares-hollow-crown-season-1-dvd-review/

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THEATRE REVIEW: WOLF LULLABY @ NEW THEATRE

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Wolf Lullaby is a tragedy that is inspired by real events. In England in 1968 an eleven year old girl was convicted of manslaughter for the deaths of two boys aged four and three. Wolf Lullaby is a dark play that is set in a country town in Tasmania and asks a lot of questions. The most important one being did nine-year old Lizzie Gael kill the toddler, Toby Chester?

The production is an adaptation of Hilary Bell’s play that debuted at Griffin Theatre in 1996. Bell is an accomplished playwright who was the Tennessee Williams Fellow in Creative writing at Tennessee’s University of the South from 2003-2004 and the Patrick White Playwriting Fellow in 2013.Her story is a shocking and absorbing tale that shares themes with Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, as both texts question whether children are born evil or if they’re products of poor upbringings.

Lizzie Gael is played here by relative newcomer, Maryellen George. The actress is an adult but she does a good job in capturing the curiosity and innocence of the nine-year old character. At first glance the golden-haired Lizzie is a spirited child but she does not seem capable of murder. She is however a lonely kid who craves attention and has been neglected by two selfish parents who have divorced but remain amicable.

The story begins rather ominously with dark and atmospheric sounds that are like a cross between thunder and a heartbeat. At other points in the story, children playing and chanting are used as sound effects. At times these can be taken to have sinister undertones while at other moments they appear at least on the surface to be carefree and fun.

In this rural Tasmanian town, Lizzie and her friends discover the body of Toby Chester, a toddler that was suffocated and mutilated. The children don’t go immediately to tell the police about the body and instead wait until a few days later. When the authorities start investigating the matter it seems that the wounds on the body indicate that the murderer was a kid.

Lizzie’s parents, Angela (Lucy Miller) and Warren (David Woodland) are brought in for questioning by Sergeant Ray Armstrong (Peter Mcallum). This is not the first time that Lizzie has had a run-in with the police, she had previously been busted for shoplifting and wagging school. Her parents are initially dismissive of her capacity to perform such an evil act but then her mother starts to find clues that could indicate Lizzie’s guilt in the murder case.

This play is a suspenseful one that will force the audience to ask as many questions as Lizzie’s parents. It is frightening and explores things like responsibility, the truth, lies, neglect, innocence, brutality and love. The story is a dark one that is scary and spine-tingling thanks to a great cast putting in superb and realistic performances, as well as its being inspired by real-life events.

Wolf Lullaby uses many different facets of the set and like the story itself, boasts lots of different layers and dimensions. It is a sad tale that questions what impacts us most, nature or nurture, as well as the power and responsibilities parents face in having to love and protect their children. Ultimately, this tense drama and mystery will stay and challenge you long after you’ve left the theatre.

 

Originally published on 24 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/wolf-lullaby-new-theatre-newtown-performances-until-september-13

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DVD REVIEW: DIO – LIVE IN LONDON HAMMERSMITH APOLLO 1993

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Dio are no strangers to the live album or concert film. In recent years they have released live shows that were recorded in New York, Philadelphia and England. The most recent addition is Live In London, a concert recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1993 and one that has never been made available officially.
The show marked the end of a European tour for the band as they promoted their sixth studio album, ‘Strange Highways’. The line-up consists of the late, great Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath, Rainbow) plus Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath), Tracy G and Jeff Pilson. It is considered by many fans as one of the band’s stronger line-ups, even if the album they were promoting at the time wasn’t necessarily accepted in that same way.

Across 18 songs (including one drum solo that resembles Led Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick’) the group play six songs from Strange Highways plus three Black Sabbath originals (‘The Mob Rules’, ‘Children Of The Sea’ and ‘Heaven & Hell’ (which is later reprised)) and one Rainbow cover, ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’. The evening is driven by Dio’s amazing powerhouse of a voice. The then 51-year old sounded fine, irrespective of whether he was singing against chugging guitar melodies, spitting vitriol at harder moments, or allowing the rougher edges of his band’s music to reign with a tough, brute force. The fact is, he sounded like a man decades younger.

The quartet were especially tight on this particular evening and they started off with an energetic and incendiary, ‘Stand Up And Shout’. In ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ the mood darkened before the self-proclaimed, “strange” song, ‘Strange Highways’. G was definitely in his element during ‘Pain’ which boasted a great, extended guitar solo. It was an enthusiasm that he also brought into ‘The Last In Line’. In the latter, the quieter moments sounded like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ while during the louder parts it was more like ‘Kashmir’.

The night was certainly about raw, unadulterated power (with Pilson even saying so much during the bonus interview). At times the group’s hard rock vibe also segued off into the sort of theatrics more typically associated with Dream Theatre or even Muse to a certain extent. The fact is, the band tore up the stage and offered a very visceral and heavy experience. It was a journey that is at odds with the humour and self-deprecation exhibited by the band during the 20 minute, behind-the-scenes bonus feature.

Dio’s Live In London will appeal to many fans of the band that may have only heard these great cuts on bootlegs or the odd live compilation. The show is definitely one worth seeing as it shows a ferocious live band bringing a manic, over-the-top energy to their show. It also means it’s hard not to sit up and get swept away in the raw power of it all, it is such a classic concert.

Originally published on 30 April 2014 at the following website: http://sfmedia.com.au/dio-live-in-london-hammersmith-apollo-1993-dvd-review/

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ALBUM REVIEW: STONEFIELD – SELF-TITLED

STONEFIELD

Ever since they won Triple J’s Unearthed High in 2010 the four gorgeous Findlay sisters known as Stonefield (and previously Iotah) have had to face their fair share of criticism over their image and being discounted as a “teenage gimmick”. The quartet was surrounded by lots of hype as the band is made up of four sisters who range in age from being teenagers to in their early twenties. They also got to play Glastonbury festival quite early but they do have the talent to back it all up. On their eponymous, debut record they continue to thumb their noses at their detractors as they offer one solid and promising effort.

The album was 12 months in the making and was produced by Ian Davenport (Band Of Skulls). The ten tracks feature a darker sound than the music offered on their previous EPs. These young women also dig deep on this effort by describing the transition they’ve either made or are making from being children to adults. Once again, they are making old-school, seventies inspired psychedelic and rock sounds with an added modern twist. It means they can hold their own alongside the retro leanings of bands like The Strokes, Jet and Wolfmother.

“C’Mon” is a song that could’ve appeared on either of their EPs. It also sounds like it could’ve been written by Deep Purple because loud, crashing drums are coupled with a big, organ sound and a dirty, killer guitar riff. It ensures that things open with a bang and this energy also carries through into “Love You Deserve”. The latter is a catchy number that teases the listener while also offering copious amounts of wisdom and perspective. It’s about realising the need for self-respect and growth and how you should ultimately trust your instinct.

Their first single, “Put Your Curse On Me” is easily their best track. It features Melbourne’s Mass Gospel Choir and is some powerful, Aussie rock. Its biggest drawcard is front woman, Amy Findlay’s powerful vocals. In some ways Findlay is like Suze Demarchi in that she can hold her own amongst a loud band by rocking and rolling and she can also show raw emotion when she needs to.

The girls don’t just create head-banging tunes. On “To The Mountains” they show a greater sense of maturity as they explore the pop genre in more depth and craft something that has a few things in common with Fleetwood Mac (who they’ll shortly be supporting). It’s also about realising and learning about what’s important in life and placing a greater emphasis on this rather than what’s trendy at any given moment.

“Diggin’ My Way Out” is also a little more experimental. In this song these lovely ladies journey like The Doors into the desert and then segue off into space. It’s a quieter sound and a vibe that is also replicated at the beginning of “To Whom It May Concern”.

Stonefield know how to write a decent tune and even at their age, they have the musical smarts not to go and create an album that’s just a grab-bag of beats, riffs and harmonies. Their debut effort will not win any prizes for its simple and repetitive lyrics but the intensity of their live sound compensates for the holes that exist in this regard. The group are ultimately so young and so talented and have created one helluva album that’s best played loud, because its sheer feistiness, power and organic energy hints at even more good times to come from the family Findlay.

Originally published on 24 October 2013 at the following website: http://lifemusicmedia.com/album-review-stonefield-stonefield-debut-album/

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FILM REVIEW: FAREWELL, MY QUEEN

farewell

Farewell, My Queen (or Les adieux à la reine) is a film about three important women from French history. They are a Queen, her lover, and the Queen’s reader who is hopelessly devoted to the monarch. The latest film from director, Benoît Jacquot is a sumptuous and intimate costume drama with lots of upheaval, making it not unlike A Royal Affair.

It is 14 July 1789 and the Bastille has been stormed. But at the royal palace in Versailles only some of the news and gossip is beginning to filter through. The royal house is in a state of uncertainty where its inhabitants are unsure what to do: i.e. to stay put or to flee. But the flipside to this story is that there is more to this gilded household than meets the eye- there are a series of bizarre love triangles and entangled emotions also at play.

The film is not a strict chronicle of the end of Louis XVI’s (Xavier Beauvois) reign. Nor is it an in-depth portrait of his wife the Queen, Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger). The history books have been ignored in part as the tale is based on just four days of the royal family’s life as told in the novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas. Here, things are told from the perspective of the Queen’s reader, Sidonie Laborde (Léa Seydoux) who shines in the role of lead actress and principal storyteller).

Laborde is an intelligent girl but her head is ruled by her heart. She has a high amount of respect and affection for the Queen but this is not replicated. The Queen is far too obsessed with jewellery and is flighty and frivolous. Plus, her favourite is the Duchess Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen). And while these two were married to men at the time, the film insinuates that they were fluid in their sexuality and possibly lovers.

Viewers of the film will benefit from having an understanding of French history because Farewell, My Queendoes not provide a lot of background information. Its attention is instead drawn towards a series of intimate close-ups of the characters and a great amount of attention has been paid to creating the visual elements instead (e.g. costuming, props, the set, etc). There is a large disconnect between the opulence of the palace and the life of the poor, common people.

The film does not delve deeply into the social unrest typical of this time. It’s more about the characters reacting to their impending doom and making choices (some of these more significant than others). It’s very dramatic, subtle and sensual. There are the intertwining stories of unbridled passion and debauchery and it shows how this can contribute to a monarch’s downfall as much as mismanagement and apathy towards their subjects.

Farewell, My Queen is often a rather slow-burning story. The main themes of power, loyalty, betrayal and sadness are told from the subservient minor character’s perspective in the most subtle of ways. In short, it’s a fly-on-the-wall account of the excesses of palace life and well, we all know how that ended.

 

Originally published on 11 June 2013 at the following website: http://lipmag.com/arts/film-arts/film-review-farewell-my-queen/

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ALBUM REVIEW: BRITISH INDIA – CONTROLLER

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British India have been forced to grow up. They released three albums in quick succession starting with their debut, Guillotine in 2007. But by 2010 the band found themselves in an unenviable position. It was sink or swim time, having no rehearsal space or a distributor and this has influenced the style and lyrical content of their latest record, Controller.

The 10 songs here see the guys expand on their earlier, frenetic sound with the inclusion of a little more variety. At best this has yielded ‘I Can Make You Love Me’, an the emotive ballad reminiscent of The Temper Trap with its melancholy feel and desperate cry. The slowing of their speed and volume has also resulted in a slow-burning track like ‘Swimming In Winter’. ‘Crystals’ again fits this new mould but it lacks oomph and feels forced with the group trying to sound like Foals while singer, Declan Melia aims for Angus Stone but just sounds whiny.

The loud guitars that underpinned their earlier output are found in the form of some defiant rock anthems. ‘Plastic Souvenirs’ is the best of these as it boasts the immediacy of The Living End with blasts of guitars and a tongue-in-cheek look at an American conspiracy theorist. ‘Summer Forgive Me’ also zooms past at full-throttle with a powerful, punk attitude.

Controller sees the boys take a step outside of the garage to explore the world beyond the heady, good times of partying and excess that flavoured their previous records and youth. It’s an interesting shift and a commendable effort to see the guys in the driver’s seat (in spite of adversity) and taking control of their direction in life.

Originally published on 12 April 2013 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/35389/British-India–Controller

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