BOOK REVIEW: PETER POLITES – DOWN THE HUME

 

When we think of an “Australian story” the ones that typically spring to mind are predominantly about the country, bush or the past. So what is a reader to do when they want something that reflects their own modern life in the Western suburbs of Sydney? Thankfully, Peter Polites has answered this in his debut novel, Down The Hume, one that seems like a likely successor to Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded.

Polites is the associate director of SWEATSHOP, a literary movement based in Western Sydney which is devoted to empowering marginalised communities. Polites was also a co-writer of the Sydney Festival show, Home Country, an epic story about culture and identity that was performed in a Blacktown carpark. When we consider Polites’ previous work it is unsurprising that he also brings his experiences as a young, homosexual man of Greek descent to his debut novel. The book’s main character Bux also has these same character traits, but Bux also loves a violent, abusive drug-enabler and gym-obsessed man named Nice Arms Pete.

Down The Hume is a little like a car speeding at full force along our nation’s famous highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The book is a complex one that negotiates important topics like machismo, hedonism and a deep sense of existential yearning. The text itself is also quite raw and confrontational. The story is told in the first person and you very much get the sense that you are along in the passenger seat for the ride with Bux, come what may.

We follow Bux through addiction to prescription medication, as well as some tender moments where he bonds with his mother (another person who had a “vanishing” and abusive man in her life) and a friendship with an elderly gentleman who he cares for at his nursing home job. Bux is a paranoid and jealous lover who takes to stalking his boyfriend Pete, whom he suspects of cheating.

Each of the chapters of the book are named after places in Sydney and sometimes these moments read like little vignettes or discrete episodes; Bux grapples with the implications and ideas of culture and identity as a man of Greek descent wearing an outfit typically worn by Middle Eastern men. In another moment he has to reconcile his position as a homosexual man with the weight of familial expectations on his head (in one flashback his family had assumed that he’d want to settle down with a nice girl and have a family.)

Down The Hume is a dark noir story. It uses sharp, street-wise language to create a multifaceted tale that reads like urban poetry. Peter Polites is ultimately a refreshing new voice in contemporary literature and his dynamic prose proves that there is so much more to Australian stories than the expected bush gangs, convicts and farms of yore.

Originally published on 13 March 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-peter-polites-down-the-hume-shakes-our-expectations-about-australian-stories/

Visit The Au Review’s homepage at: http://www.theaureview.com/

FILM REVIEW: JACKIE

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Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) has been depicted on the silver and small screens before but Jackie is the first film to really capture the complex nature of this remarkable woman. The film is not strictly a biopic in that it only focuses on a number of key events in Kennedy’s life prior to and in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination in 1963. But what this drama does do well is hone in on these important points to create an intense and visceral film that really gets at the heart and nature of this tragedy.

The film is written by Noah Oppenheim (Allegiant) and it is one that lifts the veil on this iconic figure’s private world. Natalie Portman puts in an Oscar-winning performance as Kennedy by capturing her vulnerability, strength and grief as well as other essential things like her accent and mannerisms. Kennedy’s role in the aftermath of the assassination is elevated and in doing so this film could have turned into a kind of exploitative voyeurism but instead it tells things from her perspective and handles the proceedings with the poise and grace that this former first lady of the United States was known for. It also handles the sensitive subject matter with a rather delicate hand (save for the graphic depiction of the events of 22 November 1963.)

Director, Pablo Larraín (No) and his production team have paid careful attention to recreating the look and feel of the period. Kennedy is shown wearing the famous pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat that was smeared with blood as she travels in Air Force One and defiantly declares that the world should see what it had done. The film also recreates in black and white a special that Kennedy had starred in a few years prior to John F Kennedy’s death where she describes her contributions to decorating the White House. The other major plot point sees a forward magazine journalist (Billy Crudup) quizzing Jackie in the weeks following her husband’s death. Jackie’s answers are frank, smart and illuminating.

Jackie is an intense film that has a certain starkness to it. Portman is often shown in close-ups and she conveys a multitude of emotions that were experienced by this young widow- from having to console her two young children and grieve her husband to her fiery determination in trying to ensure that his legacy was upheld. Jackie also has a rather intrusive string score by Mica Levi. At its best it reinforces the tragedy, particularly in the scenes where Kennedy walks alongside her husband in the funeral march where JFK’s body is led by a horse-drawn carriage (and this scene is just like what happened to Abraham Lincoln in 1865.)

This latest film about Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis) is not a comprehensive biopic but it is a searing and intimate portrait of an amazing woman and the complicated emotions and circumstances she experienced in the wake of JFK’s death. This film is not a linear story but is instead a rather messy and chaotic one that reflects the raw and gritty real-life events that it is trying to portray. In all, this is one bold and heartfelt look at a tragic chapter in U.S. history.

Originally published on 9 January 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-natalie-portman-gives-a-searing-oscar-winning-performance-in-jackie-usa-2016/

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BOOK REVIEW: CAREK STELSON – SACHIKO – A NAGASAKI SURVIVOR’S STORY

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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.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201611/207492

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BOOK REVIEW: THOMAS MULLEN – DARKTOWN

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Darktown is like a rose in the field of police procedurals. It deals with some thorny issues with respect to a vanguard group of African-American cops working in Atlanta in 1948. It’s a period in history where people were still reeling from the Second World War and it was before civil rights existed. This novel is ultimately a complex tale of morality that simultaneously feels like a TV series (especially one dealing with a murder investigation) and a classic story like To Kill A Mockingbird.

Lucius Boggs is the son of a preacher and one of the eight African-American men working in a special police force in Atlanta. He has a partner named Tommy Smith and together they walk and police their own unique beat. They have no squad cars, they do not work out of official police headquarters and they patrol their own native neighbourhood (it’s a different part of town to the one that is inhabited by the affluent white Americans.)

One night Boggs and Smith witness a drunken white man drive into a lamppost and assault his female passenger. These policemen call for help from some white cops. One of the men that turn up proves to be a corrupt and violent racist. The latter lets the perpetrator off the hook without even a slap on the wrist. Boggs and Smith become concerned and angry when they discover what happened that night and when they learn that the drunken criminal was the last person to see a murdered black woman alive.

Thomas Mullen constructs a rich and vivid tale about the ensuing murder investigation. It’s a tangled web where some crooked white cops despise and question the authority of their African-American counterparts. It’s also the scene of racial prejudices, a place where segregation is the norm and where it’s not uncommon for the characters to see race-related hate crimes. Some of these scenes make this book an uncomfortable one to read. But Darktown is also an important story and Mullen should be applauded for tacking this subject matter and for providing such a detailed backdrop for his characters. It’s obvious that this book has been meticulously researched.

Darktown is a gritty and raw murder thriller. It’s a page turner that will engage you and leave you guessing what’s around the next corner. This book is due to be adapted into a TV series starring Jamie Foxx and it should make for powerful viewing. Darktown describes a sad but true chapter in American history and Mullen has tackled some rather complex subject matter with great finesse. This novel is a well-written one that proves there is no black or white with respect to justice, just various shades of grey.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Bookstr giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.bookstr.com/book/darktown/9905939/

BOOK REVIEW: COLLEEN HOOVER – IT ENDS WITH US

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It Ends With Us is a title that hints at a certain sense of finality or ending. But in reality this novel is only the beginning. This bold book from New York Times bestseller, Colleen Hoover is an important one that slowly reveals itself to be a rather hard lesson in love, told by an excellent storyteller with a deft hand and a sensitive heart.

The cover of this book reminds me of Charlotte Woods’s The Natural Way Of Things. Both books are works of fiction but they are also so raw and honest that they often feel as though they could be real stories. They also deal with some difficult subjects that are hard to discuss or raise, so hopefully this gets readers talking about them.

Colleen Hoover has offered us a story about an engaging young woman named Lily. At the beginning of the story she is reeling from the recent death of her father. It’s a bittersweet moment for her because their relationship had been a rather fraught one.  At the same time she also meets a handsome neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid. The two connect and he literally sweeps her off of her feet. But the honeymoon doesn’t last forever because Lily also has to process some stuff to do with a previous relationship. It is material that will make her reassess things and challenge what she previously thought. It’s also something we can all learn from.

This novel is a bold one from Colleen Hoover and a very personal story. In her author’s note (which you should only read after finishing the book) she reveals her true connection to this tale. This intense book will tug at your heartstrings and thrust you onto an emotional rollercoaster that will take you through every emotion on the spectrum of feelings. To reveal anything more would ruin things but suffice to say the naked truth is that this is one excellent book full of depth, pathos and grit.

 

***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-it-ends-with-us

BOOK REVIEW: HELEN THURLOE – PROMISING AZRA

promising azra

 

Promising Azra is a book about torn loyalties told from the perspective of an amazing 16 year old girl. The story’s eponymous protagonist is an intelligent, ambitious and determined young woman who wants an education while her family feel indebted to her uncle and decide to adhere to an old cultural practice of arranged (and forced) marriage. This book is an important one that highlights an issue that most people would have thought was dormant but is in fact affecting many young people today.

This novel is the debut one from the award-winning writer, Helen Thurloe. The story is fictional but it is based on real-life events. It is obvious that Thurloe has completed lots of research for this because the whole thing feels quite “real” and raw in parts. It will also leave you empathising with the main character.

Azra has a few things in common with Josie Alibrandi in Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi. Both girls are studying at high-school. The two girls are also searching for their identity in contemporary Australia while also negotiating the influence of their heritage and culture and its impact on their teenage lives. In Josephine’s case the stakes weren’t very high but Azra’s is a different story. The latter is faced with a forced marriage at the humble age of 17. If Azra agrees to this arrangement then she will not realise her academic dreams and the marriage will be one that makes her family happy. But if she refuses then she can receive an education but the cost will mean that she is cut off from the people that she loves.

Promising Azra could have been a very intense and dry book. But Thurloe has done a fantastic job of telling a good story in an engaging way. She has also dealt with some tough issues in a sensitive and direct manner. Azra is an excellent character that you will instantly warm to and her conflict and struggle is utterly engrossing. This book is essential reading for anyone that wants to know about familial traditions and obligations and the hard choices that some of us are forced to make. In short, it can be quite heart-wrenching 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-promising-azra

DVD REVIEW: QUEEN VICTORIA’S LETTERS

queen victoria

 

The thing about famous people is that you should probably leave your expectations at the door. The royal family is no exception. The two-part series, Queen Victoria’s Letters attempts to show a more intimate and personal view of this long-reigning monarch and the quote, “Grandmother of Europe.” The show is ultimately a rather intriguing one that may not be the most essential viewing but it will at least challenge your thinking.

The program is hosted by A.N. Wilson who has written a biography about Queen Victoria. He pores over exclusive letters and the Queen’s personal diaries in order to show a different view of the monarch. The result is not a completely unadulterated view because her daughter, Princess Beatrice censored the diaries and left out some of the more scandalous things at the time. But what does survive is a look at the Queen’s oppressive childhood and marriage as well as the controversial alliances and friendships she formed with her highland servant, John Brown, British Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne and the young Indian servant, Abdul Karim.

The letters are narrated by Anna Chancellor. They show the Queen as a romantic and sometimes a rather naïve and idealistic woman. In the course of the writings we learn that she seeks out lots of male attention and this could be chalked up to her losing her father at such a young age. She was also not amused by the successive pregnancies in which she bore Prince Albert’s children. This ultimately meant she had to confer more power upon him and in doing so lose some of her very own.

Queen Victoria’s Letters could have been as dry and staid as a dusty, old book. Instead, they are quite eloquent, intense and personal. Even though they have been censored, there is still a sense that this is the most intimate and raw look you will ever get at Queen Victoria. And at the end of the day it’s an image that is at complete odds with the mourning matron that so many people consider her to be synonymous with.

Originally published on 10 August 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/queen-victorias-letters-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE HUNTING GROUND

the-hunting-ground

 

The Hunting Ground is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one. The documentary looks at the epidemic of sexual assaults taking place on American university campuses. It also shows the victims that are silenced, ignored or discouraged to report the cases to the authorities. This film is ultimately a raw, frightening and probing one that will challenge your thinking.

This film is written and directed by Kirby Dick who was also responsible for The Invisible War about sexual violence in the military. The Hunting Ground includes lots of talking head interviews with clinical psychologists, academics, writers and victim advocates. But perhaps the most confronting interviews are with the rape survivors themselves. Often these are strong, young, eloquent women who had great dreams for their careers and studies as well as good grades.

The futures of these young women victims (and occasionally young men) are jeopardised by opportunistic thugs taking advantage of a broken system. This documentary proves that the institutions themselves are the most defective. Representatives at the intuitions often actively discourage victims from reporting the crimes and they also try to bury the true incidence rates of these assaults. They do so in order to ensure that they still get funding from private donors and to maintain an image that will result in an enthusiastic queue of new students lining up to study there.

This documentary also includes some re-enactments of the crimes and it begins with a group of students reacting to their college acceptance notices. It’s a jubilant moment that’s at odds with the information that is to come. This film also has a pop soundtrack featuring music by Ellie Goulding, Lady Gaga and Birdy. While it’s commendable that the filmmaker has supported a group of female artists, some of the music was a tad unnecessary.

The Hunting Ground does interview a rapist but that discussion is not the most enlightening because we do not get a sense of his true motivation. Apart from this one interview, the movie does tend to side with the individuals that claim the sexual assault. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing as this group have had enough of the odds stacked against them on their campuses and in their communities. But it does mean this documentary is not a balanced one, especially as the heads of various universities also declined to be interviewed.

If there is one hopeful message to take away from this film it is that there are around 100 colleges under investigation by the US government for their treatment of sexual assault cases. This film also shows some amazing women like Andrea Pino and Annie Clark who work tirelessly to assist other rape survivors. The Hunting Ground is ultimately a nightmare that shows that one in five women will be sexually assaulted at university. This is frustrating stuff that will break your heart and make you mad, but it’s essential to watch in order to prevent it from being swept under the carpet any longer.

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-hunting-ground-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: REGRESSION

regressionemmawatson

 

Regression is a film that lives up to its name because for you to recall any of it you’d have to go back and watch it again and again. The film is a dark one set in 1990 in rural Minnesota. It’s also one that is based on real-life events. But the story and characters are ultimately too weak and underdeveloped to lift this beyond the realm of a mediocre thriller.

The film is written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar (The Others). It seems that Amenábar was a bit too close to the subject matter. The majority of the characters feel as light-weight as holograms. Regression also often has as much horror, suspense and tension as a wet blanket.

Emma Watson stars as a troubled, 17 year-old girl who accuses her alcoholic father, John Gray (David Dencik) of rape. The Dad spends a lot of time reassuring the investigators that his daughter is nice girl who would never make this up, despite his having no recollection of the crime. The police officer investigating the case (Ethan Hawke) is initially sceptical but he begins to change his tune after he witnesses some regression therapy sessions between a psychologist (David Thewlis) and the accused. These basically culminate in memories being planted.

At times it feels like the investigator has flipped a switch. He becomes so doggedly assured that the allegations are true and that Gray’s family must be involved in a ritualistic cult. Never mind if this implicates one of his fellow officers. The dark acts involve lots of sex, rape, human sacrifice and even the consumption of human flesh, yuck! The subject matter is provocative but the film is so formulaic and far-fetched that you can’t take it very seriously (even if the film itself tries to do so!)

This story is ultimately quite dubious, especially as the therapy is pure charlatanism. This flat film tries to be raw and mysterious but in many instances it seems quite predictable, ridiculous and forgettable. Some underwhelming performances (from quality actors doing the best they can with the turgid source material) make this regression session too dull and boring for its own good. Yawn.

Originally published on 24 July 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/regression-dvd-review/

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