BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO WIN AT FEMINISM – PRESENTED BY REDUCTRESS AND BY ELIZABETH NEWELL, SARAH PAPPALARDO & ANNA DREZEN

 

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.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/226256

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DVD REVIEW: THE HECKLER

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The Heckler is an Australian film that is not just a comedy but one that’s also about the genre, or stand-up in particular. It’s a body swap film that is a bit like Freaky Friday meets Ghost. It’s a low-budget satire that fills some rather large shoes by managing to stand-out from most other comedy films produced in our fair land.

The film marks the debut feature from The Comedy Cartel, or the same team that produced the Tropfest entry, The Unusual Suspects. It stars Simon Mallory as Steve Austin, the six million dollar man or one narcissistic, fame-hungry comedian. One day Austin is asked by an audience member named Mike (a fabulous, C.J. Fortuna) for some advice about how to break into the business. But Steve is too self-absorbed and proves really unhelpful.

An unfortunate incident occurs whereby Mike (who had turned into a heckler of Austin’s) dies and winds up in Austin’s body. Mike then sets about destroying Steve’s life by giving terrible performances as Steve as well as spending all of the comedian’s money and ruining his relationship with his ex-wife (Emily Taheny) and new girlfriend Bree (Kate Jenkinson (Offspring)). Unfortunately, all Steve can do is sit back and watch and hope that the damage isn’t irreparable.

The film features cameos by Tony Martin and Jeff Green. It’s also shot around Melbourne ad includes a scene filmed at the Palais Theatre. It’s not a bad little movie film full of madcap adventures and it’s quite pleasant to watch. The two main criticisms are that the jokes do get rather repetitive after a while and sometimes it is hard to imagine Mallory as a comedian (especially as Fortuna is the better comedic actor of the two).

The special features are good and include an audio commentary and the short film, Fists of Fury. The latter was made by the same group as they came together for pre-production. It’s fun, if a little raw. But the biggest highlight of the features is the C.J. Fortuna series, Comedians in Bars Drinking Beer, which is modelled on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee. There are just two episodes offered on this DVD release with Dave Hughes and Hung Le being the two subjects. But from the rushes we can see that Fortuna has interviewed other comedians so let’s hope these eventually see the light of day.

The Heckler is an adventure-driven film that is rather unique. This comedy about funny men is a pretty clever offering that manages to be both warm and bizarre. In short, this is one promising feature debut from The Comedy Cartel.

Originally published on 7 February 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/heckler-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE EX-PM

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In the TV series, The Ex-PM  the show’s writer, creator and star, Shaun Micallef is playing quite a subtle and straight, former Prime Minister of Australia. But the show itself seems to try too hard to make the audience laugh. The result is a program that feels too uneven, forced and stilted to have much truth and resonance to it, despite it being quite an interesting premise overall.

Micallef is best known as a comedian and the man behind the show, Mad As Hell. Here, he eschews talking about the politics of the day to instead focus on fictional politics and satire. He plays Andrew Dugdale, Australia’s third-longest serving PM who once boasted an approval rating of almost three quarters of the population. But now Dugdale is at a loss. He’s lost the most recent election and moved back to suburbia along with a zany bunch of staff plus his promiscuous wife (Nicki Wendt), benign grandson and contemptuous adult daughter (who split from her drug-dealing husband), played by Kate Jenkinson.

The staff are the ones that contribute to the inconsistencies in the tone of this program. You have Curtis (Francis Greenslade), a glorified chauffer who is brain-damaged (read: incredibly stupid) and responsible for making sure the Commonwealth car isn’t egged. There’s an overzealous but dim security guard, Myles (Jackson Tozer) and a dedicated and knowledgeable, chief-of-staff (Nicholas Bell) who is too busy bedding Dugdale’s wife. There is a chef (Ming-Zhu Hii) who appears clever but is the butt of some jokes about her being on a special visa and Dugdale’s business manager (John Clarke) appears solely on TV screen because he’s under house arrest following an investigation by ASIC.

Dugdale is struggling with his identity and his financial situation is also rather dire. So it seems that now is the perfect time to agree to submit a manuscript of his memoirs in exchange for a hefty advance. The only problem is that they haven’t actually been written and when a young and plucky ghost-writer Ellen (Lucy Honigman) is called, Dugdale seems too elusive and easily distracted to help. The simple truth is that he doesn’t want his life to be written about in any great detail and it’s just painful to watch the lengths this man will go to get out of this. It’s also a shame to see a former leader appear so smart at times and so stupid at other points (and to buy the fact that “we” actually voted him in on four separate occasions! That’s doubtful).

This series could have been a rather clever take on Australian politics, and would have been timely after the merry-go-round of leaders that we have sustained as of late. But instead this is often a bit too silly and slapstick for its own good. In comparison, a show like Utopia looks absolutely brilliant because the latter managed to be both believable and funny. The Ex-PM sadly just feels like a poor man’s Yes Minister.

The special features on this DVD are disappointing. They include some bonus scenes from the show including mock “interviews” with Dugdale’s staff and relatives and some bloopers. The former elements show one dysfunctional family but they also fail to offer any insight into the production of the show.

The Ex-PM is a program that is an inconsistent, situation comedy. It feels like this is a hard idea to swallow even though the actual premise (about politics, truth and spin with its new slant of being framed through the eyes of a washed up PM) is a good one. The Ex-PM is most certainly an unrealised opportunity where the interesting political satire is swamped by some crazy, third-rate zaniness that you would typically find at a student revue.

Originally published on 27 December 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/ex-pm-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: LISTEN UP PHILIP

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We all know someone like the main character in Listen Up Philip. The star is a self-absorbed egoist who is trying at the best of times. So to dedicate an entire film to him and his exploits can make for uncomfortable and tedious viewing to say the least. This story is also a plainly pretentious one but it does have some moments where its quirky, comedic style will make you laugh.

Listen Up Philip is the third feature from writer and director, Alex Ross Perry. The latter has clearly been schooled by the likes of Woody Allen and curmudgeon, Philip Roth, to name just two. This film is a bohemian comedy/drama/character study with a light jazz soundtrack. It also shares a sensibility with Allen and Roth’s style of anxious thinking.

The titular Philip Lewis Friedman (played brilliantly by Jason Schwartzman) is a narcissist and snooty writer. He enjoyed great success with his debut novel but his follow-up one looks like it could suffer from “second album syndrome”. At the very least it looks like it will be the recipient of a bad review from an important publication. So the insecure Philip makes an impulsive decision to forego all participation in press interviews and coverage. He instead decides to accept an invitation to country New York to spend time with a person that appreciates his “talent”.

Philip ditches his long-suffering and talented photographer girlfriend (the gorgeous Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)) and settles in a cabin with his new mentor, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). The new tutor is a bitter and jaded writer who is just like Philip, only a few decades older and more successful. The two bring out the worst in each other, they’re insufferable and arrogant. And Philip becomes even more clueless and annoying when he has to reduce himself to teaching creative writing at a university in order to maintain his cash flow. Naturally, Philip’s abandoned girlfriend wakes up to his wicked ways, dumping him and buying herself a cat.

This film has a retro feel to it from the choice of font in the titles to the softly-lit video that is shot on grainy, hand-held 16mm cameras. The props and Philip’s choice of tweed jacket also lend it an old feeling. It means that the film often feels like a seventies comedy even though there are moments of black and dry humour. There is also a rather obtrusive narrator (Eric Bogosian) who is often the most insightful character of them all.

Listen Up Philip is an ambitious, quirky and brave film. It throws curveballs by changing the perspectives of the main character at times and it asks the viewer to emotionally invest in perhaps two of the most unlikable people to ever grace the screen. It’s at times an endurance test to say the least. At the end of the day most people probably known a Philip or an Ike and can appreciate the satirical look at their suffocating egos and pretentiousness, but whether you’d want to spend an entire movie with them is an entirely different story.

 

Originally published on 9 November 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/listen-philip-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MARGARET ATWOOD – THE HEART GOES LAST

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Margaret Atwood is no stranger to writing, as this talented Canadian author has won the Booker Prize and been shortlisted for countless others. She has written over 40 novels but I am a stranger to her work and The Heart Goes Last is my first introduction to this prolific writer. The book was excellent and it has convinced me to delve deeper into her amazing catalogue of works.

The Heart Goes Last is about a young couple named Stan and Charmaine. The pair are initially happy and wealthy but they are subsequently hit hard when a financial crisis takes place in their American town. They are forced to live in their car and fight off other people who are also desperately poor. Stan is told he is overqualified for jobs (even though he will accept almost anything, but he does draw the line at engaging in criminal activity with his brother, Conor) and Charmaine makes money as a barmaid. The pair share a grim existence until they happen upon an ad for Consilience.

The term Consilience comes from the combination of “cons” and “resilience”. The pair sign up and think everything will be hunky dory. In exchange for a house and jobs in a tranquil setting reminiscent of some starry-eyed retro period like the 1950s, the pair are forced to give up their freedoms every second month. On the alternate months they – like countless others – will be imprisoned in a gaol while another couple with live in their house. It’s a strange set-up but it’s also a social experiment that is engaging in some more sinister elements.

The novel is a cautionary tale attempting to warn readers to be careful what they wish for. It’s also an excellent social commentary that uses aspects of satire and comedy to riff on an almost real-life existence. In many ways this book is reminiscent of Ben Elton’s “Dead Famous” in its pithy observations of modern life. Atwood is also very clever, witty and unique as she weaves together her beautiful and well-constructed prose.

For many readers, their enjoyment of The Heart Goes Last will hinge upon how much they relate to the main characters and how far they can suspend their disbelief. I sympathised with the characters so much that when things did veer off on some weird tangents in the final act I was still sold and remained along for the ride. In all, Margaret Atwood’s novel is a sharp, fresh and witty look at a very human and insatiable desire for utopia and how this can lead to dystopia, dissatisfaction and an acute sense of modern life being rubbish. This is an utterly original and clever look at all of these things and so much more. Excellent.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/heart-goes-last/9382912

DVD REVIEW: GEMMA BOVERY

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The film, Gemma Bovery tackles the question of whether life can imitate art. Or at least whether some characters in a story can have similar experiences to their literary namesakes. This French and English film has some good moments but for the most part it feels too uneven and unfocused to really cut through.

The filmmaker behind the excellent, Coco Avant Chanel, Anne Fontaine directs this adaptation of a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds. This comic was in turn based on the literary classic, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. This film is not the first time that Simmonds’ books have been adapted for the big screen, as we’ve previously seen Tamara Drewe which was based on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

Fabrice Luchini stars as Martin Joubert, a literary lover and former publisher who has returned to Normandy to work in his father’s bakery. He has a no-nonsense wife (Isabelle Candelier) and a disappointing son (Kacey Mottet Klein). Joubert is disheartened by his son because the teen only wants to play computer games and watch TV. But despite this, Joubert was a rather contented man and relatively happy in his marriage but this changes with the arrival of some new neighbours.

Gemma Bovery (the beautiful Gemma Arterton from Tamara Drewe) and her husband Charles (Jason Flemyng (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) move to a small, French provincial town, just across the road from the Joubert house. Joubert becomes infatuated and obsessed with Gemma and fears she will become just like the literary character her name resembles. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and it’s not long before Gemma becomes an adulterer and has a few extramarital relationships.

This quirky film can’t decide whether it’s going to be a rom-com, cautionary tale, tragedy, some food porn or an adaption. Instead it seems to be a difficult mish-mash of different styles, leaving the final proceedings feeling really unfocused. Bovery’s life is shown in detail to represent the boredom she feels, but it doesn’t really tell us much and feels so pointless. There’s a moment in the film where Joubert says “Nothing happens but it’s interesting” when describing Flaubert’s work, but in this case only half of the statement is true.

Gemma Bovery could have been a very clever and witty satire drawing on the graphic novel and the classic book. Instead it all looks rather pretty but it really lacks any substance. The whole thing feels too empty and ordinary and at the end Gemma still feels as mysterious as ever. In all, this light-hearted look at love and all of its trapping is an uneven tragicomedy that tries to do too much and really fails to do anything properly.

Originally published on 15 October 2015 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/gemma-bovery-dvd-review/

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FILM REVIEW: THE FOXY MERKINS

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The two main characters in The Foxy Merkins are not foxy ladies in the Jimi Hendrix sense. Smart? Yes. Sassy? Sure. But smouldering, not so much. The film is in fact, a fictional comedy based on the misadventures of two homeless, lesbian hookers.

The film was directed by Madeleine Olnek who doubles as a writer here along with the film’s two stars, Lisa Haas and Jackie Monahan. The trio had previously worked together on Co-dependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, which was selected as part of the Sundance Film Festival. This time around they’ve fashioned an off-beat character study that is slow in its pacing but feels quite realistic at times.

Margaret (Haas) has moved to New York to find her mother (in a sub-plot that isn’t satisfactorily explored or resolved). She is a bumbling, sloppy and awkward woman who lacks employable skills. So she turns to lesbian prostitution even though she is stocky, bespectacled and frumpy. Luckily, this naïve girl meets the fast-talking, street smart, Jo (Monahan) who is a heterosexual that enjoys turning tricks with women.

The two ladies bond despite their obvious differences in personality and appearances (and a good chemistry is noticeable between the two actresses). They get up to strange sexploits and deal with it with a king of strange irreverence, from closeted socialites to homophobic republicans, there’s also wealthy housewives and even struggling arts students. It seems that most people are fair game which suits Jo as she is a grifter from way back, even though she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

The film does feature some interviews with the girls’ competition, which makes it appear quite real and like a documentary for a brief period. But this adds another layer of ambiguity to a film that was already rather incohesive. There is also an odd cameo from Girls’ Alex Karpovsky who plays a creepy merkin salesman (merkins are a kind of wig for your vagina). We originally meet him in a cemetery but he later resurfaces as a CNN executive who refuses to buy a sex tape because it features the fat Margaret and a homophobic republican politician.

The Foxy Merkins is a lo-fi film that was recorded with handheld cameras. It is well-meaning in satirising stereotypes and having two engaging female lead characters tackling the buddy, bromance film genre. But it fails overall in the storytelling department because some subplots are not explored properly, the ending feels rushed and at its worst it seems like a sketch that has been stretched out to feature length. The Foxy Merkins is also repetitive and simple but it does have heart and it shows two strong women’s close camaraderie and the good, bad and ugly aspects of their sexuality.

 

Originally published on 16 March 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/2015/03/16/melbourne-queer-film-festival-review-the-foxy-merkins-usa-2013/

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THEATRE REVIEW: EMERALD CITY @ PARRAMATTA RIVERSIDE (10.12.2014)

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David Williamson’s 1987 play and subsequent film, Emerald City is as relevant today as it was back then. The story is a satire based on two creative industries: filmmaking and book publishing. It looks at the dichotomy between producing something because it has creative or cultural significance or because it is a money-making machine that will do well commercially. It is an intriguing idea, even if the play itself is quite prolix.

The Griffin Theatre Company’s version, directed by Lee Lewis had previously played at the SBW Stables Theatre in Kings Cross and on Wednesday night it made its debut at Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre. The story is told through a series of scenes/events as well as monologues where the characters reveal intimate details about their thoughts, motivations and mindsets. These parts are also broken up by eighties sound bites (including snatches of Yello’s “Oh Yeah” and Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy”). These are complimented by two different rainbow-coloured backdrops of Sydney Harbour that are designed by the artist, Ken Done.

Emerald City is about Colin (Mitchell Butel), a rising script-writer and his wife Kate (Lucy Bell), a publisher with a strong moral conscience (or so it seems). The two leave their Melbourne home with their children in order to live in Sydney. The play begins with comparisons between the two towns and never has the following phrase about Sydney been so true: “It never rains, it buckets here”. This was one of Williamson’s many brilliant lines, which boasted equal amounts of wit, intelligence and interesting observation.

The couple were originally drawn to the “Emerald City of Oz” but they do face some difficulties in adjusting. Colin isn’t particularly keen on writing about a certain subject even though his long-time collaborator and producer, Elaine (Jennifer Hagan) is sure it will be a hit. Colin also attends his first industry party where he encounters the big-talking shyster and hack writer named Mike (Ben Winspear). The two work together on a project but it is Mike that ultimately reaps the biggest benefits. Ben Winspear is absolutely electric as the Bogan Mike. He steals scenes with his quick-talking, animated delivery. The other actors also put in good performances and they are supported by Kelly Paterniti and Gareth Yuen, playing Mike’s girlfriend and an investment banker, respectively.

Emerald City contains some very clever dialogue but it could have benefited from a little bit more action. The story is very much driven by the words delivered by the six different characters, which show these people at their nastiest and most difficult and vulnerable moments. The play is a comedy centred on human folly and shows how greed and money can exacerbate this. It is set in a period that promoted this idea – the eighties were the height of excess – and it is still an enjoyable and relatable slice of various home truths to this very day.

 

Originally published on 12 December 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/emerald-city-riverside-theatre-parramatta-performances-until-december-13

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THEATRE REVIEW: MOLIÈRE’S TARTUFFE @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (30.07.2014)

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Tartuffe is a 17th century classic and a visceral theatrical experience. The play was originally written by Molière and was received with scandal as he satirised and poked fun at religion, human vices and the other follies that people possess. The current adaptation by the Bell Shakespeare company features a script by Justin Flemming and is a wry, clever and funny night out that will have you simultaneously laughing and slapping your foreheads from the seats.

The story revolves around the show’s namesake, played by Leon Ford. Tartuffe is an imposter, hypocrite, crook and charlatan. But despite these horrid traits, he conducts himself in such a way as to appear the picture of piety. The audience, however, can see through this and that it is all a part of a sanctimonious act.

Orgon (Shane O’Shea) was once considered the master of the house but now he is rendered a foolish and gullible old man. He takes in Tartuffe and dots over the fraud, indulging the hustler’s every whim and sticking up for him on all occasions (even if this means taking sides against his own wife and children). It is most telling that Orgon is forced to see Tartuffe’s true colours by his level-headed wife, Elmire (Helen Dallimore) who stages a trap. Orgon almost seems surprised when he learns the truth and declares, “I gave a wolf sheep’s clothing and that sheep pulled the wool over my eyes”.

Molière’s original work was written in French and made up entirely of rhyming couplets. In Fleming’s contemporary treatment, he remains true to this aspect of the story by allowing some parts to rhyme, while at other moments the dialogue is delivered in a less structured or constrained format. This actually keeps things interesting, by sharply moving the pace along and ensuring that the energy is high. This adaptation is also an engaging rendering for Australian audiences as some local slang and modern references have been added for good measure.

 

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The set is a sparse one with the most obvious elements being a clock (where Orgon’s son (Charlie Garber) learns of Tartuffe’s wicked ways) and a lounge, where in one of the most telling scenes Orgon delivers some heartbreaking news to his daughter, Mariane (Geraldine Hakewill). Orgon has decided that she will not marry her true love, Valère (Robert Jago) but instead be betrothed to Tartuffe. There is also a large cabinet which is used for everything from storage to pathways to other rooms and realms. The costumes meanwhile, are mostly decadent and strike the right balance between the 17th century setting and today.

The actors all put in solid performances but it is the sharp-tongued maid, Dorine (Kate Mulvany) who stands out for her delivery and comedic timing. Dorine is the clever voice of reason who is prepared to speak her mind. A special mention should also go out to Dallimore who comes into her own during the second act and Jennifer Hagan who as the family matriarch, Madame Parnelle, wins the audience over in the opening scene with her caustic tongue.

Tartuffe is a funny play that celebrates the human idiot and warns us against worshipping strangers and granting complete trust at a whim. The story remains fresh to this day, as can be seen by the fact that the audience often shouted and laughed at Orgon as he succumbed further and further to his own gullibility and stupidity. Tartuffe is ultimately an electric play that is scathing in its views of human nature and religion and is a hilarious and colourful romp through society’s strangest and most extreme characters.

 

All photos by Lisa Tomasetti.

 

Originally published on 1 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/reviews/tartuffe-sydney-opera-house-performances-until-august-23

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LIVE REVIEW: GRAPHIC FESTIVAL SYDNEY – RADIO WITH PICTURES FEAT. DON WALKER, CLAUDIA KARVAN, FENELLA KERNEBONE AND MORE @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (06.10.2013)

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Last year’s instalment of Radio With Pictures at Sydney’s Graphic Festival sold out and it’s easy to see why. The 90 minute show at the Sydney Opera House saw a group of compelling storytellers come together over a mutual love of radio, writing and graphics. It was a multimedia show that fed all the senses.

This year the show was hosted by Fenella Kernebone. The theme for the night was ‘The Things You Do’ whether it be for ‘love’, ‘fun’ or some other unspecified reason. The stories ranged from comedy to drama to satire and just about everything in between. There were eight presentations in total and the evening saw the likes of actor, Claudia Karvan and musician, Don Walker (Cold Chisel) share a stage with artist, Gria Shead; animator Marieka Walsh; comic artists Sam Wallman and Bailey Sharpe; radio maker, Gina McKeon; producer, Jane Ullman, writers Lorlei Vashti and Patti Miller; and illustrator, Grace Lee.

The evening commenced with one of the most fun and entertaining stories of the night. It was a tale taken from a newspaper advertisement circa 1875 where a bookshop owner advertised for a wife. It was a progressive idea for the time (things like Farmer Wants A Wife and RSVP didn’t exist) but it was ultimately a relatable anecdote that encouraged us all to take risks and be bold in our quests for love.

One of the weaker stories of the night was ‘Teach Us Pet’, which saw black and white cartoons of a young boy who wakes up to hear his mother killing off some of his pets. It was redeemed by the story that followed, ‘Like An Animal’. The sound in this latter one was amazing and it was easy to see how Jane Ullman is an award-winning sound effects artist. Her sonic arrangements really helped compliment the idea of young children connecting with and learning about animals.

Don Walker’s fans would’ve enjoyed hearing samples of his Shots book coupled with animations. It was a very different feel to the sombre, ‘Gay Enough’, which followed. This was the tale of a refugee seeking asylum in Australia and how they had to prove their sexuality to the authorities. It was jarring to go from his to the funny, cheekiness of Lorlei Vasthi’s ‘Nobody Is Making You Do This’. The latter was named after a Margaret Atwood quote and was the light-hearted recount of an epic battle with writer’s block that stretched out over a year.

Once again the mood shifted for Patti Miller’s ‘The Mind Of A Thief’ which had parallels to Kate Grenville’s The Secret River novel. It was also the winner of the Premier’s history award while Pat Grant’s closing story – a love letter to his recently departed father – was highly intense and personal and was probably not the right platform for such an emotionally-charged story.

Radio With Pictures was one fascinating and interesting night. There were stories to make you laugh, ones to make you cry and others still that made you think. In future, a rethink of the theme may be in order to allow things to run more smoothly and cohesively but there was no denying that the 2013 edition had a little gift or two for people to take home from such wild and varied proceedings.

 

Originally published on 9 October 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/graphic-festival-radio-with-pictures-ft-don-walker-claudia-karvan-fenella-kernebone-and-more-06-10-13

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