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: INDIGNATION

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Indignation is a film that is based on a book by Philip Roth but it struggles to reach the lofty heights of its source material. The story is a coming-of-age one about a clever, Jewish boy and the battle of wits he is forced to engage in at his conservative college in 1951. It’s a beautifully-shot drama and dialogue-driven piece that makes for a more atmospheric novel than it does film.

Logan Lerman stars as Marcus Messner, a working-class Jewish boy from New Jersey. He wins a scholarship to a small, traditional college in Ohio. This placement means he avoids being drafted into the Korean War. Lerman is a clever kid who becomes an atheist and he takes exception to the college’s strict rules, especially the one where it is compulsory for the students to attend chapel. He also rejects the friendship of his fellow Jewish students and is subsequently thrust into a number of verbal sparring matches with an anti-Semitic, horrible and opinionated dean (Tracy Letts who has a few things in common with the dean/authority figure in Scent of a Woman.)

Another of Messner’s rites of passage involve his damaged but gorgeous classmate, Olivia (the excellent, Sarah Gadon.) The two go out on a date and at the end she performs oral sex on the virginal Messner. This act throws Messner into a tailspin of confusion and part of this can be chalked up to the sexual repression that was rife in the fifties.

Indignation is a subtle and dramatic period drama. The fact that a lot of the story is based around Messner and his growth as a college student and some general clashes of ideologies make for rather slow viewing that is better suited to one’s own imagination. The featurettes include some interviews with the cast as well as director, James Schamus (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) as well as some information about the costumes and deconstructing the scene (the argument between the student and dean is the most powerful and potent of the entire film.) Indignation features some great performances and it’s an emotional character study but it is also one that is perhaps best left in the hands of Messer Roth himself.

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/indignation-dvd-review/

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

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

Visit 100% Rock’s homepage at: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/

BOOK REVIEW: SIMON DE PURY – THE AUCTIONEER

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The man dubbed the “Mick Jagger of auctions” sounds like he should have some interesting stories to tell. Simon de Pury also has had a career that has spanned over 40 years as an auctioneer and curator and different roles in the art world where he got to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. But the memoir, The Auctioneer does not have many exciting anecdotes. Instead it’s a dry and slow book that oscillates between self-importance and being a shopping list of record-price setting auctions.

Simon de Pury had had a distinguished career. He learnt the rewards of buying and selling art from Art Basel’s Ernst Beyeler. Simon de Pury was also the former chair of Sotheby’s Europe and the former owner of Phillips de Pury. He is a man who is not short on experience and his memoir could have been an insightful look into the inner-workings of the (hidden) art world. But the core message here is that greed is good and it’s a clumsy mix of gossip and vain name-dropping and descriptions of the irritating world of the 1 percenters.

It’s very hard to empathise and connect with such an elitist snob. At the very least de Pury is ambitious, driven and passionate about his work. Some readers may enjoy his take on the art world but personally I felt like he barely scratched the surface of his life’s story and the formal prose and stories were so lacking in depth and colour, they were like a monochrome painting.

***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/auctioneer/9900103/

BOOK REVIEW: ALYSON NOËL – UNRIVALED

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Unrivaled is not your typical book. It’s supposed to be a suspense/thriller set in the bright lights of Hollywood and told from four different perspectives. The premise is ultimately a good one but the writing is overly simplistic and the characters are too stereotyped and clichéd to appeal to adults (although this could be perfectly pitched at the young adult readers the novel was designed for).

Alyson Noël is a successful author of over 20 books and is a New York Times best-seller whose work has been translated into multiple languages. Her latest offering, Unrivaled is the first in a new trilogy called, “Beautiful Idols.” It’s a young-adult novel and I think this may be why I had trouble engaging with the story. As a 32 year old Australian woman with only a passing interest in celebrity (and a distinct hatred of anyone that is famous for the sake of being famous) I found this story to be too vapid, slow and superficial.

The story begins with the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood It-girl, Madison Brooks. She is someone that is harbouring a number of secrets but she is certainly not alone on this front. The story then turns back time to a month prior where we meet three young, hungry teens who have agreed to take part in a contest run by a Hollywood heavyweight called Ira Redman. The competition will see an aspiring entertainment journalist named Layla, a wannabe musician called Tommy and a bratty would-be actress named Aster competing with other desperate teens to become a full-time promoter for one of Redman’s clubs. To do so they must get people through the door of one of his establishments and the more famous the guest, the better.

The book is a slow-burner and it spends a lot of time detailing the competition and the lengths the characters will stoop to. Even with all of this information, the characters still feel rather hollow and not fully formed, especially when they do things that are completely unexpected. The story of the competition also lacks suspense and it merely unfolds amidst the expected world of hidden agendas, dirty laundry, secrets, lies and the like. The book really hits its stride when it manages to catch up with the part of Brook’s disappearance but it ends in  such an unsatisfying and abrupt way in order to leave things open for the sequel that some readers may walk away feeling cheated by this turn of events.

Unrivaled is a dark novel that shows how ambitions can turn poisonous with a bunch of unlikeable and self-absorbed characters that seem like a reflection of today’s society. Noël is a good writer but this novel is a flat one, as it details some beautiful people’s competitive natures in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. It was a book that wasn’t to my liking but the kids may enjoy this easy-to-read tale of celebrity thrills and spills.

***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-unrivaled

FILM REVIEW: THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

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The Man Who Knew Infinity is a film where the numbers don’t quite add up. This is a biopic about a genius mathematician set in picturesque Cambridge in 1914 and boasts a stellar cast (including Stephen Fry). But the sum total isn’t greater than the individual parts for this drama. The film is ultimately a solid one but you can’t help but feel like its subject deserved a whole lot more, especially in respect to creativity and uniqueness.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) stars in his most serious role to date as Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a poor Hindu man who has a brilliant gift with respect to pure mathematics. He is newly married but he has trouble caring for his beautiful wife (Devika Bhise in a very thin role) and his controlling mother (Arundathi Nag). Ramanujan is convinced by a friend (Dhritiman Chatterjee) to send his work to some academics in Cambridge and what follows is an inspirational, fish-out-of-water tale.

The man responsible for bringing Ramanujan to Cambridge is G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The pair become good friends, despite their differences. Hardy lives up to his name and is a logical atheist while Ramanujan’s work is based on a lot of intuition and divine inspiration, as he is a devout Hindu. Over five years Ramanujan is subjected to racism and discrimination while staying at Cambridge but he also proves to be an excellent collaborator with Hardy.

Ramanujan is doggedly determined to complete his formulae and theories. The film doesn’t always give full credit to this man as often the mathematical feats are merely implied. And it is only at the end of the feature that the viewers learn how Ramanujan’s work continues to make waves because it is now being used by people to study and learn about black holes.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is a moving and feel-good story but it is also a tad too slow and nuanced for its own good. The film is not immune to some historical inaccuracies and hagiography (Ramanujan’s wife was only a child when they were married and this is not depicted in the film). In all, this is an extraordinary story that is told in a rather ordinary way and it could have been so much more thanks to its great performances and the intriguing man who is the subject.

***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-the-man-who-knew-infinity#comment-50532

BOOK REVIEW: JOSEPHINE MOON – THE BEEKEEPER’S SECRET

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The Beekeeper’s Secret marks a slight departure in style for Australian author, Josephine Moon. In her third novel the writer has once again put together a vibrant and easy-to-read story about love, loss, family and friendship but this time around also manages to thread in some extra twists of suspense and mystery to the tale, as well tackling some dark and topical subject matter.  This was ultimately an enjoyable book boasting some well-realised characters and hopefully this is not the last that readers will hear from this diverse and intriguing lot.

The story stars a kind-hearted and well-meaning former nun named Maria Lindsey. The latter likes nothing more than her solitary life tending to her honeybees and making honey-based products that she can sell at the local markets in order to raise funds for an orphanage in Cambodia. Maria is a likeable character who is also harbouring a number of terrible secrets. She is plagued by a sense of guilt and feels like she needs to continue in her quest for atonement.

Tansy Butterfield is a successful 30-year-old interior decorator and the estranged niece of Lindsey. She is suffering a mid-life crisis because she must reconsider her feelings and make some big decisions with respect to child-rearing and following her husband overseas. At the same time she also wants to establish a relationship with an aunt she’s never met and knows nothing about. If that’s not enough, Butterfield also has a tight-knit immediate family and they are battling a number of their own issues like loss of faith, infidelity, sick children and regrets about the past.

Moon’s story was a little slow to begin with but it really hit its stride in the middle and towards the end. The characters are rich and realistic ones like those found in Marian Keyes’s novels and the story is an interesting and relevant dramedy that contains added messages, meaning and metaphors thanks to the vivid descriptions of honeybees. In all, this book shows a dysfunctional family negotiating their way through rights, wrongs, cover-ups, lies and betrayals in a story that is like a pot of amber gold and a rather sweet family tale.

 

***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28509498-the-beekeeper-s-secret

BOOK REVIEW: AMANDA ORTLEPP – RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE

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Running Against The Tide is the second novel from Sydney-based writer, Amanda Ortlepp (Claiming Noah). It’s also an intense mystery that stars a strong woman named Erin Travers. She is a lady that has packed up her life and two teenage sons into a car and travelled from NSW to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia in order to leave an abusive relationship. It’s a relevant and timely story that offers some real food for thought in our contemporary society where prejudice is common and domestic violence figures are high.

Ortlepp has done an excellent job of creating a complex story that is almost like an onion. It’s a slow and nuanced tale that reveals Travers’ narrative little-by-little as well as the troubling events that occur in the small and sleepy close-knit town of Mallee Bay, which is known for its oyster farming. Ortlepp writes well and offers very descriptive prose and rich characterisation of the Travers family and their neighbours, Jono and Helen. But while there is some darkness and drama to the story, there are some points where it is a little too slowly paced to retain the reader’s attention and the ending was far too rushed.

Running Against The Tide is a realistic book that will have readers wanting to know what actually happened and who’s responsible for some troubling events in the town (like arson and theft). It’s a story that will keep you on your toes and leave you guessing as prejudices and fractured relationships are the order of the day. It also means the reader’s own prejudices will colour their view and interpretation of this Aussie whodunit. Clever 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-running-against-the-tide

DVD REVIEW: EFFIE GRAY

effie gray review dakota

 

Euphemia “Effie” Gray was once a woman stuck between a rock and a hard place. This free-spirited, Scottish lady was living in Victorian times and was trapped in a loveless and sexless marriage to a renowned art critic named John Ruskin. Divorce was not an option for Gray but despite this, she managed to find the strength and resolve to overcome the situation. The story itself is inspiring and interesting enough, but this film fails to do it all justice.

The film, Effie Gray was written by Emma Thompson who is known for her acting as well as having won an Oscar for writing the 1995 film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. In this latest offering, she chooses to adapt real-life events about Ruskin and Gray. It’s a bizarre love triangle and a tragic tale if there ever was one.

The story goes that Ruskin (played by Thompson’s real-life husband,Greg Wise) fell in love with Gray when she was 12 but they waited until she was 20 before they married. He was charming at first but his demeanour soon changed and he became a cold and distant mummy’s boy not long after they exchanged vows. He was also so repulsed by Gray’s naked form on their wedding night (there are different theories about why this was the case but no definitive conclusion) and this meant that the pair were married for six years but never actually consummated their relationship.

Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning in her most mature role to date) was a strong woman in a terrible situation. She was helped by her friendship to the warm and supportive Lady Eastlake (Thompson). (SPOILER ALERT) Gray eventually seeks an annulment of the doomed marriage on the grounds it was never consummated. She also falls in love with the painter, John Millais (Tom Sturridge). Gray and Millais marry and the pair have eight children together. It’s a nice end to a bitter and twisted tale.

Effie Gray is a slow and meandering period drama that features some solid performances from its cast. It’s also a dry look at a notorious love triangle and a Victorian scandal (things that scream “interesting”). The story itself is a fascinating one and the film is beautifully-shot, but it is ultimately let down by issues with its execution. It means this is one wasted opportunity because what could have been a strong and atmospheric drama about a woman who overcomes cruelty, indifference and psychological abuse, seems instead to be as hum-drum and cold as Messer John Ruskin himself.

Originally published on 18 September 2015 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/dvd-review-effie-gray-uk-2014/

Visit The Iris’ homepage at: http://iris.theaureview.com/

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BOOK REVIEW: SUSAN JOHNSON – THE LANDING

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In Susan Johnson’s latest novel, The Landing, the journalist and writer shows that she is very accomplished at her craft. Johnson has a way with words and the ability to observe and write about things that other people take for granted. The only problem is that this slow-burning, nuanced book could do with some improvements to the structure to ensure it is a tighter and more cohesive read overall.

The novel begins when we are introduced to Jonathan Lott, a man whose wife of decades has left him for another woman. The blurb even imitates Jane Austen by asking the following question: “Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife?” Lott has returned to the coastal Queensland town of The Landing, where a tight-knit community of eccentrics like to know everything about each other’s business.

The other characters in the book are Penny Collins, a divorced art teacher who is forced to care for her elderly French mother, Marie after the latter is kicked out of her umpteenth nursing home. Penny’s daughter, Scarlett is also causing problems because she ran off with an older man and is now a mother to two young children. There is also a neighbour named Gordie and his adult daughter, Anna who has returned home and leaves a trail of broken marriages in her wake. There is also a seven-year-old named Giselle who likes caring for young children even though she is quite young and innocent herself.

These characters are all quite different and quirky and some will resonate more with different readers than others. At times Johnson’s writing style is very reminiscent of the UK TV series, The Office in that it revels in everyday life situations and occasionally makes funny and pithy observations amidst monotony and tedium. This will be a joy for some readers while others will find the pacing a tad too slow and boring, while the large cast can also makes things feel rather disjointed, lightweight and incohesive at times.

Susan Johnson has a keen eye for writing about relationships and family dramas as well as adding in some interesting and wry observations. Her book is a quaint and easy read that feels rather honest and relatable in parts. While it is by no means perfect it does manage to charm readers with the adventures of a bunch of small-town eccentrics and their seemingly quiet and ordinary private lives.

***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/landing/9497046

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