FILM REVIEW: THROUGH THE REPELLENT FENCE: A LAND ART FILM

 

As Donald Trump continues promoting his idea of building a wall between the US and Mexico it’s heartening to see that there are some people taking a different approach. Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film is a documentary about a land art installation that attempted to reinforce the notion that borders are an arbitrary idea and that some fences cannot divide people. This is ultimately an insightful and hopeful tale about an important and relevant issue in politics.

This film is directed by Sam Wainwright Douglas who made the 2016 SXSW Audience Award winning documentary, Honky Tonk Heaven. In Through The Repellent Fence, Douglas follows an inter-disciplinary artist/activist collective named Post-Commodity. The group is made up of three Native Americans: Cristóbal Martínez (Chicano), Kade L. Twist (Cherokee) and Raven Chacon (Navajo) as they go through the process with the help of some volunteers of assembling the land art installation, The Repellent Fence.

This artwork was a 2m long installation that ran perpendicular to the US/Mexico border for four days in 2015. It consisted of 28 large, helium-filled balloons. Half of these spanned communities in the US and the other half spanned communities in Mexico. It was designed as a way of reflecting on why some people attempt to create artificial barriers. It also tried to suture together all of the different communities that it touched.

The balloons in this installation were a play on the ones that are sold and used by people to keep birds out of their gardens. These balloons feature a symbol called the “open eye” and they don’t always work at keeping these creatures away. In the context of the artwork, the balloons are symbolic of the previous acts that were taken out in order to marginalise, repel and destroy the culture of the indigenous people living within and beyond the different country’s borders in the Americas. In using the image of the “open eye” these indigenous artists were seeking to reclaim their own iconography and make this a piece of land art that was very much rooted in a tribal context.

This documentary also includes some information about land art in general and gives a brief history of this art movement that really only began in the 1950s and 1960s. There are scenes showing Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. There are also interviews with art writer Lucy Lippard and Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. We also follow Chris Taylor from Texas Tech University as he – like the other participants – gives context, history and other information about these incredible land art installations.

The Repellent Fence is a film with an important message and one that seems to become more urgent through these fearful times. It observes how we should all collaborate and work together with the land and not attempt to control people, nature and other things. This film is ultimately a warm, inspiring and feel-good documentary about what can happen when individuals come and work together to restore power to the people.

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

Originally published on 12 March 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/sxsw-film-review-through-the-repellent-fence-usa-2017-uses-art-to-make-an-important-political-statement/

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BOOK REVIEW: EMILY REYNOLDS – A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR MIND

 

English freelance journalist Emily Reynolds was a teenager when she first developed bipolar disorder. It proved a hard diagnosis because it took around a decade of visits to health-care professionals and a cocktail of different medications in order to settle on the right ones. While on this journey, Reynolds researched and read the books that were available about mental illness, but she was unable to find one that resonated with her own unique condition. A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind is a result of Reynolds filling this gap.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201703/225677

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DVD REVIEW: FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

florencefoster

 

Meryl Streep is no stranger to singing. The loveable actress has sung pop on the silver screen in Mamma Mia! and was recently a rock chick in Ricki and the Flash. In Florence Foster Jenkins Meryl puts in a fabulous performance by singing opera but doing so badly. It’s one of those things where the singing is so bad it’s almost good but unfortunately this sentiment does not apply to this uneven, dramedy biopic.

On paper, Florence Foster Jenkins should be great. The film is written by Nicholas Martin (Midsomer Murders) and is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen.) Florence Foster Jenkins stars Streep as the eponymous star who is based on a real-life diva and larger-than-life eccentric (who already inspired the French film Marguerite.) The charming Hugh Grant plays Jenkins’ second husband, St Clair Bayfield and Simon Helberg plays Cosmé McMoon, the mortified accompanist piano player to the “alleged” soprano singer.

This is a film that sounds good but it’s too uneven in tone to really cut through. It’s a story that oscillates between drama and farce, a mix that is similar to oil and water. It’s also a film where you want to feel for Jenkins because she can be generous and philanthropic, and she suffered from deafness due to treatments she received for syphilis (an illness her first husband gave her.) But you can’t help but laugh at how crazy and disillusioned she is. It’s hard as a viewer to grasp what the true message of this film is, should we believe that it is to dream big and be persistent because then one day you could realise that fantasy of playing Carnegie Hall; or should we think that Jenkins should be delegated to some corner somewhere and we can revel in the fact that her husband is a philandering younger bloke?

The setting for this film is at least captured perfectly. The costumes are sumptuous and the buildings are gorgeous and are appropriate for New York socialites in the 1940s. A lot of attention was paid to the props and settings as well as Streep’s warbling, as the featurette reveals that she had to be just slightly out of tune in order to capture Jenkins’s true singing style. The other special features are adequate and include information about the setting, designing the look and the film’s world premiere.

It’s obvious that Florence Foster Jenkins is an eager and enthusiastic woman but this film – like her singing – is far from pitch perfect. The biopic is a warm story that tries too hard to be funny and dramatic and in the end neither of these threads work particularly well. There are some charming performances and the setting may be gorgeous, but the best this film can hope for is offering some people a pleasant viewing experience because it will hardly make you want to sing while you’re winning.

Originally published on 01 November 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/florence-foster-jenkins-dvd-review/

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BOOK REVIEW: MICHELINE LEE – THE HEALING PARTY

healingparty

 

Micheline Lee’s debut novel, The Healing Party is so intense and personal, it almost feels like a memoir. The story is about a dying mother and how her evangelical, Christian family rally around to support her while they wait for God to grant them all a miracle. The book is ultimately quite a rich and complex one about grief, hope, faith and love.

The story’s narrator is Natasha Chan, a creative 25-year-old who was raised as a Christian Charismatic. The devotees of this particular religious order pray, preach, sing and speak in tongues. Once Natasha finished high school she became estranged from her family and fled from Melbourne to Darwin. While she is spiritual in a new age sense, she rejected the faith that she was brought up to believe as gospel.

Natasha receives a phone call from her elder sister Anita that will change her life. Their mother has been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Natasha said she would return to Melbourne immediately to face her family and the conflicted emotions she had about individual members and their obedient senses of faith.

The Chan family is made up of the strong and steely mother, Irene, who is adored by many for being straightforward and a natural beauty. There is her husband, Paul, a convert to the Charismatic faith and one enthusiastic and unrelenting devotee. He is also an intense artist, manipulator and womaniser. It is hard for Chan’s daughters to reconcile all of these contradictory elements to his personality and Natasha finds this the most difficult of all. The Chan girls are made up of the bossy elder sister, Anita, the fanatical, Maria and the reserved and anorexic, Patsy.

One day Paul Chan declares that he has received a message from the Lord. Irene will be healed of her cancer thanks to a miracle, provided that everyone believes and does not question this. The family plan a fabulous healing party with their friends in order to celebrate. But Natasha is left reeling, her relationship with her family was already quite fractured and fraught. She also can’t help but think that their belief in the miracle is a denial of the inevitability of death.

The Healing Party has gorgeous, evocative prose. Micheline Lee uses a deft hand to navigate some rather complicated topics and for the most part makes the story feel like a real emotional rollercoaster. While some readers may find the religious elements a tad over-bearing, preachy and tiresome, the story is ultimately a warm and raw reflection on some rather difficult subjects like death, dying and forgiveness.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer through a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28797084-the-healing-party

BOOK REVIEW: TONI JORDAN- OUR TINY, USELESS HEARTS

tonijordan

 

David Bowie may have sung about modern love but it is author, Toni Jordan that has written a book about it. Her fourth novel, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is set over the course of a single weekend in suburban Melbourne and it shows how three different relationships implode. This well-written and witty book is a fun and light read that is set in a kind of domestic chaos.

This novel is what you would get if you crossed Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with the works of Marian Keyes or P. G. Wodehouse. The story begins with the end of Caroline and Henry’s marriage. It’s an ugly event where a night-long screaming match ends with Caroline cutting out the crotches of her husband’s fine suits. She then follows him to Noosa where he has planned a holiday with his new flame, a schoolteacher named Martha.

Caroline and Henry are the parents of two precocious young girls (one of whom is taught by Martha). Their Aunty Janice is called in to babysit because she is the “sensible one,” or so it would seem. Janice is the story’s narrator and is a clever and witty scientist but she has also made some silly mistakes involving her own love life. She divorced the man she loves- the sweet and kind-hearted Alec and she did not divulge the true reasons for her change of heart. This is just one of the many secrets that are revealed in this novel. The other main characters are Caroline and Henry’s neighbours, the attractive but dumb, Craig and his self-absorbed artist wife, Lesley.

The characters in this novel are very flawed but for this reason the also seem very real and believable. Jordan has done an excellent job by providing rich characterisation, as the adults provide many moments of real humour as well as emotion and thoughtfulness. The whole experience is like being a fly-on-the-wall to the shenanigans that take place. Jordan expertly reveals each secret and lie from the past and tells these alongside the light of the present day, while also offering up some social observations about fertility, fidelity, parenting, sex and more.

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a warm and pithy take on modern romance. This Australian, domestic dramedy is an easy and enjoyable read. It’s ultimately a good satire based on love and marriage and a jaunty take on an institute you can’t disparage, lest you wind up being the star of a novel and the butt of a joke.

***Please note: a free copy of this book was won by the writer thanks to a Goodreads giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29285427-our-tiny-useless-hearts

BOOK REVIEW: QUINN, THE ROTTWEILER – A STORY OF A DOG DEALING WITH CANCER

quinn

 

Quinn, the Rottweiler- A Story of a Dog Dealing with Cancer is a charming little book about a beautiful canine. The story is told from Quinn the dog’s perspective and is a nice, feel-good tale in parts (at least when you consider Quinn enjoying his new and happy life with Maryly Turner and her pets). Quinn was originally named Chong and was forced to live outside or in a shed and was regularly chained up. But once he was adopted by Turner (after his previous owner could no longer care for him) his life took a turn for the better.

The story of Quinn leapt off the page. You could imagine this dog with a big smile on his face and wagging his tail as he enjoyed meeting new people and animals and sleeping on a warm bed, eating treats and going for rides in the car. It is sad that Maryly – who was recovering from cancer treatment at the time – would discover a lump on Quinn’s foot that would prove cancerous. We follow Quinn’s treatment as he has painful surgery and chemotherapy and we can feel real empathy for what he endures.

This book is ultimately a warm and big-hearted story that should help us understand our pets that little bit more. It’s a great tale that shows the power of family and family and their ability to help and support others, through the good times and the bad. Quinn is an inspirational character that at times reminded me of Oddball and he is one that readers will come to fall in love with.

***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/7543053-quinn-the-rottweiler

DVD REVIEW: THE FAMILY LAW

familylaw

 

For too long, Australian TV shows have been white-washed and white bread but a series like The Family Law looks poised to change all of that. The SBS dramedy feels authentic in its depiction of the Law family living in Queensland in the nineties. The show has real heart and it will make you laugh and it’s no surprise that it has become a swift favourite among viewers.

The program is an adaption of writer, Benjamin Law’s 2010 memoir of the same name. The TV series was also co-written with Marieke Hardy. It uses some of the vignettes from Law’s memoir where he describes growing up as a gay, Asian kid in Australia. The TV show also fashions it all into a cohesive whole by making it seem like it all took place over one long, hot Australian summer.

The six-part series is mostly told from Law’s perspective. He is a creative, enthusiastic and well-meaning middle child who is close to his large family, especially his mother. Here, Law is played by the well-cast, Trystan Go, whose acting credits include the theatrical production, The King & I. But one character’s star shines the brightest out of the Law family and that is Ben’s mother, Jenny (played by the wonderful, Fiona Choi). Jenny is the family matriarch and a rambunctious, eccentric and colourful character. Jenny can be inappropriate at times and a no-nonsense and kind woman at others. She also has no filter and has by far, some of the funniest lines.

The Law family also includes the hard-working father, Danny (Anthony Brandon Wong (who plays a villain in several Matrix films)). Danny is thrown-out of the Law house and is forced to sleep at the restaurant he owns. There are also Ben’s four siblings- Candy (Shuang Hu), Andrew (George Zhao), Tammy (Karina Lee) and Michelle (Vivian Wei). The show is a warm, relatable and amiable one that focuses on Ben’s teenage life- from aspirations of fame and entries into school talent quests, to his parent’s wedding anniversary and marriage break-up to family Christmases, engagements and visits from friends.

The special features are interesting and include a trailer as well as a series of featurettes where there are interviews with Law, the actors and director, Jonathan Brough  (It’s a Date, Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane). It is fascinating to learn that the production team went to great lengths to make the setting feel like a cosy, lived-in family home. Law referred to it as a “lasagne of shit” and this is particularly obvious in the mountains of laundry and family bric-a-brac. It’s also nice to see the real members of the Law family meeting their counterparts (they make a cameo in episode one which is lovely and rather funny).

The Family Law is a fun, Australian family show that expertly straddles the lines between drama and comedy. The show has some funny moments but it also doesn’t shy away from depicting some real drama and emotion. In all, this is a long-overdue program about a dysfunctional Asian family that everyone can enjoy thanks to its rich tapestry and depiction of modern Australian life that is full of off-beat irreverence and colourful shenanigans aplenty.

Originally published on 5 March 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/the-family-law-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: THE HECKLER

the heckler

 

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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BLU-RAY REVIEW: ODDBALL

oddball

 

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but a certain Maremma certainly got a new job in the small, Victorian town of Warrnambool. The Italian sheepdog was used to guard the town’s dwindling population of penguins. It was such a success it was declared a modern-day miracle or fairy-tale and the film Oddball tells this fascinating story in a pleasant but prosaic manner.

The film is the debut feature by veteran TV director, Stuart McDonald (who is best known for his work with Chris Lilley). The movie is loosely based on the real-life events that happened to an eccentric chicken farmer named Swampy Marsh, who is played here as a big, loveable teddy bear by Shane Jacobson (Kenny). It’s an interesting story but this film doesn’t always do it justice because at times it requires a large suspension of disbelief to get over all the plot contrivances and the very neatly stitched-together ending.

The wonderful, Sarah Snook plays Marsh’s daughter and a penguin conservationist. She injects some vital energy into the piece but at times is a tad underutilised. The same can also be said about the strange dog-catcher, the funny comedian, Frank Woodley and the town’s mayor, who is played by the delightful, Deborah Mailman. Marsh’s cute granddaughter Olivia is played by Coco Jack Gillies (Mad Max: Fury Road) and is a good sparring partner to her Pop.

The film is a little clumsy at times but it does tell the story of ten or so penguins who were living on Middle Island and how they needed help to stay alive so that the place could remain open as a sanctuary.  It was no mean feat as the population had been decimated from thousands to handfuls by rogue foxes. There were also other villains to be found, each possessing their own hidden agendas. But despite this, Oddball is a warm and likeable family fable.

The Blu-ray edition’s special features include five long featurettes. These look at the real Oddball and the Maremma shepherd dog in general. There is also lots of information about the penguins, the township of Warrnambool and the predators and pests we can count in Australia’s flora and fauna. These are very educational and include interviews with historians, conservationists and Warrnambool’s former town mayor. These could have been edited down a little as they do clock in at around the five hour mark in total and because some features include the same snippets of interviews as the previous ones, which can get a little tedious.

Oddball is a charming little Australian film about a photogenic dog and some pretty little penguins. The animals and the town absolutely shine and the photography of the 12 Apostles is exquisite. The actors mostly put in good performances (although occasionally these can be a little hammy) but they are let down at times by some problems with the script. In sum, this is a movie the family can enjoy because it’s a magical and positive tale about some admirable dogs who worked hard to save the sweet, local inhabitants of Middle Island. It’s good but the film is ultimately missing some magic pixie dust.

Originally published on 24 January 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/oddball-blu-ray-review/

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DVD REVIEW: LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX SEASON 3

Programme Name: Last Tango In Halifax Series 3 - TX: n/a - Episode: Last Tango In Halifax S3  (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Gillian (NICOLA WALKER), Celia (ANNE REID), Alan (DEREK JACOBI), Caroline (SARAH LANCASHIRE) - (C) Red Productions - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Photo by: Ben Blackall

 

The power of love is a curious thing, as the characters in the British television drama, “Last Tango In Halifax” know all too well. The show is set in the English countryside and features a strange, blended family of sorts. It also straddles the line between pure soap opera and realistic social observation about life, love, relationships, secrets and betrayal.

The series was written by Sally Wainwright who was inspired by the real-life events that occurred to her mother in finding and rekindling love at a ripe, old age. On TV, former childhood sweethearts Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) have lived full lives apart from one another. They spent over fifty years being married to other people and raising daughters. But one day luck intervenes when their respective grandsons set up Facebook profiles for their grandparents and the two reconnect and eventually rekindle the old spark.

In the third series the plots revolve around everyone’s relationships as well as some smoke and mirrors and skeletons being dragged out of the closet. At times it becomes quite complicated. Caroline’s (Sarah Lancashire) girlfriend, Kate (Nina Sosanya) is pregnant with the couple’s first child. The two really seem to be revelling in domestic bliss in this nuclear family with Caroline’s son. But tragedy strikes and Caroline is left in a tailspin.

Caroline’s step-sister, Gillian (Nicola Walker) isn’t fairing much better. She’s busy racking up notches on the bedpost with gusto as well as fielding marriage proposals. She accepts one from her former brother-in-law but as if that isn’t strange enough, there are further complications as he’s also the brother of the ex-husband she murdered. The oldies’ lives are similarly complex with Alan’s long-lost-lost son reappearing and threatening to jeopardise his father’s new relationship.

Last Tango In Halifax is well-acted and does have its moments where it manages to cover some important issues. But the writers made a huge mistake by eliminating a popular character this series and the subsequent episodes just plod along after the fact. The show is also incredibly white-washed and middle-class and this could leave some viewers wanting more. In all, it’s a rather warm family drama that does succeed at times by keeping the viewer guessing. But it also means it can be as messy and confusing as real life often is.

Originally published on 23 January 2016 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/last-tango-halifax-series-3-dvd-review/

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