BOOK REVIEW: J.C. GREY – LOST GIRL

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Lost Girl is like a gift wrapped up in an enigma, topped off by a riddle. The novel is a wistful romance by J.C. Grey. It is a first person narrative where the titular character is the narrator. What ensues is a dark and mysterious novel filled with love, loss and heartbreak.

To outsiders, Emerald Reed-McAllister has it all. She’s the “it” girl around town. A successful model and stylist, she’s nabbed herself an adoring and clever husband in the form of a sexy man named Marc McAllister. But all is not as it seems. Em is the kind of girl who runs away from her problems and they don’t get much bigger than the one she suddenly finds herself in the middle of.

So Em seeks sanctuary in the form of a strange, old house named Lammermoor. This building has had a chequered history to say the least. Some of its previous inhabitants have been subjected to unfortunate accidents or other inexplicable things. The locals are scared and convinced that the place is haunted. Em is encouraged to leave but she wants to fix the place up and remains steadfast in her plans.

Over the course of the novel we learn more about the house as well as Em’s own history and the nature of her relationship with Marc and his family. The prose is well-written and nicely-paced and overall it is a rather clever, romantic mystery. The beginning is a bit of a slow burn as things are put into place and the alternating timelines can jar a little bit but if you can see past these things you will be rewarded with an intriguing and extraordinary novel. This book is so much more than your average love story, it’s ultimately a mysterious and atmospheric look at the past and it proves that some relationships are in fact, built to last.

 

***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-lost-girl#comment-286418

BOOK REVIEW: DR HELENA POPOVIC – NEUROSLIMMING

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We live in an obesogenic environment. It’s a world of fast living, sedentary jobs and leisure activities, labour-saving devices, and an overabundance of cheap, accessible, energy-dense, nutrient poor, highly-processed foods. It’s also an environment where a growing majority of people are overweight or obese and those who succeed in shedding weight will often find themselves regaining it (and possibly more) in the 12 months after the fact.

NeuroSlimming looks to address some of these problems and get people to really stop and think about how and why they eat, rather than getting too hung up on what they consume.

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/223334

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BOOK REVIEW: DAVID M. BARNETT – CALLING MAJOR TOM

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Major Tom may have been a junkie in David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” but in David M. Barnett’s book he’s just grumpy, old curmudgeon. The book is the first humorous one to be written by Barnett, an English journalist and author of the Gideon Smith series. Calling Major Tom is a fantastic book, a heart-warming and funny read with a fabulous premise and a cast of interesting characters and it’s also one that would appeal to fans of Ben Elton and Graeme Simsion.

The story requires some large suspensions of disbelief. These are namely that an unlikely, anti-social astronaut by the name of Thomas Major would a) mistakenly telephone a dysfunctional family from Wigan in Manchester and b) continue to interact with them on subsequent calls as he continues his voyage to Mars. If the reader can get past this then they are in for an excellent kind of space oddity.

Barnett does a superb job with his character development. He tells the back story of Thomas Major through a series of flashbacks where we learn about a number of the tragedies the star endured. These events helped shape Tom into the difficult and unlikely astronaut for the British Space Agency he ultimately would become. Originally the role of astronaut on the first solo mission to Mars to set up colonies was to go to another man but after he dies Tom seizes the opportunity to leave earth forever. The press love that Tom is in the role because it is shortly after the death of David Bowie and they love the idea that another “Major Tom” is floating in a tin can in space.

The other characters in this book are the Ormerod family. They are led by Grandma Gladys who is fiercely loyal about protecting her grandchildren but unfortunately also seems to be suffering from dementia. The latter individuals include Ellie, a strong young woman who is trying to keep her family together after her mother died and her father was sent to prison. There is also the young and clever James who is bullied by some young thugs at school. The Ormerod family manage to forge a connection with Major Tom and they make him realise how much more the earth has to offer him.

Calling Major Tom is an uplifting and unique book about friendships, memories and sadness. It finds the right balance between light comedy and heartfelt sentiment while also containing a swag bag of pop culture references. David M. Barnett’s book Calling Major Tom could be an early contender for best novel of 2017 because it proves that there is so much more to life on Mars.

 

***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/29547280-calling-major-tom

BOOK REVIEW: LEE ZACHARIAH – DOUBLE DISSOLUTION – HEARTBREAK & CHAOS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

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The combination of a political analysis and a memoir about the dissolution of a marriage could be considered similar to oil and water.  But in the hands of Australian author, Lee Zachariah, this book is quite a funny and rather seamless slice of gonzo journalism. Zachariah draws parallels between the Liberal party’s entry into office in 2013 and his marriage to his girlfriend as well as the aftermath of 2016, which saw Australians starring down the barrel of an uncertain election and Zachariah also facing an ambiguous future with respect to his relationship and life in general.

Double Dissolution is based around Zachariah’s series of articles for Vice Magazine about the 2016 Election, although none of his pieces are included here. Instead, diarised accounts of the highways, bad coffee and campaign bus are included as well as vox pops and interviews with volunteers, voters and politicians like: Greens senator, Sarah Hanson-Young and senator and leader of his own political party, Nick Xenophon. This book is pitched at all readers with political fans being able to enjoy the commentary while those less enamoured with politics can at least get enough context to understand Zachariah’s perspectives and encounters with those vying for power. Zachariah does a fabulous job of this, providing just enough information to be educational while never being dry or boring.

Some of the funniest parts of this book are Zachariah’s little asides and extra thoughts that can be found in the footnotes. He draws parallels between what is transpiring before him and various slices of pop culture. These links are never forced or tenuous. Zachariah has previously cut his teeth on TV shows like The Chaser’s Hamster Wheel and Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell and he certainly knows how to craft and tell an entertaining yarn or ten.

Double Dissolution is not the most deep or comprehensive look at Australian politics or the 2016 federal election and nor does it purport to be. Instead it is perhaps the most entertaining look at these topics. Zachariah is an interesting, gonzo character and his perspectives and commentary are quite intelligent and well-put. Perhaps this foray onto the campaign trail will see Zachariah run for office some day? Because as this book proves, he can’t be as bad as what we’ve previously had!

 

***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/double-dissolution/10478633/

BOOK REVIEW: MARGOT LEE SHETTERLY – HIDDEN FIGURES – THE STORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WHO HELPED WIN THE SPACE RACE

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For too long the African-American women who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, a precursor to NASA) were missing from the history books. Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures, and the Oscar-nominated film of the same name are poised to redress this problem and give recognition where it’s due. The story is an important and inspirational one, exposing how these women overcame racism and sexism to play their own significant roles in the U.S. space race.

 

To read the rest of this review please visit the following website: http://magazine.100percentrock.com/reviews/book-reviews/201702/221784

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

 

DVD REVIEW: CAFE SOCIETY

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It seems that La La Land is not the only film to look affectionately at some halcyon days in Hollywood. Woody Allen’s Café Society manages to do this as well as celebrating the jazzy nightlife of New York. This is a light yet fun film that is like a love letter to old money and its trappings, even though it is set in the thirties, a time where most would normally stop and think about the Great Depression.

Café Society once again sees the famed director doubling as the film’s narrator. It is also brimming with the kind of witty repartee that Allen and his work have become synonymous with. It also finds time for some navel gazing, posing some existential questions and sticking the knife into organised religion. This is a funny and romantic story but in true Allen fashion, it’s one that rules with the head rather than the heart.

Jesse Eisenberg does his best Woody Allen impression and stars as Bobby, a kid with stars in his eyes. He is seduced by Hollywood’s bright lights and leaves his family behind for L.A. Steve Carrell is a Hollywood heavyweight and Bobby’s Uncle Phil. The latter takes pity on his nephew and offers the boy some work doing odd job at the company he owns.

Bobby initially enjoys the girls, glamour and debauchery of la la land but eventually he comes to see through it all. He realises that a lot of it is excess, fakery and vanity. This sentiment is shared by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart who actually cracks a smile for once and puts in a decent performance.) The chemistry between these former cast mates is quite obvious and really makes the romance seem plausible.

The two youngsters bond over a mutual love of Mexican food. Vonnie initially plays her cards close to her chest because she’s intelligent and street-smart and because she has an elusive boyfriend she started dating shortly before meeting Bobby. The latter was always going to be hooked on his Uncle’s secretary, he was smitten early on and it’s almost inevitable that he will have his heart broken.

Eventually Bobby returns to New York to work with his gangster brother in a nightclub. It’s here that he meets a divorcee (a fresh-faced and bubbly, Blake Lively.) A new romance blossoms but this bliss doesn’t last for long because Vonnie soon visits New York and the club with another unwelcome visitor in tow.

Café Society celebrates style, youth and beauty. It’s a rather flimsy, predictable and lightweight film but it’s also one that offers enjoyment in spades thanks to its beautifully-shot scenes and witty dialogue. This is a look at a rich part of America in the thirties and it shows where professional dreams can clash with romance (although this is nothing new.) This is the sort of film that will not profoundly affect you but one where you can sit back, relax and enjoy as a sort of date with the society set with all of the trimmings.

 

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website: http://www.impulsegamer.com/cafe-society-dvd-review/

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DVD REVIEW: INDIGNATION

indignation

 

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/

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THEATRE REVIEW: DOGFIGHT THE MUSICAL @ LEND LEASE DARLING QUARTER

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Dogfight The Musical is not designed to be safe or comfortable viewing, but it’s certainly a visceral experience.

The stage show is an adaption of the 1991 Warner Bros. film with the original screenplay by Bob Comfort and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. In the hands of the Blackout Theatre Company, it’s a production that will reverberate with you and make you stop and think.

The story is about a group of entitled and testosterone-fuelled young marines in San Francisco, who decide to spend their final 24 hours before deployment (they will eventually go to fight in Vietnam) with some partying and casual cruelty. The group engage in a dogfight, a bet where winnings are awarded to the guy who brought the ugliest date along (this is often unbeknownst to the poor, unsuspecting females).

Jenna Woolley is fabulous as Rose Fenny, a plain, idealistic and unsophisticated waitress. She is roped into this game – her first party nonetheless – by an inept, young hothead named Eddie Birdlace (Ryan Henderson). The latter eventually has some reservations about what he has done but it seems his fraternity of brothers – dubbed the Three Bs – wins out for the most part. At least he spends part of the second act trying to be sensitive and make amends for his wrongdoings and he does receive some form of comeuppance in the end.

The Blackout Theatre troupe features a bunch of very talented youngsters in the starring and ensemble roles (Brendon D’Souza is hilarious as a flamboyant lounge singer, Briony Burnes is a spirited Marcy while Jed Arthur makes a rather cheeky rapscallion in Bernstein). The cast’s voices are all wonderful and pitch-perfect, and these capture the musical score that borrows from ’60s pop, folk, rockabilly and the vocal groups of the era.

The musical numbers are true to the period and are also quite emotional and evocative. At times these seem to take precedence over the dialogue in the scenes.

The costumes by Brooke Clark are excellent and there was a clever use of props for the different scene transitions.

All of these ingredients make for a show that’s disarmingly bold and brutal at moments, as well as thought-provoking and wistful at other times. Dogfight is very much a product of the time it’s trying to evoke, because it highlights the gender stereotypes and machismo that are synonymous with old-school institutions like the armed forces. It’s an important story that is well-rendered here, because at the end of the day it shows that this rose by any other name or situation can prove to be just as sweet.

 

Originally published on 9 February 2017 at the following website: http://scenestr.com.au/news/arts/dogfight-the-musical-lendlease-darling-quarter-theatre-review-20170209

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FILM REVIEW: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB

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A Street Cat Named Bob is the heart-warming and feel-good true story about a young and homeless recovering drug addict living in London with his cat.

James Bowen (played here by the occasionally whiny Luke Treadaway) is down on his luck, busking in Covent Garden and living in public housing until a chance meeting with a ginger tomcat changes his life. The pair become inseparable, with Bob the cat sitting by James’ side as he faces up to his heroin and methadone habits, becomes a Big Issue seller and looks to turn his life around.

Bob plays himself in the film (along with some stunt cats), and he steals the show. Cat enthusiasts will love the fact he has many close-ups and mishaps to enjoy, and that scenes are even shot from his perspective at times.

A Street Cat Named Bob is not a particularly gritty film, but it does include some funny moments and some interesting and well-realised dramatic subplots with James’ estranged father (Anthony Head) and a fun but contrived romance with his kooky vegan neighbour (Ruta Gedmintas).

A Street Cat Named Bob is a Hollywood take on addiction, for James’ struggles are often downplayed in service of getting the story moving. But if you can overlook this sanitation, and you’re after a film about hope, companionship and redemption, then this biopic ticks many of the right boxes.

 

Originally published on 7 February 2017 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/arts/street-cat-named-bob

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FILM REVIEW: WINTER AT WESTBETH

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Winter at Westbeth is a film that’s all about “the art.” And celebrating it at every age. This documentary looks at three young at heart, elderly, American artists who live in a vibrant, housing complex called Westbeth Artists Housing in New York. It is ultimately a film that is like a love letter to the power of creativity and pursuing your passion.

The three subjects of this film are all aged 75 years and older. There is Edith Stephen, a former danced turned filmmaker, Ilsa Gilbert, an author of vivid poetry and the late Dudley Williams, a man who performed modern dance with Martha Graham. The three show no signs of retiring or slowing down, they still doggedly pursue their creative endeavours and the things that make them happy. It’s an uplifting message and something that we can all take a little something away from.

The film does have its light moments, like when Stephen applies her green eyeshadow on camera but it also doesn’t shy away from showing some more complex and even dark emotions. Williams describes caring for his late partner and these scenes are both heart-breaking and profound. It’s a testament to filmmaker and cinematographer, Rohan Spong that he has forged a highly personal connection with his subjects and that he brings out the best from his on-screen talent in their talking head interviews. It’s also commendable that he invites the audience into a world where these artists are still vital and relevant and worthy of our respect and admiration.

Winter at Westbeth is a fine, fly-on-the-wall documentary that will inspire us all to leave behind the daily grind and go and live in a creative hotspot like Greenwich Village because it’s a place where artists are supported by the community and a place where they can offer so much more in return. This is one beautifully-realised film that showcases three unique souls and artists and one that manages to capture their essence in a truly joyful and life-affirming way. Utterly charming!

 

Originally published on 6 February 2017 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/film-review-winter-at-westbeth-australia-2016-is-a-love-letter-to-the-power-of-creativity-pursuing-your-passion/

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