Category Archives: Reviews.

Take This Waltz: Variations on Indie Nothingness

“Why is my life, like, so, like, you know?”

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman

Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley (from Away With Her fame) has delivered to us yet another quirky, Indie flick about a lost, charming girl, her adorable husband, and the hunky man who threatens to take her heart. Probably don’t bother with this film. Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married to her adoring, teddy-bear-like husband Lou (Seth Rogan), however, their relationship has turned into a cuddly comfort rather than the electrifying lust of a new romance. Insert Prince Charming. Daniel (Luke Kirby) is the mysterious and good-looking neighbour who swoons in with all the right words at the right time.

Margot and Luke have intense chemistry, – there is one particular scene where Luke describes in detail all the romantic and sexual things he could do to her and I swear I could hear the women in the audience clutch their pearls and fan themselves – and this chemistry threatens to break the happy and comfortable foundation Margot and Lou have created for themselves. Margot has to make the decision to stay with the familiarity and tenderness of her husband Lou, or to cut off her comfort and embrace the sparks of a new relationship.

The movie sounds set up for a fairly decent, intriguing love triangle, right? Well, yes and no. First of all, Michelle Williams gives it her best shot with our completely two-dimensional and frankly boring protagonist, Margot. The beginning of the film has a lot of hope for this character: she’s perfectly normal rather than your typical, beautiful, bird-like heroine, so before she even opens her mouth, women can relate to her. She’s fresh-faced without makeup, untouched hair and wears ordinary clothes. And yet, somehow, Sarah Polley has managed to indulge in an overly clichéd, struggling, eccentric-gal routine, with some of Margot’s quirks including being wheeled around airports in a wheelchair (even though she can walk perfectly fine), peeing in public swimming pools and generally being a cutesie, bubbly, baby-talking wifey.

Whenever Polley fails to deliver decent, in-depth dialogue, Williams has to resort to looking sad at the camera while soft folk music plays in the background. However, when she’s not staring off into a metaphorical void, she attempts to show the curious emotion on her character’s face through an impressive range of facial twitches and wild bursts of hysterical laughter. On a more positive note, the most stellar performances come from the comedic actors Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, with Rogan giving the most heart-breaking, tear-jerking scene in the whole movie. His entire character is completely endearing and likeable but most importantly, he’s believable.

Having only seen Seth Rogan play a burnt-out pothead or a struggling comedian, I was surprised to see such an honest and brutal performance from him. His character saved the film for me when I no longer cared for Margot’s outcome in life and instead I wanted to know more about him and what he was going to do. The same goes for Silverman’s character, Geraldine, who is Lou’s sister and a recovering alcoholic who delivers some serious truth-bombs to Margot. One of the most memorable lines in the films comes from Geraldine when she earnestly tells Margot, “Life has a gap in it…It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.” Damn straight.

Our man-candy, Luke (Kirby), didn’t do too bad of a job either; even though his character was a little clichéd – laid-back artist who doesn’t like to showcase his work, like, sooo dreamy right? – he still managed to be likeable and relatable. It was just Margot that I wanted to throttle. A little harsh, I know, but see it for yourself and you can decide. Or, just see it for the full-frontal naked scene with Michelle Williams. Whatever. In all, the movie had all the ingredients for a half-decent, enjoyable Indie film: great cast, well shot, interesting plot, “complex” characters etc., but it still failed to deliver anything with any heart or meaning. I predict that Take This Waltz will fall into art-house obscurity, or will be loved by hipster high-school girls. Shame.

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A Nostalgic Review: Stasiland by Anna Funder

Image from Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

I miss Germany. I miss Berlin and my family, the cobbled streets, the miserable looking people with funny accents, the cold and the damp. I miss the culture, the tainted history and the anxiety of adventure.

I first picked up a copy of Stasiland by Anna Funder when I’d just settled back into normal life at home after three months of back packing around Europe. The book was unbelievable, and I connected with it on so many levels: my admiration of Anna Funder living in East Berlin, speaking the language and tracing people’s lives; the streets and train stations I had only just been wandering through weeks before; and the shock of a history that is so close to my heart, and yet still so alien.

As a piece of creative non-fiction, the writer Anna Funder does a fantastic job of mixing the elements of story telling with a heavy-handed topic of German history, while using a deeply personal tone throughout. Every time I picked up the book, I would be transported back to the streets of Berlin, while learning the sad history that is almost never spoken about and completely unacknowledged. My family were lucky enough to be living in West Berlin when the wall came up, but they would always tell me stories of people doing all that they could, risking their lives, to go over the wall from East Berlin, over into the West. Stasiland is a grave, honest depiction of what life was like living in East Berlin before the wall came down: how there was no privacy, your lives would be tracked down to the finest tee. How even in a European culture, hundreds would be slaughtered or tortured for saying what was on their minds by the sheer dogmatism of the Stasi police, those involved who truly believed in the cause.

What makes this book so special, is how Funder manages to intersperse the lives of others and their stories, with her own personal journey of writing the book and researching into an abandoned past. On page 54, for example:

“The next day the phone calls start very early in the morning. I hadn’t thought it through – I hadn’t imagined what it would be like to have a series of military types, who had lost their power and lost their country call you up at home.” (Funder 2002. 54)

She makes the other people’s stories incredibly personal so that the reader is able to relate to the person and feel incredibly empathetic towards them. I found myself getting so caught up in the book, while also learning about a group of people, and a part of history I was ill informed about. That is a very powerful tool of creative non-fiction: to be able to tell a deeply enriching story while teaching the reader something new and important.

What I loved about the book was how much detail and honesty she allocated to each person’s story. She interviewed a range of people who lived in the Stasi state, from those who were captured for trying to escape, to those who perpetuated the ideologies of the government. I found it very brave of Funder to write about issues such as these, especially coming from a non-German perspective, as this kind of very recent history has somewhat been swept under the rug. My uncle Wolfgang once told me that Germany was in “very dark times” back then, and it still amazes me that Berlin and Germany was ever like that.

The entire time I was reading the book, I kept feeling so grateful to be living in a country where I am free to do as I please. Stasiland puts you in the heart of the Stasi state, and allows you to walk in the shoes of those under that kind of oppression. It made me speculate on how this kind of thing could happen, how easily a government will take military control over a nation of people under their misguided or warped ideals. Sarah Coleman, the associate editor of The Worldpress Review, conducted an interview with Funder in 2003. In response to a question about what moved her so much about the first story Funder uncovered – Miriam Webster, a teenage girl who was put in prison after she tried to escape, and later lost her husband to likely torture by the Stasi – Funder responded:

“I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression—when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspiring. I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have.” (Funder, 2003)

I can confidently say that this book changed my world thinking as a writer. I was always so sure that I wanted to write about stories or issues in such a way that makes is appealing to the masses, something that people will want to read. This book made me lean more comfortably towards the path of creative non-fiction, whether I write a book of my own or continue with my blog posts and articles, I want to write something powerful and evoking. This book has made me want to write about topics that people either don’t know about, or have been forgotten, for example, those who are still struggling to savage a normal life after the horrors of the 1991 Bosnian war. As a writer, I want to give a voice to those women in Bosnia who were repeatedly raped during the war, or the children of those rape victims. I’ve recently gone through a stark shift in how I see the world, and Stasiland certainly sparked that shift. More than anything, it angers me that we don’t talk about these kinds of issues, and that’s something that I want changed in our thinking.

The atrocities of mankind can only plunder ever forward into yet more horrific realms, if we stand back and idly forget our past and do nothing. Anna Funder gave a voice to the voiceless, and has made me determined to do the same thing.

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This is a fantastic blog which I might be addicted to. I’ve learned so much about the world and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
This post is awesome too – lomography outside Instagram ooh!

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Review: Snakadaktal and Alison Wonderland @ Villa Nightclub Friday 30th March

I hate clubs. Without a doubt every dirty club I’ve managed to stumble in has been overflowing with the following elements: that drunk girl sobbing her heart out on the pavement outside because he-didn’t-call-me-and-why-doesn’t-he-love-me-and-am-I-pretty? Before then throwing up onto her “friend’s” shoes who’s desperately trying to calm her down while secretly hoping he’s going to get a gobby that night. I then proceed to walk in and am bumped into by sweaty sixteen-year-old boys in basketball v-neck t-shirts, who apologise for spilling their slush-bucket-mohito drink down my dress. As I squeeze my way through the smoky dance-floor (smoky due to the tacky fog-machine and the collective stale breath of screaming eighteen-year-olds) I’m stabbed repeatedly in the feet by the torturous stilettos of a thousand booty-shaking girls. Until, finally I’ve arrived at the side stage where I’m able to stand relatively peacefully until a line of pissed blokes try to determine whether I’m a guy or not before shamelessly hitting on me.

And that’s just at Villa. After waiting a solid twenty minutes to order my vodka and tonic, I finally get to relax a little and watch a handful of genuinely trendy teenagers make some seriously beautiful music. Snakadaktal are a five-piece indie-pop band from Melbourne who were made famous by that one song played on Triple J incessantly. Last year, they won the Unearthed High competition and have since recorded an EP, made some groovy YouTube videos and have this year been touring around Australia pleasing peoples eardrums with their delightful tunes. Like 99 per cent of the crowd I had rocked up to the gig knowing only that one song , and was pleasantly surprised when they began the set with dancey-pop tunes and very mature harmonies. I noticed among the skinny, flannel-clad hipsters with who were stealthily stealing drinks (standard club move; we’ve all been there) that everyone was happily bobbing their heads along to the droning beat of synthesised pop which sounded very familiar to Foals last album.

The band themselves were having a great time dancing bare-footed and glittered on stage producing song after song of tight, well-written material. As always the drummer was having the most fun bashing awkwardly away at the drums which seemed too small for him, reminding me of the gawky boys in high school who’d shot up in year eleven and hadn’t quite gotten used to their long arms and tall frames. The crowd woo-hoo’d and yippee’d when the band finally played Air – their song made famous on Triple J, and the band clearly loved the feel of a roomful of people singing along in jumbled unison to their lyrics. At every pause and new song I was honestly surprised at how grown-up and professional these kids were, every song being perfect to the tee and producing sounds that I can confidently say I did not hate. Despite my sarcasm and genuine contempt for everything, I can’t stress enough how good this band was. You can find their delicious tunes on the Unearthed website or good ol’ fashioned Myspace.

At 1am Sydney DJ Alison Wonderland boogied her way onto the stage in her six-inch, killer heals, and immediately started producing some funky beats interspersed with the odd Daft Punk chorus and Beastie Boys tune. Despite her freakish energy, I was in no way feeling up to sticking around for another 2 hours to watch the set, but I’m guessing it was much of a muchness. My friend and I walked home after stopping off in a dirty Maccas with our ears ringing, our dresses sticky with alco-pops and the satisfaction of a good night.

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