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Our African Roots

Australian, Documentary, Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In the documentary, Our African Roots, author/journalist Santilla Chingaipe brings to life the stories and details of Australia’s Black African history. While everyone knows of the First Fleet, they may not be aware that there were at least ten men of African descent who arrived onboard in 1788.

This documentary, part of SBS’s Australia Uncovered series, highlights just a few people in our history who were of African heritage and how they have contributed to Australia’s history.

John Randall, John Caesar, William Blue, John Joseph, Fanny Finch, William Davies, and Ernest Toshack are a few people from Australia’s history who helped shape the country today. They are all of African descent and while many of us would not have heard the names before, this documentary highlights the struggles and accomplishments which they achieved in our history.

John Randall’s ability to hunt with a rifle set him apart from the local indigenous community. He could then be viewed as someone coming from being oppressed to being an oppressor. Slave and convict labour was very profitable, but in Australia, almost immediately, convicts began to resist. Our first convict bush ranger wasn’t Ned Kelly but John Caesar in 1789, but he wasn’t as highly celebrated as Ned Kelly simply because of his race. William (Billy) Blue is credited with creating the first licensed ferry service. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was friends with Billy and saw him as the ideal type of reformed convict.

The Eureka Rebellion in 1854 is a well-known event in Australian history. John Joseph allegedly fatally wounded the British officer who was leading the offensive. He was arrested and charged for high treason in Victoria’s Supreme Court but found not guilty. Fanny Finch was a single mother of four and the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election, on the 22nd of January, 1856. She was able to do this due to a loophole in the suffrage law which stated that any rate paying person was able to vote. The loophole was closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed into law, which marked the beginning of the White Australia policy. At a 1916 conscription rally, Billy Hughes says to go and fight for White Australia in France. While the enlistment laws stated that the person must be of European descent, because of high losses at war, race was ignored when people were enlisting. This is where William Davies goes to fight in Gallipoli. Ernest Toshack was a cricketer during 1946-48 and was part of the ‘Invincible’ team with Don Bradman, nicknamed “The Black Prince”.

Due to the White Australia policy, most of our non-white history is not shared with Australians, and this documentary keeps these historical figures alive in an entertaining way, with the potential by-product of allowing us to escape our racial past and to progress towards a truer multicultural society with a shared history for all.

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Hating Peter Tatchell

Home, Home Entertainment, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

Adorned in a loud green long-sleeve shirt that strikingly contrasts against the remarkable Moscovian architecture, perennial civil-rights activist Peter Tatchell stands nobly in front of a wave of Russian authorities ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The spindly Tatchell glides into the shot, knowing exactly his mark as if he were walking a runway. He speaks of bold ambition; bringing to the forefront news of the injustices experienced by the LGBTQI+ community.

Risking life and limb in the pursuit of freedom proves yet another day for the rebellious Tatchell, with this scene in particular showcasing many of the provocative qualities Tatchell has acquired in his fifty-three years of ‘civil disobedience’; a wisecrack he takes in great stride.

Directed by Christopher Amos and executive produced by Elton John (who also briefly features), documentary Hating Peter Tatchell explores the career of a dominant, albeit antagonistic, voice in the fight for LGBTQI+ rights.

From his precocious days as a schoolboy in Melbourne to his protest-ready antics on the streets of London, Tatchell’s career has been long engulfed in controversy. Where Hating Peter Tatchell bites hardest is in its dissection of provocation as a tool for awareness. Tatchell has built a profile out of flagrant attempts to attract attention; a feat he is more than ready to defend at the mere mention. How broadcast media shapes community values and standards is one embracingly hijacked by Tatchell; his desire to be heard is matched in its intensity by his agitational behaviour.

Chats with regarded British figures, the highest profile of which being the articulate Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen (that latter making for an exceptional interview), observe the depth which Tatchell’s influence crossed into the media, reinforcing his standing as a prominent figure in the LGBTQI+ civil rights movement.

Some of the film’s wobblier moments come through in how the film posits the difficulties had by Tatchell in his family life to their influence on his activism. His relationship with his mother ends up becoming a metaphor for progression; an effort that feels somewhat half-baked given her conclusion verges on tolerance as opposed to acceptance.

However, you take to Tatchell’s moxie – provocateur or trailblazer – there is no denying him as a person of gall. The film’s big evaluation of the effectiveness of ‘rocking the boat’, unlike Tatchell’s strong-mindedness, remains open-ended, and speaks to the enduring nature of an advocate who continues to chip away at systemic homophobia.

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Home, Home Entertainment, Musical, Prime Video, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Writer/director Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, Girlboss) has made a career of women-centric stories where the ambitious lead strives for more out of life. Fitting then, that she should take the helm of Cinderella, the latest in a long line of retellings of the classic fairy tale made famous by Charles Perrault.

Starring two-time Latin Grammy winner Camila Cabello, the film opens with Ella and her fellow townsfolk bursting into song. Not your classic throw-open-the-windows-and-shout-bonjour type of song either, this is a mash up of “Rhythm Nation” and “You Gotta Be” that would make the cast of Glee proud.

From the opening notes, Cannon drives home the point that Ella has big dreams. As a dress designer looking to make a name for herself, she wants to make her own way, be her own woman. She’s bringing feminism back to fairy tales, which is a wonderful concept…only it’s been done before, and with a lot more charm.

1998’s Ever After and 2004’s Ella Enchanted both put an empowering spin on the Cinderella story by giving their Ellas progressive ideals and the courage to seek out a more equal society, while incidentally falling in love along the way. Cabello’s Cinderella also has a worthy goal, but instead of equality for the oppressed masses, she’s fighting for the right to sell her dresses in the marketplace.

Another twist to the tale: instead of Ella suffering a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her wicked stepmother and cruel stepsisters, Cannon has taken steps to humanise the women in Ella’s family. The stepmother, Vivian (played by Idina Menzel, whose talent far outweighs the screentime afforded her), wants nothing more than security for her daughters — ideally via a prestigious marriage. She has more in common with a mother from an episode of Bridgerton than a fairy tale villain. True, Ella does live in the basement, but her space is papered with brightly coloured sketches and filled with endless reams of material rather than dustpans and mops (it’s also home to three bumbling mice, one of whom is voiced by James Corden, the less said about that the better).

The ideal husband, according to Vivian, would of course be Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine). Prince-of-where-exactly is a little murky, the accents are hardly consistent. As the son of King Rowan and Queen Beatrice (Pierce Brosnan and Minnie Driver in the most unexpected of Goldeneye reunions), Prince Robert doesn’t seem to echo Ella’s dreams of emancipation. In fact, his idea of a hard day’s work is getting drunk and going fox hunting.

He might be a prince but it’s a stretch to call him charming.

Keeping with tradition, the King plans to hold a ball in the hope that his son will finally find himself a bride, and well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Unfortunately, the prince’s big solo number is a cover of “Somebody to Love”, which naturally will be weighed against Anne Hathaway’s version in Ella Enchanted and found wanting. No shade to Galitzine, who is sure to win many hearts with this role, but we can’t help but question the decision behind casting Fra Fee, a trained classical tenor and star of the West End, and leaving him to waste away in the role of prince’s buddy #2.

It seems like most of the film’s powerhouse performers barely get a look-in, the most notable being Billy Porter in the role of fairy godmother. (It’s worth noting that up until his arrival, the concept of magic hasn’t been addressed at all. But as the godmother, or “Fab G” tells Ella: “Let’s not ruin this incredibly magical moment with reason”.) Porter is a showstopper. His presence, comedic timing and sheer vocal talent make his few minutes of screentime the most vibrant of the film.

Cinderella is very aware of what it wants to be, but unfortunately while the songs may be flashy and fun, the beats of the story are off. There aren’t enough laughs to call it a comedy, not enough chemistry between the leads to call it a romance, and while above all it might strive to be something of a feminist manifesto, the message feels clichéd and condescending in its heavy-handedness.

It’s hardly a crime to introduce a new generation to their very own empowered Cinderella, but for those looking for a truly enchanting adaptation with a soundtrack to match, we recommend 1997’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, currently streaming on Disney+.

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Astro Loco

Australian, Home, Review, sci-fi, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

The year is 2074 and the transportation vessel, Araya, is making its way to Jupiter IV to expand an ongoing mining project. Funded by the Zorptec corporation, Araya’s crew have reached that point in any long journey where you hit the sweet spot between boredom and utter exasperation in your fellow human beings.

Melbourne director and writer Aaron McJames introduces the team as they play a board game of their own invention. Its rules are unknown to the audience and clearly cobbled together from other games the crew have long since grown tired of. It’s clear they are trying to make ends meet. Attempts to get everyone to partake in team-building exercises by Captain Odd (Frank Handrum) essentially end with him nearly crippling himself. Everyone is just done.

That includes the ship’s AI, Hetfield (Jon Reep, Eastbound and Down). Seeking meaning in a godless universe, Hetfield is preoccupied with the fact that he’s just not cut out to support the people under his care. Hell, he’s begun to burn breakfast.

Astro Loco mines a lot of its humour from here, as Hetfield turns to the humans for lessons in how to be human, including philosophy, meditation and doing good deeds. Even Araya’s onboard counsellor Lucien (David Argue) is trying his best to soothe Hetfield.

There are hints early in the narrative that all is not right with the mission. The first is a communication from earth suggesting some team members will have to be made redundant without actually advising how said employees will actually get back to Earth. Elsewhere, there’s a glowing meteor playing havoc with Hetfield, Captain Odd’s increasing insanity, and a vessel floating in space that looks just like the Araya.

Sharing DNA with John Carpenter’s Dark Star and the office politics of sitcom Red Dwarf, Astro Loco uses its modest budget to tell a story that feels less about solving problems and more about people trying to solve those problems. As the crew squabble amongst themselves and, in some cases, use cabin fever to climb the corporate ladder, their lack of awareness means that bigger, deathlier problems can sneak in through the back door.

McJames clearly loves his characters and wears his appreciation of sci-fi on his sleeve. His Araya is a lived-in and smelly ship, and you can feel the crew’s need to escape their current situation in every frame. Your mileage may vary, but if you are willing to turn on, tune in and drop out, than Astro Loco might just be the trip you need.

Find it on Prime here.

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Vacation Friends

Comedy, Disney, Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

Vacation Friends is a variation on the American style buddy comedy, but with couples. It marks Clay Tarver’s feature film debut, following writing and producing credits on cult TV show Silicon Valley.

Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily (Yvonne Orji) arrive in Mexico on vacation, where Marcus has planned a surprise proposal. That doesn’t go the way he envisioned but, in the process, they meet couple Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), who are having the time of their lives, spending money and partying like there is no tomorrow.

Ron and Kyla’s spontaneity, at first seen as foolish and dangerous, soon enough inspires the seemingly straight-laced Marcus and Emily to enjoy the antics that Ron and Kyla seem to find themselves in. From sinking a very expensive boat to jumping off a cliff, recreational drug use and sex, the couples become fast friends, but as the title suggests, it’s only temporary. What happens on vacation, stays on vacation. Right?

Seven months later, Marcus and Emily are the centre of attention at their wedding weekend, and who comes crashing in (quite literally through a fence), none other than two people they thought they’d never see again, Ron and Kyla, who have a surprise announcement to make.

A series of misunderstandings, father-in-law disapproval, awkward situations involving magic mushrooms, and just plain silly antics occur over the course of the weekend, with Marcus and Emily doing anything they can to hide what went on during the raucous vacation from their families and friends.

Vacation Friends showcases wrestler turned actor John Cena’s penchant for comedy, illustrated in a similar manner in Blockers. Opposite Lil Rel Howery’s (Free Guy, Get Out) straight man, the movie attempts to invert the classic racial stereotypes of success, achievement, civil responsibility and even comedy.

Ultimately, it’s the movie equivalent of a book you buy to read on an aeroplane. The laughs are there but predictable, and the familiarity is almost comforting, as you know from the very beginning how it is going to end.


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Only Murders in the Building

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In an old apartment building in New York’s Upper West Side, three strangers meet by chance and bond over their shared love of murder mystery podcasts. Charles (Steve Martin), the former TV detective; Oliver (Martin Short). the off-off-off Broadway director; and newcomer to the building, Mabel (Selena Gomez), live in a city of over 8 million people and yet struggle to make a connection. That is until one of their neighbours turns up dead in what the police are ruling a suicide — a gruesome mystery enticing enough for the trio of armchair detectives to band together and start a true crime podcast of their own.

Created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman (Grace and Frankie), Only Murders is 10 half hour episodes of hijinks that are by turns smart, tender, and wonderfully zany. The chemistry between long-term collaborators Matin and Short is as delightful as ever, and throwing ex-Disney Channel alum Gomez into the mix as the snarkily deadpan Mabel adds a fresh element to their dynamic; Gomez standing in as an emotionally grounding presence whenever the antics threaten to overwhelm.

The story itself unfolds like a love letter to the murder mystery genre — clues and red herrings become increasingly tangled together the more the trio try to unwind the secrets surrounding their little building of oddballs and eccentrics.

A star-studded list of cameos and guest stars (Tina Fey, Sting, Nathan Lane) keep the energy crackling, and everyone seems to be having a great time.

On a technical level, each episode has its own sense of whimsy — the special effects tied in with the storytelling elevate the made-for-TV series into something compelling and at times quite beautiful to watch.

Oliver especially has a way of thinking that is theatrical to say the least, and watching this translate into his daily life is as entertaining as you might expect from a peek into the mind of Martin Short.

For a story about murder, lies and corpses, Only Murders in the Building is equal measures hilarious and heart-warming, and a reminder that — entertaining as it may be — true crime is always true for the victim.

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In the Dark: Season Three

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

In the Dark is an American crime drama TV series, created by Corinne Kingsbury and featuring the distinctly unlikeable Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld). Each episode is a crumb on the broken path she leaves behind, which includes messy dating mishaps, her loving but exasperated adoptive parents (Derek Webster and Kathleen York) and what’s that other one? … Oh yeah. Murder.

A blind woman in her twenties, Murphy is self-centred, blatantly scornful about life and frequently uses alcohol to fuel this attitude. Her one saving grace is that she is unswervingly loyal to her friends – a quality which also aids in landing her in continuous trouble. Her friends and work colleagues, Jess (Brooke Markham) and Felix (Morgan Krantz) are unwitting accomplices in the messes she gets herself into, following her over the precipice time and again in order to try and help her get out of the holes she digs.

And this is how the third season of this show begins. Murphy is faced with potentially dire consequences from her actions at the end of season 2, which have attracted the investigative attentions of Chicago PD officer Gene (Matt Murray) and IRS agent Josh Wallace (Theodore Bhat). Afraid that her friends will face the blame as well, Murphy throws herself into a plan to save them all from possible jailtime. But her intentions in stopping this from happening, while good, are combined with poor execution, causing the plot to thicken and the group of friends – now including Murphy’s ex, Max Parish (Casey Deidrick) – to do their best to escape the hard eye of the law.

Set against the wintry city backdrop of Chicago, In the Dark makes use of realistic cinematography, complicated characters and a polished, often comedic script to draw audiences back into this show’s spiralling, lawbreaking drama.

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The Moth Effect

Australian, Comedy, Home, Prime Video, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Sketch comedy has been a staple of Australian television for decades, from Comedy Company and Full Frontal to Skithouse and more recently, Black Comedy. TV sketch has launched the careers of some of Australia’s finest talent (Eric Bana, Jane Turner, Shaun Micallef) and the source of countless quotable characters over the years.

This month, Amazon Prime Video is bringing the next instalment of Aussie sketch comedy to our screens with The Moth Effect, a 6-part series filmed in Sydney. Series creators Nick Boshier (Beached Az, Soul Mates, Bondi Hipsters) and Jazz Twemlow (The Roast) bring together a cast of Australian and New Zealand talent including comedians and co-writers Mark Humphries, Nazeem Hussain, Dave Woodhead, and Sarah Bishop.

Poking fun at corporations, reality TV, and society as a whole, The Moth Effect revels in absurdity. Social and political issues are mocked with a cheeky blend of pop culture parodies and subversive satire, all with an impressive line-up of guest stars the likes of which is rarely seen in sketch TV outside of The Muppet Show. Names like Bryan Brown, Vincent D’Onofrio, David Wenham, Jack Thompson, Miranda Otto, Ben Lawson, Peter O’Brien, Kate Box, Zoe Terakes, Miranda Tapsell and Jake Ryan all show up to make fools of themselves.

There’s little narrative coherence here, each episode has a run time of about 17 minutes, so the jokes fly hard and fast, though not all of them stick the landing. The sketches intertwine, looping back on themselves for a second go, then suddenly give way for a fake commercial or mini music video.

The show lives up to its name, like a moth circling a flickering lightbulb, we’re constantly side-tracked by shiny things, giving us the feel of flicking between channels and circling back around again just in time to catch the punchline.

While the humour itself might be hit and miss, the rapid-fire pace means that even before you’ve had a chance to roll your eyes, we’re moving on to the next skit and suddenly there’s a Godzilla-sized David Attenborough or mother-loving time-traveller to distract you.

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Night Shift

Australian, Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

When everyone’s a bit strapped for cash, the brain can suddenly become adept at conjuring up some way of earning a quick buck. Often, it’ll be about taking a sudden interest in the lottery, or working out how long that elderly relative of yours has got left. You know the one.

In Australian comedy, Night Shift from director Joey Menzel, two brothers come up with the plan to rob their local petrol station, believing it to have untold wealth in the safe. If you’ve seen the Welsh comedy, Convenience, which has a similar storyline, you’ll know exactly where this is going.

When the brothers, Des (Jesse Morton) and Bobby (Anthony Winnick) find out that the servo’s safe is on a time lock, they take the cashier hostage and pretend to be employees until the lock goes click. What follows is a sort of comedy of errors as the duo must keep up pretences to the various customers coming in, who eventually become hostages in the boys’ forever-getting-out-of-control plan.

With Kevin Smith being a clear influence on the film, Menzel keeps the action within the confines of the servo, only occasionally venturing outside for flashbacks that show how the guys have ended up in such a mess. Another big influence is in the dialogue and humour. Smith’s debut, Clerks, hit the screens in 1994 and brought with it ‘snowballs’, jokes about the Chinese and references to the number 37 that will be indelible in some people. Night Shift appears to be trying to go a similar route with little success.

When Indian cashier Amiey (Reuben Jacob) is not being called a racial slur, his blatant homosexuality is played out in a punchline that sees him regularly groping Des and bringing up the suggestion that he might want to be sexually assaulted by the robber. Elsewhere, Bobby puts on voices to pretend at one point that he’s Indian and later, mentally challenged. Each of these jokes lands as gracefully as a duck with no wings. Even fans of Clerks will admit that times have moved on.

On a positive note, Menzel has a good handle on the camera and an eye for the bombastic. See the opening credits, where Des flies through town on top of a deliberately broken gas canister like he’s Major Kong in Dr Strangelove. Elsewhere, the cast give it their all and show off their comedic talents when the jokes do hit.

Find it on Prime Video

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Zack Snyder’s Justice League

comic book, DC, Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

In 2017, the long-awaited Justice League film was released and was a bit of a damp squib. Originally directed by Zack Snyder, who left to deal with a family tragedy, the film was finished by none other than recently-cancelled Joss Whedon. The result was a patchy, uneven mess that practically screamed “the studio had notes!”, with the two directors’ styles not meshing at all.

Soon afterwards, talk online began to circle around an alleged “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, that would fix all the problems with the film, end famine and cure baldness. The rumours began to gain traction, and then actual money, and an additional US$70 million was ponied up to deliver this once hypothetical vision of excellence.

Coming in at a beefy four hours and two minutes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the most Zack Snydery version of this story imaginable. If you stan Greek God-like physiques in fetishistic slow motion, surprisingly graphic violence and heavy-handed symbolism, then you are in for a treat!

Pisstakery aside, this is a much more coherent film than the Whedon/studio cut. All the characters have solid arcs, particularly Ray Fisher aka Cyborg, and the pacing is deft here, with action scenes occurring at logical moments rather than every fifteen minutes to make sure everyone’s awake.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is still far from a great film, saddled with clunky writing and slabs of exposition, but it’s a much better one than the one released in 2017. It’s also better than both of Zack’s own Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), because he allows occasional moments of light to juxtapose with his ubiquitous, colour desaturated shade.

Due to the sheer length of the bloody thing, Zack Snyder’s Justice League would never have appeared in this form at the cinema. However, as a home entertainment option, when you can pop out for a slash or a pie, it manages to engage a surprising amount, showcasing spectacular action and undeniably effective spectacle with a more coherent (albeit bloated) story.