The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Review: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Hello, my name is Renee and I am a fan of the Harry Potter universe.

I am not a fan of milking franchises just for the hell of it, nor am I a fan of films taking an exceedingly long time to get to the point. Both of these things are rife in this new instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, a prequel series to Harry Potter.

This film picks up about six months after the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Grindelwald escapes from the US Ministry of Magic, and after that, things get a bit muddled.

There’s a large cast of characters, from young Dumbledore to Nicholas Flamel to the returning four main characters from the previous film to a human form of Nagini… and a few others whom I had no idea who they were or why they were there.

The beauty of the Harry Potter books and films was that each one was a story in itself as well as part of a bigger arc. In contrast, the Fantastic Beasts films are stupidly long forays into a much bigger arc that will hopefully be revealed somewhere in movie 457 which will be released in about 20 years.

This particular film takes over two hours of visually stunning filmmaking to tell very little plot. The whole point of the movie is revealed literally in the last 10 seconds. Everything else is just dull filler. It’s akin to listening to a whole album to hear the magnificent hidden track right at the end.

JK Rowling is a fantastic storyteller. She’s captured millions of fans with good narrative. This is not going to win any new fans and, judging by the reviews on IMDB, might lose unite a few fans. She has stated the prequel series will span around 20 years, ending with the epic battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. But, as this point, I honestly couldn’t care less. There’s obviously bad blood between them, but I can’t believe (at this point) that Dumbledore is capable of killing someone. (That’s not a spoiler; if you’ve read the original Harry Potter books, you already know exactly what happened.)

I walked out of the cinema disappointed and angry at wasting time and money watching this over-long, pathetic yet very pretty, attempt at raking in more money for the sake of it. The film adds nothing to the narrative save for the last 10 seconds, and even then you’re likely to walk out wondering what the hell is going on.

Give this film a miss and read a summary on Wikipedia.

3 out of 10 popcorns.

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November 19, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

A star is born movie poster

Did we need another A Star is Born?

Bradley Cooper directs and stars in this third adaptation of the story featuring a young ingenue who becomes a star after being discovered by a fading rockstar. Lady Gaga stars as Ally, the young waitress who is discovered by Cooper’s Jackson Maine, whilst performing in a drag bar.

Cue a cliched story with terrible dialogue and an awful screenplay. It’s like a first year screen student read The Big Book Of Movie Cliches and thought, “hey, this is full of great ideas!” The direction is only slightly better. There are scenes which don’t go anywhere, characters that appear and disappear with no reason, and cuts to scenes which have no point being in the film. And did I mention the dialogue is atrocious?

The only redeeming features of this film are Lady Gaga and the songs. Surprisingly, Ms Gaga can actually act and while the viewer knows she is already a superstar, her character Ally shows a vulnerability and shyness that Lady Gaga quite convincingly pulls off. Gaga also wrote several songs for the film and performs them beautifully. Bradley Cooper does his best but it is clearly Gaga’s film. Bradley Cooper seems miscast as the fading rocker, and lacks chemistry with Gaga.

If you’re a fan of Lady Gaga, definitely see this film. If not, just listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.

5 out of 10 popcorns.

November 12, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody movie poster

You know the songs. You know the man. You know this film is going to be chock full of amazing songs. You know how it ends.

What you don’t know is that this film is also chock full of amazing performances, witty retorts, ironic statements and a glimpse into the creative genius that is Freddie Mercury.

It’s hard to believe Freddie has been gone almost 27 years, leaving a legacy of anthems sure to get any toes tapping and a fight against a disease that we seem to be winning. This film is not just the story of Freddie, but the story of Queen. The two are forever intertwined. Wait, Freddie did solo albums? I hear you ask. Yes, in fact, he released two solo albums. However he is best remembered as the front man of Queen.

I’ve heard the criticisms about the film: glosses over his extravagant lifestyle, doesn’t focus on his homosexual relationships (much), but really, how long do you want the film to go for? There’s plenty that could go into any film, but this is just the right amount of personal and professional lives.

At times the film does seem a little muddled as to whether it is a Freddie biopic or a Queen biopic. That’s my only complaint. Rami Malek is the perfect Freddie. The viewer never feels like they are watching an impersonator. The costumes are on point, including Freddie’s famous overbite, and every actor looks they are the real thing. During the Live Aid scenes, I actually forgot I was watching actors play the parts of Queen. That is the mark of a great film, when the viewer isn’t spending their time wondering where else they’ve seen that actor or wondering if they are lip syncing. I was totally lost in the film from the opening moments.

Rami Malek is previously known for his work on Mr Robot. His character is quite shy and introverted, so it was a complete twist to see him as one of the world’s greatest performers. The cast was outstanding. Special shout out to Mike Myers, who plays a record executive who quips that “Bohemian Rhapsody is not one of those songs that people bang their heads to while they drive their cars”.

You will come away from this film stomping your feet, clapping your hands and humming Queen songs. You’ll want to see it repeatedly. And you should.

9.75 popcorns out of 10. (Because no film is absolutely perfect.)

November 5, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: My Love Story by Tina Turner

Tina Turner’s autobiography, My Love Story

So, you think you know Tina Turner. The abusive ex-husband, the legs, the solo stardom and Simply the Best.

In this memoir, which was written with assistance due to Tina’s stroke, Tina talks about her past and the battles she’s always fought and won. Yes, there’s a frank chat about Ike Turner and the abuse she suffered at his hands, but also the continuing love story she shares with her second husband, Erwin, and how he literally saved her life with a donation of a kidney.

Yes, a kidney transplant.

This autobiography describes Tina’s recent health struggles: her stroke, intestinal cancer and renal failure. She doesn’t dwell on these issues, rather she focuses on the positive aspects of her life as she has always done.

The book is written conversationally, as if the reader is sitting in Tina’s lavishly decorated home in Switzerland enjoying a cup of tea. Tina has worked hard all her life and is proud to display the rewards she’s reaped. In her case, it’s beautifully decorated homes with photographs she doesn’t care about the cost to acquire. It may sound arrogant or haughty, but Tina’s style is not like that at all. She name drops her famous friends but in a way that oozes love and gratitude, not a “Look at me” attitude. It is quite refreshing to read; other autobiographies tend to focus on name dropping for the sake of name dropping.

The reader is lead through Tina’s extraordinary life, from her beginnings as a child in a tiny town named Nutbush, to being racially vilified on tour with an abusive and unfaithful husband, to her escape, solo stardom and retirement. It kind of reads like a goodbye to public life, although Tina acknowledges she will never fully retire as there is always something to keep her in the public eye.

Tina Turner’s public image is larger-than-life and this is how the book reads, although the private Tina also comes through, especially in the later chapters. She acknowledges all the fans who have come up to her thanking her for sharing her story and giving them the encouragement and power to leave their own abusive relationships. In its own way, this memoir does the same. Not only for her story with Ike (like everyone knows) but also health battles and finding one’s own voice to move forward. Tina’s life has not been easy, yet she speaks of each challenge as a way to move forward and live life to the fullest with optimism and love.

Recommended for fans and people who need a little encouragement to never give up.

8 out of 10 bookmarks.

October 21, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Dry

WARNING: This novel deals with the death of children, and other themes/scenes which may trigger mental health issues in some readers.

Aaron Falk attends the funeral of his childhood friend and his family in the town they all grew up in. The deaths seem to be an open-and-shut case, but in this small, drought-ridden town, there are always unanswered questions.

Jane Harper is an Australian journalist who has turned her hand to writing fiction. This novel has quickly become a bookclub favourite, and has even been hand-picked by Reese Witherspoon to be made into a film. So when it came up cheaply on Kindle, I decided to give it a read.

The novel is well-written, with a flowing narrative that never meanders along mindlessly. Chapters are short and sharp, doing what good writing always does and leaving the reader wanting more. As for the narrative, it’s a good yarn, worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon this novel. As expected, the little town is full of secrets which are revealed in a manner which is easy to understand yet never leaves the reader feeling like they’ve missed something.

Despite the length, this is an easy read, perfect for those rainy afternoons when you just want to snuggle under a blanket and read. Also good when you’re short on time and can only read a chapter at a time. You’re not going to lose your place; I found some parts to be repetitive, so if you do skim over something, it will come up again later. The characters are well written and quite memorable. It’s the sort of novel that gets your brain thinking, analysing possibilities and wondering how it all fits in.

Without giving away the details, the ending is quite satisfying. The reader can see how the pieces fit together and the clues that led Falk and Raco to their conclusion. I did find it to be a little rushed, which gives way to coincidences. But this is easily overlooked as the conclusion neatly puts everything together.

I’ve read that Jane Harper is busily writing another novel featuring Aaron Falk, and that the book won’t be a direct sequel but can standalone. That works for me; The story of this small town is neatly contained within the pages of this novel and doesn’t need to be expanded in a sequel.

8 out of 10 bookmarks. Recommended especially for lovers of Australian fiction.

October 15, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Back, After the break’

Osher Gunsberg back after the break

You remember Andrew G? The long haired lout who once presented By Demand on Channel [v] and now hosts The Bachelor/ette and changed his name along the way? Yeah, that guy.

This is a brutally honest memoir about his life, specifically his battles with addiction and mental illness. When we think mental illness, we don’t often think about the successful people who suffer from it. Yet here we are, having an open and honest conversation with one of Australia’s biggest success stories.

Andrew G, as he was once known, has been battling anxiety since childhood. His parents overcame some tremendous struggles: things this generation of Australians have no idea bout and hopefully will never experience for themselves. Anxiety led to an addiction to eating, and later, alcohol and sex. Diagnosed with PTSD in the aftermath of being in New York during September 11, 2001, Andrew’s addictions spiralled out of control and affected every area of his personal and professional life.

This is the story previously only hinted about. Only relatively recently has he spoken about these addictions, and battles with mental illness yet the public were completely unaware of. It’s a brave memoir, recounting specific incidents which have caused he and his friends, coworkers and loved one much embarrassment and hurt. Yet we know how it ends: Osher is still a popular personality on Australian television (and sometimes radio). He continues to fight his mental state every day.

The autobiography is well written and openly honest. He doesn’t shy away from the gory details (although I was disappointed to find he left out the decision and process of cutting off his butt-length hair). The Kindle version has some minor errors, such as not leaving spaces between words (I don’t know if the print version contains the same errors). Osher (or his ghostwriter?) writes conversationally, making for an easy read. The pacing is perfect, and his life is interesting enough without the reader feeling like a voyeur to a celebrity’s car crash life.

I think this footnote from Osher’s book sums it up nicely:

Footnote

I give the book 9 out of 10 bookmarks.

August 30, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monthly Meal Plans: $1.50 dinners, week 1 review

The woman who started $1.50 meals is well-known: she’s appeared on morning shows, “news” websites and parenting/cooking forums everywhere. The basis of her fame is simple: she’s created a month’s worth of dinners averaging $1.50 or less per meal. How can you go wrong?

The Premise

When you sign up to her site, you’re given lifetime access to the meals, which are updated periodically. We originally signed up over a year ago but the meals have changed in that time and are now less than $1.50 per serve (at the time of writing they average $1.02). You’re given an ingredients list to take shopping at Aldi (all her recipes and pricing are based on Aldi prices), step-by-step instructions on cooking, packing and storing. And bingo! You have a month’s worth of dinners right there in your freezer. There are breakfasts and lunches available, but we have only tried the dinners.

The Meals

Each night of the month is a different meal based on a theme. For example, Mince Mondays, Chicken Tuesdays, Take-away Fridays etc.

So, what do I think?

Shopping

We normally shop at Aldi, so we’re used to the types of food, the layout etc. The list was quite comprehensive: one litre of this, 3kgs of that, one packet of something else, one jar of whatever. Very easy, it’s all right there for you. The dinner part of our shop (we also bought various odds and ends, plus breakfasts and lunch stuff) was about $185. For a month. You can’t beat that kind of value.

Preparation

This plan is based around saving time and money, so you do all your cooking over one weekend. At first, it was fun, like being on one of those cooking competition TV shows. There were two of us cooking with about five things happening all at once: cooking several pots and pans, chopping, slicing and dicing. All up, it took between 9-10 hours to complete the cooking. It wasn’t fun by the end of it and the kitchen looked like a cyclone had torn through it.

Meals

This week we’ve had mince wraps, chicken pie, sausage curry, bacon pesto pasta, Lebanese bread pizza, meatloaf and tonight we will have chickpea patties. I have been underwhelmed: the meals are very bland and last night’s meatloaf was like eating sawdust because it was so dry. I have not liked a single meal so far this week. My partner liked the pesto pasta and the sausage curry but agrees that the majority of meals lack flavour.

Each meal (except the take-away style) has plenty of vegetables hidden so if you’ve got picky kids, they won’t even notice. Plus each meal has a serving suggestion of extra salad or steamed vegetables as well. However, I wouldn’t say the meals are healthy. Obviously the take-away Fridays are gonna be the worst, but during the entire month there’s only three meat-free dinners and the other meals can contain packet mixes or a jar of sauce which are laden with salt and sugar. The home-made bulk white sauce is just milk and flour (and so bland!).

The meals obviously need to be reheated, but often they require something else such as pasta to be cooked on the night. I don’t see why you can’t cook mince and pasta at the same time. You’re not really saving any time by cooking pasta on the night… unless you pre-cooked and froze pasta during the epic prep & cook session on the weekend. Cooking in bulk means you don’t get to season portions to your taste eg you’re cooking the same 2 kg of mince for various meals and you wouldn’t season the meatloaf portion the same as say, mince wraps. Hence the meals are the same bland concoction unless you deviate from the instructions and stuff around adding your own seasoning to each individual portion. And how long does it really take to put together a Lebanese bread pizza? Why clutter up your already overstuffed freezer by putting pre-prepped pizzas in there? (Ours got stuffed in so tightly, the bases broke.)

Is it worth it?

Cooking/prep time was almost 10 hours, washing up was 2 hours, cleaning up spills was close to another hour… Each night the only washing up we have are the plates we eat from, a saucepan, and a fry pan but we would probably have that anyway. I don’t think reheating frozen meals saves much, if any, time, especially if you’re also cooking pasta or mashed potatoes to go with it.

I do like the convenience of having a meal plan. It saves on endless “What do you want for dinner?” Which in itself saves a couple of hours. I like the cost: you really can’t argue on $185 for a month of dinners. Each meal serves 4; since there’s only two adults and a pre-schooler at my house, my partner takes leftovers for work (under sufferance because he wasn’t impressed with the meal the first time, he doesn’t want leftovers!)

The actual meals themselves are not nice nor particularly healthy despite the added veggies. Making from fresh would enable you to add your own seasonings during the cooking process eg fresh herbs, Mexican seasoning or a dash of sauce or relish.

I don’t like having no freezer space. This problem can be solved with a chest freezer, which we don’t have as yet. Our freezer is stuffed full, which makes it difficult for my pre-schooler to get an ice block or the frozen mixed berries she loves so much. Shoving it all into our little freezer breaks the ziplock bags and Lebanese bread bases.

Based on this week, I’m scoring it a 4 out of 10. Let’s see what next week’s meals are like.

June 10, 2018 Posted by | Reviews, Thoughts & Reflections | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit movie poster

Aww bunnies!

Based on characters from Beatrix Potter’s famous series, this film is adorable, witty, cute and sassy.

And then it gets weird.

But let’s start at the beginning. Peter and his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, along with cousin Benjamin Bunny, are adept at raiding Mr McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden for food. They are cared for by neighbour Bea (Rose Byrne), who loves the rabbits and protects them from Mr McGregor’s pie dish. The old man dies, leaving his manor and farm to pompous great-nephew Thomas McGregor (Domnhall Gleeson).

Cue romantic subplot and a Home Alone– bunny-style war later, and the whole charming film turns into a complete wreck.

The characters are adorable. There’s jokes for older kids, a few laughs, plenty of sass and a rockin’ soundtrack… Until the halfway point, where it’s entirely acceptable to turn off the film and read the source material instead. The film changes direction so abruptly, your head will spin. You’ll be wondering what happened to the plot and the charm you’ve been enjoying for the past forty minutes. Once the film’s story changes, there’s no going back. Whilst the first half of the film is near-perfect, the latter half feels forced, almost like the writers ran out of cute ideas and literally pulled dialogue out of a hat populated with ideas from the local kindergarten. It’s plain disappointing how badly this film ends.

6 out of 10 popcorns

April 25, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: After the Blues

Hands up if you loved Puberty Blues. Hands up if you loved the film and/or the TV series. Hands up if you felt you were Debbie or Sue, making your way as a teen in a strange new world of sex and rat-faced molls.

Now, hands up if you want to see what Debbie did next.

According to the introduction, Kathy Lette reworked her earlier novel Girls Night Out into After the Blues. I have not read Girls Night Out so I can’t comment on how much of the original novel made it through the rewrite, however I can tell you what bits of Puberty Blues made it: the main character, Debbie Vickers. And mentions of her boyfriends Bruce and Garry. That’s it. Her BFF (did that term even exist in the 1980s?) Sue has mysteriously turned into Sarah, and in the first few pages Debbie and Sarah have a major falling out, leaving Debbie to fend for herself in the big city.

Honestly, I could not care less what happened after that. I found her time in the big city to be revolting, distasteful and downright boring. I didn’t give two hoots about the weirdos she met or why she chose to make the choices she did. She seems to like being a total waste of literary space. The “plot” was pointless, bordering on incoherent babbling, while the narrative lacked depth and feeling, which was the main driving point of Puberty Blues.

Unless you’re a diehard Kathy Lette fan, interested to see how a rewrite works, then give this book a very wide berth.

2 out of 10 bookmarks.

EDIT: Kathy Lette confirmed to me via Twitter that she had to change Sue’s name for legal reasons. Kathy Lette twitter confirming Sue’s name was changed for legal reasons

March 27, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Annihilation

Annihilation movie

Annihilation is a Netflix film starring Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. They lead a team of kick-ass females into the Shimmer- a strange and mysterious dome which is threatening to take over everything.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and former Army officer whose husband arrives home from a secret mission but he’s not quite himself. Soon afterwards, her hubby suffers multiple organ failure and Lena finds herself in the offices of Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is organising a trip to the Shimmer to find out WTF is going on. Naturally Lena also volunteers and, together with three other women, trek into the unknown.

According to IMDB, the film is based on a book which the screenwriter only loosely remembers, and interprets his script as “a dream of the book”. Certainly the cinematography is dream-like in the same way the Land of Oz was dreamlike to Dorothy, but with fewer Munchkins. What follows is a visual delight with some butt-kicking and a pretty thin plot. However, it’s enough to keep viewers hooked right til the end.

There are very few male characters in the film, and they are all secondary characters. The women don’t sit around talking about their men nor do they belittle their males either. It’s refreshing and awesome to see a film carried solely on the weight of an all-female lead cast; Natalie Portman is a perfect choice for Lena and carries the character beautifully.

The main issue I have with this film is the lack of intense plot: it could have been deeper, more twisted, to keep the viewer guessing. The film’s ending is barely satisfactory and astute viewers probably know what’s going to happen about halfway through the movie. (I didn’t.)

I’d recommend this for a date night or when your brain is too tired to concentrate too hard.

7.5 out of 10 popcorns.

March 26, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment