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AIDS outlaw battles Big Pharma

19 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Matthew McConaughey with handlebar moustache and cowboy hat, and Jared Leto in drag, in a scene from Dallas Buyers ClubHomophobic Texan electrician Ron learns he has AIDS and may have only 30 days to live. Desperate for a cure, he heads to Mexico, where a disgraced doctor treats him with unapproved pharmaceutical drugs. Ron begins to smuggle the drugs into the US, to distribute to other AIDS sufferers, including Rayon, a trans woman who becomes Ron's friend, business partner, and ally against the Big Pharma interests that try to shut him down.

The empathy revolution

13 February 2014 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution features the title Empathy in colourful block letters against a field of whiteWhile realpolitik can drive us beyond a healthy scepticism to cynicism and indifference, British cultural thinker Roman Krzaric contends that when we look beyond the real — through imagination, creativity, vulnerability and networking — we can bring about the ideal of 'empathy on a mass scale to create social change' and even go about 'extending our empathy skills to embrace the natural world'. Without dreamers like Krzaric, we're stuffed.

A distasteful slice of gender politics pie

1 Comment
12 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Kate Winslet entrapped by Josh Brolin's arm in Labor DayAdele is a single mother suffering the debilitating after-effects of past trauma. But her story offers no robust consideration of mental illness. In stark contrast to her male counterparts, Adele is merely pitiable and helpless, and lacks the agency to raise herself from despondency. Weakness is thus conflated with femaleness. Only the arrival of a strong, practical and violent man serves to raise her Adele from her stupor.

Pilger's cheap shots won't ease Indigenous oppression

05 February 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Aboriginal man with Uluru in the background, from the Utopia movie posterRabble-rousing Australian journalist John Pilger is prone to hyperbole. He refers to a 'concentration camp' located on Rottnest Island and proceeds to denounce the atrocities that occurred there. He conducts a vox pop amid flag-waving Australia Day revellers, goading them with questions about the white invasion with predictably cringe-worthy results. He may have good intentions, but he's not doing Aboriginal Australia any favours.

Cardinal sins in beautiful Rome

29 January 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Toni Servillo in the Great BeautyThe cardinal is senseless to the libertine Jep's enquiries about faith, and prone to missing ordinary human connections in the midst of his politicking and self-obsession. If this is an unflattering reflection of institutional Catholicism, it finds its counterpoint in an ancient nun known as the Saint, whose humility reveals to Jep the possibility of transcendence.

The joke is on Wall Street

22 January 2014 | Tim Kroenert

Jonah Hill and Leonard DiCaprio embrace and laugh in The Wolf of Wall Street

If ultimately Belfort's comeuppance for his innumerable evils is modest, and his lessons remain unlearned, it is deeply and frighteningly ironic, in a way that has parallels in the real world. The global financial crisis resulted precisely from the kind of unbridled amorality that the characters in The Wolf of Wall Street gleefully embrace. Money is their morality. Lives are left battered and bruised, but the Wall Street party keeps raging on.

Best of 2013: Sex and power in football and politics

09 January 2014 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover of Anna Krien's 'Night Games' features a naked female mannequin holding a football in front of its pelvic regionA young writer has crash tackled the ugly questions of non-consensual sex, coercion and the male privilege and misuse of power that can flow from sporting success. Yet when it comes to our football codes — let alone our political arena — a conversation needs to move beyond gender name-calling or the 'us and them' polemic.

Best of 2013: On Seamus Heaney's turf

1 Comment
09 January 2014 | Peter Gebhardt

Seamus Heaney seated at a deskTen years ago, my wife and I went to Dublin. Upon our arrival at the hotel there were three notes waiting from Seamus; the first suggested a meeting, the second drinks, the third 'Heigho, we'll have some scrags'. He picked us up in a Mercedes Benz. I said something about a poet and such a car, 'Never mind it's got a broken window'.

Abused kids meet with Grace

18 December 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Brie Larson in Short Term 12Grace is both a character and a state of being. As the lead supervisor of a foster care facility, she oversees her charges with a combination of firmness and friendship. She strictly enforces rules and protocols while remaining unerringly empathetic, easily glimpsing the pain and trauma that lies just beneath the hostile or eccentric facade. But her power of empathy has its roots in past experience that threaten to smother her present.

Catherine Deveny's happy diversions

12 December 2013 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover of Catherine Deveny's 'The Happiness Show' features a loveheart-shaped balloonDeveny has made a career out of bungee jumping between the chasms of good taste, good writing and good sense. She's never been content to accept societal hypocrisy, and that's an occasional strength in her novel The Happiness Show. It becomes increasingly hard though to separate the author from her lead character, Lizzie. Thanks to an overly generous sprinkling of sex scenes, this quickly goes from disconcerting to downright awkward.

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