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Album Review: Julia Stone – The Memory Machine

Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine, Print & Online Edition, November 2010. Click Here to Read Online.

Julia Stone - First Solo Album, "The Memory Machine"

Julia Stone – First Solo Album, “The Memory Machine”

Oh Julia, sweet Julia: if no one else out there cares, we still love you. But honestly,The Memory Machine sounds like more of a cry for help than an intimate collection of ballads. To Stone’s credit, the album is a brave, soul-exposing work; it takes balls to put yourself out there like that. The album artwork sells itself with an old Hollywood movie-poster appeal. It seems like something out of a Hitchcock film with each track’s artwork featuring elements of the dark and sinister. Musically, however, the album falls short.

It’s lyrically similar to Angus and Julia Stone’s hit, ‘Down the Way,’ with simple, sweet lyrics chanted over and over again. Julia’s solo release is haunting and eerie with dark undertones and themes of insecurity, pain and love gone wrong. Spooky lyrics fill the tracks,‘He laid me on the floor/But my screams they go unheard/The lady living next door/Well she’s six feet under the dirt,’ on the ominous ballad, ‘Winter on the Weekend.’

The pace of the album is slow and brooding; the sort of thing you would need to listen to in the dark with a bottle in hand. A sort of bleak intimacy is established as Julia exposes her tortured soul track after track. Opening with the very Angus and Julia-esque ‘This Love,’ which was featured in Aussie flick The Waiting City, the tone begins positively as Stone croons “The angels got it right/When they made you.”

The second track, ‘My Baby,’ probably should have gone elsewhere in the song order. The ick-factor of placing two mushy love songs side-by-side is considerable and by the time you hear, “Clouds will cover your eyes/You’ll tell me lies/But I won’t leave you/’Cause you’ll always be my baby” you can feel a tinge of nausea brewing in the pit of your stomach.

In a welcome break from the romantic, the third tune, ‘Winter on the Weekend,’ is a well-crafted, mournful ballad about sex, violence and abandonment. The song, however, is executed well and Stone’s whispering range is captivating, sucking you into the dark scenario that spills from her lips. The title track is unfortunately skippable with uninspired lyrics, “I miss you/I miss you/And the memory machine.”

‘The Memory Machine’ does have its saving graces. We get to hear Julia crack a smile in the upbeat track, ‘Catastrophe,’ which features a nice little jazz-inspired trumpet riff. Stone shifts into track six, ‘Maybe,’ which is an appealingly sinister tune very much in-line with the horror film album artwork.

The tracks between six and ten fail are emotionally overwrought and just straight up sad. It’s tough listening to our beloved Stone lay her heart on the line, but by the time you reach the self-pitying ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ you can’t help but throw your hands up in despair and exclaim through tears, “Shit man why can’t anybody just cut this poor girl a break?” It’s truly a difficult listen.

Make it through the record’s mid-life crisis, however, and you will be rewarded. Track nine, ‘Horse with the Wings,’ uses an innovative mix of both electric and acoustic guitar and throws some flute into the equation. The last song on the album, ‘Where Does the Love go?’ is the other star along with ‘Catastrophe’. It speaks along the same lyrical themes of hardship, but Julia’s jamming on the ukulele complements her intoxicating vocals.

Overall, we commend Miss Stone on her brave solo performance. The soft-spoken songstress is beautiful and poised, but she should stick with her brother. There’s a reason the duo of Julia plus Angus Stone works so well and it’s probably best to stick to the formula that works.

Suzanna Lourie

‘Wasted on the Young’ Film Review

Originally Published in Time Out Sydney Magazine. Print Edition, March 2011. Click Here to Read Online

PDF: WastedOTY

WOTYBooze, babes and a party gone dangerously wrong set the stage in Wasted on the Young, a teen melodrama-thriller.

At a high-end high school in WA, Darren (Oliver Ackland) is the quiet misfit who lives in the shadow of his athletic stepbrother Zach (Alex Russell). When the boys become interested in the same off-the-radar blonde, Xandrie (Adelaide Clemens), Zach ends up with a bruised ego, setting the scene for a downward spiral of destruction and violence.

This alarming drama of rumour, rape and revenge unfolds over a series of dreamlike fantasies and jaw-clenching realities. Love it or hate it, Wasted on the Young is a film that gets under your skin. “I think the worst possible response you can get from someone is indifference,” says its writer-director Ben C Lucas. “It’s those one-star reviews that I love.”

The young director’s debut feature had unlikely beginnings. In 2005 Lucas won the ZTudio What IF? Award for his zombie screenplay, All Flesh Must Be Eaten: The Movie. He was working on a documentary project when he was offered the chance to direct Wasted, his first feature. “It wasn’t what I thought my first film was going to be,” Lucas recalls. The original script was a B-style schlock-horror film, but Lucas had his own agenda.

“I just kind of took the characters from the slasher film and put them into a new movie. I’m a different kind of filmmaker. I like fables and I like morality tales so I wanted to create something out of that.”

The result is a boundary-pushing high-school melodrama with cutting-edge visuals and surreal cinematography. “I think cinema, amongst its jobs, is to show people something new and also to just transport you and take you into that world,” he says.

Wasted on the Young absorbs the viewer into the twisted, cruel world of high school: a parent’s worst nightmare of sex, drugs, booze and violence. But mums and dads, don’t despair: Lucas says that realism was never the goal. “It’s melodrama. If you treat that kind of melodrama naturally you end up with a sort of TV soap so you need to create a structure where that kind of drama works and it only works if it’s surreal.”

With his bold filmmaking style it’s no wonder Lucas cites as role models Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire). “They have really diverse material and make a lot of different kinds of films, but they’re all unmistakably theirs,” says Lucas. “I really aspire to that.”

Suzanna Lourie

Liceo de Villareal High School opens Central America’s first school skate park

Originally Published in the Tico Times. Online Edition. Friday, March 22, 2013. Click Here to Read Online.

Grinding the new pool: Students enjoy the first skate park in a public high school in Central America. Photo: Suzanna Lourie - The Tico Times<span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 25px;"></span>

 

By Suzanna Lourie | Special to The Tico Times

VILLAREAL, Guanacaste – The blistering afternoon sun proved no match for the excitement that captured more than 600 students and community members last Tuesday as they celebrated the inauguration of the new Liceo de Villareal High School Skatepark.

“It really seems like we started a craze,” said one crowd member as he watched the students swarm the edge of the park, taking runs, trying tricks and laughing with friends.

A craze would be an understatement. Since Liceo de Villareal announced the completion of the new skate park – the first one in a public high school in all of Central America – requests for more have been pouring in from across the country.

“The Minister of Education wants to build more parks, and we’re actually meeting tomorrow to discuss ways of getting the funds to build five or six more skate parks all across the country,” said Andrés Valenciano, executive director of the Youth Action Fund (FAJ), one of the nonprofit groups that spearheaded the Villareal project.

“The park works as an excuse to get kids more interested in what education is supposed to be. Suddenly school becomes a place where you can not only gain new knowledge and skills, but also make new friends and develop your potential as a human being,” he added.

The model of the skate park as an alternative to get kids off the streets and build healthy social relationships in a safe recreational space is catching the attention of the press and other schools around the country for one very important reason – it works.

Etnies professional skater Ed Reategui, left, with CEPIA President Laetitia Deweer.  Photo:Suzanna Lourie | Tico Times

Etnies professional skater Ed Reategui, left, with CEPIA President Laetitia Deweer. Photo:Suzanna Lourie | Tico Times

“It all started three years ago when the [school] director called us in to help with a group of 13 teenagers who were having some trouble in school,” said Laetitia Deweer, president of CEPIA, a Guanacaste-based nonprofit organization that worked with FAJ on the skate park project.

Both organizations were called in to initiate discussions with the group of students, who were teetering on the edge of expulsion, in hopes of finding a way to turn their behavior around.

“They explained to us they were all facing difficulties in their personal lives that led to them getting into all sorts of problems, fights, drugs, the works, and they told us there weren’t a lot of different alternatives to have fun together or just socialize,” FAJ founder and President Jorge Aguilar Berrocal said.

As it turned out, the students shared common interests in sports, including surfing and skateboarding. When asked what would motivate them to come to school, the group unanimously suggested the idea of a skate park – something that would boost the high school’s “cool” factor.

From there, the 13 students took on a new identity, and the “Team Riders” of the Liceo de Villareal Skatepark were born.

“We immediately figured out they were talented, clever, funny and creative kids,” Berrocal said. “So it was absolutely feasible for them to get good grades and do better, we just needed to figure out how to channel their potential.”

With the help of CEPIA and FAJ, the Team Riders made a deal with the principal: They would get a clean slate in exchange for improving their grades, helping with volunteer work and attending class.

Inextricably linked to education, the skate park evolved along with the students’ grades. Eventually, CEPIA and FAJ began to search for funding to make the vision a reality, and they found an overwhelming response from the community.

The project was made possible with more than $30,000 in materials and services donated by National Community Development, Australian AID, CEMEX, The Pool Store, Fertama, Friends of Education Foundation, Florida Skateboards National, Recordings Destiny and many other individual sponsors.

With the help of enthusiastic donors and continued participation in school from the Team Riders, the park began to take form and simultaneously accomplish its educational goals of helping students boost grades and get involved in various volunteer projects.

One of the original members of the Team Riders, 20-year-old Keiner López, 20, has since graduated from high school thanks to the skate park program. Today, nearly half the group holds diplomas.

“I’m finished with school, so I am just excited to skate all the time,” López said. “But the idea for the other students is to motivate kids in school to make classes more fun; so they don’t just feel like they are going to learn, but also that school can be a fun place to be.”

The hundreds of kids aged 4-24 who came out to skate the new park on Tuesday seemed to support López’s sentiments and show just how popular the school will be with its new park.

“I think [the skate park] is a good metaphor of how kids, teachers, faculty, civil society and the private sector can all come together behind an idea of giving kids a voice,” Valenciano said.

“The kids are willing to do their half if people are willing to listen and take note of their ideas,” he added. “This high school is an example of how education can be transformed into a place for kids to fulfill their potential as human beings.”