The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Reviewed by Mike Kay

 The Help is an ambitious novel set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. It encapsulates a city that was a bastion of Jim Crow racism – a phalanx of state and local laws that were designed to keep black and white people separate from cradle to grave. [Read more…]

Safer Communities Together’ Blues (2009) Don Franks

Reviewed by Marika Pratley   The Spark Dec 2009/ Jan 2010
In the album ‘Safer Communities Together’ Blues Don Franks has successfully interwoven politically revolutionary words with his compositional abilities. Recorded in a student flat in Aro Valley, Wellington, ‘Safer Communities’ is comprised – musically – of a wide range of instruments which Don plays, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, and blues harp. There are also contributions by many other Wellington artists (bass, backing vocals, lead guitar, drums).

Don picks up from the tradition of political folk, but his work is distinctive because it discusses contemporary issues directly relevant to people in New Zealand today. It is an important historical catalogue of not only the recent Labour government, but the transition into the new National government which took over in 2008, and the various struggles that activists, workers, and unions have had to fight in that time period. Some songs are written for specific pickets or issues (such as One more Thursday in Black) whereas some are more general in their detest of both Labour and National (I hate the Labour Government, and Fuck John Key). Many of his songs have hints of tongue-and-cheek humour, such as the wedding march riff at the beginning of Talking Civil Union, making it a very entertaining album to listen to. [Read more…]

The Ballad of Bantam Billy

The Ballad of Bantam Billy: The political life and times of Bill Perkins Jack Perkins

Review by Don Franks The Spark Dec 2009  – Jan 2010

My most entertaining and memorable read this year has been a self published family account titled “The Ballad of Bantam Billy”. The author is Jack Perkins, Bill Perkins’ son. “Bantam Billy” was the nickname Lancashire coal miners gave to a short statured young workmate who became – and remained for life- an uncompromising fighter for socialism. “ If dad sensed any challenge or disrespect for his beliefs he was instantly and fearlessly outspoken. There were never any beg-your-pardons in his outbursts. I remember a bus trip when some unsuspecting passenger slighted the Soviet Union. Dad’s volcanic response turned heads, including the driver’s who brought the crowded vehicle to a temporary halt while things calmed down.” [Read more…]

Film Review: Watchmen

2009, Directed by Zack Snyder

Based on the highly acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore, Watchmen is a story made to show superheroes be in the real world. Superheroes have been a constant target of Moore’s satire and venom. Influenced by Anarchism, Moore sees the superheroes as combinations of lonely, pathetic, psychotic, paternalistic, self-indulgent and fascist. These consistently brilliant comic’s are not just an attack on a pernicious form of culture, but an insightful metaphor about those that would claim to lead us within the current capitalist system. Politicians, generals, priests, media moguls and union bureaucrats can all be read into the cast of powerful characters that Moore has created over the years. The Watchmen graphic novel stands at the apex of this important body of work.

[Read more…]

DVD Review: The Counterfeiters

The Counterfeiters is a fictionalised account of an astonishing true story: Nazi Germany’s Operation Bernhard, the largest counterfeiting undertaking in history. The operation forced Jewish concentration camp prisoners to produce forged banknotes, passports and even postage stamps for the benefit of the Third Reich.counterfeiters

The movie is based on the memoirs of one of the participants, Adolf Burger. A communist printer, Burger urges his fellow inmates to sabotage the project of forging the American Dollar, in order to undermine the Nazi war effort.

The central character is a professional forger, Saloman Solowich. In the early scenes of the film we see, Solowich, “the most charming scoundrel in Berlin”, quaffing Champagne in the bohemian decadence of Weimar Germany. When he ends up in a concentration camp, his strategy is simple: adapt and survive. [Read more…]

Film review: MILK


Gus Vant Sant’s new film “Milk”, is a biopic of the 1970s gay rights activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn. Penn gives one of his best performances to date as the charismatic and outspoken gay leader, portraying him from his very few last days as a Republican-voting, Wall Street bureaucrat in the late 60s early 70s to his awakening as a fighter against gay oppression and subsequent assassination in 1978.

[Read more…]

Deer Hunting with Jesus

Dispatches from America's Class War

 Reviewed by Jill Brasell

(The Spark February 2009)

Journalist and blogger Joe Bageant grew up among the working-class people of Winchester, Virginia, and a question has evidently itched him ever since he escaped from (and then returned to) that community. Why do the working class reject liberalism, and instead hold tight to ideas that work against their own interests?

Deer Hunting with Jesus (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2007) is a series of loosely connected essays that attempts to answer that question. Bageant is a sharp observer and the book is a thought-provoking and often entertaining read as he takes a bottom-up look at globalisation, home ownership, healthcare, guns, Abu Ghraib, Christian fundamentalism and what he calls “the American hologram”.

[Read more…]

Review: Teamster Rebellion

Teamster Rebellion is a classic, and highly recommended for anyone interested in strengthening the union movement as we head into recession. First in the Teamster series, this compelling account of the 1934 strikes in Minneapolis sheds light on the rewards of worker militancy. Author Farrell Dobbs was one of the central leaders at the time, and he lays out the various strategies and pitfalls of the strike with admirable clarity.

Dobbs makes it clear that the biggest setback for workers in the Great Depression was a bureaucratic union movement. In fact, membership in unions actually declined in the early days of the Depression. Dobbs describes the “business unionism” of the American Federation of Labour, involving strict division of crafts, a minimum of strikes and suppression of dissidence.

[Read more…]

Book Review: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga


white-tigerThe narrative of The White Tiger takes the curious form of a one-sided correspondence between Balram Halwai, Bangalore-based entrepreneur, and the Premier of China.

Halwai tells the premier that the future belongs to the “yellow man and the brown man now that our erstwhile master, the white-skinned man, has wasted himself through buggery, mobile phone usage, and drug abuse.” At first he comes across as a bit of a buffoon, but through his riffs on politics, religion and Indian society we begin to see much more complex character. It does not take us long to learn that as well as being an entrepreneur, he is also a murderer.

Halwai is a “Half-Baked Indian”, once a promising student, who had his schooling cut short at a young age when he was sent to break charcoals in a tea shop. He gains his knowledge where and when he can: from the half-understood conversations in English of his passengers; or the torn page of an old textbook used to wrap a greasy samosa.

[Read more…]

Film review: Waltz with Bashir

On 27 December 2008 over 200 Palestinians were killed and 800 injured as Israel rained missiles on the highly populated Gaza strip. The aerial slaughter is the latest horror in Israel’s 60 year occupation of Palestine.

 The sheer scale of Palestinian suffering relayed in the media has a numbing effect.

 Art can sometimes speak more forcefully than a million news stories. Waltz with Bashir does that. This new Israeli movie tells one part of Israel’s bloody history and is getting glowing reviews around the world.waltz

 Director Ari Folman is an award winning Israeli documentary maker. When a friend comes to him with a disturbing reoccurring dream about the 1982 war in Lebanon Ari confronts his own complete amnesia. He knows he was there, but has no memory of his time as a 19 year old conscript.

 When Israel was founded 110,000 Palestinians fled to Lebanon. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation formed base camps in the south of Lebanon and carried on a guerrilla war against Israel from across the border. Israel’s invasion in 1982 was a bliztkrieg lasting 10 weeks in which 18,000 Lebanese were killed and nearly 700 Israeli soldiers. The PLO was forced to withdraw to Tunisia, while Israel occupied the south of Lebanon until 1985. During the invasion Bashir Gemayel – the new pro-Israel President of Lebanon – was assassinated. His supporters, Lebanese Christian Phalangists, carried out a massacre in two Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila. The Phalangists were let into the camps by Israeli forces, and were assisted by them lighting flares through the night. Hundreds, maybe thousands of Palestinians were killed.

 Ari seeks out old army comrades in order to reconstruct his lost memory. It is a surreal personal and political journey told strikingly through graphic animation. This lifts the documentary into another realm.waltz2

 Waltz with Bashir leaves an impression you won’t forget.

 – Daphna Whitmore