Movie review: Dope

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) is a young man who likes to defy expectations.

And in writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope, a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Malcolm and his geeky besties, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) certainly have quite a few expectations to defy.

For one thing, they live in a tough neighbourhood in Ingelwood, California known as “The Bottoms”, an area riven by violence, drug crime and a sense that escape is all but impossible.

Even Mr Bailey (Bruce Beatty), Malcolm’s guidance counsellor at the high school he attends, openly mocks his student’s intention to attend Harvard, all but saying that people from “The Bottoms” simply can’t aim that high.

Malcolm, of course, is unfazed by this sort of talk; he’s been hearing it all his life, mostly from his own black community who label his aspiration to attend college and to attain the high grades necessary to get there, as “white shit”.

It’s all delivered with satirical intent, with Danny Glover humourously tossed onto the same list, but the message nonetheless sticks – people of Malcolm’s race and socio-economic status shouldn’t aspire the sorts of lives that good grades and college can bring.

It’s like water off a duck’s back for the ’90s hip-hop culture-obsessed, fiercely intelligence, capable and emotionally-empathetic young man, who believes with a passion bordering on the evangelical that not only is the ambition to better yourself a good thing but that it’s entirely within his grasp.

It’s a message he delivers quietly but firmly to Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), an older girl studying hard to obtain her GED and the object of his affections, who wonders more than once if it’s worth all the effort.

In Malcolm’s world, that’s not even a question that needs asking.

 

 

It is however, as Fumiyiwa makes clear with both deftly-used humour and searing social commentary, far easier said than done.

Defying expectations is one thing; navigating your way through circumstances beyond your control is quite another.

And Fumiyiwa gives Malcolm and his stalwart friends a sage lesson in this stark reality of life when an invitation from local drug kingpin Dom (A$AP Rocky) to attend his birthday party, an invitation the squeaky clean Malcolm only accepts because Nakia, whom Dom fancies, agrees to attend, lands Malcolm in a whole world of trouble.

Saddled unwittingly with a cache of drugs in his backpack, and threatened with physical harm by “The Bottoms” boy made good (or bad, depending on your perspective) Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith) if he doesn’t sell all the drugs quickly and return the money to its rightful owner – it’s worth noting that Jacoby, a Harvard alum, is Malcolm’s ticket to his dream college – Malcolm initially is overwhelmed by the sense that the tropes of Inglewood he sought so hard to avoid have now ensnared him.

But he’s a bright boy, and after a few naive missteps, works out what he needs to do to avoid becoming a victim of a situation he never wanted to be in in the first place.

His solution to a very thorny problem, one redolent with all the cliched expectations he’s spent a lifetime avoiding, is entirely in keeping with his approach to life, which is to never accept that where you are, and what you’ve handed, is the end of the story.

 

 

What makes “Dope” such a pleasure to watch is the way it speaks with the authority of someone who has lived this world and come out the other side, ambition and goals intact.

Fumiyiwa previously covered Inglewood and its dream-sapping surrounds in 1999’s The Wood, and while Dope doesn’t have quite the intense impact as its predecessor, it nonetheless explores with authenticity, charm, and a wry knowing sense, what life is like when the odds are stacked against you, and you’re not exactly surrounded by a Greek Chorus of unquestioning, unconditional support.

Granted Dope is a little uneven in its execution, veering between devastatingly bleak, and comically satirical, sometimes in the same scene, but mostly it nails what it sets out to do in amusingly thoughtful, intelligent way.

Malcolm’s story is not presented as some sort of facile triumphing over the odds; in fact he and his friends, who more than hold their own supporting their determined though sweetly nervous friend, come very close to losing it all on more than one occasion.

But armed with some well-selected ’90s hip-hop tracks and some original tunes by executive producer Pharrell Williams, a grounded acknowledgement of the many curve balls life, especially one lived in a deprived like “The Bottoms”, can throw at you, and finely-realised performances by all concerned (especially the very likable Moore as Malcolm), Dope isn’t afraid to say that expectations aren’t set in stone.

Rather they are mutable, and there to be defied, even against the most intransigent and seemingly unassailable of obstacles, if you have the vivacity, strength of will and determination to stand up to them.

 

 

 

Give my regards to Broadway! The history of musical episodes on TV

Buffy takes some time off from yelling at vampires and demonic creatures from the depths of hell to sing to them in dulcet tones instead (image courtesy Vulture)
Buffy takes some time off from yelling at vampires and demonic creatures from the depths of hell to sing to them in dulcet tones instead (image courtesy Vulture)

 

Ella Fitzgerald once remarked that “the only thing better than singing is more singing” and while it’s sentiment a lot of musicians would quote naturally subscribe to, it’s not been as commonly embraced on TV which has traditionally tended to keep it storytelling reasonably song-free.

But as the latest as-always excellent episode of Vulture’s Secret History of Television demonstrates, the last 25 years have seen quite a bit more enthusiasm for letting traditionally spoken word only characters get up and … SING!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Northern Exposure, Oz, and, of course, Glee, which was pretty much nothing but music, have done musical episodes exceptionally well; Cop Rock and Seventh Heaven not so much.

And I Love Lucy got the whole ball rolling in 1956 with a wacky musical dream sequence.

Musical episodes may not be to everyone’s taste but they are often clever, experimental and a fun diversion from the normal spoken mode of storytelling.

(source: Vulture)

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “So Close, Yet So Far” (S1, E2 review)

Travis frantically tracks down his ex-wife and son, wanting to get them out of harm's way before everything goes completely to hell, and finds that the end of the world is catching up to them sooner than they thought (image (c) AMC via official Fear the Walking Dead site)
Travis frantically tracks down his ex-wife and son, wanting to get them out of harm’s way before everything goes completely to hell, and finds that the end of the world is catching up to them sooner than they thought (image (c) AMC via official Fear the Walking Dead site)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND SCHOOL LOOKING JUST THE WAY YOU FANTASISED IT MIGHT … THE WORLD THOUGH? NOT SO MUCH.*

 

If ever an episode title aptly captured the storyline within, it’s this one.

No matter how hard Travis (Cliff Curtis) and Madison (Kim Dickens) tried to bring their still disparate family groups under one fast-moving umbrella and get them out of harm’s way far, far out into the desert, events kept conspiring to not only keep them apart but nowhere near their nirvana of imagined safety.

And yet agonisingly, and frustratingly, close to each other in the same destined for the civilised guillotine city.

In that respect, this episode, which picked up the pace from last week’s deliciously languid slide-into-the-abyss slowburner but only just, perfectly captured what it must be like to be caught in a situation where things are going from bad to worse but there’s no way for you to influence the events in any meaningful way, or let’s face it, at all, or to effect the escape you know is absolutely necessary if you’re going to survive.

Complicating things mightily was Nick’s (Frank Dillane who continues to impress in every scene) withdrawal from drug use, brought about in large part by the death and almost instant zombification of his drug dealer Calvin (Keith Powers) and the fact that, you know, getting anything, let alone drugs, is becoming exponentially more difficult by the hour.

While it did delay the blended family’s escape from LA, a whole other kind of movie than the one Hollywood made, it did mean that sister Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) was forced to stay by her brother’s side to tend for him instead of rushing back to boyfriend Matt, who is very sick and not that far from being a member of the undead himself.

At which point, he would not embrace Alicia in gratitude for her dedicated nursing skills, so much as, well,  eat her.

Nick knew it, Madison knew it and so they conspired to keep Alicia from going all Florence Nightingale for her soon to be member of the apocalyptic problem, not the solution, boyfriend.

It might seem odd at first glance that Nick didn’t tell Alicia straight out why rushing to Matt’s side would be an enormously bad idea, or that Travis neglected to tell his ex Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and son Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie) but all three of the in-the-dark characters were of the same don’t-want-to-hear-it mindset so telling them outright wouldn’t have served any real purpose.

Best to save them first and explain things later, no matter how bizarre it all appeared, and how many barbers shops you have to hide in to escape the looting, burning, soon-to-be undead shambling masses mob out on the streets.

Again, the writers nailed the dynamics of human behaviour perfectly; we might suspect something’s wrong, we might even witness it firsthand but our capacity for self-delusion, even in the face of the blooming obvious,  and the need to protect ourselves, can be powerful, and anyone brandishing the truth, in this case Travis or Nick, would likely simply be laughed, or more likely, yelled off.

So best to simply keep mum, get the ones you love safe and sound, and worry about long, winding expositional passages later on … and so they did.

 

Madison comes to realise how ahead of the curve Tobias is, and though they're separated in the episode, I have no doubt we'll be seeing the eminently capable young man again soon (image via Rickey.org (c) AMC)
Madison comes to realise how ahead of the curve Tobias is, and though they’re separated in the episode, I have no doubt we’ll be seeing the eminently capable young man again soon (image via Rickey.org (c) AMC)

 

Another major win for the writers was the way they captured that eerie sense that all of have had after a traumatic event in our lives when our world has changed irrevocably but everyone else is carrying on as normal.

We saw it again and again in the episode but most acutely when Madison and Travis’s neighbours were holding a birthday party for their 9 year old as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

And in their small part of the world, that was exactly the case.

Nick though, haunted by his experiences in the drug addicts’ flophouse and his recent execution-by-great-big-truck of his drug dealer “friend” Calvin, was incredulous that his world could be so utterly changed and different and yet the world of his neighbours was going along much as usual.

The same dynamic afflicted Madison and Travis who glanced around their once cosy neighbourhood with the scared eyes of people who no longer warmth, safety and neighbourliness but threats in every untoward moment and sound.

Their neighbour packing his car? Nothing weird there until he coughed. Uh-oh.

Twilight falling over their street much as it has always has, only to have its serenity broken by the once-coughing, now undead neighbour attaching the birthday girl’s family across the road.

Everything the same as always … until it spectacularly wasn’t.

By the end of the day, any sense that this crisis would end, that it could be muddled through until the end was in sight was dead in the water, as dead as Madison’s boss Artie (Scott Lawrence) who attacked Madison and Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) as they collectively tried to get supplies – Madison, the confiscated drugs from her office to help Nick ride out his withdrawal, and Tobias, his trusty knife – and get the hell out of the eerily deserted school.

And by day’s end, Madison would be stopping Alicia going to the aid of their zombie chomped neighbours, the first no doubt of many me-first, moral compromises to come.

Everything so normal, and yet so manifestly not; so close and yet so far.

The second episode of Fear the Walking Dead captures all this brilliantly, once again distilling how utterly normal and yet so not the end of the world might be.

  • The next episode of Fear the Walking Dead, which stands resolutely separate and different in so many admirable ways from its narrative mothership The Walking Dead, is “The Dog”, which airs just under 2 weeks from now …

 

 

Life is about knowing how to take a hit: Ashby (trailer + poster)

(image via Indie Wire)
(image via Indiewire)

 

SNAPSHOT
“Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) and his spirited single mom (Sarah Silverman) are new in town. At school, Ed struggles to fit in. He secretly desires to make the football team although the jocks disapprove, and he connects with only one other student, brainy Eloise (Emma Roberts). Given an assignment to interview someone ‘old,’ Ed approaches his new neighbor Ashby Holt (Mickey Rourke), a man facing troubling news he’d rather avoid. Although Ashby pretends to be a retired salesman, Ed soon learns that he’s actually a former CIA assassin. As Ed gains new perspective from his unlikely friendship with Ashby, he’s prompted to take more chances with his life, and with Eloise. Meanwhile, as Ashby faces a crossroads, he must find the courage to settle old scores and set things right.” (official synopsis via Indiewire)

With delightful echoes of St. Vincent, Gran Torino, and a thousand other movies on the same theme, Ashby still looks like it manages to bring something fresh to a very crowded sub-genre table.

(I’m assuming young, lonely, alienated people finding friendship and wisdom from unorthodox, unlikely older people is at least a sub-genre, quite possibly, its own genre; and if it’s not, it totally should be.)

It has a lot to do the camaraderie and chemistry between Nat Wolff as the younger, put-upon, awkward-as-hell Ed Wallis, and Mickey Rourke as the grizzled old neighbour with a secret that, let’s face it, doesn’t stay a secret for all that long.

Together they give the film, which looks to have a pleasingly off kilter flavour enough zest and momentum that not even the all but inevitable enriching and heartwarming ending will take away from some pretty unique performances.

Add in Emma Roberts, who makes every film she’s just that little bit more wonderful and the giddily acerbic Sarah Silverman, who’s proving she has quite the dramatic nous, and Ashby looks like being the sort of quirkily mainstream indie film (also, totally a thing) it’s worth going to the theatre to see.

Thankfully, critics like Kate Erbland at Indiewire’s The Playlist, seem to agree:

“It’s inevitable that Ashby will squish together its two most important plots —Ashby’s mysterious quest and Ed’s attempts to be a football star— but McNamara attempts to keep the movie ticking right along, and for all its half-cocked plotlines, “Ashby” is able to maintain a consistently humorous and light tone. Ed and Ashby’s worldview is more than a bit skewed, but so is the film’s, and it works well enough to keep the film entertaining and bouncy.”

Ashby opens 25 September 2015 in USA.

 

Falling Skies: “Stalag 14th Virginia” (S5, E8 review)

Hal and Anne begin to suspect that this isn't the coffee queue after all ... (image via Self Rescuing Princesses (c) AMC)
Hal and Anne begin to suspect that this isn’t the coffee queue after all … (image via Self Rescuing Princesses (c) AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD! AND LOTS OF ALIEN-CHASING CARDIO*

 

Well, catch me a giant cod, slap its head on Rage Tom (Noah Wylie) and call him an Espheni Overlord, Falling Skies finally found its gung-ho storytelling mojo in “Stalag 14th Virginia”!

Granted it was in the third last episode ever when everything is over bar the Espheni shouting, and the Volm being unable to explain why (as always), but at least Something Happened.

And behold everyone rejoiced!

Of course all this highly belated action didn’t come without some ominous signs such as Pope (Colin Cunningham), propped up on a bedraggled couch with beer in hand – where are all these apocalyptic breweries? Clearly the Espheni love a cold one after a long day of exterminating the human race and have left them well alone – watching over his sociopathic brood fighting to the death like unwashed redneck gladiators.

All of which probably means that Pope and Rage Tom will be engaging in one last big last fight to the death instead of taking on, you know, our alien enslavers, or perhaps, rather distractingly, during what you can only hope will be a big enormously huge battle in Washington D.C.

And Hal (Drew Roy), when he wasn’t about to be shot to pieces at dawn – guessing if you’re facing a firing squad the whole “darkest before the dawn” thing is kinda meaningless – was having a heart to heart with Maggie (Sarah Carter) who apparently removed her spikes because of Love True Love and all that.

I know Steven Spielberg loves his heartfelt “family” moments, and yes he’s very good at them but when you don’t have much time left to finish up a storyline, and the clock is very much ticking, then those lovely precious Hallmark moments gobble up a lot of narrative real estate that should be devoted to victory, glorious victory over the aliens.

Assuming, of course, that even happens, and frankly at this point, I am beginning to have my doubts anything dramatic is going to happen; in fact, the odds are pretty good the finale could be a down-and-dirty boxing match between Rage Tom and Pope with the 2nd Mass, the Espheni, the Volm, the Dornia, and hell even the partridge in a pear tree, laying bets on who will win.

 

Rage Tom sits in his call thinking About Things; at this stage in the game when not much is happening of any real import, who knows what really (image via TV.com (c) AMC)
Rage Tom sits in his cell thinking About Things; at this stage in the game when not much is happening of any real import, who knows about what really (image via TV.com (c) AMC)

 

But back to the action at hand, and yes, there was indeed action!

There was mutiny – against Captain Marshall (Melora Hardin) by Lt. Shleton (Bob  Frazer), who got shot and killed for his troubles, and Second Lt. Demarcus Wolf (Daren A. Herbert), who got shot in the arm and then almost shot by the firing squad – betrayal – Anne (Moon Bloodgood) was given up by her supposedly sympathetic patient Sgt. Huston (Lane Edwards) who ended up in the Pope Arena with the Redneck Lord of the Flies for company – and a last minute reprieve as Dingaan (Treva Etienne), Matt and the left behind 2nd Massers arrived just in time to stop the firing squad shooting Hal, Ben (Connor Jessup), Second Lt. Wolf and Anne.

And in the middle of all this intrigue, plotting and counter-plotting – Mike over at MikesFilmTalk alluded to the fact that the episode bore many similarities to the Caine Mutiny – Weaver (Will Patton), finally convinced his old pal Captain Marshall wasn’t quite herself – turns out she was and she wasn’t; the real Katie had died 6 weeks previously, replaced by a bio replica with all her memories – followed her out in the woods at night and found she was keeping company with an Espheni Overlord.

Letting her go back to camp unawares, Weaver killed the Overlord with some rather inventive use of his belt, took the body back to camp and did quite the memorable Show-and-Tell presentation with it, shocking everyone but Katie, and the insanely loyal – literally as it turns out – Private Grey (Harrison MacDonald) who decided to step in and do the firing squad’s dirty work when they hesitated in the most just-in-time Spielbergian of ways.

So yes, much adrenaline-pounding action … at last!

Trouble was you have to wonder what the writers of Falling Skies thought they were accomplishing.

It was a tight episode yes, and gave Rage Tom a chance to deliver a couple of inspirational speeches – apparently that’s how the Espheni will be defeated; by boredom after hearing endless sermonising, and frankly after sitting through it, I think it’s a reasonably sound strategy and might just work – but all a bit too late in the grand scheme of things, with the only two big reveals being that Ben can see into the Shadow Realm in a way no one else can, and that there’s actually a Big Bad Espheni that, once again, Cochise and the Volm, the galaxy’s Most Inept Aliens Ever, forgot to tell anyone on earth about – whoopsies!

We are still left talking about Washington D.C. and what might be there, still no closer to any kind of momentum that might lead to waging a Big Final Battle – although with Marshall and Grey gone, the 14th Virginia are at Rage Tom’s disposal if it happens and surely it will, and still with no real sense that this final season, this critically-important final season is heading anywhere.

Unless the writers pull something out of their giant big fishhead hats fairly quickly, and give us two astoundingly good last episodes in “Reunion” and “Reborn”, Falling Skies, a show I have devotedly watched for 5 seasons through thick and thin because I believed in its oft-squandered potential, could face the ignominy of a non-event finale, consigned to the graveyard of Shows That Could’ve Been Something But Weren’t.

I am praying showrunner David Eick gets his act together and Falling Skies can avoid that fate.

  • Behold the promo for next week’s episode “Reunion” where Things May Happen (don’t hold your breath though; blue doesn’t suit you) and a sneak peek …

 

 

Whoosh! The Flash season 2 teaser trailer is here then it’s gone

(image via Comic Book Movie (c) CW)
(image via Comic Book Movie (c) CW)

 

One of the unexpected delights of the last year TV-wise has been The Flash, one of the ever-expanding list of DC Comics properties on the small screen.

I say “unexpected” because I have never been a great fan of superhero comic books nor their movie or TV adaptations but there was, and is, something about The Flash that drew me in almost immediately.

Much of the appeal stems from Grant Gustin who imbues Barry Allen aka our titular hero with just enough gee-whiz, oh shucks everyday boy next door-ness to lend his unarguably special powers-imbued hero the right amount of down to earth relatability.

Watching him grapple with his newfound powers, the result of an explosion by the reactor at S.T.A.R. Labs, and struggle to work out how they relate to his day-to-day life and how to live any kind of life, normal or otherwise when you no longer even remotely normal (whatever that is anyway) made him the kind of protagonist you wanted to watch.

Sometimes he got it right, many times he got it wrong but he kept getting up and trying again, armed with family and friends, all of whom were uniformly lovely, appealingly flawed people, cheering him on every step of the way, just like in real life.

 

He finished off season 1 – SPOILER ALERT! – seeing off his one time friend/mentor then nemesis Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and basically saving the world, leaving him, you might think at a loose end come the start of season 2.
But fear not, there will a raft of new friends, and one big new baddy, says executive producer Gabrielle Stanton (TV Line):
“We didn’t want Barry to get lonely so we thought we’d bring in some more speedsters. It’s always Barry’s journey. The Flash is always about Barry, but these people who come in will show us different ways that The Flash can be.
“Zoom is just scary as all hell. Zoom is going to be very different in terms of motivation, in terms of what he wants from The Flash, in terms of why he’s doing what he’s doing. I know a lot of people are thinking, ‘[Zoom and Reverse Flash] were so similar in the comics. What’s going to make them different?’ I guarantee no one will confuse him for one second with what we did last year. It’s actually much more different than people would think.”

Thankfully the “speedsters” Stanton refers to sound like a fine old bunch according to Cinema Blend:

“One of the new speedsters being brought aboard in Season 2 is Jay Garrick, played by Teddy Sears. Hailing from Earth 2, Jay is a more experienced Flash that will serve as Barry’s new mentor. Then there’s also Wally West, played by Keiynan Lonsdale. It hasn’t been revealed whether he’ll start out as a speedster (specifically Kid Flash) or just be a civilian when he debuts. All Stanton was willing to reveal is that he will have an “a very interesting and close relationship” with Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team. Executive producer Greg Berlanti also hinted earlier in the year that we may eventually see Bart Allen, though fans may not get to see that in Season 2 given all the speedsters being introduced.”
And yes poor lovelorn Barry will find new love in the form of “kooky cop Patty Spivot (portrayed by Shantel VanSanten)” (Den of Geek) which presumably means that love true love with Iris West (Candice Patton) will have to find till sometime in the future.
Ah well, we all know TV U.R.S.T. cannot be held off forever so their time shall come.
In the meantime, there’s a whole new season of The Flash to look forward kicking off on 6 October on CW.

Movie review: Ricki and the Flash

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Following your dreams is one thing.

Following your dreams, moving to California, abandoning your family in Indiana who grow to resent you (mostly), and finding your dreams aren’t quite what they’re cracked up to be; ah, well, that is quite another.

It’s a lesson Ricki Rendazzo aka one time suburban wife and mother Linda Brummel (Meryl Streep) learnt many years earlier, after her fateful decision to fly the domestic coop in favour of rock ‘n’ roll glory resulted less in partying hard with Rick Springsteen every night than working a minimum wage job during the day in a supermarket and fronting an, admittedly very good, in-bar band at night.

It’s not that her life has fallen in a miserable, leather-clad heap.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) is too good a movie scribe to simply present those sort of well-worn cliches up to us on an all too-scuffed plate; rather she presents us with a woman who is well-loved at the Sand Well, a respectable enough, cosy bar in Tarzana, California, where she is adored by the bartender Daniel (Ben Platt), and loved, though not openly, by lead guitarist in her band Greg Sandoval (Rick Springfield).

She may not be playing to stadium crowds, and her nightly playlist may consist of rock ‘n’ standards by The Rolling Stones and Springsteen (who features prominently in the finale) but she lives her new, reasonably impoverished, life with gusto and all the verve you could ask of a rock chick living the (limited) dream.

That she isn’t quite as happy as she could be is obvious through the cracks, and sometimes uncomfortably out in the open, but admitting that could mean bringing down the whole costly house of cards and Ricki simply isn’t prepared to do that even if means giving up love, true love, with Greg.

 

 

But the luxury of pretending the good but not perfect present is all there is, and was, and the past simply didn’t exist, ends when he gets a call from ex-husband Peter (Kevin Kline), who stayed behind in Indiana, raised the kids with new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) and bought an insanely big house with a kitchen large enough to house every last one of Ricki’s staunchly-loyal bar fans.

Daughter Julie (Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer) has been left by her husband Max (Gabriel Ebert), and with echoes of her mother’s earlier abandonment playing in her mind like a demented old record, has attempted to take her own life, spending her days in the wake of her failed attempt in the same clothes with personal hygiene pretty much a thing of the past.

Maureen is conveniently away in Seattle visiting her ailing father so Peter summons Ricki, who to her credit, well aware of the reception that awaits her from her kids, heads east to face an entirely different kind of music.

In the film’s low key way – director Jonathan Demme offers us up drama that is light on the soap and heavy on the “this is life in all its awkward glory; deal with it best you can” – Ricki and the Flash then serves us up a lesson, albeit one not plated with too much cliche and only a small side order of cliche and manipulative emotion, on the way dreams are only worth something if you don’t trash your life to make them happen.

The message seems to be follow those dreams sure, and give them all the effort in the world since who knows you might even realise in some small form; but don’t sacrifice those you love to get there.

It’s not delivered with anything like the stern school ma’am tut-tutting you might expect, and Ricki and Pete’s lives are presented as both equally valid entities, but it is there nonetheless even if any lingering resentment on behalf of the kids – Pete seems to have dealt with his Ricki demons years ago – who include sons Josh (Sebastian Stan), and Adam (Nick Westrate) is handled with only a few cracklingly good shouting matches and some lingering looks of resentment.

Revolutionary in intent and execution it may not be, but thanks to Cody’s emotionally-honest script which doesn’t sugar coat the realities even if it isn’t as nakedly realistic as it could be, Ricki and the Flash takes a good stab at laying bare the fact that nothing in life isn really free.

 

 

Armed with a killer soundtrack and impressive performances by Streep, Gummer and Springfield – whose chemistry with Streep gives their resultant relationship, a product of Ricki’s first eye-opening trip home – Ricki and the Flash treads the line between gut-wrenchingly real and hallmark happy quite nicely.

It will never be mistaken for one of those grim dark indie dramas where resentment is spelt with a capital “S” and every single word is spat out with the scornful bile of the long abandoned seeking to revengefully wound where they can, but it nevertheless establishes that our actions have consequences, and opportunities for do-overs are rare to non-existent.

That Ricki gets one, and does something with it, is thankfully not presented as some kind of road to Damascus moment; Ricki largely stays Ricki, WASP-alienating rocker and all, but she is a more-rounded person, her new life enriched by making peace with the old.

All this self-revelation is, quite naturally, wrapped up with a feel good finale at Josh’s wedding, but so well has the journey been plotted, and so believable the adroitly-played the relationships between all the main characters that you’re happy to go along with it, partly because Streep is just so damn convincing as a well-meaning, if misguided rock ‘n’ roller (her musical performances are brilliantly done).

Ricki and the Flash may not find itself with a slew of awards come Oscar time but you know that was never the intent; instead, Demme and Cody offer up a low key, drama-lite treatise on the pursuing of dreams and the fact that while life may never quite put all the pieces together quite the way you want, that’s OK and everything will be fine, in one way or another, somewhere down the track.

 

 

 

The Muppets Fun x3: Floyd and Animal, Kermit and Fozzy, Big Bird and Jimmy Fallon

The late much-missed Jim Henson and his Muppet family (image via Muppet Wikia (c) Disney / Sesame Workshop)
The late much-missed Jim Henson and his Muppet family (image via Muppet Wikia (c) Disney / Sesame Workshop)

 

The Muppets are beyond awesome.

We all know that right?

But sometimes clips come along that remind just how brilliantly eternally awesome every last one of the characters are, no matter whether they’re on The Muppets new ABC called, rather prosaically, The Muppets, or on Sesame Street (granted the puppet denizens of the classic kids’ education show, which has recently experienced some changes, are called Muppets but they’re all Henson creations so I’m happy to group them together)

First up, courtesy of Laughing Squid, is Animal (my second favourite Muppet after Fozzie Bear) and Floyd Pepper reciting the lyrics of the Disney song “It’s a Small World”, a video which first appeared on the Oh My Disney blog …

 

 

Next up are Fozzie and Kermit singing along to a most unexpected song as Fast Company reveals:

“Straight outta Sesame, our Muppet friends appear in a new mashup sync video from AnimalRobot, the YouTube crew who previously brought us Cookie Monster performing Busta Rhymes’ ‘Gimme Some More’. Using footage of Fozzie Bear with his ’80s comedy boom backdrop of a microphone and a brick wall, the rapping looks naturalistic. With Kermit serving as hypeman, our occasional sadsack, polka dot cravat-wearing bear-bud looks happy here, singing along to N.W.A.’s most jaunty tune—the one that samples ‘Mr. Big Stuff.'”

 

 

And lastly but never, ever leastly where Big Bird is concerned, the world’s most wonderful 6 year old found himself on the Jimmy Fallon playing a most interesting game indeed, according to Mashable:

“Kevin Spacey didn’t know that humans have 32 teeth and a Manhattan is made with sweet vermouth and Maraschino cherries and for that he paid the price on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Friday night.

“For every wrong answer, another celebrity was stuffed into a phone booth as Spacey played a trivia game. First came Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele, then 6’11” NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns, followed by Parenthood’s Mae Whitman and the jockey who rode American Pharoah to Triple Crown glory, Victor Espinoza.”

 

 

Now this is music #54: Holy Models, sjowgren, CAPPA, Galantis, TACACHO

Now this is music 54 MAIN

 

Get up and dance people!

It’s Friday, your cubicle no longer needs yo,u and your dancefloor most certainly does.

But fear not; should intense full on gyrating prove a tad too taxing, there’s some quieter but no less emotionally-ebullient music to luxuriate in as well.

There’s something for everyone here from five artists who know their way to your heart and their way around a club.

Dance on and have fun!

 

“Lessons” (Mighty Mouse remix)” by Holy Models

 

Holy Models (image via official Holy Models Facebook page)
Holy Models (image via official Holy Models Facebook page)

 

What, you’re still sitting down?! How is that even possible?

From the get go, English DJ/producer Mighty Mouse seeds this great big thumping remix of “Lessons”, the second single by Aussie duo Holy Models, who are most at home spinning some highly-attractive disco funk, with all the energy, verve and dancefloor-filling power you could want.

You can no more sit through this than refuse to put a ring on it when Beyonce tells you to; its that addictively, mesmeringly, lusciously full-on.

“Lessons (Mighty Mouse remix)” soars, pounds, dips and dives, anchored by a brilliantly-repetitive background vocals that will not be denied.

Repeat listens are well nigh mandatory for this track to fully appreciate its kaleidoscope power and melody, as is your very own dancefloor and very understanding neighbours because this must be PLAYED LOUD.

 

 

“Seventeen” by sjowgren

 

sjowgren (image via official sjowgren Facebook page)
sjowgren (image via official sjowgren Facebook page)

 

Hailing from the Bay Area, sjowgren describe themselves on Medium as “Three friends making music for fun”.

And never were truer words committed to social media.

“Seventeen” is all surfy, sunny, harmony-rich guitar-driven indie pop that will have you not just dancing but pogosticking like mad if there’s even a hint of a rhythm-seeking bone in your body.

Throughout the song sjowgren, who premiered their addictively-jaunty track with the promise that it’s “the first of many to come”, assure listeners “Don’t worry, I’m not in hurry / not going nowhere, I’m not going nowhere”.

Here’s hoping – with music this blissfully good in the offing, we can only hope they stick around for a good long time making songs as good as “Seventeen”.

 

 

“This is Love” by CAPPA

 

CAPPA (image via official CAPPA Facebook page)
CAPPA (image via official CAPPA Facebook page)

 

Philadelphia-born, Nashville-resident CAPPA has to have one of the most emotionally-evocative voices out there.

From the first hushed whispers at the start of “This is Love”, redolent with all the rapturous ecstasy of new love and the comfort and exhilaration it provides, through to the atmospherically-rich, intensity-building chorus, and the hushed harmonies of the closer, her voice sweeps in all its ethereal grandeur through every last bar and lyric of the song.

Accented by futuristic synth-drenched bleeps and whistles, and a dreamy melody that captures that sense of awestruck marvelling at finding love at all, let alone as perfect as this, “This is Love” is every perfect sensation of love wrapped up in one gorgeous pop gem.

Anyone who’s ever been in love, who’s experienced the exhilaration, the joy, and the willingness to take whatever leap into the dark is required to live it out to its fullest extent, will glory in the emotions and intent of a song every bit as beautiful as falling in love itself.

 

 

“Peanut Butter Jelly” by Galantis

 

Galantis (image via official Galantis Facebook page)
Galantis (image via official Galantis Facebook page)

 

Now this, THIS IS FUN!

How could you expect a song called “Peanut Butter Jelly” not to be?

The fourth single from the debut album Pharmacy (2015) of Swedish dance duo Galantis (Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw), it surges with an intense, irresistible danceability that will have you not just dancing around like an uncaring fool, but jumping up and down when simply moving your feet to the rhythm seems insufficient.

And there’s a lot going on in the track as Rolling Stone sagely notes:

“It’s a retro, funky slice of disco revival, with the kind of unforgettable, sing-along vocal hook destined for clubs, parties and spin classes near you.”

And that’s not a bad thing.

In a world where pop can often feel halfhearted, Galantis put the dance pedal to the metal and scream off into the distance with all speakers blazing; there’s an extremely good chance, nay a guarantee, that you won’t be far behind them.

 

 

“Realise (ft. Cider Sky)” by TACACHO

 

TADACHO (image via official TADACHO Facebook page)
TADACHO (image via official TADACHO Facebook page)

 

Another eminently catchy, finger snapping song about love sweet love.

Soft piano lines, breathlessly happy vocals and an almost meditatively midtempo beat give “Realise” (ft. Cider Sky)” by Sweden’s Tacacho the air of young lovers blissfully happy in each other’s company.

It’s a near perfect marriage of dreamy, heartfelt lyrics and a melody that suggests staring happily into the distance marvelling at romantic good fortune.

It’s bright, breezy, and insanely happy, as wonderful an ode to the grandeur of being safe, loved and a part of something almost too wonderful to contemplate.

For the diehard romantics out there or those who would like to be.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

One of the most chilling pieces of TV music out there is the one composed by Bear McCreary for AMC’s The Walking Dead.

It’s suitably creepy, portentous, and redolent with threat and epic emotion.

And now composer and pianist Sonya Belousova has performed her own thrilling, utterly engrossing version of this iconic piece of music with more than a little help from filmmaker Tom Grey of Player Piano, and with some accompanying zombies including guest undead violinist Eriko Tsuji.

It’s brilliant but probably best not to watch it alone … at night … in a warehouse …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Movie review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you begin an espionage action movie.

Particularly one as gloriously over the top, in all the best possible ways, as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the latest instalment in the classic TV show-cum -movie franchise that literally shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Showing a distinct need for speed from the very first scene where the perennial hero of the hour Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is left hanging, with grim determination off the side of a massive Russian transport plane – in defiance of the laws of physics but frankly who cares? – while tech whiz, and quipper extraordinaire Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) is frantically working through some Cyrillic-based software desperately trying to get a critically-important door open, the film puts pedal to the metal, again literally, and guns its way through 130 minutes of exhilarating near-nonstop action.

While this might suggest a film too dumb to remember its next line, and to be fair, it is in some ways the original big, loud, dumb and fun espionage action blockbuster with multiple world locations, turns and counter turns and sneering villains, there’s actually a great deal of cleverness wrapped up in its big, brash epic scenes.

For instance, the screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the four IMF agents at the core of the story – along with Hunt and Dunn, we see the return of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – aren’t simply pawns for the greater action good.

All four men – to be fair the main woman in the piece Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) does tend towards the, though admittedly capable, doe-eyed femme fatale end of things at times – are given plenty of opportunities to strut their character stuff, making it clear in the process why they are such close friends, and super-talented IMF agents.

The teamwork between them thus makes sense and in turn, makes much of the action spinning in ceaseless circles make sense; this isn’t just action for action’s sake – well not all the time anyway – but rather motivated by a need to be there for people you actually care about and want to see around for the next mission.

 

 

It helps, of course, that their backs are collectively up against a great big wall of power plays, political machinations and intrigue.

Not only are they fending off their enduring big bad The Syndicate, headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a blond-haired, sneering rogue MI6 agent – everyone is rogue pretty much; it seems to be the spy fashion du jour – but the CIA, in the form of unthinking establishment power player for hire Alec Baldwin who plays CIA Director Alan Hunley, is after them for not playing nice in the espionage sandbox.

(Apparently there are rules and etiquette and Hunley is peeved that Hunt et al have deigned to give the finger to Miss Manner’s Guide to Good Mannered Espionage.)

So there are a lot of reasons to band together and work hard to unmask The Syndicate, which the CIA believes is all in Hunt’s over-actively imaginative mind, and convince the spying powers-that-be in Washington D.C. that the IMF is one of the good guys.

To do this, of course, requires jet setting at breakneck pace across the globe, touching down but only long enough to wreak havoc and mayhem in Havana, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca and Minsk, foiling some plots but not others – apologies to the world leaders who end up as collateral damage – and generally trying to out-think, out-gun and out-exhaust Lane and his assortment of spy agency castoff goons.

Granted the plot isn’t overly convoluted but what is there works and works very well, lending some sense of gravitas and import to the operatically-epic scenes – again literally as gunmen without number it seems scramble around the Vienna Opera House either perpetrating and trying to foil nefarious deeds – which dominate the film with one impossible set piece following hot on the heels of, and almost seeking to trump, that which precedes it.

 

 

If you’re looking for a thinking man’s spy drama then Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is probably not your movie.

But then the Mission Impossible franchise has never sought to stake out that kind of storytelling ground.

In that respect, Christopher McQuarrie plays to the series’ strengths, allowing Hunt to be the fulcrum on which everything else pivots, the centrepiece of sequences so audaciously, almost ridiculously bombastic – underwater diving beneath a power plant in Morocco anyone? Without air tanks or easy escape by the way – that you wonder how anyone gets out alive.

And, of course, in the cartoony world Hunt, and his allies and adversaries inhabit, you only really die, or sustain terrible injuries, if your villain fodder.

Everyone else bounces around planes, drowns in secure underwater cyber vaults, is knocked out by heart paddles, falls into gaping holes, and emerges unscathed, ready to quip and fight another day.

And that’s exactly as it should be in a Mission Impossible film.

Throw in an unexpectedly humourous revelatory finale, one in which the British PM almost steals the show, and you have one of the strongest cinematic entries yet in Hunt’s already endlessly hyperbolic resume of larger than life espionage capers.