Book review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

(image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

Depending on which side of the aging fence you stand, there is one of two axioms that will guide your approach to life.

The first, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” presupposes that you reach a certain point in life after which all new experiences and skills slide off you like existential teflon; the second by C. S. Lewis “You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream” invokes instead the idea that the boundaries for learning and growing are joyously inexhaustible.

Very early on in Fredrik Backman’s book Britt-Marie Was Here, it becomes patently obvious which camp the eponymous protagonist falls into, and it’s not the one where change and growth is accepted, welcomed and revered.

In fact, when the woman who first made her unyielding presence felt in Backman’s previous novel, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, first arrives in the decaying, blighted town of Borg, Sweden, she is wholly expecting everyone to bow to her accepted way of doing things.

With a confidence borne of years of acquiescence by everyone around her, fuelled by an indomitable will and uncrushable belief that the universe will always bend to her superior will, Britt-Marie takes up a temporary job at the recreation centre which doubles as an auto repair centre/pizzeria and grocery store – commerce is not exactly thriving in the road of which the best feature is the road going in and out – and expects, nay demands, that everyone will eat their dinner at 6pm, organise their cutlery draw in the right order and won’t drive at night.

She is almost immediately disappointed when people like Somebody who runs the polyglot recreation centre store, brother and sister Omar and Vega, part of the town’s obsessed football team, and Bank, her blind, irascible landlady, not only don’t bow to her superior knowledge and will but do their utmost to change the way she approaches life on just about every level.

Only Sven the local policeman, who takes an immediate shine to Britt-Marie, brittle and huffy-puffy though she may be, seems inclined to heed her advice, but no sooner has he gone along with her more inflexible pieces of advice, than he is side-swiped by another missive from Britt-Marie.

Not even her separation from her husband of decades, Kent, a man more obsessed with his career than her, cam dim her limpet-like hold on the right way to do things and even when events large and small, barely-worrying and traumatic come her way, she is, for the most part, a woman who shall not be moved.

 

(image courtesy Simon & Schuster)

 

Or so she thinks.

As Backman delightfully makes clear over the course of a novel when Britt-Marie goes from annoying to  brusquely amusing to vulnerably charming, Britt-Marie is being influenced more than she knows by the idiosyncratic, football-mad people of Borg, many of whom come to mean a great deal more to her than she had ever intended.

As we watch the slow, much-resisted flowering of Britt-Marie, and her grudging then enthusiastic acceptance of not her new station in life, but a new, damned uncomfortable life philosophy, we bear witness to what can happen when someone finally lets go of long-held assumptions and perceptions about life and  let’s the world do what it will.

It’s a big shift of course and Backman, despite the novel’s often playful, hilariously observant tone, never pretends otherwise, giving us a fairytale change of sorts but not one laden by cheesy road-to-Damascus (or is that Borg?) epiphanies, with one eye always on the fact that admitting you may not have lived life to the fullest is never easy.

“… Britt-Marie is already standing between the pistol barrel and the children. She stretches her arms out behind her to make sure she’s covering the girl and the boy with her body, but she doesn’t move an inch. She’s frozen to the spot, held in place by a whole lifetime of thwarted ambitions. ” (P. 200)

Rather, while Britt-Marie does mellow and yield, and begins to accept there may be a place in her life for a great many things that aren’t on her sacred lists – on which pencil only is acceptable; pen is far too permanent – she is does welcome her gradual transformation with open arms, fighting it all way until it becomes clear that there is no way back to the life she once led.

Even then, she remains rather dubious of the subtle shifts in attitude and feeling taking place, convinced that a woman her age can never change in any kind of meaningful way, a philosophy which also rules out Paris as a destination choice, despite the captivating hold it has on her.

Backman gives us a delightful, emotionally-affecting, oft-funny look at the reawakening that can happen when long-held idea on life are challenged, and challenged profoundly, and a choice has to be made about whether to accept them.

If you have ever felt that change was beyond you, that life has inflicted too much pain, and that you’ve made too many decisions, and that you are a captive of a lifetime spent being everyone but who you actually are, you’ll have much to like about Britt-Marie and her soul-changing journey in the nothing town of Borg, while you grow ever more appreciative of Backman’s unique gift for combining the quirky and the meaningful in a surprisingly moving way.

 

Little girls everywhere she turns: Miranda Hart to play Miss Harrigan in Annie

Miranda Hart will tread the boards as Miss Hannigan in a production of the evergreen musical Annie from May (image courtesy Official London Theatre)

 

Is there anything that Miranda Hart, star of her eponymous sitcom, budding Hollywood star (Spy), author extraordinaire and lover of the word “moist”, cannot do?

I say no – she is simply too much “such fun” to not be absolutely brilliantly, fabulously, hilariously jolly good and far too versatile.

She has once again demonstrated her what I like to call versatility by landing the role of the orphan-hating Miss Hannigan in a Nikolai Foster’s production of Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End from May this year.

Miranda is, as you can imagine, even more excited than we are (which is hard to imagine since all we can think is “This is FABILOSIBISIBOS!”), according to a statement carried by Digital Spy:

“Miss Hannigan is a dream role, and certainly has been for me, but I never thought it would be a reality.

“But here we are and I have a newly found musical theatre-esque spring in my step! I hope people will leave the theatre feeling life is a little better and dreamier and jollier after watching it, as much as we feel that performing it.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some leg-warmers to put on…”

And we are off to book tickets to London! Act normal … act normal.

You’ll be able to buy tickets from Monday 27 February for performances right through to 6 January, 2018.

 

 

 

And of course here’s the great Carol Burnett singing her ode to her hatred of “Little Girls” in the 1982 movie Annie

 

Movie review: Moonlight

(image via IMP awards)

 

There is a point towards the end of Moonlight, an achingly poignant examination of identity, loss and love, that you realise how much damage can be done to one person’s sense of self by the thoughtless words and ill-thought-out deeds of those closest to them.

Chiron (Travant Rhodes as an adult / Ashton Sanders as a teenager / Alex Hibbert as a child), the film’s protagonist, has finally returned home to Miami after 10 years away, ostensibly to see his mother but more especially, to reconcile with his childhood best friend Kevin (André Holland as an adult / Jharrel Jerome as a teenager / Jaden Piner as a child) with whom he enjoyed an all-too brief relationship in his teens.

When Kevin expresses surprise that the slim, cowering teenage Chiron has morphed into a hardened, muscled-up drug dealer named “Black” (Kevin’s old nickname for him), Chiron snaps back that Kevin couldn’t possibly know who he really is, which elicits a soft assurance that he does know who his friend is and the person before him is not him.

It’s a touching riff on a theme that percolates throughout the film, triggered by a simple “Who is you?” question to Chiron when he is a boy, and goes to the heart of the film’s insightful exploration of how deeply identity can be shaped by the words and actions of others.

In Chiron’s case, the influences have been profound, and rarely for the better with his crack-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) about as far from a loving maternal figure as you could ask for, and more prone to belittle and attack her son than nurture and encourage him to be himself.

Her actions, which create an incredibly unsafe environment for Chiron, who is known as Little as a child – the film is divided into three parts, charting the character’s childhood, teenage life and adult life – are made all the worse by a chaotic school situation where the sensitive young man is bullied repeatedly and with violent vigour by a gang led by Terrell (Patrick Decile).

 

 

With no safe place to retreat to, save for occasional nights at the home of Theresa (Janelle Monáe), the girlfriend of a drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who for a time acts a surrograte father figure for Chiron, the young man is constantly under siege, never able to let his guard, and certainly never able to be himself.

This, as you might expect, has a corrosive effect on him, with the suppression of his true identity – he is at heart, a quiet, thoughtful, introspective soul) – eventually leading to the sealed-off drug dealer that Kevin challenges in the gentlest of ways in that pivotal final scene.

Sensitively and thoughtfully handled, thank to expert direction by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney (the two men grew up close to one another in the same Miami neighbourhood), it becomes apparent over the three stages of this nuanced film, which is almost as quietly-articulated as its protagonist, that the loss of identity can have a profoundly negative impact on a person.

This rings true for anyone who has been beaten down, either at home or school growing up, and has had to retreat into themselves, afraid to open up or vulnerable lest it grant their enemies an opportunity to inflict yet more damage.

When your identity is broken away bit by bit, piece by piece, and you are only ever able to present the small possible target to the world, your sense of self shrinks along with any expression of who you truly are.

This is painfully, and desperately movingly true of Chiron whose adult self shelters the sensitive young man he once has, someone who has been locked away for many years until Kevin finally gives him a safe place to exhale for the first time in years.

It is damn near impossible not to be moved by Chiron’s quiet, slow-moving self-destruction, a process so dark and unstoppable that not even Theresa or Kevin – who at one point, becomes part of the problem and not the solution – are able to stop it.

Chiron’s is a life lived in an existential war zone and you can help but ache for him as you see him transformed from a tender, of embattled young boy and to an angry, resentful, barely-holding-it-together teenager and finally a hardened adult who’s pretty much given up on life as he once dreamed it could be.

 

 

The isolation and loss that Chiron experiences is vividly brought to life by fine performances by all three actors who play the character, most particularly Trevante Rhodes, a sparsely melodic, emotionally-resonant by soundtrack Nicholas Brittel and cinematography by James Laxton which lingers on Chiron’s face as a thousand contradictory, mostly negative emotions, flash across his face.

It’s the particular decision by Jenkins to use dialogue only when it’s absolutely necessary that accents how intense, and ultimately debilitatingly damaging, the business of growing up for Chiron, who is barely able to salvage anything of himself under the sustained attacks, both emotional and physical he sustains.

His is a life in perpetual triage, and Jenkins excels in bringing this unpalatable reality to the fore time and again, reminding us that no amount of willpower and self-survival skills, and Chiron does have them in spades; they’re simply not equal to the task at hand alas, can save someone when their very sense of self, and the security that brings, is constantly under assault.

While this may seem bleak and unyielding, there are moments of hope and inspiration throughout, particularly in the final, profoundly quiet and romantic scene when Chiron realises under Kevin’s tender ministrations that life may not be done with him yet.

You can also see Chiron relax as years of holding it all in, of pretending to be someone he’s not simply to survive, come away, if only a little at first, and he begins to see that perhaps there is a way forward that will allow him to finally and definitively be himself.

It’s all anyone who has been under constant emotional assault all their lives wants – the chance to rest, relax, put away the existential boxing gloves and simply be,  and watching Chiron endure the damage but then rediscover the hope that he can still reclaim who he is, makes Moonlight one of the most powerful, important and deeply films, not just of sexuality but of humanity itself, to come along in years.

 

 

 

Daffy Duck finds his Gangsta’s Paradise in this marvellous mashup

(image via YouTube (c) Warner Bros.)

 

In the unexpected cartoon/musical marriages made in mash-up heaven, may we introduce you to the joining together of Daffy Duck in all his gloriously hilarious cantankerousness with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which you’ll recall was the standout song on the soundtrack for 1995’s Dangerous Minds film.

This impressive mash-up is the work of YouTube user isthishowyougoviral aka Adam Schleichkorn, who as EW points out, has been rather busy merging all kinds of cool songs with equally interesting visual inspirations.

“… Schleichkorn has been making mashups for Cartoon Network’s AdultSwim. He previously spliced together Rick and Morty with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank),’ Arthur with Eminem’s ‘Not Afraid,’ and The Muppets with Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing).'”

Joyously capturing Daffy Duck’s kinetic grumpiness and plain ol’ loopiness with a song that is, quite honestly, custom made for him, the mash-up is intended as momentary escape from the current troubles of the world as Schleichkorn explains in the video’s description:

“No matter which side you’re on, there’s a lot of craziness going on in the world today, so hopefully this video is a nice 1 minute break from the chaos …”

 

Book review: Love, Lies and Linguine by Hilary Spiers

(cover image courtesy Allen & Unwin)

 

There is something inordinately comforting about rejoining the company of book characters you have grown to know and love.

If an author is doing their job properly, and Hilary Spiers mostly certainly is, it is akin to meeting up again with old friends, people you wish you could have spent more time with as you turn the last page and they disappear from your life as swiftly as they appeared 400 pages earlier.

Love, Lies and Linguine provides readers just such a reunion, a chance to rejoin the widowed sisters from the small fictional UK village of Pellington who in their first literary outing, Hester and Harriet, opened their hitherto sealed-up life at their small cottage, The Laurels, to an eclectic extended family that came to encompass their teenage nephew Ben, a Belarussian refugee brother and sister duo, Artem and Daria, and Daria’s baby son, Milo.

It was an unexpected shaking of the established order, and one neither sister saw coming but which fussy, sometimes cantankerous devoted cook Hester, and freespirited, liberal Harriet, embraced with gusto and enthusiasm since they are, at the end of the day, kindhearted souls who want the best for those around them (and in Hester’s case, compliance with some immutable behavioural expectations).

“Harriet, deep in her Kindle, does not reply. Either she is lost in her thriller or she wants Hester to believe that she is. Hester, who has long and vociferously resisted the lure of an e-reader, now throws covetous glances at the slim device, only too conscious of the weight of the paperbacks clogging her case. Too thrifty (‘mean’, says Harriet) to pay for excess baggage, she had jettisoned fourtops, a spare pair of shows and three pairs of knickers to accommodate the books.” (P. 1)

Their generosity of spirit gives figurative birth to an expansive family, which includes the learned, well-spoken homeless man about town, Finbar, one which expands even further in Love, Lies and Linguine, as love and a whole of secrets come to roost in the lives of this wonderful polyglot family.

This time around though rather than everyone being in the same place, Hester & Harriet are away in Italy for a holiday that ends up becomes a whole more stressful and complicated than either bargained for, while Daria, Ben and Artem are back in Pellington coping with extraordinarily messy private lives.

It may sound a tad soap opera-ish but only in the most benign and sweet of ways, and thanks to Spiers ability to create such vivid, rich characters who inhabit a believable universe, enhanced with rose tinted glasses though it may be, you know that any travails they experience will eventually be sorted out thanks to the strength of the bonds between them.

 

 

 

High-edged drama and action it is not, but then that is not the point, I suspect.

Rather, thanks to a delightful lilting style that immerses you like a warm hug, you get quandaries and problems, in this case some real doozies, all of which you know in your heart won’t cause unending schisms or be the death of anyone or the big messy loving made-up family we have come to know.

It would be easy to dismiss this as uneventful or undemanding writing but in truth, it’s robust and truthful in its own way, an acknowledgement that there is drama to be found in the most domestic of situations, a realm where, let’s face it, we most of spend the majority of our time.

It’s escapist certainly but who hasn’t longed for a family where all the irritations, thoughtlessness and poor decisions eventually resolve themselves back into the comforting embrace of home and hearth: maybe you have that, maybe you don’t, but the lure of Love, Lies and Linguine is that whatever trials arrive, and however much relationships are tested, normalcy will be restored and life will return to that lovely place of contentment and belonging.

The only downside to this slice of English drama-lite is that the main characters are split between Hester and Harriet in Italy, with the others dealing with, initially at least, far less compelling issues at home.

“Harriet looks across at Hester, rejoices to see the excitement in her eyes, the hunger for some hard physical work to fill her days, a shared task to bind them close once more, and surrenders. Maybe it would be cathartic — even fun, once they get started — to clear out all the rubbish (really dispose of it, not just move it somewhere else), streamline their lives and start a new chapter.” (P. 432)

It’s fine that the two sisters get the more meatier issues to deal with since they are, after all, the heart and soul of what you want to hope will be a long and enduring series, but it does mean that as the chapters alternate between Italy and the UK, you long to return to Hester and Harriet, the secondary characters not quite delivering the goods.

But then things shift a gear back in England and suddenly each chapter keeps and holds your interest; even so, the fact that everyone isn’t together until later, and then only briefly, means that some of the warm, all-together-now bonhomie of the first book is dissipated somewhat.

It’s only small drawback though for a book that delightfully reminds us that no matter how far we roam, or how badly we misjudge a situation, or however many secrets we keep to our detriment, that the bonds of friendship and family can always cover a multitude of sins.

Love, Lies and Linguine is a delightful return to the lives of Hester & Harriet and their motley accidental brood, and one can only hope that Spiers grants us another winsomely-written, emotionally-rich opportunity to spend time with these delightful souls once again.

Movie review: Loving

(image via IMP Awards)

 

In a perfect world, the union of two people in wedded bliss would simply be a celebration of love and devotion and not some devious threat to the social order.

Alas, none of us live in such an untroubled idyll, so instead marriage often comes loaded with a whole host of conflicting notions, many of which don’t make sense and reflect not so much the reality of these unions as the prejudice and bigotry of those making allegations both for and against.

Nowhere is this more vividly demonstrated than in the touching, deeply-meaningful Jeff Nichols-directed film Loving, which beautifully and without manipulation or complication takes this down to the simplest and most heartfelt of levels.

In essence, that marriage is about the union of two people who love each other; any other arguments, no matter how volubly or consistently expressed, can’t compete with this self-evident truth.

That’s not say that the holders of contrary views don’t try, as the current marriage equality debate in Australia demonstrates all too well, and up until the 1960s they had prevailed in many states of the Union, which brought in anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited marriage between people of different races.

Like many other discriminatory aspects of American law, this racist notion was put to the test during the Civil Rights era, and quite successfully too as Loving shows, but at the time of the marriage of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) in 1958 it was still very much against the law in Caroline County, Virginia, indeed the entire state, for a white man and a black woman to get married.

Realising this, Richard, a quietly-spoken construction worker who rightly believed that the fact that he loved his wife is enough (as indeed it should be), took Mildred to Washington, D.C. to tie the knot before returning home and proudly hanging his marriage license on the wall.

 

 

In a sign of just how resolutely Richard believed this was sufficient proof of his right to legally cohabit with the woman he loves, and how little regard the state of Virginia, represented by the local Sheriff (Martin Csokas), there is one scene in Loving which powerfully underscores how great that gulf was at the time.

As the Sheriff bursts into the home of Mildred’s parents in the dead of night – Richard was about to build Mildred a home only 1/2 mile from where she’d grown up – and roughly rouses Richard and Mildred from their marital bed, Richard points to the license as if this should be proof enough of his right to be with his wife.

It’s disregarded almost immediately by the sheriff and his fellow policeman who throw Richard into prison overnight and Mildred for three days until they can independently post bail – because Richard is not recognised as Mildred’s husband he is disallowed from acting on her behalf, that role falling to her father (Christopher Mann) – but it speaks with powerful eloquence to the simple but true belief held by Richard that there is nothing standing in the way of their union.

Richard and Mildred don’t win this initial battle nor a number of others that follow, but even through their exile in Washington, D.C., the punishment for the “crime” of breaking the anti-miscegenation law, Mildred especially believes they can win the war.

It’s a war that unspools over a decade, during which the American Council of Civil Liberties (ACLU), represented by well-meaning but green lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), take the case of Richard and Mildred all the way to the Supreme Court where they are successful, overturning anti-miscegenation laws throughout the U.S. and dismantling another plank in the palpably racist laws that governed the lives of many Americans.

It’s without a doubt a powerful and portentous moment but the script by Jeff Nichols, which is based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski, frames in terms of what it means to the Lovings in simple practical terms.

Unwilling to attend the Supreme Court proceedings in Washington, Richard opts to stay on the remote farm in King and Queen County, Virginia, where they have quietly and defiantly returned to raise their three children – who are cruelly described as bastards by the prosecutors from the state – and Mildred, ever the obedient wife, though she is hardly a doormat and is in fact the driver behind the court cases, complies, leaving their lawyer to convey the news down a crackly phone line.

 

 

It might seem like an underwhelming way to document such a momentous development, but it is entirely in keeping with the spirit and intent of Loving, which keeps its focus firmly on Richard and Mildred’s caring and deeply-supportive relationship.

It eschews big bombastic, overly-dramatic court scenes and grandiose pivotal moments redolent with emotionally-manipulative exchanges, for quiet, introspective moments that are not without power or import, but which don’t feel the need to shout their intentions from the dramatic rooftop.

Rather Loving sensitively opts for nuanced understatement, rightly confident in the fact that the real story here is the strength of a relationship so profoundly close that it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by it.

Communicated loud and clear, through various key scenes, is the depth of Richard’s devotion to his wife, who is adamant he will take care of her come what may – in a 2008 interview before her death, which is acknowledged in the credits, Mildred paid tribute to her husband saying “I miss him. He took care of me” – and indeed he does, backing her decision to seek justice all the way to the Supreme Court even if he is uncomfortable with the attention it brings the couple (which includes a photo spread in Life magazine by Grey Villet, played by Michael Shannon).

While the court cases are given due coverage, the film doesn’t linger on them, choosing at every turn to celebrate the reason why the legal battles were occurring in the first place.

Important thought the ramifications for civil rights were, and they were considerable, the real import of the Supreme Court’s decision was to recognise what people like Richard and Mildred Loving, and indeed anyone denied the right to marry knows in their heart already – that there is nothing illegal or deficient in their love and that it deserves the same recognition as that of anyone else, race, colour, creed or sexuality be damned.

 

 

Now this is music #83: Golden Coast, Darling James, Julie Bergan, MUNA, Maribelle

 

Life is not easy on us.

There are twists and turns all over the shop and coping with it all, whether it’s resolving what troubles us, or finding some temporary sanctuary in the midst of the hurt and madness, can be a real challenge.

None of the five artists featured today claim to be wise sages and have the answers to all the problems of being alive – who on earth would be that arrogant or just plain silly? – but they look at life square in the idea and talk about how handle they handle the difficult, the confounding and the downright hurtful.

It’s great music and it says something deeply important and you’ll be glad in a lot of ways that you took the time to listen.

 

“Comeback Kid” by Golden Coast

 

Golden Coast (image via official Golden Coast Facebook page)

 

There is a light and breezy, nay bouncy quality to Golden Coast’s music, reflecting their California locale and you can assume a fairly upbeat view of the world.

Lest you think I’m trading in Californian tropes, take a listen to “Comeback Kid” which is joyously celebratory, announcing to the world that I’m the comeback kid, you can’t shut me down.”

The song talks about being pushed down and having people take shots at you but rising back from those attacks, come what may.

It’s hard to sing along to this song and find yourself becoming enormously inspired and buoyed by its lyrical intent and its musical verve, both of which richly combine to deplete lower motivational reserves. Once you’re finished with this gloriously good song, your first response will be “Life, let me at it!”

 

 

“God’s Graffiti” by Darling James

 

Darling James (image via official Darling James Facebook page)

 

Melbourne, Australia-based Darling James aka James O’Brien is a man with a gift for clever, emotionally-intuitive pop that goes far beyond the usual run of the mill songs out there.

But don’t just take my word for it. Superlative Aussie artist, Kate Miller-Heidke, herself no stranger to music that leaps out of boxes with delightful rapidity, had this to say about Darling James’ songs:

“… his songs are consistently surprising, playful and boundary-pushing, but still with an accessible emotional core.” (source: Tone Deaf)

He is a remarkable artist, conjuring up all kinds of musical magic in his studio, and giving us songs as different as “God’s Graffitti” that in its magnificently upbeat way ponders some pretty big questions about life.

It’s all done in a 3 1/2 minute so elegantly and beautiful that you realise you have come across someone very special indeed, able to knit philosophising and innately listenable music into one very appealing, soul-nourishing package.

 

 

“Blackout” by Julie Bergan

 

Julie Bergan (image via official Julie Bergan Face book page / Photo: Stephen Butkus)

 

Life can take its toll; that’ll surprise no one, with all of, at one time or another, being the recipient of the shittier end of life’s stick.

There are many ways to handle it, and while going all out blotto may not be the most responsible way to go, sometimes losing yourself to oblivion is the only way to pursue the lingering stinking odour of reality gone wrong.

Norwegian electronic pop artist, Julie Bergan gets that a “Blackout” makes sense sometimes, and talks about in a song that is all edgy, hugely-compelling pop, with every punchy synth moment feeling like an emotional lurch one way or another.

It’s gripping, incisive stuff, all sealed up in a song dripping with avant garde pop seamlessly melded with a Top 40 sensibility and infused with a raw emotionality that elevates this song to something truly special.

 

 

“I Know a Place” by MUNA

 

MUNA (image via official MUNA Facebook page)

 

Immensely catchy though they may be, there are some pop songs whose reason for being transcends simply making a road trip a little more enjoyable or a long commute a little brighter.

“I Know a Place” by MUNA, an American three-piece band made up of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson, all of whom identify as queer, is just such a song, birthed out of some very important circumstances as Project U TV notes:

“… the song began as an attempt at a new pride anthem after the US Supreme Court allowed marriage equality in mid 2015. But as realisations that whilst that particular battle had been won – LGBTI people were still dying (particularly trans women) – and that rates of suicide, homelessness and violence were still going to remain higher amongst those that don’t necessarily fit in, the focus shifted to making a song about a space where no one needed to feel afraid. That place is a dance club.

“After the Orlando massacre this became even more of a poignant space to discuss – and its done with taste & celebration whilst still acknowledging that every step forward we take, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

The breezily upbeat electronic pop belies a message that centres around the need for all of us to feel safe to be ourselves, with the need for those wielding the weapons of unacceptance and hurt to “lay down their weapons”.

For every step forward in LGBTQI rights, there are sadly several back and it’s compelling songs like “I Know a Place” that remind everyone of sound heart and purpose that we must never stop fighting for the right of the beautiful rainbow of humanity to be celebrated and honoured, no matter who or where they are.

 

 

“Shout” by Maribelle

 

Maribelle (image via official Maribelle Facebook page)

 

Life is a technicolour wonderland for 21 year old Melbourne, Australia Maribelle, who comes roaring to captivating musical life with “Shout”.

Complete with an insanely vivid video clip that pops off the screen, the song, which encourages anyone who will listen, and you should, you really should, that there is a deeply-releasing balm to letting it all hang out, to purge the soul with healing confession.

And frankly with music as catchy as this, which combines a decidedly upbeat danceable beat with a ’90s visual aesthetic, it’ll be hard not to want to talk your head off as you send your feet into glorious dancefloor oblivion.

It’s a dance pop spectacular that the clip’s producer, Jeremy Koren aka Grey Ghost wonderfully describes as an early-90s-astral-hyper-colour out of body experience”, and it is truly a stellar piece of fun, damn near therapeutic pop.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Let’s face it – The Eurovision Song Contest, peaceful though it is in its mission, isn’t always surrounded by calm and untroubled waters.

Latest case in point is news that almost the entire production for this year’s event in Eurovision has quit just three months ahead of the glitter hitting the fan. Will it stay in Ukraine? Go to Germany (which is usually the emergency back-up)? Or will it all work out in the end? Stay tuned, and while you’re waiting, read more here.

 

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

Simon Says: Lessons of history from a famed real-life Nazi hunter

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

It is an oft-used phrase, particularly in these perilous times when far right nationalists seem intent on trying to reshape the earth in their poisonously dark image, but one that very much deserves repeating:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

(There is some conjecture about the exact wording and who said it first, or at all and why, but the fact remains, it is a truthful axiom.)

Simon Wiesenthal, and many brave souls like him were most definitely not among the good men who did nothing, bravely going out and sacrificing their lives to bring many fugitive Nazis to justice, and it is their inspiring story that writer Andre Frattino with illustrator Jesse Lee has chosen to ensure they are not forgotten.

“We’re going to have the next generation who’s not going to have anyone who’s affected by the Holocaust,” Frattino said. “Not only are we forgetting, we’re normalizing it. We’re playing it down. ‘Oh it was so long ago, it doesn’t matter anymore, we won’t do it again.’ Those who don’t remember their mistakes are bound to repeat them.” (source: IO9)

This impressive and important comic book, which will play a vital role in reminding younger generations of the need to stay eternally vigilant against evil, is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, which will run for another 10 days or so.

These types of ambitious and I would argue necessary projects must be supported and I’d urge you to contribute to making Simon Says: Nazi Hunter a reality and be part of inspiring a whole new generation to speak up, act and stop evil in its tracks before it has a chance to wreak the horrific, lives-destroying damage it did during the Holocaust.

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

The Walking Dead: “Rock in the Road” (S7, E9 review)

Weighty decisions are weighty no matter how theatrical your persona (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … ABD BBQ’D ZOMBIE ROADKILL*

 

Ladies and gentlemen step right up, step right up!

It’s time to play everyone’s favourite apocalyptic game “Kill the REALLY Bad Guy!” Yes, yes we’ve played it many times before, to varying degrees of success, but the rules are essentially the same every time.

(1) Declare yourself the paragon of virtue, truth, justice and whatever the hell is left of the American Way.
(2) Assemble an avenging force to right wrongs, seeking justice (screw mercy) and vengeance and a few other fairly instinct blood-soaked motherhood statements.
(3) Venture forth with a sort of plan in mind, kill lots of people and walk confident you have rid the world of yet more Bad People.
(4) Look yourself in the mirror and say “Gosh Rick you are are virtue and truth and justice incarnate.”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

That is essentially the way Rick and the gang have done things over and over and honestly, you begin to hope at some point that they might realise that while they are relatively not as bad as the Governor or the cannibals at Terminus, that they are, in fact, still morally trouble, and ethically stained.

That’s not to say they haven’t mea culpa’s a few times along the way but the basic premise has been “We’re not as bad as you are and you must die.”

It was tempting for a while, especially early on before we met Negan and his psychopathic ways to assume he was yet another cookie cutter baddy, the slightly more evil yin to Rick’s not quite virtuous yang.

But as that torture porn of a season 7 opener demonstrated rather too graphically, this time the person’t they’re facing really is EVIL (capital letters, flashing neon, bold type).

Granted that doesn’t quite absolve The Walking Dead of its great moral conundrums nor of its lack of storytelling nuance and propensity to repeat roughly the same narrative over and over and over again, but at least this time there is somewhat of a stark divide between Us (Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom et al) and Negan’s Saviours.

 

And even though they were saved too Hilltop ain’t playing the kill Negan game either (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

Alas that’s not quite stark enough a demarcation for the leaders of Hilltop and The Kingdom – Gregory (Xander Berkeley) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payne) – both of whom demur to follow Rick (Andrew Lincoln) into ill-planned battle.

To an extent you can’t blame them – all Rick, accompanied by the likes of Darryl (Norman Reedus), who due to his fugitive status has to hide at The Kingdom, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Maggie (Lauren Cohen), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne) and others have to offer up is a rousing cry to take it to the evil Saviours.

Because they’re evil, and they’re enslaving us and … you know, EVIL!

Kinda empowering yes but short on details, and whatever you might think of Ezekiel and Gregory, and the appeasing decisions they make – as Neville Chamberlain demonstrated in 1938, appeasement never really gets you very much; psychotic evil still comes for you anyway – their decisions not to join Rick’s Caravan of Avenging Murderous Joy (he may or may not call it that; OK he doesn’t, but he should) are borne at least of being well acquainted with the devil they know.

Like any endemic bully, Negan’s demands are simply escalating over time and it can’t be too long before he enters The Kingdom (currently a bucolic idyll that makes other bucolic idylls look like war zones), wipes Hilltop completely from the map (he’s tried already; that he didn’t succeeds owes little to Gregory’s dubious leadership and everything to Sasha and Maggie’s bravery) and takes everything but the kitchen sink (OK he’ll probably want that too) from Alexandria.

But right now things are “peaceful”, and while a number of grateful Hilltopians and some sympathetic Kingdomites such as Richard (Karl Makinen) are ready to side with Team Rick, the official word from Gregory and Ezekiel is to stick with the status quo.

It doesn’t go down well with Rick et all but to be fair, and granted Hilltop and The Kingdom don’t know this, but Rick isn’t exactly the king of un-problematic outcomes; in fact his involvement, which never involves anywhere near as much planning as it should, almost always guarantees vanquishing of the enemy but with a shitload of consequential problems in their wake.

Quite whether Hilltop and The Kingdom will step up remains to be seen – that they didn’t at least saved The Walking Dead from being reduced to some happy-clappy everything will turnout roses show which, whatever it may be now, isn’t that – and whether the new group that surrounds Rick, Tara, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Michonne (Dania Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), who may be The Whisperers and are great in number (that’s why Rick smiles at the end – look at all these people he thinks!) joins the fight remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure though – the times they are a-changing and one way or another, that applecart of security, tenuous thought it is that Ezekiel and Gregory value so much, is about to topple.

 

Nothing rounds off a hard day of not making alliances like a walk through a zombie herd (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

The most spectacular part of the episode though wasn’t all that realpolitik wheeling and dealing and ultimately near-useless finagling.

No, what really set the episode alive, and to a fiery zombie-exploding extent, was the discovery by the Alexandrians of a string of explosives across the road, carefully rigged by the Saviours to stop a herd of walkers in their shambling tracks.

Too good an advantage to pass up, Rick instructs everyone, under Rosita’s oversight, to strip the heavy metal cord string between two cars of its explosive gifts but mindful of not wanting to tip the Saviours off – at least he is thinking ahead of the next pithy invocation to war and valour – he and Michonne engage in what is quite possibly the most fun destruction of hundreds of zombies ever when they gun the cars on either side of the freeway, floor it and use the metal rope to slice and dice the herd who are all helpfully walking on the grassy median strip.

It’s a whole lot of fun, that let’s be fair owes a whole lot to Z Nation‘s comically freewheeling ways, and it signals the fact that maybe the Saviour’s days are numbered (as well as adding some full bore action to a nicely-rounded, well-modulated episode that gave us narrative, character moments and forward momentum; more of that please!).

Admittedly, hilariously over the top spectacular as it is, it doesn’t mean much beyond they now have some explosives – but no food and few weapons thanks to Gabriel, played by Seth Gilliam, absconding with them and a car after the end of his shift for reasons unknown – and are taking it carefully but it’s a nice little “f**k you!” to Negan, disguised as just another day in the apocalypse and it goes down a treat.

Quite where they go from here isn’t certain although, smiles aside, the first thing Rick and his companions have to do is convince the people surrounding them in the junkyard to play nice.

Yeah that’ll be easy …

  • Next up is “New Best Friends” which may signal brighter days are ahead or that Rick got a long of work before he can legitimately say he’s ready to take on and beat Negan … or let’s be fair, BOTH …

 

 

 

The pain and laughter of Youth in Oregon

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
When 79-year-old curmudgeon Raymond (Frank Langella) makes arrangements to be euthanized in Oregon, his family refuses to accept his decision. But when another family emergency arises, Raymond’s daughter Kate (Christina Applegate) turns to her husband Brian (Billy Crudup) for a little help. So Brian reluctantly volunteers to drive the cantankerous Raymond and his wine-loving wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) three thousand miles to Oregon. Determined to change the old man’s mind before they reach the Beaver State, it becomes quickly apparent to Brian that convincing your father-in-law to keep living when he’s ready to check out is no simple task. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

You know how decisions can be hard to make but once you’ve made them and know what you’ve decided is right beyond a shadow of a doubt that sticking to it becomes ridiculously easy?

It’s a great feeling, liberating almost.

And you’ll find pretty much everyone will support you if you’re decided to opt for waffles over cereal for breakfast, or to book your annual holiday in Paris, hang the cost. Great decision, go for it, you’ll love it.

But kill yourself? Ah, that is a whole different Pandora’s Box of issues and emotions and you can be sure that if you are completely at peace with your decision, that no one else will be.

Especially if you have a family like Raymond’s who care dammit! And they’re not about to let go and do away with yourself just like that.

Sounds like a fertile ground for a funny yet moving indie drama doesn’t it? Yes it actually kinda does …

Youth in Oregon opened 3 February in limited release and VOD.