Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 5 – F.Y.R. Macedonia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Malta

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

F.Y.R. Macedonia: “Dance Alone” by Jana Burčeska

 


THE ARTIST

If you were looking for the perfect person to represent F.Y.R. Macedonia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, would you (a) pick someone who has done push ups with Batman on Brooklyn Bridge in New York or (b) can rap better than anyone you know or (c) can fluently pronounce the German word Aufmerksamkeitsdefizitmedikamentenbeipackzettel?

Happily in the case of Jana Burčeska, your decision is an easy one since this artist, who rose to prominence on Macedonian Idol in 2011, can do all three!

Talk about your ultimate multitasker; not only can she do all that, but she can sing and perform like nobody’s business, which is rather handy when you think about it because she is appearing in a singing contest.

Thrilled to be representing Macedonia, Jana, who is also a UN Ambassador who promotes violence-free schools, admits that a smile hasn’t left her face since she got the good news.

But does her song, “Dance Alone”, which isn’t the most sociable or uplifting of titles, bode well for a continued happy state, or will she end up a little less than ecstatic once the semi final 2 voting dust settles?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Gotta say the odds of her smiling like a super successful fiend are pretty good.

“Dance Alone” is a supremely catchy, perfect slice of pop that, while a little generic, nevertheless has enough of a Robyn vibe going on, such that she could very well find success, particularly if her “refined and sensitive stage performance” adds some extra atmosphere to the song.

In a sea of ballads and mid-tempo numbers, having a song with some danceability and personality is welcome, and you get the feeling, as you listen to Jana, that she has the vocal chops to elevate the song when it really matters.

Expect Jana to be dancing with more than a few others, come voting time, on her way to the grand final.

 

 

HUNGARY: “Origo” by Joci Pápai

 

 

THE ARTIST
Joci Pápai must be tired.

According to his Eurovision bio, he picked up a guitar at the age of 4 and hasn’t put it down since which is pretty impressive; after all, things may feel light at first but they usually end up getting heavier the longer you hold them.

When he’s not determinedly clutching musical instruments, Joci, whose dad was the leader of a big gypsy orchestra, he’s winningly blending electronica with Hungarian and gypsy sounds, creating a unique style of music that saw him make it big in 2005 when his first album spawned a number of chart-topping singles.

That success follows many years competing somewhat fruitlessly in talent shows and sees this highly-popular artist, the first gypsy to represent Hungary as he proudly proclaims, eager to make the most of his pan European exposure.

But will this “believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai” be able to make good on his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with his song “Origo”?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
The song, which he says is “one hundred percent me”, is hauntingly beautiful, a wave of ethereal but richly substantial vocals that give way to some inspired violin playing.

In short, “Origo” has atmosphere in spades, neatly straddling east and west, modern and traditional, so compellingly that it’s hard not see this as a big crowd favourite in Kyiv.

Even his rap works in the bridge of the song, delivered with a passion and emotional resonance that can’t help but move you and get you dancing into the bargain.

“Origo” is different and eminently listenable and danceable and should see Hungary through to the grand final in fine showstopping style.

 

 

IRELAND: “Dying to Try” by Brendan Murray

 

 

THE ARTIST
Coming from a musical background is a big plus if you (a) want a burgeoning music career, which Brendan most certainly has with boyband Hometown, and (b) want to make your name at Eurovision, an arena in which Ireland has not exactly excelled in recent years.

That kind of pedigree also helps you get noticed by people who matter which is how he came to co-write Kelly Clarkson’s hit song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” which was nominated for Song the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2013.

And it’s no doubt why Brendan successfully taught himself guitar at the age of 13, and why leaving school at 16 to seek his fame and fortune singing his heart out has garnered such success.

But will it will be enough to send him catapulting into the grand final and give Ireland a shot at winning Eurovision, something it hasn’t managed since 1996?

 

(photo courtesy official Brendan Murray Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly, while I admire Brendan’s earnestness that percolates through “Dying to Try” with the all the fervency of a melodramatic love affair, a reflection of its theme of taking a chance at love, the song doesn’t so much explode out of the box as meander sweetly through a field of flowers.

It’s a beautiful song in its own way, and actually benefits from his intense vocals, but it never really gets up a head of steam.

It will likely attract a lot of attention during the performance but disappear into the ether quickly thereafter.

Much as I would like Ireland to scale the dizzying heights of 1990s Eurovision success, I don’t see “Dying to try” being the song to make that happen.

 

 

ISRAEL: “I Feel Alive” by IMRI

 

 

THE ARTIST
Ladies and gentlemen, that man you see hurtling from the singing back blocks, where anonymity is a given and self-sacrifice is a damn near mandatory, is IMRI, who apart from leaping supporting status in a single bound, can sing, play the guitar and piano and make a mean batch of hummus.

Actually I have no idea about that last part, which is all hopeful conjecture on my part, but there’s no doubt that IMRI, who can sing in Spanish, Hebrew and English, and is, and here I become Captain Obvious, devastatingly handsome, has what it takes to make it in the musical world.

He won TV’s Rising Star singing competition this year, has sung in dozens across the globe and has even done voice over work in a number of animated series which is, I grant you, not a musical accomplishment as such, but pretty damn cool and worthy of note.

He is also obsessed with singing Queens’ “We Are the Champions” which he learnt at the astonishingly young of two to his family’s delight (although the fact that he used to sing it at “every possible occasion” means the family may no longer be so enamoured of the iconic song).

So IMRI has what it takes to make it big but can he make it big at Eurovision with “I Feel Alive”?

 

(photo by Ronen Akerman, courtesy official IMRI Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Hell to the yes is my considered opinion!

Weaving in what IMRI refers to as “an ethnic groove”, “I Feel Alive” is insanely, heartstoppingly catchy, building and building in a goosebumping way that will have the entire arena in Kyiv dancing their Eurovision-loving songs off.

It’s an of-the-moment dancefloor stomper that manages to escape the generic dance song curse, surging out of the gates with brio and a bristling sense of ecstatic joy, all anchored by IMRI’s more than up to the task, emotionally-evocative vocals.

If you’re not dancing to this five seconds in, and voting for it to go through to the grand final then you are dead in the soul, my friend, DEAD … IN … THE … SOUL.

 

 

LITHUANIA: “Rain of Revolution” by FusedMarc

 

 

THE ARTIST
It’s hard to say exactly where Lithuanian music was languishing prior to their emergence, but according to their Eurovision bio, FusedMarc (Cilia and Vakx) “raised the standard for Lithuanian music to a European level” when they appeared on the country’s music scene.

From that, you could well surmise that the band is possessed of such musical power that they have similarly affected the countries they have toured which include Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic; but to be fair no one is venturing an opinion on that score.

That’s quite the musical revolution they have going on there, but given the number of awards they’ve received from Breakthrough of the Lithuanian Alternative Scene in 2005 to Best Experimental Music Band in 2007 – and don’t forget Best Lithuanian Electonic Band in 2008 – it’s say to say that the genre-melding band which formed in 2004, has had a considerable impact.

But can they, you ask in breathless anticipation, make their mark on Eurovision too?

 

(photo courtesy FusedMarc Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly once “Rain of Revolution” kicks off, quickly throwing everything from a driving beat, blissfully contorted vocals and a decidedly quirky melody into the mix, you have to be inclined to bow before them.

It’s not a perfect song with the bridge stumbling a little in both musical and vocal execution, but by and large, this song has some serious chutzpah, aided by Cilia’s energetic delivery, which while it might not be vocally always on point, never lacks for attitude, power or serious presence.

I’m not fully convinced it will send Lithuania careening into the grand final, missing just enough x factor to really be over the top memorable, but it’s bound to make for an impressive spectacle, which is after all, what Eurovision is all about (besides peace, humanity and cooperation, of course).

So while they may not reshape Europe as we know it musically, they’re going to make us sit up and take notice, which is close enough.

 

 

MALTA: “Breathlessly” by Claudia Faniello

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently dear Claudia has a million emotions crowded inside the all too finite area of her vocal chords.

You might think this a tad uncomfortable but the woman described as “a girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life”, no doubt is well used to taking it all in her stride.

It likely helps that the artist, who shot to prominence in 2006 when she came fourth on TV singing competition Hotspot, and who made her first bid for Eurovision and won the Festival Kanzunetta Indipendenza the following year, is a grounded person who works with kids who have intellectual, physical and behavioural difficulties and as a past Bulimia-sufferer, raises awareness of the disease with the public.

But can the lady who has watched her brother twice represent the country, and who has dreamed of being in this position since childhood, make all those emotions work her to make her dreams come true?

 

(photo courtesy official Claudia Faniello Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It’s an even bet each way on “Breathlessly”, which is your big, ballsy torch song ballad anchored by Claudia’s voice which sounds like it could well accommodate the much-vaunted number of emotions.

It does venture into feel good mid-tempo territory from time to time, and you can’t help feeling you’re being a little emotionally manipulated at times; having said that, it’s a gorgeous song that resonates with some truly authentic power and passion, with Claudia making you believe she is living every intense emotion-charged moment.

So I’m torn – on one hand, the song is a rich, deeply emotional journey, but on the other, it feels a little too contrived, a little too ballad-by-numbers.

Not being emphatically one or the other means, like some other songs in the competition that it will come down to the performance on the night, and I have every reason to suspect that Claudia is more than capable of rising to the occasion.

 

Dust: The fear and bravery of humanity in the apocalypse

(image (c) Ember Lab)

 

SNAPSHOT
A deadly new plague linked to a mysterious dust is devastating the countryside around Kabé—the world’s oldest city.

Irezúmi, a Tracker living in the abandoned outskirts of Kabé, is hired by a Merchant of the city’s underground medicine trade to study the dust that has begun falling on the city. Unable to develop a cure for the unusual sickness, Irezumi reluctantly agrees to search for the source in the countryside.

Little is known about the Dust or the illness it causes, but as it continues to consume the countryside Kabé is preparing to shut its gates—denying refuge to anyone outside the walls.

With the city verging on lock-down, the two embark on a dangerous journey into the countryside in search of the source. (synopsis via official Dust Facebook page)

You have to admire the tenacity and creative fire of anyone who would close to 10 years of their life to creating a 25 minute sci-fi film.

That’s a long time to sustain a vision and keep the flame of creative passion alive but the team of filmmakers consisting of Jason Gallaty, Josh Grier and Mike Grier, using $100,000 in crowdfunding money and some epic filming throughout Japan throughout 2011, not only managed but created Dust, a spectacularly immersive short film that will have you mesmerised from start to finish.

 

 

Drawing on some familiar dystopian tropes, which they totally make their own, they have gives voice to some very modern issues such as sustainability, the future of our planet and how humanity will respond to our changing home.

While it is, in essence, a sci-fi film, it succeeds in bringing the humanity of its storyline to the fore with well-wrought characters, a taut narrative, brilliantly-succinct, evocative worldbuilding and an embedded message that never subsumes the story itself.

It’s very clever filmmaking on every level, and you can’t help but be moved by its elegant grace and simplicity, and its visual mix of the natural and CGI enhanced settings.

Dust has understandably been a great success at film festivals around the world, an epic story in small runtime that succeeds in getting us to think deeply about where we want to go as a society.

For the full story go to Vox.

Now this is music #87: Emma Gatrill, Soleima, Lunch Ladies, Floor Staff, Crooked Colours

 

Love and despair. Sadness and happiness. Upbeat and downcast.

Life has many moods, many of them contrary and intermingled, and these five talented artists, who hail from around the world, are enormously adept at capturing these glorious inconsistencies and setting them to beautiful, arresting music.

Its insight and melody combined and it’s what you want from the music you listen to, since all that listening happens while you’re living life and it makes sense that it doesn’t just tickle the ears but touches the soul and mind too.

 

“Skin” by Emma Gatrill

 

Emma Gatrill (image courtesy official Emma Gatrill Facebook page)

 

There’s a delicate beauty to Emma Gattrill’s beauty that belies how robust the sounds created by the Brighton, UK native actually are.

“Skin”, which leads off her album Cocoon, is a gem, emblematic of Gatrill’s skill at investing her music, which Stereogum says sits “somewhere between the Julia Holter aurora and the Sufjan Stevens [musical] supernova” with real depth and substance, both melodic and lyrical.

In a statement about “Skin”, she explains how much thought went into every facet of this remarkably beautiful and meaningful song:

“Skin is a love song. It explores our desires as individuals to be together even when life pulls us in different directions.

“The shuffle sounding beat which lies underneath the electronic drums in the song is created by me tap dancing in socks on a wooden board and then continuously looped up to give that soft shuffle sound. I like the idea that many steps have been taken during this song as the song represents how we are continuously travelling, our paths weaving in and out of each other.”

 

“Wasted” by Soleima
Soleima (image via official Soleima Facebook page)

 

There’s an engaging loping quirkiness to “Wasted” by Danish artist Soleima, a song that carries a delicious double meaning, according to the Copenhagen-based native:

“… the term ‘wasted’ gets double sided in this song. The obvious meaning is of course being drunk/high and therefore unable to process thoughts and logic. The other way to look at it, is that some people, like myself, are able to lead a certain kind of life whereas many don’t have the same possibilities as me – and sometimes that opportunity can be wasted.” (source: The Line of Best Fit)

That added lyrical depth sets “Wasted” apart from its run-of-the-mill trippy genremates, augmented by Soleima’s beguilingly unique vocals which mix a little girl lost vibe with late night cabaret duskiness.

It all means that “Wasted” sounds like everything you’ve heard before and yet none of it, a clever musical bridging between the usual and the new that is evidenced on Soleima’s later tracks.

 

 

“Love is Overrated” by Lunch Ladies

 

Lunch Ladies (image via official Lunch Ladies Facebook page)

 

Channelling an infinitely appealing dreamy retro pop vibe that captures you from the word go, “Love is Overrated” kicks things off with a lovely long intro that never once outstays its richly multilayered welcome.

When the remote, lush harmonies come rolling in, you’re treated to midtempo, lofi pop with a persistently robust guitar underpinning that keeps things humming along without once feeling it’s in a rush to get anywhere in particular.

The once-were New Jersey natives, now Brookyn-based band have knack for crafting, do actually believe in love by the way, just in case you think the song suggests otherwise:

“Love definitely isn’t overrated. Love is very important, always, and especially in times like these. I wrote this song during a period where I didn’t get other people’s relationships and the drama that comes with it, and felt happy being on my own.” (source: vocalist/bassist Cynthia Rittenbach, Little Indie Blogs)

Some insightful slice-of-life observations and an luscious, exquisitely nuanced melody granted this song an appealing richness, which the band have brought to bear with compelling effect on their debut LP Down on Sunset Strip (March 10).

 

 

“Saviour” by Floor Staff

 

Floor Staff (image courtesy official Floor Staff Facebook page)

 

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Floor Staff aka singer/songwriter/composer Anthony Donnelly, sends us hurtling back to the lazy, hazy days of the polyester-loving ’70s with “Saviour”.

Blending light and dark, its giddily upbeat synth-driven melody, which is never less than smile-inducingly good and captivating blissful, contrasts with the lyrical content which Little Indie Blogs notes are dark, “confronting bereavement, fidelity and self-esteem.”

It’s a very Scandinavia mindset which works brilliantly well on the track, an approach that gives musical life to the idea that happiness and sadness aren’t always distinct from each other, merging and pulling apart in that untidy way life has of letting things go where they will.

The combination of less than stellar ruminations about life and the pulsing insistent chipper sound of the music can get into your soul in ways that a more direct approach may not always manage; you can find out how much Floor Staff’s music can get around your defenses by listening to his two EPs, The Good Luck EP and Convictions.

 

 

“Flow” by Crooked Colours

 

Crooked Colours (image courtesy official Crooked Colours Facebook page)

 

Perth, Australia-based electronic band Crooked Colours (Philip Slabber, Leon De Baughn, Liam Merrett-Park), arrived their uniquely sparse but melody-rich sound by listening to a lot of music as they told national Australian radio station Triple J’s Unearthed page:

“Our music is pretty diverse from song to song and it has taken us a long time to figure out the music that we really want to make. We listen to as much music as we can and spend a lot of time tinkering around on synths and whatever else we can get our hands on.”

This glorious diversity of influential sounds make a brilliantly listenable outworking on tracks like “Flow” which skips along with a driving beat and guitar flourishes while at the same time sounding light, fun and lavishly lightweight, the result of what Vents Magazine calls an approach “that has one foot in the indie world and one foot in a darker electronic realm.”

The song is their first release in 18 months and heralds the arrival of debut LP due later this year, which judging by its advance adventurous sounds, could well match the success of their initial triple volley of “Come Down”, “Capricious”, and “Another Way” which saw them hit no 1 on Hype Machine, in the process generating 6 million streams.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Girls just wrapped up its final season, but not before Adelaide-based Tkay Maidza was given the chance by creator and star Lena Dunham to contribute a song, “Glorious”, to the penultimate episode.

Read all about it at Junkee.

 

 

And what would life be like without someone mashing up the good Muppet-y citizens of Sesame Street with a catchy track?

Here’s a year-old effort from Mylo the Cat, which brings together Bert & Ernie (and the cast of the show) with “Regulate” by Warren G feat Nate Dogg.

 

 

Finally Lady Gaga has a supremely catchy new song “The Cure”, a deliciously listenable synth pop gem that she casually dropped during a set at Coachella, as you do (source: Forbes)

 

 

And yeah the fans LOVE it … how could they not? It’s FAAAABUUUULOUS …

 

The short and the short of it: Future Boyfriend and the romantic creepiness of temporally-mixed up dating

(image (c) Bellhouse Productions)

 

SNAPSHOT
Future Boyfriend, a short film by Bellhouse Productions, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2016. The film, directed by Ben Rock and starring Emily Bell, Ron Morehouse, and 3rd Rock From the Sun’s French Stewart, was adapted into a screenplay by Ularich based on his short play by the same name. The play had numerous productions around the United States, including the first Sci-Fest L.A., during their “Laugh Trek” comedy program. The Sci-Fest production starred Emily Bell and Ron Morehouse, and was directed by Meagen Fay. (synopsis (c) A Vincent Ularich)

The path to true love, delightful, sparkly, wonderful and deliciously overwhelming though it is, is never smooth now is it?

Quite how smooth it often isn’t is beautifully illustrated by this delightful short film, Future Boyfriend, where a charming if slightly odd guy (Ron Moorehouse) from 2078 travels back in time on a one-way ticket to date a woman (Emily Bell) who has taken his fancy in 2016.

To explain how he knows she exists or why is he so smitten with her would be to give away far too much about a film that is all about taking risks, putting your heart on the line and finding out that your dreams may be realised in ways you never expected.

And yes, while it’s true as Gizmodo notes, that future guy is a tad creepy in his approach, ultimately there’s something sweetly charming and appealingly earnest about someone going to all that trouble and giving us much in the pursuit of love sweet chronologically-mixed up love.

 

Book review: The Tourist by Robert Dickinson

(image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

The great Arthur C Clarke once sagely remarked, in what has become known as one of his three laws, that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

In Robert Dickinson’s The Tourist, that threshold has long since been transgressed with the people of 24th century earth routinely back and forwards in time as easily and commonly as we pop down the shops for some milk.

Any sense that technology is even remotely magical has long since faded, although the clients who travel back to early 21st century UK, which is where we meet Spens aka “Tunnel Boy” who works as a tour guide or rep for one of the time travel companies, remain excited and fearful in equal measure by what awaits them.

While the exact timeframe is never specified, allusions to anti-time travel groups – who operate with the same morality and fact-free ferocity as the far right anti-immigrant groups of our timeline – current technology and cultural realities suggest that the events of this fascinating novel take place not far from the present day.

What draws the people of the 24th century to our place and time is a desire to see what pre-Near Extinction Event earth looks like – the NEE, as its commonly referred to takes place sometime in the latest 21st century – and to sample its food, culture, and even to stand outside and look at  blue skies or to feel the rain on their face.

“People have travelled and not returned before, but they were either on official business or scholars like Brink and Nakamura, who knew the risks and travelled knowing they might not come back. Or they’re extemps, supposedly alienated from their own era, who want to live in a simpler, more natural society.” (P. 35)

Most people choose to stay within the confines of their tours, assured by the companies bringing them to our exotically different present that all events are known and accounted for (one of the big pluses of time travel), but a number choose to “go native”, going so far as to move here, living and working and trying to fitting as much as people from three centuries hence can.

The thing is they are incredibly obvious thanks to their extreme height, dress, culture mores and speech and while most people are happy to have them there, given the great economic benefits they bring, there is an increasing fear of the Other, stoked by far right groups and even the government itself, a situation stoked for reasons that are never fully or adequately articulated, by a coterie of shadowy figures from the future.

Spens, as happens with many innocents abroad, finds himself drawn into murky goings-on beyond his experience, in which tourists, extemps and a range of figures with uncertain allegiances and agendas are doing battle, proof if ever we needed it that humanity’s capacity for self-destructive behaviour is able to survive pretty much anything including an NEE.

 

(image courtesy Redhook Books)

 

One thing that is made clear in Dickinson’s fast-paced novel is that future humanity is ruled in a fairly autocratic fashion, organised into rigid castes with fairly Orwellian names as Safety, Happiness and Awareness, where technology is advanced but resources, social behaviour and political expression are strictly regulated.

It explains the attraction of our chaotic, messy century, a magnet for time tourists even if most of them are too afraid to go much beyond the strict itineraries assigned for them; unfortunately, Dickinson leaves much of the future veiled in a shadows, leaving us to guess about the motivations of the people involved.

It does mean that it becomes increasingly hard to care too much about the people involved in this thrilling temporal conspiracy caper such as Spens, fellow reps Edda and Li (who adores being away from home), and Spens’ childhood friends, brothers Reimann and Cantor who, while they’re caught up in a series of events so brilliantly built-up and executed, for most of the book at least, that The Tourist is a genuine page-turner, fail to have much of their character or background revealed.

They are teased out as characters just enough for us to have some investment in the events that fill the books but the story of which they’re apart, which rips along at a furiously-involving pace for the first 3/4 of the book or so only to fizzle out to a wholly unsatisfying end, you’re left wondering what the hell just happened and why.

“His back is turned to you. You realise this is a chance to shoot him. You also realise it’s one you won’t take. Or can’t. His coat might be heavy enough to stop a pin; even a shot to the back of the head night not be effective. You keep your hand at your side. Killing him wasn’t inn your instructions.” (P. 197)

Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue especially if you’re comfortable with artfully oblique endings that are more suggestion than actuality; but The Tourist, while immensely engaging, well-paced and utterly engaging for much of its length, eventually forgoes any kind of satisfying finally in favour of placing all its eggs in a Lost-like basket.

It’s a failing of many mystery books, which build their puzzles in ever more enigmatic, intriguing layers until such time as they present us with a dazzling finish, one that justifies the investment of all the tricky twists and turns of the plot, or collapses in on itself, limping to a middling end.

That’s not to say that The Tourist isn’t worth your time or an unruly, unreadable schmozzle; in fact, it is beautifully written for the most part, a book that enthralls with its central conceit and ideas, and whose characters, though limited in expression, command enough interest to keep you immersed into the fast moving story.

It simply never fully pays off its early promise, leaving you wondering what might have been if we’d been given a little more of an idea why many of the narrative strands were there at all, what was motivating many of the characters to act as they do, and why the past matters so much to the people of the future, beyond being a fun, unspoiled place, from their point of view, to visit.

By all means take a trip with The Tourist which will make you wonder what life would be like if you had the ability to move around the past at relative will, but be aware that like many trips we take, that it may not end as satisfactorily as you might hope.

Living Level 3, South Sudan: Graphic novel shines an important light on a desperate situation

(image (c) World Food Programme)

 

It’s been well-documented that art and pop culture can have a powerful effect in spreading information and awareness, creating a groundswell of understanding and motivating action that leads to real change.

One quite striking way this is being demonstrated at the moment is a 48 page graphic novel, Living Level 3: South Sudan (LL3: South Sudan; this refers to the most severe type of humanitarian crisis), which features a real South Sudanese man, Apu Riang and his family who, like so many of their country people, have been caught in the civil war and resulting famine that has affected the new country.

It’s a confronting situation but one that desperately needs to be publicised so people outside of South Sudan understand that once the cable news channels have ceased to have any interest in the story, that there is still an immense amount of need there, and hence, help desperately needed.

The World Food Programme is playing a pivotal role in alleviating the dire need, and its stories such as that of Apu Riang and his family that is underscoring how dire the situation truly is and how much needs to be done.

 

 

As Apu Riang says in the video, filmed as part of a two week information-gathering trip by World Food Programme staff – head of television communications Jonathan Dumont, head of graphic design and publishing Cristina Ascone, and LL3: South Sudan‘s writer Joshua Dysart – you only make the decision to take your family on a perilous long journey from your homeland if there is really no other choice.

The aim of of LL3: South Sudan is to galvanise the international community to act and act now; any delay could cost lives, many lives, and the fictional aid worker in the graphic novel, Leila Helal, plays a key role in making clear how great a task she and her colleagues face.

The aim has always been to accurately document what is happening in South Sudan and as Ascone notes in a Mashable article:

“It’s taken many, many months because South Sudan is [complicated],” Ascone said. “You need to be very careful about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. We needed to make sure we’re portraying the country, the people, everybody in the right way.”

While it aims to be engaging, that is merely a means to an end with the take-away message a vitally important one.

“Basically it says, if people know these stories, then there’s hope. Because then there’s the chance that, whether it’s the World Food Programme or the U.N. or the international community, somebody will care. Somebody will be able to do something to help.

“I think that’s the takeaway. And I think that’s something the reader can use.”

 

(image (c) World Food Programme)

Colony: “Ronin” (S2, E13 review)

Maybe the Governor General has a beating heart after all? (image courtesy USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE END OF THE WORLD … KIND OF

If you are ever looking for a master class in how to end a season of taut, nuanced drama in the most tense and gripping way possible then you should immediately turn to “Ronin”, the finale of what has been by any estimation a brilliant second season of Colony.

Always possessed of a fierce intelligence, and preference for allowing the slow burn to take precedence over the short term and flashy, a failing of many other shows in our hyperactive new golden age of television when more and more things happening in a single episode is never enough, Colony excelled itself with “Ronin”, where the alien guillotine was lowered inch by razor sharp inch and it was every person for themselves.

Well, that’s if you’re Snyder (Peter Jacobson), a man so wrapped up in his own self-survival that he manages to scuttle out from beneath the jackboot of impending doom each and every time, smelling if not like roses, then not like a corpse, a major achievement in a world where that seems to be the only constant.

In this episode alone, Snyder managed to ferret out that Total Rendition of the L.A. colony was impending – so impending in fact that when he finally got Governor-General Goldwin (Ally Walker) to admit it was underway, it was but six excruciatingly short hours away – garner a barely believable promise of a new position with the Global Authority in Europe from his golden-haired frenemy, stitch up a deal with Will (Josh Holloway) to be spirited out of the bloc, and then double-cross them as they’re speeding hell for leather out of the doomed city.

Not bad for a day’s work is it?

Bram (Alex Neustaedter) was reluctant to get in the car with him, as was Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp), proof if you needed it that the children have a better sense of who to trust and who not to than their parents Will and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies).

As it turns out, they were right on the money with the shell-shocked Bowmans too exhausted and stressed from escaping certain death, and horrified by the arrival of a fleet of alien spacecraft to wipe out the bloc, that they failed to notice Snyder press a bright red blinking button, hidden in his hand.

 

Synder has moved far beyond a double agent and is octagonal and counting (image courtesy USA Network)

 

It was hardly surprising that he acted this way; he has, after all, demonstrated over and over that he is the ultimate collaborator, a man who will sell everyone and anyone out to get what he wants.

See that bus speeding by? Snyder has just pushed you under it.

The futility of his actions, spurred on by a promise by the head Blackjack who is overseeing L.A.’s wiping off the brand new alien-drawn map that he will want for nothing if he succeeds in returning the alien gauntlet, is evidenced by Maddie (Amanda Rightetti), who, stripped of Nolan’s (Adrian Pasdar) protection, finds herself in with the rest of the human cattle being readied for slaughter.

In scenes eerily and frighteningly reminiscent of gas chambers, hundreds of people are herded into giant warehouses, the ever-increasing overcrowding finally alerting Maddie to the fact she is well and truly screwed.

After clawing her way up from another one of the alien-oppressed plebs to a Green Zone local with privileges, luxury and, more importantly than anything, diabetes medication for her son, Maddie found herself the victim of a power play by Nolan who, like Snyder, is too blind to see that all the promises in the world mean nothing when you have Hosts (again, thank you, OUR planet, not theirs; the Hosts tag is the most galling of all the injustices wrought by the invaders) who are as self-interested, even more so, than we are.

In fact, after witnessing a Rap being operated on at the start of the episode, where we witnessed that they are either machines or cosseted away beings who never leave the safety of their ships and beam themselves virtually into robotic bodies – the latter is unlikely given the frantic efforts to recover a kidnapped Rap earlier in the series, and the palpable tension accompanying the episode’s opening scene – and hearing that they are up to their necks in infighting between hardliners (currently in the ascendancy) and moderates, you have to wonder if you are better doing a Snyder or a Nolan, or accepting your fate like Maddie.

In the end, the results is the same, and Colony has affirmed over and over, that all the collaborators is doing is buying themselves some time, nothing more.

This is a zero sum game for humanity, and the only hope, wafer slim though it may be, is to slip the noose like the Bowmans do, gallingly with Snyder’s help, is to resist and try to overcome.

Admittedly, at this stage that doesn’t look like the most promising of strategies, but unless you’re prepared to throw your lot in with the Raps, something many people can’t stomach, it’s pretty much your only choice.

 

She’s the queen of poor judgement for all the right reasons and they all lead to a final, possibly inescapable fate (image courtesy USA Network)

 

The brilliance of Colony is that it doesn’t sugarcoat this grinding new, short on great options reality.

Echoing the searing truth that anyone who has ever lived under tyranny knows all too well, there are no real happy ending, just varying degrees of unhappy ones.

Sure, hope springs eternal – the Bowmans wouldn’t be escaping the L.A. colony nor would Broussard (Tory Kittles) be staying behind to give the Total Reditioners hell if they didn’t see some chance of making a difference – but it is always prefaced and followed by the uncomfortable presence of everything going mortally pear-shaped at just about every turn.

One reason among many why “Ronin” such a stellar season wrap-up is that it doesn’t indulge in faux-tension building devices – there is no ticking clock, no countdown on the side of the screen, no near escapes (well mostly) and no real promises of everything turning out OK – preferring to let time tick down to the grim certainty of the bloc, and all its inhabitants (including the Red Hats who find themselves kicked well and truly to the curbs by the Blackjacks), being extinguished in what looks like being a hellish cataclysm of fire.

The show’s willingness to tell it like it is, to evoke the nightmare of Nazi occupation, of every totalitarian ruler who has ever imposed their will on a cowering population whose choices are few and options scant, is what makes it such a tour de force of dramatic storytelling.

While it is cool to see the aliens, the ships, the sci-fi trappings, what really makes Colony tick, makes it soar in fact, is that it is not cheap, glitzy storytelling dependent on bombs, explosions and contrived narrative devices.

It simply tells the story of people, in this case the entire population of the earth, who find themselves, shorn of their home, their freedom, their rights, their humanity and just about everything else you can happen, and who have little to no recourse.

A story that compelling, which is horrifically playing in constant, grotesque variants all across the globe right now, doesn’t need overblown narrative bells and whistles – it just needs to be told, something Colony does with superb elegance and quiet ferocity, and which thanks to a late in the piece renewal for season 3, it will continue to do, giving voice to anyone who has ever suffered under the brutalist self-interest of dictatorship.

Master of None? In name only as Aziz Ansari returns for season 2 (trailer)

(image (c) Netflix)

 

There is something inherently likable about Aziz Ansari.

He embodies a genuine warmth and friendliness – that smile alone makes you want to be his friend – and he brings his innate likability to his characters, along with a great sense of humour and a bright, effervescent intelligence.

He has combined all these qualities, as he did so effortlessly on Community, his book Modern Romance, and of course, the first season of Master of None, which premiered on Netflix to rapt reviews in 2015 including one from Variety which said “It’s as if an earnest op-ed piece came to vivid life in an effort to make the viewer laugh out loud — and succeeded in the attempt.” (To see how much love there was for the show’s first season, check out these reviews.)

Possessed of a remarkably simply but brilliantly well-used premise, that of a thirtysomething single man in New York who has a close network and the time to devote to them thanks to the nature of his stand-up comedy work, Master of None explored with humour and witty authenticity, what the search for love looks like in a world where people just as likely to be searching online, if not more so, than in real life.

It mirrors the content in some ways of Modern Romance, but it brings it humourously to life, illustrating with nuance and wit, how complicated, and yet also how simple, love is in our hyper-busy modern age.

 

(image (c) Netflix)

 

Given the open-ended nature of life and love, and the fact that Ansari’s character Dev made a major life decision at the end of season 1 (so closure please!), Master of None is back 12 May on Netflix.

And true to form, the show will return Dev to his aspirational acting career, his stalled love life and of course, his close group of friends and family, as per the official season 2 synopsis:

“After traveling abroad, Dev returns to New York to take on challenges in his personal and family life, a new career opportunity, and a complex, developing relationship with someone very meaningful to him.”

If you’re wondering why the big gap between season 1 and 2, then there’s a good reason for that, according to Anzari (quoted on TV Insider).

“This show isn’t the type of show where we’re going to be able to just turn around and turn it in right away. We covered so much stuff in Season 1 and wanted to make sure the ideas we had in Season 2 were equally interesting and the episodes were just as ambitious.”

All of which makes sense. Rushing another series into production just to have one might have robbed us of the one thing that makes Master of None such delightfully compelling viewing – it’s willingness to frankly and unabashedly talk about life and love in ways that make sense and mirror what it’s like balancing what we expect with what we end up having.

Besides life never marches to the beat of the drum we want so waiting some time makes it seem all the more real and worth watching which we’ll be able to do on 12 May on Netflix.

Get your pasta maker ready!

 

Get Ur Freak On with Missy Elliott and the Teletubbies

(image via Teletubbies wikia)

 

It’s true what they say – you can’t keep a freaky good Teletubby down!

Actually no one likely says that at all, but they should with a brand new mash-up video, by YouTube user Robert Jones, giving the Teletubbies, who ran for 365 episodes in 1997-2001, before being revived for 60 episodes in 2014, a chance to get their freak on Missy Elliott-style.

The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), a compulsively listenable song in a collection of similarly-strong songs. The movie, which I quite enjoyed in a pulpy switch-your-brain-off kind of way, may not have met with critical acclaim, but the soundtrack, which gathered together Missy Elliott, Nine Inch Nails, The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx among many others, was a resounding success.

Now 16 years later, the Teletubbies, who as noted have experienced a pop culture Lazarus moment of their own of late, are giving “Get Ur Freak On” a whole new brightly-coloured lease on life and we are all the better for it.

So you heard them – off you go and well, you know …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

And just so you have a reference point, here’s the non-Teletubbies original clip.

 

Weekend pop art: Joey Spiotto’s pop culture Little Golden Books

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

My love for Little Golden Books knows no bounds.

A key part of my childhood, they are the stuff of joy and nostalgia, a reassuring touchstone that there are some great and wonderful things in this world that are inherently simple and uncomplicated, and intensely rewarding.

The only thing better than Little Golden Books is when someone like Joey Spiotto, a talented artist who I’ve featured to my inestimable joy on the blog before, takes this eminently elegant idea and furnishes it with brilliantly imaginative pop culture flourishes.

The best part is, if you’re in L.A. now until Saturday 22 April, you can see his work, Storytime 3, up close and enchantingly personal at Gallery1988 (East) and you can even prints of them if you like via the gallery’s website.

Childhood and pop culture mixed together? Sounds a perfect exhibition to me!

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

(c) Joey Spiotto

 

Where can you see it? Right here!

 

(c) Joey Spiotto