Backstage with the stars of TV (1)

kennymatic via photopin cc


One of the biggest revolutions of late has been the way that social media has totally transformed the way stars of any stripe interact with their fans.

Avid followers of everyone from pop singers to movie stars to sports gods can now tweet or send a message via Facebook directly to the person they admire.

And the stars in turn can do the same thing right back creating a direct contact between star and fan that is revelatory to a boy of the 70s like me who had to send a gushing fan letter via snail mail and wait for someone, anyone, to get back to me … eventually.

One thing I particularly love is the way TV stars of my favourite shows (and not so favourite ones too!) are tweeting photos both on and off the set, giving us an insight into the production of the TV shows we love. is one site that loves this just as much as I do and has started gathering some of the best pics together in a section called Photo of the Day (yes even they admit it’s not the most inspired of names) and I am loving the photos so far.

Here’s a selection of them:


Ana Gasteyer, who plays Sheila Shay on hit sitcom “Suburgatory” and tweets as @anagasteyer, tweeted out this picture from the set of the Christmas episode – yes Christmas! – of the show’s new season. Her tweet said – “It may be hot in the valley, but it’s #Christmas in #Chatswin.” (image via


Debra Messing has moved on from “Will and Grace” and now stars in NBC’s hit musical series “Smash” but still stays close to her former cast mates especially Sean Hayes who starred as Jack in the hit sitcom which ran from 1998-2006. He is guest starring on “Smash” and neither of the stars could contain their delight at the reunion. Tweeted Debra (@debramessing): “REUNITED!!!! And it feels SOOOO GOOD #smash #will &grace.” (image via


Some of the gang from “Glee” has grown up, left high school and moved to New York in the new season of the show, and here we see one of them Kurt (played by Chris Colfer) with Sarah Jessica Parker who plays his mentor at the fictional New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts (NYADA). The tweeted photo is courtesy of the creator of ” Glee”, Ryan Murphy (@MrRPMurphy). (image via


Talented comediennes Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski who play Liz Lemon and Jenna Maroney on NBC’s hit comedy, “30 Rock” now moving into its last season sadly, pose on set. Tweet courtesy of executive producer Jack Burditt (@jackburditt ). (image via


Jesse Tyler Ferguson (@jessetyler), who plays Mitchell Pritchett on Emmy-award winning show, “Modern Family” (they dominated this year’s awards) is loving the fact that close friends are on set with him. He tweeted: “My two best friends @ColinHanlon & @KevinCahoon are guest staring in this weeks episode! This is so surreal!” (image via


I shall return with more photos shortly and a huge THANK you to for the inspired idea of bringing all these Twitterific pics together in one place. Kudos guys!

Music review: “Human Again” – Ingrid Michaelson

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Love is a complicated, messy, sometimes elevating, often troubling thing.

At least that’s the impression you get from Ingrid Michaelson whose new album, Human Again, is filled with songs that tell of love’s power to trap, beguile, empower, and hurt in equal measure.

But lest you think it another rant against the cruel absurdities of life, and the way love has done her wrong, think again.

For though she tells sobering tales of men who have made love a game of endless emotional combat (“This is War”) or who have disappointed her with their lack of willingness to fight for love (“Do it Now”) with a heartbreaking eloquence, it is all wrapped up in melodies so beautiful you don’t immediately realise the pain in the lyrics contained within.


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But it is not a pity party thankfully. Or a ceaseless tirade about the evils of men and how they must be wiped from the face of the earth.

She’s hurting certainly and it hurts like hell and all the songs are suffused with an anger and a sense of betrayal that points to a relationship gone disastrously wrong, leaving a shattered woman in its wake.

But for all that, Michaelson is a grown up and is savvy enough to realise that this is just life. It’s messy. It’s bruising, and so real it hurts more than you expect it to when you’re young and wide-eyed and innocent about the jagged pits of life waiting down the road.

But it is what it is. Her willingness to embrace all the pain and the sadness, and keep feeling no matter how awful it feels, captured by a voice so delicately nuanced that you feel every tear and sigh of regret, is testament to a woman strong enough to rise from the ashes.

You can see that sentiment reflected in songs like “In the Sea” where she proclaims “No, no, don’t rescue me/I like the saltwater sting/It feels so good to feel/It feels so good just to feel something.”

And that honesty and authenticity of life experience, gritty and unburnished by the triteness of today’s culture of false positivity, where you need to be an overcomer in every part of your life or you’re not doing it right, is what is so refreshing about this gutsy album.


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And the muscular music that runs the course of the album is reflective of the robust lyrical material.

From “Fire” which comes crashing in with strings so stirringly beautiful yet so strong they might just trample the ex who has hurt so much if he’s not careful, and “Palm of Your Hand” with its pounding guitars and relentless pace, here is an artist unafraid to amp up the gentleness of past music to match the grittiness of the expressed recent life experiences.

Even the ballads like the touching “Ghost”, which you can imagine being sung as the fire embers die and 3 a.m. memories wrap their heads around your heart (“I’m broken down the middle of my heart”), and “How We Love”, which perfectly captures the duality of love’s power to hurt and heal, have a robustness to them, even as the strings delicately twang and soar.

It would be tempting if you’re hurting from love gone wrong to shy away from this album, afraid that your wounds may open wider and you will never heal, but I suspect, that like this brave artist, you will find that confronting it head on is how you find a way out the other side.



Movie review: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

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Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantastical celebration of the interconnectedness of all things.

But while that fact is acknowledged almost from the first frame in this magical movie from first time director, Benh Zeitlin, who also wrote the screenplay with Lucy Alibar (adapted from her play Juicy and Delicious), and reaffirmed throughout, Zeitlin doesn’t give us a vision of some trippy hippy New Age world of hand holding dreamers mouthing empty platitudes about brotherly togetherness.

Rather the world that our fierce, diminutive six year old protagonist, Hush Puppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) inhabits is desperately real; a gritty ramshackle world held together by little more than a fervent, and possibly erroneous belief that it can endure anything the world outside can throw at it.

Hush Puppy, who is possessed of a wisdom and confidence beyond her years, I suspect because she has had to raise herself for the most part, lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in the Bathtub, a poor community perched on the edge of the bayou in southern Louisiana.


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Their existence is a precarious one, one storm away from annihilation but they celebrate the world they inhabit with gusto, and defend its virtues, such as they are, with a verve and spirit that they contend is lacking in the “Dry World” on the other side of the levee.

In fact one of the early scenes in the movie shows the community coming together for a festival that seems to last all day and all night, involves the copious imbibing of alcohol (not an unusual occurrence) and the letting off of many homemade fireworks. It is capped by Wink’s drunken evocation of all that is good and laudatory about the world they live in.

To more affluent eyes, their lives are deprived ones, absent of many of the things that we consider necessary for a fulfilling life. But to Wink, who scornfully paints life in the “Dry World” as a life of “fish wrapped in plastic” and once-a-year holidays, the citizens of The Bathtub hold all the cards, inhabitants of a world that richly rewards those who live there.


The filming of the festival scene (image via


But while there is an undeniable community spirit that bonds them all together, the Bathtub is not the unassailable idyll that Wink vigorously asserts it to be.

And when the storm floods their community, which is as flawed as any gathering of people anywhere, they are initially unsure about how to handle the intrusion of the wider world into their small slice of it.

Being the hardy, practical souls they are, they do eventually rally, and there is a coming together of those that survived the storm. Still even with this hardened resolve to rebuild their lives, that has to surmount many obstacles if it to gain them any semblance of their former life, it is clear that their world will never be the same again.

It’s a reality that comes crashing down on Hush Puppy as one thing after another disappears from her universe, and she has to adapt quickly or risk being cast adrift.


Hush Puppy adrift on the bayou after the storm (image via


That she does adapt is no surprise since Wink had taught her that she would be the “man” and “the king of The Bathtub” (a sign he wanted a boy perhaps?). Self reliance is a mantra she has had drilled into her from a young age.

But it is still heartbreaking, and yet empowering, to see one so young trying to gather so many broken pieces together, of not just her life but everyone else’s, and while she is successful up to a point at doing just that, is clear that life will never be the same again.

And she knows it.


She may be only six but Hush Puppy is able to weather the storms, real and virtual, that would stop people many years older than her in their tracks (image via


She is the one person who seems to be intimately aware of the way everyone is connected, of her small but pivotal place in the scheme of things and says as much at one point:

“I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe.”

You see her listening to the heartbeats of all the animals around – the chickens, the crabs, any living thing really that comes across her path (it’s no accident that her alcoholic father, who alternates between caring for her and ignoring her, suffers from a terminal heart condition) – a sign that she knows how connected she is to the life around her.

She also seems to appreciate more than most that the small world she inhabits – where life is so unvarnished and real that its inhabitants are far more connected to the world around them than any of the dwellers in the “Dry World” will ever be – is part of a larger landscape, which in turn is part of a much larger worldwide tapestry of forces such as global warming, a potent symbol of forces beyond the control of mere mortals.


Hush Puppy finally meets and confronts the fabled auroch (image via


And just like the cavemen and the now-extinct aurochs before her – the aurochs appear throughout as the harbingers of the Bathtub’s possible oblivion , just one of the many fantasy elements woven into the film –  Hush Puppy and her ragtag community are headed for extinction too unless they can re-establish their place in the grand interlocked scheme of things.

It’s a lot of weight for one small girl to bear but Hush Puppy, and the actress who plays here, seem more than capable of carrying it off, and it’s that sense of wondrous optimism in the face of damning adversity that goes with you as you leave the theatre.

It is, in the end, a mystical inspiring and almost poetic movie that dares to believe things can get better, even in the face of every sign to the contrary.



“Primeval” heads to Canada

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Primeval is one of those clever British shows that imagines a modern world where portals or “temporal anomalies” open randomly through which all manner of creatures, ancient, and futuristic can come wandering through and create havoc.

And create havoc they do, their unchecked rampaging only stopped by the fearless members of ARC, a crack team from within the UK Home Office which naturally end up dealing not just with creatures out of place and time, but a conspiracy that could spell the end of the world.

It began in 2007, a spin off from the BBC’s innovative documentary Walking With Dinosaurs which used CGI imagery to recreate the world of T-Rex and Brontosaurus in a successful attempt to jazz up the staid world of documentaries, and has so far run to 5 short seasons with the latest airing in May 2011.


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But then all fell silent with the show’s production company Impossible Pictures not commenting on the possibility of any more instalments in the series till September 2011 when they announced a Canadian-produced spinoff Primeval: New World, which would showcase a “younger, sexier cast, gorier special effects, and storylines that will delve deeper into the characters’ relationships.”

Impossible Pictures’ Jonathan Drake further commented:

“This will be a bigger, better, badder re-imagining of the show, rather than a continuation.

“We are really looking forward to working with Omni to help make a series that can exceed even the huge success of the original Primeval in international markets and with viewers across the world.”

The announcement, while cheering up fans who had grown fearful that Primeval had gone to televisual heaven, did generate some concern about whether the show would retain its distinctive edge and personality, and which, if any, of the original cast would make the transition. After all while some shows have thrived in their North American incarnations, such as The Office, others have disappointed – Torchwood anyone? No really, anyone at all? – so it was an even way bet whether the show would succeed on its new home on Canada’s Space channel or slink off into the muddy waters of mediocrity never to be seen again.



Now while we can’t be sure of how the show will act and feel till we have an entire episode in our hot little hands, the trailer is promising, even if the action quotient has been jacked up a level or 300. It is heartening too to see Andrew Lee Potts who played Connor Temple in all 36 of the British episodes making an appearance or two.

But a more detailed assessment of the show and its chances of successfully keeping the series alive will have to wait a while longer.

While the series was originally intended for screening in the North American fall TV season, filing delays of some kind mean there’s now a possibility the debut of the “bigger, better” version of Primeval may not happen till sometime in 2013.

Till then, if you see a “shiny hole” appear next to you any time soon … RUN!

“Clone” and the marriage of TV and comics

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It’s hardly a secret that AMC’s breakout hit of the decade, The Walking Dead, is based on a monthly comic book series created by writer Robert Kirkman, and artist Tony Moore, which was launched in 2003.

What may not be as well known, and something I hadn’t really thought about it till I came across this intriguing post on is how often this cross-pollination occurs between TV and comics.

There have, of course been any number of comic books that have made the leap across to the small screen including Smallville (which is the most recent variant of the Superman origin story), which ran for 10 very successful seasons on the CW network in the US, Batman, and the X-Men, and all have been successful to one degree or another.


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But what I had never thought about till I came across the excellent article on was why this is happening so often these days.

It’s not simply the fact that both forms of media lend themselves to great epic storytelling. As Robert Kirkman points out in this quote from the post by Clark Collis, it has just as much to do with the changes in the way television is choosing to tell its stories:

“Television has become more and more serialized. It’s moved into much more of a model where there are important plot details that continue from episode to episode. That’s something which has been in comics so long — we’re getting to the point where the two mediums really go hand in hand.”


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You can see this shift in shows like Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Fringe to name a few, all of whom have elements that are discrete to a particular episode but who also carry from episode to episode an overarching storyline and mythos that provides a context for everything that happens in the show.

It is fuelled in part by the fact that many TV writers also write and produce comic books, something that a newly minted comic book writer, David Schulner, discovered when he pitched the idea for his new comic book series, Clone.

“I write for television, and I brought this as a TV idea to the producers at Circle of Confusion (a management and production company), who are involved with Walking Dead and Robert. They said, ‘What do you think about turning it into a comic?’ And I said, ‘If someone teaches me how to write comics, sure.’

“And they said, ‘Don’t worry about that part, just develop it how you would develop it for a television show.’ Then, once I told people I’m writing comic books, they went, ‘Oh, I’m writing comic books too!’ All my friends, I realized, who are writing for TV and writing for film, also do comic books or they do comic books and also write for TV and film.”

He is in good company. Talented TV writers like Joss Whedon who brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and the big screen adaptation of Marvel comic book series The Avengers, as well as his own dark Horse Comics series, Fray, and Eric Wallace, writer for sadly departed cult TV show Eureka, and author of Mister Terrific and The Foster Anthology comics, also work extensively in both mediums.


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But it’s David’s new comic book series, Clone, that illustrates quite powerfully how deeply connected the two art forms have become.

It centres on a man who discovers on the eve of his wife giving birth that there are multiple versions of him in the world and that someone is trying to kill them all off. It sets off an existential and physical crisis as he has to simultaneously run for his life while trying to work out who he is exactly when he is no longer unique.

It’s the sort of exciting premise that would have made a brilliant episodic TV show, with an intriguing overarching mythos to underpin it all, and indeed, as David’s earlier quote confirms, that is exactly what he intended it to be.


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But from the little I have seen of Clone, it works equally as well as a comic book, since that medium perfectly captures both the look and feel of a TV show with perhaps the added benefit of some of the layered internal narrative a printed form affords a storyteller.

In fact, it tells its story so well that I, a man who is not known for darkening the doors of comic book stores, may well be lining up to purchase the series and will be treating it like any of the TV shows I watch.

If this is the future, it’s a very exciting one and bodes well for the golden age of creativity this new digital age, and the collaboration it affords,  has ushered in.

“Modern Family” and “Homeland” dominate Emmys 2012


Well the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, held Sunday US time at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles have been and gone and left a lot of people, including me, scratching their heads.

It’s not an unusual reaction to the Emmys, indeed any awards show, who sometimes award the right people with such unerring accuracy you marvel at the hand of the media divine in their decision making; while at other times, they are so far off that you would swear a team of brain damaged marmosets in straitjackets randomly plucked names out of a telephone book in a sandstorm.

This year’s Emmys sat somewhere in between, more the result I suspect of an ambivalent dope smoking hippy switching his attention between re-runs of Real Housewives of Plano, Texas and the Blurays containing the actual shows he should be paying full attention to and voting on.

That is to say that the Emmys didn’t so much get it horribly wrong, or blindingly right; they sat somewhere uncomfortably in-between, but unlike Goldilocks and her luck in finding the third “just right” bed, it didn’t feel like much of anything in the end.


Jimmy Kimmel in full arm-bending flight during his monologue at this year’s Primetime Emmys (via


And that’s not necessarily because some talented people didn’t win.

Unless you had your pulse removed one night by aliens looking for an adrenal high – don’t laugh it could happen and might make a damn good TV show – you couldn’t help but find Homeland, the story of a US soldier returned home after years held captive by Islamic terrorists who may or may not have been compromised during his incarceration, one of the most gripping, politically and emotionally shows of the 2o11/12 US TV season.


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Emmy voters clearly thought so, adrenaline obviously still pouring through their veins and awarded the show awards for Outstanding Drama Series, Writing in a Drama Series, and Lead Actress in a Drama Series to Claire Danes (she plays FBI agent Carrie Mathison) and Lead Actor in a Drama Series to Damian Lewis (who plays said returned US soldier, Nicholas Brody).


Claire Danes holds her Emmy after her win (image via


Damian Lewis shows shock at his win during his acceptance speech) (image via


Deserving wins all, although I am sure the good folk of Mad Men, who were up for 17 awards and went home completely empty handed didn’t think so, and no doubt spent the after parties muttering darkly into their 60s-era martinis. Homeland‘s success meant Mad Men failed to get a record fifth consecutive Emmy for drama series, which according to Glenn Whipp of, had everything to do with “’voter fatigue’ to a need to send a message to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, i.e.: ‘Get over yourself.’”

Whatever the reason for the snubbing of Mad Men, and the equally impressive Breaking Bad, which it has been suggested is a bit too dark for the tender sensibilities of some of the older Emmys voters, no one can deny that Homeland didn’t deserve to carry home a big rig’s worth of shiny’s golden statuettes.

OK they could but really who would have listened? They were all off at the after parties by that point, pretending to be fascinated some starlet or another and hoping the goodies bags contained something they could hock on Ebay if the next round of contract negotiations didn’t quite go to plan.

Truth is, Homeland is a brilliantly realised show and deserved the considerable amount of kudos shovelled on to it at the awards (I suspect they are still trying to dig themselves out 24 hours later).


The cast and crew of “Modern Family” fill the stage to accept the award for Outstanding Comedy Series (via


What I felt didn’t deserve quite the amount of suffocating stalker-obsessed love it was shown, though it is a fine show in its own right and one of the finest family sitcoms to have graced our screens is Modern Family.

I have loved this show from the word go and Steve Levitan and the team deserve all the credit for managing to take the family sitcom off the drip sustaining it as it lay comatose in the hospital of dead-and-dying genres and injecting it with  some much needed sass and verve before all of us expired from terminal boredom.

But having watched every episode of Big Bang Theory, Veep and 30 Rock that I can get my needy sitcom-craving hands on – I am still jonesing for episodes of Girls, which has quite managed to make its way across the Pacific legally yet – and loving them all with the passion of a Bieber Fever sufferer discovering Twilight for the first time, I am not convinced that Modern Family‘s win for Outstanding Comedy Series is entirely well deserved.

Frankly I still maintain Parks and Recreation should have been front and centre and should have simply been handed the awards for every single category – yes even drama series, sorry Homeland – until Amy Poehler and gang collapsed under the weight of all those pointy glittering trophies.


One of the funniest moments of the night was when Julia Louis-Dreyfus started her acceptance speech with a fake list of thank yous that supposedly belong to Amy Poehler who rushed up to grab the list (via


But it didn’t even get nominated and so I, along with millions of other sitcom tragics, fully expected the consistently inspired 30 Rock, or hilarious newcomer Veep to march off with the gong. Of course Modern Family is funny, clever and a breath of fresh air, and it is one of the shows I regularly make time for, but I don’t think it has the sort of one-of-a-kind comic smarts that fuel its nomination siblings.

That said, both Julie Bowen, who plays Claire Dunphy on Modern Family and who won for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and Eric Stonestreet, who plays her brother-in-law and one of the funniest gay men on TV, Cameron Tucker, and won for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series are perfect in their roles and it was good to see that recognised.


Julie Bowen on stage at the Emmys 2012 (via


Eric Stonestreet in stage Emmys 2012 (via


Even then though I am torn. Mostly because the comically gifted Max Greenfield (New Girl) who plays the narcissist with a heart of gold, Schmidt, would have made a more than worthy contender for the gong. He has taken a role that could have so easily been mired in the quicksand of cliche (with a side of rote, predictable dialogue to go), and given it a vibrant three-dimensional quality that has made him, with all due respect to the talented and adorkable Zooey Deschanel, arguably the breakout member of an especially gifted ensemble comedy.

Still, the biggest surprise of the night, apart from the fact that the much-deserving Maggie Smith, who gloriously dominates Downton Abbey, grabbed the Supporting Actress in a Drama award out from under Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and the uber-talented Julia Louis-Dreyfus won  Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Veep, was Jon Cryer winning  Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Two and a Half Men.


Jon Cryer expressing his profound amazement at his win (via


No one, of course, after a theatre full of jaws had been graciously Botoxed back into place from their resting place on the floor, was more caught by surprise than Jon Cryer who was genuinely perplexed by his win:

“I’m as shocked as you people, that’s all I’m going to say. That’s why my speech sucked! … Mostly I was just in enormous shock.”

After seven nominations, and one win, in the Supporting Actor category, it’s no surprise that he didn’t expect much when he was elevated to the ranks of Lead Actor for the first time. After all Charlie Sheen had always been the one who dominated Emmys noms for the show, and Jon Cryer only really got a look in when Sheen rather unceremoniously left the show.

Now, while there’s no doubt that Jon Cryer is a thoroughly nice guy who has great comic timing and has his talents far more obviously on show now that Sheen has fled the roost, but he is in a show of rather dubious worth that wallows in the sort of cliches other shows run from like it’s the plague (yes that cliche was intentional, thank you). Frankly I would have handed the award to Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) or Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) well ahead in a heartbeat of Jon Cryer because they’re superbly talented actors in distinctive, highly original literate sitcoms.

But still upset or not, you can’t ultimately begrudge Cryer the win if only because he deserves some sort of reward for labouring in a subpar show with something like Sheen as a co-star.


Aaron Paul accepts his award at the Emmys 2012 ((via


Louis CK holds his two Emmys after an exceedingly good night for the talented comedian (image via


So in a year where neither the brain damaged marmosets nor the hands of the gods guided the voting, and the ambivalent voting hippie reigned supreme in a cloud of gunja, we can at least take comfort in the fact that awards were still to be had for Aaron Paul (Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, Breaking Bad) and Louis CK (Writing in a Comedy Series, Louie, and Writing in a Variety, Music or Comedy Series, Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre), and hope that next year, in farway 2013, Amy Poehler will be given the chance to strut her stuff and deliver her own awesome speech as the Emmy voters while other innovative clever shows are given plaudits without number.

And oh yeah, here’s hoping we can dodge the remorseless cloud of flying pigs as they whoosh ever so closely to our heads on their way to present the awards.

* Here’s a very entertaining look at what might be store at next year’s Emmys. Yes. Next Year’s. I kid you not.

Oh and my favourite shot of the night? The adorable Zooey Deschanel (New Girl) and Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) present an award and have a bundle of fun doing it.


Jim Parsons and Zooey Deschanel at the Emmys 2012 (image via


And yes it’s already all over Youtube. Enjoy.




“The Hobbit” trailer now comes with five endings!

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News is coming thick and fast on Peter Jackson’s epic imagining of Tolkien’s 300 or so page novel, The Hobbit, the synopsis of which the official site beautifully summarises thus:

The Hobbit follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakensheild. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever … Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.”


Bilbo is introduced to the dwarves he will accompany on his “unexpected journey” (L-R) KEN STOTT as Balin, AIDAN TURNER as Kili, WILLIAM KIRCHER as Bifur, IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf, GRAHAM McTAVISH as Dwalin, MARK HADLOW as Dori and MARTIN FREEMAN as Bilbo Baggins.

The first instalment, which is due out at Christmas this year, is now going to be a trilogy if Peter Jackson has anything to do with it. Along with partner Fran Walsh, he is an avid fan of the world Tolkien created, and is seizing the chance to draw on material in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings series which neatly fill in the period between the events depicted in The Hobbit and the later books.

Given that he and his producing partners are such uber-fans, it’s not surprising they are going all out to produce the definitive cinematic depiction of this much-loved of novels. While it’s not in the bag yet since Peter Jackson still has to convince the studio it’s a great idea, this quote gives you some idea how hard he will fight to make it happen.

“We have an incredible source material with the appendices. The Hobbit is obviously a novel, but we also have the rights to use this 125 pages of additional notes, where Tolkien expanded the world of The Hobbit published at the end of Return of the King.

“[Hobbit producer] Fran Walsh and I have been talking to the studio about other things we haven’t been able to shoot, and seeing if we could persuade them to do a few more weeks of shooting – probably more than a few weeks, actually, next year – and what form that would actually end up taking. The discussions are pretty early. So there isn’t really anything to report, but there’s other parts of the story that we’d like to tell that we haven’t been able to tell yet.”


Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) arrives at Rivendell on his great journey (image via


In another piece of news, it turns out that September 22 is Hobbit Day, or at least has been since 1978 when the Tolkien society declared it to be so (with no doubt the requisite amount of Gandalfian pomp and ceremony) – apparently because both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, though born many years apart, share the same birthday.

Peter Jackson used this auspicious day to launch a new extended trailer for the movie, which has not one but five – count ’em, five – endings depending on whether you choose Gandalf, Bilbo, Sting, Gollum or the Dwarves. It’s like a modern version of the Write Your Own Adventure books of old, and frankly if you’re anything like me, you will choose all five endings.

After all, as Peter Jackson has shown with his ambitious plans for a trilogy, an excess of Tolkien, especially re-imagined by Peter Jackson and his talented team, is never enough.



My unexpected love affair with “Pop Asia”

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It all started one otherwise uneventful Sunday morning a few weeks ago.

Wanting something to watch after Insiders (a national political program on Australia’s government-funded ABC network that features a moderator and three journalist discussing the week in federal politics) had run its course, and I was waiting for my partner to have his shower, I channel surfed across to SBS, the other government run network.

While I had traditionally ignored  this network on weekend mornings, I learnt very quickly that that had been a mistake, and that lurking in a time slot which is traditionally home to cartoons, or yes, serious political and business discussion, was the pop culture gem, Pop Asia, which brings together a vast range of music from the phenomenon that is J-pop (Japanese pop) and K-pop (Korean pop) .

What exploded across my screen as I discovered this perfectly package pop music show, with all the force and colour of a glitter bomb that could no longer contain its glittery goodness, was a clip so candy-coloured, and shamelessly exuberant, and a song so infectiously upbeat, that I could not tear my eyes away.

Not even for a second.

The song, “PonPonPon” by Japanese pop (J-Pop) singer, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, was gloriously, eye-blindingly gaudy in the best way possible, and the sheer joy of her performance had me not only listening to the entire song, but singing along too once I’d mastered the chorus (learning Japanese at uni had its benefits) and yes, downloading it, almost immediately.


The bright candy bon bon goodness of “PonPonPon” (image via
Giant orange and yellow sharks always swim in through windows (image via
Lord knows what this is but Kyary Pamyu Pamyu seems to be pleased to see it (image via


It appealed on a number of levels.

The song itself was unapologetically upbeat, embodying a giddy schoolgirl-esque love of bright happy melodies and jaunty lines that bounced along like Smurfs on a sugar high. The clip, set in a giant nursery-meets-toy-store was invaded by all manner of weird, unusual creatures, all of whom were welcomed with open arms by the irrepressibly cute singer, and the unbridled imagination powering this visually over the top extravaganza didn’t drop down into beige-coloured banality for even one second.

I grant you that this sort of colour-overload isn’t for everyone,  and could be easily dismissed as light, fluffy nonsense, but I instantly adored it, and found out some post-Pop Asia Googling, that a lot of serious thought had gone into both the look of the video and the meaning behind each and every image.


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The aim, it turns out, of art director Masuda Sebastien, of trendy Japanese fashion brand 6%DOKIDOKI, and his partner in fabulous visual styling, fashion stylist Kumiko Iijima, was to combine the Japanese concept of “kawaii” (cute) with a liberal dose of the sort of weirdness routinely found on Japanese game shows, a retro nod iconic Japanese TV programs from the 60s and 70s, and a cartoonish sensibility gleaned from Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball.

It is as good an example of any of the fact that the simplest looking and sounding pop music is usually the kind that has has a great deal of thought and care go into it, created and shaped by immensely talented people with a unique view of the world. That was the case with ABBA, and is certainly the case with the gorgeous Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.

And with many of the acts who followed in the half hour left of Pop Asia when I had belatedly tuned in.

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who only released the single in July 2011, is not alone in her devotion to sweet, addictive, and to my surprise, utterly compelling sugary pop, delivered by bright and smiling popettes, or boybands without number, immaculately dressed in a range of daring but trendy outfits.



And many of the songs are not just good, they are excellent. In common with song charts in many Western countries, there are a fair number of tunes that should have never seen the light of day, but there are far more songs that deserve not just a listen but inclusion in  music collections the world over.


SHINee in full flight (image via


Take the Korean boyband, SHINee, who strut onto the stage of the clip for their song “Lucifer” with all the bravado and swagger of a toughened street gang – albeit a fantastically well appointed street gang with impeccable and up-to-the-minute taste in clothing – before breaking into dance routines so exquisitely well choreographed and timed it would make the angels weep.

The song more than matches its visual packaging, daring you not to get up and dance and stay dancing. This is not throwaway pop of any kind but rather real, enduring music that will, dare I say it, stand the test of time. It certainly struck a chord with K-pop lovers, becoming the sixth bestselling album of 2010 in South Korea, and spawning a series of highly successful singles, including the deliciously repeat-listen “Lucifer”. The members of SHINee today don’t just turn up and sing either with songs “Your Name” and “Juliette” bearing lyrics written by the band.

The point is these are seriously talented people who make great music and it is earning bands like SHINee, and 2NE1, and singers like Seo In-Guk, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and T.O.P. a devoted following around the world.


Seo In-guk (image via


But neither J-pop or K-pop, are musical flashes in the pan.

The rise of J-pop, which came to dominate the Japanese musical scene from the 1990s onwards, started way back in the early 1970s when Japanese rock bands like Happy End fused Beatles-esque harmonies with rock, creating a wholly unique type of sound. It was further augmented in the 1980s by the New Wave movement, which had as profound an effect in Japan as it did the West, which gave rise to iconic bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Southern All Stars. It has now become so ubiquitous that the term J-pop, coined by the Japanese media to define music that is uniquely Japanese in sound, is now used to refer to pretty much all contemporary Japanese music. (You can read more here.)


Yellow Magic Orchestra (image via


Similarly K-pop, which encompasses a broad range of music running the gamut from dance to electronica to hip-hop and R&B has become a handy shorthand term for modern Korean popular music. While the term usually refers to Korean pop idols when used in an international setting, it carries a much broader definition with Korea itself.

The origins of K-pop could be argued to extend back as far as the 1920s but it is generally regarded as beginning in the 1990s with Seo Taiji and Boys (1992) who presaged the creation of the first boybands and girl groups by Korean music impresario, Lee Soo Man, and a slew of other musical entrepreneurs , and K-pop as a worldwide pop force began its inexorable rise. (You can read more here.)


Seo Taiji and Boys (image via


Both forms of pop have spread across the world like wildfire, and become wildly popular thanks to expat populations, the rise of the internet which has made musical forms around the world accessible to people who previously wouldn’t have known of its existence, and the fact that it is great music that embodies all the qualities that has made pop music the dominant genre across the planet.

A program like Pop Asia, which broadcasts 8.30 to 10.30 every Sunday on SBS, as well as continuously streaming the “very best non-stop Asian pop hits in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and more” here, is right on the crest of this wave of the zeitgeist, and frankly with such a groundswell of popularity behind it, I am amazed that I missed it for so long.

Rest assured, it is firmly on my pop culture radar now, and will be filling this blog, and my iPod for quite some time to come.




“Community”, “New Girl” and “30 Rock” all counting down to new seasons …

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The US Fall TV Season is upon us, inspiring delight – hooray new shows and episodes of established shows we adore! – and panic – I am still watching the last season of more shows than I can count … sorry Glee! – but it is here nonetheless, and the various programs are making sure we don’t miss their arrival back on the small screen.

The most committed to the “We’re back soon – watch us!” campaigns is Fox’s New Girl, starring the comedically gifted actress Zooey Deschanel in one of the best shows of the last season, which is releasing pictures every day via Twitter so we don’t miss the fact that season 2 starts in mere days …



UPDATE (25 September):

Only 1 day to go now with the new episodes premiering Tuesday US time. How do I know? This is how I know …



But not to be left out, Community, which will be watched closely when it returns on October 19 after the dramatic and controversial departure of creator and former showrunner Dan Harmon (he was replaced by Moses Port and David Guarascio), has launched a campaign of its own that also includes monkeys!



Yes monkeys. But it’s less then monkeys that concern us than whether the new guys in charge will keep much of what makes Community so refreshingly different to most other sitcoms intact – its sense of the absurd, love of ballsy in-your-face satire, and colourful larger-than-life personas and of course the richly drawn complex characters we know and love – and keep a must watch TV show.

Well, we will know in … how long exactly guys?



And finally the much loved 30 Rock, the comedy gem that keeps on giving has jumped on the wagon in their own delightfully idiosyncratic way …



So set your alarms, get comfy on the couch and join me in counting down the days till some of the best shows on TV return!

Can’t wait! To see these movies 2



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Movies based on books are always fraught.

They come loaded with so many expectations about whether they will match the tone and feel of the book – which is unfair since books and movies are two wholly different storytelling mediums and hence a movie must by definition differ from the book on which it is based – that many people have made their mind up about whether the filmed version is worth seeing before it has even reached the cinema.

I would argue that that kind of rush to judgement shouldn’t be entertained in the case of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Yes there is good reason to be cautious since it is a lushly metaphorical book where much of the narrative is driven by the protagonist’s interior monologues but handled properly it could be one of those achingly beautiful movies that draw you in so completely you forget you are watching a movie.

Given that Ang Lee is in charge of proceedings, who is the same man who delivered the beautifully nuanced movies Brokeback Mountain and Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon, and he is using a screenplay by David Magee (Finding NeverlandMiss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), I have great hope that the cinematic version of this gorgeous book, due in cinemas in November this year and realised in the vivid hues of 3D, will be every bit the equal of the book.

I, for one, cannot wait to be entranced by this magical tale of survival, on the big screen.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower 


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Let’s face it – being in high school sucks for most people.

While some people will wistfully reminisce about the glorious days they spent in the bosom of the secondary school system, most of us are happy to leave those days behind us, and move on to a world that hopefully rewards us for who we are, and not who an opinionated elite thinks we should be (and should we fail to meet their arbitrary standards will punish us for it).

That’s why I think this movie, starring the actress who brought Harry Potter’s Hermione (Emma Watson) so vividly to life, is going to strike a profound chord with many people. Based on the epistolary novel of the same name (a book whose events are told via letters or documents, or these days texts and emails) – yes another movie daring to interpret a much loved book – by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the screenplay, it tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman) who relays events in his life via letters to an anonymous person he has never met.

In these letters he pours out his sense of disenfranchisement and isolation as he struggles to find someone, anyone to be his friend following the suicide death of his only real friend Michael. He belatedly finds them in the form of Sam (Emma Watson) and her step-brother Patrick (Ezra Miller), both of whom feels as outcast as Charlie.

This is the end of all his pain and angst of course but it does trigger a significant time of growth for him, and the movie looks it has deftly captured the themes of the book, which is pleasing since not all authors succeed in translating their books to the big screen.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower should be well worth the price of admission.



Les Miserables 


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This must rank as one of the most stirring movie trailers of all time.

By the end of it, not only did I have tears in my eyes, and goosebumps aplenty, but I knew I had no choice but to see this movie.

It’s hardly surprising that it has that reaction since Les Miserables (or The Glums as some have mischievously tagged it) is a powerful musical, based on an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo that tells the story of gross injustice, pain and suffering and ultimately some form of redemption, however imperfect it might be.

It’s been a long time coming to film, but thanks to Working Title films (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shaun of the Dead) and director Tom Hooper (John Adams, The King’s Speech), the story of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his search for a new place in society, and the intersection of his story with the upper and lower echelons of nineteenth century France is finally coming to the big screen in December 2012.

Starring the immensely talented Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as his nemesis Inspect Javert, and with Anne Hathaway as Fantine, whose soaring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” gives the trailer such an emotional punch, and Amanda Seyfried as her daughter Cosette, this is one movie that is bound to leave you stirred down to the deepest reaches of your soul and reaching for your hankies.

I will be lining up for this one.





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We’ve all been there.

Journeying through life, trying to make our mark and feeling like we’re failing miserably.

That’s how Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano), a one time successful novelist with severe writer’s block feels, in this romantic comedy from directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, as he sits with his psychiatrist fruitlessly trying to find a way to get his life back on track.

His psychiatrist, played by Elliott Gould, suggests he imagine someone who might like Calvin’s dog Scotty, who Calvin merely finds annoying, which leads to a vivid dream featuring a woman he names Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) who becomes the central character in his new novel …

… and then mysteriously his life when he magically springs to life for all to see, and I mean, all. It’s not just Calvin who can see her but all his friends, family and even his fans.

She is a real flesh and blood person and transforms Calvin’s life.

Of course being a rom com it is full of emotional ups and downs but it has all the charm you’d expect of an indie film and a depth that is rare in the genre.

This could be the movie that restores my somewhat dented faith in romantic comedies.





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Another romantic comedy but again this one is grounded in enough of real life – well as much as romantic comedies are allowed to get down and dirty on their inevitable path to true love – as Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), both recovering struggling to emerge from dark periods in their life, meet and began a tentative romance.

It’s complicated by the fact that neither Pat is increasingly delusional about the state of his marriage to Nikki (Julia Stiles) after being released from the mental clinic he was consigned to after almost beating his wife’s lover to death, nor Tiffany, afraid of engaging with anyone following the death of his husband, are really in any place to start a relationship.

But that looks like the joy of this movie. Life keeps happening whether you’re ready or not, it does come along in neatly constructed packages, nor when it suits us perfectly and thank god there is a romantic comedy that finally acknowledges this and doesn’t overly sugarcoat this.

Of course there will have to be some sweetness – there has to be; look at the genre Silver Linings Playbook inhabits – but it promises to be a movie firmly rooted in the authentic reality of everyday life and not afraid to deal with some unpalatable darkness on its way to a big heartwarming helping of light.

Pass me the popcorn please while I fall in love all over again …



So which movies can’t you wait to see? Will any have you camping outside the cinema?