Stop. Go. Stop. GO! “Arrested Development” resumes its glorious dysfunctionality

(image via highsnobiety.com )

 

It’s not long now my familial dysfunction-loving friends!

Soon and very soon, Arrested Development, cancelled six years ago by the Fox network at the end of season 3 when the dysfunctional Bluth family finally came apart in spectacularly chaotic fashion, will make its much-welcome way back into our viewing lives.

And how!

In a move that is fast-becoming the signature strategy of the subscription-service, Netflix, which is giving traditional cable a run for its money, all 15 episodes of the revived series, once again under the firm comedic hand of creator Michael Hurwitz, will be released all at once to subscribers.

Which will make for a very busy Sunday in many parts of the world, and for those of us a little further around the globe time-wise, a possible day off on the Monday to cope with all the new Bluth goodness.

 

Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) (image via vulture.com)

 

But before we catch up to where the Bluths are now, where did we leave all those years ago?

According to the good folks at Wikipedia, right here:

To celebrate their victory in Iraq – [uncovering a CIA wiretapping program in the country which saw all the US Government’s charges against George Sr (Jeffrey Tambor) dropped] – the Bluths throw a shareholders’ party on the RMS Queen Mary.

During preparations for the party, it is revealed that Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) was adopted, meaning that George Michael (Michael Cera) and Maeby (Alia Shawkat) are not blood relatives. At the party, the Bluths’ other adopted child, Annyong (Justin Lee), reappears. He reveals that he is there to avenge the Bluth family’s theft of his grandfather’s frozen-banana idea and the cause of his subsequent deportation, an event orchestrated many years earlier by Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter). Annyong has turned over evidence implicating Lucille in the Bluth Company’s accounting scandals.

Before the police arrive, Michael (Jason Bateman) and George Michael flee on Gob’s (Will Arnett) yacht, the C-Word, and depart to Cabo with half a million dollars in cashier’s checks, finally leaving the family to fend for themselves. However, it is revealed in the epilogue that George Sr. is also on the yacht, having lured his brother Oscar into taking his place once again. Also in the epilogue, Maeby tries to sell the television rights to the story of the Bluth family to Ron Howard, who tells her that he sees it as a movie rather than a series.

 

The character posters for Gob (Will Arnett) and Buster (Tony Hale) (images via vulture.com)

 

Right so up to speed?

Onward to season 4 then which will look like? Well something like this, according to ew.com:

“This batch of episodes won’t play out exactly like the Arrested of old, as the producers worked around the limited availability of the actors, who were tied up with other projects. Each installment chronicles the adventures of a particular Bluth over the last seven years, with several other characters making appearances as well. The episodes are designed to work as a whole — as jokes and plots from one episode may pay off in a later one — taking advantage of the Netflix paradigm.

“’When Mitch [Hurwitz]started to get his arms around how all the action could happen simultaneously and there was an ability to stop one episode, start another, and have all this crossover and braided plotting,’ says series star Jason Bateman, ‘it became clear that he was going to try to accomplish something incredibly ambitious, the kind of escalation that the audience would expect from him.’”

 

Character posters for Maeby (Alia Shawkat) and George Michael (Michael Cera) (images via vulture.com)

 

Naturally, in one way or another, it will fall to Michael (Jason Bateman) to right the good ship Bluth, if he can.

However, if the family’s track record is any indication, it will be a monumental challenge of Herculean proprortions and he may just wish he’d stayed in Mexico.

We naturally will be very glad he didn’t.

Certainly if this clip on insidetv.ew.com, which shows Lucille (Jessica Walter) and Buster (Tony Hale) locked in the same old desperately unhealthy mother/son relationship  is any indication, he and the family may just end up right where they started.

 

Character posters for Lucille (Jessica Walter) and George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) (images via vulture.com)

 

But let’s be honest – no matter where season 4 takes the Bluth family, it will be nothing less than hilariously, gloriously, side-splittingly dysfunctional.

Roll on 26 May.

We need to face our moment of Bluth!

(Thanks to Entertainment Weekly for that last line – it’s an inspired headline; I only wish I had been so clever!)

 

Character posters for Tobias Fünke (David Cross) and Lindsay Fünke (Portia de Rossi) (images via vulture.com)

 

 

Judging books by their covers #1: “Room”

(image via unrealityshout.com)

 

The object of this new series, which I am starting in conjunction with my wonderful friend, Elle, who blogs at Inkproductions.org (well-written, entertaining and thoughtful articles on all things writing and blogging-oriented) is to grab a long-neglected unread book off our shelves, speculate on what we think the book’s about based solely on its cover and then – ta dah! – reveal what the book is really trying to say.

Is it unfair to judge a book by its cover? We’re about to find out!

WHAT IT MIGHT BE ABOUT
Set in a post apocalyptic landscape where only pastel-toned primary colours remain, and houses are small with drawn-on windows – evidently glass has become a scarce commodity, too precious to make windows with; who stole all the sand I wonder? – and apparently no doors so I am guessing axes are a popular , and now socially unacceptable, way for gaining entry to homes.

Most people, too poor to even afford a single children’s building block house, look out on a bleak landscape of white nothingness … well they would if they could see through the impenetrable wood of the fake windows that is.

It is barren existence with nothing much to do which eventually drives the hero of the story Jack (I peeked just a teensy-weensy little bit at the blurb, I must confess) to journey out into the empty expanse for excitement, adventure, and a non-axed-in door.

Will he find some glass? Is there anything beyond the nothingness of his immediate neighbourhood? And can you sustain an entire novel on this premise alone?

Jack has only 48 hours to find out before the crayons that drew his window scribble him out, along with those he loves, forever.

WHAT IT’S ACTUALLY ABOUT
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.

Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.

Movie review: Iron Man 3

(image via facebook.com/AvengersAUNZ)

 

Being a superhero is a tough job.

Physically, psychologically and relationally – no part of your life is left untouched by the rigours of a calling which throws any hope of a normal life completely out the window.

Try as you might to have some semblance of a 9-to-5 life, nefarious villains and shady figures from your past are constantly conspiring to end the world and take you with it, daring you to try and stop them.

It takes it toll as Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), once unceasingly brash and confident, but now paranoid and sleep-deprived after his world-saving adventures in The Avengers all too readily attests to Pepper Potts early in the epic third instalment in the Iron Man franchise.

The film finds Tony Stark going through the motions of his devil-may-care lifestyle but beneath the bon vivant attitude and the cheesy oneliners, delivered with aplomb by an actor at the top of his game, he is a shadow of the man he once was, lost in his work and prisoner to the now 42 Iron Man suits which fill his not-so-secret underground lair.

 

Is he a man or a machine? Or both? Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) struggles with an almighty identity crisis in the third instalment of the Iron Man franchise (image via independent.co.uk)

 

His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), the woman who he acknowledges is the most important thing in the world to him, is teetering on the brink, one flirtatious exchange with ethically-challenged geneticist, and possible mad scientist, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), away from failing miserably.

And much like his prototype suit #42, which hasn’t had all the kinks worked out of it yet and sputters and dies at the least appropriate times – say somewhere over Rose Hill, Tennessee in the depths of winter – his life isn’t so much zooming forward as lurching drunkenly and uncertainly from side to side.

Tony Stark is a mess.

Not a morose, introspective mess admittedly since what makes the Iron Man franchise work in part is Tony Stark’s endless need to indulge his comically cynical side and take impromptu ass-kicking action he may later regret, but a mess nonetheless, one that not even Pepper or long time friend, Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka The Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) seems to be able to do anything about.

 

Menacing and combustible, The Mandarin is out to show the USA a lesson or twelve, and has no qualms about using any and all methods to accomplish his ends (image via g4tv.com)

 

Ah yes but there’s the rub.

Mess or no mess, evil, in the form of a devilish team made up of Aldrich Killian and Osama bin Laden-style terrorist, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) waits for no man, damaged or not, and when they threaten to take much more from him than his ability to sleep soundly at night, Tony Stark is forced to act.

Alas his suits fail initially to fully come to the party and when, after a rash threat to take down The Mandarin singlehandedly is issued in the heat of the moment after a visit to the hospital bedside of fatally injured former bodyguard and chauffeur Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, who also acts as one of the movie’s producers) results in his house being destroyed, and Pepper almost being taken from him, it begins to look like he may have to do much of his super hero actioning sans the suit.

Which, in a nice nod to his ongoing “am I  man or machine?” existential dilemma, he does.

True the suits do finally rise to the occasion, all 42 of them in fact appearing in the climactic scene to magnificent effect, but for much of the running time of Iron Man 3, success or otherwise comes down to Tony Stark’s ability to outthink, outwit, and at times outquip, his enemies without his self-described “cocoon”of armour.

Challenged by, and almost paralysed by, the prospect of acting without his metallic carapace, he is emboldened to act by a rather prepossessed eight year old boy, Harley (gifted child actor Ty Simpkins who is superb in the role), who helps Tony out when he crash lands in Tennessee and his suit malfunctions.

 

What’s a superhero to do when his outfit powers down and crash lands in the snow? Why steal a poncho off a wooden Indian, drag your machine through the snow, and find an eight year old scientific prodigy to help you … of course (image via o.canada.com)

 

And act he does, to devastating effect righting all the wrongs eventually and emerging triumphant at the end of the film.

That is hardly a revelation since Marvel films do not routinely trade in the uncertain grey of human existence, and their endings are affirmative inspiring endings without exception, but the journey to reach that point is filled with all manner of setbacks, near misses, and enough one liners to fuel a comedy festival for decades.

While it’s true that Iron Man 3 is hardly boldly original, trading in many of the stock standard tropes of the superhero genre – trouble protagonist, menacing villain/s, end of the world beckoning – it uses them in a highly imaginative fashion, crafting an action-fueled movie that doesn’t forgo characterisation for the sake of an adrenaline-fueled narrative.

True, Tony Stark’s existential angst aside, it’s unlikely to win any plaudits for rich, deep characterisation, or intricately involved storytelling, but it is far more substantial and layered than many films of its ilk.

 

Love true love wins out in the end but it’s a rocky road getting there, one that “Iron Man 3” travels with fun, derring-do and a quip always at the ready (image via movies.yahoo.com)

 

That is thanks largely to Tony Stark, played to perfection by Robert Downey Jr, who brings the right amount of gravitas, levity and in-your-face bravado to the role.

Comical and cheesy yes at times but the perfect man for the job and very much at home in the larger-than-life world of Iron Man.

Iron Man 3 and the entire Iron Man franchise may not carry with it the deep searing angst of the recent revitalised Christian Bale-starring Batman trilogy, or the upcoming rebooted Superman film, Man of Steel, but is nonetheless a substantial entry, with a cheeky sense of humour to boot,  in the superhero canon and proof positive that intelligent blockbusters do not need to be an oxymoron.

 

Can’t wait to see: “It’s a Disaster”

(image via oscilloscope.net)

 

MOVIE SYNOPSIS
In this doomsday comedy, four couples who meet for Sunday brunch find themselves stranded in a house together as the world may be about to end. When Tracy Scott (Julia Stiles) decides to introduce her new beau Glenn (David Cross) to her three friends Hedy (America Ferrera), Emma (Erin Hayes), and Lexi (Rachel Boston) and their significant others, her biggest fear is whether or not her friends will approve of her new relationship, little does she realize that’s the least of her worries. Before long the couples find themselves in the midst of an apocalyptic disaster, catching them all off guard. One thing is clear; these four couples aren’t going to let the potential end of the world get in the way of the relationship issues they all need to work out. (source: themovieinsider.com)

 

Civilisation is a fragile construct.

Though it may look hardy and enduring with its grand buildings, laws of the land, conventions and rituals, and yes the much-revered and almost equally-feared institution of brunch, all you have to do is throw in a zombie apocalypse, alien invasion or the possible end of the Mayan calendar, and all hell breaks loose.

And with it civilisation comes a-tumblin’ down, taking all our precious assumptions about how life should operate with it.

That’s the situation that this long time group of friends, who have arranged a brunch date to meet one of their party’s new boyfriend, find themselves in when the world does indeed end and without so much as an iPhone calendar notification or an invitation to mark its arrival.

So the group is caught unawares while the world goes to hell in a (picnic) basket around them.

 

It’s the end of the world and they feel fine? Hmm, maybe not (image via hollywoodreporter.com)

 

Of course this group isn’t going to let a small thing like the apocalyptic end of the world dampen their social get together – largely because they remain blissfully unaware of it, consumed by their very own emotional apocalypse inside the four walls of the house that becomes their sanctuary … and therapy den.

Here’s what thehollywoodreporter.com had to say about the movie back in June 2012:

“Berger and his cast navigate the shift with confidence and finely drawn portrayals — the exception being Ferrara, who plays Hedy’s freakout too broadly. The script excels at character-driven laughs, cerebral yet goofy, without resorting to sitcom stereotypes or genitalia-focused stupidity. Reactions to the partially explained toxic disaster range from oblivious to primed for the breakdown of civil society. But through it all the characters talk like real people, even — or especially — as they self-consciously channel disaster-movie clichés.

“The bright and cheery production design is a fine counterpoint to the story’s pivotal cloud of doom. The movie makes the most of its single location, thanks to the fluent camerawork of accomplished cinematographer Nancy Schreiber. Musical selections, from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to a glockenspiel-centric version of “House of the Rising Sun,” are the perfect accompaniment to the characters’ doomsday dilemma.”

 

What to do, what to do … planning brunch is one thing; surviving the apocalypse, and your friends, is quite another (image via trailers.apple.com )

 

Quite apart from the stellar cast, and the A-grade production team, I am particularly excited about the fact that like Signs, which drew the overwhelming magnitude of an alien invasion down to the far more intimate and claustrophobic experience of one family trying to survive in an isolated farmhouse, It’s a Disaster distills the apocalypse down to its essence – how would one small group of people react to this life-changing event?

And would it bode well for humanity’s future or not?

While we may only get one group of friends answer to that question, it should prove illuminating and instructive … and if preliminary reviews are any indication, hilarious to boot.

Bring on the end of the world … just make sure the Eggs Benedict are just so.

*The film originally released in June 2012 in USA but returned early April for another showing at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, NC.

No release date has been confirmed for Australia at this time.

 

 

Sneak peek: “Thor: The Dark World” (poster + trailer)

(image via screenrant.com)

 

MOVIE SYNOPSIS
Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World continues the big-screen adventures of Thor, the Mighty Avenger (Chris Hemsworth) as he battles to save Earth and all the Nine Realms from a shadowy enemy that predates the universe itself.  In the aftermath of Marvel’s Thor and Marvel’s The Avengers, Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos…but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) returns to plunge the universe back into darkness.  Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all. (source: screenrant.com)

 

After saving Earth, Jane Foster and doing magnificent business at the box office in his first self-titles movie in 2011, Thor is back to do battle with a great evil one that may even be beyond the power of the son of Asgard himself to repel.

Surely that cannot be!

Somehow I suspect he will still come out on top, but getting to that expected victory looks like it will take quite a toll on the now seasoned Viking warrior, and everyone close to him, if the first trailer is any guide.

Our beloved blue planet will suffer again too, attacked in the sort of concerted and ferocious manner which seems to be happening quite a lot lately to the planet that appears to be the universe’s preferred choice for invading/possessing/laying waste to/etc.

How did we get so lucky?

Earth already sustained quite a lot of damage during The Avengers when Thor joined with a number of Marvel’s other superheroes including Iron Man (currently appearing in the third instalment of the uber-successful franchise) and The Hulk, to repel an attack by his half-brother Loki and his army of Chintauri warriors.

But we’re in for more and it looks Thor, outgunned though he initially appears to be, is the only one who can save us from being wiped off the galactic map.

 

(image via nasbank.blogspot.com)

 

The trailer, which really functions as more of a collection of snapshots of what’s to come in the movie releasing later this year, touches on the ferocity of this battle but also the lengths Thor must go to to convince Jane Foster, the scientist he befriended and fell in love with in the first movie, of his commitment to her.

Perhaps saving her from Malekith, who appears to have her suspended in some sort of weird vortex in the trailer, will do the trick? You would want to hope so.

We also get to see more of Thor’s rarefied home of Asgard and perhaps glimpses of the Nine Realms which make up the kingdom over which Odin, Thor’s father, reigns.

Screenrant.com had this to say about what can be inferred about the movie from the jumble of images and scenes:

“Even from the disjointed teaser which serves more as a brief sizzle reel, the overhaul of tone and style is evident. Director Alan Taylor’s influence is not only fitting, but welcome, and a touch of Rome and Game of Thrones is exactly what Marvel Studios needed to deliver the next chapter in the space viking superhero story. It’s more polished, more detailed and more fleshed out – and that’s key since Asgard (and the other realms) have an expanded role in the sequel.”

It looks like Thor: Dark World has captured the mythic larger-than-life vibe of the first movie and paired it with some impressive almost-gothic action sequences, promising a movie that will dazzle as much for its non-stop battles as it it will for its character exposition.

You may now thump Thor’s Hammer in excitement! (Just make sure no one is too close to you.)

Thor: The Dark World opens 30 October in UK, France and The Netherlands, 31 October 2013 in Australia and New Zealand, and 8 November in USA, Spain and Norway.

 

Movie review: “Sleepwalk With Me”

(Image via blogs.csusb.edu)

 

What is it you really want out of life?

Sleepwalk With Me, a 2012 indie comedy written, directed by, and starring standup comedian Mike Birbiglia (it’s based on his one-man off Broadway show), and from the producers of This American Life, attempts to answer that question, obscured as it is by expectation (our own and others), ambition, need, and all manner of basic human drivers.

Granted it may sound like the sort of deep, impenetrable existential question that could sink a movie, especially one driven by droll, insightful comedy without a trace.

But Mike Birbiglia manages to successfully reach into the marrow of his character’s life – he plays a barman, Matt Pandamiglio, at a comedy club yearning for a career as the sort of stand up comedian he sees performing before him nightly – and that of his longtime girlfriend, Abby (the accomplished Lauren Ambrose, Six Feet Under, who shines in the role), without once sacrificing its inherent comic DNA.

It is one of the funniest movies I have seen in quite some time, that remembers it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh with your mind engaged.

In fact, it makes the comedy richer, deeper, and far more profound and affecting that it might otherwise be.

 

Matt (Mike Birbiglia), Abby (Lauren Ambrose) and Matt’s parents Linda and Gary (Carol Kane and James Rebhorn) all play their parts in the happy vision of what they think life should be … till Matt isn’t sure he wants to play that anymore (image via sceneinny.com)

 

The road that Mike and Abby go down is not, as you might expect, an easy journey, peppered as it is by the couple’s need to protect each other’s feelings, and desire to maintain the delusion that everything is exactly as they want it to be, when it becomes readily apparent that it is nothing of the sort.

And it’s a journey that they undertake without really meaning to, when Mike’s dream of becoming a stand up comedian finally looks like becoming something of a reality.

It’s also one complicated by the fact that Matt, in denial about just about everything in his life, and unable to articulate what he really wants, finds his percolating anxiety about these things manifesting itself in increasingly active – in one memorable scene he jumps out of a hotel window in the middle of dreaming he is being pursued by spies and a rather precisely-targeted missile – sleepwalking incidents.

Disruptive these vivid, almost-too-real dreams, he is also in denial about the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Behaviour Disorder that begins to define his life, despite his attempts to brush his own concerns about it and that of Abby, and most hilariously his own over-zealous father who books him sleep clinic time and gives him a book by a noted sleep disorder expert, that he co-reads along with his son.

 

Mike Birbiglia as Matt Pandamiglio, a man in search of a routine … and quite by accident, an authentic life (image via collider.com)

 

It’s an exhaustively long list of things to pretend are fine when they’re patently not, and they begin to take their toll on Mike, and his relationship with Abby, when a chance meeting with a low level but well connected stand up comedy agent, Colleen, results in Mike being booked at all sorts of college and local corporate events all across New York and surrounding states.

It’s not a glamorous life by any standard and Mike initially finds himself struggling to stretch his “11 or so minutes of material” across a full half hour or more set, until he belatedly realises in a chance conversation with another comic offstage one night that his own life is ripe with comic possibility.

Without meaning to, and afraid to tell Abby he is mining their life for his stand up routine, he begins in hilariously observant fashion to examine what is driving him and funnel those insights into an increasingly funny and popular stage show.

After a worryingly shaky start as a stand up comic (one he refuses to abandon despite its less than auspicious beginnings since this is the one thing he does know he wants from life … maybe) he is finally making his audiences laugh uproariously, and without meaning to, engaging in a form of self-therapy.

One which raises all sorts of questions, which he begins answering at last, without profound ramifications for himself and Abby and everyone in their orbit.

 

One of the highlights of the movie are Mike Birbiglia’s insightful and laugh-out-loud funny observations about life, delivered from the driver’s seat of his car as he drives from one stand up gig to another (image via ifc.com)

 

Insightful and dramatically rich as it is, revealing the true extent of the central characters’ lives in tune with Matt’s painfully and slowly realised revelations about his own life, Sleepwalk With Me is also delightfully funny.

Mike Birbiglia’s material, drawn from his own real life experiences with REM Behaviour Disorder, is rich with the sort of humour that doesn’t so much make you laugh out loud, although yes that happens, as it makes you smile in ever-widening grins at the truth of all his observations.

It is pure comedy – making you laugh even as it makes you think … and think and think.

While you won’t walk out of the theatre with your life a perfectly examined richer-and-deeper one – let’s be honest there’s only so much a movie, even one as perfectly realised as Sleepwalk With Me can do – you will likely still be laughing and thinking about what you really want out of life for quite some time afterwards.

 

 

Road to Eurovision: week 3 – Moldova, Ireland, Cyprus, Belgium, Serbia

 

WHAT IS THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST?
Started way back in 1956 as a way to draw 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 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 proceedings – 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 musical figures in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines.

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 100s of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Malmö, Sweden.

 

This year’s Eurovision arena in Malmo, Sweden (image via english.ruvr.ru)

 

 

In the six weeks leading up to the grand final on Saturday 18 May 2013, I will be reviewing 5-6 songs each week and giving my unvarnished, unguarded and glitter-coated take on all 39 songs competing for glory in this year’s contest.

It will be brutal, it will be camp, it may or may involve copious use of pyrotechnics, key changes and scantily-clad but limber back up dancers (and possibly a stray Ukrainian grandmother or two) but above all, it will hopefully give you some idea of who has the best chance of success at this year’s contest.

This week, I preview the last five countries that will be strutting their stuff insemi-final 1 on Tuesday 14 May, while slathered in iridescent pink glitter and wondering if my very own pyrotechnics machine will arrive in time for Eurovision itself (thinking that waving a candle around like a sugar-addled hummingbird won’t look quite the same).

 

MOLDOVA: “O Mie” by Alliona Moon

 

Alliona Moon, Moldova (Image via eurovision.tv)

 

At last a woman who understands that the key to Eurovision success is glitter and lots of it.

Why she’s covered in it!

And adorned too with gold shower curtain rings worn as a necklace.

Stylish, affordable, and very much in keeping with the current austerity ethic running through the event.

Pure genius too to use her dress on to which to project all sorts of eye-catching lighting effects.

No giant LED screen for Moldova – they’re using the singer’s flowing dress.

Inspired, artistic and cost-effective.

It shows that if anyone has captured the new vibe of the Contest, which is a daring mix of the bright, shiny over the top style of Eurovision of old, and its new watch-the-pennies mantra, it’s Alliona Moon, who has already made her presence known at Eurovision as the backing musician of Pasha Parfeny, last year’s entrant for Moldova.

See they’re even recycling their singers!

 

(image via eurovision.tv)

 

I suspect they’re even recycling their songs too.

It is, I hate to say, a rather mediocre been-there-done-that, vocally mangled key change (another Eurovision constant) song that drifts into the ballad-strewn ether about halfway through, which is a pity because someone as eco-friendly and pennywise as Alliona – rumour has it she is the favourite of Greenpeace and the IMF – should be allowed to do well.

Alas not with this song.

Ah well even if “O Mie”, which translates a “A Million” fails to get much attention at Eurovision, which I think is likely, then a bright future possibly awaits her as the stylish public face of tin can recycling in Moldova’s capital, Chișinău …

 

 

IRELAND: “Only Love Survives” by Ryan Nolan

 

Ryan Dolan, Ireland (image via eurovision.tv)

 

Ireland is Eurovision’s musical prodigy.

While the country was a relative late arrival to the Contest, only joining in the festivities for the first time in 1965, nine years after it all began, they made up for lost time in a big way, winning Eurovision a record seven times, the most of any European Broadcasting Union member (EBU), including three years in a row in the early 90s (1992-1994).

And now Ryan Dolan, a singer-songwriter from County Tyrone, believes he can do it all over again.

I’m sure the bean counters at Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), Ireland’s state broadcaster, are praying he can’t as they scan Excel spreadsheets in a dark room somewhere and wonder how the hell they will pay for hosting the event in 2014.

I wouldn’t put it past them to kidnap him on the way to the airport, feed him psychotropic drugs in a basement somewhere and subliminally suggest to him while he’s high that he is in fact in Malmő … and winning.

He stays happy and Ireland doesn’t have to foot the bill for holding Eurovision.

Somehow though, based on these comments he made on the eurovision.tv site, I don’t think a drug-induced imaginary performance, though it be complete with rainbow sparkling lights, joyously happy leprechauns and lithe lycra-clad dancers will be enough for him:

“I am thrilled to have been chosen to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest. I’d like to thank my family, friends and my mentor Stuart for all their support over the last few months. It’s such an honour to have been chosen to represent Ireland at Eurovision. I can’t wait to perform in Malmő in May.”
(source: eurovision.tv)

 

(image via eurovision.tv)

 

The reality is though, that while the song has all the originality of a politician holding babies and shaking hands with bewildered voters at election time, and a distinctly hands off approach to the crises facing the world – just dance? well OK then! Why didn’t anyone suggest that as solution to global warming earlier? – it is supremely catchy.

And that, and that alone, could catapult Ryan, assuming he escapes the basement in time – doubtful as you’d don’t take on the RTE bouncers lightly – into the grand final.

Anthemically uplifting though it may be, and I can see people across Europe dancing like made in clubs everywhere to its beat-heavy charms (and if the clip is any guide having their hands move into heart-like shapes against their will; a terrible affliction indeed), it doesn’t have the kind of cut through one-of-a-kind sound that took Loreen and “Euphoria” to the winner’s dais last year.

Perhaps on reflection he should go with trippin’ in the basement instead …

 

 

CYPRUS: “An Me Thimasai” by Despina Olympiou

 

Despina Olympiou, Cyprus (image via eurovisionireland.net)

 

I am smitten.

I know I am not supposed to be that biased, since Australia is home to all 39 of the nationalities participating in Eurovision which kind of makes us the impartial United Nations/Switzerland of commentators, but Despina has won my heart.

And no, it’s not the flower-strewn meadows or sunning sunset-lit landscapes she walks through singing wistfully of love lost that she remains grateful for having experienced even if it’s doubtful she will find it again – you can read the English lyrics to the song which she is singing in Greek here – that have swayed me, pretty though they are.

No, Despina, who grew up in Limassol, Cyprus but now calls Greece home, has a radiantly beautiful voice that is pitch perfect, emotive, and divinely-beautiful to listen to.

 

(image via eurovision.tv)

 

While the song isn’t necessarily a standout, and could well get lost in a field of emotionally-intense ballads – which is hardly a unique situation; it’s not like Eurovision has lacked for these in the past – it will be Despina’s heartfelt felt, beautifully-sung delivery that could well bring it home.

It will be interesting to see what she does with her performance in Malmő though to get noticed.

Granted Cyprus doesn’t have the funds to import a ton of sand to recreate the beach she walks wistfully along, or the LED screens to conjure up a fake sunset but they do have access to Eurovision’s much-loved, and much-used wind machines which should be used if only because Despina long flowing locks are crying out to be Pantene’d by man-made gusts of air!

If you don’t do it my sweet lovely Despina, who will? Who will?

 

 

BELGIUM: “Love Kills” by Roberto Bellarosa

 

Roberto Bellarosa, Belgium (image via wiwibloggs.com)

 

Didn’t you get the memo, Roberto?

Positive, Roberto, positive!

Cute puppies, dandelions in a field of soft wind-driven grass, peace, and Miss Universe platitudinous hopes for the future … that kind of thing.

Not True Blood-like images of love lurching like a deranged madman around the darkened streets of Roberto’s sadly-injured heart, plunging the knife in again and again like a hungry gourmand slicing up a slab of cheese.

Love kills? Nil points Roberto.

Try again … and bring a few soft and fluffy kittens along with you next time, please.

 

(image via eurovision.tv)

 

Still, Roberto, who is from a family of football tragics in the Walloon region of Belgium, isn’t the first Eurovision singer to toy with darker lyrics – why one of the first songs sung at the Contest, “Il est là” by Dany Dauberson, is possibly one of the first songs about stalking according to Des Mangan, author of This is Sweden Calling – and probably won’t be the last.

And if you’re going to sing, rather ordinarily it must sadly be noted, morosely of love pretty much laying waste to anything, including Robert’s love life if the clip is any guide with every woman he lays his hand on dancing off looking rather too pleased to have escaped his charms, then you should at least have the good sense to do it to a song as danceable and listenable as this one.

Why I found myself humming and skipping along as I listened to it, which is ironic since the lyrics by all rights should have had me lying on the floor in a fetal position, staring catatonically ahead and wishing hard for the arrival of the zombie apocalypse, which frankly would be more uplifting than this song.

Of course, one way to salvage things, apart from making sure the Contest organisers have a phalanx of psychologists standing by to counsel Eurovision audience members after the event, would be to put Roberto and Ryan Nolan from Ireland  on stage and see if their two songs cancel either out or thematically fight it out for dominance till one of them explodes.

It could make for interesting interval entertainment.

 

 

SERBIA: “Ljubav Je Svuda” by Moje 3

 

Moje 3, Serbia (image via esctoday.com)

 

It’s a battle of the divas!

Well not actually since all three of the sings very politely take turns on vocal duties through the driving dance pop song – you can almost see them saying “No, you first … Oh no, you, I insist, I am content to stay in the background … Oh but you shouldn’t! …” – which dares you not to notice it and tap your feet along in response.

But an ego-driven cat fight, properly choreographed of course since (a) this is Eurovision and (b) we’re not animals thank you much, might add a necessary point of difference to a song which while insanely catchy, is another case of heard-it-all-before.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad song and the three beautifully clad female singers, Mirna Radulović, Nevena Božović and Sara Jovanović who apparently first found fame on TV program The First Voice of Serbia, certainly do it justice with power vocals to the fore, but it really doesn’t capture the imagination.

Still that mirrors much of the rather uninspiring crop of songs this year so isn’t necessarily a black mark against their name nor a setback to their chances of Eurovision glory.

 

(image via eurovision.tv)

 

What it does have going for it is the sort of driving beat that is crying out for vampy outfits – tick! – bright epileptic-fit inducing strobe lighting – tick! – and yes wind machines.

Do not be put off Moje 3 by the fact that Despina from Cyprus will be monopolising one of Eurovision’s favourite stage adornments.

Your hair is also wind machine friendly and what is a song like this worth if it doesn’t allow you to look like you’re in a lightning-filled, wind-blown storm, being buffeted by the highly-stylised elements?

Seize your moment and belt out the song with all the stage adornments you can muster including might I suggest some hunky Serbian back up dancers?

Why? No reason, no reason at all.

Just a simple artistic suggestion borne of making sure you make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

You can thank me later … once you stop politely stop thanking each other, of course.

 

 

* So which song gets your highest votes?

Books from my childhood: E L Konigsburg, author of “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, dies aged 83

E. L Konigsnurg, January 2007 (image via billmadison.blogspot.com)

 

* This post originally appeared on writingbar.com

Books, like music and certain scents, possess a potent ability to conjure up long-dormant memories.

Just how potent was brought home to me when I read that E. L. Konigsburg, author of From the The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler (1967), and about 20 other books for children and young adults, had passed away at the age of 83.

You can read a full obituary here.

In mere nano-seconds, I was transported back to a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I … just kidding.

It was, in fact, 1975, there was not a Stegasaurus to be seen (much to my disappointment), and I was in Year 5 at primary school excitedly filling out my latest Scholastic books order.

I clearly remember like it was yesterday ordering Konigburg’s iconic book, along with The Finches Fabulous Furnace by Roger Wolcott Drury (1971) and devouring both when they arrived some weeks later.

(This was pre-Amazon, and fast courier shipping but after dinosaurs, just so we’re clear.)

The fact that I remember both these books clearly, and can recall their titles and authors all these years later is testament to the fact that both Konigsburg and Drury crafted imaginative stories that have stood the test of time.

 

 

So it was with some sadness that I read about Konigsburg passing.

But she was not just a major influence on my childhood.

She powerfully impacted the lives of children everywhere who could identify with characters who were, in her words, “softly comfortable on the outside and solidly uncomfortable on the inside” (source: eduplace.com)

And her appeal never wavered throughout the years, largely because she was able to meet children where they were at.

She noted in an interview with Scholastic Teachers that:

“The essential problems remain the same. … the kids I write about are asking for the same things I wanted. They want two contradictory things. They want to be the same as everyone else, and they want to be different from everyone else.They want acceptance for both.”

And her imagination was vast and limitless, with just enough quirkiness to appeal to readers who liked a little oddity dropped into their books.

Her books, especially her best known work, From the The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler (which won her the first of her two Newbery Medals; the other being awarded to The View From Saturday, released in 1997) gave children the confidence to believe anything was possible.

 

 

It certainly spurred me to write and dream and pursue all those grand impossible ideas that reality said should not even be attempted.

Thank you E. L. Konigsburg for the imagination, the inspiration, and the motivation to live life larger than I thought possible.

* Which books and authors had a similar effect on your as a child?

“The Big Bang Theory”: ‘The Closure Alternative’ – who mourns the cancelled TV series?

Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) confront the sudden cancellation of a much-loved TV show (image via and (c) cbs.com)

 

We’ve all been there haven’t we?

We find a new engaging clever drama, or a side-splitingly funny comedy on TV, watch an episode or two, decide it’s worth committing to on a regular basis only to have it unceremoniously yanked from the schedule without little to no notice because not enough people fell in love with it in quite the way we did.

It’s much like a relationship that ends badly … but of course, much, much worse.

How could they not understand how funny/dramatic/cutting edge it was? Why didn’t the rest of the planet clasp it to their viewing bosom with the devotion I did? When will a show of its ilk ever come my way again? (Um, possibly next pilot season but let’s not discuss that now shall we?)

Yes in this new Golden Age of Television, there are many other shows worthy of our attention but this one … THIS ONE was special and deserving of so much more.

Alas, after much railing at the insanities of the current ratings system, the creative (and likely moral) bankruptcy of the decision makers at whichever network swung the axe, we quieten down, break out the box set of Parks and Recreation season 5 or any of the gloriously funny repeats of The Big Bang Theory and mollify ourselves with the fact that some good TV manages to survive.

It’s a fact of life unfortunately and eventually we make our peace with it.

 

It’s iron will meets implacable intent as Sheldon and Amy face off over Sheldon’s compulsive need to finish off everything (image  via and (c) cbs.com)

 

That’s if you’re anyone but Sheldon Cooper.

In this week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, screening this Thursday 25 April in US, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) takes the sudden cancellation of one of his favourite shows, Alphas, very hard and nothing anyone can do seems to be able to stop his OCD obsessing in its tracks.

Not even the writer of the show whose ideas for ending the series – yes Sheldon calls him; of course he does – fail to satisfy Sheldon’s need for full and complete closure.

That is until Amy decided to use the situation to address Sheldon’s “obsessive need for closure” with predictably hilarious results.

 

Yeah we always thought Raj (Kunal Nayyar) was a sweet, sensitive soul but he doesn’t like the fact that his girlfriend thinks so … at least not at first (image via and (c) cbs.com)

 

Meanwhile Leonard (Johnny Galecki) tries get Penny (Kaley Cuoco) interested in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in an attempt to give them a passionate shared interest and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) discovers that new girlfriend Lucy (Kate Micucci) think he is “feminine” and nothing that Howard (Simon Helberg) says makes him feel any better.

“The Closure Alternative” airs 25 April, 2013.

 

 

What’s a country to do when there’s no money for Eurovision?

 

The Eurovision Song Contest  has always occupied a very special place in the entertainment universe.

Started in 1956 as a way to bring the nations of Europe into one big happy wind-machine blown, pyrotechnic backlit family, it’s always felt set apart from the normal day to day concerns of man, a bright flickering once-a-year over-the-top indulgence of lycra, awkwardly-intense love songs and multitudes of  back up singers and dancers who seem to breed like rabbits somewhere between the verse and the key-change heavy chorus.

Alas it appears the monochrome-tinted heavy hand of reality has finally caught up with everyone’s favourite festival of kitsch.

This year’s host, Sweden, acknowledging that Eurovision had probably taken one step too many down the bombastic highway – surely the half an acre of LED screens that Moscow used on its stage  in 2009 can’t be considered too much? – has decided to rein things in, alleging that the contest has become more about the staging that the songs themselves.

Christer Björkman, Eurovision show producer for Swedish public broadcaster SVT, had this to say about the proliferation of production bells and whistles at recent Eurovision events, most notably Azerbaijan in 2012:

“It has become more of a technology arms race—who has the biggest LED screen, the most cameras.” (source: online.wsj.com)

 

Malmö Arena (image via eurovision.tv)

 

While Sweden is in a better economic position than most European countries who are still struggling to implement ever more draconian austerity measures, with a state debt that’s only 34.7% of its Gross Domestic Product, it is nonetheless aiming to spend less than half of what oil-rich Azerbaijan did in 2012, when it lavished $US45 million hosting the event.

That’s not including of course the $US100 million it outlaid on its fast-tracked “Crystal Palace” arena, which attracted all sorts of unwanted attention when its construction displaced many of Baku’s poor and dispossessed, creating a human rights furore in the lead up to the big event. (Sweden hasn’t proved itself completely immune to such controversy with allegations that the company hired to construct the stage at Malmö is exploiting its workers.)

By contrast, Sweden is making use of the already-existing Malmö Arena, and along with far fewer LED screens, a more stripped-back opening ceremony and less rehearsal time, is only planning on spending $US20 million on the entire event, in addition to the $US4 million the city of Malmö itself is spending on associated Eurovision activities.

 

Loreen’s winning performance of Sweden’s evocative entry “Euphoria” meant that The Eurovision Song Contest hosting duties fell to Sweden in 2013 (image via nationalturk.com)

 

It’s a far cry from Moscow which spent a rumoured $42 million on its hosting duties, and Düsseldorf in 2011 which spend just over $30 million keep the Eurovision faithful.

By any measure hosting Europe’s most iconic event is an intimidatingly expensive proposition, with the average price tag including the building of facilities around $60 million, which could explain why Spain was rumoured to have told their 2012 entrant Pastora Soler to “lose for your country”, fearful they couldn’t afford to stage the event.

(It’s long been only-half jokingly alleged that many countries enter sub-par songs to avoid winning and thus facing the cost of hosting Eurovision the following year.)

It’s why Sweden, which admittedly can afford to take the stand it is taking because it has many of the required facilities already in place, is determined to take a stand on what it regards as the event’s excess.

Says Martin Österdahl, executive producer of this year’s event, in the Wall Street Journal article:

“Someone has to have the courage to break the trend.”

 

(image via fanpop.com)

 

But it’s not just the look of the Contest that is being affected by the tough economic conditions in Europe.

There are some countries, citing the lack of any money in the government kitty, who have declared they won’t make it to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, no matter how few glittering lights are there to greet them.

Portugal, Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Solvakia have all pulled the plug on their involvement in this year’s competition, with Poland, which has a long though not always successful, history at the event (its highest placing was in 1994 with “To Nie Ja” performed by Edtya Gorniak) doing it for the second year in a row.

In all cases troubled economic conditions, which have affected all four countries to varying degrees, have been blamed for the withdrawal (Poland sheeted home blame for its non-participation to the cost of co-hosting the European Football Championships this coming summer and not to the state of its relatively healthy economy) .

Portugal, which has only missed the event three times in the last 48 years, received £63 billion only just last year and is instituting all manner of harsh austerity measures in response, which clearly doesn’t include having a lycra-clad singer and several random back up dancers and singers prancing across the stage.

It would not, admittedly, be a good look.

 

Portugal’s no-show at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest means we won’t be treated to one of the country’s delightfully eccentric, and politically-charged entries such as 2011’s Homens De Luta who protested the looming bailout of the country with the song “A luta é alegria” (image via blogs.wsj.com)

 

The sentiment was best summed up by an official at Greece’s public broadcaster back when the economically-beleagured Mediterranean nation was itself contemplating not taking part this year:

“It’s not just that we don’t have the money to pay to enter; at this point it would be morally wrong.”
(source: dailymail.co.uk)

In the end, both Greece and fellow waverer Cyprus, now in the midst of its own economic meltdown, elected to be represented at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest but the quote from the unnamed official underlines what a difficult choice it has been for many countries.

And why four countries decided an appearance on Eurovision’s hallowed stage could not be countenanced.

Granted some have made light of the situation, with Kristin Deasy of globalpost.com quoting this response from the UK’s Comedy Central TV channel to the news of Portugal’s exit from the 2013 Contest:

“If, like, us you don’t really understand politics, economics and all that boring nonsense, it’s hard to get your head round such high concepts as EU bailouts, debt deficits and the credit crunch. On Sunday though, a piece of news broke that finally made us understand just how devastating the economic crisis can be: Portugal are in such financial dire straits, they’ve pulled out of the Eurovision Song Contest.”

For others like Sweden’s Martin Österdahl however it underlines the fact that, no matter how much criticism Sweden’s budget telecast garners, and naturally there is criticism aplenty notably from Swedes worried their country won’t do its hosting duties justice, that changes must be made to the way Eurovision is run and presented if it is to remain something to which all European countries can aspire.

“This is about ensuring that Eurovision stays popular and relevant—and financially sustainable.”
(source: online.wsj.com)