Weekend Pop Art 11: The relentlessly cheerful art of James Hance

(image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)
(image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)

 

I love those random moments in life when you decide to do one thing instead of the other – for the record I was supposed to starting the next module of my online Photoshop course and chose to graze down my Facebook timeline instead; best procrastinating ever! – and you come across something entirely wonderful and unexpected that lights up your day.

In this case, I stumbled across this delightful mash-up of Scooby Doo and Firefly by talented artist James Hance, an Englishman who, in his own words, “defected to the dark side… [and is] now living in the sunny state of Florida” where he is producing vibrantly fun art that takes pop culture characters we know and love and give them a whole other gloriously wonderful world to play in.

Hence you have mash-ups of Stars Wars and Winnie the Pooh, Pixar’s UP and Star Wars, Ironman and The Wizard of Oz, and the wonder and the joy of it all!, Calvin and Hobbes and Doctor Who.

 

Star Wars meets UP ... such a beautiful image (image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)
Star Wars meets UP … such a beautiful image (image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)

 

The real genius of every single one of these mash-ups is that they look like they belong together, as if they have always been joined as one, perfectly united gems of pop culture brilliance.

Looking through poster after poster, all of which I want to own (and will, mark my words!), I am entranced by the sheer joy and unbounded imagination in every single piece of art, heartily agreeing with another line in his site’s bio that, “Luckily he’s feeding on our smiles and pumping out pure joy.”

That he is, and you would do well to check out his amazing work at either his USA site jameshance.com, or his UK site jameshance.co.uk, where you can order as many of his prints of his art as your walls will hold.

Go on – you could do with a smile of unfettered pop culture glee!

 

Calvin and Hobbes meets Doctor Who (image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)
Calvin and Hobbes meets Doctor Who (image via jameshance.com (c) James Hance)

Play God. Pay the price: the new extended Helix trailer

"This thing doesn't kill; it annihilates" What fresh horror has humanity brought forth in Helix? (image via theverge.com (c) syfy)
“This thing doesn’t kill; it annihilates” What fresh horror has humanity brought forth in Helix? (image via theverge.com (c) syfy)

 

Helix, the latest show from Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), is increasingly looking like another chillingly salutary lesson in what happens when humanity gets delusions of grandeur and overextends itself, with unforeseen devastating consequences the nightmarish result.

What starts out a routine operation to a remote privately-run arctic research facility by Centre for Disease Control (CDC) field scientists led by The Killing‘s Billy Campbell, quickly becomes a heart-stoppingly tense descent into apocalyptic terror which has been more than accurately described by blastr.com as a mix of “a horror-filled zombie apocalypse à la 28 Days Later … with a bit of Outbreak.

It had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, even leaping out of it as one point I am not afraid to say, with copious amounts of screaming, running, black goo and out of the darkness abductions,and the ominous sense that everything is out of control before it can even be contained.

Given Ronald D. Moore’s track record as a creator of TV shows that are both viscerally thrilling and intelligently written, Helix is shaping up as a series with chills, thrills and good dose of substantial storytelling, populated by well-crafted characters we will care about (and who will likely mostly die quick, frighteningly messy deaths as is the norm for shows of this scary ilk).

It’s time to be afraid, very afraid – “This thing doesn’t kill it, it annihilates” – and get yourself prepared for a journey into the terrifying unknown.

Helix debuts January 10th at 10/9c on Syfy.

 

 

My 5 favourite Pixar short films

(image via charliederry.com)
(image via charliederry.com)

 

Pixar, which began life as the Graphics Group, part of LucasFilm, back in 1979, producing high end computer imaging hardware, and was once owned by Steve Jobs until  sold to Disney in 2006 for $7.4 billion, is generally regarded as the preeminent purveyor of modern computer animation.

Films like Toy Story (1995), Monsters Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and UP (2009) have earned the studio an enviable reputation for producing animated tales that combine dazzling state of the art animation with exquisitely detailed stories that place a premium on depth of storytelling and rich characterisation.

Their ability to produce superlative film after superlative film has earned them 27 Academy Awards, the rare distinction of attracting both critical praise and moviegoer acclaim, and has seen Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 place in the top 50 films of all time.

While it is obviously their feature films which attract the lion’s share of attention, their delightful shorts, which have appeared ahead of every movie they’ve released since A Bug’s Life in 1998 (although four were made for Sesame Street in the early ’90s), are also seen as masterpieces of narrative brevity and visual wonder, anticipated almost as much as the films they accompany.

Granted it is near impossible to pick just 5 of their delightful shorts out of the approximately 25 they have produced, but I have given it a shot, selecting the following animated gems based on their story lines, their whimsy, abundant heart and soul, and yes, ability to make me laugh.

 

FOR THE BIRDS (2001)

 

For the Birds (2001) (image via movies.about.com (c) Pixar/Disney)
For the Birds (2001) (image via movies.about.com (c) Pixar/Disney)

 

Who of us can’t relate to wanting to desperately fit it with the cool kids, the in-crowd and finding our every attempt to do so rebuffed with sneers, scorn and a host of dirty tricks designed to push us away and humiliate us in the process?

And who hasn’t wished that the clique’s often successful attempts to exclude outsiders, despite our fervent prayers to the universe that justice would prevail and in dramatic fashion, would come back to bite them fairly and squarely on the proverbial?

In For The Birds, which preceded Monsters Inc. in 2001, justice is finally served in a cloud of feathers and exquisitely embarrassed naked pink little birds, and the tormentors, the excluders, are bested, though not intentionally by a goofy, genuinely friendly larger bird who, ostensibly all alone in the world, simply wanted to hang with those of his avian ilk.

They, of course, would have none of it, doing everything possible in their power to harass and push away the interloper until gravity (and I would like to think the universe) intervene and bring their grubby exclusionary tactics to nought.

It’s this combination of a pithy social message (to which I can very much relate after being merciless bullied all the way through school), classic visual comedy, and a central character who is drawn to perfection in all his gangly, happy, just-wanting-to-fit-in glory that make For The Birds one of my enduringly favourite Pixar shorts.

 

LIFTED (2006)

 

Lifted (2007(image via metatube.com (c) Pixar/Disney)
Lifted (2007) (image via metatube.com (c) Pixar/Disney)

 

Learning can be quite a scary thing.

On one hand it’s exciting to be given fresh responsibility, the chance to prove ourselves; on the other, well, it’s scary as hell, leaving us feeling like we have no talent whatsoever, impostors who will be found out at any moment.

Pixar captures the agony and ecstasy of the learning curve perfectly in Lifted, which was paired with 2006’s Ratatouille, with the eager young apprentice alien Stu, given the responsibility of abducting his first human, Ernie, from an isolated farmhouse out on the prairie fields of the midwest,finding the multitude of toggle switches, and their uses, more than a little challenging.

Desperately trying to impress his impassive, seen-it-all-before overseer Mr. B, who doesn’t offer a skerrick of help, Stu flicks one switch then another then another, bouncing Ernie around the room like a piñata in a gale.

It is spot-on perfect Lucille Ball-esque slapstick physical comedy which doesn’t finish when Stu finally works out the right switch to bring Ernie into the computer.

In short order he manages to drop Ernie from the ship, who is only saved by the quick action of Mr. B, and flatten his farmhouse, bar a small pillar of earth upon which rests the farmer’s bed, leaving the hapless almost-alien abductee to rise and shine, sight unseen in the credits, into the crater Stu’s first day on the job has created.

Again Pixar winningly taps into a universal experience – in this case being on the nerve-wracking rocky escarpment of the learning curve – and does it with pathos, comic verve and an eye for the sort of classically funny visual gags that have powered comedy since time began.

 

PARTLY CLOUDY (2009)

 

Partly Cloudy (2009) (image via aintitcool.com (c) Pixar/Disney)
Partly Cloudy (2009) (image via aintitcool.com (c) Pixar/Disney)

 

Continuing the theme of great and vexing challenges, Partly Cloudy, the companion short to UP (2009), explores the affectionate but stressful relationship between one beleaguered stork Peck and a dark and stormy cloud named Gus, one of a collective of fluffy white agglomerations of water vapour churning out all assortments of baby living creatures.

While his beatifically smiling, shiny white cohorts high above are creating human babies and kittens and puppies and chicks, all carried to their new homes by their happy, clearly contented partner storks, Gus is charged with giving life to the less cuddly members the animal world such as bighorn sheep, crocodiles, porcupines and sharks.

Hardly a dream assignment.

It takes its toll on Peck, who drawing the line at delivering a baby shark to its prospective parent, appears to fly away to join up with another cloud much to Gus’s thunderstorm-unleashing anger and then misery.

But Peck hasn’t left at all, simply asking Gus’s fellow cloud to make him some protective football gear so all the porcupine needles and sharp crocodile teeth won’t bother him … well, as much anyway.

It seems like a master plan till Gus brings forth his next delivery – an electric eel. BZZZT!

Partly Cloudy is as much about coping with the seeming un-copeable as it is about the strong bonds of friendship, which if they’re tight enough – and the ones between Gus and Peck seem pretty strong despite everything – can weather pretty much anything thrown at them.

Gus’s delight at Peck’s return is one of the loveliest moments of any of the shorts, and it’s all backed by Pixar’s trademark whimsically old time music (in this case by Michael Giacchino) which conjures up just the right picture perfect Leave it to Beaver idealised 1950s bliss.

 

DUG’S SPECIAL MISSION (2009)

 

Dug's Special Mission (2009) (image via downloadha.com (c) Pixar / Disney)
Dug’s Special Mission (2009) (image via downloadha.com (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

I cannot begin to express how much I love Dug the Golden Retriever!

LOVE HIM.

Attached to the DVD release of UP (2009), which is widely regarded as one of the most emotionally-affecting films Pixar has ever produced – the opening scenes detailing the long and happy life of Carl and Ellie Fredericksen is one of the most openings to any movie ever – Dug’s Special Mission effectively acts as a mini-prequel of sorts to the scene which introduces Dug to Carl and his young Wilderness Explorer Russell when they first reach Paradise Falls in South America.

As garrulous and happy as his canine companions are nasty and brutal, Dug simply wants to make friends, remaining delightfully oblivious to both his master’s nefarious intentions and the blatant disregard of the rest of his pack – Alpha (a Doberman Pinscher), Beta (a Rottweiler) and Gamma (a Bulldog).

And in this short Dug is convinced that he is going to have the BEST … DAY … EVER! because it’s his birthday and that’s what happens right?

Well in Dug’s happy world it does but Alpha and the others simply see the loveable, super-friendly mutt as a great pain in the proverbial and do everything they can to keep him out of their way.

It doesn’t work and after Gus prevents them capturing the big colourful bird that features heavily in UP, Dug is reported to his master as the one who derailed the mission, causing him to run away, fearful of retribution and sad that the day is going to be as good as he thought.

But it all ends well when he meets Carl and Russell and frankly if his utter joy at coming across his new masters doesn’t stir your heart to bursting, you’re clearly unable to feel at all.

Just how great a triumph this short is, at least in my case, is evidenced by the fact that I, a cat person to the core, could find myself wanting to own a dog just like Dug – now that’s some compelling storytelling!

 

HAWAIIAN VACATION (2011)

 

Hawaiian Vacation (2011) (image via fanpop.com (c) Disney / Pixar)
Hawaiian Vacation (2011) (image via fanpop.com (c) Disney / Pixar)

 

I could hardly leave out one of the Toy Story shorts now could I?

While it was ridiculously hard to choose between Hawaiian Vacation (2011), Small Fry (2011 with The Muppets) and Partysaurus Rex (2012 with Findind Nemo 3D), not to mention the recently screened Halloween special Toy Story of Terror (2013), there was something about this particular short, which manages to combine the manic energy of the Toy Story tales with all the sentiment and whimsy you could want, that gets me every time.

With Bonnie off to Hawaii on holidays, the toys think they have a week to chill, have fun, kick back and do whatever they please  – that is until Ken and Barbie burst out of the little girl’s school backpack, mistakenly thinking she has taken it and them with her on winter vacation.

While Barbie knows they’re not really in Hawaii, Ken, as always a few colourful, perfectly coordinated outfits short of a full wardrobe, can’t quite comprehend they’re still at home so the toys, with Woody and Buzz in charge, recreate all the Hawaiian moments that Barbie was hoping they’d experience.

Which includes naturally a romantic kiss at sunset, only this one takes place out in the snow with Barbie and Ken lost in romantic bliss till they step off the porch and are buried in snow which then freezes into a solid block of ice that the toys have to free them from in a post-credits scene.

Hawaiian Vacation is Toy Story at its best – warm hearted, silly, over the top, with quips aplenty and all the heart tugging emotion you could ask for.

If I could live in a world where Toy Story shorts like this one came out all the time, I would be a very happy man indeed.

*So which Pixar shorts are your favourites and why?

 

 

* Here’s a detailed look at Pixar’s latest short film, the gorgeous and touching The Blue Umbrella, from pitch to final product.

A multiplicity of trailers for Orphan Black season 2 (2014)

Tatiana Maslany returns as Sarah Manning, and her many clones, in season 2 of BBC America's critically-acclaimed ratings hit Orphan Black (image via bbcamerica.com)
Tatiana Maslany returns as Sarah Manning, and her many clones, in season 2 of BBC America’s critically-acclaimed ratings hit Orphan Black (image via bbcamerica.com)

 

SEASON 2 SNAPSHOT
Season two of the series hits the ground running with Sarah (Tatiana Maslany, Picture Day, Parks and Recreation) in a desperate race to find her missing daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler, Carrie). Her scorched earth tactics spark a war with pro-clone, Rachel (Maslany), dividing and imperiling all the clones.  As Sarah discovers more about her past, mysterious newcomers appear, but can they be trusted? (source: bbcamerica)

Who is the original?

Who created us?

Who’s killing us?

As you might expect from Orphan Black, an intricately-constructed series rich in mystery and conspiracy, these pithy enquiries from the trailer underline that there are more questions than answers remaining for Sarah Manning, the woman whose witnessing of a suicide by someone looking eerily just like her led to the wildest, most frightening ride of her life.

It’s a trip into the unknown that hasn’t ended yet despite season 1 loose tying up of some of the threads, with questions remaining about who Sarah, and her closest clones, geeky scientist Cosima and liberated suburban housewife Alison, really are, who created them and for what purpose, and whether anyone in their respective lives can actually be trusted.

There is precious little in the way of anything revelatory – which is to say nothing –  in either brief trailer but both effectively evoke the sense of fear at what lies ahead and determination to find some answers or die trying.

 

 

One thing we do know is that who’s been cast in season 2, and the roles they will play, according to the press release sent out by BBC America:

“Michiel Huisman (World War Z, Nashville, Treme) joins the cast in a recurring role as Cal Morrison, a rugged, resourceful outdoorsman with surprising emotional depth and a sixth sense about people and situations. Cal will need all his wits and humanity as he crosses paths with the clones. His journey will be fraught with surprise, danger, and revelations he could never see coming.

Also in a recurring role this season is Peter Outerbridge (Nikita, Beauty and the Beast) as Henrik “Hank” Johanssen, a mercurial modern-day cowboy. Johanssen leads a flock of followers that have broken away from the old world “Prolethean” brotherhood. Under his messianic vision, the age old divide between science and religion has merged, forming a new and formidable threat.

Rounding out the additions to the cast is Ari Millen (Rookie Blue, Nikita) as Mark, a cunning predator with a dark edge. Mark is utterly devoted to Johanssen, who took him in and built him into a true believer in the cause. Now, guided by twisted morality and desperate faith, he’s a relentless and dogged pursuer of the clones.”

It all suggests a season every bit as gripping and tension-filled as the first, anchored by the amazingly talented Maslany who garnered a slew of awards for her portrayal of Sarah Manning and her sister clones, all trapped in a desperate fight for survival.

Orphan Black returns April 19, 2014 on BBC America and Space in Canada.

 

Girls (and guys) just wanna have a watch of the Girls season 3 trailer

The girls are together again (image via popsugar.com via trailer clip)
The girls are together again (image via popsugar.com via trailer clip)

 

They’re back!

And as blissfully unaware, emotionally screwed up and hilarious as ever.

Yes, Hannah (Lena Dunham, who is also the creator and executive producer of the show), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna Shapiro (Zosia Mamet) are back for a third serving of twenty-something angst and I couldn’t be happier.

Along with Hannah’s emotionally-unpredictable lover Adam (Adam Sackler) and coffee shop owner Ray (Alex Karpovsky) who dispenses brutal bon mots of wisdom without fear or favour, it looks like business as usual in the Girls world if the trailer for the season is any guide (and you would want to hope it is right?)

Peppered with classic Girls dialogue like “You know what Adam it’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate” (Hannah to Adam on the occasion of an unwelcome hike in the woods), and “Can you believe my friend died because she didn’t want to hang out with me?” (Jessa) to which Shoshanna replies “I totally get that” (Shoshanna), and “Hannah, why don’t you place just one crumb of basic human compassion on this fat-free muffin of sociopathic attachment … see how it tastes?” (Ray), it sounds as biting, funny and clever as it’s always been.

It makes judicious use of Grouplove’s infectious hit “Ways To Go” which pretty much sums up the varied life situations of this motley but sometimes close group of friends who, to our viewing enjoyment are nowhere near having life figured out.

Long may they stay in the emotional wilderness.

Girls returns for more angst and over-philosophising on January 12 at 10/9C on HBO with a double episode.

 

 

For some extra laughs, check out the Girls season 3 poll on tv.com which is packed full of, in their words, “ludicrous yet plausible” scenarios for the show’s upcoming third season. 

 

UPDATE (2/12): The season 3 poster has just been revealed and it reveals that the girls in Girls may not have changed all that much. Hurrah!

 

The just released season 3 poster (image via huffingtonpost.com)
The just released season 3 poster (image via huffingtonpost.com)

The Walking Dead: “Dead Weight” (S4, E7 review)

Is his journey back to humanity about to derail in spectacular fashion? (image via geektyrant.com)
Is his journey back to humanity about to derail in spectacular fashion? Or did he ever leave the dark man he was and possibly still is? Or worse, is he a messy, back and forth mix of the two? (image via geektyrant.com (c) AMC)

 

*DIRTY, NASTY, LEADER-CULLING SPOILERS AHEAD*

If you, like me, bought last episode’s version of the Governor (David Morrissey), all boxed up in his shiny, new family man guise, complete with all new added tenderness and endless kindness or your money back, you may want to ask for a refund on your purchase.

It’s not that you or I bought a lemon, or that we were deceived because I am fairly certain that the attributes displayed by the man who called himself Brian were essentially a long buried re-assumed part of him; it’s simply that he reverted very largely to the darker side of his psyche, motivated by a need to love and protect his new family, newly acquired daughter Meghan (Meyrick Murphy), her mother and his new lover Lily Chambler (Audrey Marie Anderson) and sister Tara (Alanna Masterson), who found her own slice of sapphic happiness with Alisha (Juliana Harkavay).

And what a powerful motivator this need to act as protective alpha male was.

With the mildest of provocations, the new kindler Governor reverted very much to type, killing an inebriated Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo), who made the fatal mistake of letting down his guard, convinced his former deranged boss was a changed man and simply wanted a very rounds of “Kum Ba Yah” and a game of Winnebago golf, and found himself fodder for the hungry walker masses in one of the pits protecting the encampment.

Another disappointed buyer, who really should have looked under the hood, and not assumed that what he had bought was what he saw when he allowed the Governor to stay put, along with his new charges.

“Some things you can’t come back from. You either live with them or you don’t.”
(Martinez waxing philosophical about this season’s recurring theme with eerily prescient insight, mere moments before he at least, wasn’t allowed to live with them.)

 

Ah Martinez. Always read the small print when you buy into anyone's persona, especially the shiny, new one adopted by a man you witnessed murder scores of people just to stay "safe" (image via seat42f.com (c) AMC)
Ah Martinez. Always read the small print when you buy into anyone’s persona, especially the shiny, new one adopted by a man you witnessed murder scores of people just to stay “safe” (image via seat42f.com (c) AMC)

 

He was joined fairly soon after that by the man who stepped into Martinez’s leadership shoes, morally upstanding Pete (Enver Gjokaj), whose refusal to lay waste to a neighbouring encampment fairly bulging with supplies, was met with a fairly swift response by the Governor who killed him in his trailer before dumping his body, brain still intact, into the dead pond near where they were living.

Turning fairly shortly thereafter, he provided, along with a quagmire of eerily trapped walkers who were going nowhere in a hurry, utterly oblivious to their eternally trapped state, one of the most chilling images of “Dead Weight”, his turned walker endlessly grasping for the surface of the water he would never reach thanks to great big hulking chains around his ankles.

A kind gentle man of upstanding moral fibre, unlike his far more pragmatic brother Mitch (Kirk Acevedo) whose life was spared because of his tougher outlook, he found himself one of the undead simply because he expressed doubts that he couldn’t adequately defend the people now in his charge, the very people by the way who found themselves in that position thanks to the Governor first re-surfacing of murderous intent.

This small but critically symbolic body count was not unexpected in one sense if you’d been paying attention to a conversation the Governor had with Meghan earlier in the episode when, over a game of chess, he admitted that his father “beat me at a lot of things.”

 

Pete, poor Pete who eschewed strong, morality-free leadership in favour of good old fashioned doing the right thing, to his eternally undead cost (image via awesomedl.ru (c) AMC)
Pete, poor Pete who eschewed strong, morality-free leadership in favour of good old fashioned doing the right thing, to his eternally undead cost (image via awesomedl.ru (c) AMC)

 

The inference was clear, and provided in one small bite-sized chunk of psychic insight, why the Governor is so maniacally driven to ensure the survival of those he loves – he was never given that sense of safety at any time during his childhood.

Consequently he has spent his adult life, especially that which has occurred post-apocalypse going to any and all lengths to ensure that he is never left vulnerable, victimised or at a disadvantage again.

It was a fascinating peek into his troubled mind, explaining in one small but powerful phrase why Woodbury existed, why he kept his actual daughter Penny locked away in his zombified state and why he launched the ultimately costly raids against the prison compound, of which we saw but a glimpse this episode (but what a crucial glimpse it turned out to be).

And it underscored why anyone dealing with Philip Blake/Brian Heriot/The Governor should always, always exercise buyer beware caution when dealing with him, since he will act, without remorse or regret (although there was evidence he was frightened of what he was becoming again when Lily discovered him sweating and shaking in their shared trailer) to safeguard those people and things he believes must be protected at all costs.

Just how far he is prepared to go became frighteningly clear once again when, after assuming leadership of the group, we found the Governor, his newly acquired and easily duped consumers, er, I mean fellow survivors and a big arse tank owned by Mitch about to lay siege to the prison, the ultimate symbol of safety for the man who craves that elusive and post-apocalypse, largely illusory, quality above all other things.

It was a salutary lesson that the Governor is all the things he has sold himself to everyone as – father, protector, lover, destroyer, killer, annihilator, vengeful dictator – and always will be, and you underestimate what it is you’re buying into at great personal cost.

Quite how high a cost for all concerned will become apparent in next week’s episode “Too Far Gone” …

 

 

 

Birthday movie review: Filth

(image via impawards.com)
(image via impawards.com)

 

Irvine Welsh, the immeasurably talented author of the 1998 book on which Filth, the story of corrupt Scott copper Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) who is rapidly lose his already tenuous hold on reality, is based, has quite accurately described this much-delayed movie adaptation as “an ultra-dark, head-fucking film.”

It is indisputably dark, and as trippy as Alice’s demented trip into wonderland (with the added addition of stupendously large amounts of cocaine and some deliciously twisted sexual pursuits) and truth be told it does often leave you wondering where the blurred line between reality and debauched fantasy has finally come to rest.

But it is nevertheless a rewarding viewing experience, as stark and blackly comic a portrayal of one man’s losing battle with the demons that beset him as you’re likely to see anywhere.

And in amongst all the surreal visions of farmyard animal heads that appear at random on the heads of Robertson’s colleagues and dispassionately engaged lovers, freaking out the ambitious police detective every time the pop up, the violence, tapeworm motifs and emotional disengagement, there is at heart the story of a scared little boy masquerading as an overweeningly confident dissociative man who learnt long ago to paper over his fear and regret with reckless bull-in-a-china-shop arrogance and a great deal of alcohol.

It is a hitherto successful crash or crash through approach that seen him go far in life, supposedly successfully married with one child (although we later see that is more wishful thinking than current Hallmark Cards reality), heading up the investigation of the murder of a Japanese student and the lead candidate for a promotion that’s in the offing.

 

Bruce Robertson is a man at the top of his game, equally unafraid of ambitious fellow colleagues, criminals or mouthy little boys ... at least that's the appearance he gives (image via thisisafilmblog.com)
Bruce Robertson is a man at the top of his game, equally unafraid of ambitious fellow colleagues, criminals or mouthy little boys … at least that’s the appearance he gives (image via thisisafilmblog.com)

 

It’s all looks like the perfect life, lived large and with charming attitude, the very picture of a man in total charge of an envy-inducing present and going with gusto after a wholly promising future, one he is determined to secure via fair means or foul (and neither his friends nor his colleagues are safe from his willingness to do what it takes to bring it about).

He may not sound like the sort of person you want to spend any time with at all, but as played by James McAvoy, who invests Robertson with as much pathos and vulnerability as swaggering over-confidence, the detective on the makes emerges as fully rounded, intermittently likeable person, albeit one with significant chinks in his immaculately maintained exterior.

The screenplay by director Jon S. Baird, is also a triumph not letting the more surreal elements of the script, such as Jim Broadbent’s ever more loopy psychiatrist Dr Rossi who has an inordinate fascination with tapeworms (which harkens back to the book’s use of this distasteful creature as Robertson’s conscience) overshadow the lead character’s descent into drug and alcohol-fuelled madness which had its genesis in a traumatic event from his childhood.

It is this delicate balancing act of humanity and outlandish wackiness, held in check by both Baird’s assured direction and McAvoy’s consummate skill in bring this perversely multi-layered character to life, that gives the movie its tone and ensures it doesn’t lose itself in the more absurd elements of the story.

What emerges from all the Alice in Wonderful craziness is the tragedy of a broken man, unwilling or unable to deal with his broken past, who mistakenly assumes that bravado, cocaine and enough alcohol to float a barge on will be enough to ease the naked pain that assails him daily whether he acknowledges it or not.

 

Robertson is a man unable to keep it in his pants who perversely then seems to derive no real pleasure from his many acts of sexual congress with a variety of willing, if damaged partners (image via dailyrecord.co.uk)
Robertson is a man unable to keep it in his pants who perversely then seems to derive no real pleasure from his many acts of sexual congress with a variety of willing, if damaged partners including the wife of his “best friend” Bladesey’s (Eddis Marsan) wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson) (image via dailyrecord.co.uk)

 

It is a flawed approach that sees his colleagues abandon him one by one as the demons he has fought so hard to keep under wraps come gaily skipping out, exposing his runaway delusional state, with no regard for the artfully constructed life he has built to keep them contained.

And when they do fully emerge, Robertson, who bats away the genuine friendship of his mate Bladesey (Eddie Marsan) and the concern of rival and colleague Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots) in fits of dissociative pique, doesn’t handle their public outing well at all, any last vestiges of psychic wholeness crumbling in spectacular fashion into a polluted soup of cocaine, whiskey and his overwhelming misery (from which he somehow manages to extract brief glimpses of his former cheekiness).

Filth manages to escape becoming a dark, existential nightmare by mixing in as much humour, dark as it is, as a story this brutally realistic can reasonably take, and ensuring that the characters who populate are as believable as it gritty but extraordinary setting will allow.

It is not an easy watch by any means but it is an oddly rewarding one, a brave and imaginative dissection of what happens when you think your past is way behind you, only to find it ripping the bowels from your present and leaving little of anything worthwhile or salvageable in its wake.

 

 

Not just for birthdays … Pharrell Williams wants you Happy all the time

Pharrell Williams is SO happy ... and now so are we (image via soulculture.co.uk)
Pharrell Williams is SO happy … and now so are we (image via soulculture.co.uk)

 

I come across an extraordinary amount of songs as I graze across the vast new digital musical landscape but rarely does a song make me so euphorically, well, happy as Pharrell Williams new single, appropriately titled “Happy”.

It is a joy to listen to, to dance to, to put on when you’re doing something drudgerous like the ironing or washing up – I have yet to find a single domestic activity not given an extra layer of happiness with this bouncy bundle of dance-filled joy.

Lifted from the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2, which I unfortunately missed when it was in theatres, it is being pitched to Academy voters as a song worthy of their Oscar contemplation, and while if nominated it would likely be up against amazing songs from Disney’s Frozen and a host of dazzlingly original songs from The Great Gatsby, I fail to see how anyone couldn’t be moved by the joie de vivre gushing forth from this pop gem.

 

Yeah I'm happy! Ridiculously so (image via mun2.tv)
Yeah I’m happy! Ridiculously so (image via mun2.tv)

 

It is so good in fact that I could happily listen to it for 24 hours which is just as well because via 24 Hours of Happy, Pharrell Williams has loaded the world’s first 24 hour music video which allows you to check out a bunch of ecstatically happy dancers having the time of their lives, one for just about every moment of the day.

The best part is the song remembers where it left off when you left one time and restarts at the exact same place at the next time you choose.

And you can keep going for as long as you want to, which if you’re anything like me, will be quite some time.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am going to attempt all to watch 24 hours of the video without breaking into a silly, hands in the air, head thrown back, gigantic silly smile on my face endless dancing …

Nope, can’t be done …

Don’t care … I’m HAPPY!

 

Here’s the official dare-you-not-to-dance-your-feet-off-with-joy video …

 

 

And the lyric video for the song … 

 

 

And here’s his gloriously joyful performance on The Ellen Show on Thursday 21 November 2013 …

 

 

And thanks to cinemablend.com, who tipped me off to the 24 Hours of Happy site – god bless you; you are the BEST site ever – here’s another joy-inducing clip courtesy of Girl Talk aka Greg Gillis which features one very happy young lady breaking out and dancing her walk across New York City in the trailer for Girl Walk All Day.

 

 

UPDATE (11 December 2013): Thanks to hypetrak.com, we now have a behind-the-scenes for “Happy” which features “co-directors We Are From L.A. [speaking] on how the concept for the video came together, and Pharrell [speaking] on his vision becoming a reality.”

 

 

Happy birthday to … 5 of my favourite fictional characters (#2)

Happy birthday to no 2 HERO

 

I am a madly sentimental guy.

If it’s an important event like say my birthday (which it is today) or Christmas or a family or friend’s birthday, I will go all out to make sure the day is as perfect as possible with chronic over-catering, balloons, accessories or trees aplenty and more photos taken than Facebook has uploaded to it on a busy day.

In the spirit of overdoing and celebrating in suitably epic fashion, I decided last year to honour five fictional characters I love with birthday shout outs, regardless of whether their birthdays fell in November or not (since this is an exercise I undertake but once a year).

And I am back this year to do it all over again.

So grab some virtual cake – real cake is totally fine too of course – light the candles and joining me in wishing a thoroughly happy birthday to …

 

BIG BIRD (Sesame Street), born 20 March, year undetermined as he is perpetually 6 years old

 

Big Bird (image via muppet.wikia.com (c) Sesame Street)
Big Bird (image via muppet.wikia.com (c) Sesame Street)

 

As a long time viewer of Sesame Street –  I watched my first episode in 1971 after the show premiered on Australian TV on 4 January that year (just over a year after the show transmitted its first episode on US TV on November 10, 1969) – I have spent quite a bit of time with the various characters, coming to over a period of years like many of them are almost family.

That may sound strange but when you spend 2 hours a day with them five days a week from the age of 6, it’s hard not to feel like Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Guy Smiley, and my all time favourite, Grover, are a close part of your life.

It’s what the creators of Sesame Street envisaged happening when they launched the show and it makes sense that would be the aim since you’re more inclined to trust, and hence learn from, someone you know.

One character in particular that I trusted more than anyone was Big Bird, an 8 foot 2 inch six year old yellow bird, who appeared in the very first episode, probably because he was a  sunny , exuberantly friendly extrovert (much like me), had a teddy bear he adored called Radar and was prone to asking the sort of questions I would have asked if I’d be in his situation.

As if that wasn’t enough, he often got things mixed adorably mixed up, again much like myself (well I hope I was adorable; Mum?), thinking for instance at one point that the alphabet was one long word (see below), could ride a unicycle and roller skate, sing, write and draw, and had a healthy sense of the importance of being who he was, declaring at one point:

“I guess it’s better to be who you are. Turns out people like you best that way, anyway.”
(source: Sesame Street Unpaved by David Borgenicht)

He was such a joy to be around and learn from, loved being with his friends like Susan and Gordon, and dear departed Mr Hooper – whose death on the show, necessitated by the passing of the actor who played him Will Lee) was handled in a touching and meaningful way that didn’t flinch from the reality of what had happened – and remains one of the reasons why Sesame Street remains a lot of fun to watch with my nieces and nephews.

Happy Birthday Big Bird – I hope someone makes you a birdseed milkshake just like Mr Hooper used to do.

 

 

DANIEL JACKSON (Stargate SG1), born 8 July, 1965

 

Daniel Jackson (image via comicvine.com)
Daniel Jackson (image via comicvine.com)

 

I am a sci-fi nut.

I love the opportunity that the genre affords me to loose the bonds of my Earthly existence and travel through time and space, experiencing people, places and things far beyond my usual day to day existence.

It may all be pure fiction but that doesn’t stop the endless sense of wonder, the limitless unfurling of my imagination and the sheer joy of being far beyond anything I will likely experience in real life.

But if for a moment it was all real, and I could travel where I want with whomever I want, it would be with Daniel Jackson (played by Michael Shanks in the TV series and James Spader in the original movie) to wherever he wanted to take me.

Part of the Stargate SG1 team comprised of Colonel later Lt. General Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson), Captain later Brigadier General Samantha “Sam” Carter (Amanda Tapping) and Teal’c (Christopher Judge), he is an archeologist and linguist, and the one responsible for unlocking the secrets of the Stargate.

Passionate and committed, and a lover of knowledge, he is the moral conscience of the team, arguing against any plans that compromise the ideals for which humanity claims to be fighting against its many cosmic enemies such as the Goa’uld and the Ori.

And he is a man who would lay down his life for his friends and colleagues and even complete strangers, a man of strong principles and ideals:

“You are…brilliant. One of the most caring, passionate…you’re the type of person who would give his own life for someone he doesn’t even know. If you had one fault, it was that you wanted to save people so badly, you wanted to help people so much, that it tore you apart when you couldn’t make a difference.” (Samantha Carter)

It also doesn’t hurt that whether played by Shanks or Spader that he is also quite easy on the eye.

Happy Birthday Daniel Jackson – if fiction ever becomes real, you and I are zipping through that stargate in an instant (you bring the champagne, I’ll bring the cake OK?)

 

 

FRAN FINE (The Nanny), born 26 November 1963

 

Fran Fine (image via fashionfetishism.files.wordpress.com)
Fran Fine (image via fashionfetishism.files.wordpress.com)

Fran Fine (played by Fran Drescher) is, to out it in colloquial terms, a hoot.

Ballsy, exuberant and possessed of enough chutzpah to sink a battleship, she doesn’t let a small thing like being dumped by her boyfriend and employer get her down.

Pulling herself right back up, she travels all the way from Flushing Queens, where she was raised by parents Morty (Steve Lawrence) and Sylvia (Renée Taylor) to sell cosmetics door to door which is where she meets theatrical impresario Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy) and his three kids and accidentally becomes their nanny.

Possessed of a stridently nasal hair and hair big enough to snag passing satellites, she is every bit the woman that the stuffy Sheffield household needs, eventually winning over the kids and Max who marries in the fifth season of the show.

She might keep getting herself into sticky situations, in way over her head, but things usually work out and I can’t imagine anyone I would want on my side in difficult or highly embarrassing circumstances.

Watching her on the show was always a complete and utter delight, and while The Nanny may not have been in the same league as Frasier or Weeds, it was always a lot of fun to watch and that was largely down to the irrepressible, loud, gorgeously over the top Fran Fine.

Happy Birthday Fran – may there be bagels and lox aplenty and may Barbra Streisand (aka God) turn up to your party.

 

 

 KERMIT THE FROG (The Muppets), born 9 May, 1955

 

Kermit the Frog (image via disney.wikia.com)
Kermit the Frog (image via disney.wikia.com)

 

I honestly can’t remember a time when Kermit the Frog, reluctant amour of Miss Piggy and the Muppet who helped us to understand “It isn’t easy being green”, wasn’t a part of my life.

If he wasn’t interviewing nursery rhyme and fairytale characters on Sesame Street, he was hosting The Muppet Show, starring in a string of successful Muppets movies in the 1980s and acting as the emblem of The Jim Henson Company with whose now sadly deceased founder, Jim Henson, he, ahem, worked very closely.

Possessed of an easy going, affable charm and wry sense of humour which has made him an in-demand interviewee on TV shows everywhere (see below), he got his start in 1955 on Sam and Friends, a five minute show that aired twice a day on WRC-TV in Washington, DC.

His origins, as Jim Henson explained in Christopher Finch’s 1993 book Jim Henson: The Works (Random House) were humble:

“Kermit started out as a way of building, putting a mouth and covering over my hand. There was nothing in Kermit outside of the piece of cardboard — it was originally cardboard — and the cloth shape that was his head. He’s one of the simplest kinds of puppets that you can make, and he’s very flexible because of that… which gives him a range of expression.”

He has gone on from those simple beginnings to become one of the most recognised pop culture figures of our time and easily the most famous Muppet of them all (sorry Miss Piggy but you know it’s true).

And in just a few months he will be back on the big screen in Muppets Most Wanted, alongside the entire Muppets gang for another madcap, hilariously musical-tinged romp across Europe, and no doubt even further into our affections.

It may not be easy being green but I’m glad Kermit has persevered and stuck around all these years.

Happy Birthday Kermit – my present to you will be a day without Miss Piggy … you’re welcome.

 

 

 JESS DAY (New Girl), born 13 February

 

Jess Day (image via de.newgirl.wikia.com)
Jess Day (image via de.newgirl.wikia.com)

 

What an irrepressible bundle of joy Jess Day (Zooey Deschanel) is … well most of the time.

When we first met her in the pilot episode of New Girl in September 2011 however, she had just broken up with her long term boyfriend after she found him in their bed with another woman, and was looking for another place to live.

Answering an ad on Craigslist from three guys – Nick Miller (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston Bishop (Lamorne Harris) – the usually quirky, optimistic bubble of joy was a blubbering mess but somehow manage to convince the three guys to let her move in against their better judgement (which had a LOT to do with her best friend Cece, played by Hannah Simone, being a model).

And they haven’t looked back, with Jess and Nick now stumbling along in their own charming way in a relationship, still with Schmidt and Winston, the craziest foursome ever to share an apartment.

What I find most delightful about Jess is her total and complete joie de vivre, her willingness to take on life come what may and sort things out as she goes along, no matter how inelegant it may look, all usually accompanied by soundtrack songs she makes up and happily sings out loud.

She is very much her own person, which costs her at times (something with which I can completely identify) and you misinterpret her daffy, sweet persona as a lack of street smarts and intelligence at your peril.

She leads from the heart, can’t see why you shouldn’t at least give something a go just once, writes Nancy Drew fan-fiction and is the kooky, offbeat friend that I wish I had when I was afraid to go and do all those crazy things I’d like to do but don’t because I chicken out at the last minute.

Happy Birthday Jess – we will serenade you with a song of your choosing, accompanied by handbells naturally.

 

 

Doctor Who turns 50: Review of Day of the Doctor

(image via skinnyglasses.tumblr.com)
(image via skinnyglasses.tumblr.com)

 

*SPOILERS, SWEET, SPOILERS!*

 

There are many days in which it is very good to be a lifelong fan and companion of Doctor Who, the mysterious, enigmatic, currently bow-tie loving hitherto last of the Time Lords but today … well, today was a very good day indeed.

For today Doctor Who, who is officially 904 years old, give or take a trip across the far reaches of space and time or too, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first episode in the venerable and still vital franchise “The Children of Earth” which went to air on 23 November, 1963, with one of its most perfectly conceived and executed episodes ever, the much hyped and anticipated “Day of the Doctor”.

It was an anniversary special of which much was expected, and Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s executive producer and keeper of its creative flame, did not disappoint delivering up a story that was a fitting tribute to that which has gone before while nicely re-orienting the universe in which our favourite Time Lord operates with curious joy and serious intent in equal measure, to give the show plenty of storytelling room for the future.

We were fortunate to be given not one but three Doctors in this glorious adventure which fittingly spanned many centuries from the nightmarish zero sum game of the Time Wars where the previously unknown War Doctor (John Hurt) agonised over wiping billions of people on his home planet of Gallifrey, along with Daleks surrounding it, with a galaxy eating weapon called The Moment (whose interface was happily represented by Bad Wolf-channelling Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper) in order to save countless billions more …

… to 1562, where the Tenth Doctor (played by a very much welcome David Tennant who slipped back into his sandshoes as if he’d never left them) found himself romancing both the real Elizabeth 1 (who he married) and her Zygon replica before being locked up in The Tower of London with both his predecessor incarnation and his post self, The Eleventh Doctor …

… who kicked off proceedings, which themselves were introduced with delightfully old school Doctor Who visual and musical themes, when UNIT picked up his TARDIS, took it to London and presented him with a tantalising mystery that variously involved Fez hats, time travel portals, three types of sonic screwdrivers, Zygons, Brigadier General Lethbridge’s daughter and current head of UNIT Kate Stewart, a Black Archive of contraband and deadly devices, quips about sand shoes, and figures in landscape paintings who escaped out of their artworks, leaving shattered glass in their wake.

 

(image courtesy BBC One Twitter feed)
(image courtesy BBC One Twitter feed)

 

We were also finally able to see events often referred to in Doctor Who but never actually witnessed such as the Fall of Arcadia, the second largest of Gallifrey which proved central to the plot in many ways, and the aforementioned The Moment, a weaponised device of devastatingly destructive possibilities that comes with a conscience that implores you to think twice before you use it.

We also were able to share the spectacle of all the Doctors past, present and future – yes we even got a brief glimpse of Peter Capaldi, the incoming Twelfth Doctor – when they united in a daring plan that reset the Doctor Who universe to one in which “Gallifrey falls no more”, meaning it was not wiped out as before but lives, albeit hidden in an unknown pocket universe (all instigated by the Doctor’s current companion Clara played by Jenna Coleman who urged the Doctors to re-think the supposedly inevitable use of The Moment).

This exciting development, which itself was a reset of previous showrunner, and the man who resurrected Doctor Who from a more than decade long hiatus, Russell T Davies (interrupted only by the 1996 movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor) who wiped the Time Lords out in a move which enhanced the Doctor as a lonely and tragic figure orphaned in a universe where he was the last of his kind.

 

The moment when Doctors Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith) met was played to perfection by both actors (image via iwatchstuff.com)
The moment when Doctors Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith) met was played to perfection by both actors (image via iwatchstuff.com)

 

Moffat’s rewriting of Gallifrey’s fate means that the Doctor, who has always possessed two seemingly disparate but nevertheless complimentary parts – the energetic, endless curious, companion-acquiring explorer and the serious, sometimes almost vengeful upholder of justice and protector of worlds most obviously that of Earth – is now more whole than he once was, no longer the judge, jury and executioner of his own race.

And it’s this audacious move, along with a story that was both universe and time-spanning epic, and yet heartwarmingly emotionally intimate, with the chemistry between the three Doctors especially enjoyable to witness, that made “The Day of the Doctor” such a joy to watch.

It delivered a host of nods to Doctor Who’s past, with everything from a noticeboard in the Black Archives to which was pinned photos of Doctors, companions and iconic figures from the franchise to Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) from UNIT wearing the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker’s scarf (who himself appeared at the end of the episode in the guise of wise and knowledgable curator) to the chunky circular shapes that adorned the old TARDIS and which appeared as modern art in a gallery of all things too.

These nods to the show’s rich storytelling past, inserted frequently and quite naturally in the story and which mandate frequent and carefully studied re-watchings of the episode, along with the springboard for the Twelfth Doctor to embark on his own hopeful adventures, and judicious use of quips and humour when needed, that established “The Day of the Doctor” as that rare breed – the instant classic.

 

Three Doctors, one companion and Elizabeth 1 who delivered one of the special's laugh out loud moments when she told  her Doctor that she was able to defeat the Zygons because they're like all men! (image via screencrush.com)
Three Doctors, one companion and Elizabeth 1 who delivered one of the special’s laugh out loud moments when she told her Doctor that she was able to defeat the Zygons because they’re like all men! (image via screencrush.com)

 

And it marked a return to form for Steven Moffat, who has shown a remarkable ability to conceive of larger than life, breath taking ideas that promise rich and satisfying narrative payoffs but somehow end up muddled and fuzzy in their execution, failing to coalesce into gripping stories with a firm beginning middle and end.

Not everyone shares this view of course but there has been quite a number of times under his stewardship of Doctor Who where I felt the episodes he penned and directed were audaciously imaginative but lacking in cogent, satisfying execution.

That was not even remotely the case with “The Day of the Doctor” which took an astoundingly big idea, knitted it together with two iconic incarnations Doctors, an unknown warrior Doctor, two companions and two great villains, sundry references to the history of the show, humour and dramatic tension and extraordinarily good performances by all concerned and delivered a perfectly executed well told story that was a more than fitting salute to one on of the more extraordinary figures of our, or indeed quite appropriately, any time.

 

 

Behold a deleted scene from the special …

 

 

And here’s BBC America’s TARDIS file on the Zygons who feature heavily in the Day of the Doctor

 

 

And what of Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and Tom Baker who weren’t one of the official Doctors featured in the special? Ah well the BBC has a very funny answer for that too …

 

 

Oh, and um, please stop tweeting during The Day of the Doctor implores Strax …

 

 

Long live the meme …

 

(image via Facebook)
(image via Facebook)