The delightfully quirky indie joy of Pomplamoose

(image via official Facebook page for Pomplamoose)
(image via official Facebook page for Pomplamoose)

 

Could making the musical acquaintance of a pair of talented multi-instrumentalists from California, real life couple Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, who have named their combined entity Pomplamoose after a delightful play on the French word for grapefruit pamplemousse, possibly have made my week, month and year just a short while back?

You’d better believe it.

It took just one tweet, for their inspired, skilfully executed mash-up of Pharrell Williams Oscar-nominated song “Happy”, and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance”, which came complete with a visually inventive video which was filmed in one take using a variety of clever camera angles and multimedia savvy.

Here’s what I had to say about them in Now this is music #23:

* This week’s unexpected musical highlight comes courtesy of the talented twosome of Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn, collectively known as Pomplamoose, whose talent for extraordinarily infectious mashups and clever visuals on a shoestring budget (they used a projector and some white foam board) came to the fore with the following tuneful hybrid which they explained this way:

“For the verse of our mashup, we used the chords from “Get Lucky” with the vocals from “Happy.” For our prechorus, we used the vocals from both “Happy” and “Get Lucky.” The chorus of our mashup is the chords and vocals from “Happy” and the vocals from “Lose Yourself to Dance.”” (source: screenrant)

It sounds and looks amazing and you’d do well to check out their other minimalist-inspired work which is as equally impressive as this brilliant effort.

 

 

What I find so delightful about all their music – yes I have downloaded everything – which reminds me of one of my favourite duos of all time The Bird and the Bee without being in any way derivative of them, is its delightfully quirky, off kilter, vibe.

There’s a playfulness to the glorious jazz, rock and electronic-infused pop music they create, a sense of whimsy and fun that doesn’t for one second detract from the skilfulness of the music they create, whether it’s recording together as a duo, as soloists or Conte’s more commercially-oriented work which gives rise to some of the best ad soundtracks I have ever heard.

 

 

Conte is also an internet entrepreneur, leaping into the crowd founding sphere, of which Kickstarter is probably the best known occupant, with a twist on the usual model called Patreon where instead of sponsoring one project, you essentially become an ongoing patron of an artist’s work, providing them with a consistent income stream.

This is how Conte describes this clever twist on the usual crowdfunding system:

“The other players in the crowd funding space aren’t providing regular, consistent income to content creators. There are literally tens of thousands of people who create regular content on the web and have millions of followers. Kickstarter is not appropriate for a blogger who writes weekly articles – he doesn’t need a big chunk of money, and he has no big project to use it for. He needs monthly income, and Patreon brings crowd funding away from singular one-off projects and into the realm of regular content creation.”

It’s the sort of approach that seems to be emblematic of Conte and Dawn, two artists who aren’t content to take the creative road most travelled, happy to be themselves with the talent to bring it off in spectacularly pleasing fashion.

They’re a breath of fresh air in a musical landscape where too often the idiosyncratic and the quirky are shoved out of the spotlight in favour of the big, showy cookie-cutter names and I am excited at the chance to get to know them better and enjoy their one of a kind music in all its quirky glory.

 

 

 

And here’s an interview with Pomplamoose which gives an amazing insight into their art, their business model, and the way they’re able to make a living online via Youtube and iTunes …

 

 

Book review: Existence by David Brin

Existence review MAIN

 

Existence is the future stripped bare of science fiction fallacies, Star Trek day dreaming and wishful thinking.

And you know what? It’s not as bleak a read as you might think.

Certainly humanity has more than its fair share of pressing issues on its hands – climate change is eroding the land great chunks at a time, social inequities have wide-apart strata composed of the very poor and the very rich and very few in between, resources are strained to bursting, and political dissension, sufficient to wrest apart countries as enduring as the United States, is on the rise.

Even the Age of Enlightenment, the intellectual movement which dragged mankind kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages and into an age of science and reason, is up for grabs threatened by a reductionist conspiracy of intellectual and financial elites, worried that technology and progress are now the enemy rather than the ally.

And the world is interconnected as never before, with reality, if you can still call it that, existing on ever more augmented levels, the deeper into the World Mesh you care to go, with those not multi-tasking on a thousand different activities at once, patronisingly regarded as somewhat backward or lacking.

It’s a time of great promise but also immense threats, and there is a gigantic question over whether humanity will continue its hitherto seemingly unstoppable march up the mountain of evolution or fall into the abyss, a victim of its own hubris and overreaching, and its failure to see the pitfalls that threaten civilisation before it’s too late.

 

 

It may sound like a hopelessly dystopian view of the road ahead, but David Brin, a scientist, futurist as well as a gifted writer who’s able to fold hard scientific fact into riveting page turning reading, albeit one which requires a great more concentration that your average airport paperback thriller, is careful to take a step back from the apocalypse, erring on the side of optimistic caution.

That is not to say he is a hopeless Pollyanna optimist, pointing to any number of problems including ideological polarisation, religious extremism and the relentless increase in the Earth’s population, as daggers held to the collective throat of people everywhere.

But using his clearly indepth of knowledge about what and isn’t scientifically possible, and extrapolating them decades into the future, he gives us an idea of the shape of mankind in a world where everything seems possible but may be derailed by any one of a multitude of civilisation-ending variables.

While it is initially a little hard to get into, with frequent allusions to a broad selection of scientific ruminations on the nature of existence and that which may imperil it, and a bewildering array of characters who come across as emotionally remote and un-engaging at first (but soon become compelling players in the saga), it soon picks up pace with the discovery of a mysterious crystal ovoid in orbit around the planet.

It soon emerges that this is no ordinary piece of space junk, and that it carries within it 92 races of extraterrestrial beings and their vast storehouse of cultural, intellectual and technological knowledge, along with a compelling message for mankind.

Not quite the first contact of science fiction lore, it reflects the fact that the universe is vast, warp drives are pretty much a scientific impossibility, and the only way advanced races can contact each other is via these message ovoids which have been landing on Earth for thousands of years, awaiting our ascent to a sufficiently technologically advanced level of civilisation.

The alien collective offers mankind neither paradise on earth nor a Star Trek community among the stars, their solution to humanity’s woes setting in chain fierce debate and massive societal upheaval about what we need as a race to survive and prosper.

 

 

In that respect, Existence is a masterful and quite accessible philosophical treatise on the nature of what it means to be.

Is it enough so simply scrape by? Can we expect our civilisation to endure in glorious perpetuity? Will it be derailed by things we know about it or something else entirely? And should we be presented with an opportunity like that of the so-called Havana Artifact and its galactic inhabitants, will it harm us or help us?

And most importantly should our continued existence rest upon a “do no harm” mantra inclusive of all, or is it every man for themselves with a few spared, along with our vast array of hard won knowledge?

The fact that Brin is able to pose these questions at length and in exquisite detail without only rarely bogging down in intellectual pondering is a rare feat, rendering Existence as an engrossing, narrative-rich book with the soul and mind of a cabal of Nobel Prize scientists at its core.

It dares to envisage a future neither ideal nor rampantly dystopian, in which the least of our worries may be emissaries from the far flung corners of the galaxy.

Community meets The Walking Dead in the best opening credits ever

(image via Youtube)
(image via Youtube)

 

If ever there was a marriage made in pop culture heaven, it’s the bringing together of Community and The Walking Dead, two shows with rabidly passionate fan bases and zeitgeist-defining takes on the world.

Community is particularly suited to the apocalyptic credits gifted to it by Youtube user atsp88, given the number of times it has been plunged into end of days-like madness by epic paintball battles (“Modern Warfare”, A Fistful of Paintballs”), zombie-esque Halloweens (“Epidemiology”) and most recently “Geothermal Escapism”, the episode that farewelled Troy Barnes off on his Pierce Hawthorne-mandated yacht trip around the world.

Dan Harmon’s endlessly inventive, off the wall and brilliantly intelligent sitcom  is unafraid to go where no sitcom has ever gone before, a sensibility that meshes perfectly with The Walking Dead‘s gritty take on a possible dystopian future where humanity is confronting a whole new way of living … and dying … and not dying.

And atsp88 has done both shows proud, perfectly meshing what makes each so special, and in the process giving Community credits that suit its unique view of the world.

Here’s hoping this inspires Dan Harmon to be ever greater heights of apocalyptic hilarity.

Community season 5 resumes on NBC at 8/7C on 6 March while The Walking Dead is in the midst of the back eight episodes of season 4 on AMC. 

 

 

This is Ulaanbaatar calling! Coldplay’s surprise new song Midnight

Coldplay in the pre dawn light (image via Youtube.com)
Coldplay in the pre dawn light (image via Youtube.com)

 

I have felt it … and it seems many others have too.

The sense that we know too much, too soon and for too long before it appears in this digital age.

That all the fun, the element of surprise has disappeared in a world where we have teaser trailers for the teaser trailer and where song titles are hinted at and dissected for meaning long before they can listened to.

Into that ennui-laden number you can now add one of the world’s supergroups, Coldplay, who did their own out-of-the-blue bid to combat it (rather like Beyoncé did recently with her latest album) by releasing a song called, rather appropriately “Midnight”, with the following deliciously cryptic tweet (around 10pm Australian time last night):

 

Coldplay Midnight announcing tweet

 

It was the sort of tweet that lent itself to a major announcement – either of a new song or project, possibly a hitherto undisclosed passion for yurts and the finer points of Mongolian culture – but with Coldplay largely quiet on the release front, save for the anthemic stirrings of “Atlas” which was the group’s contribution to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, and no song rumours in the digital ether, the mind did not immediately race to NEW SONG.

But here it is, and in a stroke of quirky marketing that speaks to a band wanting to mix things up a little or a lot.

Certainly the song’s sound is a marked departure from their more recent output, particularly 2011’s stadium-esque Mylo Xyloto, which thundered and shimmered in a thousand gloriously wonderful “Look at me” ways.

Taking a page out of U2’s book and making it their own, Mylo Xyloto was an album that demanded to be noticed and rightly so, a collection of some of their finest songs to date.

 

 

 But “Midnight”, which comes complete with an atmospheric clip that features the band members in negative wandering throughout a darkened forest, is a far gentler affair, an exquisitely beautiful track of minimalist electronica and hushed, almost reticent vocals from Chris Martin.

It is, in the words of Rolling Stone, “a slow pulse highlighted by shimmering synthesizers that have more in common with downtempo EDM than Coldplay’s piano rock.”

It is captivatingly intimate, one of those songs that draws you in like an intimate conversation between old and dear close friends, it’s stripped back sound that gradually builds throughout but only slightly, feeling like a balm for the soul, its melody entrancing, its lyrics poignantly pleading (“Leave a light, a light on”).

It is a thing of beauty, the kind of unexpected creative leap that gives you faith that Coldplay haven’t done experimenting with what they’re capable of just yet.

While the reaction to the song from fans has reportedly been mixed, I am thrilled that, like Bombay Bicycle Club before them, Coldplay have decided to see what can happen when they ditch what’s expected and pull a musical rabbit, a very good musical rabbit at that, out of the hat.

Movie review: Nebraska

(image via impawards)
(image via impawards)

 

Nebraska is a remarkable movie.

Not least because director Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways) chose to film his exploration of a father (Woody Grant played by veteran actor Bruce Dern in fine form) and a son (David Grant, rendered with exasperated poignancy by Will Forte) finding a meeting point of sorts on a road trip, in luminous black and white.

Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who has worked with Payne on Sideways among other projects, fills the monochrome with all manner of shades you don’t expect to see, the vast could-filled landscapes of Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska coming alive with a pastel of a thousand and one rich slivers of grey.

And while it was supposedly filmed this way against the wishes of releasing studio Paramount, it is hard to imagine it existing any other way.

Quite apart from anything else, the choice of black and white reinforces the sense that both father and son have found life to be a less than thrilling kaleidoscope of vibrantly realised possibilities.

 

Woody (Bruce Dern) is a man seemingly beaten by life but his unexpected response to a form letter from a magazine promotions house, reveals that hope, no matter how misguided, springs eternal (image via soundandmotionmag.com)
Woody (Bruce Dern) is a man seemingly beaten by life but his unexpected response to a form letter from a magazine promotions house, reveals that hope, no matter how misguided, springs eternal (image via soundandmotionmag.com)

 

A Korean War veteran who never quite made the transition back to civilian life, and used the bottle to cover up his inability to bridge the gap, deleteriously affecting his wife and two sons along the way, Woody is a trusting man with a kind heart who, according to his son and greatest advocate, David, simply believes what people tell him.

Now in his later years, and afflicted by early onset dementia, or possibly simply a disengagement with life which disappointed him many years earlier, he accepts without question the veracity of a letter he receives from a magazine promotions company in Lincoln, Nebraska, proclaiming him their latest millionaire.

Ignoring the small print, which couches his win as conditional upon being the possessor of the winning numbers, and neglecting the fact that this sort of promotion is a scam, he sets off repeatedly to walk to Lincoln to collect his money.

Refusing to heed almost apoplectic entreaties from his hilariously honest wife Kate (June Squibb), who despite obviously caring for him wants him in a home, and his other “successful” newsreader son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) to cease and desist his quixotic journeys, he believes, as only a person bereft of any other possibilities could be, that this is the real deal and the satisfying conclusion to his life.

It isn’t the money that enthrals so much as the ability it will give him to buy a new truck – he no longer has a license making this particular purchase well near useless but symbolically important nonetheless – and an air compressor, to replace the one stolen 40 years earlier, so he says, by old business associate Ed Pegram (played with delicious callousness by Stacy Keach).

 

David, caught in a dead end job at an electronic store, and newly separated from his girlfriend, finds himself driving both he and his father to Nebraska, in the hope that something worthwhile will result from the time spent together (image via cinemamavine.com)
David, caught in a dead end job at an electronic store, and newly separated from his girlfriend, finds himself driving both he and his father to Nebraska, in the hope that something worthwhile will result from the time spent together (image via cinemamavine.com)

 

And so David, a man recently split from his girlfriend Noel (Missy Doty) who dumped him because she correctly perceived him to be “stuck” in his life (“Let’s get married, let’s split up. Let’s do both. At least it would be something.”) decides to take his dad to Nebraska, hoping for some kind of redemptive time together (and discovering along the way that his father is a real person who lived a hitherto unrevealed, to his son at least, life).

That he gets it is not necessarily a foregone conclusion, but get it he does, despite his father’s implacable estrangement from anything approaching meaningful contact with others, and it’s the way it unfurls against grubby money-snatching tactics by Woody’s extended family that give Nebraska such a refreshingly unblemished tender heart.

So light and well-orchestrated is Payne’s touch, that the moments of true emotional connection never feel manipulated or overplayed, whether it’s Kate’s tender kiss on Woody’s forehead after a litany of complaints and pejoratives against her husband of many years, or David’s repeated unfailing willingness to stand by his dad even when it becomes difficult to do so.

It is a portrait of love lived in the realness of life, neither candy coated nor gritty, existing somewhere in that zone that Hallmark never ventures – the ebbs and flows, and the ins and out of the everyday, a place where affection, care and love often get lost in the rush to get ahead, and the resulting recriminations when that fails to happen as envisaged.

 

June Squibb is a delight as the much put upon Kate - fed up with Woody and life in general and not longer content to pretend that things are other than they really are (image via insidemovies.ew.com)
June Squibb is a delight as the much put upon Kate – fed up with Woody and life in general and no longer content to pretend that things are other than they really are (image via insidemovies.ew.com)

 

The road trip aspect of Nebraska is vitally important giving the relationship between Woody and David, and their connections to the rest of their immediate family – their extended family is, despite all the platitudes, nursing grievances without number at Woody’s supposedly poor past behaviour, an accusation Kate rejects with fiery power in one quite remarkable scene  – a chance to breathe away the slough of their moribund lives in Billings, Montana.

Nebraska is that rarest of beasts, a movie that balances life as it really is, with all its failures, half-truths and frustrations with the innate sense that love survives somehow through it all if you’re able to persist in looking for it.

It may sound insufferably twee to describe it that way but Nebraska never delves into cheap and easy accessed answers or emotions, it’s happy ending of sorts rooted quite firmly in the bleakness and monochromatic nature of life, where every victory or sweet moment is hard fought for, and all the more worthwhile for that.

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: “Claimed” (S4, E11)

Michonne picks herself out a new shirt and yes, a sunnier disposition (image via walkingdeadbr.com (c) AMC)
Michonne picks herself out a new shirt and yes, a sunnier disposition (image via walkingdeadbr.com (c) AMC)

 

In this week’s instalment of Fractured Apocalyptic Tales, with everyone’s favourite prison group still scattered to the walker-infested four winds,  Michonne got more than a touch of the Pharrell Williams, Carl fancied himself a quizmaster, Rick dived under beds and off awnings, and Glenn got stubborn as a mule determined to find his missus.

That was pretty much “Claimed” in a nutshell, an episode which aimed for a great deal and didn’t always get there.

One thing was for certain – Michonne (Danai Gurira) was happy.

Well as happy as you can get when you’re finally admitting that you had a partner and a three year old son who died and are being quizzed like Alex Trebek on Undead Jeopardy! by a hyper-interested teenager – that would be you Carl (Chandler Riggs), who has temporarily forgotten his manners in his eagerness to find out the truth about Michonne.

For her part, freed from the oppressive emotional baggage of the past seemed determined to reclaim her life, such as it now is, Michonne is laughing and kidding around over breakfast with Carl, for whom she has adopted the role of hip, fun aunty, until, uh-oh, someone goes and mentions little ass-kicker, Judith.

That would be you again Carl.

Now we all know she’s safe for now with Tyreese (Chad L Coleman) way over on yonder railroad tracks – which Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl and Michonne stumble onto at episode’s end on their way to the “sanctuary” of Terminus, heeding the sign “Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those that arrive, survive.” – but Carl and Michonne don’t know that.

So breakfast ended on rather a sour note (all the more interesting since there is no milk).

 

Carl and Michonne bond on their grocery shopping trip through the houses of the hamlet (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)
Carl and Michonne bond on their grocery shopping trip through the houses of the hamlet (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)

 

But they head out regardless to forage for food, water and batteries in some nearby houses, tensions initially thick between them, with Carl permitted to ask one question about Michonne’s past once they have checked and cleared a room for useful goodies.

Naturally being a typical teenager, despite the atypical context, he tries to push the rules of this “game” almost from the get-go, and Michonne who clearly has a soft spot for her unofficial nephew, enquiring at one point if he found “candy bars or comic books?”, indulges him and bit by bit we find out that his name was Andre Anthony, he was her only child and he had a cheeky, extrovert personality.

What’s touching about these scenes is that everyone’s favourite katana sword-wielding walker slayer seems free, lighter somehow, happy to talk about her son, as if someone has switched on the light again.

Feeling a sufficient bond has been re-established between again, Michonne broaches the topic of Judith, and Carl, quite tenderly, says he hopes Judith, who he admits he named, has found Andre Anthony and they’re happy together.

It’s a simple, un-corny moment, just two people in the midst of undead hell who by rights have a lot to feel deeply sad about, finding some solace in shared experiences and knowledge.

The easygoing, fun-loving dynamic between the two characters, which was on display back at the prison, is back in force and it was nice to see the two re-connect.

Just don’t mention Judith OK? Great, got it? Good.

 

Rick, still recovering from his injuries, settles in for a day of reading and chilling when unwanted house guests ruin the spa day vibe (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)
Rick, still recovering from his injuries, settles in for a day of reading and chilling when unwanted house guests ruin the spa day vibe (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)

 

Meanwhile back at the White Picket Fence Resort, otherwise known as the house that might be HOME or might not be – Rick isn’t sure when Michonne quizzes him about whether this is their new residence or a way station to that unspecified place – Rick’s plans for a chillaxing day of reading, sleeping and a little drinking are blown to smithereens pretty much straight off the bat by a bunch of good ol’ boys.

Invading the house with so much as “By your leave, sir”, they crash their way in, barely giving Rick, who’s upstairs time to dive under the bed on which he is lying with his book … oops forgot the water bottle! … oops forgot something else! … before stomping in and fighting over the bed.

It’s unclear whether the loser in this struggle is dead or not but Rick isn’t keen to find out so as soon as the victor is cutting some ZZZZs with a vengeance up top, he is squeezing out from under the bed, killing a surprised man in the toilet – quite why he goes to the toilet with his pants up is anyone’s guess but I am guessing it’s for propriety’s sake; let’s face it there are some things you can’t even show on cable – and gun in hand, leaping out of the house via the roof, all decked out in a fancy new white T-shirt and a jacket.

Then it’s a waiting game, hiding just around from the verandah for his moment to get the house back – given of course that Michonne and Carl can be seen in the distance heading back home (or to the way station … or thanks to the red necks buffoons none of the above now)  and can’t walk into a trap – when all hell breaks loose inside with either the loser in the Battle o’ the Beds or Toilet Guy re-animating as a walker and getting a case of the munchies.

In theory this should be tremendously tense and action-filled but something about it just didn’t gel.

It seemed to be a whole lot of Rick waiting around under a bed looking worried … and then hiding in rooms looking worried … and then leaping off the awning looking worried.

It makes sense that he’s worried but honestly it didn’t feel that tension-filled.

Not a bad sequence but not the nail biter you might have expected it to be and a bit of a lost moment in the episode, especially not a single sighting of a walker was made (Greg Nicotero must have had that scene off).

 

Sgt Abrahams, who's a good guy despite Tara thinking he may not be, does his best to convince Glenn to forget Maggie and come road trippin' with him and his crew (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)
Sgt Abrahams, who’s a good guy despite Tara thinking he may not be, does his best to convince Glenn to forget Maggie and come road trippin’ with him and his crew (image via spoiler.tv (c) AMC)

 

And in the episode’s final On the Road Again strand, newly introduced character Sgt Abrahams (Michael Cudlitz, who is awesome from the word go), a man of sound principles and single-minded purpose – his determination to get mullet-haired Asperger-ish scientist Elliott (Josh McDermitt), who claims to know what caused the plague but won’t tell because it’s classified (in an apocalypse? Seriously dude?) is admirable but a tad inflexible – butts heads with Glenn (Steven Yuen).

All evidence to the contrary, including the burned out, surrounded by slain walkers school bus that Tara (Alanna Masterson) tells Glenn they passed “three hours ago” while he lay passed out in the back of the truck, Glenn is not just convinced that Maggie is alive but that he can find her.

It’s a heart on his sleeves approach that Sgt Abrahams does his best to talk Glenn out of, to naturally no effect, and when a pointless bout of fisticuffs between the two distracts everyone from seeing the growing band of walkers emerging from the dried corn field – they’re behind you! No almost all around you! Will someone pay attention! – and Elliott, not a dab hand at weaponry, tries to fight them and shoots the truck to bits instead, they have no choice but to hit the road together.

It’s not a choice Abrahams makes of his own volition but one which is made for him by his girlfriend, The Tank Girl-esque Rosita (Christian Serratos) who pragmatically decides they can’t go to Washington DC just yet without a car or truck and might as well go with Glenn and Tara on their Mission o’ Love.

 

Rockin' the mullet Elliott! Yeah, no, not really ... (image via avclub.com (c) AMC)
Rockin’ the mullet Elliott! Yeah, no, not really … (image via avclub.com (c) AMC)

 

It’s actually not a bad part of the episode, establishing that Love True Love still has a place in the apocalypse, despite Abrahams arguing it doesn’t (would he be so benignly ruthless if it was Rosita out lost in the woods?) and that the sergeant and his group are Good People.

It provided the only real moment of walker action for the episode too which was important given that’s one of the reasons we watch the show.

Overall though “Claimed” was a bit of a nothing much of anything episode.

Not bad by any stretch – just not desperately action-filled or that thrilling – its worth as an instalment in Fractured Apocalyptic Tales largely due to the character revelations provided by Michonne and Carl, and Abrahams and Glenn and co.

Fingers crossed that “Still”, the next cab off the rank, amps up the pace just a little – yes I appreciate the irony in hoping that given the title – without sacrificing the tasty character reveals it has been doing so well of late.

* Here’s the promo trailer for next week’s episode “Still”, followed by a sneak peek of Darryl out getting supplies while Beth gets the home fires burnin’ (no, not those kind) …

 

 

Movie review: C. O. G. #MardiGrasFilmFestival

(image via impawards)
(image via impawards)

 

C. O. G. is a curiously lifeless film.

It’s a particularly odd outcome when you consider it is based on one of noted essayist David Sedaris’ boisterously witty and incisive biographical pieces, which sparkle with verve and a thousand and one ideas and opinions.

With material that emotionally and intellectually fecund, it’s odd that director Kyle Patrick Alvarez wasn’t able to fashion a film that could occasionally pull itself out of neutral.

It never really moves beyond ambivalent observation with even the most lively of characters such as factory worker and dildo collector Curly (Corey Stoll), born-again PTSD-suffering war vet Jon (Denis O’Hare) and dourly sardonic apple farmer Hobbs ( Dean Stockwell) failing to grab the screen in a story that never quite seems to know where it is going and why, and what it wants to say about those transitional periods in life we all go through.

It’s not without redeeming features of course with lead Jonathan Groff (Glee, Looking) in fine form as a directionless grad student looking to “try something different” after the end of his college studies and a falling out with his “liberal” parents, most likely related to his just publicly acknowledged homosexuality.

While it is never explicitly stated, Groff’s character, who goes by the name Samuel throughout the film, seems to be fresh from a coming out of sorts, awash in the turbulent emotional backwash that creates and uncertain of where he should head now he has acknowledged a fairly fundamental truth about himself.

 

Jonathan Groff tries in vain to find salvation through apples ... perhaps oranges next time instead? (image via crushable.com)
Jonathan Groff tries in vain to find salvation through apples … perhaps oranges next time instead? (image via crushable.com)

 

Acting on a suggestion by free spirited, and ultimately unsupportive best friend Jennifer (Troian Bellisario), Samuel/David travels via bus, with an assortment of hilariously inappropriate fellow passengers to keep him company, to Oregon for a Grapes of Wrath experience, the idea being that time with an entirely different, lower end spectrum of society will be good for their upper middle class jaded souls.

Bailed on by Jennifer early on, and bereft of other options, an often patronising Samuel decides to stick it out, brashly confident that he can withstand whatever comes his way, based purely on his limited life experience to date.

But his sometimes brash, perky approach to life is tested repeatedly by fellow workers on the apple farm run by Hobbs, the apple processing factory where he meets Curly, a man who promises friendship and possibly more, eager Christian proselytiser Jon who talks the talk but struggles with the walk, and yes even cows.

He quickly comes to realise that there is no such thing as an escape route from life, that wherever you go you are still facing the same issues and character deficits that best you at your departure point and that the people he encounters in rural small town Oregon are struggling just as much to make sense of life as he is.

It’s not quite the bucolic epiphany and holiday from reality he is expecting and as each new opportunity to keep that delusional expectation alive comes to nothing, you can see his confident sense that life in a new locale beckons with untold possibilities far better than the ones at home taking an almost constant beating.

To his credit he perseveres, a persistence of character that is more than a baptism of fire for his psyche that anything else, all of which should make for a movie alive with dramatic outworkings.

 

Curly initially looks to be the friend Samuel has been looking for but comes with a host of rather rubbery skeletons in the closet which unsettle further the already ill at ease would-be apple processor (image via chapter1-take1.blogspot.com )
Curly initially looks to be the friend Samuel has been looking for but comes with a host of rather rubbery skeletons in the closet which unsettle further the already ill at ease would-be apple processor (image via chapter1-take1.blogspot.com )

 

That is unfortunately not the case.

Rather it limps along, dotted with some awkwardly amusing scenes – his escape out of Curly’s bathroom window is handled with some quite industrious slapstick and Stockwell’s Hobbs pretty much steals the scenes he is in – but failing to ever really ignite.

Part of the problem despite the fine performance by Groff, is the character of Samuel himself.

He never really transcends his initial emotional standoffishness, remaining at hands off distance with pretty much everyone he comes across.

This renders his interactions with a cast of fairly lively characters rather muted and colourless, a problem when the film in which they’re intrinsically a part is failing to spark in any meaningful narrative sense.

Strangely given the great life changes Samuel is going through, so profoundly disorienting that the avowed atheist even converts to Christianity at one point, C. O. G. fails to capitalise on their exploration, content to amble along with half-realised, if alternately amusing or disturbing, vignettes of life on the rural road less travelled.

It is not so much a bad movie as a half-realised rather drab one, a statement on life that never really moves beyond the superficial or the trite, ultimately ending in a rather lacklustre denouement that pleases nobody, least of all Samuel and which is unlikely to have the characteristically adaptation-averse Sedaris signing on the dotted line again with Hollywood anytime soon.

 

 

The hilariously honest trailer for Oscar contender Gravity

(image via youtube.com)
(image via youtube.com)

 

There are many things I enjoyed about 2013 (and some I did including losing my job: yeah, no, still don’t know where I put it! Boom! Tish!), and prime among them was Alfonso Cuarón’s mesmerising film Gravity, starring my favourite actor in the world (and in this case, orbiting above it) Sandra Bullock.

It was an edge of your seat, gorgeously visual movie which stripped the fight for survival down its bare basics and told a gripping story into the bargain.

Here’s my review of the movie.

And yet while I love this movie with all my heart, and hope it does spectacularly well at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, I am thrilled beyond words that Screen Junkies, who have tackled many movies including Thor, World War Z and Skyfall, have turned their very funny eyes upon the film and produced an unflinchingly Honest Trailer for it.

The joy of their trailers is that, even if you love a movie the way I love Gravity, is that they affectionately lampoon all those things you might have thought about it but didn’t utter and which, heavens forbids, the film’s promo department would never even countenance admitting to (except over one vodka too many at Friday night drinks).

Did Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) verbally outline all the major upcoming plot points? Should she have been in space to begin with? Can anyone really out-do the George Clooney-ness of George Clooney? And can you watch Gravity on your smartphone? (That would be a NO.)

It’s all the plot holes and suspensions of belief laid bare and had me laughing so hard that the neighbours asked if I could go and watch it in the International Space Station in orbit because, well, you know, in space no one can hear you laugh.

And trust me, even if this movie is your pick of 2013 (and it should be), you will be laughing a lot.

Just keep the visor down will you?

 

Intrigued to see: Maladies

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

 

SNAPSHOT
A daring new film from internationally acclaimed multimedia artist Carter, Maladies charts the struggles of an unstable former soap opera star in 1960s New York as he tries to restart his floundering creative career. Hoping to find clarity and new purpose as a writer, he holes up with his eccentric sister (Fallon Goodson) at the seaside home of their best friend (Catherine Keener). But as he disappears further into his own mind, reality begins to slip through his grasp. Featuring an award-winning ensemble, including David Strathairn and Alan Cumming, Maladies is a heartfelt but decidedly unconventional exploration of the creative mind.

You could never accuse James Franco of being unwilling to push the creative envelope to the point of bursting … and beyond if it would make a good movie.

A man who is not content to simply rest of his film star laurels, he is constantly looking for new and unusual ways to express himself.

The latest fruit of this continual quest to express his artistic voice in as many ways as possible, which has found expression in op-ed pieces, poetry, music, screenwriting, a slew of movies roles both conventional (Milk, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and not (Three’s Company the Drama, Interior. Leather Bar.), is the movie Maladies.

Produced in 2012, the film made appearances at a series of movie festivals including Berlin International Film Festival (February 2013) and South by Southwest Film Festival (March 2013) with no sign of a multiplex release until this year.

Quite whether the film will be worth the wait is the subject of some debate among critics.

Indiewire’s Jessica Kiang described it as “wasteful,” “willfully opaque and enigmatic” to the point where she just wanted “to punch the film in the face” while Kurt Loder of reason called it “the worst sort of fake art movie, thuddingly pretentious and unbounded in its egocentricity”.

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Still it’s always good to push yourself to see some movies that might otherwise passed by unnoticed, and the presence of Franco and Keener has me keen to see if it is really as self-indulgent as it is being portrayed.

Maladies opens in limited US release on 21 March 2014.

 

Hello Sauron! Looking down at Middle Earth from space

(image via blastr.com via fastcompany.com)
(image via blastr.com via fastcompany.com)

 

If you watched in awe as a certain company of dwarves and one initially out of his depth Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins rode atop an impressive flock of Thorondor’s Giant Eagles in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, wishing you too could sit aloft these might birds and see Middle Earth from way up high, then your wish has now been granted.

But in spectacular fashion, with a new project by a group of Danish programmers working as The Middle Earth Project, having already rendered Tolkien’s magical lands as you’d see them from space, with work proceeding apace to fill in as much detail as possible.

According to a post on fastcodesign “it is so epic in scope that you can see the Eye of Sauron from space, yet so finely detailed that you could zoom from space right into Bilbo’s Hobbit hole.”

It is all based on the thousands of pages of meticulously detailed notes that Tolkien, a man who went to the trouble of creating a number of languages from scratch for his books including the seductively beautiful Elvish tongue, left behind, all of which is enabling the programmers to render a photo-realisrtic vision of the famed English author’s lands.

It will be the perfect accompaniment to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie series, which are justifiably renowned for their evocative recreations of The Shire, Mordor and the myriad lands of men.

So while there may be a dearth of Giant Eagles upon which to go aloft, you can now go and see what previously only the members of Thorondor’s kingdom (and a few Nazgûl upon their accursed Fell Beasts) have hitherto been privy to.

 

A map of Middle Earth (image via blastr.com)
A map of Middle Earth (image via blastr.com)