Movie review: Noah

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

 

Adapting any story, regardless of its literary source, into a big screen film, especially one with a budget as big as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, is an exercise fraught with a thousand degrees of barbaric difficulty.

No matter how you slice or dice its plots, themes or characters, someone, somewhere will be mightily displeased, and in this hyper-connected digital age where judgement is often delivered sight unseen and well in advance, they will not be shy about letting you know you have erred and how.

It is an undertaking made all the more challenging, of course, if you brave, or foolish, enough to tackle a story out of a sacred religious text such as the Bible, a book regarded by many as the infallible and literal word of God, one that comes complete with a legion of very protective followers who will brook no deviation from the sacred teachings told within.

As Aronofsky discovered, you are met early on with a wall of passionately articulated scorn that runs along the lines of “So you dare to think you can tell the story better than the creator and sustainer of the universe?”

I am guessing though that Aronofsky, a director who has tackled a number of satisfyingly complex tales from The Fountain to Black Swan, and who has been deeply fascinated by the apocalyptic tale of Noah and his Ark since he was a young man, was not thinking in those terms when he agreed to bring the story to big blockbuster life.

He would have likely regarded the story of one man’s unflagging devotion to the God he loved, who is referred to in Noah quite appropriately as the Creator, as a bold tale, though one short on the whys and wherefores, the inner monologue of Noah if you like, ripe for the telling in a movie bold enough to take some creative risks.

 

Noah is a man devoted to God, to his calling and to just doing pretty much anything to make it happen ... even in the rain (image via noahmovie.com.au)
Noah is a man devoted to God, to his calling and to just doing pretty much anything to make it happen … even in the rain (image via noahmovie.com.au)

 

That Aronofsky, a man known and admired for being willing to take narrative and thematic twists and turns when others might opt for a more straightforward rendering, is the man to take those risks is beyond question (his addition of the rock-covered fallen angels known as The Watchers, who assist Noah in his quest, is case in point).

But that he succeeds in this fraught endeavour, is another matter entirely.

Things look promising in the first half of the movie where we are given intimate insight into Noah’s blighted life, played with taciturn patrician sternness by Russell Crowe, one lived in the shadow of an evil and corrupt world long departed from the idyll of Eden, a landscape full of grasping, covetous men, industrial despoiling and rampant ecological collapse.

The parallels of course with our modern age, and with similar literary warnings from the likes of Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, are obvious, though delivered with a heavy handed intensity that dulls their impact as they are repeated ad nauseum and with little subtlety.

Noah is a devoted man of God we are told, almost to a fault as we later discover, an obstinate, kickass eco warrior, and a man willing to do what he must to protect what is left of ravaged creation while simultaneously fulfilling his divine calling to essentially wipe it from creation, a goal that is, of course, diametrically opposed to the first steel-eyed motivation.

Juggling these twin, incompatible demands, and living with the knowledge that you are about to doom the vast majority of humanity to a raging, water-filled grave, would be enough to fatally tax the psyches of the strongest of men and Noah is justly shown by Aronofsky (and co-writer Ari Handel) as a man who struggles mightily with what he believes he must do.

 

Yes they're one big happy family until the narrative demands they develop a touch of the Borgias (image via noahmovie.com.au)
Yes they’re one big happy family until the narrative demands they develop a touch of the Borgias (image via noahmovie.com.au)

 

But do it he does, and as the the long, boxy Ark takes shape, and as the animals, birds, insects and reptiles arrive in spectacular CGI-enhanced fashion, their hooves pounding on the ground, their wings beating in thunderous unison, with a cataclysmic cleansing flood imminent and Iceland providing the suitably dramatic backdrops, you are immersed in an impressively realised world, one that beats with both promise and dark disappointment.

It is a world that Noah’s family – wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) who is largely represented as an insipid compliant doormat and sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and adopted daughter and Shem’s wife Ila (Emma Watson) – know must end but which they struggle to say goodbye to with as much scar-free ferocity as Noah.

By the time the torrential rains fall from the sky, and massive upwellings of water explode from the ground below, there is division aplenty, both within Noah and his family, a sign that all is not well within the last bosom of humanity and frankly given the stresses and strains of what they are doing, it all makes perfect dramatic sense.

Aronofsky rightly argues that people would not react with beatific calmness and blemish-free behaviour and it adds a degree of pleasing complexity to a story short on the nastily flawed business of being human, even if you are the one judged by God to be more virtuous and deserving than all others.

 

As the waters surge from above and below, they swamp the earth, and apparently any sense of measured or well judged storytelling (image via noahmovie.com.au)
As the waters surge from above and below, they swamp the earth, and apparently any sense of measured or well judged storytelling (image via noahmovie.com.au)

 

Unfortunately, this is where the wheels fall off and in spectacular fashion.

Somewhere between tarring the last planks of miraculously grown wood, and fighting off hordes of desperate warriors, led by thuggish Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) intent on stealing the Ark for themselves, Noah snaps, becoming a delusional, psychotic madman, murderously intent on keeping what will be a pure, new creation, post-Flood, free of the contaminant of mankind.

What was high and mighty, and yes arrogantly and not open to discussion intent now devolves into homicidal puritan adherence so grotesque, and melodramatically expressed, that Noah becomes little better, and some might argue worse, than the people washed away in God’s great cleansing Flood.

It’s a major misstep by Aronofsky who essentially undercuts any nobleness Noah might have had, with his admirable devotion to his cause now reduced to little more than the off-his-meds ranting of a mad man.

And it results in the story, which in the first half is an pleasingly imaginative fleshing out of the bare bones of the Biblical tale to great effect, going seriously off the rails, a mishmash of greed, jealousies and violence more suited to a third rate soap than the until now gripping story of a man with the fate of humanity is his deeply flawed hands.

You are left almost wishing the Ark would break apart, taking Noah and his troublesome brood with it, and while there is an ending that speaks of reconciliation and love, it is almost too little too late to save the poorly wrought second half of the film.

Aronofsky’s passion for the story is evident in everything from the time taken to craft a beautifully realised pre-Flood world to the inspiring way in which Noah and his family stoically execute their rather bold quest, at least at first, but it looks to have been undone by a desire to inject a little to much drama where none frankly was needed.

And it has essentially turned what could have been an apocalyptic masterpiece into a glaringly uneven one, a movie that will not be ranked among the better of this master auteur’s work, and which if a Flood was beckoning, should be probably be allowed to drown with the rest of the flawed things on the earth.

 

 

All aboard for Harmontown: A documentary about Dan Harmon, creator of Community

(image via harmontownpodcast.castmate.fm)
(image via harmontownpodcast.castmate.fm)

 

Brilliant and wildly creative he may be, and the father of Community, one of the one of the most idiosyncratic, funny and inventive sitcoms I have ever had the privilege to watch but there’s no escaping the fact that Dan Harmon is a polarising figure.

His flair for flawed, self-destructive behaviour what led Sony and NBC to temporarily remove him from stewardship of Community – he was absent for a rather lacklustre season 4 – but it’s his willingness to be brutally honest about these failings and the way it impacts those around him that has endeared to people like his collaborators on the rambling two hour podcast he calls Harmontown – actor/comic Jeff B. Davis, Harmon’s fiancee Erin McGathy, and fan Spencer Crittenden.

Neil Berkeley’s documentary Harmontown, which recently premiered at SXSW, and obviously takes its name from the podcast, and does a supremely effective job, says Indiewire, of examining what makes Dan Harmon tick, the reasons for his success, the controversy that seems to follow him and the unwavering devotion of his fans (of which I am most assuredly one):

” … the film finds its substance, in its depiction of Harmon as a hugely smart, hugely funny man with a tendency to give in to his own demons. His collaborators, most notably Silverman (who says, tellingly, that she’s Harmon’s biggest fan, and still fired him) don’t sugarcoat his failings, and the film is at its most effective when examining, in the context of a fight between Harmon and then-girlfriend-now-fiancee McGathy (evidently the best thing that’s ever happened to him), his less cuddly side.”

 

 

Harmontown, which is essentially a road movie of sorts, documenting a concert tour embarked upon by the podcast crew plus guests like Patton Oswalt and Jason Sudeikis, is not prettied up PR for Harmon, and is all the better for it, says Indiewire:

“That it doesn’t sugarcoat this makes the film’s ultimate message all the more satisfying. Harmon, as “Community” watchers have probably realized, is a man who loves almost everybody except himself (and maybe some network executives…), and constantly seems to be working towards self-improvement while acknowledging that it isn’t easy. But in the process, in part thanks to his absolute, savage transparency about himself, he’s become a sort of figurehead for those like him — people who may struggle socially, who are depressed or drink too much or just feel that they don’t fit in.”

It sounds like a fascinating insight into one of the brightest creative minds of our time and I can’t wait to see it when it opens widely  at a yet to be announced date.

Oh my! Sci-fi: Trailers + posters for Jupiter Ascending, Edge of Tomorrow, The Signal

Oh my sci fi MAIN

 

This year is shaping up as another banner year for science fiction with a host of releases on the schedule including Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (6 November AU/7 November USA), UK production The Machine (25 April USA), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, TranscendenceThe Prototype (date unspecified) and even the gay-themed

* For an extensive list of science fiction and fantasy releases, check out io9

It seems that science fiction has finally moved back into the mainstream after quite of number of years in the backwaters of moviedom, a trend that mirrors the resurgence of the genre on TV too with everyone from CW (The 100, The Tomorrow People) to a resurgent syfy (Defiance, Helix) and even TNT (Falling Skies) and NBC (Revolution) getting in on the act.

And why not?

Science fiction is a genre that lends itself nicely to exploring a whole host of social issues, it gives filmmakers the ability, if they so choose, to be both stridently intellectual and bombastically blockbuster simultaneously, and it transports audiences, weary of the day to day slog, to worlds far away and far into the future.

There are three in particular, apart from the titles listed above, that I am looking forward to seeing greatly and as luck would have it, all have released new poster or trailers in the last couple of weeks or so.

Stand back and be prepared to be transfixed.

 

JUPITER ASCENDING

 

Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones (image via fansided.com)
Mila Kunis stars as Jupiter Jones (image via fansided.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jupiter Jones was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine, a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along—her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.
(synopsis via official Jupiter Ascending site)

 

Channing Tatum stars as Caine (image via fansided.com)
Channing Tatum stars as Caine (image via fansided.com)

 

Jupiter Ascending, the latest larger-than-life blockbuster from the Wachowskis (Cloud Atlas, The Matrix), is a rags to riches story on a galactic scale with bitter rivalries playing out on a grand soap operatic scale.

Everything from the just released posters to the new trailer suggest a movie that is visually, thematically and narratively epic, a trademark of all the Wachowskis movies which always come complete with a fearsome intelligence, a passion for storytelling and a sense that you walked into a fully-formed world that lives, breathes and exists, and is not simply the product of someone’s imagination (although clearly that is very much at work too).

The finished product may not always be the impressive sum of all these well thought parts – the less said about the second and third instalments of The Matrix trilogy the better – but more often than not the talented siblings deliver and deliver brilliantly, and I am expecting Jupiter Ascending to fulfil the promise shown in this breathtaking trailer.

Jupiter Ascending opens in USA on July 18, 2014 and July 24, 2014 in Australia.

 

 

EDGE OF TOMORROW

 

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

 

SNAPSHOT
The epic action of Edge of Tomorrow unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world.

Lt. Col. Bill Cage (Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop—forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again.

But with each battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

Based on the acclaimed novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.
(synopsis via comingsoon.net)

The poster may be of Comic Con 2013 vintage but the newly released trailer for Edge of Tomorrow is brand spanking new and beautifully showcases this film which features Tom Cruise is yet another of the overwhemed but not fatally everyman roles he does so well.

It also shows him not dying repeatedly, or rather dying and rising again in an endless loop reminiscent of Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn in 2011’s Source Code, where every loop through the same sequence of events instructs and informs to the point where he is the sum of all his slightly different experiences.

Screenrant commented upon the veteran actor’s propensity for roles that leave him mortally intact this way:

“There are some actors – Sean Bean being the most notable examples – who have movie death scenes down to a fine art. At the other end of the spectrum, Tom Cruise has the lucky habit of surviving almost all of the movies he’s in. He’s survived being electrocuted. He’s survived being poisoned, having his throat cut and being dumped in a swamp full of alligators (in that order). In one movie he fought as part of an army where every single soldier except for his character was killed. Tom Cruise is very resilient.

It’s quite fitting, therefore, that the plot of Doug Liman’s upcoming sci-fi action movie Edge of Tomorrow revolves around Cruise’s character, Lt. Col. Bill Cage, living his own personal Groundhog Day in his first ever battle against invading alien forces, where every day he is killed in the fighting only to wake up again the next morning.”

Edge of Tomorrow takes an exciting concept and uses it well, if both this trailer and its predecessor is any guide, and as one of the few people who it seems enjoyed Cruises’s last much-maligned sci-fi effort Oblivion, that he also lived through nicely thank you very much, I am looking forward to seeing him in action in an hyper-reality setting once again.

Edge of Tomorrow opens in Australia on June 5, 2014 and in USA on 6 June 2014.

 

 

THE SIGNAL

 

(image via scifinow.co.uk)
(image via scifinow.co.uk)

 

SNAPSHOT
Three college students on a road trip across the Southwest experience a detour; the tracking of a computer genius who has already hacked into MIT and exposed security faults. The trio find themselves drawn to an eerily isolated area when suddenly, everything goes dark. When one of the students, Nic, regains consciousness, he is in a waking nightmare… (synopsis via comingsoon.net)

The Signal may not have made it into general release just yet but we have some sense of what kind of film it will be thanks to its midnight screening at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

This generated the expected slew of reviews which varied from Variety‘s pronouncement that the film is “is a sci-fi head trip better appreciated for the journey than the destination” to Indiewire‘s comment that while “[William] Eubank’s talent for creating impressive worlds with few resources is the movie’s strongest aspect, but the concept feels like a never-ending exposition of technique without sufficient depth.”

The prevailing critique seems to be “cool idea, not so great execution” but I am still prepared to give the film, which comes with a cleverly seductive and eerily unsettling promo campaign of Helix-like posters and atmospheric trailers that give a sense of what is to come rather than spilling all the details (a rarity in today’s reveal-all shorts), a shot given the premise on which it is based.

The Signal opens in USA on June 13, 2014 (no Aussie release date at this time). 

 

 

 

Weekend Pop Art: Famous bands and their Lego doppelgängers

(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)
(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)

 

Lego are quite the flavour of the month at the moment, thanks largely to the incalculable charms of the recently released The LEGO Movie.

The movie, about which barely a bad review has been penned, imagines a world where everyone and everything is made up of the wonderful Danish blocks, and life is, well, “AWESOME!”

In that effervescent spirit, Malaysian-based Twitter user Adly Syairi Ramly has rendered 30 iconic bands including Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Michael Jackson, The Spice Girls and Cypress Hill in LEGO and the results are every bit as fun as you’d expect.

Not only has he managed to faithfully recreate their likenesses physically, he’s also perfectly the spirit of the artists too which is no mean feat using just an iPhone 5.

Now if I can just get this imaginative guy to give ABBA their very own block-like visages, this LEGO musical tribute will be well nigh on perfect …

(Source: Buzzfeed.com)

 

Weekend Pop Art Music and LEGO Tegan and Sara
(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)

 

(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)
(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)

 

(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)
(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)

 

(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)
(image via Twitter: @adlysyairi via Buzzfeed)

 

 

 

Music review: The Take Off and Landing of Everything by Elbow

(image via collegetimes.com)
(image via collegetimes.com)

 

There is a world weary beauty, both musical and lyrical, to Elbow’s The Takeoff and Landing of Everything that captivates the troubled soul, and soothes the ear dulled by the cacophony of life’s trials and tribulations, from the first delicate opening notes.

Never afraid to tackle the weightier issues in life, the sort of darker issues that many of us shy away from in lives devoted to diversion and amusement, the band from Machester and in particular lead singer and gifted lyricist Guy Garvey, have gone one step further with an album that doesn’t so much wear its heart on its sleeve as slice it messily, and poetically, open in full public view.

It may not come across this way, its laid-back melodies and Garvey’s subtle approach suggesting something less than this sort of audacious emotional outpouring but don’t be fooled – the wound is open and pain is being felt and dealt with.

This is an album borne of heartache – Garvey split with his girlfriend of ten years writer Emma Kane Unsworth while the album was being made – but not one expressed in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that you might expect would accompany so great a loss.

A man with a meditative soul, and a sublimely beautiful baritone voice that effortlessly conveys great arcs of emotion in its gently rhythmic rise and fall, Garvey has chosen to deal with the loss of the life he once knew by writing songs that ponder rather than accuse, that acknowledge the truth of the pain and the need to sit with it and work it through rather than uselessly thrash about in melodramatic turmoil.

 

 

That sense of painful contemplation but philosophical outworking is apparent in the languid unfurling of many of the songs which demand to wallowed in, listened to at 3am with the embers of a once roaring fire giving less and less light, warmth and clarity much like life itself.

“My Sad Captains”, six minutes of percussive, organ underpinned melancholic gorgeousness acknowledges that “long before / You and I were born /Others beat these benches with their empty cups”, the sort of admission that only a middle aged man (Garvey just turned 40) could make, with both a recently painful past and an uncertain future bearing down on him.

But rather than wallowing in the pointlessness of existence, which frankly would be quite understandable, Garvey lyrics instead suggest an acceptance of the grim realities of life, one perhaps made a less troubling by the imbibing of substances that help you lose your mind with like-minded temporarily escapist souls.

“Honey Sun” follows in a similar thematic vein, which finds Garvey mourning in quiet resignation the loss of his love, lamenting over the insistent hum of blues-influenced laid back guitar and soft syncopated synth beats that, “She and I were for a Burton Taylor made / She and I won’t find another me and her”.

It’s a remarkable duality – accepting of and railing against the painful realities of life in one bleakly sung song that nevertheless somehow manages to sound less funereal than philosophically resigned and perhaps even a little hopeful.

 

 

The Takeoff and Landing of Everything real achievement is that it takes the time needed to fully explore these emotions with songs like “Real Life (Angel)” and “New York Morning”, a paean to Garvey’s second home in Brooklyn, happy to take anywhere between five and seven minutes to explore their emotionally raw themes.

This speaks of a band who are less concerned with crafting easy to digest radio ready songs than with authentically exploring life and its many rises and falls, with music that matches it in subtlety and understatement yet which never loses its exquisite sense of melody or its sense of presence.

And clearly people are finding kindred spirits in Elbow’s warts-and-all transparency, with The Takeoff and Landing of Everything becoming the band’s first long player to chart in the number one position in their native Britain.

It’s an achievement commensurate with an album that audaciously tackles one of the most painful things anyone can go through, a breakup with a significant other, in ways both experimental and subdued, that isn’t afraid to admit life can be tough but that it must be faced and overcome if anything new and fresh is to result.

That Elbow accomplishes this with all sorts of hitherto unused tweaks and twists on their usual indie rock formula is all the more impressive, a sign that their latest collection of songs, borne in pain, is much more of a hopeful takeoff than the agonised landing you might otherwise expect it to be.

 

Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

(image via hollywoodreporter.com)
(image via hollywoodreporter.com)

 

It would be tempting to call The Grand Budapest Hotel, writer/director Wes Anderson’s latest gleefully whimsical excursion into grand and imaginative storytelling, the icing on his creative cake, were it not not such an obvious reference to the pastries which are a recurring motif of the film.

And yet it’s almost impossible not to do that given the candy coated lunacy that suffuses the whole undertaking, a darkly-filled confection of slapstick comedy, artfully constructed yet wholly delightful and accessible wordplay and fantastical flights of fancy that somehow manage to co-exist quite happily within a reasonably linear and thoroughly entertaining narrative.

It is a master work that marries the visually rich almost-cartoonesque elements of previous movies like The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and the emotionally resonant quirkiness of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) with sugary rich clever dialogue, twists and turns aplenty, some logical, some not, and characters that practically spring off the screen such is their contagious vivacity.

Chief among this panoply of deeply engaging characters is M.Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the very epitome of a world class concierge, a man you suspect may be of humble origins given his ability to swiftly and amusingly move from buttery smooth upper crust articulation to more earthy street pronunciations.

He is a creature of impeccable taste and grooming who reigns over the imperial grandeur and luxurious decadence of The Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictitious Kingdom of Zubrowka, with an equal mix of fatherly love, evangelistic fervour and dictatorial control.

 

Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis, or simply Madame D, is but one of the many special guests M  Gustave has made it his point to get to intimately know and cater for (image via theguardian.com)
Madame Desgoffe-und-Taxis, or simply Madame D, is but one of the many special guests M Gustave has made it his point to get to intimately know and cater for (image via theguardian.com)

 

His is a world of every whim catered for, a continuous conveyor belt of indulgence that stretches from the sumptuously decorated lobby to the vast bedrooms of the many rich, vain, superficial, and yes blonde (“they’re always blonde”) old women who stay for “the season”, all of whom come to enjoy not just M. Gustave’s platonic attentions but his sexual ones as well.

The belle of this amusingly aged ball is undeniably Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), an obscenely wealthy lady from the city of Lutz, who dotes on him, and who on her prophetically-predicted passing, leaves a painting of incalculable value The Boy and Apple to M. Gustave as a sign of her eternal affection.

It is an affection shared most assuredly by the man who calls everyone from prison inmates to grand dames and thuggish almost-fascist soldiers “Darling” but you sense that his ardour of a far more practical nature, an end to a means and that his delight in being bequeathed the painting has more to do with the lifestyle it will afford than anything else.

Not that he is gauche enough, well not in polite company anyway, to say that out loud.

But when his adoring protege and The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s lobby boy in training Zero Moustafa (charming and accomplished newcomer Tony Revolori) suggest they abscond with the painting lest one of Madame D.’s avaricious children, chief among them desperate Dmitri (Adrien Brody), keep it for themslves, M. Gustave readily agrees.

 

The Author, played in his younger years by Jude Law, and in old age by Tom Wilkinson, is anointed by an ageing Zero as the keeper of the flame, the one to keep alive, in part the glamourous world of M Gustave, which Wes Anderson's bring beautifully and touchingly to life (image via rowthree.com)
The Author, played in his younger years by Jude Law, and in old age by Tom Wilkinson, is anointed by an ageing Zero as the keeper of the flame, the one to keep alive, in part, the glamourous world of M Gustave, which Wes Anderson bring beautifully and touchingly to life (image via rowthree.com)

 

And so begins a deliciously anarchic romp through the realms of war-threatened Zubrowka, which combines equal doses of Keystone Cops-ish physical comedy (M. Gustave and Zero’s flight on foot through the snow is a joy to behold), witty wordplay, and farcical yet oddly believable situations that delight the eye and cheer the soul.

Peppered with cameos by the Anderson faithful such as Bill Murray as a walrus moustache-adorned concierge, Jason Schwartman as a lazy concierge at a less glamourous ’60s incarnation of the hotel, and Edward Norton as a fastidiously careful member of the Lutz Police Militia, to mention but a few, The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s story is largely told by a much older Zero (who inherited M Gustave’s wealth and the hotel) to a man simply identified as The Author (Jude Law/Tom Wilkinson), a literary treasure of Zubrowka.

It is a story of a belle epoque world that as the older Zero quietly but sadly admits had probably disappeared before M. Gustave had even found his place in it, and one which the Author, his persona inspired by gifted Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, faithfully does his best to bring to life in all its inventive glory.

 

Zero and Agatha find themselves awash in boxes of Mendl's pastries in one of the film's many visually and narratively inventive scenes (image via nerdist.com)
Zero and Agatha find themselves awash in boxes of Mendl’s pastries in one of the film’s many visually and narratively inventive scenes (image via nerdist.com)

 

But it is Wes Anderson, in his first film to not directly focus on the concept of family (although a gathering of like minds does exist between M. Gustave, Zero and the love of his life, pastry maker Agatha played by Saoirse Ronan), that brings this bygone era to life with wit, whimsy and a healthy dose of evocative nostalgia for a world long vanished.

As with all his movies, it is a visual feast, a riot of bright colours, retro stylings and cartoon-ish landscapes which he invests with emotional depth and characters that though they often only appear on screen for a fraction of a scene come alive with all the fully-fleshed out joie de vivre you could ask of them.

The Grand Budapest Hotel rarely pauses for breath, content to run riotously on, dragging us happily along with it, a film that manages to tell a wholly engrossing start to finish tale while adding enough bells, whistles and verbal and stylistic flourishes to cater for a slew of lesser realised movies.

It is that rare cinematic creation – a film that is an absolute delight on every level, a resoundingly satisfying story that leaves you with a spring in your step, a pastry-smeared smile on your face and profound gratitude that men of rare artistic vision and whimsical imagination such as Wes Anderson exist in our reality-scarred world to bring us such wonderful, perfectly created treats.

 

Poster me this! Dumb and Dumber To, Orphan Black S2, Blended

Bryce Bradford via photopin cc
Bryce Bradford via photopin cc

 

They, whoever they are, may be intent on prosecuting poor Bill Posters but the rest of us can’t wait to see what else the master of promotion does next.

I will grant you that threats of prosecution usually accompany physical posters on hoardings and buildings and so on but I would like to think that in this digital day and age that Bill has kept up with the times and moved into the realm of virtual posters and images.

Having said that, I would say it’s highly unlikely that anyone but the most curmudgeonly of pop culture haters would want to do anything but shake Bill’s hands for the following highly imaginative, fun posters.

But if you see him, you might want to tell him to lay low till I’m absolutely sure that’s the case.

I’ll be the one eating his popcorn … and Maltersers … and Big Gulp …

 

DUMB AND DUMBER TO

 

(image via denofgeek.com)
(image via denofgeek.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
“There is no growth out of either one of them and it’s 20 years later … The story revolves around the fact that one of them may have sired a child. They want to go and find the child because he’s having a kidney problem and he wants to ask him for one of his kidneys …” (Bobby Farrelly quoted in an interview on Digital Spy)

Ever since word broke that the 1994 Farrelly Brothers movie Dumb and Dumber starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels would finally be getting a sequel, and then confirmation came through that it had actually started filming, I am have been in a lather of excitement.

I have been draining Big Gulps like there’s no tomorrow, shag pile lining my van, and making truly weird noises just so I can yell “That’s the most annoying sound in the WORLD!” to myself (hey, it passes the time).

And now as I sit here patting my headless parakeet on the, well, clearly NOT the head, Universal Pictures have released two posters   promoting Dumb and Dumber To that make me want to suit up and get in line for the cinema already.

 

(image via denofgeek.com)
(image via denofgeek.com)

 

Alas I will have to wait till November 14 in USA (no dates released for Australia yet) to find out if the movie will be as funny as the original – of course it will be! Like we even need to wonder about that – but Cinemablend have released a rundown of the plot details showcased in the Universal Pictures presentation at CinemaCon and had this to say about their reaction to the footage:

“I’ve been vocal about my apprehension of this sequel, as the Farrelly brothers most recent run of films haven’t come close to reaching the level of their earlier work, but I must say that I am actually now somewhat looking forward to Dumb and Dumber To. The humor is certainly sophomoric, as you would expect, but it’s also so over the top that it got a few chuckles out of me. Most importantly, I was amazed by how quickly my brain adjusted to seeing Daniels and Carrey back together in character, and it was so fun to see the duo that after the footage I immediately found myself wanting more. I’m definitely still a bit wary of the project and not 100% confident that it will work, but my optimism level has gone up.”

Well that’s good enough for me!

Dress up and I’ll see you at the movies in November.

 

ORPHAN BLACK S2

 

Alison is One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)
Alison is One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)

 

Rachel is also One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)
Rachel is also One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Sarah is out of options, on the run, and pursued by deadly adversaries. Desperate to find her daughter Kira, Sarah suspects ruthless pro-clone Rachel is behind her daughter’s disappearance and sparks an all out war against her. Alison and Donnie attend the funeral of her fallen friend, Aynsley, causing Alison to sink into guilt and despair. Cosima is faced with a perplexing decision that may have dire consequences. (synopsis of S2, E1 via hypable.com)

At almost the complete other end of the entertainment spectrum, the premiere of season 2 one of last year’s water cooler hits Orphan Black is fast upon us and so are the many and varied promos for one of the most hotly anticipated second seasons of any show in recent memory.

Life has changed irrevocably for every single of the clones and Sarah in particular has a fight on her hands to track down her missing daughter Kira, who may or may not be in the hands of Rachel, a clone who has wholeheartedly embraced the agenda of her makers.

This battle of wills alone promises to make season 2 one to remember and just in case we’re not keen enough already, BBC America has released a series of arresting posters for the upcoming episodes.

 

And Sarah is One of a Kind too (image via hypable.com)
And Sarah is One of a Kind too (image via hypable.com)

 

And Cosima is, of course, also One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)
And Cosima is, of course, also One of a Kind (image via hypable.com)

 

They feature Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Rachel (all played by the inordinately talented Tatiana Maslany) and every single last one of them is impossible to look away from, much the show itself.

They join a trailer and a featurette (below), and Instagram clips which have given us tantalising glimpses into the high octane, high tension dramatic thrills that await.

Orphan Black returns April 19 at 9/8C on BBC America.

 

 

 

And if that’s not quite enough poster goodness, here’s a poster featuring the entire cast with clues aplenty for the season ahead.

Here’s what Buzzfeed thinks it all means.

 

devious doctor Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer); Hot Paul (Dylan Bruce); pro-clone Rachel (Tatiana Maslany); missing-in-action Kira (Skyler Wexler); star-crossed lovers Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) and Cosima Niehaus (Maslany); new face Cal Morrison (Michiel Huisman); resourceful heroine Sarah Manning (Maslany); the fabulously loyal Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris); everyone’s favorite suburban psycho Alison Hendrix (Maslany, again); Alison’s husband and monitor Donnie (Kristian Bruun); the madly mysterious Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy); killer cowboy Henrik Johanssen (Peter Outerbridge); and cop with a clue Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard) (image via Buzzfeed)
devious doctor Aldous Leekie (Matt Frewer); Hot Paul (Dylan Bruce); pro-clone Rachel (Tatiana Maslany); missing-in-action Kira (Skyler Wexler); star-crossed lovers Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) and Cosima Niehaus (Maslany); new face Cal Morrison (Michiel Huisman); resourceful heroine Sarah Manning (Maslany); the fabulously loyal Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris); everyone’s favorite suburban psycho Alison Hendrix (Maslany, again); Alison’s husband and monitor Donnie (Kristian Bruun); the madly mysterious Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy); killer cowboy Henrik Johanssen (Peter Outerbridge); and cop with a clue Art Bell (Kevin Hanchard) (image via Buzzfeed)

 

BLENDED

 

(image via cinemablend.com)
(image via cinemablend.com)

 

SNAPSHOT
Blended marks the third comedy collaboration between stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, following their successful onscreen pairings in the hit romantic comedies 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer.

After a disastrous blind date, single parents Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) agree on only one thing: they never want to see each other again. But when they each sign up separately for a fabulous family vacation with their kids, they are all stuck sharing a suite at a luxurious African safari resort for a week.
(synopsis via comingsoon.net)

I have to be honest, I am not a great fan of Adam Sandler in general.

Yes I know he makes a gazillion dollars a picture and is revered and loved by teenage boys the world over for his sophomoric, trenchantly juvenile humour, and will likely retire a rich man to a private island somewhere while I and my disdain, um, don’t, but I find it enormously hard to sit through any of his movies.

Which is why I largely haven’t, save for two of his few dramatic departures, Punch Drunk Love (2002) and Reign Over Me (2007), in which he proved he could act when he puts his mind to it, and his two collaborations with Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004).

 

(image via cinemablend.com)
(image via cinemablend.com)

 

(image via cinemablend.com)
(image via cinemablend.com)

 

And it’s these last two films that will likely be the only reason I may go and see Blended, since Drew Barrymore does seem to bring out the goofy, sweet best in him.

Quite whether that will happen in a movie as contrived and slapstick-favouring as this one is hard to predict but if there’s one thing Cinemablend and I can agree on him, these posters are kind of fun, if a bit one note funny and Photoshopped to hell.

Enjoy them because it’s entirely possible with Sandler involved that this is as good as Blended gets.

Blended opens in USA on 23 May 2014 and in Australia on 12 June 2014.

 

Road to Eurovision 2014: Week 1 – Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium

(image via eurovision.tv)
(image via eurovision.tv)

 

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

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

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:

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

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

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1980 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the 100s of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 

(image via commons.wikimedia.org)
(image via commons.wikimedia.org)

 

In the six weeks leading up to the grand final on Saturday 10 May 2014, I will be reviewing 5-6 songs each week and giving my unvarnished, unguarded and glitter-coated take on all 37 songs competing for glory in this year’s contest.

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

 

ALBANIA: “One night’s Anger” by Hersi 

 

Hersi (image via eurovision.tv)
Hersi (image (c) Avni Selmani via eurovision.tv)

 

For a person bristling with the distracting content of entire night’s worth of anger, Hersi Matmuka, looks to be a remarkably composed young lady.

In fact so calmly focused is the talented young singer, born February 1st, 1990, that she has managed to excel in both classical and modern music, the kind of double threat that Britney et al can only dream about emulating.

And she’s been at it most of her life too, kicking off her modern music lessons at the ripe old age of eight, which were followed by first prizes in a slew of music competitions, including the Ylberi Festival in Macedonia in 2001.

But why restrict yourself to study, and yes success once again, in just one field when a second beckons?

Her classical studies at the Artistic Lyceum in Tirana led to performances with both ballet and opera companies in the Albanian capital, and final finishes, and some wins, in a variety of classical music competition.

So it’s fairly clear that Hersi has a voice to die for, stage presence and the sort of charisma that makes people sit and take notice.

But will it be enough to propel her to success as Albania’s respresentative at The Eurovision Song Contest this year?

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Albania flag

 

I strongly suspect YES.

For a start, in a sea of rather bland if earnestly delivered ballads, she has been gifted with a compellingly interesting song in “One Night in Anger” (previously titled “Zemërimi i një nate”), written by Gentian Lako (music) and Jorgo Papingji.

It melody twists and turns with all sort of idiosyncratic flourishes, zigging when lesser tunes might have zagged, the innate beauty of the song augmented to a considerable degree by Hersi’s richly expressive voice than manages to invest the song with a whole world of emotions.

Granted she has bowed to the Unstoppable Ballad Trend (UBT), triggered by the addition of panels of music industry peers to the voting process, but it’s been done on her terms with a song that doesn’t induce rigour mortis within seconds of the opening bars.

And Hersi is channelling her inner P!NK, able to sing while running along the beach, biking, pony riding and walking along the tips of towering sand hills.

Frankly if she doesn’t turn up at Copenhagen juggling small Albanian rodents while zipping around on a unicycle, I will be greatly disappointed.

 

 

ARMENIA: “Not Alone” by Aram MP3

 

Aram MP3 (image via eurovision.tv)
Aram MP3 (image (c) Arnos Martirosyan via eurovision.tv)

 

Aram is apparently a man of dual entertainment personalities.

Renowned for his live performances, which are just as apt to deliver a powerful musical performance as a humourous routine, Aram can and regularly does turn his hands to a wide range of the music that apparently cured some childhood breathing issues.

Singer, heal thyself!

So talented is the almost 30 year old dedicated family man that he’s become quite the household name in Armenia, appearing on TV, where he hosts Armenian Idol and X-factor to name but a few shows, performs comedy and sings, and in concert where he can cover anything from jazz and blues to his own hits such as “If I Tried” and covers of songs like “Only Teardrops” with which Denmark’s Emmilie de Forest won last year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

He lives and breathes (pun intended) music that much is clear, has a ubiquitously high profile and styles a white suit like no one’s business.

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Armenia flag

 

But does all that mean that “Not Alone”, the official entry for Armenia by lyricist Garik Papoyan, and instrumentalist Lilit Navasardyan, has what it takes to stick its head above the musical parapet and not get voted to pieces?

Possibly …

A prisoner of Unstoppable Ballad Trend (UBT) along with many other fine singers, it’s an intense little number about a couple finding love a little more complicated than the occasional bunch of flowers and doe-eyed glances at each other.

What saves it from a whole lot of bland, but also risks burying under a mountain of melodramatic over-emoting – move those hands Aram Mp3! Scrunch that face and pump them up and down! – is the dramatic build of the music through the song that mirrors the fall and rise of the relationship in question.

Matching the rising intensity, Aram Mp3, whose other work shows he has a fine voice and knows how to use it, almost ends up yelling, almost as if he’s self-identified with our young couple in the throes of a very public domestic and is matching them scream for scream.

Dramatic it might be but it grates just a little and you can only hope he can reign it in just a little on the night.

Unfortunately even that may not help as Eurovision voters have not shown themselves to be particularly enamoured of songs full of angst and conflict, even if they do have a happy ending.

Perhaps if he cracked a joke or two?

 

 

AUSTRIA: “Rise Like a Phoenix” by Conchita Wurst

 

Conchita Wurst (image via eurovision.tv)
Conchita Wurst (image (c) ORF/Thomas Ramstorfer via eurovision.tv)

 

Tom Neuwirth aka Conchita Wurst knows a thing or two about rising like a phoenix.

First performing as Wurst back in 2011 on the TV show Die große Chance, after breaking into show business via the talent search program Starmania in 2006 which got him a berth in the very short lived boy band jetzt anders!, he is now a well know figure throughout Austria.

Powered by an enthusiastically defiant personal motto “Be the best version of yourself rather than a bad copy of someone else!”, Wurst sees himself as a symbol of “tolerance and acceptance” noting in an interview with Eurovision TV:

“I’m allowed to be the voice of their beliefs during this time and this really makes me very proud. We, and not at least myself, want to stand for a society without hate and discrimination.”

This desire to be completely true to himself has informed his approach to his TV performances and music, and the lifelong Eurovision fan (“I watched the Song Contest as far back as I can remember with my mom”) is hoping to achieve quite a bit with his entry:

“I really hope that I get the chance to change some minds all around Europe. I want to show them that you can look whatever you want and that everybody must have the right to live their life however they want it, if nobody gets hurt.”

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Austria flag

 

Worthy ambition is one thing however and the reality of delivering a song that will speak to the good people of Europe and get you through not just to the grand final but to the winner’s podium is quite another.

So does “Rise Like a Phoenix”, which it goes without saying is part of the UBT brigade with bells and whistles on, have what it takes to fulfil Wurst’s lofty ambitions?

Much as you might expect for a diva of Wurst’s elevated standing, the song by Charly Mason, Joey Patulka, Ali Zuckowski, and Julian Maas, is a torch song bright enough and emotive enough to set fire to Copenhagen when no one’s looking.

Replete with vivid images of graphically wrought images of being reborn and rising again, it is a song that suits Wurst’s theatrical leanings and his powerful, pitch perfect voice.

And while it is hardly an out of the box effort song wise, it’s highly likely that it will touch enough hearts and minds to get Wurst into the grand final.

Whether he gets beyond that is another matter entirely.

The song should resonate with the music industry professionals, and it has no doubt been selected for that very reason; but I suspect it may not be as popular with the public at large and Wurst may have to settle for roasting marshmallows on the fire consuming him, and leave the phoenix rising for another, less flammable, time.

 

 

AZERBAIJAN: “Start a Fire” by Dilara Kazimova

 

Dilara Kazomova (image via eurovision.tv)
Dilara Kazomova (image (c) Sergey Illin via eurovision.tv)

 

It looks like Dilara Kazomova has a touch of pyromania about her too if her song title of choice is any guide.

A professional singer since the tender age of 14 (she’s now 29) the talented young lady, who possesses a fearsomely large range and the vocal power to do it justice, and possesses an eclectic taste in music that encompasses everything from traditional Azeri folk to Motown and even the Bohemian Rhapsody stylings of one Freddie Mercury, has burned with Eurovision representing ambition ever since Azerbaijan joined the contest in 2008.

After a number of near successful attempts to don the blue, red and green for her country – she came second in 2008 in national selections as part of the band Unformal and in 2010 made it to the final with female duo Milk and Kisses – she’s finally grabbed the much longer for nomination.

And given she also has a passionate interest in acting and musical theatre, it stands to reason that she should be able to bring a fairly impressive stage presence to the B&W Hallerna arena in Copenhagen.

Indeed, she’s known for her dramatic and much talked about live performances in Baku, Azerbiajan’s capital, so performing at Eurovision should be a walk in the park.

But could “Start a Fire” fail to light the necessary spark?

 

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Azerbaijan flag

 

Well, while the song by Stefan Örn, Johan Kronlund, Alessandra Günthardt is a pleasant enough piano-driven number with the requisite amount of emotional angst and passionate longing, saved from the blandness of unadulterated UBT by the playing of the Azerbaijani traditional woodwind instrument, the Balaban, it is not exactly the stuff of which vivid memories are made.

Beautiful and stirring in its own way yes, and held touchingly aloft by Dilara’s crystal clear, emotionally rich vocals but forgotten alas almost as soon as it finishes playing.

It’s hard when the song isn’t a stinker of epic proportions (“Start a Fire” is most assuredly not even remotely in that camp), and the singer is bright, personable and vocally talented, to consign it to the also ran pile.

But it simply doesn’t have the artistic presence or creative heft to be a truly memorable entry.

That assumes of course that the juries, who tend to love songs of its ilk, don’t give it the necessary boost to get over the line.

If that happens, then Dilara may well be able to start the fire that Conchita Wurst plans to rise up from.

A win-win all around which will no doubt keep the Copenhagen Fire Department awake at night.

 

 

BELARUS: “Cheesecake” by TEO

 

Teo (image via eurovision.tv)
Teo (image (c) BTRC via eurovision.tv)

 

TEO, real name Yuriy Vaschuk, is a man of seemingly boundless energy and charm.

Just how energy becomes apparent when you take a look at his crowded CV which bursts listings for with TV hosting, composing and arranging of songs, accordion playing (he even won a competition as a child) and a solo music career.

And in common with quite a few of this year’s hopeful, smiling entrants, a previous attempt or two at representing their country in the glitter-shrouded halls of the Eurovision Song Contest.

While he wasn’t successful in 2009 when he performed a duet with Anna Blagova, a last minute decision to enter this year’s national selection process – he had already written songs for two other contestants Natalie Tamelo and Tasha Odi – saw him grab the longed for nomination.

And what of his stage name, the elegantly simple TEO?

Plucked out of a Google search it seems, according to Eurovision TV:

“I clicked ‘T’ in Google search and saw it immediately. I liked it instantly and that was it.”

So with all that energy to hand, it makes sense he’d write a song about sugary dessert right?

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Belarus flag

 

Right.

And the saints of lack of caloric control be praised, it’s a fun, upbeat number that boldly stares UBT in the face, sneers scornfully once or twice, and then yes, pushes a creamy baked dessert in its often featureless face.

“Cheesecake” is a whole lot of upbeat, danceable fun with a reasonably serious message according to TEO was interviewed about his entry on Eurovision TV:

“It’s a positive song, even though I’ve broken up with a girl because I’m tired of her calling me her sweet cheesecake. We all need to be treated with respect.”

Clearly the relationship detailed in the song has not gone the way of eternal wine and roses, despite the giddy musical melody and playful feel to the song.

After all, anyone who sings “I look up all the maps trying to escape” is not about to whisk anyone, man or woman, down the aisle in a hurry, if ever, and needs to get away, far away.

Much as I love the song though, and expect it to do quite well, this entry relies more on TEO’s considerable charisma and infectious stage presence than any real musical weight.

But even if the song fails to give Europe the sugar rush it craves this year, don’t expect that this is the last you’ll hear of TEO on the wider world stage.

If nothing else, he has given us a song to sing along to when we’re eating dessert and that can only be a good and memorable thing.

 

 

BELGIUM: “Mother” by Axel Hirsoux

 

Axel Hirsoux ((c) VRT - Bart Musschoot via eurovision.tv)
Axel Hirsoux (image (c) VRT – Bart Musschoot via eurovision.tv)

 

Axel Hirsoux is a man with Eurovision stars in his eyes.

Firmly focused on the idea that the contest will push his musical career to a far more high profile level – true to an extent but ABBA and Celine Dion are the rare examples of music artists who gained an enduring boost from Eurovision – he sees his representation of Belgium as the culmination of a great deal of hard work.

And it’s true that you could hardly fault Hirsoux for not putting in enough effort in his chosen profession.

Studying music theory and playing the trumpet from childhood, he has worked hard with his vocal coach to ready himself for TV singing contests like Star Academy in France and the Walloon version of The Voice in his native Belgium, spending whatever off time he has singing with an amateur group.

This then is a man who knows he won’t succeed on just his admittedly considerable talent alone.

But could the song he has chosen, “Mother” by Rafael Artesero and Ashley Hicklin, be the thing that undoes all this assiduous preparation?

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Belgium flag

 

There’s no doubting that “Mother” is musical stirring, an emotionally powerful paean to maternal figures everywhere, hailing them as the ones to shelter when life has kicked us once too often.

And Hirsoux’s voice, expressive to the last, executes the song perfectly, even if he is a little high pitched as it begins.

But I expect that, the almost too intimate lyrics aside – he sounds like he is a singing a love song to his mother so fervent is his expressive of adoration; it’s a little too creepy for my tastes – that he will suffer from the France Effect, which is the idea that a song can be worthy, beautifully sung and yet sink without a trace.

Granted he will be facing a sea of mobile phones held aloft swaying in time to the touching melody, but that is about as far as it will go I think.

The song has more of a future as a theme for Mother’s Day ad campaigns everywhere although I suspect even there it may be a tad too, um, overly familiar, for even that particular sphere.

 

 

EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

AUSSIE! AUSSIE AUSSIE! JA! JA! JA!

Most excellent news overnight – Australia is off to Eurovision!

Not to compete alas as you have to be a fully paid up member of the European Broadcasting Union – which explains how Israel and yes even Morocco once upon a time got to compete in the contest – but we will performing as the interval act on the night of the second semi-final on Thursday 8 May.

And when I say “we”, I do not mean all 20 million of us although goodness knows that would work well especially if we all emoted in sync en masse, I mean the outstanding talent that is Jessica Mauboy, who got her start on Australian Idol in 2006, and has been chosen by Eurovision’s anointed broadcaster in Australia, SBS, to represent the country.

Keeping with the idea that you don’t need to win these contests to go on to stellar success (she finished fourth), she’s gone on to craft a highly successful R&B pop career (as well as acting up a storm), helped along by prodigious songwriting talents, the voice of a pitch perfect angel and enough personality wattage to light an arena.

Which will be handy in the B&W Hallerne, which is apparently a vast complex with an impressively large stage to match.

Mikkel Bech, Supervising Producer for the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is convinced that Jessica Mauboy is the right singer for this prestigious gig in front of 180 million people:

“Jessica is an example of what Australia is all about. Australian TV (SBS) have chosen her because she shows another side of Australia that you maybe have not heard so much about before – she reflects the ‘new’ Australia”
(source: Eurovision TV, article by Michael Storvik-Green)

Mauboy has written a song especially for the event with Ilan Kidron of the Potbelleez, an upbeat number that the artist, who is the first solo singer form outside the EU to perform at Eurovision, is convinced will make an impact, according to an article on news.com.au:

“The song speaks of ancient dreaming but I also wanted to convey a message that whatever country you represent, you have to bring that culture to the next generation. Every time I listen to it I get another layer of goosebumps, so introducing it to the world is going to be so powerful.”

 

The irrepressibly effervescent Jessica Mauboy (image via her official Facebook page)
The irrepressibly effervescent Jessica Mauboy (image via her official Facebook page)

 

Now for those of you with a reasonably good grasp of geography may well be wondering why Australia, which is quite  a way from Europe, is being invited to strut its musical stuff on the stage at the Eurovision Song Contest?

It’s largely due to the fact that Australia, which naturally includes yours truly, is absolutely mad keen for the contest, which is viewed as a gloriously kitsch (the term is used with great affection) extravaganza that is, for many people of European background in the culturally diverse nation, a key link to the countries they left behind.

It’s also been embraced by other diverse groups in society including the LGBTQI community and Generation Y, who take the opportunity that Eurovision afford to dress up, throw a party and sing along to the amazing range of songs on offer.

SBS has been instrumental in fanning the flames of enthusiasm, particularly over the last few years (they have screened the contest for over 30 years), sending presenters Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang across each year to give a peculiarly Australian perspective on the glittering song contest.

Mauboy’s inclusion on the Eurovision program then makes a great deal of sense and to mark the significance of the event, SBS will be screening a documentary Jessica Mauboy’s Road to Eurovision on Saturday 10 May just before the delayed telecast of the second semi final.

It’s an exciting development and one that confirms beyond any shadow of doubt that Australia and the Eurovision Song Contest are forever and inextricably linked.

Time to order up a big tub of green and gold glitter I think!

The Walking Dead: “Us” (S4, E15 review)

On the rails again ... on the way to Terminus with Tara, Abraham, Eugene and Rosita, Glenn stands lost in understandably pensive thought (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)
On the rails again … on the way to Terminus with Tara, Abraham, Eugene and Rosita, Glenn stands lost in understandably pensive thought (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)

 

For a series set in the zombie apocalypse, where survival must be fought for inch by inch, second by second, and there isn’t a whole lot of time for philosophical reflection – unless you’re Tara (Alanna Masterson) entering a dark walker-filled rail tunnel with Glenn (Steven Yeun), in which case break a leg (literally … well almost) and unburden yourself of some existential guilt – “Us” was one big delicious musing on the nature of community, in all its myriad forms.

If you were Glenn and Maggie (Lauren Cohen), finally reunited after an intolerably long period apart (unless you find them insufferably twee in which case, not long enough), it manifested itself in a much longed for embrace seconds after a hail of machine gun fire from the calvary made of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Maggie, Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) had laid waste to an unavoidable crush of zombies (who seem to have mindless togetherness down to a fine art).

If you were Daryl (Norman Reedus), it took the form of a non-community of isolationist redneck souls, all fighting for their own survival with a tribal ethic of “claiming” that which they wanted even if it meant another went without; and yet oddly underpinned by a philosophy that, in name at least, prized the collective over the loner.

Or if you were Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs), it expressed itself in some light hearted rail-walking competition, banter and sense of companionship hard fought for and now enjoyed for at least one perfect, happy – yes happy; Rick even smiled! – chocolate-sharing moment.

And finally, if you are Mary (Denise Crosby), the lone inhabitant it seems of the honey pot trap that is Terminus, the long walked for sanctuary that frankly is a million kinds of anxiety all wrapped in a faux-communal idyll, it’s a creepy sense of hospitality, threat and unnerving graciousness all rolled into one.

“Us” was an extended, and sometimes under-baked, pontification on whether the bonds of shared humanity stretch as far as the fractious nether regions of the apocalypse and if they are worth the effort (the answer was, on the whole, a great big smite the undead and watch each others backs YES)?

 

Daryl finds out to his surprise, followed quickly by scornful disgust, that Joe has hard and fast rules ... one of which includes yelling "CLAIM!" every time you see something you want to need (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)
Daryl finds out to his surprise, followed quickly by scornful disgust, that Joe has hard and fast rules … one of which includes yelling “CLAIM!” every time you see something you want to need (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via spoiler.tv)

 

Following the alternating pattern of the second half of season 4, which has veered between intense one or two person stories, such as last week’s emotionally searing “The Grove”, and more general character-focused narratives which leap between two or three sets of characters in the one episode, “Us” took its time following four quite disparate yet soon to be joined groups.

A great deal of attention was given to Daryl and his band of unhappy redneck Lost Boys-types, who operated by a fairly primal code of ethics that roughly revolved around the idea that if you said the word “Claim!” before anyone else, then the just-killed rabbit or automative shelter or yes, roadside strawberry, was yours.

It wasn’t elegant, and was really only designed, in the words of group leader Joe (Jeff Kober), to “stop things going all Darwin”, and frankly fostered the close bonds of community with all the same efficacy of Bubonic Plague.

Daryl was right to observe that there “is no us”, something that was refuted almost immediately by Joe, a man given to long, meaningful but ultimately empty speeches on the need for togetherness and respect, punctuated by the long words of which he seems inordinately fond, none of which took away from the truth of Daryl’s pronouncement.

Despite the cloak of community that Joe seemed obsessed in draping himself in, the group Daryl was shanghaied into was the anti-us gathering, the very antithesis of the prison group, who despite the slow coming together post Governor-inititated cataclysm, were intent on the re-establishing the ties that bind.

 

Abraham Ford is a man on a literal mission - to get Dr Eugene Porter to Washington DC to save the world - and doesn't appreciate any diversions from that well defined agenda (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via spoiler.tv)
Abraham Ford is a man on a literal mission – to get Dr Eugene Porter to Washington DC to save the world – and doesn’t appreciate any diversions from that well defined agenda (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via spoiler.tv)

 

No one was more focused on this than Glenn, who gave up his armour to Eugene, the man who supposedly knows what caused the plague (I suspect he doesn’t given his propensity for pursuing any delay tactic going) and who happily walked into an impenetrably dark railway tunnel filled to the brim as it turned out with walkers both mobile and not.

All that just to catch up to his beloved Maggie (the sheer, kid-in-a-candy-shop joy on his face when he found his wife alone should earn Steven Yeun an Emmy).

Going around would have been a hell of a lot easier, though it would have taken longer, and it was the option taken by Abraham, Rosita and the decidedly odd Eugene (still rockin’ the mullet!) who, spurred by their mission to get to Washington come hell or high water or swarming walkers, left Glenn and Tara to it and headed off to find a car to get them on their way.

As it was, it was a short lived adventure in renewed trio-dom, with the threesome no sooner having acquired a min-van from a deranged soccer mom zombie, and set off with Eugene navigating despite Rosita’s reservations – the cranky banter between these two was worth its weight in comedic gold – than they found themselves meeting up with Maggie, Sasha and Bob and saving Glenn and Tara form being the Walkers Special of the Day deep in the tunnel.

That they were the cavalry was certain, and that Abraham particularly wasn’t happy about it (his mission is everything) was made quite clear, but they saved pretty much everyone, reunited Glenn and Maggie, who deservedly swooned in each other’s arms and re-established that love sweet love can conquer anything, including the decaying see through hands (and bodies) of the undead.

The real joy was in seeing two of the scattered prison groups come together, soon to be followed we would assume by Rick, Carl and Michonne, and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Carol (Melissa McBride) and L’il Ass Kicker, Judith, although next week’s promo made it plain that the big reunion may not be without its complications and probable casualties.

 

Ah home sweet mother of hell on earth (possibly) home ... the lead group arrives at Terminus, eerily quiet, guarded in the most lax manner possible and they may, just may, be on the menu (image (c) Glen Page/AMC via tv.com)
Ah home sweet mother of hell on earth (possibly) home … the lead group arrives at Terminus, eerily quiet, guarded in the most lax manner possible and they may, just may, be on the menu (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via tv.com)

 

“Us” overall was a workman episode with some goofy happy moments in it, designed to simply get the gang, or a reasonable chunk of it, back together and have them finally arrive in Terminus, which turned out to be pretty much as creepy as I imagined it would be.

The fact that it is barely protected at all with just an unguarded gate protecting things, and a hippie commune look to it, accentuated by the only person there, Mary, who looked all kinds of welcoming and “Run away! She’s mad!” all at once.

I am not sure just how great a threat it is but if I was Maggie and Glenn and the others, I wouldn’t be letting my guard down for a second, because especially in the apocalypse, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is” isn’t simply a cliche anymore but a necessary life lesson.

You almost want to shout, Star Wars-like, that “It’s a trap!”

It certainly looks like one.

Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, and the writers did a sterling job of giving us hope and terror in one smiling package reminding us all the way along that togetherness comes in a lot of forms, not all of them beneficial or worth pursuing.

The happy and comedic – in the case of Rick, Carl and Michonne almost goofy and silly  – moments that were scattered throughout “Us” were a nice antidote to last week’s joy-crushing events and next week’s doom-laden possibilities in the finale “A”, and were neatly contrasted throughout with the grim, enforced togetherness of Joe’s mob of self-serving individuals where lighter moments were very thin on the ground.

The deeply unsettling ending, with an almost beatifically calm Mary viewing like prey would view a meal, is a potent warning that those lighter moments should be treasured because, as always in The Walking Dead, apocalyptic hell could just around the corner, or at the end of the tracks as the case may be.

*Is Terminus the lair of cannibals? The Daily Beast contemplates various theories about what the supposed sanctuary could be.

 

The poster for season 4 finale "A" implies that arriving at Terminus may not be the easiest thing in the world to achieve ... assuming you want to get there at all (image via denofgeeks.com)
The poster for season 4 finale “A” implies that arriving at Terminus may not be the easiest thing in the world to achieve … assuming you want to get there at all (image via denofgeeks.com)

 

And here is the trailer + 2 sneak peeks for The Walking Dead season 4 finale, “A” (with a creepy electronic announcement voiceover guaranteed to set your teeth on edge and your spine a-tingling) …

 

 

 

 

Oh and this week Mashable asked the question, via an infographic, of how long would you last in the zombie apocalypse?

 

The walking Dead Us Mashable infographic

So Fargo, so good: Trailers in abundance for FX’s latest offering

(image via wikipedia.org)
(image via wikipedia.org)

 

For reasons I can’t quite explain, given my lifelong predilection for all things quirky and idiosyncratic, it took me quite a while to warm to the highly imaginative ways of the Coen brothers.

I first came across them via 1987’s Raising Arizona, a film that starred Nicolas Cage  and Holly Hunter as an unorthodox married couple (he played an ex-con, she a police officer) who decide the only way they’re going to get the family they long for but can’t have naturally is to steal someone else’s child.

It set the tone for the slew of left of centre Coen brothers offerings that followed such as Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and Hudsucker’s Proxy, all of which told deeply engaging stories with a dash of the absurd or surreal to give them an edge lacking in more conventional dramas.

By that stage, I was beginning to understand why their films are so loved and yes even revered, and so when Fargo, a whimsical black comedy crime caper about one man’s quest to solve his financial problems by the most unusual of means, the staged kidnapping and ransoming of his wife, I was well and truly hooked.

 

 

Given it’s the film that finally won me over to Joel and Ethan Coen’s quirky charms, I am beyond delighted that FX is bringing a 10 episode TV series to the small screen inspired by Fargo.

Not a remake as such, it trades on the humour and absurdity of Fargo’s premise to tell the tale of “Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a downtrodden, frustrated salesman lured into trouble by mysterious drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).”
(source: indiewire.com)

It will, of course, reflect the sensibilities of the movie since the series will be executive produced by the Coen brothers who have brought on a slew of great acting talents to join Freeman and Thornton, including Oliver Platt, Bob Odenkirk and Kate Walsh.

 

 

If everyone falls in love with the left of centre charms of Fargo, and how could they not, the plan is to run the series much like True Detective and American Horror Story with the same anthology style of storytelling.

It seems to be quite a trend in TV all of a sudden and reflects the fact that it gives a narrative freedom that more conventional storytelling does not, and allows producers to bring on major stars who might baulk at a multi-year series contract.

While it might be part of an emerging trend, it looks Fargo will be its own unique, eccentric show and that will be just fine by me, you betcha.

Fargo premieres on 15 April on FX.

*Here’s a few of the many creative teaser trailers released ahead of the main trailer (above) …