Movie review: Captain America The Winter Soldier

(image via Impawards)
(image via Impawards)

 

It is rare to walk away from any of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe feeling as if you have been a part of a unique moviegoing experience.

This is not to run down those films in any substantial way since they are expertly well made, with robust scripts, thrilling, heart-stopping action. stellar casting, and a wink and a nudge of mischievous fun from time to time.

They are designed to entertain, keep audiences on the edge of their seats and tell larger than life stories you can lose yourself in and to that end, they perform exactly as you’d expect them to.

But there is this nagging sense, even in movies I have deeply enjoyed such as The Avengers Assemble or Iron Man 3, that you are watching a cookie-cutter factory in action, seamlessly and relentlessly pumping out movie after movie to an unrelenting, seemingly never ending schedule (Marvel has apparently planned its films all the way through to 2028).

The real pleasure in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the sequel to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger starring Chris Evans as the muscled-up titular hero, is that it manages for most of its running time to duck and weave around the formula to a thoroughly pleasing degree.

 

(image via Cinema Blend)
(image via Cinema Blend (c) Marvel)

 

An unexpected blend of Three Days of the Condor, which interestingly starred Robert Redford who makes an appearance in Captain America 2 as Alexander Pierce, a member of S.H.I.E.L.D’s World Security Council, and The Bourne Conspiracy, it serves a reasonably sophisticated mix Cold War thriller, post-9/11 paranoia and good old fashioned popcorn-munching action.

While it does descend into the rather predictable messy depths of the bash-’em-up, blow-’em-up finales so beloved of the superhero genre, it nevertheless keeps the tension taut throughout as Captain Rogers aka Steve Rogers goes on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D itself, unsure of who he can trust in a world he is barely getting acquainted with after 70 years in cryogenic suspension.

It’s a fair bet of course that characters like Black Widow aka Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and newly introduced friend and ally Falcon aka Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and yes of course the suave no-nonsense head of S.H.I.E.L.D. himself Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) won’t desert him completely but in the first, furious moments of his pariah status, there appear to be no real guarantees of who will come to his aide.

Much like the ’70s-style conspiracy thrillers that inspire, even if they don’t entirely or completely successfully soak into, the film’s storytelling DNA, The Winter Soldier is underpinned by a dark and nefarious conspiracy which, of course, views itself as the unquestionable answer to all of the many problems facing mankind in the second decade of the 21st century.

 

(image via Coming Soon (c) Marvel)
(image via Coming Soon (c) Marvel)

 

It will come as no surprise that Captain America, a man of unimpeachable integrity and fine moral upbringing who embodies the very essence of truth, justice and the American way (but thankfully not in any sort of intensely twee way), is innocent of all charges, but that matters little when the “bad guys”, whoever they may turn out to be, are shooting at you and your only choice is to run.

Or fly or leap out of planes or duck exploding bombs that hail down from the sky at the most inopportune moments.

And run he does, later with comrades unspecified, seeking to uncover a conspiracy so ruthless it cares little who or what it has to vanquish in pursuit of its holier-than-thou aims.

This at first nameless conspiracy finds physical form in the person of The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a hired assassin of stunning efficiency who appears to have drunk of the same bodybuilding cup as Captain American himself.

While The Winter Solider, who is strangely under-utilised in a film partly bearing his name, does not manage to best a man so befitting of his hero status that he has his very Captain America exhibition at The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, he proves a more than worthy adversary, and one with which the Captain eventually finds he has a completely unexpected connection.

 

(image via Superhero Hype)
(image via Superhero Hype (c) Marvel)

 

It is these intimate, small details, scattered through the film like Easter eggs hidden for the hunt, that lend the film, which is unquestionably a superhero action thriller in the Marvel mould despite its welcome deviations from the norm, an intelligence and substance I did not expect it to have.

Granted it squanders some of this higher level narrative goodwill when it plunges back into the almost obligatory finale fray but by and large it successfully manages to be what so many of its compatriot films are not – a multi-layered action thriller with unseen and immensely pleasing twists and turns.

While not executed completely successfully, you have to hand it to brothers Joe and Anthony Russo who have taken the relatively nuanced screenplay (relative to other Marvel films, not to cinema as a whole) by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and given us possibly the most satisfying superhero movie from Stan Lee’s studio that we have seen to date.

 

Road to Eurovision 2014: Week 6 – Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom

(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)

 

SPAIN: “Dancing in the Rain” by Ruth Lorenzo

 

Ruth Lorenzo (image (c) Josep Echaburu - RTVE, Isaac G. Sidro - © Roster SL via Eurovision.tv)
Ruth Lorenzo (image (c) Josep Echaburu – RTVE, Isaac G. Sidro – © Roster SL via Eurovision.tv)

 

Whether it’s been opera (which she began singing at the prodigiously talented age of 6, inspired by the work of Montserrat Caballé) rock, dance or even musical theatre, Ruth Lorenzo has shown an aptitude for them all, excelling at every one.

Not surprisingly it’s also led to a career as a singer/songwriter, which was given a significant boost when the one time US resident artist decided to try out for The X Factor in UK in 2008, where she was mentored by Dannii Minogue( for whom she has written songs).

She also didn’t go on the program, she told Eurovision.tv, initially intimated by the huge numbers of people with stars in their eyes seeking to try their luck the auditions for the program:

“I had to come to England to try and achieve my dreams [but] there were 22.000 people there and I was thinking ‘How the hell am I going to do this?’”

But she persisted, coming in fifth overall, and giving her a profile that allowed her to release singles in both Spain (“Burn”, June 2011) and UK (“The Night”, June 2013), as well as write the opening and closing music for Spanish TV drama Valiente.

Despite some storm-in-a-teacup controversy over her selection to sing at Eurovision, she looks to have the talent, persistence and presence (she is a fashion icon of sorts) to make a real impact at this year’s contest.

 

Eurovision Song Contest Week 6 Spain flag

 

While “Dancing in the Rain”, a pretty, emotive mid tempo ballad, isn’t the most remarkable of songs, Ruth Lorenzo’s voice more than makes up for it in spades.

It is rich, pitch perfect, soaring high and dipping down with pin point precision, an impressively adaptable instrument that she uses to powerful effect.

But what is truly amazing about Ms Lorenzo’s voice is that it isn’t just a technical marvel.

She infuses every last note of the song with raw, visceral passion, the kind you may not necessarily expect from someone who has clearly devoted as much as time as she has to honing her voice to absolute perfection.

So while I don’t think this song will take Spain to Eurovision glory, Ruth Lorenzo will nevertheless put on one hell of a performance, and will, I am fully confident, be one of the standout singers of the final (which Spain has automatic entry to).

 

 

SWEDEN: “Undo” by Sanna Nielsen

 

Sanna Nielsen (image (c) Per Kristiansen via Eurovision.tv)
Sanna Nielsen (image (c) Per Kristiansen via Eurovision.tv)

 

You have to hand it to Sanna Nielsen – she is one remarkably persistent young singer.

After six unsuccessful attempts to represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest via their national selection process Melodifestivalen – she came very close in 2008 missing out by only a few frustrating points – she finally got the nod this year with the song “Undo” (which was written by Fredrik Kempe – whose songs have won the event four times in total – and David Kreuger, Hamed “K-One” Pirouzpanah).

A major artist in Sweden, with nine albums, an almost endless number of chart-topping singles, including “Empty Room” which spent 24 weeks at #1 despite it failing to get the 2008 Eurovision gig (which went to Charlotte Perelli, who placed 18th with “Hero”) and a number of TV appearances to her credit, her choice has been a popular one.

Not least because she is a dynamic performer, a talent honed via series of TV appearance in the early 1990s and one which finds its home on stages in arenas cacophonously large and intimately small.

It will stand her in good stead on water-surrounded, LED-screen lit giant stage in Copenhagen where you are going to need the sort of performing nous Nielsen has by the truckload to make an impression.

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Sweden flag

 

Of course, what is an effervescent, powerful delivery if you don’t have the song to back you up?

Thankfully Sanna Nielsen has that covered too with “Undo” giving her the perfect platform upon which to demonstrate some serious vocal prowess.

Admittedly you could be forgiven for wondering whether it has what it takes to go the distance when it first starts, with the song failing to make it much out of idle, puttering along in very forgettable ballad territory through the long lead up verse and bridge.

But then the chorus, the undeniably goose bump-inducing chorus, kicks in and Neilsen’s voice comes into its uniquely impressive own, a thousand shades of gorgeously modulated, emotionally rich pain and regret, and you’re irretrievably sold.

Not sold enough to automatically mean a win for Sweden but frankly while the song has its drawbacks, Neilsen’s voice and stage presence does not and if she gets it right on the night (and I have every confidence she will nail it with ease), it could just hand the country an outside chance of picking up the crystal microphone Eurovision trophy, which would be fitting given the 40th anniversary of ABBA’s legendary victory at the event.

 

 

SWITZERLAND: “Hunter of Stars” by Sebalter

 

Sebalter (image (c)
SEBalter (image (c) SRF/Merly Knörle via Eurovision.tv)

 

The first thing you notice about Sebalter (real name: Sebastiano Paù-Lessi) is his impish, infectious smile.

It lends the engaging singer from Switzerland a mischievous, crowd-pleasing charisma, one that he exuberantly expressed when he won the Swiss selection process for Eurovision, and proclaimed that the chance “to be on the Eurovision Song Contest Stage is a dream come true”.

His victory is the culmination of a long and successful career, spent largely as the fiddle player for well known Swiss folk rock band The Vad Vuc, with whom he performed for 10 years from 2002-2012 before leaving to begin a solo career.

He has poured a considerable amount of effort into this move, spending a year or so honing his songwriting and recording craft and an even longer period of time coming with the sound which will be featured on his forthcoming solo album, of which the bouncy, whistle-heavy song “Hunter of Stars” is the lead single.

 

Eurovision Song Contest Switzerland flag

 

And if you’re looking to make a great first impression, not just in Switzerland but now of course Europe-wide, “Hunter of Stars” is just the song to do it with.

A fetching mix of folk, pop and rock, it is a bright, energetic song that rivals Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” for sheer joie de vivre.

Leaving aside the fact that the nonsensical lyrics, which lend the song another layer of playfulness that works for it, rush by so fast you can barely comprehend them, the whistle-heavy song plays to SEBalter’s strength for delivery effervescent, fun performances (which will no doubt have the semi final two crowd eating out of his fiddle-playing hands).

It is a level beyond the gleeful absurdity of Latvia’s entry, daring you not to get up and dance when you hear it.

It’s unlikely to garner Switzerland a win in the final, but it will be enough to get them there at least, where I expect SEBalter to make that very well thought out and bound to be unboundingly-positive vital first impression with audiences.

 

 

THE NETHERLANDS: “Calm After the Storm” by The Common Linnets

 

 

The Common Linnets (image (c) Paul Bellaart via Eurovision.tv)
The Common Linnets (image (c) Paul Bellaart via Eurovision.tv)

 

The music is everything for The Common Linnets, the coming together of musical soulmates Ilse DeLange and Waylon, two artists with a shared of country music, particularly folk, bluegrass and Americana.

Their love of a peculiarly North American music genre has naturally taken them to Nashville where the aim has been to create stripped-back songs redolent with emotion and a knack for storytelling, along the lines of their musical heroes such as Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Both of them bring a considerable amount of past industry experience to this heartfelt joint endeavour.

Isle DeLange, who hails from the eastern part of The Netherlands as does Waylon, is a popular artist of some 15 years standing, with her debut album World of Hurt clocking up five times platinum, while Waylon, who got his big break in 2008 on Holland’s Got Talent, was the first Dutchman ever signed to the prestigious, legendary Motown label.

It would seem to be a marriage made in musical heaven, a joining together of both impressive talent and even more importantly shared musical sensibilities and one that will likely see The Netherlands do quite nicely at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

 

Eurovision Song Contest The Netherlands flag

 

That is largely because “Calm After the Storm” is such a lushly beautiful track.

All simmering low slung folk and restrained but nuanced vocals, it is everything that DeLange and Waylong said they wanted their music to be, an emotive excursion into the heartland of a relationship that may or may not be failing.

It will, not of course, be to everyone’s taste but in a year where rather anodyne ballads seem to be proliferating, “Calm After the Storm” is brimming with delicately-expressed personality, a heartfelt paean to love that may soon be lost or possibly regained.

And whether this folk gem gets The Netherlands a place in the final or not – it does have some significant competition in the first semi final to be fair – it is a timely reminder that for the right artist with an authentic message and real talent, Eurovision can be the perfect launching pad for a viable, long term career.

I have no doubt that The Common Linnets will make that kind of impression, bathing not just themselves but The Netherlands in Eurovision glory, something that has been absent in the large few years of rather lacklustre entries by the country.

 

 

UKRAINE: “Tick-Tock” by Mariya Yaremchuk

 

Mariya Yaremchuk (image (c) Sergey Illin via Eurovision.tv)
Mariya Yaremchuk (image (c) Sergey Illin via Eurovision.tv)

 

When your father is Ukrainian legend, actor Nazariy Yaremchuk (who sadly passed away when Mariya was two), and you’ve been surrounded by music all your life, a career as a singer/songwriter is all but inevitable.

Not that you’re likely to find immensely-talented Mariya Yaremchuk complaining.

Taking her first steps onto the stage at the tender age of six, Mariya has shown again and again that performing is in her blood, most notably gaining fourth place in the 2012 edition of TV talent show Voice of the Country as well as placing third in an international contest targeted at young singers New Wave 2012, winning the Audience Choice Award in the process.

Unsuccessful at her first attempt in 2013 to represent Ukraine at Eurovision via the national selection process Evrobachennya 2013 – Natsionalyni vidbir, Mariya, who cites Monica Belluci, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and Madonna as influences, won through this year with the song “Tick-Tock” which the university graduate co-wrote Sandra Bjurman.

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 Week 6 Ukraine flag

 

And you can why it did so well.

It is supremely catchy, a modern, full ahead dance number that sizzles and pouts in the the most provocative yet tasteful way.

This version of the song has been substantially re-worked from its previous incarnation, which was performed in the interval at the Malta Eurovision Song Contest this year, and is all the better for it.

Gone is the somewhat desultory melody and cobbled-together lyrics of old, replaced by a song that, while not perfect, nevertheless  makes sense and looks and sounds like it would be quite at home on the charts of any country you could care to name.

That musically generic quality could also of course be its great achilles heel but that should largely be negated thanks to Mariya’s energetic vocal delivery which sinuously wraps itself around each and every word like it means business, and her gift for commanding the stage, all facets which will likely propel the song to a finals berth, where I expect its bright, fun vibe to be a welcome relief to the many ballads keeping it company this year.

 

 

UNITED KINGDOM: “Children of the Universe” by Molly Smitten-Downes

 

Molly Smitten-Downes (image (c) Nicky Johnston via Eurovision.tv)
Molly Smitten-Downes (image (c) Nicky Johnston via Eurovision.tv)

 

An accomplished pianist, Molly Smitten-Downes, who goes by the stage name of Molly, has studied hard for her rising musical career.

A graduate of both Leicester College, where she undertook the Access to Music course, and the Academy of Music in Guildford, she has shaped her raw talent to the point where she attracted the attention of one of the most famous DJs on the planet, Sash! – she sang on top 10 hit “Raindrops (Encore un Fois)” in 2008 – and the BBC which discovered her this year via their BBC Introducing program which gives unsigned artists a chance to get themselves heard on the radio.

All this recognition, and earlier chart success with Swedish producer Anders Hansson with she wrote her winning Eurovision entry “Children of the Universe”, has seen her support a slew of famous big name artists like Bombay Bicycle Club and Jake Bugg, as well bringing her to the attention of the Eurovision powers that be at the BBC, which selects the UK’s song and artist each year for the contest.

And it’s clear that being bestowed the sometimes poisoned-chalice of Britain’s Eurovision representative has the emerging artist enormously excited as she told Eurovision.tv:

“… to represent the United Kingdom in such a huge competition, not only as a singer and performer, but as a songwriter is an unbelievable honour.”

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2014 United Kingdom flag

 

But should we be as excited as Molly is about “Children of the Universe”, a song she admitted has been specifically crafted for maximum Eurovision effectiveness:

“It’s about the live performance. It’s got to have some drama, you’ve got to get that arena to feel what you’re singing about and hopefully get them on their feet or inspired somehow.”  (source: Eurovision.tv)

I’m not so sure.

While it’s mission accomplished in the sense that the song is undoubtedly “a little bit anthemic”, it all feels a bit too calculated, a little to Eurovision paint-by-numbers, a deliberate throwing of otherworldly, inspirational phrases such as the title and the rather nebulous and ultimately meaningless, “standing on the edge of time”, with music deliberately designed to evoke a particular emotional response.

Nothing wrong with that in one sense since songwriters for the contest have been doing the same thing for years.

But it results in a song that likely wouldn’t exist outside the rarefied musical vacuum of Eurovision, and certainly not one that will do much business on the modern pop charts.

It lacks personality, sparkle and frankly any sense of a robust melody or vocal presence with Molly only really coming alive in the chorus, her voice struggling to make much impact otherwise.

It is a vast improvement on Britain’s recent efforts but I don’t expect it to cover the UK in much Eurovision glory come May 10.

 

 

EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

SBS Eurovision telecast hosts Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang prime Jessica Mauboy with the almost obligatory wind machine (image via official SBS Eurovision Facebook page (c) SBS)
SBS Eurovision telecast hosts Julia Zemiro and Sam Pang prime Jessica Mauboy with the almost obligatory wind machine (image via official SBS Eurovision Facebook page (c) SBS)

 

With everyone jetting in to Copenhagen to either begin final rehearsals or report on them, SBS, Australia’s telecaster of the Eurovision Song Contest – which is a surprising national obsession of sorts with a multitude of parties and club gatherings held in its honour –  has announced that Jessica Mauboy, will be performing two songs during the second semi final interval.

The first performer from outside Europe to be given the honour of singing at Eurovision, Jessica, currently the subject of a characteristically cheeky and gleefully irreverent promo campaign by SBS, will sing her single “Never Be the Same”, which she describes as “one of the best songs I’ve ever written and another unnamed song she has written with Iian Kidron (The Potbelleez) specifically for the event.

The news was announced via tweets from radio station 2Day FM and Jessica herself, giving some detail to her much ballyhooed performance which will mark official acknowledgement of the strong links that now exist between multicultural Australia and the Eurovision Song Contest.

While the Eurovision Song Contest is a wonderful thing in and of itself, having an Aussie, especially someone as talented as Jessica Mauboy there representing Australia, is going that extra special bit of zing and sparkle!

You can catch the full rundown of the announcement at Wiwi Bloggs.

 

 

And if you’re desperate for more brilliant articles on Eurovision, make sure you head to SBS’ official Eurovision site where you can read about The Big 5: Blessing or Curse?, Wiwi Bloggs who have a host of great reviews, features and the latest news, and of course the official site at Eurovision.tv

 

 

* Yes it’s SEBalter in the shower singing the Muppets classic song “Manamana” with just the right amount of silliness and gusto …

Farewell Warehouse 13: “Secret Services” (S5, E2)

Pete and Myka are as adorable as ever in "Secret Services" (image via Warehouse 13 official site (c) syfy)
Pete and Myka are as adorable as ever in “Secret Services” (image via Warehouse 13 official site (c) syfy)

 

Pete (Eddie McClintock) and Myka (Joanne Kelly) sitting in a tree … K-I-S-S-I-N-G ??

Dear God I hope not.

It’s not that they wouldn’t make the cutest couple – although what do you give people who have pretty much everything they could want, all stored in a giant secret warehouse? Hmm, I’m thinking a LONG artefact-less vacation in the Bahamas maybe? – but their relationship has always been more of the “affectionately squabbling siblings” variety that “dirty weekend in Vegas” type and romantic coupledom would feel like a characterisation misstep.

But if last night is any indication, and I hope I am reading way too much into it, Warehouse 13‘s producers seem to be positioning everyone’s favourite dangerous artefact-chasing, world-saving, South Dakota-living partners for some sort of liaison that doesn’t involve witty banter and goofy platonic charm.

Really, really positioning them for it.

Sent to Washington D.C. to investigate the death of a man who drowns in the middle of the gym, miles away from any water – he is soon joined by a number of others, all of whom are found with salt water in their lungs – they are reunited with old friends and former Secret Service colleagues Ted Simkins (Mark Deklin) and Elise Meyer (Janet Varney), who against all rules and regs have not just fallen in love but are preparing to take the plunge in a far more permanent way.

Watching their two friends behave as, well as any married couple would with a mix of affection, banter and benign digs at each other, Myka, who at the beginning of the episode has a reasonably D & M conversation with the always disappearing Mrs Frederic (CCH Pounder) about what she plans for her life after her health scare, specifically if she wants kids (it’s as awkward and surprising as it sounds), and Pete begin to feel a little uncomfortable about whether their working relationship will go the same way.

 

Ted and Elise, Pete and Myka find themselves not just solving a weird artefact cast but wondering if working so closely as partners always leads to love and marriage? (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)
Ted and Elise, Pete and Myka find themselves not just solving a weird artefact cast but wondering if working so closely as partners always leads to love and marriage? (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)

 

It all leads naturally to some hilariously ill-at-ease conversations, as each member of Warehouse 13’s A team – sorry Claudia (Allison Scagliotti) and Steve (Aaron Ashmore) but though I love you, they are – struggling to express how they really feel about each other in the light of Myka’s recent serious health scare, try to define exactly what they mean to each other.

It’s not ’til they’re back in South Dakota, artefact safely locked away and case closed – it’s as entertaining a case as ever but perhaps proof that though I am mourning the end of the show, that there are only so many ways you can tell these artefacts used for bad and not good stories – that they get a chance to sort of kind of talk.

Alone in the bowels of the warehouse, Pete tells Myka that if she ever wants to have kids, that he would seriously – he has to stress this given how endlessly jocular he is about pretty much everything – be happy to talk about it.

It’s a sweet, touching moment, underlined by Pete’s earnestness and sincerity, and Myka’s shocked inability to offer any kind of coherent response.

I am hoping that the will they-won’t they banter of the episode was just that and that the real core of their relationship remains that of close, devoted siblings that would do anything for each other.

If that’s the case, and I desperately hope it is, then for god’s sake, Pete and Myka get out of that damn metaphorical tree will ya?!

 

Claudia and Artie dive deep into the latter's memories in the search for the truth about Claudia's long lost sister Claire (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)
Claudia and Artie dive deep into the latter’s memories in the search for the truth about Claudia’s long lost sister Claire (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)

 

Meanwhile back in South Dakota, Artie (Saul Rubinek), Claudia and Steve go travelling far from home without leaving the Warehouse, when Artie finally consents under considerable emotional pressure from a characteristically persistent Claudia to reveal the truth about her long lost sister Claire (a sister she had lost all memory of by the way).

Using an artefact, Memory Walking Baby Shoes (bronzed shoe booties on a plaque), they travel deep into Artie’s memories to relive the day that Claire, eyes sunk back in some demonic-looking possession way, began manifesting fearsome telekinetic powers that took the form of a levitating black spinning cloud of debris.

Triggered by anger, and caused naturally enough by an artefact – in this case by a music box bought at a garage sale – she becomes a destructive, spinning vortex of rage whenever she was threatened, which unfortunately for Claudia’s parents happens when they decide she needs to go away for treatment somewhere far, far away.

Claire, naturally, is having none of that and unleashes her uncontrollable telekinesis which flings the car in which her parents into a tree, killing them and leaving their now murderous daughter in a coma of sorts.

Seven year old Claudia fortunately is inside the home, aware that “something bad” has happened – but not a witness to the events until she travels into Artie’s memories with him – and certain that the music box has caused it.

She is that rare person – someone who can sense that an artefact is about and that it is bad – oddly though it’s a power that hasn’t been on display until this episode; it would’ve been handy in many past cases although admittedly a tad narratively inhibiting – and it looks like she is the one who has thrown it into the fireplace where it burns to a crisp.

 

Claire really is a piece of work and you begin to think that Claire realises why Artie has to keep her locked away. Claudia alas doesn't quite get the message, once again letting her emotions rule (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)
Claire really is a piece of work and you begin to think that Claire realises why Artie has to keep her locked away. Claudia alas doesn’t quite get the message, once again letting her emotions rule (image via Zap 2 It (c) syfy)

 

This terrible series of events, which shakes Claudia to the core, is the beginning of her close relationship with the only father she has ever known, Artie.

And it is he who, via a reluctant field trip to long suppressed memories held by both he and Claudia, who does his best to convince his surrogate daughter that she must leave well alone.

The music box’s destruction meant that Claire couldn’t be decoupled from its effects, causing her to remain in a destructive psychotic state and necessitating her being placed in an artefact-induced coma deep in yet another secret part of the seemingly limitless Warehouse 13 complex.

However, ever after seeing what her sister is capable of, and knowing what happens when you fiddle with things of which you don’t have direct experience, the final scene in “Secret Services” suggests Claudia, Warehouse 13 caretaker in waiting though she may be, is about to let her heart rule her head and set her sister free.

Uh-oh, tie down everything that could be whisked into a vortex, batten down the hatches and get ready for a new Big Bad who is permanently in a very bad, very destructive bad mood.

It all suggests a very busy, very emotionally messy end to Warehouse 13‘s fifth and final season.

* Check out the promo trailer for the next episode “A Faire to Remember” …

 

The enchantingly warped world of Sebastien Millon

(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)
(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)

 

The world needs more people with a gleefully twisted view of the universe.

No, I am not talking the need for more TV crime shows about sociopaths happily dispatching all and sundry with artistic brio and philosophical justification, although to be fair what would Dexter, The Mentalist and the entire Law and Order franchise be without them?

What I am referring to are creative types who revel in the strange and the absurd, who refuse to see life through the usual black and white lens clung to doggedly by most well-meaning members of society.

The sort of people who cock their head to one head, take a scene in of, say commuters rushing to work or a busy playground of noisy children and think to themselves that it needs “more velociraptors on unicycles”, for instance.

People like Sebastien Million, an artists based on Phoenix, Arizona who told the Phoenix New Times just that and a whole lot more whimsical, insightful delightfully unorthodox home truths in a brief 2012 profile looking at 100 of the most creative people in the western U.S. state’s capital.

As well as  a yearning for more of the now sadly-departed Cretacean dinosaurs in modern life, he revealed that he arrived in his adopted home town with “a one eyed one legged baby tyrannosaurus rex by the name of Bernard” and found his productivity operated at less than optimum when he’d been “bitch-slapped and cursed at all night long by [a] bunny.”

It was a playful introduction to this impressively talented artist who confessed in more serious tones that “I love getting to create imagery, it makes me happy and for me it functions as both work, play, and therapy all in one! And the bonus is when my imagery makes other people smile and happy smile.”

Read the full profile at the Phoenix New Times blogs.

 

(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)
(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)

 

And make no mistake about it, for all his sweet-laced lunacy, Sebastien Millon, who began his current highly-successful business of colourfully loopy T-shirts, greeting cards and prints in 2009, leading to a spot at 2011 Phoenix Fashion Week, is a man who wants to make art that matters and craft a successful living from it, as he told PHX People in a 2013 interview:

“When I was sick [he was sick with malaria-like illness for a time], I decided owning my own business was what I wanted to do, since any work I create, I own the rights. I wanted to pursue my own vision, which is a big-time luxury for any artist. I’ll do some freelance work every once in awhile, such as for “Phoenix New Times,” but it’s really not my favorite thing to do. I’d rather just own my own thing.”

He began his professional career as a painter, working full time at an art store in Chicago after graduating college in 2004 while creating artwork in his spare time but after moving to Phoenix where his family resides (they moved there from Belgium via a slew of locations when he was 12), and battling the afore-mentioned illness, decided that the art world (and society in general) needed a little more well-produced serious whimsy.

And thus his wonderfully wacky illustrations were born, drawings which feature owls, bunnies (carnivorous or otherwise), unicorns, and bears, and which draw inspiration from a mix of pop culture sources as he told PHX People:

“I’m inspired by Looney Tunes, because it’s a wacky humor with animals and really silly. I always loved Calvin and Hobbes, as well, which is sort of snarky but also really sweet and a magical world. I always had a love for that kind of stuff. For me, the creation of these characters was a way for me to escape with my health. Now, the main reason why I do it is it’s fun for me. I really like to make people smile, even if it’s a little dark sometimes. Sometimes, I feel like it’s healthy to laugh at the darkness.”

It’s that willingness to make fun of the darker sides of life, via creatures that are for the most part associated with its more and fuzzy aspects, that lend his imaginative art such an immediate, addictive appeal and makes you want to own everything he has ever produced, credit card limit overruns be damned.

 

(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)
(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)

 

That was certainly my response when I came across his material on Facebook, via a friend who was sure I would find a kindred spirit beating inside these tales of Kiwi fruit-toting Kiwi birds, owls with headphones who love “big beets” (created for a nutritional program he supports called Hip Veggies, along with charity Free Arts Arizona, which uses “uses art therapy on behalf of abused, homeless, and at-risk children”) and, fittingly given my love of North American elk, apple-juice loving moose with a keen sense of balance.

I was fascinated by an artist who was able to give voice to our darker thoughts via art that was simultaneously gut-bustingly funny and intelligently provocative in the best possible way, who could craft a beguiling mix of the silly and the serious so compelling that you would happily lose hours checking out all the various designs (he estimates he has done about 1000 to date).

Sebastien Million is a supremely talented, big-hearted, highly insightful individual who has made my life a million times better by unleashing the inner Looney Tunes character in me, reminding me and his many fans that taking a slightly more twisted view of life can be one of the most rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable things you can ever do.

(Apart from buying his cards, T-shirts, books and prints at the sites listed after the next delightful drawing.)

 

Enchatingly warped world of Sebastien Millon pic 4
(image (c) Sebastien Millon via his official Facebook page)

 

You can find so much more of Sebastien Millon’s fantastically, delightfully imaginative work at either his official site, Facebook page, his Twitter feed or his Tumblr blog.

He also maintains a store at Etsy.

The meaning of Muppet life: Fozzie the Bear and Kermit try their hand at ’70s style existential banter

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

The recent movie-driven resurgence of Jim Henson’s marvellous creations the Muppets,largely thanks to The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014), in which Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear and the the rest of the gang have jumped back into the zeitgeist in all their hilarious, madcap glory, is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the deep comic well from which sprang all the still much-loved Muppet-y zaniness.

Much of  The Muppets’ enduring popularity has to do with the inspired talent of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, two friends and colleagues who collectively gave life to characters like Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, along with Sesame Street stalwarts like Ernie, Bert and Grover, and clearly had a great deal of fun doing it while they worked together (Henson sadly passed away in 1990).

Proof of just how much fun the team behind The Muppets were having – besides the ongoing genius of Sesame Street and the five year comically-rich run of The Muppet Show – is this roughly eight minute piece of film from 1979, a camera test used to set things up for production of a scene from that year’s highly-successful  movie release The Muppet Movie.

In it, Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) and Fozzie the Bear engage in some off the cuff existential banter about life, the universe and stylised foam rubber, while the crew around them get everything set up for filming (assuming they weren’t laughing themselves silly as they took in Henson and Oz’s very funny philosophical riffing).

The footage is innately clever, very funny and helps you to understand that underneath all the zany, madcap frothy humour of The Muppets beat a ferocious intelligence, a willingness to take the mickey of any situation, and a rapid fire wit.

You appreciate once again just what an inspired creation Henson’s delightful characters are and how lucky we are that he not only gave them to us all those years ago but gave them a solid enough foundation that their appeal hasn’t waned in the years since.

(Thanks to Laughing Squid and Jason Scott for bringing this to my attention.)

 

 

You cannot erase us! Falling Skies’ action-packed sizzling new season 4 trailer

Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) is back in the fight of his life ... and it looks the nightmare really is just beginning (image via YouTube (c) TNT)
Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) is back in the fight of his life … and it looks the nightmare really is just beginning (image via YouTube (c) TNT)

 

“You have taken everything and everyone I have ever loved.”
(Anne Glass – played by Moon Bloodgood – to an unseen adversary)

There is no doubt that surviving the alien apocalypse unleashed upon the earth by the Espheni, a highly intelligent, imperialistic and cruel race from far beyond the stars, has been an exhausting, terrifying and emotionally-isolating experience for the beleaguered, hunted remnants of humanity.

We know this because over three sometimes wildly uneven seasons of Steven Spielberg’s Falling Skies, we have followed the travails and triumphs – mostly the former unfortunately – of the citizens of the 2nd Mass., a roving band of a few hundred civilians and military types who have done their determined small part to hold back the seemingly unending tide of extra terrestrial life washing up on our planet.

These plucky but worn down survivors have lost beloved family and friends, witnessed setbacks that would have stopped lesser folk in their tracks, been brain washed, harnessed (alien creatures that attack to the back of a person allowing the Espheni to control them) and manipulated into believing that  virtual realities are the real thing.

It would be enough to test anyone’s resolve to keep moving forward, and fight the good fight and you wouldn’t blame them for simply wanting to throw in the towel and call the end of a very long, brutal and bloody day.

And as this new expanded trailer, which was debuted at Wondercon recently, makes clear, that kind of thinking is running rampant among the scattered 2nd Mass., who have splintered through battles unseen in the period since season 3, into a dispersed collection of small groups, all of them under unremitting siege in one way or another.

“We’re done fighting, we’re done running. This is no way to live.”
(Pope, played by Colin Cunningham)

 

 

But hope, of course, has not completely deserted them, as is abundantly clear throughout the trailer.

In between facing off against the ever present Mechs and Skitters, and dealing with the arrival of a new race the Volm, who seem to have an agenda all of their own, people like Anne Glass, Tom Mason (Noah Wylie) and Captain Weaver (Will Patton) refuse to give up the fight.

And what an even busier, more demanding fight it is turning out to be.

The world has changed … But not all is lost … When hope remains … 

The trailer is packed full to bursting with titbits of revelation – we see Anne and her group rescuing a truck full of children, Maggie (Sarah Carter) kissing Tom’s middle son Ben (Connor Jessup), battles unending and innumerable, renewed questions about why the aliens are really here, the promise of a great battle to come and the appearance of a mysterious white-haired girl played by Scarlet Byrne (Harry Potter) who makes her identity known in the most amazing way by the end of the promotional piece.

What stands out most throughout all of this though is the fact that exhausted and brutalised and almost at the end of their tether though they may be, that the tenacious spirit of survival that so characterises humanity has not deserted them, and isn’t likely to, no matter how fearsome the odds.

The battle for earth resumes when Falling Skies returns on June 22.

 

 

And to give you a little extra insight into season 4, here’s Sarah Carter, who plays Maggie, talking about what lies ahead, at least in part, for the split apart beleaguered 2nd Mass [see above] …

My how I love these Jellyfish Eyes (movie poster + trailer)

(image via Eigapedia)
(image via Eigapedia)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jellyfish Eyes tells the story of Masashi, a young boy who moves to a sleepy town in the Japanese countryside with his mother in the wake of a natural disaster. After returning home from his new elementary school one day, Masashi discovers a flying jellyfish-like creature whom he befriends and names Kurage-bo. Masashi soon discovers that all his classmates have similarly magical pets, known as F.R.I.E.N.D.s, which are controlled by electronic devices that the children use to battle one another. Despite their playful appearances, however, these F.R.I.E.N.D.s turn out to be part of a sinister plot.  (synopsis via First Showing)

Growing up is never easy.

But it becomes exponentially harder when you’re called upon to cope with the sort of stress no child should ever have to face.

And in the case of Masashi, the young protagonist in Jellyfish Eyes, the directorial debut by talented Japanese artist, and lover of bright, vibrant colours, Takashi Murakami, which debuted at Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater in April 2013, it’s a considerable amount of stress indeed.

Forced to leave the only home he has ever known, he finds himself in a so-called “experimental city” where everyone has a F.R.I.E.N.D. of their own, who begin as cute, cuddly creatures but who over time, drawing on the angry energy of the displaced children, grow into something a tad more fearsome.

And of course all hell breaks loose as they run amuck.

As First Showing notes, this is very much a coming-of-age story, an inventive mix of Gremlins and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, which explores via a wildly imaginative story and gorgeously rendered visuals what it is like to cope with the upending of your much-cherished familiar world and the inevitable cavalcade of emotions that follows in its wake.

 

All is cute and calm and sweet until ... all havoc breaks gloriously loose (image via Japan Times)
All is cute and calm and sweet until … all havoc breaks gloriously loose (image via Japan Times)

 

And the visuals are fantastically beautiful and enchanting.

They draw on the time-honoured idea that the best way to tackle a difficult subject is to cloak in its appealingly attractive clothes – much like many Scandinavian artists who combine melancholic exploration of the business of being human with upbeat music – and if the trailer is any guide, they succeed in their task, drawing us into what looks like a magical world that hides some very dark secrets.

This “spoonful of sugar” approach works well for the film which has a passion project for Murakami and his team, and many years in the making as this excerpt from the official Jellyfish Eyes site makes clear:

“The Jellyfish Eyes project began over ten years ago as a full cg animated film but after many twists and turns, it was put on the shelf. It was only after meeting Yoshihiro Nishimura of Nishimura Eizou that it was reborn as a live action feature.”

It’s a project that gained more impetus in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on May 11, 2011 (this disaster was also touchingly and powerfully handled in the film By Your Side) as Murakami goes on to explain:

“In the wake of 3/11, the damage sustained by Japan runs deep. We must all do our best to emerge from that shadow. It will require connections among people… more to the point, it will require the instinctive ability to spot opportunity and inspire trust.”

It is a breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally poignant film that is both an astonishingly inventive work of art and the carrier of the important message that healing is possible but not without some trauma in the process.

Jellyfish Eyes, which has already enjoyed a successful run at Japanese cinemas in 2013, is gearing up for a series of screenings throughout the USA – details can be found via First Showing – although there is no mention yet of a wider release schedule in USA or Australia.

 

 

And check out this video from Nowness where Murakami explains the reaction he hopes Jellyfish Eyes will engender (among other things) …

 

Takashi Murakami: Healing Powers on Nowness.com

 

Movie review: Any Day Now

(image via Impawards)
(image via Impawards)

 

As a concept, morality would seem to fall, without equivocation, into the realm of the blindingly obvious.

Do the good, the decent, the upright thing and you are behaving in a moral fashion; indulge in behaviour that is demonstrably hurtful, cruel, malicious and you are being, quite clearly, immoral.

Unfortunately life is rarely that straightforward, a point graphically made in writer-director Travis Fine’s emotional poignant, deeply affecting Any Day Now, the story of three disparate people struggling to forge a family in the face of fairly primitively expressed ideas of what is moral and just.

In the universe inhabited by the judges, lawyers and government workers of late ’70s Los Angeles, it is far preferable, and infinitely more moral by extension, for a 14 year old Down Syndrome boy like Marco DeLeon (Isaac Leyva) to remain with his junkie, sexually profligate mother Marianna (Jamie Anne Allman) than to be placed permanently with a loving same sex couple, played by Alan Cummings (Rudy Donatello) and Garret Dillahunt (Paul Fleiger).

Despite the fact that Marco, who ends up in the care of Rudy, and his newly acquired, largely closeted boyfriend Paul after he is discovered alone by Rudy in his apartment block following his mother’s arrest, flourishes in the care of the two men, leaving him permanently with the same sex couple is largely viewed throughout the film as an act of unconscionable negligence by the authorities.

 

Paul, Marco and Rudy would seem to be the perfect family ... until you are a member of the government apparatus in late '70s Los Angeles in which they are nothing of the kind (image via Film School Rejects)
Paul, Marco and Rudy would seem to be the perfect family … until you are a member of the government apparatus in late ’70s Los Angeles in which they are nothing of the kind (image via Film School Rejects)

 

It is a system predicated on the basis that the homosexual “lifestyle” is deviant, and that anyone who comes into contact with it, especially a child of impressionable age and limited intellectual and emotional capabilities (this was an age in which disabled people were often viewed as incapable of living fully-functioning independent lives), will be forever corrupted and damaged as a result.

Hence, despite flamboyant, big-hearted ex-drag queen Rudy and more circumspect attorney Paul’s vociferous attempts to find the system in the courts, and the testament of both Marco’s teacher and his Family Services case worker that the young man has grown in the then-unorthodox couple’s care, the courts side again and again with the prevailing morality of the day.

Granted Paul and Rudy do fudge the truth on occasion, stating in the court at one point that they are cousins to avoid the too-close scrutiny of a judgemental polity, represented most obviously by Paul’s boss District Attorney Wilson (Chris Mulkey), but theirs is largely a fight borne of the idea that what is good and right will prevail over the archaically moralistic.

It is, unfortunately, a slice of Pollyannic optimism that rests more on the sense that right will prevail, against all the odds, and while it sustains both Rudy and Paul in their long uphill fight, you begin to wonder if it will be enough for them to merge on the right side of their David and Goliath battle.

 

Calm, cool, level-headed Paul and emotionally-impetuous, hot-headed Rudy make the perfect team, even if theirs is a Sisphean task with no promise of the pay off the want, which is to keep Marco in their care (image via Trespass Mag)
Calm, cool, level-headed Paul and emotionally-impetuous, hot-headed Rudy make the perfect team, even if theirs is a Sisphean task with no promise of the pay off the want, which is to keep Marco in their care (image via Trespass Mag)

 

Courtroom battles aside however, and quite a bit of time is spent in them attempting to bridge the yawning gap between the law and morality, a chasm that their lawyer Lonnie (Don Franklin) doubts can be filled not that it stops him trying with cheeky resolve to do so, the real heart of Any Day Now lies in the deep parental love that these two men have for Marco.

Finding its genesis in Rudy’s wholeheartedly selfless embrace of the young man, who he desperately wants to protect from a world that doesn’t seem to really care for him despite its protestations to the contrary, an intense caring that is entered into by Paul after only a brief pause, it is the powerful emotional centre of Fine’s surprisingly nuanced film.

It would have been extremely easy given the forces at play to paint this story in highly melodramatic terms, a titanic battle for the well-being of a child that Rudy rightly observes has suffered a great deal of abuse and neglect that he never asked for and over which he had no control, but instead Fine practises admirable restraint.

While he makes it clear on which side of the fence his sympathies lies, with the final scene an emotionally-wrenching experience that will stay with you long after the film has ended, and some points are played out a little over-obviously, he is content for the greater part to let the story of Rudy, Paul and Marco, based on a series of true events, tell itself, relying particularly on Cummings impressive ability to play both larger-than-life and heartbreakingly intimate all at once.

Both Dillahunt, who is calm at the centre of this emotional storm, and Leyva, whose smile could light up a room and comes delightfully to life dancing expressively in one scene to “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, are also impressive.

 

Appearances can be deceiving so goes the old saying but they can also be manipulated to suit a particular agenda, which Rudy discovers when his drag queen past is used to paint him in colours that owe little to the truth and quite a bit more to prejudice and twisted morality (image via The Gay UK)
Appearances can be deceiving so goes the old saying but they can also be manipulated to suit a particular agenda, which Rudy discovers when his drag queen past is used to paint him in colours that owe little to the truth and quite a bit more to prejudice and twisted morality (image via The Gay UK)

 

Fine wisely realises that though there are significant societal issues at play here, Any Day Now is essentially a tale of what happens when three disparate individuals find a home and a family with each other, one that though it may not be conventionally recognised, is exactly what each of them need, and that they decide is very much worth fighting for.

It is profoundly moving, intensely personal, and while some of the judges such as the one played by Alan Rachins are reduced to little more than cardboard cut out narrative devices, Any Day Now is, for the most part,an authentic, emotionally grounded, richly rewarding journey into the murky world where prejudice, policy and the real world meet, shining a light on one family’s attempt to demonstrate that morality make not be quite as clear cut as society often makes it out to be.

 

My 5 favourite TV show opening themes of the moment: Orphan Black, Helix, Sleepy Hollow, Portlandia, Parks and Recreation

brizzle born and bred via photopin cc
brizzle born and bred via photopin cc

 

A TV show’s opening theme music is something you either notice or you don’t, love or you loathe but either way, it can vitally important in both giving you an idea of the show to come and establishing a mood or sense of time and place.

And while they have become somewhat of an endangered species of late, squeezed into almost non-existence by the requirements of broadcast and cable networks seeking to maximise the time given over to ad revenue – think New Girl or Girls which are almost blink and you’ll miss them credits – they are not entirely dead and buried and some TV show producers continue to surprise and delight with the thought and creativity they give into their show’s opening theme.

Case in point are the five themes that follow, some of which are tied to extravagant, visually rich opening sequences, some of which are mere blips on their show’s running time but all of which have music or an sustaining idea that elevates their credits above the norm.

 

ORPHAN BLACK

 

(image via Tv Line (c) BBC America)
(image via Tv Line (c) BBC America)

 

SNAPSHOT
Sarah has always lived the life of an orphan outsider. But a clone is never alone.

Sarah hopes that cleaning out a dead woman’s bank account will solve all her problems. Instead, her problems multiply – and so does she. Experience a whole new side of BBC AMERICA with the channel’s next original scripted series, Orphan Black, the exciting and ambitious new addition to the Supernatural Saturday programming block. Orphan Black features rising star Tatiana Maslany (Cas & Dylan, Picture Day) in the lead role of Sarah, an outsider and orphan whose life changes dramatically after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looks just like her. Sarah assumes her identity, her boyfriend and her bank account. But instead of solving her problems, the street smart chameleon is thrust headlong into a kaleidoscopic mystery. She makes the dizzying discovery that she and the dead woman are clones…but are they the only ones? Sarah quickly finds herself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy and must race to find answers about who she is and how many others there are just like her. (series summary via and (c) Aceshowbiz)

This is the water cooler show to end all water cooler shows at the moment.

It’s a rarity in our increasingly fractured viewing landscape, drawing people from across all sorts of demographics and keeping them talking well after each richly-detailed, action-packed episode has aired.

And while they are more likely to be talking up a storm about the latest jaw-dropping revelation, or Tatiana Maslany’s laudatory ability to portray 10 different characters with a flawless believability, I would like to think someone somewhere is remarking on the amazing opening credits.

Drawing on some of Fringe‘s retro-artistic sensibilities, Orphan Black‘s theme presents you with a trippy kaleidoscopic melange of drug-addled biological images, a fitting reminder of the show’s central themes backed by music that alternates between frothy melancholy and darkening menace.

In one perfectly executed 41 second sequence, you are given a skillfully executed sense of the mood that pervades the show – the desperate race to undercover the truth about the vast conspiracy that has given rise to the clones of which central character Sarah Manning is one, the menacing might of powerful forces with all the knowledge and seemingly all the cards, and the lightness and banter of Felix, the much needed comic relief in a show fraught with a thousand different kinds of terror.

I love the way the theme looks, sounds and most importantly, the way it makes me feel, as if I am disappearing down a modern version of Alice in Wonderland‘s rabbit hole with no idea of when I will surface again.

 

 

HELIX

 

(image via Alien Bee)
(image via Alien Bee)

 

SNAPSHOT
Helix is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak, only to find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that holds the key to mankind’s salvation or total annihilation. (series summary via and (c) Aceshowbiz)

Now this is how you do an opening sequence.

Admittedly it’s brief, oh so brief but what they manage in a scant 10 seconds is impressive in the extreme.

First up is the cheesy ’70s retro music, a tune backed by an almost a cappella series of “Oohs” and “Aaahs” that is the perfect counterpoint to the darkness of the material in the show.

Another show centring, like Orphan Black, on the opportunities and threats posed by the unprecedented 21st century advances in genetic technology, it is seriously dark, a ride through the murkier, almost black depths of humanity’s soul with very little in the way of levity or humour.

So it is a stroke of genius to pair this overwhelmingly brutal story with music that would be more at home in an old bar somewhere in a part of town trading on its memories and days of glory past.

And having thrown that thoroughly imaginative juxtaposition of theme and music together, to finish the titles with one solitary drop of black goo falling to the floor is inordinately clever.

In one fell swoop we go from twisted Glee Club musical frivolity to a reminder that this show is about to walk into the dark places where monsters and sociopaths and the more frightening parts of the future dwell; a visual coda if you like that the music is a lulling you into a false sense of viewing security lead-in to the unrelentingly scary narrative main course.

I am beyond impressed by the work that went into this multi-layered theme, one of the most creative starts to a show I have ever seen.

 

 

 

SLEEPY HOLLOW

 

(image via Film Affinity (c) Fox)
(image via Film Affinity (c) Fox)

 

SNAPSHOT
In this modern-day twist on Washington Irving’s classic, ICHABOD CRANE (Tom Mison, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is resurrected and pulled two and a half centuries through time to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the founding fathers. Revived alongside Ichabod is the infamous Headless Horseman who is on a murderous rampage in present-day Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod quickly realizes that stopping Headless is just the beginning, as the resurrected rider is but the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and only one of the many formidable foes that Ichabod must face to protect not only Sleepy Hollow, but the world.

As Ichabod finds himself in 2013’s Sleepy Hollow, he discovers a town he no longer recognizes and grapples to understand. Teaming up with Lt. ABBIE MILLS (Nicole Beharie, 42, The Good Wife, Shame), a young cop who has her own supernatural experiences, the two embark on a mission to stop the evil that has awoken along with Ichabod and that now is seeping into this once-sleepy town.
(series summary via and (c) Aceshowbiz)

Rather fittingly for a show that delights in throwing convention to the wind, mixing in all kinds of supernatural and far more down to earth elements in a winning postmodernist formula par excellence, Sleepy Hollow‘s theme is a return to the storytelling themes of old.

While we thankfully don’t have a crooner singing the story of Ichabod Crane and Lt. Annie Mills and their battle to the apocalyptic death with the Headless Horseman, set to some sort of hillbilly country beat, we do have a series of visual vignettes that, if you’re paying attention clue you in to what lies in wait in the show.

And what awaits you is frankly magical, mystical and downright haunting, a sense of the otherworldly that is enhanced by the music which races along with minor key madness, building and building to a forbidding crescendo.

Rather more conventional than either Orphan Black or Helix, it nonetheless does a fine job in setting the mood, giving a shorthand entree to the stories to follow and reminding you that this is not going to be a conventional show in any sense of the word.

And that suits me just fine, goosebumps and spine tingling follow through all.

 

 

PORTLANDIA

 

(image via Parsicine (c) IFC)
(image via Parsicine (c) IFC)

 

SNAPSHOT
Each episode’s character-based shorts draw viewers into Portlandia, the creators’ dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland, Oregon.

Portlandia‘s inhabitants include but are not limited to: the owners of a feminist book store; a militant bike messenger; an artsy couple who attach cut-outs of birds to everything (“put a bird on it!”); an organic farmer who turns out to be a cult leader; an adult hide and seek league; and a punk rock couple negotiating a “safe word” to help govern their love life. The first episode depicts Armisen and Brownstein meeting with the Mayor of Portland (Kyle MacLachlan) who solicits the duo to write a new theme song for the city. This segment features a cameo from the real mayor of Portland (Sam Adams) playing the assistant to MacLachlan’s “mayor.” Much of the series’ original music is written and performed by Armisen and Brownstein. (series summary via and (c) Aceshowbiz)

I cannot express how much I love Portlandia‘s theme.

The work of US singer-songwriter and record producer, Ernest Green, better known as Washed Out, the music used in Portlandia‘s opening title is lifted from his song “Feel It All Around”, as lyrical a symbiosis with the trippy hippy gently satirical tone of the show as you could hope for.

It honestly feels like it was written with Portland and the delightful weirdness of the Pacific Northwest of North America, an area I adore not least because it reminds of the flower power-influenced region I grew up in on the far north coast of New South Wales in Australia.

You could quite easily place many of Portlandia‘s set pieces and quirky characters into my home region with no trouble at all, with both areas possessing a New Age-ish mind set that is ripe for affectionate lampooning, just the way Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein do it.

The song fits things so perfectly because it gives you a sense you’re about to watch a documentary of sorts, a sensation accentuated by the visuals and the following set pieces that are filmed in an amusingly faux docudrama style.

The music and visuals of Portlandia‘s titles are the consummate marriage of mood and sense of place, a fitting introduction to a show that loves where it’s set but wants to have some fun with it too.

 

 

 

PARKS AND RECREATION

 

(image via Plum Deluxe (c) NBC)
(image via Plumdeluxe (c) NBC)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department, Leslie’s office mates include Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe, Brothers and Sisters, The West Wing), a health nut who wants to live to be 150 years old, and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari, Human Giant, Scrubs), a fashion-obsessed wannabe player whose greatest dream is to own his own nightclub. Leslie’s boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman, Children’s Hospital), hates the very government he works for, and sports one of the most impressive moustaches on primetime television. Rounding out the cast are: Adam Scott (Friends with Kids, Party Down) as Leslie’s husband and former campaign manager, Ben Wyatt; Rashida Jones (Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Office) as her best friend, Ann; Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball) as shoeshine boy extraordinaire Andy Dwyer; and Aubrey Plaza (Funny People) as Andy’s wife, April, who doubles as Ron’s sullen assistant. Also starring are Retta (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as the fun-loving Donna Meagle and Jim O’Heir (Castle) as the department’s punching bag, Jerry Gergich. (series summary via and (c)  Aceshowbiz)

Ah Leslie Knope please be my best friend forever and forever!

I could happily watch this show all day every day, it’s delightful mix of brilliantly-crafted characters, absurd yet oddly believable situations, witty dialogue and benignly blistering social commentary making it quite possibly one of the best shows to ever make it to TV.

And on a network too!

One big point, of many, in its favour is the jaunty, bubblingly happy theme music which pretty much sounds like the soundtrack I’d imagine is always playing in Ms Knope’s head.

Written by Gaby Moreno and Vincent Jones, it’s been described this way by Michael Schur, one of show’s creators (along with Greg Daniels):

“It does a really good job of explaining what the town is like. (The) credits do a really good job of establishing it’s just sort of a normal, every-day town in the middle of the country.” (part of an audio commentary on the DVD release of the pilot episode )

That nails it perfectly.

It really does feel like you’re driving into a town, a happy sweet though crazily flawed town, full of welcoming people, a slice of small town Americana in which you’re going to spend some time.

Or in my case, lots and lots and LOTS of time.

 

 

* What are your favourite current TV show themes? Why do you like them?

The importance of Decoding Annie Parker (poster + trailer)

(image via Entertainment Weekly)
(image via Entertainment Weekly)

 

SNAPSHOT
Based on true events, this touching film follows a 15-year war against a cruel illness, waged on both scientific and emotional fronts by a pair of women demonstrating extreme bravery under pressure. Annie Parker (Samantha Morton) is on intimate terms with breast cancer, having watched both her mother and sister succumb to it. When she herself is diagnosed with the disease, she struggles to hold her family together, displaying a force of spirit that belies the odds. Elsewhere, geneticist Mary-Claire King (Helen Hunt) is researching the idea of an undiscovered link between DNA and cancer, a process that finds her scrambling for both funding and the support of her disbelieving colleagues. How the paths of these two women intersect is funny, irreverent, and heartwarming without the burn.

Director Steven Bernstein’s feature debut deftly balances the seriousness of the situation with the all-too-human response, finding unpredictable grace notes of beauty and wit during even the darkest of times. Featuring stellar performances by Morton, Hunt, and a first-rate supporting cast including Aaron Paul, Rashida Jones, Bradley Whitford, and Maggie Grace, Bernstein’s film pays ample tribute to one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century as well as the people forever changed in its wake. (synopsis via SIFF)

What would you do if you discovered that all the good things in your life – your health, your family, your relationship with your significant other – were all in peril, pretty much at once?

Would you fight back or simply surrender to the inevitable?

It’s an confronting question and one that most of would likely struggle to answer with any great certainty until we were in the midst of the situation in question, but Annie Parker, equipped with an irreverent and gleefully fatalistic take on life, very quickly works out what she would do, taking on this frightening change in circumstances with every last bit of wherewithall she has.

At the same time, leading geneticist Dr King is fighting a major battle of her own, which while not impinging on her own mortality, has the potential to profoundly change the way in which many women are treated for their breast cancer.

She has to fight every bit as hard as Annie Parker, both of them made of the same tenacious, never-say-die spirit (for Annie, that is literally the case) so when they meet it is a meeting of kindred spirits, the joining together of two women with an understandably vested interest in discovering the genetic mutation for breast cancer.

 

(image via Decoding Annie Parker official Facebook page)
(image via Decoding Annie Parker official Facebook page)

 

It is immensely moving by all accounts, as you’d expect, with Lisa Jey Davis having this to say about the film:

“The film stars Oscar winner Helen Hunt and Oscar nominee Samantha Morton. It also stars Aaron Paul who will shock you with his wildly different, heart warming, gut wrenching, fist clenching performance… a performance that’s a vast departure from that of Walter White‘s side kick in Breaking Bad.

Needless to say the film is phenomenal – and I’d like to see it do extremely well. One scene where Samantha Morton is dealing with her disease and subsequent treatments choked me up. All I could see was my sister in her last weeks before she succumbed to ovarian cancer. But the truth is, Samantha deserves an Oscar for her work in the film. So does the director Steven Bernstein and the editor of that scene. Wow.”

And it has become a powerful force for good, with the non-profit foundation founded by Annie Parker and Steven Bernstein, BRCA Gene Awareness, raising funds via the showing of the film in an exclusive window than ran up until 2013.

Screenings are also being organised in communities right across USA via Gathr which will work directly with the movie theatre you nominate to set up a screening as long as you promote the film to your local community and friends.

It’s an amazing, impactful way to promote awareness, made all the more impressive by the fact that Decoding Annie Parker isn’t simply a film with a message – which are usually too heavy-handed and hard to sit through, let’s be honest – but one which tells an emotionally poignant story with authenticity, truth and sensitivity into the bargain.

No word yet on when this will reach Australia – although frankly I’m so inspired that I’d like to try and do something here if I can – but there are a series of gatherings across USA which you can access via the official site for Decoding Annie Parker.

 

 

And here’s a sneak peek at this beautifully-made, vitally important film …