Seeing is believing: Heading Into the Storm

(image via Impawards)
(image via Impawards)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the span of a single day, the town of Silverton is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes. The entire town is at the mercy of the erratic and deadly cyclones, even as storm trackers predict the worst is yet to come. Most people seek shelter, while others run towards the vortex, testing how far a storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Told through the eyes and lenses of professional storm chasers, thrill-seeking amateurs, and courageous townspeople, “Into the Storm” throws you directly into the eye of the storm to experience Mother Nature at her most extreme.  (synopsis via Coming Soon)

When it first came out in 1996, Twister, starring two of my favourite actors ever Helen Hunt (The Sessions) and Bill Paxton (Big Love), had me enthralled from almost the word go.

Anchored by authentic, vigorous characters, sterling performances and a meaningful, affecting narrative, it was proof positive that you could have a disaster movie on steroids and not relinquish one iota of intelligent, compelling storytelling.

It is, and so remains, one of the best movies I have ever seen of its genre.

Quite whether Into the Storm will join it is another matter entirely.

Styled as a found footage movie, much like Chronicle or Cloverfield, it also seems to make use of all kinds of angles that would only work if you have strapped a camcorder to a cow and set it adrift into the very centre of a tornado.

In other words, as Filmonic points out, they took a little creative license with the concept:

“Bottom line, Into the Storm is a found-footage disaster movie, but not quite. Chronicle stretched the found-footage thing to the limit, by using absolutely every possible camera around to show what was happening at any given time. Into the Storm seems to be doing a similar thing, but then we have shots that make no sense for a found-footage movie. If you’re gonna break your rule and use wide shots to show the big setpiece moments, might as well drop the entire found-footage thing, right? But then Twister meets Cloverfield was probably their elevator pitch, so I guess that’s what they sort of delivered.”

 

A simple rain shower soon becomes something far more terrifying (image via YouTube (c) Warner Bros)
A simple rain shower soon becomes something far more terrifying (image via YouTube (c) Warner Bros)

 

But then what disaster movie doesn’t tinker with the pretty much everything, including the laws of physics, for dramatic affect?

What intrigues me about Into the Storm, despite its syfy schlock, disaster-of-the-week movie feel, is that it comes along when the ramifications of a global warming such as ever more extreme weather events are becoming ever more prevalent.

And while the trailer may suggest a slightly overwrought, almost melodramatic feel to proceedings as Richard Armitage’s (The Hobbit) school teacher and Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) intrepid stormchaser do their best in the midst of a monster tornado to find the former’s missing son, it does an awesomely good job of showing nature as it’s royally pissed off finest, a reminder that we live on this earth only at the whim of Mother Nature.

Watching school hallways being ripped terrifyingly apart while teachers and students shelter within, whole airport’s worth of planes being swept up into the sky and people by the dozen fleeing a storm’s wrath barely ahead of its vengeful fury is gripping stuff indeed, an unnerving sign of things to come possibly (although I sure as hell hope not), all hopefully be matched by performances of equally impressive calibre.

It’s hard to say how good a narrative accompanies all this Michael Bay-esque action, or how strong the characterisations are, since the trailer focuses heavily, understandably so, on the tornados and their destructive effects, but if they have managed to keep all things balanced, we may have a successor to Twister on our hands, one that entertains as much as it alarms.

Into the Storm twists its way into theatres in USA on 8 August 2014 and Australia on 4 September. 

 

You want The Walking Dead to have an ’80s sitcom-style intro? You got it!

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

How much do I love The Wil Wheaton Project?

Quite a bit, and I would like it a whole lot more if syfy Australia could find a way to begin screening it in Down Under.

Until that happens though, I will be content with these gems that keep dropping from the hand of the man syfy describes, quite justifiably, as a “champion of geek culture”, who knows and loves sci-pop culture inside and out, and can speak to it with inventiveness and wit.

In this instance, he has turned to his attention to The Walking Dead, a show that you’d agree is about as far as you can get from being a warm and rosy Full House-esque ’80s sitcom.

Which is precisely why he asked the people who wrote the jingles for the ’80s sitcoms to try their hand at crafting a cheery opening tune for The Walking Dead that deftly and cheerfully tells the story of this apocalyptic show.

And the result is a gem, a classic contrast between dark, gritty narrative and upbeat yet honest theme song that gets you in the precisely the kind of mood you’d need to be in to face the end of the world.

 

Hijacking a soul: The chilling premise of BBC America’s new TV series Intruders

(image via BBC America)
(image via and (c) BBC America)

 

SNAPSHOT
The series is about a secret society devoted to chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others.

Jack Whelan (John Simm), a former LAPD cop with a troubled and violent history, finds the quiet idyllic life he has crafted with his wife, Amy (Mira Sorvino) shattered when she goes missing. While Jack is consumed with an investigation, which threatens his very core, a sinister agent named Richard Shepherd (James Frain) is embarking on a series of lethal executions. Meanwhile, a distraught little girl named Madison (Millie Brown) runs away from home into a world of danger. (synopsis via BBC America/Intruders official site)

The dead are at it again.

No longer content to stay in their coffins six feet underground, they’re resurrecting themselves as flesh-eating zombies who may or may not find wholeness again (The Walking Dead, In the Flesh), vengeful spirit beings with one foot in the physical world (The Fades), returning in haunting corporeal and conscious form (Les Revenents/The Returned) or the case of BBC America’s upcoming series, Intruders, taking over the body of another still-living person whose soul is unceremoniously shoved aside into chilling oblivion.

Based on the book The Intruders by Marshall Smith, and executive produced by Glen Morgan (The X-Files), Intruders is the latest tantalising original series from BBC America, which has enjoyed considerable success with Orphan Black which has just finished a stunningly successful, gripping second season.

Intruders, echoing themes from Orphan Black, is all about the ultimate theft of identity as an arrogantly entitled secrecy society decides that they and they alone should live again at the expense of the living, an act of coldblooded thievery that cannot be countenanced, a sentiment echoed by a radio announcer in the trailer who says “This life, it’s ours, not theirs”.

The race to stop this well-organised life beyond death cabal looks like being tense and intriguing with all the drama you would expect:

“A contemporary, chilling, paranormal tale set in the moody Pacific Northwest, the series spins a fascinating and complex web of drama. As strange, apparently unrelated events start happening, multiple story lines—a missing wife, an assassin covering his crimes, a child on the run—begin to intertwine to reveal a conspiracy that will forever change our understanding of human nature.” (source: official BBC America/Intruders site)

Intruders premieres on BBC America on August 23 at 10pm.

 

HOME! is where Boov are … and you WILL like it greatly (new trailer)

(image via the official The Boov Facebook page)
(image via the official The Boov Facebook page)

 

SNAPSHOT
When Earth is taken over by the overly-confident Boov, an alien race in search of a new place to call home, all humans are promptly relocated, while all Boov get busy reorganizing the planet. But when one resourceful girl, Tip (Rihanna, who also contributes a song) manages to avoid capture, she finds herself the accidental accomplice of a banished Boov named Oh (Jim Parsons). The two fugitives realize there’s a lot more at stake than intergalactic relations as they embark on the road trip of a lifetime.  (synopsis via Coming Soon)

I think I have died and gone to animation heaven.

And it’s name is HOME, Dreamworks’ March 2015 release, which is packed full of so much quirky, quip-laden home that is genuinely ROFL funny that you will likely find yourself laughing so hard that people will look strangely at you on public transport, in the office or at home (where let’s face it, getting looked at strangely is part and parcel of living) … or suggest you get medication stat.

Do not listen to them for what you are experiencing is utterly sublime enjoyment of a parody of the archetypal alien invasion movie so gloriously, loopily over the top that you will still be chortling to yourself when the next gag rolls around.

Both the just-released official first trailer – thanks to my awesome Triberr tribe mate  Two Kids and a Coupon for alerting me to this gem; the bill for cleaning the clothes I have spilled food onto mid-laugh is on its way! – and the introduction to the film called Almost Home, released in March this year are so cleverly and joyously written that you can’t help but smile then giggle then laugh like a freakin’ loon on helium.

 

(image via official The Boov Facebook page)
(image via official The Boov Facebook page)

 

It’s not surprising that it’s so crazy funny since it is based on Alan Rex’s equally hilarious book The True Meaning of Smekday, which takes the traditional idea of aliens coming to take our real estate thank you very much, and turns it on its heads to greatly comical effect.

Directed by Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge), and and featuring the voices of Jim Parsons as the Boov outcast Oh (the origin of his name is crack-you-up funny all by itself), Rihanna as Tip, and Steve Martin as the inept but vainglorious Captain Smek, HOME, on trailers alone, looks to be everything you could want in an inspired, clever animated movie.

It will likely have both adults and children laughing in equal measure, all of whom will likely want to break out into silly grins and giggles at the very remembrance of the film, so if you see them on a bus or walking on the street, be kind to them for they have been Boov’d.

HOME opens in USA March 2, 2015.

 

 

The search for a new home is captured perfectly in the Almost Home featurette where the Boov, after fleeing form planets with laser squids and carnivorous unicorns, comes across the only apparently non-threatening planet in the solar system – Earth (“Terrible name; sounds like I have a hairball.”)

 

 

Falling Skies: “Ghost in the Machine” (S4, E1 review)

The 2nd Mass. is once again attacked from above by the Espheni, setting in train a violent splitting apart of the plucky troop that will prove difficult to overcome (image via Spoiler TV (c) TNT)
The 2nd Mass. is once again attacked from above by the Espheni, setting in train a violent splitting apart of the plucky troop that will prove difficult to overcome (image via Spoiler TV (c) TNT)

 

BOOM!

That shockingly loud sound you hear is TNT’s Falling Skies taking a turn for the darker, tilting, nay falling with breakneck speed towards storylines so gritty and apocalyptic that it finally feels like you are in the midst of a good, honest-to-God, full-blown catastrophic alien invasion.

Gone are The Happy Masons and the Whistling Souls of the 2nd Mass. of seasons 2 and 3, replaced, in a chaotic, bloody battle that happens within minutes of the start of the episode, by a series of grim, besieged and almost overwhelmed splinter groups of survivors for whom long languid horse rides through the countryside and relaxing if rowdy nights at Pope’s makeshift Charleston HQ bar are a distant thing of the past.

In their place are laser-fenced ghettos, in which food and the basic necessities of life are scarce to non-existent, a Darwinian battle of the fittest, or in the case of John Pope (Colin Cunningham), the most conniving and selfish – he manages to assemble a cosy den replete with generator, couch and black and white TV showing Gilligan’s Island – from which escape seems damn near impossible.

 

Matt Mason holds his tongue and bides his time as other less temperate kids lose their cool and refuse to toe the Espheni line (image via Science Fiction.com (c) TNT)
Matt Mason holds his tongue and bides his time as other less temperate kids lose their cool and refuse to toe the Espheni line (image via Science Fiction.com (c) TNT)

 

Or grim, Nazi-inspired re-education camps in which the young of planet Earth, including a quietly rebellious Matt Mason (Maxim Knight), no longer harnessed, dress in paramilitary khaki and recite endless empty propaganda spiels that praise the goodness of the Espheni and the new era of harmony, cooperation and advancement that beckons if only human will buckle down and forgot this whole resistance nonsense.

Both are chilled to the bone creepy in their own ways, a sign that the Espheni have foregone the shock-and-awe tactics of the first few years of the invasion, which let’s be honest have not produced the desired outcomes, in favour of more covert, psychological practices designed to slow wear the human race till they are yet another subservient member group of a imperialist galactic empire that seems more intent on genocide than the advertised peace, love and mung beans of blissful togetherness.

Not everyone is ensnared in their twisted PR web or caught in brutalist camps with an angry and vengeful Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood), determined to track down MIA hybrid daughter Lexi (Erika Forest/Scarlett Byrne), leading an exhausted group of fighters including Anthony (Mpho Koaho) and Deni (Megan Danso) and engaging in ye good old guerrilla tactics.

 

Alexis "Lexi" Glass-Mason is all grown up now and despite the flowery words and beatific countenance creepy as all get out (image via TV.com (c) TNT)
Alexis “Lexi” Glass-Mason is all grown up now and despite the flowery words and beatific countenance creepy as all get out (image via TV.com (c) TNT)

 

The odds of Anne recognising her daughter though, should she stumble across her and there’s a fair bet she eventually will, are minimal with Lexi changed in the four months between the original battle and the present day into a grown up blond-haired steely-eyed sweet-mouthed cult leader of sorts, a far cry from the child her mother once knew.

She is running a Utopian hippie colony of sorts, smack bang in the middle of a ruined city, an oasis of calm seemingly untouched by the genocidal war being waged just outside its walls.

Into this bizarre blip of peace and tranquility in a radar filled with threats of death and destruction has fallen Ben Mason (Connor Jessup), Maggie (Sarah Carter) and Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel), the latter two convinced that everything Lexi claims to be true is exactly true – the honest to goodness, cross my heart and swear to collude possibly with the alien enemy truth.

Ben isn’t so sure and frankly I’d put my money on his intuition which in this case is spot on and ringing alarms the size of Texas if anyone cares to listen.

No one will of course, and so it’s up to Tom (Noah Wylie), son Hal (Drew Roy), Tector (Ryan Robbins) and a mentally worse for wear Dan Weaver (Will Patton), missing daughter Jeanne (Laci J Mailey) and reasonable chunk of his sanity initially, to attempt to try and save the day.

 

Supposedly trapped in his cell scratching the Gettysburg Address into the chalky walls, Tom is in fact The Ghost, a symbol of ballsy, motorcycle-riding resistance who ventures out each night to collect intel and hopefully free the ghetto's inhabitants (image via The Insightful Panda (c) TNT)
Supposedly trapped in his cell scratching the Gettysburg Address into the chalky walls, Tom is in fact the Ghost, a symbol of ballsy, motorcycle-riding resistance who ventures out each night to collect intel and hopefully free the ghetto’s inhabitants (image via The Insightful Panda (c) TNT)

 

Tom naturally is the epicentre of this effort, sneaking out of his isolation cell (really just a decaying room in a dilapidated apartment building) in full head scarf and sunglasses disguise as a fair apocalyptic approximation of the Ghost Rider – everyone including Pope gives him a wide berth so fearsome is his reputation, one borne of Skitter taunting on a nightly basis as he rides around the ghetto compound – as he probes the defenses of their prison.

He hasn’t quite figured out how to escape just yet, nor have Hal or Tector been able to successfully short circuit the vivid- green crackling laser fence, a sign that the easy victories of the past are a thing of the past.

And that my friends is what made this first episode of season 4 just a thrilling delight.

The 2nd Mass weren’t simply scattered to the four winds, they were, a minor success or two aside, largely without an adequate response to the overwhelming presence of the Espheni who seem to have dug into their freaky weapon arsenal for giant crustacean-shaped ships that circle constantly above the camps, with a flying version of the Skitters diving down from time to time to grab another human victim.

 

Tom may be secretly taking it to the Espheni and have retained his confidence that humanity will prevail but in keeping with the new darker tone of season 4, the Espheni are going to make it as difficult as possible for him or anyone else to succeed in their mission (image via TV.com (c) TNT)
Tom may be secretly taking it to the Espheni and have retained his confidence that humanity will prevail but in keeping with the new darker tone of season 4, the Espheni are going to make it as difficult as possible for him or anyone else to succeed in their mission (image via TV.com (c) TNT)

 

In one fell swoop, the writers, and new showrunner David Eick (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, meaty, grim shows both) have transformed the happy-go-lucky the world of Falling Skies into one lived in the nightmarishly dark shadows, where a simple jingoistic confidence that “We will win!” is no longer enough.

Far from it in fact.

Taking Star Wars: The Empires Strikes Back as his template, Eick has rent the 2nd Mass. asunder, torn down its cosy certainties, plunging every last man, woman and child into exactly the sort of horrific situations they should have been facing long ago.

It has reversed in one episode the palpable sense that Falling Skies had lost its way in season 3, giving the show a robust, gritty feel lacking previously.

Why even the Volm – Cochise (Doug Jones) makes a brief appearance outside the ghetto’s perimeter fence to talk to Tom – last season’s Big Alien Hope are of little to no use, reduced to a guerilla-like presence around the Earth, their force away fighting other battles against the Espheni.

In short, there is no magic bullet, no easy solution, the obstacles are many and the options so very few, and while Tom and the others haven’t given up hope completely, it’s obvious that the battle to win back the Earth is no longer the optimistic walk in the park it appeared to be but one or two episodes ago.

And with that one single but profound change, Falling Skies is a show re-born and transformed.

Bring on the rest of the season and don’t lost your nerve Mr Eick – it’s paying huge dividends already.

* Here’s the thrilling promo for next week’s episode “The Eye” …

 

Now this is music: 5 great songs I discovered via In the Flesh (season 2)

Life is hard. Death isn't any easier ... and In the Flesh has the perfect music to accompany this unpalatable existential truth (image via SciFiNow (c) BBC)
Life is hard. Death isn’t any easier … and In the Flesh has the perfect music to accompany this unpalatable existential truth (image via SciFiNow (c) BBC)

 

One of the most gripping, fresh-voiced and emotionally authentic shows to have emerged in the arguably crowded zombie genre in the last couple of years has been BBC3’s In the Flesh, a series that looks at the way in which society reacts when the undead apocalypse, known in this case as The Rising (of everyone who died in 2009), is able to be stopped in its tracks via a miracle medical cure that returns human consciousness to the zombies, leaving everyone to deal with the messy aftermath.

With the newly-christened survivors of Partially Deceased Syndrome – a spot-on piece of bureaucratese used to describe the rehabilitated undead that is pilloried to great effect throughout the first two seasons of the show, usually by the ex-zombies themselves – integrated back into society after a fashion on a strict regime of daily drug injections (to prevent them reverting to their pejorative “Rotter” state), and skin-tone makeup and contact lenses to make them look like the living, society begins to fracture in predictable, and highly-disruptive ways.

While the families of the restored undead struggle to deal with the re-appearance of friends and family members they had long ago grieved, the PDS survivors themselves, unsure of where they belong in a world that doesn’t seem to want them for the most part, grapple with what it means to be “alive” again.

 

 

If trying to find a sense of purpose, and dealing with memories of the atrocities they committed isn’t enough, the PDS sufferers, whose story is largely told through Keiren or “Kier” Walker, and his fellow PDS comrades in the fictional village of Roarton (filmed in Marsden, West Yorkshire) must also grapple with prejudice from the ill-informed and fearful, many of whom cannot adapt, or don’t want to adapt to this brave new world and fracturing into tribal groups like the Undead Liberation Army (pro-PDS quasi-religious movement) and Victus (anti-PDS extremist political party).

As you might expect from a show of such narrative intensity, In the Flesh, while an eminently watchable, startlingly insightful look at how society handles cataclysmic unending of the status quo is hardly a giddy walk in the walk, its grimly realistic, emotionally raw tone only livened by an unexpected romance of friendship here, or a bright and vivacious personality there.

And the music selected for it reflects that, tending naturally to the sombre, the quiet, the reflective, the hauntingly beautiful, and introducing me, in the scenes in which the songs were used, usually at the end of an episode, to artists with that rare gift for wearing their hearts on their sleeves and making compelling music while they do so.

Here are five that particularly resonated with me and which stay with me still …

 

EPISODE 1 : 

“10am Gare Du Nord” by Keaton Henson

 

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

I first came across the delicate, emotionally-rich music of Keaton Henson when I was watching The Blacklist.

I was immediately transfixed by his beautifully fragile voice which seemed wholly capable of expressing the most heartrending emotions in ways that rang true on so many levels.

Here was an artist, and he is an artist in the truest sense of the word expressing his creativity via music, poetry and visual art, who could seemingly tap into the very innermost depths of the human soul, and express in a way that was accessible and authentic, that made sense to anyone with a beating heart and modicum of self-awareness.

“10am Gare Du Nord” is a perfect example of the multi-layered musicality and lyricism that Henson brings to his music, replete with aching sadness but also profound love and commitment that takes your breath away.

And please do not hurt me, love,
I am a fragile one, and you are the white in my eyes
Please do not break my heart,
I think it’s had enough pain to last the rest of my life

It is used at the end of an episode where Kieren (Luke Newberry), optimistic where so many of his fellow PDS survivors are cynical or downright bellicose, and convinced that he can last long enough working at the Roarton pub to save enough money to escape to Paris, finally has to admit to himself that he is no longer welcome in the harshly judgmental surrounds of his home town.

Caught up in a maelstrom of emotions, he makes plans to leave town immediately, determined to put as much as distance as he can between himself and the  many bigoted citizens who make his life hell, and to realise his dreams of a life that means something.

It captures his anguish, pain and the conflicting back and forth of hope and grief that is coursing through his veins so perfectly that you can convince yourself that Henson wrote the song especially for the episode.

 

 

EPISODE 2

“Never Play” by Emily and the Woods

 

(Image via Last FM)
(Image via Last FM)

 

Describing her non-genre specific guitar-driven folk-ish sound in an interview with Secret Shop Sound as “Future Beat”, London-based Emily Wood who plays as Emily and the Woods along with Dave Bush, Benedict Wood and Sam Brown – “My name is Emily Wood and my family, who I have always played music with (including my brother who is in the band) are ‘The Woods’… So, it makes a certain sense!” – makes music of uncommon, soul-stirring beauty.

Anchored by a voice both winsome and strong, her songs feel like poetry set to music, her take on the world reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s ability to look at the dark and light realities of life and render them in ways that strike a chord and make you smile or sink into soft but wistful melancholia as the case may be.

In concert, they tend towards a more robust sound, makes use of drums, electronic samples and even some jazz samples, but their music in its purely recorded form is lighter and softer, burnished by soft musical hues and influenced by artists as diverse as Little Dragon and Erykah Badu.

Never play by the river, you might tumble in and drown,
Never play by the field, get filthy, dirty and brown,
Never play by yourself, it’s a danger to be alone,
Never stray too far away, it’s not safe outside of home.

I didn’t ask to be born,
And I don’t think I’ll ask to die.
I didn’t ask for the ground beneath my feet,
I d
idn’t ask for the sky.
All that I really ask of you,
All that I ask, my darling,
Is that you stay here with me.

“Never Play”, both musically and lyrically links up with the prevailing themes of “In the Flesh” to an almost heart-stopping degree.

Kieren and his PDS friends Amy (Emily Bevan) and Simon (Emmett Scanlan) are pushed from pillar to post by people, both for and against them, who have firm ideas on what they should and shouldn’t do.

Treated as children, or worse leprous outcasts, their choices are often circumscribed by forces beyond their control such as local Victus politician Maxine’s  (Wumni Mosaku) “Give Back’ program which treats the PDS survivors as Guilty with a capital “G”, forever indebted and beholding to the society they threatened with such apocalyptic ferocity.

All they want to do though is feel like they belong again to someone or something, a sentiment encapsulated with elegant emotional beauty and nuance by Emily and the Woods evocative ode to simply wanting to be loved and to belong.

 

 

EPISODE 3

“Beekeeper” by Keaton Henson

 

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

Back with Keaton Henson, who frankly should be re-named Mr In the Flesh so often do his extraordinarily gorgeous and perfectly suited songs pop up in the series, whose song “Beekeeper” is used as the rear musical bookend to an episode where relationships re-form in new configurations, expectations are tested and people are forced to come face to face with some uncomfortable truth and the consequences of ill-advised actions.

You all say I’ve crossed a line,
But the sad fact is I’ve lost my mind
You all say I’ve crossed a line,
But the sad fact is I’ve lost my mind

And I’m just getting started, let me offend
The devil’s got nothing on me my friend
All I want is to be left alone
Tact from me is like blood from a stone

A song that moves between hushed contemplation and a more vibrant, dramatically full-on chorus, it zeroes in on the isolation felt by all the characters in In the Flesh, struggling as they are with knowing where they belong and who they belong there with, and what effect their actions will have on either of those two issues finding some form of liveable resolution.

It’s not the time for timid or fey declarations of love, anger or any other emotion and the way Henson veers between the retiring and the robust reflects the theme of this episode in a way I suspect few other songs could.

 

 

EPISODE 5

“Polar Winter” by Sam Kills Two

 

(image via official Sam Kills Two Facebook page)
(image via official Sam Kills Two Facebook page)

 

Brits Fred Bjorkvall (guitar,vocals), Geoff Gamlen (lead guitar,piano,backing vocals), Matt Bell (drums, percussion) and Jay Rigby (bass, guitar) certainly have an affinity with writing for the resurrected dead, given they have now gone their separate ways with Bjorkvall rather appropriately moving on to new project Som Vinter.

While there is no suggestion that Sam Kills Two is coming back to life anytime soon if ever, their music is going to live on, suffused as it is with a delicate contemplative sensibility which finds expression in a softly raw folk rock sound that lends itself to shows like In the Flesh where life is rarely as predictable or kind as you might like it to be.

“Polar Winter” is a fine, nuanced example of their painstakingly-wrought art with its whisper-quiet, almost mournful vocals and guitar-led folk folding perfectly into the penultimate episode of In the Flesh‘s second season.

It’s an episode where tension is building as Kieren is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Simon struggles with a mission from the ULA he does not want to complete, and Amy finds herself coming back to life against all odds, meaning that everyone has a great deal on their minds.

Sam Kills Two augment this deeply unsettled but introspective mood well, adding another layer of tangled emotions to a storyline already complicated by all manner of difficult situations, their music a lullaby of heartfelt raw emotions and frighteningly deep thinking, quite in keeping with the fraught journeys the three main characters are on.

 

 

EPISODE 6

“You” by Keaton Henson

 

(image by YouTube)
(image by YouTube)

 

Once more to the undead well with Mr Henson, who this time channels the visceral bleakness of grief in a way that can’t help but powerfully impact you.

A wholly unexpected death, leaves everyone reeling in a world that wasn’t exactly warm, welcoming or hospitable to begin with.

The cruelty of the death in question is not simply that a beloved person has died; it’s that they died on the cusp of a brand new thrilling slate of possibilities – new life, new love, a renewal of hitherto denied hope.

And you want to grieve with them, as you should with any well-wrought characters you have spent time with.

If the writers are doing their job well, and the scribes of In the Flesh excel at every narrative turn, then you will mourn as deeply as if this person was real, and “You” is admirably suited to the task, its desolate, bleak intro and Henson’s eggshell-fragile vocals an evocative distillation of the pain being felt.

If you must leave,
Leave as though fire burns under your feet
If you must speak,
Speak every word as though it were unique
If you must die, sweetheart
Die knowing your life was my life’s best part
And if you must die,
Remember your life

It’s a palpable musical expression of the grief that shrouds the end of season 2 which swirls around the acts of valiant love and sacrificial nobility that are also present in an episode that is not without its positive, uplifting moments.

But it is ultimately a story of grief and another painful new beginning and the emotions-on-a-tightrope sound of “You” captures this with a pain as beautiful as it is raw and unfathomable, a fitting musical benediction to six episodes of rich, compelling and all too human drama.

 

 

Can’t wait to see: Listen Up Philip

(image via YouTube)
(image via YouTube)

 

SNAPSHOT
Anger rages in Philip (Jason Schwartzman) as he awaits the publication of his second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce) offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

I like to immerse myself in indie movies that take a long, hard look at the human condition.

That may be a reasonably unpopular thing to do among general moviegoers in this age of big, bright shiny blockbusters, many of which I should add I also enjoy, but there’s something weirdly cathartic about watching the pain, joy and disappointed ambivalence of someone else’s life consume your attention for a couple of hours or so.

I don’t mind if they’re searingly intense, gleeful comedic, or a wickedly clever mix of the two, set in a one room apartment or roaming across Brooklyn or small town America, equipped with a definitive ending or as oblique close to proceedings, as long as the script is sharp, the observations keen and the characters are demonstrably flawed and human and hence eminently relatable (to anyone even moderately self-aware).

Listen Up Philip, which premiered at Sundance in January, the third film from highly talented writer-director Alex Ross Perry, seems to tick a lot of those boxes according to a review in Variety by Scott Foundas:

“So rueful and wise is writer-director Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip about artistic ambition, youthful arrogance and middle-aged regrets, it comes as a shock to discover that Perry himself is not yet even 30. That gives this remarkably achieved feature a precocity nearly equal to that of the prodigal fiction writer who rests at its center, honing his craft at the expense of any and all meaningful relationships in his life. It’s a familiar tale, but one told by Perry with immense filmmaking verve and novelistic flourish, and acted by an exceptional ensemble cast. Philip won’t curry much favor with those critics and auds who routinely castigate the Coen brothers and Noah Baumbach for their dearth of “likable” characters, but those with slightly more jaundiced eyes will feel right at home. By any measure, the pic formally announces Perry as one of the most promising young talents on the indie scene.”

Frankly the lack of a likeable protagonist who leaves a trail of destruction in his narcissistic wake almost makes it more appealing, especially one who fails, as Foundas points out, to see the error of his ways.

That’s because none of us ever lives as perfectly as we want to, and while we may not be as extreme as Philip who is after all supremely unlikable for a reason – though Elizabeth Moss points out in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that that doesn’t make Philip unwatchable since while Schwartzman “doesn’t try to make them likeable … there’s something about the way he is that makes you just want to watch him. You’re interested in what his character’s doing even if he’s being an asshole.” – we’re all fallible to one degree or another and I find it refreshing to see that reflected on the screen.

It will be fascinating to see just how fallible and watchable Philip really is when the film, now signed to Tribeca Films for North American release, opens to wider audiences on October 17 in USA with video-on-demand to follow on October 21.

 

 

Planning some TV binge-watching? Check this handy chart out first!

(image (c) Neilsen via Huffing Post)
(image (c) Neilsen via Huffing Post)

 

In case you hadn’t noticed – in which case you are an astoundingly well-organised person of almost savant-like powers who is completely up to date in all things; I may just have to worship you once I finish season 6 of Dexter and season 8 of Supernatural and … – binge-watching of TV shows is now A THING.

A very big and ever growing THING.

Given life by new digital mobile technologies which mean that people are no longer limited to watching a show on the night it is telecast – in the case of streaming service Netflix, which releases shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black in whole seasons at once, they’re not even broadcast in the old sense anymore – binge-watching has become the chosen way for people to catch up on shows they have missed, in many cases, multiple seasons at once.

But binge-watching is not something that you should embark on lightly.

Well I mean of course everyone does but by lightly skipping into 7 seasons in one go of The Big Bang Theory, you run the very real risk that you will forget basic hygiene skills, your now fore-closed house will revert to a jungly mass of thorny bushes and they will need to send search parties in pith helmets through the vortex of mouldy food, unread mail and unwashed clothes to find you.

Sure it sounds rugged and survival of the fittest-esque but is this really the way you want to go out?

I thought not.

So to avoid you and those you hold dearest descending into an unwashed Chernobyl-like nightmare of post-apocalyptic proportions, the good folks at Neilsen via Huffington Post have prepared a handy dandy chart of viewing times for the shows that most people find themselves binge-watching till their eyes fall out of their heads and are nibbled by hordes of rats even the Pied Piper would blanch at approaching.

All you need to do is check the chart, find how long a show’s seasons will take to watch and you can safely plan how many jumbo packs of crisps and gallons of cask wine you will need to see you through.

You will be happier, and the world will thank you for removing the risk of epidemic and suffocatingly-bad BO spreading outwards from your binge watch saturated humble abode.

* Yes I have featured it before but every article that even remotely mentions binge-watching must feature this hilarious clip from the inspired people at Portlandia …

 

 

Defiance: “The Opposite of Hallelujah” (season 2 premiere review)

The core cast of Defiance season 2 (image via IGN (c) syfy)
The core cast of Defiance season 2 (image via IGN (c) syfy)

 

Defiance as a premise is everything my eternally sci-fi loving heart loves in a show.

It’s post-apocalyptic – that’s what happens when an invading collective of seven alien races arrives to take Earth as their own following the annihilation of their own system, goes to war with humanity and oops-a-daisy, accidentally partially terraforms the place – is stacked to the ramshackle rafters with all manner of good guys, bad guys and people who deliciously and dramatically slide somewhere in the middle, and has a solid sense of its own world-building mythology.

It’s execution on this sterling premise however often left a little something to be desired in its maiden season.

Despite these deficiencies however, and a sense that it had taken more time building the world in which to tell its tales rather than ensuring it told them all well – points for the former, not so much for the latter – season 1 was a largely solid and engaging affair, with episodes like “Pilot”, “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”, and “The Bride Word Black” keeping the interest up over the less than stellar episodes in between.

And the final two episodes, “Past is Prologue” and “Everything is Broken” in which the mythology, intrigues and secrets, and all their devastating consequences were ramped up to a enthralling end of season breaking point, in which major characters came face-to-face with all manner of unpalatable outcomes, was precisely the way you’d want a season, any season of any show, to end, with fingernails clawing nervously at the top of a cliffhanger, desperate to hang on.

Nine months later in future apocalyptic time, and just under 12 months in ours, Defiance has returned with all of the major characters in new roles, new locations and facing a host of dramatically-rich new problems, some large, some small.

 

Nolan treks halfway across the new America to find Irisa and has no sooner done so than he's on his way back into an all-new Defiance (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)
Nolan treks halfway across the new America to find Irisa and has no sooner done so than he’s on his way back into an all-new Defiance (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)

 

The flawed beating heart of the show, Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler), one time law keeper and now outcast temporary son of Defiance, is moving across America, looking everywhere he can think of to find his adopted Irathient (one of the seven alien Votan races) daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), who was last seen clothed in gold and silver curling tendrils of light and casting herself into a pit of glowing energy in order to save Nolan’s life.

This act of sacrifice was not simply motivated by a wish to bring Nolan back to the land of the living but by a sense that she has been chosen in some way by Irzu, an Irathient god, around whom a rather pedophiliac cult has been built, whom Irisa sees as as silent but compelling young Irathient woman who fills her chosen one’s mind with all sorts of gloomy and sometimes bloody visions.

As you can well imagine, these visions of a person who no one else can see is doing Irisa’s head in, and so while she apparently escaped utter oblivion in the pit of swirling energy back in Defiance, she is no hurry to return to the frontier town, now under the control of the dastardly and dictatorial Earth Republic, fleeing to AngelArc, which is where Nolan finds her via New Chicago where he encounters and despatches the psychopathic Castithan man (another race if you’re keeping score) who turned her into a weirdly messianic ticking bomb.

Both AngelArc, a series of islands known as key Diego, that lie where California and Arizona once stood, and upon which partly sits the remnants of old Los Angeles which includes rather cleverly the old Hollywood sign, ruins of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the iconic Capitol Records building, and New Chicago recall the grittiness and shabby chic Wild West squalor of post-Votan arrival Earth we know so well already, a sign that the rest of the world is as makeshift as Defiance itself.

I am not sure if I expected cities outside of Defiance to be a little more cosmopolitan and well put together than the titular town of the show but while I was intrigued by seeing the world outside of what was once Missouri, I was initially disappointed that the sense of a world still in turmoil was still very much intact wherever Nolan journeyed.

As Revolution made abundantly clear, in one of the few things it got right as a show, some people and hence places would cope better than others in a post-apocalyptic world, something we have yet to see evidence of in Defiance.

However, given the military precision and ruthless rule of the Earth Republic, I would expect that we will see some evidence of more prosperous areas if the show ever journeys to New York, the capital of E-Rep as it’s colloquially known, to supporters and detractors alike.

But for now, we have the Earth as a post-partly terraformed schmozzle, one in which a newly re-united Nolan, happy to have his daughter back, and Irisa, as troubled as ever especially when she has unfortunate visions of slashing her father’s throat on their way back to Defiance, seem quite at home.

 

in just one vitally important scene, the old certainties of Casithan life, at least as it applies to the Tarr household, are turned on their head and Stahma finally begins to come into her merciless own (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)
in just one vitally important scene, the old certainties of Casithan life, at least as it applies to the Tarr household, are turned on their head and Stahma finally begins to come into her merciless own (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)

 

Not so quite at home is Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), local Casithan mafia kingpin and thug-like brute of a husband to the scheming and delightfully manipulative Stahma (Jamie Murray), and father to ineffectual and far too kind pretender to the gangland throne Alak (Jesse Rath), who finds himself in Camp Reverie, a rather ironically-named prison camp six miles east of Defiance, where survival of the fittest is the order of the day.

Keeping him company, and saving his neck for her own escape-oriented purposes, is Indogene Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating as a member of a third alien race), who fallen on hard times for own crimes against humanity.

But it’s Datak Tarr on whom  the focus falls, as we watch him railing and impotent to do much but beg for sexual favours from Stahma when she visits.

Despite claims to her increasingly desperate husband that the most extensive and stringent legal measures are being taken to release him from his 10 year imprisonment for hot bloodedly killing a high-ranking E-Rep official, you get the distinct impression she is enjoying her liberation from his cruelly misogynistic ways, a perception cemented firmly into place when she tells Alak in no uncertain terms that she is the one in charge and he will take his orders from her, even while maintaining the veneer of traditional, and in her mind out dated Casithan male dominance.

It’s patently clear that a revolution of sorts is in play, a commentary on the struggle of women worldwide to assert their equality in societies that mistakenly view them as the inferior sex, and it’s heartening that Defiance is taking up the banner of science fiction down through the ages and weaving social commentary into its narratives.

You get the distinct impression that should Datak ever escape the confines of the makeshift prison, he will find the world a wholly different place to the one he left, and not simply because an E-Rep official, a rather dandy, Roman Empire-esque, handwash-loving dandy, is now cock of the Defiance roost.

 

New major Niles Pottinger, with his ever present Bioman close by, is a little too cocky and creepy for his own good (image via Spoiler TV (c)
New major Niles Pottinger, with his ever present Bioman close by, is a little too cocky and creepy for his own good (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)

 

As suave as he is creepy, Mayor Niles Pottinger (James Murray), an ambitious man-on-the-make in the imperial power structures of the Earth Republic, has worked hard to bring a semblance of law and order to Defiance, re-building the stasis net (a casualty of last season’s Volge attack), getting the mines, now nationalised off Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene), running more efficiently than ever, even if it comes at the expense of workers’ lives.

But he is not loved, least of all by ex-mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) who is running the local bar/brothel Need/Want in lieu of missing sister Kenya (Mia Kirshner) with the aid of a rather fearsome Adreno drug habit, and who regards the E-Rep interlopers as an invading army.

Pottinger of course begs to differ, and driven by a mix of crudely-expressed lust – he is a subtle as sledge hammer, and has hidden cameras in Amanda’s bedroom, the better to sleazily spy on her – and realpolitik urgency (he is a babe in the post-apocalyptic Hellbug-infested woods when it comes to Defiance), attempts to woo her to become his chief of staff at every possible opportunity.

Amanda naturally enough rebuffs him at every turn until the death of a recently-deceased miner – more pay yes but crappier conditions, proof that you pay your pound of flesh even in a transfigured alien-esque future – leads his two sons to stage a muted and short-lived protest to E-Rep rule, which sees one eaten by Hellbugs for dinner and stirs up unneeded unrest in the town, leading the good-hearted but pragmatic mayor to step in lest disaster unfold.

 

A woman headstrong and resolute, though lost in grief, Amanda Rosewater finds herself back in the centre of Defiance political life (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)
A woman headstrong and resolute, though lost in grief, Amanda Rosewater finds herself back in the centre of Defiance political life (image via Spoiler TV (c) syfy)

 

Thus are all the pieces in the place for what could well be a gripping and hopefully far more consistent season indeed.

We have seen a little bit more of post-apocalytpic America, been introduced to some more of the power schisms and rivalry re-shaping life on a re-shapped continent, and in one small frontier town and had a host of social issues come percolating nicely to the boil.

If Defiance can keep its eye on telling robustly-constructed stories, fill them with keenly observed and tautly-written characters and dialogue, much of which was on display in “The Opposite of Hallelujah” to my great viewing pleasure, and remember that great science fiction is as much about blistering commentary on present society as it is in taking us into future, often dystopian successors to it, then Defiance has every chance of enjoying a critically-successfully, viewer-embracing second season and becoming the stellar show it’s premise always indicated it could be.

*Here’s the promo for next week’s episode “In My Secret Life” …

 

Can you show me how to get … REALLY QUICKLY! … to Sesame Street

The beloved Sesame Street gang will be educationally adorable in half the time (image via Are They Old Enough (c) Children's Television Workshop)
The beloved Sesame Street gang will be educationally adorable in half the time (image via Are They Old Enough (c) Children’s Television Workshop)

 

In a lot of ways, my childhood, which involved consuming countless hours of Sesame Street at my leisure (including the gorgeous Grover, and Ernie and Bert) feels like it all happened a million years ago.

It’s probably partly the passage of time and partly the fact that the world today’s kids inhabit is so much more frenetic, more demanding, and yes less far more mobile and on the go than it used to be.

You are an unusual child these days if you’re not competing in at least two or three different sports in the year, learning a musical instrument or two, attending after school tuition, learning to weave Oscar the Grouch toys out of string cheese (OK that may not happen often but how cool would it be if it did right?) and racing around like itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny iPad-enabled versions of their over-scheduled frazzled parents.

And it’s all happening on the move, with increasing numbers of pre-school aged kids consuming content on the go, as they zip from here to there and back again.

Recognising that times have indeed changed and attention spans aren’t what they were, even the great and venerable and justifiably much-loved institution of Sesame Street, a dependable part of life right through my childhood and of course still going strong today, has had to yield to this fast-paced breakneck new dynamic.

The Public Broadcasting Service in America (PBS) has just announced that it will be launching a half hour version of the existing hourlong format, which will continue to broadcast in the mornings, which will go to air as part of their afternoon lineup from 1 September.

 

 

The creation of the extra slimmed-down version of the nearly 45 year old show – it first went to air on 10 November 1969 – will “still be hitting the whole-child curriculum” said Terry Fitzpatrick, chief content and distribution officer at Sesame Workshop in an article that appeared on the New York Times website, although it won’t contain “features like ‘Elmo the Musical’ or ‘Abby’s Flying Fairy School’.”

The move has been triggered by the increasing viewing of Sesame Street on mobile devices, including PBS’s mobile app and its Roku Channel, where shorter shows of about half-hour duration work better than the traditional hour long format, both in terms of modern schedules and preschoolers attention spans.

This move to a shorter version of the show, which in effect gives the world 50% more Elmo in their day which can never be a bad things, is yet another sign that Sesame Street, which has has always happily updated itself and moved with the times, is going to continue to be a vital and well-consumed part of kids’ lives even in this crazy busy age.

This Sesame Street update has been brought to you by the letters “R”, “U”, “S” and “H” and the numbers “1 … 2 … 3 … GO!”