Movie review: Woman in Gold

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

In this flawed worlds of ours, justice is an often elusive outcome.

While we speak loftily of it, praising its many virtues and confirming its importance, it often falls foul of humanity’s propensity to entertain the lesser angels of its nature ahead of those of a more laudable nature.

Complicating matters still further in many cases  is the murky admission of national self-interest to the mix.

That’s most certainly the case in a Woman in Gold, the sort of the late Maria Altmann, an elderly Austrian refugee now living in Los Angeles (Helen Mirren; Tatiana Maslany as the younger Maria) who spent a decade in concert with her lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) seeking to recover ownership of five Gustav Klimt paintings stolen from her family in the lead up to World War Two.

Though on the surface an open and shut case of theft in a time of (almost) war, where grave injustices were perpetrated on a daily basis against Austria’s Jewish population with impunity, the return of the stolen paintings – one of which Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, is a gilt-laid rendering of Maria’s beloved aunt – became a heated trans-national issue, as much about the country’s willingness to admit its culpability in the atrocities of the Nazi era as the loss of national artistic treasures.

Though Maria, who wavered between fighting for justice from a country she felt had betrayed her and robbed her of so much – not the least of which was a sense of belonging in a city and with a family she adored – or simply letting the past stay the past, and Randy had their fair share of allies, including Austrian investigative journalist, Hubertus Czernin (Daniel Brühl), many other people believed the paintings should stay where they were, in the beautiful surrounds of Vienna’s Belvedere Gallery.

And thus was born a fight of titanic proportions between the past and the present – for Maria, who lived the loss of her parents who had to stay behind in Vienna while the rest of the family fled to safety every single day, the two were always one and the same – between justice and injustice, between those who wished that a traumatically dishonourable part of Austria’s history stay well and truly buried, and the passionate supporters of the idea that you can never make peace with who you are now unless you confront and deal with who you once were.

 

 

While Woman in Gold, directed by Simon Curtis from a screenplay Alexi Kaye Campbell, doesn’t always grant this theme of justice against the odds the kind of evocative power it should and does naturally have, lagging ponderously at times and leaching the story of some of its dramatic power, it nevertheless still does a fine job of reminding us of the power of wrongs been righted to change not just the victim themselves but entire countries and societies.

For while Randy is initially reluctant to aid Maria’s quest to get her family’s paintings back, only agreeing when he realises that the recovery of the paintings will provide a significant financial and reputational boost to his struggling law career, he is soon deeply affected by the idea that his own family, led by noted composer Arnold Schoenberg, were affected by the same events that cost Maria so much.

As the film progresses, we witness the coming together of a moody, grieving Maria – her sister Luise’s recent death has once again revived the vivacity of painful ever-present memories – and a tireless Randy, who together win the right to take the Austrian government to the US Supreme Court before submitting to an arbitration process in Austria itself.

What saves the film from descending into another dry court procedural is the way it switches between the events of the present and Maria’s much-missed past, most poignantly in the film’s exquisitely well-wrought final scene.

Seeing her family in far happier times, celebrating weddings and enjoying precious time together in their luxuriously-appointed second floor apartment, and the way her extended family, which included her beloved Aunt Adele, was ripped apart as Austria changed out of all recognition around her, we are reminded at every turn of the great losses Maria, and many of her compatriots and friends, suffered at the hands of the brutal Nazi regime.

 

 

Perhaps the greatest loss though is the one Maria refers to time and again – that ability to be at peace with who you are, and more importantly where you are.

The importance of the paintings restitution to Maria has far to do with hopefully regaining some semblance of peace, some ease with the pain of the past but as she discovers towards the end of the film, justice can do many things but it cannot undo the events whose effects it seeks to ameliorate.

Woman in Gold, while not a perfect film which suffers from an inability to turn its source material into the riveting tale you might expect, devolving into soapie film-of-the-week territory when the story is powerful enough to stand on its two arrestingly intense narrative feet, is still deeply affecting on a number of levels.

Even if we haven’t suffered the kinds of losses that Maria and Randy’s families did, or experienced the trauma of our lives and families being ripped asunder, we can still identify with how horribly scarring it must be to lose any and all control over your own fate and have no way, at least at first and for many long years in most cases, of fighting back.

In that sense, the film carries well its universal message of the importance of having the events of the past atoned for in some way by present day actions, and of the imperative that none of us ever forget history’s crueller, more harrowing epochs, lest it repeat itself in ways too grievous to mention.

Justice well rendered is a vitally important, defining part of what makes us human, but surely it is far better for all concerned, most of all those like Maria Altmann, to have no need of it in the first place.

 

What if? Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur ponders what might have been (teaser trailer)

(image via The Wrap (c) Disney/Pixar)
(image via The Wrap (c) Disney/Pixar)

 

SNAPSHOT
The Good Dinosaur asks the question: What if the asteroid that forever changed life on Earth missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Pixar Animation Studios takes you on an epic journey into the world of dinosaurs where an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While traveling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of. (synopsis via Pixar wikia)

I have long been a fan of alternate histories.

What if Hitler had lived? What if aliens had invaded in World War Two? (There really is a series with this as its premise by one of the masters of the genre, Harry Turtledove, and it’s a brilliant exploration of geopolitics, power and human venality.) What if the South had won the Civil War? Etc etc etc and on it goes.

The possibilities are endless.

Just how endless has been underlined most beautifully by Pixar who have travelled back 65 million years in a bid to ponder what life might have been like had that pesky dinosaur-squashing meteor simply skipped by our delightful blue planet rather than hitting it dead on and ending the dinosaur’s long running reign.

The result of all that creative pondering is The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s upcoming second original story feature film for 2015, directed by Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy, a Pixar short) where dinosaurs have kept evolving, developing a advanced society of their own, one which shares real estate with a mammal on the rise, Homo Sapiens.

What happens when dinosaur and man, or rather cave-boy, come face to face with each other is the centre of what promises to be another remarkably insightful, beautifully constructed animation feature from the masters of modern storytelling.

The teaser trailer admittedly doesn’t give away too much but it has enough wit and whimsy in its short running time to make you believe this will be as much of a treat as the impending arrival of the very positively reviewed Inside Out.

The Good Dinosaur opens in USA on 25 November 2015 and Australia on 26 December.

 

Book review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

(image via Pushkin Press)
(image via Pushkin Press)

 

Ask any writer and they will tell you that the seemingly mundane act of putting pen to paper, whether literally or figuratively, can often seem quite magical and strangely supernatural.

Characters seem to come alive and talk to you, as real as your physical friends and family, demanding to be written this way or that; carefully laid plot lines take on a life of their own demanding you keep up with them or die trying (sometimes it feels as if you are); all while your lovingly-polished outline becomes as outdated as padded shoulders on a baggy jacket.

It’s not pretty, and it can be downright frustrating and uncomfortable but as Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, author of the deliciously, idiosyncratically dark book The Rabbit Literature Society makes poetically clear, it can also lead to rewards without measure if you can survive the process.

Granted, the writers who live in the odd little town of Rabbit Back, peopled as much by goblins, elves and water nymphs, or at least the belief in them, as flesh-and-blood towns folk, all the members of the literature society founded by the Finnish locale’s most famous author, the mysterious Laura White, since childhood have paid more than their fair share of dues on their way to literary success.

Groomed, some would say manipulated, from a young age to become writers of renown and distinction by White, author of the much-loved Creatureville series of books – a series not written for children necessarily but adopted by them nonetheless, illustrating once again that once an author releases their book, it belongs to the world – these nine men and women, who are belatedly joined in adulthood by a tenth member Ella Milana, the book’s protagonist and voice, have become set apart from the world and each other.

 

US cover of the book
US cover of the book

 

Players of The Game, a deeply invasive baring of the soul often aided by alcohol and Sodium Pentathol in which one Society member challenges another to divulge painful, long buried secrets in a ritual so taxing, and revealing, they now keep their distance from each other where possible, these ten people have found success yes – technically Milana is yet to make her name but it is assumed that is only a matter of time – by mining each other’s lives for inspiration.

Often it must be noted with some violence involved since The Game comes with the sorts of ritualistic, almost brutally invasive rules most fair-minded people might justifiably find a little too confronting to handle.

“Ella took hold of Ingrid’s lower lip. Then she twisted it until the woman let out a high-pitched cry of pain. A drop of blood rolled down her chin. ‘All right,’ Ingrid said, mollified and a little frightened. ‘You understand Rule 21. So let’s play.'”

Milana, battling to make her way into a group of people who formed close and yet now arms length bonds with each other long ago, suspects that there may be more at play than a simple though arduous game and she makes it her mission to discover more about Laura White’s anointed, and often horribly conflicted, literary geniuses.

Over the course of her research – in a bid to augment her income she accepts a brief to find out as much unusual and unknown information about the Society as she can, revelations which will be lapped up by an eager and intrigued public – she also discovers rather more about herself and her willingness to further her career than she might have been expecting.

 

Another international version of the cover (image via Pushkin Press)
Another international version of the cover (image via Pushkin Press)

 

What makes this book so magical, quite apart from Jääskeläinen’s whimsically poetic turns of phrase, beautifully preserved by Lola. M Rogers who translated the book into English, is the way it never quite answers all the mysteries swirling in and around this enigmatic crowd of set apart writers.

Some answers are provided but many are not, and we are left to wonder, as the real meets the fantastical – there is for instance an odd virus that afflicts all the books in the town’s library significantly altering their plots and character interactions; the only solution? A good old-fashioned book burning to cleanse the shelves – exactly what really took place in the lives of these people and what did not.

Among the answers we do get, including the revelation that there was a tenth member who died while still a boy in darkly mysterious circumstances, there is a real sense that for all the accolades and success, the feting and the applauding, there has also been a great deal of loss and regret.

This is not to say that the writers are a poorly done by bunch – on the contrary, none of them bar the oddly-secretive Ingrid Katz seem to regret the paths their lives have taken – and you suspect they would readily agree that all the sacrifices, the poking and prodding by Laura White, who succeeds in becoming a mystery all of her own over the course of the book, has been more than worth it.

After all, the act of writing, of creating worlds, people and places not your own doesn’t come without a heavy price anyway, and better you are given a helping hand and succeed than be left to your own fickle devices, toiling away in literary obscurity.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society is not a perfect book, its narrative often twisting back on itself in ways that frustrate more than enthral at times, its penchant for obliqueness rivalling that of the TV series Lost, but it is by and large an enchanting, magical, beautifully-flowing book which examines what it means to write, to truly write, to be overwhelmed by your creativity, and whether it is, in the end, as worthwhile as you expected it would be in the beginning.

American Ultra: Meet your favourite new stoned cold killer (posters + trailer)

(image via Laughing Squid via official American Ultra site)
(image via Laughing Squid via official American Ultra site)

 

SNAPSHOT
American Ultra is a fast-paced action comedy about Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), a seemingly hapless and unmotivated stoner whose small-town life with his live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), is suddenly turned upside down. Unbeknownst to him, Mike is actually a highly trained, lethal sleeper agent. In the blink of an eye, as his secret past comes back to haunt him, Mike is thrust into the middle of a deadly government operation and is forced to summon his inner action-hero in order to survive. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

So here’s the thing.

Yours is a simple life – a menial, undemanding job, a girlfriend you love spending time with, and all the weed you can smoke, anytime you want to smoke it.

And then one day, out of nowhere, a lady wanders into the convenience store where you work, utters a few phrases that unleash the highly-trained lethal sleeper agent within and … Boom! Bash! Pow! … suddenly you’re offing people in the carpark, rather bloodily I might add and on the run from a phalanx of your hitherto unknown about colleagues all bent on killing you in the quickest way possible.

Bummer dude, right?

Bummer indeed, but it’s exactly what befalls small town stoner Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who suddenly find themselves having to interrupt their pot-smoking sessions and small “a” life ambitions in favour of actually staying live.

DUDE!

It looks funny, over the top silly, cartoonishly violent and an absolutely unmissable comedy thanks to the presence of Eisenberg and Stewart, two actors who have shown themselves to be able to lift all manner of movies just by appearing in them.

Oh, and should you find yourself working in a 7/11 at any point, beware of customers mumbling gibberish, they could be agents looking to … nah, they’re probably just mumbling gibberish.

As you were.

American Ultra opens in USA on 21 August 2015 and in Australia on 3 September.

 

(image via Laughing Squid via official American Ultra site)
(image via Laughing Squid via official American Ultra site)

 

 

And here also for your more out there viewing pleasure is the Red Band trailer …

 

Movie review: Aloha

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Imagine if you will that you suddenly found yourself desperately short of time, required by some inexplicable deadline to watch all the films of Cameron Crowe’s oft-charming, many times insightful cinematic output and report on it in the shortest time possible.

What would you do? What would you do …

Would you Google like a rabid cinephile hoping you’d stumble across someone’s definitive crib sheet on the director’s films which include such greats as Almost Famous, Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire? Or would you dash to YouTube, hoping a dedicated film fan had cleverly edited many of his films into one of those jauntily-appealing greatest hits sets that so often beguile an internet population short on both attention and time?

Or would you simply buy a ticket to see Aloha, the director’s latest tale of love, loss and the alluring appeal of second chances?

If you choose door number 3, then prepare to be disappointed and never work in this town again, people.

This is not because Aloha is a terrible, cinema-breaking movie, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Heaven’s Gate (1980), Showgirls (1995) or Battlefield Earth (2000); it in fact contains some charming, if oddly out of sync performances, and the sort of delightful elements common to all Crowe’s films.

No, it’s largely because while it tick many of the boxes of a Crowe film – the broken hero who finds his/her past and present colliding to healing, though initially unsettling, effect, grand emotional statements worn very much on the sleeve, and a plucky prodigy who will not be denied to name but a few – it fails to assemble them in any kind of meaningful or ultimately enjoyable way.

 

 

It is a film desperately in need of a reason to be, an amalgamation of a romantic comedy (the inevitable meet cute, witty banter, the impromptu consummation of the unresolved sexual tension), a thriller (man discovers someone is up to no good and does his best to thwart it) and a mature relationship drama (old lovers meet, the bones of dead romantic love are exhumed, meaningful conversations are had) that never really fires.

Perhaps Crowe simply got too ambitious – he is both the screenwriter and the director on this film in keeping with his usual practice of being a cinematic jack-of-all-trades – and tried to cram too much, including oddly-inserted references to Hawaiian mythology that feel more tacked on than anything, into one half-baked movie.

Or maybe he spent one weekend indulgently re-watching all his old films and inadvertently channelled them all into Aloha, failing to take the best bits along with him?

Whatever the problem, Aloha bristles with all manner of plot developments that seemingly come out of nowhere, largely unheralded, many ill-prepared, which vanish before they are even fully-formed or satisfyingly worked out.

The central storyline itself is relatively straightforward.

A one time military show pony now disgraced contractor, Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii, scene of his greatest career triumphs and home to his once-devoted girlfriend Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams) who is now possibly happily married to the near-wordless Woody (John Krasinski) with whom she has two adorable, preternaturally emotionally-gifted children 13 year old Grace (Danielle Rose Russell) and 9 year old auteur-in-waiting Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher) to help offbeat but ruthless billionaire Carson Welch launch a satellite into space.

Teamed with irrepressibly enthusiastic Air Force Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who never fails to remind everyone around her that she is one quarter Hawaiian, he soon finds out that his time on the island will be more complicated and extensive than he ever imagined.

 

 

Ripe with all kinds of dramatic possibility you would think, even if it sounds like a plot line from film making 101, something you would usually not accuse Crowe of pursuing in any way.

Alas, while Cooper, Stone and McAdams largely acquit themselves well, their characters strike some oddly discordant notes as if they’re going through the motions with no real idea of why they’re doing it.

To say that everyone phoned it in would be a critical bridge too far; in and of themselves the characters have some appealing aspects (and some of the lines of dialogue actually manage to sparkle and amuse), even if we have seen their like many times before, and the narrative does tug at the heartstrings once or twice quite successfully.

But by and large, this is a film populated by plot developments that don’t congeal, ideas that never really seem to reach their full maturity before being snatched away (or arrive so suddenly you don’t even see them approaching), characters who suddenly fall in love just like that or change the entire course of their life for reasons that don’t ring true, and big “M” messages such as the dangers of weaponising space or trampling on indigenous rights that don’t receive the kind of exposure or articulation they deserve.

You could use Aloha as a highlights reel of sorts for Crowe but frankly that would be doing the man himself a grave disservice; he has done much better than this before, and likely, after some time to lick his critical wounds, will again.

Best to pretend Aloha never happened and move on, or in the case of the moviegoing public, never go there in the first place.

 

 

Now this is music 50: Hollow Sunshine, Róisín Murphy, Yale, Villette, Maya Vik

photo credit:  via photopin (license)
photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

 

I love a balance between music that soothes the soul and encourages the heart and mind to ponder the deeper parts of the human condition.

There is the sense that you’re immersed in a world far removed from the day to day grunge of commuting and Excel spreadsheets, which is always welcome, but also that you’re off thinking and pondering about the sorts of things that hectic cubicle life simply doesn’t allow for.

Things like who is exploiting who and is that OK, are our urban landscapes oppressive or a feast for the partying soul, and is it worth fighting back against life when it bedevils us (the answer, most assuredly, is yes).

Music to calm the savage commuting beast and nourish the soul?

It’s entirely possible – let these five amazing artists show you how …

 

“Careful Travel” by Hollow Sunshine

 

Hollow Sunshine (image via official Hollow Sunshine Facebook page)
Hollow Sunshine (image via official Hollow Sunshine Facebook page)

 

There is something deliciously dark, gothic and aggressive about the snarly guitars that kick off this song.

But then out of the twisted distortion, which continues throughout, come the gloriously ethereal vocals of Morgan Enos and an almost sunny, bright melody, the two seemingly opposing musical forces coexisting quite happily in Hollow Sunshine’s song  “Careful Travel” from their sophomore LP Bring Gold.

But then that is way of Brooklyn-based Hollow Sunshine, led by celebrated instrumentalist and visual artist (he works under the name Rainbath Visual) Reuben Sawyer, who have always balanced the growling surge of metal with far poppier sensibilities creating what they describe as a “sludge pop sound” (Bandcamp – Iron Pier).

It might sound as crazy as dipping your french fries in your ice cream sundae – hey don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it! – but it works, and works beautifully, creating music both peaceful and attitude-laden all at once.

 

 

“Exploitation” by Róisín Murphy

 

Róisín Murphy (image via official Róisín Murphy Facebook page)
Róisín Murphy (image via official Róisín Murphy
Facebook page)

 

I have long loved avant garde Irish music artist, Róisín Murphy, who got her start in the band Moloo (with then boyfriend Mark Brydon), is as apt to cover Italian pop hits (Mi Senti) as record edgy electronica that is as varied as you could possibly ask for (Ruby Blue, Overpowered and new album Hairless Toys).

Anchoring every single one of the songs she releases is an affinity for arresting, tremulous melodies that are never less than instantly memorable, an ear for off-kilter, out-of-the box production and a distinctive voice that bends and flexes in all kinds of beguiling directions.

As a result she is one of those rare artists who constantly surprises and delights with songs that never quite meet expectations, a welcome dynamic in an industry known for churning out songs that sound exactly like everything you’ve heard for.

“Exploitation”, the second single from Hairless Toys, is a case in point.

A minimalist piece of electronica that percolates and bubbles along at a pleasing mid-tempo voice with Murphy’s voice sinuously and seductively coming in and out as necessary, it carries  with it a specific message, one also reflected in its accompanying video.

“As a grown up in this industry and someone who has always had a huge involvement in the visual side, it felt like it was time I took complete control of my image. I had a crystal clear vision for this video, after all I’ve had 8 years of collecting references and inspiration building up to it. … It’s about selling out, manipulation and exploitation within creative work and in a relationship. It’s ironic because as my own director I’m exploiting myself (if that’s possible) but I am manipulating you.” (source: Pitchfork)

Frankly with music this interesting and out of the ordinary, she can exploit and manipulate me in any way of her choosing if it means she keeps making music; artists as unique as Murphy need to be celebrated, encouraged, and most importantly listened to at every turn.

 

 

“City Feeling” by Yale

 

Yale (image via official Yale Facebook page)
Yale (image via official Yale Facebook page)

 

Some poor blighted soul somewhere once came up with the phrase “the big bad city” and ever since, the crowded urban landscapes in which the majority of humanity dwell have been tarred with this rather glass-half-empty brush.

Well if Brisbane, Australia-based duo Yale (Stefan Emslie & Mark Maxwell) have anything to do with it, that won’t be the case for much longer.

Their track, “City Feeling”, all bright, breezy hook-laden dance sounds, bouncy synth melodies and chilled, airy vocals, recasts cities as somewhere where the feeling is relaxed, grooving and cool as hell.

No prizes for guessing which euphorically-happy side of the fence we’re going to be dancing on.

 

 

“Untitled” by Villette

 

Villette (photo by Dilan Bozyel via official Villette Facebook page)
Villette (photo by Dilan Bozyel via official Villette Facebook page)

 

There is a meditative, dreamlike quality to Instanbul-born, London-based Siné Buyuka’s cover of Interpol’s “Untitled” that seduces pretty much from the first note.

Known by her musical nom de plume, Villette, the Dj and electronic music producer brings ethereal, wafting vocals and a gently driving rhythm to the song from a band that means a great deal to the upcoming music artist:

“This is a tribute to my favourite band Interpol, sampling the iconic guitar riffs from the original Untitled that opens one of the greatest albums of all time, Turn On The Bright Lights.

“Having supported Paul Banks with my previous act and having interviewed the band twice, I decided to showcase my appreciation of their signature dark tunes with this free download. Hope you enjoy it.”

It’s beautiful, serene, mystical and enchanting, a perfect way to kiss the day goodbye with a song as dark and bewitching as it is magical and supremely gorgeous.

 

 

“Fighter” (Maye remix) by Maya Vik

 

Maya Vik (photo by Pål Laukli via official Maya Vik Facebook page)
Maya Vik (photo by Pål Laukli via official Maya Vik Facebook page)

 

Don’t be fooled by the easygoing, blissful sound of “Fighter”.

Married with its admittedly chilled melody and Norwegian-born, now US-based Maya Vik’s sweet, earnest vocals, are lyrics that speak about steadfastly hanging in there when times are rough and never, ever giving up no matter the odds (the video for the song shows her in a boxing ring dressed as Ivan Drago from Rocky IV to drive home the point):

“It’s time to woman up/When I look back gonna feel like looking down/On the walls that I’ve shattered and the fears that I’ve battled down now.”

Finding inspiration, she tells Complex, in “80’s and 90’s funk, r&b and disco, among other things”, Vik channels that Scandinavian sensibility that manages yin and yang, dark and light, passion and peacefulness with devastating ease.

Throw in some brilliant remix work by Norwegian Nu-Disco producer Maye, and you have a song that will inspire you to greatness while you ease back and summon the strength for the fight ahead.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!
If there is one thing we can be certain of, it’s that the new Tina Fey-produced sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is a bona fide hot for Netflix.

Everyone is talking about it, and it’s strong female protagonist played by Ellie Kemper, who freed from an doomsday cult into a world she no longer recognises, decides to tackle her second chance at life with the sort of plucky gusto that has won hearts and generated more than a few laughs.

What’s also got people talking is the brilliant theme song, a collaboration of the show’s producers and The Gregory Brothers, the creatively-fecund minds behind Songify the News:

“It’s not even a theme song the first time you hear it. The bit first pops up a couple of minutes into the first episode, in which four female doomsday cult members are rescued from the bunker where they’ve been held captive for 15 years. The rescue transitions into a montage of local news reports, during one of which a neighbor’s account of the proceedings morph into an auto-tuned, Songify the News-style homage to Antoine Dodson’s “Bed Intruder” video and Charles Ramsay’s interview after the Ariel Castro kidnapping story broke in Cleveland—complete with with quotables like ‘It’s a miracle’, and ‘females are strong as hell!’

“But Fey, her husband-slash-series composer Jeff Richmond, and Carlock didn’t just create the sequence—they optimized it, hiring The Gregory Brothers, the minds behind Songify the News, to turn the introductory news piece into an earworm. And in the process, they crafted something that perfectly underscored the show’s throughline.”  (source: Paste Magazine)

You can read the full piece at Paste Magazine.

 

 

The Chemical Brothers are back with another album, “Born in the Echoes”, their first since 2010’s “Further” and to announce its impending arrival – it drops July 17 – they’ve released a single “Go” complete with a funky video clip by talented, idiosyncratic French film director Michel Gondry, who has previously produced music videos for the likes of Beck, Bjork and Radiohead. (source: NME)

 

 

Ed Sheeran makes some of the loveliest, most touching pop music out at the moment and now he’s managed to also make one of the most poignant music videos too for his song “Photograph” which draws on a lifetime of home movies.

It’s just gorgeous – I dare you not to shed a tear.

(source: zap2it)

 

Movie review: Tomorrowland

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Keeping your childlike sense of wonder and boundless optimism into adulthood can be a tall order, especially when, like Frank Walker (George Clooney), you have good reason to discard it favour of well-worn cynicism and paranoid distrust.

But as the Brad Bird-directed Tomorrowland reminds us over and over in the best of all possible ways – the film draws its inspiration and title from, of all places, a retro-futuristic part of the Disney theme park – we all have a choice throughout our lives to either feed the hope and the light or let the darkness and despair have their day.

No prizes for guessing on which side Tomorrowland emphatically comes down.

While that might make the Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird-penned movie seems a tad cheesy and gee-whiz for modern tastes, accustomed as we are to wearing cynicism with a capital “C” as something of a badge of honour, there is something utterly beguiling about surrendering yourself to the idea there is still a place for idealism and unblinking optimism in today’s climate change and war-wearied world.

It may not always play out as you’d expect – life rarely does that anyway even at its best so that shouldn’t be a deterrent – but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the effort, a lesson plucky, endlessly hopeful tech wunderkind and would-be astronaut Casey Newton (an appealingly gung-ho Britt Robertson) teaches a hermit-like Frank after their begrudging first meeting.

 

 

You see, Frank was once like Casey – wide-eyed, wonder-filled, an inventor of jet packs and proponent of the benefits of scientific endeavour in defiance of a farmer father who refused to acknowledge either activity as worthy of any time and effort, who found himself invited by the never-aging Athena (Raffey Cassidy), like Casey, into the rarefied confines of Tomorrowland, a soaring glass-and-steel housed gathering of all the world’s best scientific and artistic minds.

Tucked happily away in an alternate dimension, connected to Earth via portals but most assuredly not a part of it, thanks to the rather elitist worldview of its leader Governor David Nix (Hugh Laurie), Tomorrowland is the distillation of every vision any of us have ever had about what a city of the future might look like.

Drawing heavily on the Jules Verne retro-futuristic stylings embraced by countless dreamers in the ’50s and ’60s, the city is all soaring luminous skyscrapers, trackless monorails, flying cars and spaceships and dubious fashion choices – in short, it resembles in glorious detail pretty much everything anyone of a certain age imagined the future would look like.

It fairly glows with the optimistic outlook that powers it, the idea that a fusion of scientific progress, artistic expression and a firm belief in the innate will of humanity to not simply save but better itself, can avert the apocalyptic destination we all seem intent on reaching as quickly, and messily, as possible.

But for all its noble intent, it is a human creation and as such prone to the frailties and flaws of the human condition, and so when Frank dares to question some less than appealing possible repercussions of Tomorrowland‘s holier-than-thou approach he is banished, an outcast from this erstwhile bastion of hope until Casey, bolstered by a supportive upbringing with dad Eddie (Tim McGraw), comes along to shake things up, and hopefully, set things right.

 

 

It’s a fairly ambitious undertaking to fold a girls own adventure into a save the world narrative but Bird and Lindelof pull it off with aplomb, infusing the film with a sense that anything and everything is possible if you can just believe.

It is reminiscent of the Disney films of the ’60s and ’70s, which screened both in theatres and on The Wonderful World of Disney on TV, which fairly surged with the appealingly joyous notion that there was nothing at all wrong with rampant idealism and the whizbang go-get-’em mindset needed to bring it to life.

Helped along by a cast that wears their characters well, and a storyline that embraces wonder, darkness, existential angst – yes there is a great deal of that but it fits in nicely, a real triumph given the full speed, Pollyanna-ish nature of much of the film – and guileless positive self-belief, Tomorrowland manages to have its fun adventuring and message-delivering too, not always an easy balance to maintain in any movie.

Granted, it does darken in the climactic second half, and stumbles a little over a slightly-convoluted, over-articulated explanation for the currently parlous state of the world that reeks of precious message-posturing, but by and large the film emerges with its heady sense of idealism intact, it’s endlessly optimistic, forward-looking head held high.

Tomorowland is one of those remarkable original films out the moment, a rarity in a sea of sequels, prequels and existing property spinoffs, that manages to be both blissfully entertaining and deeply thoughtful, a giddily happy throwback to an age when everyone really believed the world could be a better place.

After watching the film, you’ll likely be inclined to agree with them.

 

 

“What fresh hell is this?”: The hilariously revengeful sorority whodunnit, Scream Queens

(image via seat42f)
(image via seat42f)


SNAPSHOT

Wallace University is rocked by a string of murders. Kappa House, the most sought-after sorority for pledges, is ruled with an iron fist (in a pink glove) by its Queen Bitch, CHANEL OBERLIN (Emma Roberts, American Horror Story: Freak Show, Scream 4). But when anti-Kappa DEAN MUNSCH (Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween, A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies) decrees that sorority pledging must be open to all students, and not just the school’s silver-spooned elite, all hell is about to break loose, as a devil-clad killer begins wreaking havoc, claiming one victim, one episode at a time.  Part black comedy, part slasher flick, SCREAM QUEENS is a modern take on the classic whodunit, in which every character has a motive for murder…or could easily be the next blood-soaked casualty. (synopsis via Seat42f)

You have to hand it to Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) and his producing partners in crime on new comedy/horror TV anthology series Scream Queens, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan – they know how to craft an appealingly fresh over the top  fun pastiche of a number of well-used genres into one can’t miss TV show.

Bringing together the teen slasher flick (oblivious teen victims, menacingly masked perpetrator), the good old traditional whodunnit (rising body count, everyone’s a suspect) and the college, right of passage to adulthood, film (angst and drama writ large), they have given us a show that promises to be hair-raising – literally if the newly-released poster is to be believed – and mirth-inducing at all once.

Who wouldn’t want to rush Kappa House sorority in that case?

Well anyone who wants to live, clearly.

But then you’d miss out, as TVLine rather pithily points out on a number of quite wonderful things:

* Nick Jonas wearing his Kingdom uniform (aka no shirt).
* Niecy Nash’s unsurprisingly hysterical turn as an over-the-top police officer.
* Oliver Hudson sharing the screen with a young female character he’s not trying to sleep with. (Yes, Nashville fans, it’s possible!)
* Jamie Lee Curtis being just… I can’t even think of an appropriate adjective. She’s just perfect in this role.

Oh and Satan, or at least someone in a devilishly-good mask, taking creative landscaping to all sorts of unnervingly innovative places.

Wanna scream, laugh, glory in the satire of well, just about everything, and wonder what could be hiding down in the basement into the bargain?

Tune into Scream Queens premieres this September on Fox.

 

Who wouldn’t want to stay in The Grand Overlook Hotel? (The Shining + Grand Budapest Hotel mash-up)

(image via Collider)
(image via Collider)

 

Who wouldn’t want to stay in The Grand Overlook Hotel indeed?

Well quite possibly everyone really, particularly if a quite mad, pre-frozen to death in the maze Jack Torrance was bashing his way into your room with an axe  while screaming “Here’s Johnny!”

But what if that same hotel also possessed the whimsical beauty and retro-stylistic flourishes of Wes Anderson’s films?

Could you be persuaded to linger a little longer, well long enough to open to admire the way the rooms in both The Shining and Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel bearing a stroking visual resemblance to each other, enough at least to inspire one Steve Ramsden to mash-up the two films together to dramatic bathroom-window opening effect?

Quite possibly you could, especially if you had Ramsden, a self-described “Papua New Guinean-born, English-sounding filmmaker” describing what inspired him to make this glorious coming together of two quite disparate movies in the first place:

“I noticed how Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick frame their shots in a similar way – this was the result: The Grand Overlook Hotel!” (source: Live For Films)

The result is, as Perri Nemiroff from Collider correctly observes, “absolutely seamless”.

“Not only does the mashup’s creator, Steve Ramsden, find some spot-on dialogue crossovers, but he actually manages to make it look like an Overlook hallway leads right into a Grand Budapest room. And how about that coloring? I never realized how many visuals in The Shining had such a Wes Anderson feel to them.”

So while you may not want to stay in The Grand Overlook Hotel necessarily, you might be persuaded to linger long enough to appreciate the symmetry and cleverness of this most perfect of mash-ups.

At least, until Johnny comes calling.

 

You are what you eat: Let Cooties infect you with an hilarious take on the zombie apocalypse

(image via First Showing)
(image via First Showing)

 

SNAPSHOT
A mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the kids into a feral swarm of mass savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of misfit teachers in the fight of their lives. Cooties is co-directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion, making their feature directing debut. The screenplay was written by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan, produced by SpectreVision. (synopsis via First Showing)

Growing up ain’t easy.

But then again, neither is dealing with the small human beings who are doing the growing up.

But one group of teachers at an elementary school find out just how hard it can be when a chicken nugget borne-zombie virus, which only affects people who haven’t gone through puberty yet, turns a difficult group of 4th graders instead a ravenous horde of soulless undead bent on devouring their onetime educators.

It isn’t pretty but in the hands of the people who brought you Glee and Saw, it sure as hell is funny.

Cooties is the movie in question, an hilarious take on the zombie apocalypse that adds a whole new, deeply unsettling perspective to the idea of girl and boy germs.

And the results, just as you suspected when you were a kid on the playground, aren’t pretty.

But on the plus side, they could be great for  your fitness levels.

Run! Wave vigorously! And swing that bat … and almost die laughing.

You’ll also be cured of ever saying “Kids will be kids” again with an affectionate laugh since it won’t seem like an even remotely appealing thing to say when you’re sprinting away down a hallway in fear of your life, the flesh-craving little monsters nipping, or is that chomping, at your heels!

Whatever you do, just remember that far from a case of genial playground fun, this time Cooties will be deadly.

And funny … very, VERY funny.

Cooties, which premiered at Sundance in January 2014, opens in limited theatre  release and VOD on September 18 in USA.