The Walking Dead – “Twice as Far / East” (S6, E14 + E15 review)

Daryl, much like the rest of us, spends a great deal of these two episodes wondering just what the hell the writers were thinking (image courtesy AMC)
Daryl, much like the rest of us, spends a great deal of these two episodes wondering just what the hell the writers were thinking (image courtesy AMC)

 

* SPOILERS … AND CAROL HYPERVENTILATING … AND PEOPLE GETTING CAPTURED … YES, AGAIN *

Peace, or its relative facsimile given that the next Big Bad off the production line, Negan is circling off in the near-distance with his Saviours hovering devotedly close by, does not seem to agree with the good people of Alexandria.

Or more specifically with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his once-close crew who spent both “Twice as Far” and “East” fracturing ever so slightly here and there, the once tight bonds between the ‘family” members leveraged open by new romance (Abraham and Sasha, played by Michael Cudlitz and Sonequa Martin-Green), a declining appetite for killing (Carol played by Melissa McBride) and a new determination to prove that they have what it takes to survive out in the apocalypse (Eugene played by Josh McDermitt)

With all that time to think and ponder – raids to wipe out Negan’s outposts notwithstanding; all of which raise the question – who’s the aggressor here, Rick or Negan? A fascinating moral conundrum, one of many The Walking Dead grapples with so well each week – everyone is finding themselves in far different places than they might have if they had remained out on the road.

Just how calm and peaceful things are was underlined brilliantly by writer Mark Negrete and director Alrick Riley, who began “Twice as Far” who began this reasonably low key episode – one chilling death aside; more on that later – with everyday scenes of repetitive routine.

We see Olivia (Ann Mahoney) happily checking an unusually full pantry (let’s hear it for selling our souls for mercenary payoffs!),  Eugene and Sasha at the front gate nodding in a collegiate fashion, reborn badass Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) on patrol around Alexandria, Tobin (Jason Douglas) kissing Carol and Rosita (Christian Serratos) leaving Spencer’s (Austin Nichols) bed … in other words normal life.

Or as normal as it gets in the apocalypse.

But as noted, all that domestic bliss, full bellies and absence of violence and walkers allowed everyone to ponder, muse, chill and think, all the sorts of things that otherwise would never have crossed their minds, or at least been entertained, meaning that some big decisions were made.

 

Denise, passionate about reclaiming her purpose and value in the brave new world, finds herself dead so shockingly suddenly that no one can quite registered it's happened at first (image courtesy AMC)
Denise, passionate about reclaiming her purpose and value in the brave new world, finds herself dead so shockingly suddenly that no one can quite registered it’s happened at first (image courtesy AMC)

 

Denise (Merritt Wever) decided that now was the time to head off and prove her mettle by raiding an apothecary in an abandoned strip mall for all the drugs she was fairly confident were hidden away there.

Being the sensible girl that she is, she brought Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Rosita along for company and security, and as she told them because Daryl reminds her of her brave, now dead twin brother and Rosita, effectively now all alone in the world, needs something to do and someone to be with.

While the drugs were purloined and even some soda found – rather dangerously given it was sitting in a cooler in a car with a walker; yup folks, someone fled the decline of civilisation with a six pack of soda … go figure – Denise, brave, capable Denise who’d found her inner mettle and love in recent times, found herself shot through the right eye with one of Daryl’s arrow, mid-sentence, in one of the more sudden, shocking deaths of the entire series.

One minute she’s lecturing Daryl and Rosita on the fact that it’s possible they don’t have all their collective shit together – there is a certain arrogance lurking around Rick’s group that manifests itself as a ” we know best” mentality, the very same one that has set them off on their ill-advised Negan-baiting path – the next? Words slurring, tumbling towards Daryl, who simultaneously shocked and horrified that she’s died and that it was at the hands of his weapon, now in the hands of Dwight (Austin Amelio).

Daryl is immediately stricken with guilt over his “complicity” in Denise’s death, setting him off in “East” on a reckless quest to take out Dwight, with Rosita, Glenn (Steven Yeun), and Michonne (Danai Gurira), fresh from eating  a “shag apple” with Rick in bed (yes an actual piece of fruit thank you) in hot pursuit, hoping to stop him.

They kind of do but in the process of doing so they’re all captured – for the love of god people, stop all this captured stuff; it’s ruining your apocalypse survival street cred.

“East” ends with Daryl being shot although a voiceover as the episode fades to black would suggest it wasn’t as final as it sounded.

 

Eugene found himself not as ready as he thought he was to stand alone on his own two feet (image courtesy AMC)
Eugene found himself not as ready as he thought he was to stand alone on his own two feet (image courtesy AMC)

 

Meanwhile Abraham and Eugene went on an excursion to an old metal foundry where the one time timid follower, with grand plans to manufacture bullets,  stared down newly-in-love Abraham, and stated he was ready to stand on his own two feet.

Yes and no – yes he’s more capable than he ever was before but no, as his later imprisonment by Dwight proved all too conclusively, not entirely up to speed just yet.

His later injury while being rescued led to a touching moment between Abraham and himself where both realised their relationship had shifted entirely. Abraham for his part admitted to Rick that new life both made him feel more vulnerable and yet more apt to kickass, a sentiment with which Rick, out on the road in “East” with Morgan (Lennie James) on the trail of a runaway Carol, heartily agreed.

Ah yes Carol – turns out she is really having an existential crisis. She doesn’t want to kill anymore – although when forced, such as out on the road fleeing Alexandria in a stake-studded hatchback, she dispatched a crew of Negan’s Saviours with ruthless, calculated efficiency – and realises that if she loves Tobin and her Alexandrian that more killing on a grand scale is necessary.

See what I mean? All that peace, and happiness and time to think? Both good and bad for the human spirit, a double-edged existential sword that both episodes played out with quiet but devastating emotional richness, these smaller stories building to next week’s explosive season 6 finale.

  • So next week it’s Negan and Lucille and death and mayhem and hubris come to collect its price … it ain’t gonna be pretty …

 

 

 

Doctor Who and Donna are back! 3 new audio episodes arrive in May

Doctor Who and Donna are back - in audio only but as hilarious and robustly back-and-forth as ever (image via Doctor Who Watch (c) BBC)
Doctor Who and Donna are back – in audio only but as hilarious and robustly back-and-forth as ever (image via Doctor Who Watch (c) BBC)

 

I am not usually one for rampant nostalgia, happy to return to much-loved TV shows, music, books or movies for the occasional visit but rather averse to living there permanently.

After all, looking at everything through the rose-tinted glasses of the past makes everything look a little odd after a while.

But after the rampant disappointment of season 9 of the modern Doctor Who era, under the less than stellar stewardship of Steven Moffat – a brilliant writer but terrible showrunner who takes great ideas and leads them nowhere much of the time – and with Peter Capaldi as a nasty, abrasive incarnation of the Doctor for who I have no love, it’s nice to head back to what I happily consider the greatest Doctor/companion pairing in recent memory – that of David Tennant’s jaunty but get the job done with time for a kipper Time Lord and the feisty take-no-prisoners Donna Noble (Catherine Tate).

Alas on TV they’re long gone, save for repeats; ah, but on audio it’s a whole other story thanks to Big Finish who announced last November that they were reuniting the hilarious pair in a series of new adventures, the first three of which, The Tenth Doctor Adventures, Volume One, feature three stories: Technophobia, by Matt Fitton, Time Reaver, by Jenny Colgan, and Death and the Queen by James Goss.

Out this May, they’re going to a wonderful return to golden Doctor Who days of yore. Who knows, I may even wear my rose-tinted glasses during the whole thing (and no, they won’t double as a sonic screwdriver; silly idea!)

 

Thin on the ground: How many people are left alive in The Walking Dead universe?

(image via YouTube (c) SourceFedNERD
(image via YouTube (c) SourceFedNERD

 

Hands up everyone who thinks that a raging zombie virus that has erased almost all signs of Homo Sapien life from the face of the planet may not be so good for robust population numbers of plant Earth by said hominid?

OK everyone? Good, pretty much all on the same page then. Apocalypses of pretty much every stripe aren’t good news generally for the human race but have you ever stopped to wonder as you watch The Walking Dead just how bad the news might be? Just how much up Undead S**t Creek without a paddle are we in fact?

The good people of SourceFedNERD have worked, using all sorts of hints, suggestions, data and information (and extrapolation) from the TV series and the comics to work out mathematically, like any good nerd would, just how many living people are keeping Rick and the gang company on planet Earth.

As host Matt Lieberman, not all that many really. (This may explain the lack of party invites in the apocalypse – who’s around to come along? – and why it’s so important that Judith was born and that Maggie is up the duff.)

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Florence Foster Jenkins: Dreams can come true … or can they?

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

 

SNAPSHOT
Directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena, The Queen), Florence Foster Jenkins tells the inspirational true story of the eponymous New York heiress who obsessively pursued her dream of becoming a great singer. The film celebrates the human spirit, the power of music and the passion of amateurs everywhere. The voice Florence (Streep) heard in her head was divine, but to the rest of the world it was hilariously awful. At private recitals, her devoted husband and manager, St Clair Bayfield (Grant), managed to protect Florence from the truth. But when Florence decided to give her first public concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, St Clair realised he had perhaps bitten off more than he could chew.

All of us deep want to believe that we are wondrous, extraordinary beings, capable of so much more than out often everyday ordinary lives might suggest.

We all dream of being the next J. K. Rowling, the next Beyonce, the next Marie Curie or the next Tom Whittaker, and suspect deep down that if we were just given a chance, a real chance, we could make something of this innate self-belief?

But what happens when you have a loved one who believes in you, who gives you that longed-for moment to shine? What then? Do you rise or fall? Ascend to accolades and applause or disparagement and trolling?

In the case of heiress Florence Foster Jenkins who heard the voices of angels in her head and was determined to give her gift to the world, who sadly heard something altogether different, it’s all of that, and more in a film that looks sweetly delusional, inspiring and wonderful all at once.

Because the thing is, it seems, no matter how gruelling and shocking the truth may be to that stoic inner voice that compels us to greatness and achievement, the truth is that if we’re loved and believed in, and given the chance to shine, that no matter what happens after that, we’re already well ahead of most everyone else (and happy as Florence’s husband reminds her).

And that alone means we’ve won no matter what the outcome.

Florence Foster Jenkins opens in Australia on 5 May 2016 and in UK on 6 May.

 

The short and the short of it: The deeply touching Mutual Rescue – Eric and Peety

Eric and Peety: Who rescued who? (image via YouTube (c) HSSV)
Eric and Peety: Who rescued who? (image via YouTube (c) HSSV)

 

SNAPSHOT
Six years ago, Eric weighed 340 pounds and was diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and Type II Diabetes. His doctor told him he had 5 years to live. Then he met Peety—and everything changed. … Mutual Rescue™ is an initiative that aims to change the way people see animal welfare. By sharing stories about connecting a person with an animal, Mutual Rescue™ hopes to demonstrate that when you support your local animal shelter, you’re not just enhancing an animal’s life—you’re also transforming a person’s life as well. The stories shared by everyday people through Mutual Rescue™ are testaments to the incredible impact that an animal and a person have on each other, and that “rescuing” isn’t in just one direction. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

It almost goes without saying that animals make a huge difference in the lives of the people who know them.

Whether it’s a guide dog helping a visually-impaired person navigate the world, a cat who lives in a retirement home to give company and comfort to its residents, or a family pet whom the kids adore, animals profoundly the way we see the world and live our lives for the better.

I have never seen that more beautifully illustrated that in the deeply moving story of Mutual Rescue: Eric and Peety, an obese middle-aged man and an obese middle-aged dog who find each other at the Human Society of Silicon Valley and end up transforming each other’s lives.

It’s powerful stuff and testament to the utterly transformative role an animal can play in a person’s life.

As anyone who has ever had a pet will know, they affect you every bit as you affect them; so while rescuing a dog or a cat from a shelter is a wonderful thing to do, and it’s where I’ll be getting my next dog and cat, they honestly rescue you back every bit as much.

Mutual Rescue: Eric and Peety is proof of this most life-changing of truths.

 

Happy Easter from the adorably cute hatchlings of Angry Birds

(image via Rovio)
Happy Easter everyone! (image via Rovio)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the 3D animated comedy, The Angry Birds Movie, we’ll finally find out why the birds are so angry. The movie takes us to an island populated entirely by happy, flightless birds – or almost entirely.  In this paradise, Red (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses), a bird with a temper problem, speedy Chuck (Josh Gad in his first animated role since Frozen), and the volatile Bomb (Danny McBride, This is the End, Eastbound and Down) have always been outsiders. But when the island is visited by mysterious green piggies, it’s up to these unlikely outcasts to figure out what the pigs are up to.

Happy Easter everyone from the Angry Birds!

Now I appreciate that if you search the Gospels, mentions of avians, furious or not, are pretty thin on the ground. OK, fair enough, they’re not mentioned at all.

But how can you resist the hatchlings from The Angry Bird Movie, adorably, super-duper adorably wishing you a “Happy Easter!” ? Answer: You simply can’t.

Want proof? How about the fact that I, a man who has only played the video game once (with eager nieces and nephews), and who barely comprehended why green pigs were attacking birds, let alone why this unlikeliest of battles was the centre of a video game, and who has resolutely ignored avoided any mention of the movie based on this almost-never-played game, now finds himself featuring a clip of amazingly cute Hatchlings talking in cute childish voices all about Easter, and the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs and … well you see where this is going?

Proof enough for you of their great and magical influence? And why despite yourself, you will watch this clip over and over as you stuff Easter eggs into your mouth, a whole day early.

Wait, is that just me? OK then, just watch the clip please, I have eggs to eat in privacy while no one’s watching …

 

Weekend pop art: Your most-loved pop culture characters unmasked!

Big Bird ... or Tweety? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)
Big Bird … or Tweety? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)

 

If you’re like me, you’ve likely spent a great deal of time with your favourite pop culture characters, their presence enriching everything from lazy childhood Saturday mornings spent spread out on the couch watching cartoons to nostalgic adult nights spent wondering where your youth went … wait, is that just me?

Anyway, the point is that we’ve spent a lot of time with the likes of Big Bird, Homer Simpson, E.T. and Kermit the Frog and we’d like to think we know them pretty well.

But as artist Alex Solis, asks us in his fantastically imaginative artwork featuring these icons and their true identities, how well do we know them and is our whole life a great big stinking lie?

OK, fine he doesn’t ask that last question and his art featuring characters-within-characters, which is currently the subject of a Kickstarter you should support, are actually asking us why these characters feel so familiar? Could it be, he asks, that “our minds [are] piecing together past experiences to create something that feels unique and new.”

Entirely possible, as our adult and childhood brains struggle to connect the characters we knew back then with the ones we know now? Are they all the same? Connected in some mysterious way? It’s fun to find out and you can keep the journey and the wondering going as Alex releases new images via Instagram.

(Source: Geek and Sundry; all images (c) Alex Solis)

 

Barney or Barney? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)
Barney or Barney? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)

 

Kermit ... or the hand? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)
Kermit … or the hand? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)

 

Minion ... or stormtrooper? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)
Minion … or stormtrooper? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)

 

E.T. or alien xenomorph? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)
E.T. or alien xenomorph? (image via Geek and Sundry (c) Alex Solis)

Never Stop Never Stopping: Popstar is an undeniably dope parody

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

 

SNAPSHOT
Popstar “goes behind the scenes as singer/rapper Conner4Real faces a crisis of popularity after his sophomore album flops, leaving his fans, sycophants and rivals all wondering what to do when he’s no longer the dopest star of all. (synopsis via Paste Magazine)

Mockumentaries can be a real joy.

With a crack writing team behind them and actors who can keep a straight face and make believe that everything they’re saying and doing is the real deal – scarily in the case of first-rate parodies they often are, which is pretty much the satirical point – they confirm in the most hilarious manner everything you ever thought about a particular world or situation.

And Popstar, from Lonely Island which is made up of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, looks like it has a superb shot of deliciously skewering a whole lot of stuff about the modern music industry notes Junkee:

“Though joking about popstars being self-obsessed isn’t new, its points about a lack of originality in the music industry, an endless love of gimmickry and the epic behind-the-scenes mechanics of stardom are more relevant than ever. With Conner4Real’s holograms of a humping Adam Levine, and a staff of 32 making him look cool (including a certain other star’s mentor, Usher), Popstar could be a great This Is Spinal Tap for the Bieber age.”

It’s crammed full of big stars, both musical and cinematic such as Usher, Bill Hader, Pink, Simon Cowell, Will Arnett, Joanna Newsom and Sarah Silverman, wickedly good performances and killer lines, making this one mockumentary to look forward to with great anticipation.

Watching it will you dope y’all. (No, it won’t but hey hire 32 people like Conner4Real (Samberg) and you too can be this fake real.)

Popstar opens in theatres on 3 June in USA.

 

Book review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars book review MAIN

 

The apocalypse ain’t what it used to be.

That’s not to say it’s dropped all its end-of-the-world, doom-and-gloom garb in favour of bright summery colours and a jaunty gait, but an increasing number of writers are beginning to ask themselves, in ways usually poetic and insightful – once the apocalypse has exhausted its first violent civilisation-ending burst of energy, what happens then?

Once upon a time, all literature served us up was the grim certainty that the world had ended and survival, if fate was so generous as to hand you that prize, was about the best you could hope for.

Ah yes, hope. Forget about that, and happiness, and fulfilment and contentment and satisfaction. Anything that reeked of the good things lost in the apocalypse were long gone, a relic of a bygone era where takeaway coffee and lazy vacations held sway before death and privation.

But then writers like Peter Heller came along and gave us The Dog Stars, a story about one man, Hig, who survives a vehemently aggressive flu outbreak that wipes out 99 point whatever of humanity, leaving the survivors to shoot at each other, to scrabble for the survival scraps that fate absentmindedly drops off the table.

A recreational pilot back in the day before things went horribly pear-shaped and he lost his beloved wife Melissa who succumbed to the disease from which genetic predisposition had spared him, he retreats from his home in Denver to a remote airport where his Cessna, which becomes a key to his survival in a new brutal age since it allows him to fly around and see if enemies are incoming and to gather luxuries like soda pop, is parked.

He is joined in time by gun-nut Bangley, who cares for his ammunition and little else, a rough, taciturn man who nonetheless grudgingly falls into a partnership and friendship of sorts with Hig, their joint task to see off acquisitive, violent interlopers and stay alive long enough to justify living through the hell of the apocalypse.

 

The Dog Stars book review pic 2

 

But like other characters in hopeful books about the aftermath of the end of the world such as those in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, and even the oft-blighted denizens of The Walking Dead, Hig begins to question whether simply surviving is enough.

It’s not something he gives a lot of thought to since growing food, going hunting for deer, and simply staying alive consume a lot of his time.

There is also his faithful dog Jasper, who unlike the elephants and the elk, survived the mini mass extinction that accompanied the flu-accompanying uptick in climate change, proof that the earth was earnestly intent on ridding itself of its Homo Sapien pestilence.

Hig describes Jasper as “Little brother. My heart.” and with Melissa gone, Bangley only offering grudging friendship and the simple act of survival about the best he can wish for, his dog and constant companion is his main attachment to the real business of living.

What is transportively wonderful about The Dog Stars is that Heller manages to infuse Hig and his oft-benighted existence with an enduring sense of quiet optimism. Despite everything, all the loss and the terror and the sadness, Hig still takes solace in the majesty of nature, in the possibility that being alive can mean more than simply putting one foot in front of the other and not dying.

It helps that in the old days Hig was an amateur poet, a man who wrote many poems, many for his wife, and who even at the end of the world takes pause to lyrically muse on the world around him.

“The moss I wonder how old. It is dry and light to the touch, almost crumbly, but in the trees it moves like sad pennants.”

He likely wouldn’t describe himself as happy but he is cautiously, poetically hopeful in quiet, understated ways and after an unexpectedly traumatic event sends him fleeing the airport in search of somewhere unknowable and unspoken that offer him the fulfilment of that reckless hope, he meets Cima (and her gruff father) who after trying to kill him, end up as his unexpected family.

While the love story is a little slender and under-developed, it does a nice job of bolstering the idea that holding onto hope in the apocalypse, something that ever-practical Bangley regards with palpable disdain, might not be a quixotic undertaking after all.

The Dog Stars is funny, poetic, insightful and heartfelt, a sparsely-elegant tribute to the human spirit which can, even the darkest and bleakest of moments hold onto the idea that there might be something more, even when all the something mores of the world seemed to have completely disappeared from sight.

In a lot of ways injecting hope into an apocalyptic situation gives a far more rounded view of the human condition that most bog standard end of the world tales; yes humanity can be gobsmackingly brutal, nasty and cruel, and no doubt civilisation would fall; but we are also capable, and Hig is the poster for this sentiment, of beauty, expectation and hope, and while no one wants to test this out thank you very much, this deeply-meaningful, poetic book offers hope that even when all appears lost and there is no reason to expect anything good from a now-blighted world, that perhaps fate is not completely vindictive after all and tomorrow might just be worth sticking around for, come what may.

 

 

SMOOTH … Sesame Street seamlessly delivers a stunning rendition of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads”

Grover and Ernie get on down with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (image via YouTube)
Grover and Ernie get on down with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (image via YouTube)

 

Sesame Street has always been way up to the minute and astutely hip to the groove.

And now thanks to Adam Schleichkorn, who previously gave us the mash-up gem of The Muppets performing the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want”, they just got even more street cred thanks to his clever bringing together of Grover, Elmo, Ernie and the gang with Cleveland Ohio’s Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads.”

It’s smooth, soulful and pinpoint-perfect in the bringing together of visuals and song though it was not without its challenges according to Schleichkorn:

“This was, by far, the toughest song choice out of all the mashups I’ve ever created, but it’s one of the best rap songs ever, so it had to be done.”

We’re glad he did and no doubt so the ever-hip, ever-with it denizens of the funkiest street in the world.

(source: Mashable)