The Simpsons go Disney in latest hilarious couch gag

(image courtesy FOX)
(image courtesy FOX)

 

The Simpsons couch gags are damn near legendary.

For 27 seasons, the show hailed by The A. V. Club as “television’s crowning achievement regardless of format”, has begun each episode with a humorous depiction of the show’s titular working class family settling into their living room ready to watch TV.

The couch has exploded leaving the family to sit on the ground (“Homer’s Odyssey”, 1991), they’ve been rendered as skeletons promoting “Treehouse of Horror III” (1992), split themselves down the middle to occupy two identical couches (“Homer Loves Flanders”, 1994), been joined for a night’s viewing by Fry from Futurama (“HOMR”, 2001), turned from Transformers into themselves (“Future Drama”, 2005) and been drawn Triplets of Bellville-style with a distintcly French look and feel (“Diggs”, 2014).

And now, thanks to much-admired Disney animator Eric Goldberg (Aladdin, Hercules, Frozen) they’ve been rendered Disney-style with nods to a raft of Disney feature film classics as EW explains:

“Lisa as Cinderella! Marge as Snow White! Bart as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia! Homer as Baloo from The Jungle Book! Maggie as Mickey Mouse!”

It’s a glorious meeting of Disney past with The Simpsons present, the perfect melding of everything we love about animation.

And just like The Simpsons themselves, you won’t want it to end.

 

Scrappy Little Nobody: Anna Kendrick has an amusing essay collection in the works

(image via Anna Kendrick's official Twitter account)
(image via Anna Kendrick’s official Twitter account)

 

Next to the superlative Sandra Bullock of which no ill can ever be said, the delightful Anna Kendrick, who is well known for her sparklingly funny, self-deprecating Twitter account, is one of my favourite actresses.

She has starred in a range of impressively good movies such as Up in the Air (2009), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Into the Woods (2014), The Last Five Years (2014) and Mr. Right (2016), bringing her charm, wit and a killer singing voice to her roles.

And now she has a book, yes an actual book, coming out on November 15 via Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, the existence of which she announced in typically playful, fun fashion.

 

(image via official Anna Kendrick Twitter account)
(image via official Anna Kendrick Twitter account)

 

She’s followed it up with a video on her Twitter account and a media release where she made it clear she’s simultaneously (a) excited to be having her first book published and (b) concerned at the plethora of grammatical conundrums that might come her way:

“I’m excited to publish my first book, and because I get uncomfortable when people have high expectations, I’d like to use this opportunity to showcase my ineptitude, pettiness, and the frequency with which I embarrass myself. And while many of my female inspirations who have become authors are incredibly well-educated and accomplished comedy writers, I’m very, very funny on Twitter, according to BuzzFeed and my mom, so I feel like this is a great idea. Quick question: are run-on sentences still frowned upon? Wait, is ending a sentence with a preposition still frowned upon? I mean, upon frowned? Dammit!”

Anna needn’t sweat the details – she’s funny, sweet and insightful, all of which will be no doubt be reflected in the collection of hilarious essays which EW notes “will cover amusing anecdotes from Kendrick’s life, from her New England upbringing to eventually starring in films like Up in the Air“.

And naturally as an inveterate collector of humourous and thoughtful celebrity tomes, I aim to have a copy in hand ready for my birthday that same month.

And to be reading and laughing with wry amusement sometime shortly thereafter.

Independence Day: Resurgence – Another battle we cannot win … or can we?

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

 

SNAPSHOT
We always knew they were coming back. After Independence Day redefined the event movie genre, the next epic chapter delivers global spectacle on an unimaginable scale. Using recovered alien technology, the nations of Earth have collaborated on an immense defense program to protect the planet. But nothing can prepare us for the aliens’ advanced and unprecedented force. Only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can bring our world back from the brink of extinction. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

The aliens who terrorised Earth (and one very lucky dog) back in Independence Day are sore losers.

Really sore losers.

So much so in fact that twenty years after they blew apart the White House, tried to kill Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum and tried to take away our planet from us, they’re back bigger, badder and mighty pissed off.

And despite retrofitting their technology so we have a whole new set of nice, shiny military toys with which to defend ourselves, they’ve been busy creating a whole lot of new wipe-Homo-Sapiens-off-the-face-of-the-Earth gear and come back ready to use it to devastating effect.

See … REALLY … POOR … LOSERS.

So our survival is back in doubt bigtime.

But hey with Roland Emmerich in the driver’s seat once more, we can be guaranteed more epic alien invasion badassery, more monuments being blown up and I suspect humanity once more triumphing (again on 4 July; what is with these aliens and their punctual invasion schedule?).

Or will we? It all depends I guess on whether there’s a third movie in the offing in which case humanity may be left on a great big alien-shaped cliffhanger.

Independence Day: Resurgence opens 23 June in Australia and 24 June in USA.

 

 

Now this is music #68: Ladyhawke, Gazzo, Sara Hartman, Kill J, Peter Bjorn & John

Now this is music 68 MAIN

 

Life is short, people. We know that.

But how is that influencing what you’re doing with it?

Are you playing it safe, sitting nice and still for fear of upsetting the apple cart, real or imagined? Or as these five artists urge, are you going all out on your own terms to live what Oprah likes to call “your best life”?

Yes life is short but if you’re living on your own terms, and pursuing your dreams, it’s going one hell of a worthwhile journey.

Which you can start right now by listening to these fine motivating songs.

 

“A Lovesong” by Ladyhawke

 

Ladyhawke (photo via official Ladyhawke Facebook page)
Ladyhawke (photo via official Ladyhawke Facebook page)

 

One of the great mainstays of pop music is the love song, which can be sweet and tremulous or bitter, awestruck or disillusioned depending on where the artist sits on Cupid’s arrow-struck scale.

Pip Brown aka Ladyhawke, whose new album Wild Things lands 3 June, has landed firmly in the love in the real world end of the scale in “A Love Song”.

The song, which delivers her usual trademark electropop sleekness and immersively emotive vocals, talks frankly about real love being the stuff that happens when someone sees you at your destructive worst and steps in to hold you up and get you on the path to recovery.

Sure it talks about the Hallmark greeting card stuff and some of the darker, negative emotions, but by and large it talks about love as it really is and affirms that this is what a love song should be all about.

And so all of us.

 

 

“What You Waiting For (feat. Sugarwhiskey)” by Gazzo

 

Gazzo (photo via official Gazzo Facebook page)
Gazzo (photo via official Gazzo Facebook page)

 

A DJ/producer who has made quite a name for himself of late, Gazzo, or Mike Gazzo as his parents know him, is one artist who is living his dream.

Producing eminently-danceable music that will have you on your feet in an instant, Gazzo, who is a talented instrumentalist too, also believes in getting you thinking too.

Dancing and thinking at the same time? Of course you can!

The artist, whose catchy songs Your Music Radar places “on par with the likes of the current offerings from The Chainsmokers, Disco Fries, [and] Tiesto”,  is asking everyone, in concert with pop duo Sugarwhiskey why are they aren’t Carpe Diem-ing the hell out of life right here, right now.

“What You Waiting For” is all about finding out what your love and putting your heart and soul into it without delay.

Because YOLO … right?

 

 

“Two Feet off the Ground” by Sara Hartman

 

Sara Hartman (image via official Sara Hartman Facebook page)
Sara Hartman (image via official Sara Hartman Facebook page)

 

Following her impressive debut single “Monster Lead me Home”, the New York born-and-raised Sara Hartman, who now calls Berlin her music-making home, has released the supremely catchy “Two Feet Off the Ground”.

It confirms we have a real talent in our midst, the song a perfect whole – verses and chorus that balance each other, a beat with all the momentum and accompanying melody you could ask for and enchantingly bright, upbeat vocals that match the buoyant mood of the lyrics.

This is a song, Hartman says, that is all “a don’t think, just follow your instincts kind of tune”, the kind of push along that we all need.

In this masterful piece of pop, there’s no such thing as stultifying inertia, only a full speed ahead dash to wherever your heart, soul and dreams take you.

It’s the kind of journey we all be taking every damn day of our lives.

 

 

“Coda” by Kill J

 

Kill J (photo via official Kill J Facebook page)
Kill J (photo via official Kill J Facebook page)

 

Copenhagen-based artist Kill J is one of those people who refuses to be categorised.

“I´m a pop artist – but I don’t quite fit into that box… then I realize that I don’t have to be fully something. I´m quasi. Half graceful goddess, half reptile.” (Pigeons and Planes)

Interesting choices admittedly but by god it makes a soul glad that there are singers in this world who won’t bow to convention and give us songs as addictively soulful as “Coda”.

Layered over an ineffably lovely but attitude-laden synth-drenched melody, Kill J talks about “about taking power back. You always know what you should have said after it’s over and too late – ‘Coda’ is my way of getting the last word.” (Pigeons and Planes)

It fits in perfectly with her approach to life – be your own person, say what needs to be said and don’t be afraid of where that takes you.

 

 

“What You Talkin’ About” by Peter Bjorn and John

 

Peter Bjorn and John (photo via official Peter Bjorn and John Facebook page)
Peter Bjorn and John (photo via official Peter Bjorn and John Facebook page)

 

The masters of bouncy, thoughtful, melody-laden pop, the three Swedish artists collectively known as Peter Bjorn and John, who made a world-spanning memorable debut back in 2006 with “Young Folks”, are back with the first single from their next album Breakin’ Point due out 10 June.

And it’s every bit as catchy and beguilingly wonderful as their first indie pop/rock musical cab off the rank.

“What You Talking About” is proof though that the band, which is made up of Peter Morén (vocals, guitar and harmonica), Björn Yttling (bass guitar, keyboards and vocals) and John Eriksson (drums, percussion and vocals), aren’t prepared to rest on their laurels with a bevy of talented collaborators joining them in the studio, according to Pitchfork.

“The band’s first album since 2011’s Gimme Some will feature collaborations with several high-profile producers, including Paul Epworth (U2, Paul McCartney), Greg Kurstin (Adele), and Emile Haynie (FKA Twigs, Lana Del Rey).”

And it’s clearly paying off with their trademark sound very much intact but polished and buffed to lend the air of a band that isn’t done creating insanely listenable music just yet.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

So you may have noticed that a small, barely-watched show called Game of Thrones returned for its sixth season this week.

In honour of its ratings-stomping return, Billboard mused on which pop stars would be best cast as various Games of Thrones characters (artwork by Paul Tuller).

My favourite? Madoona as Cersei Lannister.

To find out who else they nominated, go to Billboard.

 

Madonna as Cersei Lannister (artwork (c) Paul Tuller (c) Billboard)
Madonna as Cersei Lannister (artwork (c) Paul Tuller (c) Billboard)

Movie review: Mother’s Day

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

 

If there’s one thing that Hollywood, and in this case director Garry Marshall, likes more, well quite possibly than mothers themselves, it’s a good old, well-used formula.

Worry not about well-rounded characters, authenticity of any kind and emotions that even come close to ringing true; no, what you need are some loosely-sketched, tenuously-connected people (even if they are best friends or family), the hint of real world angst and the means to solve these barely cooked-through dilemmas with a sitcom-esque ease that will have you wishing you too could live in Cinema Land.

And while it’s all perfectly amiable, sweet and inoffensive, and on some fairly superficial, don’t-engage-your-brain-I-said-don’t, level sort of somewhat enjoyable – to the point where you feel like an emotional grinch for so much as thinking about disparaging its fairy floss concoction – the result is a movie that wastes its A-list stars, of which there are many, and delivers less of a knockout finale that an “aw shucks, that’s possibly a little bit lovely” ending guaranteed to warm the hard and cold cockles of your heart while leaving the rest of you wondering why you bothered.

Like Marshall’s two previous films in this vein, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day is heavy on the treacle, the sap and the corn, peddling like a sugar-fuelled monkey on an exercise bike to elicit all the manipulated emotions it can from you.

Yes, among all the sugary froth and nonsense, there are important Things You Must Learn, all of which, quite naturally, centre on the fact that Mothers are Wonderful, Self-Sacrificial Angels – true on all counts but the time you’re finished with Mother’s Day, you won’t care – but it’s delivered in such a determinedly emotionally-aggressive way that you can see it’s many twists and turns, in which reside nuggets of maternal wisdom and truth, coming in such an obvious way that any narrative satisfaction is long long before the characters hove earnestly (or goofily) into view.

Yes, there are movies that are light, frothy and fun and that’s totally fine; not every film has to be a grippingly intense drama about salt of the earth settlers in the mid-nineteenth century wild west who endure pestilence, sandstorms, earthquakes and fire before learning deeply important life lessons.

But movies this likeable and saccharine, even if they do pass their two hour running time with relative ease, do a disservice to other movies of their ilk which actually manage to be somewhat genuinely meaningful.

 

 

The characters who populate our interconnected universe – like all of Marshall’s films, everyone is linked together in some fashion, whether by blood, marriage or friendship – are your stock standard collection of human tropes.

You have happily-divorced interior designer Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), mother to two boys, whose world set well and truly off-kilter when handsome ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) spontaneously up and marries late 20s actress/model/tweeter Tina (Shay Mitchell) who is cool and hip in a way that Sandy feels she can never be (ah but Tina is NOT a mother so there!; yes the messages are that clunky and clumsily shoehorned in).

Sandy, who is given Aniston’s phone-it-in weirdly-but-likeably unhinged treatment, is best friends with Jesse (Kate Hudson) who is married to Indian doctor Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and sister to not-quite-out-of-the-closet Gabi (Sarah Chalke), neither of whom have told their estranged, bigoted but too bigoted mother Flo (Margo Martindale) and father Earl (Robert Pine) that they are married and gay respectively.

Throw in widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) who is still mourning the loss of his wife a year earlier) while trying to keep the memory of their mum alive for his daughters (and yes learning How Good Mothers Are; there are those lesson-bearing capitalised letters again), bartender Kristin (Britt Robertson) who is trying to connect with her birth mother Miranda (Julia Roberts) while fending off her baby daddy Zack (Jack Whitehall)’s entreaties for marriage (the cad!).

All the storylines are meant to have an equal mix of whimsy and meaning, or in the case of the next to final trailer and giant pink womb on a trailer (don’t ask) chase slapstick chase scene, outright hilarity, but never really ring true.

We’re supposed to root for Bradley and Sandy to get together, their endless meet-cutes – how are they not figuring out what’s going on? Clearly they’re so stupid they deserve each other – wish for Kristin to meet her mum, and hope that Gabi and Jesse can come clean to their parents, find freedom and emotional honesty and importantly, Reconnect With Their Mother, who deep down is a Loving Caring Mother.

 

 

And in a kind of offhand, don’t-mind-if-they-do, don’t-mind-if-they-don’t way, you do wish the best for these characters, all of whom have to learn motherly lessons of one kind or another.

But there’s no real emotional investment in the outcome, everything so light and frothy that the meaningful stuff, such as it is, gets lost in the ensemble shuffle and you’re left with a glimmer or two of the warm and fuzzies before everything quickly dissipates like a few raindrops on red hot summer bitumen.

Again, not every movie has to be an earnest treatise on the human condition, and escapist movies have their place but this is a lazy effort, a cobbling together of tropes, lessons and connivances that doesn’t come close to having any kind of impact.

In fact, it all gets so tedious and obvious, and over long, that you begin to will the movie to end, which it is most certainly does not, what with a wedding, reconnections and possible new love clogging up the film’s closing scenes, many of which seem so thrown together that you begin to wonder if they ran out of script two thirds of the way and simply kept filming hoping it would all work out in some fashion.

Mothers are wonderful in every way, that’s true, and should be the centre of a film that celebrates the selfless lengths they go to raise and nurture their kids; but Mother’s Day, sweet though it may be despite its many shortcomings, is not that film.

Like a potato man or a cheap clay necklace present on the big day itself, mothers, and practically every other member of the human race, deserve way better.

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Ouroboros” (S2, E3 review)

Nick began to wonder if going on blind dates in the age of apocalypse was really such a wise move (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)
Nick began to wonder if going on blind dates in the age of apocalypse was really such a wise move (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND APOCALYPTIC SHOPPING … AND WELL-TRAVELLED WALKERS*
As the fractious passengers of the Victor Strand (Colman Domingo)-helmed, good ship Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t aka Abigail sailed down the Californian coast, it became patently obvious that there’s not a lot of trust going down.

Which is a problem as Madison (Kim Dickens) reminds an increasingly secretive Strand – who keeps having hush-hush conversations with some strangers off in Mexico, which it turns out is the group’s destination, whether they like it or not – since without it, they’re not going to be able to work together to survive the delightful hellhole that is the apocalypse.

Madison had been sent in to “diplomatically” draw out Victor’s plans to spirit them all away to the Baja peninsula, where he supposedly has a Goldilocks house full of water, and food and big walker-proof walls oh my, and while she gets the admission she’s after, it’s arrived at with all the finesse of a herd of demented obese walkers stumbling through a flower meadow.

So much for Daniel’s (Rubén Blades) faith that Madison had what it took to delicately get Strand to admit that he’s got something untoward and nefarious after his sleeve; all he admitted to in the end was a nice big house that he’s supposedly going to share with them all like some post-apocalyptic Santa Claus.

To which we all say, like Benjamin Barry’s aggressively-competitive card-playing family in How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days – “BULLSHIT!”

The man is clearly up to no good, and while you could argue he can do what he likes since it’s his boat and his original plan, he has chosen to bring everyone else along and needs to include them in his planning.

That isn’t happening though, and his secrecy and Madison’s frustration with it, coupled with Travis’s reluctance to simply go to Baja on Strand’s say-so, marks the increasingly deep fissures that are appearing in our sometimes clueless group of survivors.

And once this is given full vent, it stands to be a far more dangerous development that anything the bad new world of walkers and mercenary humans could ever throw at them.

In other words, split up, they could well be the architects of their own demise.

 

Here come the well-travelled zombies en masse ... (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)
Here come the well-travelled zombies en masse … (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)

 

Oh shit! Run away! Run away! RUN ... AWAY! (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)
Oh shit! Run away! Run away! RUN … AWAY! (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)

 

But for now, this was another slow boil episode – not such a bad thing when you consider that good drama doesn’t necessarily need to be loud, in-your-face and overwhelming to be effective, and the Fear the Walking Dead is not supposed to be a carbon copy of The Walking Dead, despite some fans’ expectations that it should be – where Nick (Frank Dillane), Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Daniel went off for a spot of apocalyptic shopping.

Which as you might suspect doesn’t involve brightly-lit malls, big sales and cappuccinos mod-morning but rather rifling through the luggage of a down plane on the sandy dunes of a remote beach that looks, initially at least, pleasingly free of the undead.

The plane in question is Flight 462, the subject of 16 episode webisode series which introduced us to Alex (Michelle Ang), who knows way more about the upcoming zombie apocalypse than anyone else; who is she and how’d she come across all this knowledge we ask quizzically – and Jake (Brenden Meyer), who are among the few people to survive the plane’s downing.

Making it to shore on a bright yellow raft, Alex is onshore but out of sight when Nick and the gang start rather languidly, despite Daniel’s entreaty to hurry up, poking through all the bags and suitcases that lie around them like bulky confetti.

It’s one of the few niggling minor epic fails of the episode which otherwise did a nice job of bringing in a new character, placing two characters in mortal peril (Chris, who killed a dying passenger, and Nick who fell into a zombie-infested hole as you do and discovered the blood of the undead is great camouflage) and illustrating that the one-for-all, all-for-one ethos that’s shakily propelled things till now, is fraying like crazy.

 

Alex saves Jake ... then Alex saves Daniel, Chris, Nick and Alicia ... and the Strand seems particularly disinclined to save her (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)
Alex saves Jake … then Alex saves Daniel, Chris, Nick and Alicia … and the Strand seems particularly disinclined to save her (photo by Richard Foreman/courtesy AMC)

 

The most compelling part of the episode was Alex and her utter and complete driven determination to make sure that Jake lives.

It’s likely what drove her to shore, and what led her to make the most of meeting Nick, Daniel and the others, who she sort of saved and sort of didn’t. (In the end it was zombie-blood coated Nick who saved them all by wading through the undead plane survivors and killing enough to allow everyone else to run hell for the beach and safety; well relative safety anyway.)

Her presence gave further vent to the deep fissures between Madison, who wants to save people, and Victor who most certainly does not, and illustrated that it’s possible to do what must be done and still keep your soul in the apocalypse, even if it’s a little tarnished from killing the two other people in the raft who wanted to kill of Jake before he turned.

The fact that she was cut free by Victor, without checking with anyone else, is proof that the cracks between the survivors are getting potentially deadly and that self-interest often trumps the common good far more than we’d like.

This battle between Darwinian survival of the fittest and a benign humanism is nothing new of course in The Walking Dead universe but given how early it is in the aftermath of civilisation falling, it’s doesn’t bode well for the survival of the group aboard the Abigail, at least as one cohesive unit.

Still, it does mean some great drama awaits us and that can only be a good thing for Fear the Walking Dead,  which pleasingly slow though its narrative is, still needs a little bit of a kick-along to remain truly engaging in the mid-to-long run.

  • When you name your next episode “Blood in the Streets”, that probably means life is not going to get any easier or less fractious, life-threatening or bloody and that pretty much seems to be the case if the trailer and sneak peek video are anything to go by …

 

 

Side by side: The first and last frames of classic TV shows

(image via Vimoeo (c) Celia Gómez)
(image via Vimoeo (c) Celia Gómez)

 

When you commit to watching a TV show, particular a long-running one, you become so enmeshed in its ups and downs, its narrative stepping stones and the growth and change of its characters, that it’s hard to remember what it was all like at the beginning.

You grow with the series and so when it ends, it can be hard to remember exactly what it was like back when it all began.

That’s why this compilation of the opening and closing shots of iconic TV shows by Vimeo user Celia Gómez like Mad Men (it was created to honour the one year anniversary of the end of the series), Friends, Californication, The Wire, Frasier and Lost.

As Zap2it points out, the video does a masterful job of showing “how these iconic shows managed to both change and stay exactly the same.”

And it reveals that one TV show creator in particular knew exactly what he was doing when he started his series:

“For Lost, J.J. Abrams’ thoughtful symbolism proves he knew exactly how it would end all along—even if millions of fans couldn’t have seen it coming.”

It’s a brilliantly-realised concept and underscores how much artistic thought goes into superlatively-good TV show and how fortunate we are to have creative talents of the likes of J.J. Abrams, Alan Ball, Vince Gilligan, David Simon, and Marta Kauffman and David Crane giving us such immersively wonderful TV entertainment.

 

Happy London Eurovision Party! Recap from VIP guest blogger Christoph Fischer

(image via Eurovision.tv)
(image via Eurovision.tv)

 

In recent years The Eurovision Song Contest has staged a series of parties at select cities throughout Europe to build up excitement and momentum ahead of the event itself and to extend the Eurovision season a little bit further than one stellar week in May. This year, parties were held in Moscow, Riga, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam and London, where is where this week’s enormously talented guest blogger saw a whole host of Eurovision artists old and new performing their memorable songs. Take it away VIP guest Christoph Fischer

Thanks for having me on your blog. I’ve got big shoes to fill here, but I’ll try to make it as entertaining as possible.

It’s fantastic to see how Eurovision strives to become an ever more global and interactive event. Gone are the days of a small selected audience in a minor theatre hall. I have been to Eurovision once (in 2013) and began to realise how many side-events, parties and shows are being organised around it – many long before the contest even starts.

So this year I decided to join the pre-hype for Eurovision and attend one of the five huge parties that invite the 2016 participants to perform live on stage. Moscow, Riga, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam had already held their parties and this was the last one before the delegates head for the actual contest in Stockholm. It was a good excuse to go to the vibrant city that is London and it’s always such an odd feeling for me to find large groups of hard-core ESC fans, a rather specialised music market. Trust me, in rural Wales, where I live, the appreciation and enthusiasm for it is slim.

I splashed out for a VIP ticket, tempted by the exclusivity the name implied, and eager to get a shot at the promised “meet-and-greet photo opportunities” with the ‘stars’. Laziness was the other factor – I wanted to get a seat since the doors opened at 5 pm and closed at 2am… I’m old.

 

Cristof with host Nikki French and Uk entrants Joe and Jake (image courtesy Cristof Fischer)
Christoph with host Nikki French and Uk entrants Joe and Jake (image courtesy Christoph Fischer)

 

As a VIP I joined a very short queue for the early entrance option, got my gift bag and VIP pass before entering the venue. Nicki French, UK representative of 2000 (and a one-time dance and drinking partner of mine – there’s another long story) greeted everyone together with Joe and Jake – the UK act for this year. Professional photographers took pictures of all VIPs posing with those three. I have to hand it to those guys – they did a great job. The welcome was warm and fun and there was time to chat briefly and wish them well. A promising start. The Cafe De Paris has an oval shape with a VIP gallery overlooking the stage and the dance floor. I positioned myself advantageously on the balcony near the stage.
As the hall filled the DJ played an eclectic mix of classic and odd Eurovision hits: Winners, high-pointed second places and nil-pointers all got these hard core fans going. You could tell it was going to be a great night with so much enthusiasm and good will to have a good time around.

 

VIP entry! (image courtesy Cristof Fischer)
VIP entry! (image courtesy Christoph Fischer)

 

First up was Ireland – a song I hadn’t rated so highly but Nicky Byrne delivered a convincing performance that swayed me. He sang first because he had to head off to Heathrow to catch a flight but he stayed focused and calm throughout. He also came across as extremely likeable – patiently posing for selfies on his way in and keeping a humble attitude in the chats – a far cry from the big-headed pomp that sank Engelbert’s PR campaign. It was mentioned that Nick started his phenomenal Westlife career in the very Cafe De Paris in 1998, the perfect place to launch his solo career.

Kaliopi from Macedonia is a Eurovision veteran and she owned the stage. The audience loved her before she even grabbed the microphone. She’s got a phenomenal voice and a charismatic bubbly personality – it’s hard to dismiss her, despite the somewhat weak song in my opinion. Macedonia will do well in the semi’s at least.

Poli Genova from Bulgaria was another huge surprise for me. I remembered her in ESC 2011 – almost helpless, squeezed in a unlikely designer frock which was in sharp contrast to her leather rock attire and punk hair cut from the preview video. I hadn’t rated her new song in my many YouTube marathons of 2016 songs but after a few minutes of her on stage I was as much in love with her as the rest of the audience. Nobody could escape her upbeat personality – or the catchy chorus as sung by the entire audience. It has huge potential to make that all important instant impact.

Really rocking the stage also was Destiny, who won Junior ESC for Malta last year. That girl has a voice to die for and is a big bundle of energy. After reprising her song she introduced Ira Losco. The two did a short duet of the song that ‘should have won’ for Malta in 2002. I’m still not a big fan of the new song – despite liking the Swedish song writer Molly Petterson Hammer from her Melodie Festivalen Entries. Something about it doesn’t sit right with me – but I’m the minority here – Ira can sing and grab the audience and the bookmakers have confidence in her, too.

Spains singer Barei pleased the audience but left me cold. She’s got a lot of energy and is well backed in the betting, too. I’ll believe it when I see it …

Eleftheria Eleftheriou, not only sang her song from 2012, she sang a medley of Greek, Cypriot and Turkish ESC songs. The hall was heaving by then from this injection of old classics and favorites.

Speaking of which – Aminata from Latvia sang “Love Injected”, the eclectic song that finished sixth last year. She wrote the entry for this year’s Latvian entry, too. Her new material is good – albeit quite different from “Love Injected”.

I had the good fortune to sit with a group of lively Cypriots on my part of the balcony and – champagne drenched trousers aside – had a fabulous time swinging the flag and getting the attention of “Minus One”. Their song is not to be dismissed. For rock presented to cheesy music lovers this went down a storm – the howling that’s part of the song in particular really sticks to your mind and might get people to vote when you least expect it. A dark horse indeed – confident vocals and good staging.

Selma from Iceland presented her two songs from 1999 and 2005 – I’m biased here because I managed to speak with her a little later and took selfies. I loved those songs and she came across as such a lovely person.

Not far from where I sat was one of the doors to the backstage area and some of my fellow VIP’s loitered with intent to catch the unsuspecting participants and force them to take selfies. I was extremely tempted by the prospect of doing this, but watching the show was more important to me in the end.

 

 

After a break in the programme Montenegro came on. I always had a soft spot for this one. I know it isn’t going to do well. As you said in your blog post – at the right time and in the right mood this is rather enjoyable albeit it is unlikely to get many votes. The lead singers have confident vocal performances and had stage presence, though, and I hope against the odds that they can catch the audience’s attention and make it to the final.

When Zoe came on stage for Austria I knew she would be liked. A classic ESC song with great harmonies, a key change and sung in French – that had to go down well with the queens in the audience. And it did. The ovation lasted so long that Zoe began to cry as the crowd kept chanting her name. I wonder if this can be repeated in Stockholm and can translate to a good score then. In the fan club voting she is comfortably in the top half but in the polls she sits a bit lower than that.

Ovidio, the rocker for Romania, attempted to represent his country last year (with a much nicer song in my opinion) but got the nomination only this time. I don’t rate the song at all but he, too, has a stage presence and noticeable voice. Given Romania’s back record of qualifying for the final – I find it hard to dismiss him. He tirelessly posed for selfies and seemed a genuinely natural entertainer. The lead singer from Cyprus came on stage to introduce this fellow rocker. I know that good PR is part of the game but I love it when it comes off well. I’m curious if Ovidio will deliver.

Now Croatia is a country I love and seeing it doing so well in the polls has been lovely. Yet, the song is a bit simple for my liking. Nina Kraljić came on, almost shy with a most obscure frock. She gave a great vocal but else wooden performance that made me wish I had used this song for my toilet break. I understand she is a big star in her home but to other audiences her quiet sweetness and what seemed an unspoken expectation for admiration might bomb.

Michal Szpak surprised Europe when he won the Polish national final over the hot bookmaker’s pre-selection favourite (Margaret’s “Cool it down”) to win the entire contest – and over Eurovision legend Edyta Gorniak. Sitting on the gallery I’ve noticed that he was one of the few who never looked up and tried to engage with his audience. He stared ahead, sang his beautiful ballad with no falters and then left without much ado. I like the way he paints his finger nails black and generally flirts with androgyny but I had hoped for a little more charisma and interaction with the audience. Still, a great song and a strong contender, I guess.

Sweden’s Frans must be pissed off for being always introduced as little. He’s 17 – if I remember the stuff I was up to at that age, I doubt he is half as innocent as people like to think. Yes he’s cute but the song with it’s theme of revenge and anger contradicts the cheerfulness of the melody imho. He’s sweet and I wish him well, of course, coming from Sweden. They are great hosts and why not go back there next year? I’m slightly biased since I watch the Swedish heats every year and hoped for other songs to be selected. Oh those fickle Eurovisionists…

At last it was time for my pre-contest favorite – Francesca from Italy. In a year with many nice songs but few really great ones, this had my douze points written all over it. Now I’m no longer so sure.

She delivered a very focused and professional performance but it didn’t seem to have a massive impact. More an introverted artist than an extrovert performer, she accompanied herself on the keyboard for her second song – not one that rocked the hall either. It’s a beautiful song that does well in the fan polls but less so in the betting. Italy would have won a Jury vote in 2012 and the popular vote in 2015. With the upcoming changes in the voting procedure this year, this is one I will be keeping a close eye on.

 

Cristof with Justs from Latvia (image courtesy Cristof Fischer)
Christoph with Justs from Latvia (image courtesy Christoph Fischer)

 

Justs from Latvia also interacted little with his audience and relied on the strength of his song and voice to get a rise out of us. Strong vocals, a distinctive sound and voice and a powerful build up helped him to take the crowd with him eventually. If people stay with him long enough and don’t switch off he could do very well in Stockholm, or sink hopelessly. The song echoes last year’s a little and that could swing both ways.

Greta Salome from Iceland with her infamous fiddle had been to the London party before and the regulars at the venue welcomed her like a celebrity. She bravely asked a member from the audience to sing Jonsi’s part of their duet “Never forget’. The guy who volunteered (really?) did actually an OK performance. Then she sang her new song “Hear them calling”. She stressed that it had a ‘strong message’: that we are all good enough and winners. I need to listen to the song a few more times maybe before I get that- or get the song – but people went mad for it, too.

 

Cristof with Greta Salóme (image courtesy Cristof Fischer)
Christoph with Greta Salóme (image courtesy Christoph Fischer)

 

At last the long awaited and often referred to Amir from France came on stage to a very flirtatious hostess Nicki French. I didn’t get the song nor Amir before that night and slightly resented the hype around him. Within minutes he had won me over with his charm and his infectious energy. Powerful, interactive and blessed with a catchy chorus, this is Europe’s best hope to keep the contest 2017 in a gay friendly country (i.e. not Russia). In tribute to his second home, Israel, he delivered an energetic performance of Golden Boy from 2015.
 Poli from Bulgaria left the green room and hung out near the stage dancing to Amir’s songs. When he was asked to sing another song he sang the chorus of Poli’s song, who then came on stage to sing it with him. She grabbed the microphone afterwards and got us all to sing the chorus of Amir’s song. We were one big happy family.

The Albanian song was an odd choice to bring on so late in the night. The audience was hyped up and their entry, Fairytale”, turned into a small anti-climax. It was cheered on mostly by a group of Albanian waitresses from the cafe.

Kaliopi from Macedonia came back on stage for the third time, to sing her Eurovision song from 2012 to a more appreciate yet nervous crowd, waiting for the climax of the evening – the UK’s own Joe and Jake.

People like “You’re not alone” – it’s catchy and sung well. As the UK is my adopted home country I always want to do them well. I just wish there was more of a theatrical streak to the boys. The act just doesn’t stand out enough. Scott Mills came on stage to introduce them and to fire up the audience and sadly, it seemed needed. “You’re not alone” was the best song in the UK final and I do wish them well. I also wish them a favourable starting position and ideas for a great stage show….

After over five hours in the venue I was exhausted. Many people left to catch the last trains home while the DJ spun a series of dance and techno remixes of selected songs for 2016. For a pre-Eurovision party those were legitimate choices and the dance floor was packed. On the other hand, there wasn’t the same kind of enthusiasm visible as in the warm-up at 5pm. I opted to hang out near the exit where fans could try and corner one of the performers for a selfie and a quick chat.

Justs from Latvia was my first victim but he seemed to have a tough time, being pulled from one group portrait and selfie to the next. He looked overwhelmed and uncomfortable – I don’t blame him. We behaved like celebrity stunned queens and papparazzis.

Selma was my other victim and the celebrity I had most hoped to catch. She was utterly charming and happily posed with me. I had definitely gotten my money’s worth.

Would I recommend these shows to others? Yes! Every year I dismiss songs that end up doing well on the night. The X-factor is hard to judge prior to the performance of the night. These shows give you a better clue of the potential. Remember, Conchita and The Common Linnets were neither hot favourites to win the contest in 2014 and then they walked it after great semi-final performances.

Eurovision is such a big spectacle – these parties are a wonderful way to become more intimate with the participants and they bridge the long wait between selection of the songs and the event. What a fab way to make it a Eurovision Season.

 

Cristof and one of his beloved Labradoodles (image courtesy Cristof Fischer)
Cristoph and one of his beloved Labradoodles (image courtesy Cristoph Fischer)

 

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers, he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. In 1993 he moved to the UK and now lives in Llandeilo in West Wales. He and his partner have several Labradoodles to complete their family.

Christoph worked for the British Film Institute, in Libraries, Museums and for an airline. His first historical novel, The Luck of The Weissensteiners, was published in November 2012 and downloaded over 60,000 times on Amazon. He has released several more historical novels, including In Search of A Revolution and Ludwika. He also wrote some contemporary family dramas and thrillers, most notably Time to Let Go and The Healer.

Website: http://www.christophfischerbooks.com/
Blog: http://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6590171.Christoph_Fischer
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You know his name: Welcome back Jason Bourne! (Trailer + poster)

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

 

SNAPSHOT
Matt Damon returns to his most iconic role in “Jason Bourne.” Paul Greengrass, the director of “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” once again joins Damon for the next chapter of Universal Pictures’ Bourne franchise, which finds the CIA’s most lethal former operative drawn out of the shadows.

For “Jason Bourne,” Damon is joined by Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel and Tommy Lee Jones, while Julia Stiles reprises her role in the series. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

I was never one for spy movies growing up.

Sure I’d occasionally sample a Bond film – to be honest they were a tad to camp and overblown for my tastes) or watch a gripping espionage thriller such as Three Days of the Condor, but by and large I ignored this particular genre.

That was until the Bourne franchise came along.

Directed by the superlative British director Paul Greengrass and starring Mat Damon as Robert Ludlum’s titular amnesiac killer spy, the Bourne movies elevated the genre, delivering in your face action combined with brilliant characterisation, taut storytelling and genuine emotional angst that range true.

Here was a man, stripped of his memories and sense of self, trained to be an unthinking ruthless killer by the CIA, who must grapple with who he is as his old sense of self comes bleeding through.

The series, while delivering clever, penetratingly intelligent thrills and spills were at heart an exploration of what happens to someone when they are rebuilt from the ground up but the past refuses to lay down and die.

And now Damon is back in Jason Bourne after taking a break from the last outing in the franchise 2012’s excellent The Bourne Legacy which starred Jeremy Renner as one of Bourne’s compatriots who’s targeted for elimination by the program’s architect, Eric Byers (Edward Norton).

 

 

While Renner more than ably subbed in for Damon, it’s good to see the man who is and will always be Bourne back in the role and discovering even more about who he is and what all his reclaimed memories actually mean.

But as Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) reminds her long-time ally in the first trailer for Jason Bourne, remembering who you are doesn’t necessarily mean you instantly have all the answers you need.

BOURNE: “I know everything.”
PARSONS: “Remembering everything doesn’t mean you know everything.”
BOURNE: “Tell me.”

It’s a theme picked up by Robert Dewey, a senior CIA officer who tells Bourne:

“You’re never going to find any peace; not ‘til you admit who you really are.”

All of which means that Bourne may have his memory back but he’s a got a way to go before his life is once again his own.

Jason Bourne opens 28 July 2016 in Australia and 29 July in USA.

Flagstones! It’s the Flagstones! They’re the modern Stone Age … wait, what what now?!

(image via Mubi/The Flagstones (c) Warner Bros)
(image via Mubi/The Flagstones (c) Warner Bros)

 

While some of the more obscure Hanna-Barbera characters such as Squiddly Diddly or Jabberjaw may not very well known among the general public, there’s one family, a “Modern Stone Age Family” in fact, who everyone will instantly recognise – The Flintstones.

But The Flintstones didn’t start out life as The Flintstones.

In fact, when Hanna-Barbera was casting around for an adult-friendly sitcom-like cartoon to follow the adult/child embracing glee of Tom and Jerry – cartoon shows like The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Quick Draw McGraw Show had them pegged as “kids only” – the show they pitched to network execs was known as The Flagstones.

Same sensibility, same cute adaptation of everything modern into Stone Age pun-laden facsimiles – Hollywood became “Hollyrock” while planes were simply cabins strapped onto a pterosaur – but whole different name.

Not to mention the fact that Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbours Barney and Betty Rubble looked a whole lot different; and Pebbles Flintstone was a boy named Fred Jr.

Still in this clip, you can see the genesis and nascent charm of The Flintstones, which became a wildly successful, primetime animated show that ran from 1960 to 1966, and which proved that it was possible for an animated show to attract a diverse audience, something The Simpson emulated and then some many years later.

(Source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

And if you’re interested here’s Mojo.com’s history of the show …