Silicon Valley: Changing the Way Things Change (season 4 trailer + poster)

Artwork by Ghost World’s Daniel Clowes (image via Screener TV (c) HBO)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the high-tech gold rush of modern Silicon Valley, the people most qualified to succeed are the least capable of handling success. Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill) brings his irreverent brand of humor, and his own experiences working in Silicon Valley, to the award-winning comedy now entering its fourth season (synopsis (c) HBO).

Poor Richard (Thomas Middleditch)!

No matter how hard the tech genius tries, and he tries incredibly hard, he can never translate his groundbreaking inventions anything truly useful or personally beneficial.

He may have created the fastest and greatest file compression system in the hsitory of California’s Silicon Valley but so far it hasn’t quite set him well down the road to the tech version of the American Dream, a journey taken by people like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison with consummate ease (or the appearance thereof).

And in season 4, what looks like an inspired move on his part, may, and honestly why am I using that word when we all know it will, blow up spectacularly and humourously (for us; him? Not so much).

Ye,s you want to finally succeed but the odds are well and truly stacked against him, partly through inadvertent self-sabotage, and partly through the actions of friends, colleagues and frenemies, and it’s that will he/won’t he/he probably won’t/but he might/naaah, he’s screwed that keeps us coming back every season for one of the best comedies on TV at the moment (and I would argue ever).

Silicon Valley season 4 premieres 10 p.m. ET/PT, Sunday, 23 April  at 10 p.m. on HBO.

(source: Screener TV)

 

Kedi gives voice to the cats of Istanbul (trailer)

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame — and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.

Critics and internet cats agree — this cat documentary will charm its way into your heart and home as you fall in love with the cats in Istanbul. (official synopsis courtesy and (c) kedi.film)

It’s one of the accepted axioms of life that you are either a dog or a cat person; some people, admittedly are both, but by and large fall into one of those two camps and never the twain, nor whisker, shall meet.

But I would argue that even if you’re not necessarily not a cat person, and I will admit I fall most firmly into that camp having had cats as pets all my life, that there is something to love about Kedi,a film by Ceyda Torun that showcases not just the free-spirited, far-roaming cats of Istanbul but also the people who care for them, all of whom find something special in their fellow citizens of the streets.

It is this focus on the interwoven lives of cats and people that makes the film so emotionally-captivating and insightful, notes the the review on RogerEbert.com:

“The focus is on the cats, but “Kedi” is really a portrait of community. Torun gives a sense of life in Istanbul, its diversity and beauty, its storefronts and waterfronts, its people. Why there are so many cats in Istanbul, and how they all came to be there, is not explained (except for a casual comment from an interview subject).

“It can be a heartless world. Caring for one another and caring for animals may seem like a small thing, but Torun’s affectionate portrait of these cats—and the people who love them—makes it seem like the most important thing in the world. A restaurant owner keeps a tip jar on the counter, and the money goes into a fund for vet visits for the cats who hang around outside. Imagine that. Torun combines her up-close-and-personal footage of the cats with transcendent drone shots of Istanbul in all its moods and weather.”

You can read more about what looks like a captivating beautiful film at Vulture, and if you’re keen, you can access information about US and international screenings at Kedi.com

 

Movie review: Beauty and the Beast

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Remaking any beloved film, especially one loaded with as much deserved nostalgia and reverence as 1991’s animated triumph Beauty and the Beast comes loaded with an impossible weight of Solomonic dilemmas.

Do you slavishly recreate it for a new generation, a resolutely pointless exercise given there is very little to be creatively gained from the undertaking? Do you branch in wildly unexpected ways, in the process bringing something fresh to the table but risk alienating your sentimentally-inclined audience?

Or do you, as director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls)  has done in impressively superlative fashion, take what has been done before and leave it largely intact but add gilding and accouterments that add a whole new lustre to a tale, as the song so poignantly reminds us, as old as time.

The live action version of Beauty and the Beast, part of a seemingly endless cinematic gold rush by Disney to turn its animated classics into CGI-enhanced, relatively real world counterparts, shines in its new incarnation, reverently doffing its hat to its predecessor while donning a whole new pleasing garb of its own.

The story, of course, needs no further embellishment, with the story of a provincial French girl Belle (Emma Watson, in a luminously pitch perfect role she was born to play) who falls in love with an outwardly gruff but heart-of-gold Beast (Dan Stevens) on his cursed estate far out in the countryside, where he has consigned by an enchantress to learn some valuable life lessons.

Lessons such as valuing inner not outer beauty, something that still eludes a great many people today, the joy of expanding rather than contracting your world through the inertia of life, and the sheer exultant enriching power of books, learning and an open mind to change lives.

 

 

Beauty and the Beast has a lot of lessons to teach, lessons it should be added that are woven seamlessly and without clunky reverberation into a brisk but well-rounded narrative, and it does with an exuberant passion and musical chutzpah that never once loses sight of its affecting emotional core.

That it does so is impressive with the film taking the songs of the original animated score, adding in three new numbers by Alan Menken and Tim Rice, and investing them with an immersive, overwhelmingly wonderful musical sensibility that hearkens back to the grand old musicals of Hollywood’s golden years.

Thus it is that “Be Our Guest”, always a showstopper thanks to its mischievous, garrulous sense of fun, becomes an Esther Williams-inspired extravaganza with Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson in fine form) rising from the dining table surrounding by vibrantly-coloured plates and dishes of all kind.

Or Belle’s lamenting of the sameness of her days in the small French village she calls home with her winningly idiosyncratic widower father Maurice (Kevin Kline), “Belle”, invested with classic musical joie de vivre with a giddily upbeat melody counterpointing the small-minded exclusionary nature of her fellow villagers.

On and on with grandly epic scenes, lush with colour, feeling and richness contrasting perfectly with the quieter more sombre or reflective moments later on in the film where the full import of Belle’s new life and what it means for both and her and the princess become apparent.

Take for instance that searing moment when the Beast, awoken to his true, caring nature, and with only one red petal left on the rose before he and his household workers made interior decorations such as Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen) and Lumière (Ewan McGregor), laments in “Evermore” the ability of true love to both uplift and cast down, almost simultaneously.

Having released Belle to go back to the village to see to her father who is in a dire predicament thanks to the arrogantly overbearing Gaston (Luke Evans), who is convinced Belle’s heart is his, the Beast is all too aware that by offering up his heart to another that he has irrevocably sealed his fate in one of two critical ways.

It’s deeply affecting and Condon’s deft touch ensures that this moving scene stands head and shoulders next to its more flamboyant, counterparts (talking of flamboyant, Josh Gad’s turn as Le Fou, is a scene-stealer every time).

 

 

Beauty and the Beast, in its 21st century guise as a rollicking musical possessed of visual spectacle and emotional resonance, is a wondrous delight.

It proves time and again, beyond a shadow of a doubt. through its all too short running time, that it is possible to take a tale as old as time and grant it new life and soul in ways that the keepers of the original telling could likely never have imagined.

The film is testament to the endless ability of the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, the woman who wrote the best known version of the tale, to be retold and reimagined in fresh, imaginative ways and never loses an ounce of its impact.

Sporting a profoundly talented cast of actors who never put a foot wrong and bring each of their characters to life even when they are credenzas, wardrobes and teacups, or indeed the Beast and his provincial prisoner/love interest, and a vibrantly feminist sensibility that means Belle is never the damsel in distress, Beauty and the Beast is a lush, boldly cinematic live action remake that harnesses everything good about its animated predecessor while adding in a slew of impressive new touches that together create something truly, breathtakingly immersive, captivating and beguiling that will no doubt well and truly stand the test of time.

 

 

It’s true, animated Mariah! All I Want For Christmas is You (teaser trailer)

(cover image courtesy Penguin Random House)

 

SNAPSHOT
According to the official press release, All I Want for Christmas Is You will center around a young Mariah (voiced by Breanna Yde), who wants a puppy named Princess for Christmas. But before Princess can be hers, she has to pet-sit Jack, described as “a scraggly rascal of a dog; in fact, the worst dog in the county!” (synopsis via Mashable)

All I Want For Christmas is … my two front teeth?

C’mon you can do way better than that!

How about an animated film based on the book All I Want For Christmas is You which is in turn based on the insanely successful modern Christmas classic, which launched itself into collective music consciousness, thereafter forever to remain, in the long ago heady days of 1994.

So compulsively listenable and so delightfully, compellingly Christmasy is the song that it makes sense that it’s been turned into a book and a film and who knows what other wonders down the track.

For now, we have Mariah Carey introducing the movie in its Christmas glory and you’ll be able to see what wanting your true love for Christmas looks like when All I Want for Christmas Is You doesn’t have an exact release date yet, it’s expected to premiere in all its festive glory on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand just in time for Christmas this year.

 

The Walking Dead: “The Other Side” & “Something They Need” (S7, E14 & E15 review)

Why we’re not like Negan at all! Not at all. OK, well maybe a little bit … (Image courtesy AMC/Gene Page)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A CHASM OF MORAL RELATIVITY BIG ENOUGH TO DRIVE A TRUCK THROUGH*

 

Moral relativity, thou are king in the apocalypse!

That’s hardly a surprise with The Walking Dead, pretty much from episode one, making it clear that the collapse of civilisation might, or might not, depending on where you sit on the whole issue of humanity is essentially a self-serving disaster waiting to happen, hasten the end of morality as an prevailing arbiter in the affairs of men and women.

We’ve watched as Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh) and Rick, and pretty much everyone and Rick – seeing a pattern here? – have argued back and forth about whether the soul of humanity, assuming we had one in the first place, is permanently and irrevocably stained.

The narrative thread always came down firmly on the idea that a survivor had to do what a survivor had to do, and that while philosophical discussions were nice, they were, in the end, surplus to requirements in the apocalypse.

As great moral discussions go, it’s never been terribly sophisticated nor sustained, but it wasn’t until this double set of episodes, most particularly “Something They Need, that it became evident how fast and loose the writers of The Walking Dead have been playing with humanity’s sense of its civilised self.

In short the episode, which followed last week’s episode in which Gregory (Xander Berkeley)  underscored how much of a spineless, compliant political weasel he is and Hilltop, the community he lackadaisically rules, prepared itself to fight Negan (eventually), and Rosita (Christian Serratos) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) dashed rather foolishly into battle, a suicidal mission with the sole aim of trying to kill Negan, unveiled how little difference there is between Rick and the Big Bads that beset he and his groups with monotonous regularity.

 

Spineless, snivelling douche, thy name is Gregory (Image courtesy AMC/Gene Page)

 

Yes, yes I know Rick is supposed to be the great shining knight of goodness and virtue, the protagonist who will face off the living and undead hordes trying to bring down humanity once and for all, but let’s face it, he’s about as cleancut as a toxic waste dump in the middle of summer.

You only have to look at the way he recklessly gallivanted off to kill dozens of Negan’s people simply to get some food from the morally questionable leadership of Hilltop (who, ahem, toyed with actually killing Maggie (Lauren Cohen) this week) and without so much as a chat with his inner Jean Paul Sartre, to see how little regard Rick has for the rule of law, for morality and a whole host of other niggling better angels of our nature concerns.

He really is little different from Negan, who actually ended up looking somewhat decent this week but only because he stopped one of his motley band of opportunistic bullies from raping, yes raping Sasha.

Turns out the man who will happily, and I mean damn near giddily, club peoples’ heads to bloody pulp in a midnight theatre of the macabre, or happily toss his hard-to-come-by doctor into a roaring furnace on one man’s dubious say-so, has a smattering of a moral code.

In Sasha’s case. that’s a good thing but all this sorry scene in the narrative underscored is that The Walking Dead itself has little to no moral compass, despite positioning itself as some sort of thinking person’s take on the apocalypse.

What it really has is a thirst for violence and extreme moral relativity, dressed in the occasional high-minded speech; in the end though there is little difference, bar degrees between Rick and Negan.

Take the Alexandrians’ raid on Oceanside, the community headed by Natania (Deborah May) which has suffered greatly under Negan’s brutal marauding and which has gone to understandably intense lengths to keep their location and existence a well-guarded secret.

Without so much as by your leave – to be fair Tara sauntered in and tried to ask Natania to join them on their quest to banish Negan once and for all – Rick, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and a number of others exploded bombs outside the community, herded the residents into a group where they were held at gunpoint and then proceeded to take their guns.

All their guns.

Anyone remember someone else doing that once? Someone who also cited their unassailable right to do so?

 

Is she playing Eugene or is she really at the end of her feisty tether? (Image courtesy AMC/Gene Page)

 

It was a classic play from the Negan handbook and renders Rick’s crusade to rid the world of another Big Bad, one he succeeded in riling up thank you very much, extraordinarily morally suspect.

Sure Negan is a grade A sociopath, a man who delights in terrorising, killing and oppressing, and true Rick is not, but the line dividing them is perilously faint and thin, and frankly the raid underlined how little there is to champion in the quest by the Alexandrians, Hilltop-ians and Kingdomites to get rid of Negan.

Is it necessary? Sure? Is it morally justified? Not really. Will the world really be better off with people like Rick in charge? You have to wonder.

The thing is “Something They Need” was actually a taut, well-constructed and articulated episode that contained some beautifully powerful interactions between characters like Sasha and Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and unnerving realpolitik between Gregory and Maggie, but at its core it was rotten to the moral core.

Of course the finale will be predicated on the basis of good versus evil, and to a rubbery extent that’s true, but overall, there is little difference between the two groups, leaving you wondering how The Walking Dead can sustain itself going forward when the protagonists and antagonists are virtually indistinguishable.

  • At last we have a showdown! Another one! The latest in a long line of showdowns! Where Rick will once again beat a Big Bad by virtue of his innate goodness … Hahahahahahaha … Or something. It all goes down in next week’s episode and season 7 finale “The First Day of the rest of Your Life” …

 

 

The short and the short of it: Meet the delightfully creepy critters of Dark Dark Woods

(image (c) Animation Workshop)

 

SNAPSHOT
Young princess Maria has had about enough of her royal life – it’s all lesson, responsibilities and duties on top of each other, every hour of every day. Overwhelmed, Maria is swept away on an adventure into the monster-filled dark, dark woods. (synopsis courtesy Vimeo)

Created by a team of 3rd year Character Animation & CG Art students at The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark Dark, Dark Woods is a delight in every sense of the word.

It tells the story of a young princess who hates the stultifying confines of the castle in which she lives and the neverending list of things she must master as the (presumably) future ruler of the Kingdom.

Thus her days are spent decked out in fairly drab, formal medieval ladieswear learning how to sew, create beautiful art, play the lyre and on and on it snoringly goes.

Like any young girl with a youthful spirit, she wants to be out in the dark, dark woods hanging out with the magical creatures there, a wish that is granted and which has some beautiful aftereffects.

It’s an absolute joy to watch, a dialogue-free tour de force that entrancingly works its magic so effectively you might find yourself wanting to jump up and down on your bed like your 6 years old again.

(source: io9 Gizmodo)

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 1 – Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Cyprus

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

ALBANIA: “World” by Lindita

 

 

THE ARTIST
A clear proponent of the one-name pop moniker – and why not since it’s worked for Madonna, Rihanna and Cher? – Lindita (full name: Lindita Hallimi) is a woman with many ticks on her bucket list.

Grabbing fame by the proverbial short and curlies with a win in Top Fest with the song “Ëndërroja” (I dreamed), the 27 year old from Vitina, Kosovo, has also competed in American Idol (she made the top 25) and been a finalist in Albanian Idol, proving (possibly) that you can never be in too many reality TV shows.

Possessed of the ability to sing in 10 languages, which would make asking for directions in a foreign country, if you were travelling with her, akin to being in an MGM musical, she’s won a slew of awards, locally, nationally and internationally, and after a number of attempts, and most importantly for our purposes here, emerged triumphant at Festivali i Këngës, the Albanian selection process for Eurovision.

Musical fame? TICK! Wait, not so fast; she’s done well to date, no doubt but can she rise to the top at Eurovision, competing with Europe’s presumed best?

 

Lindita (image courtesy official Lindita Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
While her lucky pre-stage routine of eating eggs and drinking hot tea with honey may play a part, it’s the song by Klodian Qafoku, who competed in Eurovision in 2006, that will really be the determining factor.

As songs go, this one opens with a portentous flourish, building as it goes on with an ever-escalating goosebump-inducing climb up the Deeply Emotional Ballad-o-Meter, hitting its stride in the chorus with an epic Bond theme-like pounding sensibility.

This is music meant for maximum impact, and coupled with Lindita’s impressive set of pipes, which more than rise to the occasion, it’s bound to make an impact.

Granted, it’s not an out-of-the-park winner, but it’s not your average connect-the dots-, snooze through the bridge kind of ballad either and if Lindita’s success on stage at myriad contest attests, she’s got the ability to make a lasting impression.

Expect to see this lady in the Grand Final, hopefully all dried out after her underwater musical romp.

 

 

ARMENIA: “Fly With Me” by Artsvik

 

 

THE ARTIST
Clearly enamoured of keeping things simple when it comes to professional nom de guerres, and remember Eurovision is a contest, not an amateur hour, every contestant gets a prize undertaking, Artsvik Harutyunyan, born in Kapan, in what was then the Armenian SSR, prefers to be known by her first name only.

Given her success so far in life, where music has ruled with a lilting and well-modulated fist save for a brief detour to study as a speech therapist psychologist – she should therefore be busy lending her services, should she so desire, backstage at Eurovision –  sticking to a singular moniker makes perfect sense.

It’s a neat way to cap off a lifetime of “singing [and] creating melodies” (inspired by her idol Whitney Houston), which led her to move to Moscow, compete in The Voice of Russia and winning the hearts and minds of Russians with a mix of covers and originals such as “Why, No Fear”, “I Say Yes” and “Сестры по духу”.

But while you can take the aspiring female singer out of Armenia – technically she took herself but let’s not argue semantics here – you can’t take Armenia out of the woman and so in 2016, she moved home, wowed the musical powers that be in the national Eurovision selection contest, Depi Evratesil, and now stands on the cusp of pan-European greatness (which sounds suitably dramatic for a woman of her presence and persistence).

 

Artsvik (image courtesy official Artsvik Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Clearly deeply impacted by all that travelling, Artsvik has opted for a song called “Fly With Me” by Lilith Navasardyan and Levon Navasardyan, which whips itself down the runway with tribal determination, a mix of gently beating drums and a winsome melody, but fails to really make it into the air.

It’s pretty assuredly and possessed of the requisite earnestness and mentions of “love lifting us high” but it never really goes anywhere of consequence.

Rather than soaring to the heights, with Cupid’s more idealistic sibling as its travelling companion, it circles the airport, rather attractively it must be said, a few times, has a go at revving to life itself into the air – those opening bars coupled with Artsvik’s artfully-evocative whispers promise so much – it never really moves beyond idling.

It’s a pity really because Artsvik clearly has a great voice and a stage presence, not to mention a naturally ability for moving in military-like precision with her backing dancers, but in this case the song is likely to only get her as fast as the semi-final, stymieing her obviously high-flung professional travel plans.

 

 

AUSTRALIA: “Don’t Come Easy” by Isaiah

 

 

THE ARTIST
The first indigenous male to represent Australia at Eurovision – this is the country’s third year competing in the contest – Isaiah Firebrace, who has also embraced the solo name moniker for professional purposes, has “big dreams”.

So motivated is he in fact that he left his hometown of Moama (pop. 5000) in southern New South Wales, and flew to Sydney, his first flight anywhere to compete in the eighth season of X-Factor, where he did very nicely thank you, winning with performances of songs by Beyoncé and Avicii.

Not content with conquering the stages of Sydney (and the charts of the world with his debut single “It’s Gotta Be You” making a splash worldwide), the talented 17 year old is now off to the bright stages of the Eurovision Song Contest, something which understandably excites this small town boy:

“Because it’s the biggest stage in the world! It’s an extra special honour as an indigenous teenager to represent my country of Australia and inspire young kids around Australia (and the world) that no matter how young you are or where your from you can dare to dream.”

But will his song “Don’t Come Easy” realise the starry-eyed Eurovision dreams of Australia?

 

Isaiah (image courtesy official Isaiah Firebrace Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Yes and no … possibly.

If that all sounds equivocal, and shame on me as an Aussie for not being unabashedly, shamelessly parochial, it’s because while Isaiah’s got a killer, deeply emotionally-evocative voice that stands to repeat the successes of Guy Sebastian (2015) and Dami Im (2016), the song itself is little inert.

It’s not that “Don’t Come Easy” by doesn’t have a beating pulse, redolent with some lovely stirring moments by DNA (David Musumeci & Anthony Egizii) and Michael Angelo, and some sage words about love being something easily acquired,it never gains attraction.

In fact, it comes perilously close to sounding like something you’d hear at a higher-end cabaret club where the music is reasonably formulaic; well done sure but hardly out of the box extraordinary.

The one wildcard here could be the live performance where Isaiah has shown he’s got the presence and the voice to really make an impression.

You can only hope it all comes brilliantly together on the night, or he maybe adding to his nascent frequent flier career a little earlier than he bargained.

 

 


AZERBAIJAN: “Skeletons” by DiHaj

 

 

THE ARTIST
The member of an electronic music collective named Dihaj, Diana Hajiyeva, who has won awards and performed at music festivals such as Women in Paradise in Amsterdam, has some serious musical training under her belt.

Not only did she graduate from the Baku Music Academy in 2010, but she also spent time in London studying at The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, where when she the time she wasn’t hitting the books (playing the charts? The music college equivalent eludes me), she performed in a progressive trance trio Looper & Mancus.

That inclination to sit on the bleeding cutting edge is in evidence in pretty much everything she does, with the tried and true often discarded in favour of pushing the boundaries as far as they will stretch.

 

DiHaj (image courtesy official DiHaj Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It’s very much in evidence on “Skeletons” which draws most assuredly from what music critics have apparently labelled “experimental doom pop” which according to her official Eurovision bio seamlessly blends “post-rock guitar riffs, semi-acoustic drum set and atmospheric vocals”.

It is certainly one of the standout tracks of the contest, delivering a darkly, melodically ethereal musical experience that should make for quite the presentation on the stage of the Kyiv International Exhibition Centre.

From its haunting opening bars, which drip with anticipation to its swelling chorus and choir-like vocals, this is a song that breaks the mould and confirms that Dihaj is not going to be your run of the mill Eurovision performer, something the singer herself acknowledges:

“I do understand that I’m not a typical Eurovision singer. So it’s crucial for me to stay true to myself in everything I do in the next few months.”

You can only hope that the good people of Europe will embrace this delightfully stark difference and vote for her idiosyncratic song choice and performance, a more than welcome break from the usual paint-by-earnest-numbers ballads.

 

 

BELGIUM: “”Citylights” by Blanche

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be someone’s muse, you may want to start up a conversation with Ellie Delvaux, who like all of the artists in this initial group of reviews, goes by a single musical sobriquet, Blanche.

The singer/songwriter’s voice so impressed fellow music artist Pierre Dumoulin that he began writing songs before the two had even got past “Well, hello”; fortunately for Pierre, he and Blanche got on famously from the word go and joined up with Tim Bran who has worked with the likes of London Grammar, Aurora and Birdy.

All of which means that Blanche who can, by her own account, “move one of [her] toes telepathetically”, and did rather well for herself on The Voice Belgique in 2016 where she was on Team Cats on Trees (best name ever), is in the box seat when it comes to creative collaboration.

 

Blanche (image courtesy official Blanche Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
What you need to remember of course is that Blanche, while possessed of brilliant professional company, has impressive talents of her own.

Chief among them is her utterly distinctive husky voice which her Eurovision profile refers to as “fragile and melancholic”, and which is so memorably unique that it invests “City Lights” already atmospherically rich with a whole new ethereal lustre.

Throw in some stunning stage choreography a la Loreen and Blanche could be a real showstopper, proving that you can be utterly different and still go a long way.

Expect this to push Belgium into the bright spotlight of the Grand Final, but even if it fails to do that, and I can see that happening, this is one of the best songs from an Eurovision entrant in years.

 

 

CYPRUS: “Gravity” by Hovig

 

 

THE ARTIST
There is, quite clearly, a syllable shortage in Europe since Cyprus’s entry, Hovig, has also dispensed with a full stage name in keeping with his Eurovision contemporaries.

But that’s about the only thing that this artist of Armenian heritage, known to the government as Hovig Demirjian, is short on, having ambition and a musically prodigious inclination in spades.

He kicked off his performing career in clubs at the tender age of 16 – which let’s be fair is practically middle-aged in this Justin Bieber-led day and age – a choice which so informed his life that he ditched his marketing studies opting instead for a jazz music course.

So he has the power of self-belief, positivity and ambition to his credit, and now after failing to get the nod from state broadcaster CyBC in 2010 and 2015, he is also the officially internally chosen entrant for Cyprus in this year’s contest.

 

Hovig (image courtesy official Hovig Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
But does his song “Gravity” reward CyBC decision to forget a musical dog-eat-dog selection process in favour of parachuting Hovig into the coveted entrant slot?

Yes and no.

It’s catchy in its own way, and yes it’s reasonably of the moment and “modern” as Hovig himself notes when asked about the song.

But that’s it’s Achilles Heel too – it sounds like too much else out there and a tad too redolent of some past Eurovision entries as if composter Thomas G:son wrote to spec, assembling the song from constituent pieces.

It’s not by any stretch a bad song and will likely do very well, helped by Hovig’s strong, emotionally-voice and impressive stage presence, but it’s not the be all and end of all of songs and may not go the distance.

 

Movie review: The Salesman

(image via IMP Awards)

 

If you are to believe the extremists of the world, morality is lived in bright well-defined technicolour, with no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation.

However, the reality is that while there are core principles that should be observed, much of them possessing a distinct Ten Commandments flavour, life is never quite as forgiving, continually muddying the waters, and turning the once-clear blacks and whites of moral certainty into the greys of real world living.

It’s in this invidious area of murky moral intent that an Iranian couple living in Tehran, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) find themselves inhabiting, the former more than the latter, when the near-collapse of their apartment building sets in train a series of events that catches these two successful actors off guard.

Though it is clearly implied they are well used to the moral compromise and give-and-take necessary in a society where censorship and moral infuse every facet of life including justice and the arts, even they are unprepared for the ramifications of an attack on Rana in the new apartment they move to after they have to evacuate their old one in the dead of night.

Unaware that their apartment, which belongs to an acting friend Babak (Babak Karimi), once once leased to a prostitute – the neighbours simply infer this, pointing to her many acquaintances, all male – whose goods fill a much-needed room, Rana buzzes in a man she assumes to be her husband.

But the caller is not Emad, who has to stay behind after the final dress rehearsal of their troupe’s staging of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (chosen no doubt because of its own agonising meditations on morality and what constitutes a well-lived life) to deal with censors, and Rana is attacked, severely injured, ans quite understandably traumatised to the point where she doesn’t want to be alone.

 

 

Rather than comfort his wife as you might expect, Emad turns inward, his previous bright, confident countenance giving away to reproach, anger and an obsession with finding the perpetrator that quickly turns from a do-it-yourself detective hunt to a vigilante-style attempt to bring about what he sees as a just and moral outcome, which is to make the person pay.

It’s at this point that Emad and Rana’s well-balanced life comes royally off the rails.

The genius of Iranian director (and the film’s screenwriter), Asghar Farhadi, who clearly means the film to be a veiled criticism of the way in which morality, whether religiously devised or not, can be corrupted despite the best of intentions, is that he lets this moral implosion develop in expertly nuanced small incremental steps.

Emad is never portrayed as a monster directly but as his search for the man who hurt his wife gathers pace, and he finds himself unable to take the matter to the police – Rana nixes that on the grounds that the police will see her as morally culpable in some way for the incident – he makes some increasingly rash and hurtful decisions, all of which leads to a decidedly morally questionable confrontation with the perpetrator.

While it is not a vigilante movie as such – Farhadi is far too insightful and careful with his narrative to craft anything so obnoxiously cumbersome – it does carry with it much of the morality that fuels those kinds of movies, a desire to see, not so much justice served and forgiveness given, as vengeance enacted.

Emad of course doesn’t see it in those terms, and it is only when Rana’s issues with an ultimatum that he pulls back from the precipice, well somewhat at least.

By then of course the damage is done, and it is becomes quite debatable who the greater monster is – Emad, who begins his crusade with the best of intentions to seek justice for his wife (even though he fails to show much if any empathy or kindness after her ordeal), the perpetrator, who is nothing like you expect him to be, or even possibly a society that though founded on venerated religious ideals, has now sunk into a legalistic shadow of its once idealistic self.

 

 

It is easy to why Farhadi earned his second Oscar statuette at this year’s Academy Awards (his first was A Separation in 2012) for The Salesman.

It expertly, and in way that intimately connects you to the two central characters, dissects the way in which morality can so often be skewed and misshapen for someone’s own purposes; it’s a dynamic that takes place on a societal and individual level and the use of Death of a Salesman clearly underlines the point that every society can fall prey to its twisted outcomes.

In Farhadi’s case the spotlight is quite clearly, though this is diffused by a script that never says this outright, on Iranian society and people like Emad who have been forced to take matters into their own hands by a system that simply does work like it was intended.

But it could just as equally be applied to any situation where morality has been presented as uncorruptably immutable and clearly set when it can so often be twisted into forms no one intended at the outset.

To be clear, The Salesman doesn’t meditate on the nature of right and wrong – it’s accepted naturally enough that assault, murder and a number of other human rights violations, large and small, are inviolable concepts – rather it examines the way in which their realisation can be tainted until all semblance of their original virtue is gone.

Emotionally powerful, so much so that you’re left reeling by the film’s finale which is both ambiguous and not all at once, The Salesman is a sobering, brilliantly-acted and directed rumination on the way our humanity, though never ever flawlessly lived out, can be so easily lost in the very act of seeking to redeem it.

 

 

Now this is music #85: Bad Wave, Rubblebucket, Deidre & the Dark, Fufanu, Grace Mitchell (+ Eurovision 2017 news)

 

In those moments when life seems just a little too complicated for its own good, or more pertinently, ours, you might wish that things were a whole lot simpler.

And while, yes, there’s a good case to be made for a simple life, there’s a lot to be said for going through the fire, grappling with the dark and uncertain times’ if only because it means the good times, and they will come, look so much sweeter.

These five artists appreicate well the power of darkness and light, joy and sadness, and it informs their songs in powerful and ultimately brilliantly listenable ways.

As a soundtrack to the business of living, it’s hard to beat them.

 

“Daniel” by Bad Wave

 

Bad Wave (image via official Bad Wave Facebook page)

 

Singer Tucker Tota and instrumentalist Patrick Hart, who kicked off LA-based Bad Wave last year with “Look Out”, in the process launching themselves as an undeniably off-the-moment pop duo, sure know how to make impending catastrophe sound invitingly melodic.

Suffused with a minor key aesthetic, this muscularly intense song is as catchy as they come, kicking off with a richly ethereal intro that builds and builds into a song lush with dark intent and invitingly beautiful execution.

It embodies a very Scandinavian creative mindset, combining lyrical dark and musical light, a contrast that lends the song a weight far beyond the average light, if enjoyable, pop song.

This is pop with lure and intelligence, underscoring why Bad Wave have become so popular so quickly – they create retro-influenced music that is instantly memorable but which will, without a doubt, stand the fickle test of time.

 

 

“Not Cut Out For This” by Rubblebucket

 

Rubblebucket (image via official Rubblebucket Facebook page)

 

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re not quite ready or able to cope with everything coming at you?

Rubblebucket, based in Brooklyn, New York, certainly do, making it clear, with deliriously upbeat jaunty horn intro and darkly-pounding main melody, that “we’re not cut out for love”.

Comprised of Kalmia Traver (vocals/baritone saxophone), Alex Toth (trumpet/vocals), Dandy McDowell (bass), Maddie Rice (guitar), and Adam Dotson (trombone), the band is eminently, convincingly self-aware, draped in musical clothing that the ever-excellent The Revue calls “upbeat, dreamy and feel good.”

It neatly encapsulates life itself in a lot of ways – promising, happy and giddily attractive on the surface, with some sage, thoughtful and negative undercurrents you can’t quite escape.

That combination may not always make for the smoothest and trouble-free of existential conditions but as a pop song, it’s sublime.

 

 

“Which Way” by Deidre & the Dark

 

Deidre & the Dark (Image via official Deidre & the Dark Facebook page)

 

Sporting the lushly evocative vocals of former Savoir Faire member Deidre Muno, “Which Way” is delightfully ’60s-inspired retro in overall sound, combining an enticing drumbeat, ethereally-removed vocals and an optimistic outlook that “we can begin again, taking the time to do it right.”

This is the soundtrack for someone on the cusp of great things, hope springing eternal and life ripe with possibilities, a zingy, upbeat slice of perfect that deftly uses it dreamily upbeat feel and Muno’s divinely-gorgeous vocals, which sound fey and light but come with ripe, muscular emotive drive to sing of someone hoping for good things to happen on the next go-around.

There’s no way of knowing if any of this giddy optimism will play out as hoped and expected but frankly caught in the heady rush of New York-based Deidre & the Dark’s brightly-shimmering pop perfection, you pretty much believe it’s all going to play out as advertised.

After all, who can listen to a song this brilliantly catchy and not expect life to be deliciously good in every possible way?

 

 

“Liability” by Fufanu

 

Fufanu (image via official Fufanu Facebook page)

 

Sprinting across the Atlantic and swinging up north with vigorous heft, Fufanu, who call Iceland’s blissfully quirky capital Reykjavik home, deliver up electronic music with melodic attractiveness and driving, unceasing grunt.

Channeling what The Revue neatly, and correctly observes, “a sound that comes from the deep caverns of Berlin and Manchester of the early to mid-’70s”, the band invest “Liability” is stunningly good, combining all sorts of undeniable influences that create its own thoroughly unique driving, dark sound.

Taking “the industrial vibes of Kraftwerk and the dark post-punk that Joy Division elevated and more recently Preoccupations” (The Revue again), Fufanu give this classic vibe a modern twist, mixing a bright electronic sensibility with the earthy grounding of guitars, drums and edgy vocals, in the process handing us a song that is its own enticingly bleak yet crunchingly upbeat animal.

It’s a typically Scandinavian ability to throw the positive and negative together in a winning combination that like so much of really good pop rock mirrors the contradictions, and lure, of life itself.

 

 

“Kids (Ain’t All Right) by Grace Mitchell

 

Grace Mitchell (image via official Grace Mitchell Facebook page)

 

Now this is how you do precociousness.

Portland, Oregon-raised Grace Mitchell has devoted her teenage years to crafting some drivingly intense rock that takes no prisoners, snarls, postures and growls with intelligence and melodic richness, that recalls grunge’s culture-spanning heyday.

And as The Revue once again perfectly sums up, it has a lot going for it.

“‘Kids (Ain’t All Right)’ is an edgy, menacing rocker. Mitchell’s deep, soulful vocals undergo a transformation, resonating with the power and coarseness of the great Shirley Manson (Garbage). The song, as a whole, recalls Courtney Love’s Hole but with a touch of modern noise-pop a la Sleigh Bells and the garage-rock of Drenge. ‘Kid “Ain’t All Right’ is an awesome, fierce song that could be the iGen’s anthem like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was for Gen X-ers.”

That’s an awful lot of inordinately great boxes ticked, angst and emotional disquiet channelled to devastatingly good effect accompanied by music that refuses to lie down and take a nap, delivering its concerted opposition with a fantastically attractive melody that powers the song.

This is music with raw, sweet, intense nerve, proving that it’s possible to evoke the past without becoming its prisoner, creating in the process music that crosses generational divides and life outlooks with ease, melody and a chutzpah that belies its creator’s young years.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Almost every country competing in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest have chosen their national representative with the latest crop coming from the three Scandinavian countries – Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

First up is Svala with her song “Paper” who will be representing Iceland. (read more)

 

 

Next up to the glittery stage is Norway’s JOWST who are urging us all to “Grab the Moment”. (read more)

 

 

And finally, Sweden who have crowned Robin Bengtsson with his song “I Can’t Go On” (a pity since he pretty much has to) as their entrant. (read more)

 

 

 

Elsewhere in musicland, P!NK and Sia have combined forces with Norwegian production team Stargate for a catchy new song “Waterfall” (read more)

 

Bogan* : An hilarious parody that shows how washed-up Wolverine actually is

(image via YouTube (c) Artspear Entertainment)

 

You really have to have watched the trailer for one of this year’s best movies Logan – but by all means watching the whole film which is just superb – to realise that Wolverine aka James Howlett is a mere near non-invincible shadow of his former self.

In the year 2029 he is in pain, being poisoned by the admantium within, barely making ends meet as a limousine driver in a partially-dystopian world and not nearly as quick to repair himself from grievous wounds and bodily harm.

He is, in short, the gruff, EQ-challenged mutant of old but with even less charm and charisma; yes indeed yikes!

Now granted he isn’t any near as bad as this delightfully good, very funny parody from Toon Sandwich by Artspear Entertainment, would have you believe, but in terms of capturing, in the most hilarious way possible, his general broken down sense of mind and spirit, it absolutely nails it.

It’s a nice way to add some levity to a film that while very, very good, is not exactly a guffawing walk in the booze-sozzled park.

And trust me you’ll never look at barbecuing quite the same way again!

(* And for all the non-Aussies and New Zealanders reading, a bogan is, and I quote, “an uncouth or unsophisticated person regarded as being of low social status.”)