Darwin on steroids: Evolve or die with The Titan

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the near future, a military family uproot their lives so they can participate in a ground-breaking experiment to accelerate man’s genetic evolution. The goal? To relocate humanity to another planet and avoid extinction. (synopsis (c) Seat 42F)

Humanity is a weirdly contrary species.

Endlessly optimistic and resourceful, we also have a magnificently lethal blindspot for being able to spot the very things that will do us harm.

Take destroying the world.

We know we’re doing it, and yet onward we go until it’s one second to midnight and we have to do something desperate in a hurry, a strategy which comes with quite a few downsides.

 

 

Like everything going to hell in a Darwinian handbasket where is pretty much the fertile narrative ground occupied by The Titan which takes a penetrating look at how far we’d go rescue our own hide and would we, in being willing to go to that risky place, make things worse rather than better?

I think the trailer gives us a cogent, terrifyingly unsettling “YES!” to that particular question.

It’s an affirmative that not stuffing things up in the first place works better than a panicked Band-aid response any time.

I wonder if anyone’s listening?

The Titan is currently screening in USA and opens in UK on 13 April (screening in Australia via Netflix looks most likely).

Book review: The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins

(cover image courtesy UQP)

 

We live in an often cruel and unforgiving world.

Thankfully in the midst of all the Darwinian madness and the transgressions of fallible humanity, both our own and those of our fellow human beings, there are kind and generous people who understand that what might be needed is less caustic censure and unforgiving discipline and a little more love and understanding.

It may sound woefully naive and insipid but in Robert Lukin’s brilliantly good debut novel The Everlasting Sunday, a title which eludes to the endless, breathlessly good possibilities that day holds in store, there’s a real muscularity and truthfulness to the idea that all people, including “troubled boys” who have transgressed a multitude of boundaries, is the chance to discover life’s promise on their own terms.

To Radford, our eyes and ears on the bold and somewhat quirkily shambolic social experiment that is the Manor, a home for troubled youth out in the wilds of the English countryside, that’s not exactly the first impression he gets off the director Teddy, other staff like Lillian and Manny, and his fellow “inmates”, none of whom seem to be on any kind of set plan or well-scripted path to anywhere in particular.

“Almost a week has turned over: each day had brought not a sense of understanding but an understanding not to search for sense. When he [Radford] asked how things operated in the Manor – timetables, lessons, chores, responsibilities – he would be met with reluctant, ponderous answers or more often none at all. No rules, only customs. A conscious vagueness inhabited the place whereby time was a thing to be occupied: an enemy’s pillbox on a battlefield.” (P. 41)

At first, the Manor, all decaying innards and rundown shabby chic, seems like an idiosyncratic, highly-civilised Lord of the Flies sprung to life, where the boys roam in groups, learning is haphazard and erratically earnest, fights occasionally break out and diversions come in many forms, including drunken trips to a nearby cemetery where a random person is picked each time to be eulogised in a comical fashion that says more about boys like Radford and his troubled but gregarious friend West than it does about the anonymous objects of their temporary attention.

While no one openly discusses what brought them to this place – it is unofficially but universally agreed that you only divulge that secret if you’re so inclined – with most of the boys (in reality late teens and slightly up) choosing to keep their sins well under wraps.

The director of the facility Teddy is never inclined to push anyone anyway – for him the Manor is all bucolic learning, ad hoc discoveries of murmurations of starlings or the uncovering of historical trees – a place where, as he explains to Radford many years later, his charges could experience “a brief truce … [a] little peace, that you might carry with you.”

In reflecting on that time in the early ’60s where the Manor was alive with peaceful possibility, goodnatured intent and even so, some of the worst of humanity (despite its director’s best efforts), Teddy hoped for much but feels, as he confesses to an older, wiser Radford, that he has “failed”.

 

(image courtesy UQP)

 

Radford, blessed with hindsight, disagrees with his now-good friend.

He points out that he has a circle of good friends, and presumably a sustaining career, one birthed at the Manor when Manny, a handyman and general errand runner, taught him the ins-and-outs of electrical work, an interest Radford didn’t know he harboured nor an aptitude he knew he possessed until it was awoken him.

Wiser and more self-aware than people like West and Foster, whose destructive bond only comes to full fruition late in the book, Radford, though drawn into the largely benignly chaotic machinations of the Manor to a large degree, remains a studious observer, a young man who benefits from Teddy’s unorthodox approach even as others, too troubled by their own demons fail to do so.

It is through Radford and his willingness to ask questions and consider life, even in a passing way, that stands him apart from West, a young man who comes as breezy and a bon vivant but is secretly torn apart by familial events beyond his control or ability to deal with.

“They went closer until everything above and before them was only stick and bird. The sound was incredible. Radford found himself beginning to laugh in the union of nerves and appreciation. He kept turning back to Teddy for permission, like a toddler approaching a beach’s waterline. Teddy swung his stick on wards.” (P. 168)

The magic of The Everlasting Sunday is that Lukins, writing in a blissfully poetic fashion that reads beautifully but never feels pretentious or artfully staged, invests his laidback prose, and unhurried narrative with some pretty powerful truths about human nature, the benefits of love and kindness if you’re open to them (if not, they glide off like water off the proverbial) and the way one person can come alive in the same environment that leaves another untouched and unyielding.

While there is sometimes an emotional distancing to proceeding and it’s hard to feel fully connected to all the characters, there are moments, particularly during interactions between Radford and West, and Radford and Teddy that you feel the exquisite ache of pain and possibility and come to understand, in real and visceral ways, how easily a person can tip one way or the other.

That Radford will emerge out the other side benefiting from Teddy and Manny and Lillian’s guiding hands is clear, but even so, the journey he undertakes in that one season in the Manor is fraught and it’s not always certain that our protagonist will find his way through as successfully as events seem to indicate.

That he does, and that others don’t, mirrors life itself where despite the guiding hand and love of caring if erratic souls like Teddy, not everyone has a happy ending.

The strength of The Everlasting Sunday and Lukins approach to his unexpectedly captivating material – at first the novel seems too low key to be too powerful but appearances can, and are, deceiving – is that for all its quirks and wonderfully unusual moments, its Boys Own scenes of camaraderie and enmity, is that it perfectly articulates, and celebrates, the fact that bleak and unforgiving as life can be, that great possibility awaits for those willing and able to make the most of it.

 

Been there, done that, got the undead T-shirt: Why People Stopped Watching The Walking Dead

This poster says everything you need to know about the show now – hollowed-out violence with no hope and no philosophical exploration of humanity to be seen (image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

The Walking Dead used to be such a good show.

It took a while for my housemate to convince this horror-averse boy that there was substance to go along with the zombies but he did and I found myself utterly transfixed by show that has was dark and apocalyptic true, and often very sad or shocking but which, zombie killing aside, sought to explore what that kind of civilisation-ending event does to humanity.

Do we go all Lord of the Flies-ish? Do we rise above, courting the better angels of our nature? Or do we land somewhat existentially awkwardly in the middle?

The final option was the one where most characters landed but the getting there was fascinating – well thoughtout, ruminative and reflective balanced with some damn fine action.

 

 

And then the undead wheels fell off … and limbs and intestines and pretty much everything.

A clever, intelligent look at the apocalypse became grim and repetitive, with no sense of hope whatsoever – completely missing the hope after the apocalypse movement which has been gaining strengh of late (see Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts) – all points raised in this brilliant video essay Looper which explores why The Walking Dead stopping being such a ratings juggernaut, and shed viewers almost as quickly as it lost its philosophical soul.

No one wants to kick a show when it’s down, and I would love The Walking Dead to recover its storytelling soul, but by highlighting issues such as a meandering narrative, whiplash plot points and squandered characters, Looper explores how a once well-told cautionary tale devolved into a dark and nasty show stuck on villains posture-Rick reacts-people die then rinse-and-repeat.

Here’s hoping someone from the show watches this and remembers what it was once was and what could be again.

The Walking Dead season 8 is currently screening on AMC in USA and Showcase in Australia.

Movie review: Walking Out

(image via IMP Awards)

 

It is a rare thing to find a film that manages to both subvert a genre and yet be richly poignant and honour it at the same time.

Walking Out, written and directed by twins Alex & Andrew J. Smith, manages this impressive feat, presenting us with a gritty survival story that doesn’t quite play out as you might expect, one that is emotionally-resonant in such quietly-powerful ways that you don’t realise how engaged your heart is until it breaks a little bit.

Or as it turns out, quite a lot.

Based on a short story by David Quammen, the film explores the indeterminate zone that exists between members of the same family when they long for closeness, for real communication and belonging, but can’t quite bridge the gap to get there.

In Walking Out, this chasm separates father and son Cal (Matt Bomer as an adult, Alex Neustaedter as a teenager) and David (Josh Wiggins), who see each once a year as Cal’s remote home in Montana’s Big Sky Country, and who struggles, despite their best intentions, to re-engage after so long apart.

A typical suburban teenager who lives with his mother in Texas, David does not hold any antipathy to his father – refreshingly he is not some angsty annoying teenager with a chip the size of a mountain on his shoulder; it becomes blatantly clear that David wants to be close to his dad if only he can find a way – he simply isn’t sure how to connect with a man whose world revolves around self-survival and hunting.

Cal too, despite his gruff demeanour and atrophied social skills – he doesn’t come into the small airport terminal to pick up David who’s been waiting a long while but merely taps on the door and walks off, waiting for his son to run and get in the car – is aching to be close to his son, something that emerges in practical ways such as his always-constant need to impart hunting and survival tips, and one night around a campfire with a verbal articulation of his passionate need for them to be close in a way that he hasn’t managed to date.

 

 

It’s a heart’s cry that is common to many parents and children who want to know each other intimately and deeply, but haven’t a clue how to get to a place whose very existence seems to shimmer in the distance like a mirage before disappearing.

Walking Out beautifully draws out this tension and longing but also how it can be conjured from the mists of the seeming impossible and given concrete form; not always perfectly, of course, but enough that neither party feels as separated from the other as they have done to date.

This achingly slow coming together takes places for Cal and David on a hunting trip into a high, snow-jammed mountains that surround the former’s home where the ostensible goal is to kill a moose and get enough food for the winter – Cal is not, you quickly come to understand, a supermarket and takeaway kind of guy – but where the unstated goal, well initially at least, is to broach the yawning chasm between father and son.

Moving insight is given into what motivates Cal beyond the usual need to be a good dad is provided by flashbacks to hunting trips he went on with his dad, Clyde (Bill Pullman), which are interspersed with great effectiveness and minimal narrative logjamming and help you understand why it matters to him that he and Cal are more than just blood relatives who awkwardly bond once a year.

These vignettes from Cal’s past are sprinkled throughout this quietly told but richly-layered story which moves from bonding hunting trip, and Cal and David do begin to move genuinely closer to each other in real and authentic ways, to survival tale when an encounter with a mother Grizzly Bear leads to Cal being shot and David needing to carry him out to get medical help.

In that respect, it probably sounds like the sort of story you’ve seen many times before but the heartfelt genius of Walking Out, which tells its story without manipulative fanfare, preferring the unadorned truth of letting it play out, is that never rests on what is expected, its nuanced storytelling unspooling with the same understated meditative quality as the snow-covered, silent landscape in which its set.

 

 

It’s this landscape, all soaring craggy mountain speaks, burbling streams and pines forest standing at watchful attention, captured in its all majesty by cinematographer Todd McMullen, that frames this tale in ways that make it, all cliche aside, as integral a character as any other.

It dominates proceedings, giving both ecstatic joy at the start, and sorrowful frustration and agony at the end, and underscores, in a very real physical sense that never feels obvious or overplayed, how great the gap is between Cal and David, and then how it begins to close bit by bit, shared moment by memorised survival tip.

In a neat piece of inverse storytelling, that as Cal and David draw together, a dynamic which gathers pace when son is trying to rescue father but is well underway before then in ways that will make you smile with quiet delight at the joy it brings to both people, the landscape becomes ever more challenging, ever more defeating and obstructing even as it remains starkly and immeasurably beautiful.

While the setting is immersively breathtaking, the real beauty of Walking Out is that never feels the need, not once, to go for obvious messaging, statements of feeling or intent or cliched denouement.

Each step of the way, the story unfolds deliberately, authentically, two very real people who want to be close but aren’t, finding a way, in good times and then bad, to bridge that gap enough that they no longer feel like strangers to each other, nor the holders of unfulfilled relational dreams.

It’s impossible to discuss the ending without giving away far too much, so suffice to say, the final act is both what you might be thinking and wholly not, an adherence to survival stories and a marked departure, one that might slow a little but which is never less than utterly moving in ways you can’t even articulate until you’ve had time to ruminate on how everything plays out.

Suffice to say, Walking Out is one of this year’s finest films, a profoundly enriching and deeply-moving examination of the great voids that exist between those who love each other the most, and how they can be bridged in ways and in circumstances that defy your every expectation, taking you places, both real and metaphorical, that you never thought you’d actually go and which change you for life.

 

A fairytale for adults: The cinematic references and homages in #TheShapeofWater

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

What if the beauty fell for the beast?

That’s the underlying idea behind the winner of the Academy Award for Best Film this year, The Shape of Water, which director Guillermo del Tor says was heavily informed by his lifelong love for the 1954 film, The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

This video essay from ScreenPrism examines this influence and others such as Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast, and 1933’s King Kong and how del Toro took a range of cinematic touchstones and turned them on their heads, in the process giving them a fresh, vividly-alive interpretation such as making the “beauty” of The Shape of Water “beautiful but in a way that’s unique and powerful …” and not requiring the beast to change to win the love of the beauty.

 

 

The Shape of Water pays homage to a myriad of influences while never being beholding to them in their original form, testament to the enlightened, wholly different vision del Toro brings to a film about accepting the otherness of those around us without requiring them to change.

It’s a beautiful message in today’s harshly polarised world, an evergreen moral that will power this beautiful movie, which also reflects some beautiful visual influences such as those of the famed Powell and Pressburger (1948’s The Red Shoes) and the colour red, and makes use of classic TV shows such as Mister Ed and the revolutionary Many Lives of Dobie Gillis, to become a classic of our time.

If nothing else, as the video essay notes, del Toro’s desire was to make a film that, above all, celebrates love in a non-cynical way, that elevates something pure and beautiful and true above post-modern cynicism, and in so doing takes all its many influences and messages and creates something wholly original and utterly unique.

Road to Eurovision 2018: Week 2 – Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland

(artwork 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 Lisbon, Portugal.

 

BULGARIA: “Bones” by EQUINOX

 

 

THE ARTIST
Pop music has a long and somewhat glorious history of creating groups out of the musical ether; bands like the Spice Girls, One Direction or The Monkees who were specifically cobbled-together for one particular event or activity that may or may have gone on to epic chart-topping glory.

Add to this illustrious list of names, Bulgaria’s EQUINOX, a band conjured from the cream of the country’s singers and musicians, who have, you will be pleased to know, “never performed together before”.

What could possibly go wrong right? On the face of not much since 2013 Bulgaria’s X-Factor winner Zhana Bergendorff, singer-songwriter and actor Vlado Mihailov, singer-songwriter and vocal producer Georgi Simeonov, performer Johnny Manuel and LA-based songwriter Trey Campbell are all impressively successful in their own right.

Ah yes but will they coalesce into an harmonious capable of doing Bulgaria, who came second in 2017 in Kiev, Ukraine with “Beautiful Mess” by Kristian Kostov, proud? After all, the individual parts do not always add to a fully-functioning, Eurovision-winning whole …

 

EQUINOX (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
In this case though they just might.

While “Bones”, written by a veritable committee made up of Borislav Milanov, Joacim Persson, Brandon Treyshun Campbell, Dag Lundberg isn’t exactly a completely out-of-the-box stunner, it has enough going for it that it’s attracted a considerable amount of attention.

The production of this moody electronic pop number is first-rate, which coupled with a pounding beat through the chorus and damn near perfect harmonisation, makes it a captivating listen from start to finish.

Even the verse and bridge, though pulling things back from the epic chorus, don’t disappear into musical obscurity, avoiding the dreaded “don’t bore us, get us to the chorus” syndrome.

I’m still not entirely convinced it will catapult Bulgaria into a winning position as some has suggested but in a year with more than its share of earnest Eurovision ballads, it’s an interesting experiment in both personnel and songwriting style, and deserves to do well for that reason alone.

 

 

CROATIA: “Crazy by Franka

 

 

THE ARTIST
In the great arms race to be the most prodigious singer in Eurovision, I give you Franka Batelić aka Franka, who began her singing career at the very tender age of three. Yes, three.

That’s right everyone, while you were working out how many gummy bears you could fit in your mouth and whether that would go well with trampolining for hours on end – spoiler alert: no and ewww messy – Franka, whose brother Nikola is also a musician, was cutting loose as a soloist with the Minicantanti choir as well as part of the church choir of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Rabac.

If you don’t feel too intimidated yet, Franka plays piano and guitar, studied for several semesters at the Berklee College of Music (as well studying law back home) before winning TV talent Showtime (think Pop Idol) in 2007 at just 15 and, yes there’s more, taking out Ples sa zvijezdama (Croatia’s take on Dancing with the Stars) with dancing partner Ištvan Varga in 2009.

Her dreams of competing in Eurovision started young too:

“When I was two years old, I was standing in front of our TV set, holding a remote control instead of a microphone, singing the lyrics of Tony Cetinski’s, Nek’ ti bude ljubav sva from Eurovision 1994. That girl never stopped dreaming and now the dream is coming true!”

So yeah wildly lacking in talent or ambition (kidding clearly), all of which, must bode well for her participation in this year’s Eurovision Cong Contest, at which she promises to “to represent Croatia in the best possible way.”

 

Franka (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
But will “Crazy”, written as a sultry stop-start cabaret number by Franka Batelić and Branimir Mihaljevic, step and do its part?

I think yes.

The song may come across as a low key seductive strut across the dance floor but it has a real sense of emotive style, redolent with a chilled torch light vibe that is at once quite traditional and yet distinctive enough to make an impression.

It mirrors the mystery and elation of love as Franka explained to Wiwibloggs:

“You all know that kind of love. It hits you like a thunder and doesn’t seem to let you go. The unconventional, unusual, unique kind of love over our bodies, our hearts. You all know that feeling when you’re not sure if it’s all real, or if it’s just a product of your imagination. And that’s what makes love so fantastic, so extraordinary. You can try to explain it but the truth is, there are no rules in love, love is a beautiful mystery.”

It’s exactly the kind of song that could make a Statement (yes, with a capital “S”) live on stage, possessing a gripping emotive melody, stellar vocals redolent with love and longing in equal measure and a singer with the performance talent to make it really standout.

Look for Croatia to do exceptionally well, with a top 10 grand final finish tipped.

 

 

CYPRUS: “Fuego” by Eleni Foureira

 

 

THE ARTIST
If you think you’ve never heard of Eleni Foureira, think again.

She was the voice powering Dan Balan’s guiltily-addictive 2010 hit “Chica Bomb”, a worldwide pop phenom that she replicated, in part, in 2017 when “Send For Me”, a collaboration with successful producer and rapper A.M. SNiPE, chewed up charts around the globe.

The home base for this Albanian-born singer is, as you might expect Greece and Cyprus, where she’s had more than few hits, kicking off in 2007 as a member of girl group Mystique before going solo in 2009 when the band cast its mysterious persona and simply ceased to exist.

Being the creative powerhouse that she is, Foureira is not content to just sing and dance, dabbling in dance – she’s been a judge on the Greek version of So You Think You Can Dance? and fashion design (thus making tour costumes for extensive list of gigs throughout the Balkans a snap surely?)

Multi-talented she may be, but can she win Eurovision for the good people of Cyprus?

 

Eleni Fouriera (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
“You have the eyes of a lioness.”

For that line alone, Fouriera deserves to do nicely; lyrics aside, and let’s be fair they are alwaya an oddity at Eurovision; either spot-on or strangely earnest and over-articulated, the song is a bundle of stripped dancey fun that bounces between garrulously upbeat, replete with sensual traditional beats and passion and seductively idle and deliciously intense.

As a rollicking piece of chilled but danceable pop, it’s right up with the best, helped by Fouriera’s obvious talent for performing up a storm.

Expect this to play extremely well in Lisbon’s Altice Arena and remixed in clubs across Europe, but while it may catapult Cyprus into the hallowed grand final, it doesn’t have the required amount of presence to make it a real player in the race for the iconic glass microphone.

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC: “Lie to Me” by Mikolas Josef

 

 

THE ARTIST
Mikolas Josef and Franka Batelić, if they ever met, and let’s be fair that could happen come May in Lisbon, could quite possibly be the best of child prodigy buddies.

Like his Croatian rival, Josef started on his musical career nice and early, starting to play the guitar at the age of 5, helped along no doubt by belonging to a family of musicians, and at 17 won the highest meritorious award from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts; the Gold Medal with distinction for solo acting.

Granted he isn’t an actor as such but it speaks to the depth and breadth of his creative talent, which has seen him grow, at the age of just 22, into a quintuple threat that handles composing, producing, singing, playing of multiple instruments and directing of music videos with comsummate ease.

Now resident in Vienna, after growing up in Prague and Znojmo, and after a brief stint as a model, Josef is ready to add another feather to his considerable bow with his presentation of the Czech republic at this year’s contest.

 

Mikolas Josef (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
But will it be a splashy feather or a tail-between-the-legs feather?

Judging by the sheer energy of “Lie to Me”, a song that is all double meanings, jaunty beats and catchy percussive fun, he’s got every chance to do the former with bells on.

It helps too that he modeled for Diesel and Prada among others on his brief year-long modeling career, meaning that with the moves, the voice and a damn infectiously bouyant song that he wrote himself in its entirety (but of course he did – remember his multitudinous talents), he is the living embodiment of the sexy Lothario at the heart of this danceably sexy number.

“Lie to Me” will make for a knockout live performance too which means you should expect the Czech Republic to be front and centre, and looking damn good thank you, at the grand final.

 

 


ESTONIA: “La Forza” by Elina Nechayeva

 

 

THE ARTIST
Elina Nechayeva is the proud owner of one of the biggest aspirational career U-turns around.

To be fair, her move from astronaut to opera singer took place between childhood, when the possible list of career choices for any of us varies from the weird to the faintly ludicrous, and adulthood when she graduated at the age of 25 from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.

At first glance, they migth seem like massively divergent career paths, and yes, they are, but as her official Eurovision bio notes, what links is the drive and ambition to be the very best.

It’s that drivenness, delivered, we are assured, via “her voice and shining personality” that will, she hopes, power the animation and yoga-made singer to a career singing on the great opera house stages of the world.

But before that particular dream takes form, and you get the feeling with Elina it will be sooner rather later (if it falls through, hey’ there’s always the astronaut gig to fall back on), there’s Eurovision to contend with, with the “happy and positive” music artist full intending to make her homeland proud of her.

 

Elina Nechayeva (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Naturally, if you’re aiming for that level of nation-wide pride, it’s best to ally yourself with the best there is; hence Nechayeva, who wrote the lyrics to “La Forza” (with fellow soprano Ksenia Kuchukova), worked closely with Mihkel Mattisen, who co-wrote Estonia’s 2013 entry “Et Uus Saaks Alguse” and Timo vendt who co-gave the world “Amazing” in 2014.

The result of all this national pride-building teamwork is “La Forza” which, apart from providing the opportunity for another gigantic dress stage prop, of which you can never have too many, gives Estonia a distinctive point of difference in this year’s contest.

While you might not necessarily think Eurovision and then think opera, the song is a showstopper of the highest order, one of those titanic efforts that strides, musically and visually, across the Eurovision landscape like a fabric-laden giant.

It’s only downside is that feels like an endlessly uplifting commercial for an airline but really that a small issue with a song that is going to grab attention no matter what.

Quite whether that’s enough to place Estonia high atop the dais is another matter but at the very least, it should get them into the grand final, if only to justify all that sewing.

 

 

FINLAND: “Monsters” by Saara Aalto

 

 

THE ARTIST
Now if you want to really make your name, and make it big, voicing one of the main characters in one of Disney’s biggest recent hits, is a good way to go.

Known as the voice of Anna in the Finish release of Frozen, Aalto is otherwise the perpetual bridesmaid of Finnish show business.

Chalking up a no doubt hallowed spot as the second most Googled person in Finland in 2016 and 2017 – which raises the question, who is beating her and what must she do, consistent with her G-rated Disney fame and glory naturally, to gain the coveted top spot – and the runner up in The Voice, Finland’s Got Talent and X-Factor UK (caveat: Simon Cowell LOVED her, saying “That’s how you do it”), and the second placegetter at the national Eurovision selection trials in 2011 and 2016, the singer is no doubt looking for a nice, bright-and-shiny first place to go in the metaphorical trophy cabinet.

But is “Monsters” the song to elevate her and help her realise her persistently-pursued dream?

 

Saaea Aalto (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Every chance in the world, especially since she co-wrote her song “Monsters”, all about facing up to the demons that beset you in life, with the team who took Sweden’s Måns Zelmerlöw in 2015 with “Heroes”.

Rather than feeling like some cheap knockoff off the winning song, and let’s face it, the temptation must be there when you’re working with the same people, “Monsters” is bright, infectiously hopeful and optimistic, its drivingly upbeat melody a perfect match for its cheerily declarative lyrics.

In fact, so joyously catchy is the song, without once being annoyingly saccharine, and so quirky and interesting with everything from the bridge to the jauntily exuberant chorus, that it’s almost instant singalong material, the kind of wholeheartedly euphoric song that only cpatured earworms and hearts but votes too.

trust me on this – this will be one of the highlights of semi final 1 and should see Finland happily into the grand final where if there is any justice, Aalto will finally emerge as a winner. (Honestly that’s not some glib throwaway finishing line; her song could really do that well.)

 

 

EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

Eurovision is not normally the repository of sad news – unless, of course, you’re on one of the countries that fails to win, in which yes, it is alas – but this week, the contest’s large and expansive lost two leading figures.

Lys Assia, was the first winner of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1956 for Switzerland with the song “Refrain” – she also performed a German language entry too that same year “”Das alte Karussell” showing just how talented she was – at the age of 94, remaining to the end a loyal and fervent supporter of the contest with which she became so intimately associated.

The other great loss was that of British presenter Katie Boyle at age 91 who hosted the British staging of the contest on four occasions, most notably when ABBA won with “Waterloo” in 1974 in Brighton.

Both members of the close Eurovision family will be greatly missed.

 

 

 

In happier news, Iceland’s Ari Ólafsson has been announced at the 20th act to perform at London’s Eurovision party on 5 April, joining other current entrants such as SuRie (United Kingdom), who is the headline act, Madame Monsieur (France) and Vanje Radovanović (Montenegro) to name just a few.

Get your dancing shoes on! This should be quite a night.

 

Future and past collide: Are you ready to make The Crossing?

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jude Ellis (Steve Zahn) is the sheriff of Port Canaan, a small fishing town on the Oregon coast. Having relocated from Oakland to escape a strained marriage and a dark past as a big city cop, his goal is to build a quiet new life for himself and for, eventually, his young son. But those plans for a quiet life change instantly when 47 refugees from a war-torn country wash up on his beach seeking asylum. But the country they’re from is America … and the war they’re fleeing is 180 years in the future. As the Feds set out to uncover the truth behind the mysterious migration, Jude will launch an investigation of his own with the help of his loyal sheriff’s deputy, and Port Canaan native, Nestor Rosario (Rick Gomez).

Reece (Natalie Martinez) is a refugee too, but she’s different. She’s an “Apex,” a member of a genetically engineered human population that possess dramatically heightened physical and mental traits. While in the future she was a soldier – tasked with eliminating members of the lower “Common” class – her only goal once she arrives in Port Canaan is to find her daughter, Leah (Bailey Skodje), from whom she is separated during the Crossing, and who is then taken to a secret camp with the rest of the new arrivals. As Leah tries to adapt to her new surroundings with the other refugees, she will find herself fighting a devastating virus that she has brought with her from the future. But Reece has raised a fighter – capable, resourceful and brave.

Leading the investigation for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is Emma Ren (Sandrine Holt), whose dogged pursuit of the truth is complicated by the fact that her boss, wily DHS Undersecretary Craig Lindauer (Jay Karnes), seems to know a lot more about the migration than he’s telling her. Emma’s second-in-command is Bryce Foster (Luc Roderique), a young, empathetic agent who comes to find himself in over his head. DHS camp guard Roy Aronson is a straight arrow, but his by-the-book nature will be tested once he becomes romantically interested in one of the refugees. Another vital member of the government team is virologist Dr. Sophie Forbin (Georgina Haig), who is inquisitive, driven and has her own personal reasons for researching the Apex phenomenon and what it could mean to the future of science.

 

 

The survivors who fled the future in search of a better life include Caleb (Marcuis W. Harris) and his wife, Rebecca (Simone Kessell), who are still struggling with the painful loss of their daughter; Hannah (Kelley Missal), whose sweet exterior masks a gritty survivor who has learned the hard way what it takes to survive; and Paul (Rob Campbell) who is anxious, haunted and desperate to see the outside world.

The news of this mysterious arrival will have the locals buzzing with their own theories, including twentysomething-year-old Marshall (Tommy Bastow), whose disdain for rules and authority will put him on a collision course with some very powerful people once he starts peeling back the layers of the refugee mystery.

As the search for answers in this small town gets underway, the lives of the people here – both the townspeople and these newcomers – will never be the same.

“The Crossing” stars Steve Zahn as Jude Ellis, Natalie Martinez as Reece, Sandrine Holt as Emma Ren, Georgina Haig as Dr. Sophie Forbin, Tommy Bastow as Marshall, Rob Campbell as Paul, Rick Gomez as Nestor Rosario, Marcuis W. Harris as Caleb, Grant Harvey as Roy Aronson, Jay Karnes as Craig Lindauer, Simone Kessell as Rebecca, Kelley Missal as Hannah, Luc Roderique as Bryce Foster and Bailey Skodje as Leah. Recurring guest star Luke Camilleri as Thomas. (official ABC synopsis via Spoiler TV)

 

So a funny thing on the way to the future … it turned out way worse than the present.

Given our predilection for stories that detail a dystopian future, it likely won’t surprise a lot of people that society descends into anarchy and war in decades or centuries to come.

But what would be surprising would be if that future ran headlong into our present as refugees from this upcoming nightmarish reality flee into their past to escape it …

… and end up in our present where we, not surprisingly, are more than a little perplexed by their story.

It’s an enormously clever premise but many other great ideas, let’s pray it doesn’t fall prey to Terra Nova syndrome, where a premise is squandered by lightweight, ineffectual storytelling, or Lost syndrome, ironically given the promo line at the top of the poster, where the secrets are revealed to quickly or not at all before everything descends into frustratingly nonsensical madness.

Or the worst syndrome of all – Broadcast Network Cancellitis.

If it lasts the distance, and delivers on its gripping premise, The Crossing could be one show worth watching.

The Crossing premieres on ABC in April 2018.

 

Movie review: Annihilation

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Much has been made of humanity’s “fight or flight” response to danger – the mechanism, borne of evolutionary necessity, that impels us to either take on an adversary in the hopes of besting them, or to run, as fast as we can, away from danger.

It works marvellously in most situations, and likely explains why we’re still around as a species, but as Alex Garland’s ferociously-intelligent new film Annihilation makes brilliantly clear, it may not always provide us with the right perspective on every situation.

Take The Shimmer, a strange phenomenon of extraterrestrial origin – although only the audience knows this courtesy of a quick wordless piece of visual exposition near the start of the film – which is slowly and unnervingly swallowing up great swathes of swampland on the US Gulf Coast.

Watched by a team of military personnel and scientists who have to keep moving their base known as Southern Reach as Area X expands remorselessly, with a mix of morbid curiosity and fear, The Shimmer looks in every way, shape or form like an enemy, the kind you would normally run from since fighting doesn’t seem to be much of an option.

But what kind of enemy, or is it an enemy at all?

No one knows for certain with every team that has entered, whether military or scientific, having been swallowed up and never seen again, leaving everyone perplexed about what it is, what it wants and what it’s doing.

The only person to have emerged back from the oil slick-like rainbow bubble, Kane (Oscar), a seargeant in the US military, seems to be a near-mute, emotionally-catatonic shadow of his former rambunctious self, perplexing everyone, particularly biologist wife Lena (Natalie Portman) who is mourning the supposed death of her husband when he mysteriously turns up at their home.

With no answers forthcoming, and desperate to know how the perplexing anomaly has changed her husband for the worse, both physically and emotionally, she volunteers to go on a scientific team into The Shimmer with aggressively taciturn psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), gung-ho paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), shy physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and surveyor and geologist Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny).

 

 

They’re unaware of Lena’s motivations for going in and she makes no move to inform them, preferring to keep things quiet and find the answers she needs, and hopefully return.

Split between flashback, the present inside The Shimmer and the future where you know Lena makes it back to Southern Reach, Annihilation is a cleverly-constructed film that never gives too much away while providing enough answers, so beautifully well-judged in fact, that you wish screenwriter Alex Garland had been responsible for taking care of the last few seasons of Lost.

Sinuous and sublimely terrifying in a way that creeps up on you rather than shocking you all at once, the film is an acid trip into the very depths of the human psyche, a weird as f**k journey into what happens when humanity finds itself confronted by a phenomenon that defies all the usual, easy fight-or-flight assumptions.

In that respect, it’s fascinating how Garland, who based his nuanced screenplay for Annihilation, on the book of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, treats the reactions of each gender.

Almost without exception, men react in a physical, visceral sense, interpreting the way The Shimmer mutates and plays with them and all the DNA around them, whether planet, animal or otherwise, as a bricks-and-mortar enemy to be fought against, reacted to and subdued, and when it can’t be, yielded to.

The women on the other hand, and this is the viewpoint we are most fully exposed to thanks to the superlative all-female team that takes up the lion’s share of the narrative, interpret the eerie otherness of The Shimmer, which is both beautiful and horrifying and confounding un-human, in emotional ways, each of them coming up with a unique way of handling this weird environments endless stresses and strains.

It’s subtle, immensely well-articulated and insightful observation of the genders that goes a long way to informing Annihilation, a film which detaches everyone from who and what they know and forces them to deal with a whole new world that matches nothing they know, and which rebuffs every attempt they make to understand it.

Beyond this gender divide, Garland does a remarkably perceptive job in amongst all the visual oddities and scientific observation, of exploring what happens to people when they end up, for a variety of reasons disconnected from the rest of the human race.

 

 

In the case of the team of which Lena is a part, this is pretty much everyone with the biologist the only one with sufficient motivation and connection to the outside world to make it back out of The Shimmer.

That’s not to say that the other have a death wish, although Ventress seems to be working hard to conjure one up, but neither Anya, Josie or Cass seems as willing as Lena, driven to understand what it is they’re facing, if that’s even possible, to fight The Shimmer or to seek to understand it; flight seems to be the preferred response for the three woman other than Ventress or Lena although that is increasingly problematic.

The central question of Annihilation, which never takes anything at face value and possesses an engaging willingness to accept otherness even as many of its characters recoil from it to lesser or greater degrees, is whether The Shimmer is an enemy at all.

What we see as a destructive foe, a corrupter of the established order, may simply be a creator of a new kind of life, freakishly unnerving though it is at times (there is one scene where Lena discover flowering plants have copied the DNA which gives human beings they’re distinctive shape, a creepy capability which leaves a field looking a cemetery of floral-decked human shapes which are, of course, anything but.)

Of course for reasons which involve far too many spoilers, and so can’t be explored too fully in the context of this review, this could simply be a convenient excuse for the unknown entity to justify its own existence.

Whatever the truth, and Garland’s script assiduously avoid defining that, preferring suggestion and inference, although it does give us a healthy amount of answers as previously noted, Annihilation provides an utterly intriguing, mesmerisingly and pleasingly odd journey into a whole other realm of life as it intersects with humanity’s often limited ability to step outside of its preconceived notions and instinctual reactions.

Mysterious yet grounded in raw, deeply-felt humanity, thoughtful about dying and being reborn, and brutally honest about the self-destructive effects of being unmoored from the mainstays of life such as friends and family, Annihilation is a masterpiece, an impressively cerebral film that is always accessible and richly insightful, never once forgeting that we never really know who we are until we are close to losing everything that makes us human.

 

Kiddo and the fraught adventure of finding your way in the world

(image (c) Tito Fernandes

 

SNAPSHOT
Kiddo is an action adventure coming of age film about a young orphan girl named Kim (Antonia Tootill) and her “two unusual buddies’ journey to find inner resolution and their place in the world.” (Laughing Squid)

It’s cold, damn cold!

And then it most certainly is not.

One thing that is constant in the proof-of-concept trailer for Kiddo – essentially a “this would make a brilliant kickass film!” trailer to get producers interested – is a grim, pervading sense of intriguing mystery, matched only by the determination of the spirited protagonist to reclaim something precious lost to her.

It’s evident she’s been separated from her father, who may or may not be dead, but beyond that it’s a fascinating blend of sentient robots, monkeys, darkness and ruins, with a powerful call to action and thirst for vengeance that cannot be denied.

Writer and director Tito Fernandes has crafted a magnificent embryonic tale in Kiddo that I sincerely hope gets made as there are many answers I want about a protagonist that managed to capture my heart in just three and a half all-too-short minutes.

Here’s to a blockbuster premiere on a really big screen near us all soon!

 

It’s incraftable! Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman host new show Making It

(image via YouTube (c) NBC)

 

I am not an enthusiastic fan of baking/cooking/crafting/bedazzling reality TV shows.

In fact, I’m not a fan at all.

But, and this is a most crucial and highly-conditional but, if such a show were to be hosted by the god-like comedic talents of Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, both of Parks and Recreation fame, then I would seriously consider watching said show.

Oh who am I kidding? Of course I’d watch it!

This is why, come July, I will be awaiting the first episode of Making It where talented crafters will be set tasks by the creative twosome in a fabric-wood-and-metal Hunger Games of fun and creativity.

Incraftable? You bet! Start hammering and sewing people … your comedian hosts and craft enthusiasts need you!