Road to Eurovision 2018: Week 1 – Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium

(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.


ALBANIA: “Mall” by Eugent Bushpepa



Do not ask Eugent Bushpepa, holder thus far of my favourite Eurovision artist name for 2018 – although Israels’ Netta Barzilai is hot on his heels – to pay homage to your god or worship at the feet of your golden calf.

For music is the religion of Albania’s entrant to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, a particular form of devotion he has been practising since the tender age of six when he first began to sing. (And yes, this is the perfect time to make a dad joke about the fact that if he started singing so young, he must be exhausted by now.)

A highly-creative individual whose artistic proclivities range far and wide, the now early-thirties artist got his big break in 2006 when, working as a resident singer on TV program Top Show, he won Top Fest, a music competition staged by, yes indeed, Top Channel.

The awards have kept on coming since as have the supporting tour slots for the likes of Deep Purple (2007) and Overkill (2014) and now the honour of all honours, representing his country at Eurovision, a particularly sweet accolade given it was bestowed on him by a jury of his inevitably far more boringly-named fellow professional singers.


Eugent Bushpepa (image courtesy official Eugent Bushpepa Facebook page (c) Armejsa)


At first glance the song is so much earnest indie rock, complete with tight leather pants, grandmother-acceptable attitude and MOR vibe.

But somewhere around the growl around the bridge, you find yourself humming along; not quite cigarett lighters or mobile phones in the air but getting close.

All of which means, or could mean (let’s not get ahead of ourselves), that the song, written and composed by the artist himself – so bonus points there – could result in a lovely crowd moment early in semi-final 1.

But I suspect that might be as far it goes – lovely song but hardly bone-crushingly, must-rush-to-vote memorable and might lose out to the songs after it in the running order, a number of which score higher on the catchiness scale.



ARMENIA: “Qami” by Sevak Khanagyan



They don’t like to waste time in Armenia.

Well, the family of Sevak Khanagyan don’t anyway – at the grand old age of 7, when most kids are still deciding which flavour of guy is their favourite, Armenia’s entrant to this year’s event was not only writing music but enrolled at a music school.

Quite the Mozart-ian prodigy then?  Fast-forward to 2017 and now 30-ish Khanagyan has not only participated in reality TV singing competitions Glavnaya Stsena and The Voice of Armenia but won Ukrainian X Factor, putting him front and centre among a phalanx or three million of fans, his success partly down to his own composition “Don’t Be Quiet” (clearly it was a self-instructional piece of songwriting which he heeded).

The hits like “When We Are Together” and “My Oxygen”, and “Don’t Be Quiet” – you wonder if the song is a mantra his therapist set for him to cure him of stage fright or something since he can’t seem to let it go – have kept coming, he’s a coach on the Armenian iteration of The Voice (go the swivel chairs and big red buttons!) and now, his country’s great hope for Eurovision.

But is his song “Qami” got what it takes to win over the voting public of greater Europe? (We’re assuming the regional vote is pretty much locked in, what with all that TV exposure.)


Sevak Khanagyan Image courtesy official Sevak Khanagyan Facebook page)


As earnest ballads go, full of poignant emotion and heartfelt lyrical intent, “Qami” is right up there, helped along in small part by Khanaghyan’s muscularly-imposing voice.

Lordy but can the man sing, nailing each and every escalating note and proving he has what it takes to nail the almost-obligatory Eurovision key change.

Dressed rather fetchingly like a human extra from War For the Planet of the Apes, and aided and abetted by virtual back-up singers, Khanaghyan nails the song he co-wrote with Anna Danielyan and Viktorya Maloyan, making this one of the songs to watch.

Again, it’s not anything out of the box, a glitter-covered box this being Eurovision, but it’s deeply emotionally-resonant, beautifully delivered, with the artist taking the song well beyond its rather been-there-done-that trappings.



AUSTRIA: “Nobody But You” by Cesár Sampson



You have to imagine that Cesár Sampson has a pretty healthy, fly-thirty-times-around-the-world-for-free (with champagne) frequent flyer balance.

After all, with the good-looking and talented singer barely out of high school at the age of 17, he was off touring the world with some of Austria’s most internationally acclaimed alternative music acts such as Kruder & Dorfmeister, Sofa Surfers and Louie Austen (no relation to Jane but who knows? Perhaps she had a hidden musical talent she exercised in between novels).

Listen you think the Linz-born Sampson youthful lifestyle of jetsetting and performing ruined him and left him living like a dilettante to the manor born, he worked as a social worker for a number of years, worked in the domestic music scene as a member of groups Symphonix International and Electric Church, and even sang back-up vocals for Bulgaria’s Eurovision acts in 2016 and 2017.

See grounded … ish.


Cesár Sampson Image courtesy official Cesár Sampson Facebook page)


As a songwriter, lyricist and vocal producer, with some fairly impressive worldwide performance, you would have to assume that Sampson knows his way around an insanely catchy track.

And you would be right, with “Nobody But You”, recorded with members of Symphonix International (see, he won’t forget you guys!) , channeling some serious radio cred, soulful R&B Blues vibes and a choir back-up that sends chills up your spine.

The song, written by Cesár Sampson, and lots of other people including the renowned Sebastian Arman, builds and builds and builds, all emotional punchiness, heartfelt intensity and a melody that comes alive with Sampson’s golden-coated vocals coasting along atop it.

Unless you are made of concrete, and frankly that would make clapping along to this beautifully-singable song problematic at best, “Nobody But You” is one of those songs that (pleasingly) crawls under your skin, into your heart, make residence in your earworm, and will, unless there’s something with the hearts of Europe, propel the song into a deserved grand final placing and likely top 10 finish overall.



AZERBAIJAN: “X My Heart” by Aisel



An artist of the Madonna school of professional single-names, Aisel or AISEL (which means, your poetry-loving heart will be well-pleased to learn means “the path that leads you to the moon”), depending on whether she’s feeling shouty or not, is a member of a musical family.

Whether or not this means she had to become musician – vet? philatelist? explorer? Were any of those even options we wonder? – she did, first studying at Special Secondary Musical School before attending the Azerbaijan State Conservatory in Baku where she grew into a talented pianist, composer and and singer (so under-achiever yes?).

An habitué of international jazz festivals who has had a string of hits which have given her great success across Azerbaijan, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine, Israel, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Italy, Aisel is an artist with a stunningly emotive voice who has clearly taken her creative birthright and run with it.

But is running all the way to Lisbon the next step in her masterplan to dominate the airwaves of Europe? It could well be …


Aisel (image courtesy


“X My Heart” is one those rare songs-by-committee that actually works and has some life of its own, beyond a good idea in some songwriter’s mind.

A pan-European effort by Greek producer and songwriter Dimitris Kontopoulos and Swedish songwriter Sandra Bjurman, and producer/mixer Ash Howes who’s worked with the likes of Ellie Goulding and the Corrs, the song manages to sound like the catchiest chartopper you’ve ever head and yet not so generic that it fades into the ether the second after its final note has played.

Granted, it doesn’t push the creative envelope but not every song has to – it’s bright, vivacious and innately, infectiously danceable, and it will have everyone in Altice Arena in Lisbon not just on their feet but dancing their pop-loving souls out.

“X My Heart”, propelled by Aisel’s airily-energetic, emotionally-on-point vocals and a driving beat that will not be denied – go on I dare you to try; see can’t do it can you? – is going to be one of semi final 1’s highlights, and likely one of the standout numbers of the grand final too, keeping Azerbaijan’s track record of reaching the pinnacle night gloriously intact (they’ve never missed a grand final since the new format was introduced in 2008).






For reasons known only to the good people of Eurovision, ALEKSEEV – another artist in love with shouty caps; the better to get noticed perhaps? – is highlighted in his bio as being fatherless but not motherless.

It’s not clear how this has affected his art, but one thing is for certain, it has made him the kind of singer that wants to “share his own feelings and emotions with the world.”

Not such a bad goal at all, with ALEKSEEV, presumably not shouting at that point as teachers tend to hate that kind of thing, forming his own band at the age of 10, a prodigious act that he followed up with a student musical group at university called Mova who had a thing for the music of Californication specialists, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Did his goal of teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony end in the halls of learning? Not at all, with a 2014 appearance on The Voice earning the undying love of Belorussians, and the musical stewardship of stellar producer Oleg Bodnarchuk who helped ALEKSEEV become a viral success with the song “Drung Sun (Пьяное солнце)”, a ticket to performing all across Europe.

Making it big on YouTube, 35 million view big is one thing, but conquering Eurovision? Altogether another thing but is his song “Forever”, which tends to lyrically pre-suppose some long-lasting success, up to the task?


ALEKSEEV (image courtesy official ALEKSEEV Facebook page)


Well yes, quite possibly, actually.

Looking disquietingly like Justin Bieber with a bad hairstylist, poorly-tucked in shirts and some pyromaniac leanings, ALEKSEEV – yes his name is shouting ever-so-enthusiastically at you – delivers the goods with “Forever”, a song penned by Kyrylo Pavlov and Evhen Matyushenko which is all soaring minor key passion, heartfelt delivery and CW network earnestness.

If you’ve ever wondered what an emotionally-turbulent teen would want to listen to at a Eurovision Song Contest, muse no more because “Forever” is it with “likes” and bells on.

It’s catchy in its own epically demonstrative way, the kind of song crying out for a big, bombastic performance, which I think ALEKSEEV – don’t you want to add an exclamation point on there? Go on, you know you do – who has the vocal chops for it, should have no problem serving up to a no doubt adoring crowd.

Quite whether it gets Belarus into the grand final is another matter entirely but it should, at the very least make for one heck of a punctuation point in semi final 1.



BELGIUM: “A Matter of Time” by Sennek



Sennek, or Laura Groeseneken to her no doubt proud and doting parents, hails from Leuven, a city known for its breweries, a 15th century town hall with tall spires and Het Depot, a concert hall which hosts an eclectic array of artists.

Why single out a concert hall among the wealth of attractions unique to Leuven? Because it is where Belgium’s entrant to Eurovision works as a vocal coach when she’s not performing with Belgian musician Ozark Henry at some of the country’s biggest music festivals, and working towards furthering her solo career.

But a girl’s gotta eat too and so by day Sennek works as a visual merchandiser at IKEA, which explains her love of Scandinavian design (although in this chicken or egg scenario, who knows which came first?).

No disrespect to IKEA of course, home of Benno and Billy, but it looks like this talented artist, has her eyes set on a career far beyond the store’s twisting corridors of furniture with her appearance at Eurovision set to shake up her life, come what may.


Sennek (image courtesy official Sennek Facebook page)


Sennek is the creator of her own moody mid-tempo dreams it seems if “A Matter of Time” is any indication.

Written with collaborators Belgian artist Alex Callier and French producer Maxime Tribeche (who produced the song, surprise surprise, not), “A Matter of Time” sounds like the sort of theme music that the Bond franchise would leap at in suitably epic fashion.

The fact that the song recalls good old 007’s typically laidback, emotionally-resonant musicality is no accident, I suspect, given that the singer worked on 50th anniversary celebrations of the James Bond franchise, 007 In Concert.

Captivating though the song is, and beautifully sung into the bargain – someone let her score the next Bond instalment pronto! – the perfect accompaniment to 3am fireplace chats with Cognac and intense existential discussions, I wonder if it won’t waft off into the rafters of the Altice Arena never to be seen again, particularly not in the grand final where memorable is good and mood, no matter how well executed, not so much.





Israel’s entry for this years’s event, “Toy” by Netta (who I absolutely and unequivocally adore) – of which more will be written in coming weeks – is creating an incredibly viral reaction throughout the Arab world and as far afield as Uganda.

Preceding it though was the artist’s performance on season five of reality singing compettion, HaKokhav HaBa, which has won, in part, with mash-ups like this utterly captivating “Sing Hallelujah” number …



  • You want Eurovision updates? We have Eurovision updates!


Torn apart by teeth or bullets: Lose yourself in Fear the Walking Dead season 4

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


In Fear the Walking Dead Season 4 we will see the world of Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) and her family through new eyes — the eyes of Morgan Jones (Lennie James), joining the story from the world of The Walking Dead. The characters’ immediate past mixes with an uncertain present of struggle and discovery as they meet new friends, foes and threats. They fight for each other, against each other and against a legion of the dead to somehow build an existence against the crushing pressure of lives coming apart. There will be darkness and light; terror and grace; the heroic, mercenary, and craven, all crashing together towards a new reality for Fear the Walking Dead. (official synopsis via Den of Geek)

Change is in the air at Fear the Walking Dead, and I don’t mean that the zombies are looking a lot less fresh and a whole more decayed.

For starters, The Walking Dead spinoff show, which in my humble opinion, is now a better series than its parents, has a new showrunner with Dave Erickson handing over the reins to Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg (Once Upon a Time).

Quite how they will alter the tone and feel of Fear the Walking Dead can only be guessed at right now, but with Scott Gimple stepping in as executive producer, it’s a fair bet that there will be some major changes to Fear.



You can only hope they don’t homogenise the show too much since its big selling point was that it was a slower, more thoughtful and meditative sibling to The Walking Dead, a show that had some action sure but never let that get in the way of some insightful character studies and apocalyptic meditations on the human condition.

Fingers crossed they respect the heart soul of the show and let Lennie James as Morgan be influenced by the characters and storyline and not the other way around.

There are a number of other additions to the new season – see Den of Geek for all the lowdown there – which promises a whole new Fear the Walking Dead (bit still not too much please) but the same old fallen humanity.

Fear the Walking Dead season 5 premieres 15 April on AMC in USA / Showcase in Australia.

Cinema sounds: My three current favourite soundtracks (Black Panther, Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water)



Soundtracks are knitted into the soul of every movie you see.

Often well done, sometimes not, but where they work, and work superbly, they add immeasurable depth, breadth and spine-tingling, soul-stirring emotion to a film, augmenting stellar performances by the cast. elevating key plot points and ensuring that, if we aren’t already heavily invested in what we’re watching, that we are swept into the story before us, never to be seen again until the lights come up.

As someone heavily into music in any form, it’s no surprise that I love movie soundtracks, with shelves full of beautiful music and gorgeously-addictive songs gracing my home; but not every soundtrack strikes that magical chord that makes it a must-have, must-listen event with some soundtracks making sense in the cinema but leaving you cold when pulled into isolation away from the images they accompany.

These three soundtracks, all from relatively current films, two of which are Oscar winners, and one which really should have been if the Academy Awards weren’t so blockbuster-averse, are my three current favourites, full of music and songs that enrich their films of which they’re a part, but which also stand confidently on their own two feet when it’s just you, your streaming service and a pile of must-do ironing.


Black Panther: The Album (image courtesy Interscope Records)


Quite apart from the music itself which is rich, raw and inescapably beautiful, with vocals that reach into the soul and then some, courtesy of the fine work of Ludwig Göransson – try and listen to “Wakanda” and not be impossibly moved – Black Panther released an album of über-cool songs curated by chart darling Kendrick Lamar.

Songs like “Pray For Me”, performed by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar, “King’s Dead” by Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar, Future, James Blake, and the song that has deservedly dominated the charts off late, “All the Stars” (performed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA) pick up on elements of the film that has proved that a superhero film that dares to depart from the usual template can do amazing business … AND RUN WITH IT.

Drawing on rap and hip-hop stylings, the album is palpably resonant with emotion, and a willingness to tell it like it is, all-infectious melodies, insightful lyrics and a pleasing willingness to push boundaries, just like the film, as this review by Pitchfork makes clear:

“Curated by and largely featuring Kendrick Lamar, the soundtrack is a diverse, daring, and holistic pairing with the blackest movie in the Marvel Comic Universe.”

Much like other song collections such those for Tomb Raider (2001), Black Panther: The Album is very much of the moment but with themes that will long outlive the film, executed with bravura, an innate sense of what needs to be said and how best to say it.


Call me BY Your Name (image courtesy Madison Gate / Sony Music Masterworks)


The soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name is indescribably beautiful and ineffably affecting in ways I can’t even begin to articulate.

Quite apart from the fact that it shows a love affair between two men free of cliche and rich with the purity, promise and loss of real love, regardless of the sex of the people involved, Call Me By Your Name possesses a soundtrack, anchored by exquisitely-moving songs by American folk indie artist Sufjan Stevens (“Mystery of Love”, “Visions of Gideon”, and a new rendition of “Futile Devices”) that moves in perfect synchronicity with the narrative.

The soundtrack is a stellar example of story and music moving as one, reflecting the passion of the director Luca Guadagnino, who usually selects the music for his film but rightly fell in love with Sufjans delicacy of melodic emotion and intensity of lyrical expression, for music that isn’t just there but is intrinsically part of the film.

That being said, the soundtrack stands well and truly on its own two feet, one of those delightful pieces of work that you can immerse yourself in for hours on end, the songs and instrumentals washing over you with the kind of luxurious fullness usually reserved for the act of falling in love itself.


The Shape of Water (image courtesy Decca Records)


Guillermo del Toro has a gift for stories that are fantastical and out there, and yet which sit right at the intersection of the real, the authentic and the deeply human.

It’s why people gravitate to his superlatives films like Pan’s Labyrinth, and of course, The Shape of Water, and why the Academy Awards recently bestowed a slew of awards on his latest masterpiece, awarding his tale of a woman, a river god and the struggle of outsiders to forge lives in a world doggedly devoted to the mainstream, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design, all of which were richly deserved.

The award for Best Original Score was particularly thrilling with Alexandre Desplat crafting music that is whimsical and magical, as befits the retro magical fairytale-ness of the film, but also achingly, blissfully soulful, a tribute to the deep bonds that form between mute cleaner Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones).

Drawing on an Amélie-like quirkiness and sweetness, the tracks are all matched with emotional and lyrical precision to their scenes, especially the opening track, The Shape of Water which takes you into the film’s world, with its delightful blend of playfulness and emotional resonance.

The soundtrack to The Shape of Water is that rare blend of substance and truth and lighthearted beauty, of magicality and the real world, a tonic for the world-weary soul that never once shirks away from the beautiful and dark elements of the human condition.


Mash-up of #GoT and Monty Python’s Holy Grail sniffs scornfully in your general direction

(image via YouTube)


It goes without saying, but hey, I’m going to say it anyway.

Game of Thrones is serious, very, VERY serious.

Monty Python, and specifically, The Holy Grail, is not (although, as a satire, it conveys some fairly serious ideas).

So then, does combining the two rather disparate approaches to storytelling work? Why yes, yes it does, and then some.

It’s frankly hilarious, and while this particular mash-up has been around for a while, it will help tide us over until the final season of Game of Thrones surfaces sometime in 2019.


No Small Parts: The superlative acting style of Sally Hawkins #TheShapeofWater

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water (image courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures)


On IMDB the following is described as one of her trademarks; an apologetic and grateful presence with a shy and nervous demeanor that’s pretty accurate but there are still a few surprises …Sally’s role as as Elisa in the ‘Shape of Water’ suits her perfectly. Elisa has elements of some of Sally’s past characters there’s a nervous apologetic energy tour but in her relationship with the creature in the film she flourishes. (synopsis via Laughing Squid (c) No Small Parts)

I fell in love with Sally Hawkins when I saw her in Mike Leigh’s battle of delightfully tart and charming 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky where she played the bubbly Poppy to the irascible Scott.

It was a part written especially for her, as Brandon Hardesty, host of IMDb’s series No Small Parts, notes, but she more than made it her own, taking a fey giddily upbeat character and giving her real grit and substance.

She went to a slew of memorable roles including that of Ginger in Blue Jasmine which, like Happy-Go-Lucky before it, earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and even more excitingly, her first Oscar nod (followed this year by one for Best Actress for Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water.)

That official acknowledgement merely confirmed what those of us who have been following her career, which has reached a milestone with the lush, retro-romantic fantasy The Shape of Water – though she was equally wonderful in last year’s touchingly resonant Maudie – have known all along — that Sally Hawkins is an enormously talented, multifaceted actress who will have a long and brilliant career.

(source: Laughing Squid)


Movie review: BPM (120 Battements par minute)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)


We often forget in the cold, reflective light of history, that there are real flesh-and-blood people in the events we’re examining.

People who stormed the battlements, fought in wars, made bold scientific discoveries, and in the case of Robin Campillo’s BPM (120 Battements par minute), made repeated and concerted attempts to bring about profound social change against considerable odds.

It is these people that are celebrated in this engrossing film which, even at 140 minutes long, never feels bloated, and never once loses sight of the fact that it’s not documenting events alone but the people, the earnest, passionate, committed people, who made them happen.

People like HIV-positive Sean Dalmazo (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and his boyfriend Nathan (Arnaud Valois) who meet up as members of the Paris arm of ACT UP, the former a founder, the other a relatively new recruit, and fight, in ways deeply-considered and sensationalist – they felt they had no choice in the face of a seemingly indifferent French government and health bureaucracy – for a better people for the HIV-infected people of France.

It is a doggedly uphill fight much of the time with the French government reluctant to admit the country has a serious problem – at the time of BPM, its infection rates are outstripping that of its neighbours Germany and Italy – or to put in place badly-needed preventative measures and policies.

What is an academic and political exercise for the powers-that-be is anything but for the likes of Sean, Sophie (Adèle Haenel) and haemophiliac Marco (Théophile Ray) and countless others like ACT Up’s leader Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), all of whom have a very real and abiding interest, the fate of their own lives, in what transpires from their efforts.

By taking a macro issue micro, and taking us into the heart of Sean and Nathan’s life together, their bedroom conversations and their moments of romantic joy and mortal endangerment, we come to appreciate exactly what was at stake, that it wasn’t simply angry people looking for something to protest about but people whose lives were being deleteriously affected by the inaction of the French administration.


(image courtesy


The screenplay by ‪Robin Campillo‬ and ‪Philippe Mangeot‬ makes it clear though that there wasn’t wild, selfish activism at work nor the work of anarchistic mobs simply looking to make a statement for the sake of it.

ACT UP, whatever you might think of its sensationalist methods, and to be fair they had to be sensationalist to a large degree since they felt, often justifiably, that no one was listening to them, actually had a well thought-out, much-debated program of action, all of which was hashed out in weekly meetings where various viewpoints were listened to, absorbed and turned into plans of action.

BPM opens with one of these sometimes consensus-rich, often fractious meetings where debates happen in front of everyone or not at all – at one point later in the film when tensions are noticeably higher the debate spills into the hallway and is promptly shut down; as democracies go, ACT UP was admirably pure and idealistic – and where the lives of many of the characters play out as their opinions and viewpoints are influenced by the state of their health at the time.

These meetings, which are far more riveting than you might think thanks to the rich, fulsomely-expressed nature of the rapid-fire back-and-forth exchange of ideas, are one of the punctuating elements that Campillo uses in BPM, both to give the narrative structure, but also to help us understand that motivated ACT UP and its members, and how ideas expressed in a meeting ended up as history-making events out in the real world.

The director takes these meetings, and microscopic images of the AIDS virus multiplying and ACT UP’s letting down their hair on the dancefloor – a frequent means of blowing off steam but also bonding anew are relationship were strained by their intense battles for justice and equality – and uses them to mightily bolster an already-strong storyline, reinforcing again and again that the fight wasn’t motivated by ideology alone but by real, impaired, sometimes broken lives in danger of breaking altogether.

Theirs is no dispassionately remote struggle but in-your-face and materially of-the-moment, and Campillo brings that vividly to life, especially as HIV-positive finds his health deteriorating and HIV-negative Nathan is often forced to stand by and watch the man he loves simultaneously fight for what remains of his life and fight a bureaucracy that didn’t seem to realise how great a foe they were up against (or, as ACT UP alleged frequently, didn’t care).


(image courtesy ‪Numéro‬)


The brilliance of BPM, which brings history alive in epic moments such as massive (and joyful) protests during PRIDE parades and attacks on big pharma companies who, ACT UP asserts, are withholding vitally-needed drug results, is that it never forgets that it is the people at the heart of these events that matters.

What they are fighting for is vitally important and absolutely necessary, and the film gives due coverage to this most momentous of fights; but it was, and remains, a fight by people for people, by individuals fighting for themselves, their friends and family, and BPM captures that in all its contrary, messy but intensely personal glory, helping us these events not just as historical markers but as the outworkings, the products if you like, of peoples’ lives.

Just like in any war, and ACT UP believed that’s what they were fighting, every battle, every skirmish and head-to-to-head piece of combat a step forward or back in a struggle they had no choice but to wage, it’s the people at its heart who fuel it, give it emotional resonance and make it grindingly, confrontingly real, something forgotten by the chroniclers of history at times.

But Campillo does not forget that for one moment of this utterly immersive, all-too-authentic film that perfectly captures what it is like to fight for your own life, not just in a personal sense but in a societal and global sense, and how great change only truly comes when people realise they have no choice but to fight, and go into battle with hearts and minds engaged, and everything that matters to them on the line.

From such conviction springs life-changing events and graphically beautiful films like BPM which chronicles the ups and downs, the wins and loses of one epically pivotal moment in history, and helps us to better understand, with passion, conviction and profoundly-moving storytelling, how personal and true, how intimate and profound, even the biggest, most noticeable moments in history are.


The present, the future … or both? Can Barry have it all? (trailer)

(image courtesy HBO)


Barry is a dark comedy starring Bill Hader as a depressed, low-rent hitman from the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied in his life, he reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to execute a hit on an aspiring actor. Barry follows his “mark” into an acting class and ends up finding an accepting community in a group of eager hopefuls within the LA theater scene. He wants to start a new life as an actor, but his criminal past won’t let him walk away – can he find a way to balance both worlds? The eight-episode series also stars Stephen Root (HBO’s All the Way), Sarah Goldberg (Hindsight), Glenn Fleshler (HBO’s True Detective), Anthony Carrigan (Gotham) and Henry Winkler (Arrested Development). (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Who, at some point or another, hasn’t take a good long hard look at their life and found it spectacularly wanting?

Hands up everyone right?

Odds are though, and trust me on this, you probably aren’t a depressed hitman from the Midwest who doesn’t know what’s missing until he stumbles across it one day to Road to Damascus-level epiphanies.

For the rest of us mere mortals changing the course of newly-recognised deficient lives isn’t easy but for Barry it’s another level of complicated altogether, almost fatally so.

But hey when you see the truth about your life you can’t un-see it, and I have a feeling that watching Barry seize the existential bull by the metaphorical horns is going to be a very satisfying journey indeed.

Barry premieres on HBO on 25 March at  10:30 p.m. ET


Weekend pop art: Solo – A Star Wars Story character posters

(poster courtesy IMP Awards)


Board the Millennium Falcon and journey to a galaxy far, far away in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” an all-new adventure with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy. Through a series of daring escapades deep within a dark and dangerous criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his mighty future copilot Chewbacca and encounters the notorious gambler Lando Calrissian, in a journey that will set the course of one of the Star Wars saga’s most unlikely heroes. (official synopsis via Coming Soon)

Han Solo might’ve grandly claimed back in A New Hope that he “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” but there’s a fair chance Star Wars fans everywhere will be hoping that the Millenium Falcon is capable of even greater feats.

Like compressing the two or so months between now and the release of Han Solo’s origin story movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story down to, oh say, tomorrow.

Alas that’s highly unlikely to happen, meaning we will have to wait until the end of May rolls around, and we get to see if the kerfuffle surrounding the production of the film – original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were replaced mid-production by Ron Howard in somewhat controversial circumstances – has given us a superlative film or merely a meh moment in the great and enduring Star Wars canon.

Until that moment, we have some brilliant character posters, featured on We Got This Covered, that give us an entirely artful new look on the much-loved antiheroes of the film, including everyone’s favourite titular rogue, Han Solo, who will be joined by the likes of Thandie Newton (Westworld), Paul Bettany (Avengers: Infinity War), and Woody Harrelson (Venom) in the galaxy far away star-studded cast.

Solo: A Star Wars Story opens in Australia on 24 May and US/UK on 25 May.


(poster courtesy IMP Awards)


(poster courtesy IMP Awards)


(poster courtesy IMP Awards)


(poster courtesy IMP Awards)

Book review: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

(cover image courtesy Allen & Unwin)


Ah, the endlessly expansive possibilities of youth!

There are a lot of things in our younger years that might make us cringe – the lack of knowledge about life, stunted self-awareness, naive belief in the goodness of others – but there’s one thing that we likely still have a fondness for, possibly tinged with regret, and it’s the unfettered belief that there were no limits on what we could do.

It was a giddy feeling, one not tarnished by sage understanding of realty or the time-wrecked weight of disillusion, and it’s captured in beguilingly perfect detail by Jason Rekulak is his 1987-set debut novel, The Impossible Fortress.

So beautifully does Rekulak evoke the idea that anything is possible, that it’s hard not to be swept up by a revival of the idea that life, messy, contradictory, weighed down by routine, can take you anywhere and be anything.

“I would lie to Mary. Not after all the help she’d given me. Not after our sunset walk on the roof, and not after the way she’d touched my hand in the blackout. I knew that something extraordinary was happening and I didn’t have a name for it yet, but I wasn’t going to let Alf or Clark screw it up.” (P. 135)

That’s certainly the spirit that fuels 14-year-old friends Billy, a computer programmer wanna-be with real talent, his friend Alf, who has chutzpah to burn, and yes resembles everyone’s favourite 1987 sitcom alien, and Clark, a drop-dead handsome guy with a deformed hand which means his social looks don’t match up to his movie idol good looks.

But being teenage boys, impelled by the heady early days of puberty, they decide to put all this boundary-less ambition to use by trying to secure a copy of the latest Playboy issue, featuring the aspiring pin-up of the day, Wheel of Fortune‘s Vanna White.

But here’s the snag, a gigantic, dream-stopping snag – the boys are too young to buy a copy, and when they do try to convince an older guy to help them out by buying, he absconds with their money and leaves them right where they started.

Only with way less money and even less opportunities to claim their much-longed for prize.

The only solution? Well, in the minds of three teenage boys anyway? (Alf in particular.) Stage a daring heist worthy of Mission Impossible and take copies, paid of course (of course!) from Zelinsky’s, the local stationery/magazine store in their small New Jersey town.


(image via Simon & Schuster)


Problem solved right?

Well, naturally, nothing is ever that simple, and as this utterly charming, alternately funny and earnest book goes on, you can’t help but fall in love with the way, Billy in particular but also Alf and Clark, won’t let anything get in their way.

Billy however is different to his friends in that his initial zest for obtaining a copy of the venerated Vanna White issue soon gives to something altogether more pure when he meets the daughter of the own of Zelinsky’s, Mary, who is as avid a gaming programmer as Billy – keep in mind too this is the late ’80s when the electronic games industry is in its infancy and the sky’s the digital limit – and nothing like any girl the young aspiring gaming programmer has ever met before.

The plan to get the code to the store, break-in – in their mind, since they’re paying for the magazines, they’re not really breaking the law; odd logic but remember, they are proto-adults, with the embryonic good judgement that implies – and live happily porn ever after, comes a-cropper when Billy realises he likes Mary and wants to be her friend, and work on a new game that could get the attention of a big-name software developer, far more than he wants to see Vanna White’s naked body in its speculated glory.

“That morning was the last time I was ever fully candid with my mother about anything. I talked for a good hour. I told her everything. It was hard to tell the truth, but every detail seemed to revive her, even the embarrassing ones. Especially the embarrassing ones.” (P. 206)

The Impossible Fortress is a delightful read in every respect.

You love everyone in the book, but especially Billy with his kind heart, his earnest ambition and his passion, almost instantly thanks to Rekulak’s gift for capturing the truth of his characters with immediacy and depth, glory in the ’80s nostalgia which, because the kids are living, feels fresh and vibrant, and be enjoyed by the renewed sense of hope rekindled.

That perhaps is the book’s greatest gift, apart from compellingly immersive writing that draws you completely and quickly and never wavers, falters or blessedly lets you go – it’s tapping into and articulation of the kind of passion many of us once had, but which, while not lost exactly, has ended trapped under layers of banal, necessary, sometimes stultifying adulthood.

Through the good and bad, the well-judged and the most certainly not, and a thousand heartfelt emotions – The Impossible Fortress is suffused with adorable, exuberant emotions that remind how good, and scary, it is to be on the enticing cusp of adulthood – Rekulak channels, celebrates and brings to the fore the kind of limitless expectations that make being young such an exciting thing.

The book is warm, bright, alive and giddily possible, an onrushing mix of reality and possibility that leave you happy to have spent time with Billy, his family and friends, and perhaps reminded of the thrill and excitement of entertaining the “what ifs” rather than consigning them to the has-been bin.

Billy, despite everything he’s up against refuses to live there (and he’s got a number of reasons why he should’ve given up now), so why should you? The Impossible Fortress is a wonderfully joyful tap on the shoulder to grab those dreams, tap into some some carpe diem youthfulness and see where it takes you.

Like our young protagonist, you might be surprised by just how far you’ll go.


(image via Simon & Schuster)

It’s time to go wembling again! Fraggle Rock comic books return

(image (c) The Jim Henson Company)


Fraggle Rock is one of those shows that you sink into with warmth, nostalgia and a comforting sense that, all evidence in the real world to the contrary, everything is going to be all right.

The show itself is long over (1983-1987), although not even close to being forgotten, but it has found expression, as so many TV shows do (those that aren’t being revived anyway) in comic form (the first issue came out in 1985), with new tales of friendship, love and belonging, not to mention sage life lessons, coming to life in colourful 2D.

Jared Cullum, who will write and illustrate a new 4-part comic book series from BOOM! Studios’ Archaia imprint, perfectly captured everyone’s love affair with this whimsically-engaging show when he spoke about why bringing back Fraggle Rock comics back after a seven-year absence was a complete no-brainer:

“Fraggle Rock was an exceptionally unique show where the characters were never 2-dimensional. They have authentic feelings, character flaws, and learned, as we do in life, through stumbling to the right decision in a very immersive and connective way. It will always resonate with our hearts.”


(artwork via CBR (c) BOOM! Studios)


Cameron Chittock, Editor, BOOM! Studios echoed this sentiment when he spoke about the new series:

“We’re proud to celebrate 35 years of Fraggle Rock with all-new stories from an eclectic group of creators. Each issue captures the spirit of the series in an exciting way, honoring the tradition Jim Henson established of telling stories with genuine heart and a confident belief that what we share outweighs our differences.”

With a typically heartfelt story – “Mokey Fraggle is losing her love for creating her art and needs her friends’ help to rediscover her inspiration.” – these new Fraggle Rock adventures look set to be every bit as wonderful and heartwarmingly inspiring as anything that’s come before.

You get your hands on the first issue when it releases in May this year.

(source: Newsrama / CBR)


(artwork via CBR (c) BOOM! Studios)