You DRINK coffee? Amateur! 1967 Cookie Monster EATS the machine that makes it

(image via Pinterest / character (c) Sesame Workshop)

 

You can’t miss the fact that Cookie Monster, by sheer dint of name alone, loves cookies.

And who can blame him? They’re freaking delicious!

But coffee? Or more precisely, coffee machines?

In this hilarious IBM promotional film from 1967, Cookie Monster goes to town on a very chatty coffee machine that looks doomed to dismemberment until, well, watch and find out.

Suffice to say, it could be the reason Cookie Monster has been avowedly cookie-monogamous ever since …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “What’s Your Story?” (S4, E1 review)

Well hello Morgan! Are you happy about trading one version of undead hell for another? (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND FRIENDS AND ENEMIES AND FRENEMIES, AND OF COURSE, ZOMBIES …

AMC, it turns out, isn’t all that well practised at heeding proverbs.

Fair enough in one sense – what was in vogue a couple of millennia ago, so much so that the Bible decided a whole book of the instructional words of life made a fitting addition to canon, is not really in the running in the age of self-actualisation and digital homilies.

And yet, you can’t helping feeling that someone at AMC HQ, in fact the whole damn production team, might not have benefited from heeding the words of that age-old proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, especially when it comes to one of its key shows, Fear the Walking Dead.

The progeny of once-might rating juggernaut, The Walking Dead, which has just limped into the muted sunset of a lacklustre season 8 finale which was neither vacuously violent nor intelligently or emotionally meaningful, Fear hummed along quite nicely for three meditatively-immersive seasons.

It might not have got everything right, but in its mix of raw, honestly-expressed humanity, slowly-unfolding civilisational collapse and visceral storytelling, where real people reacted in ways that we could identify with and understand (as opposed to becoming self-righteous serial killers – et tu Rick?), it stood starkly apart from its dithering, narratively-lost parent in ways that really hit home episode after episode.

In sassy matriarch Madison (Kim Dickens), kids Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Nick (Frank Dillane), and even self-interested Victor (Colman Domingo) we saw people whose decisions, although far from perfect, made sense to viewers who, brave words aside, have, if they are honest with themselves, seriously no sense about what they’d really do should the zombie apocalypse ever really come a-calling.

Would you be cunningly self-preservational? Humane and inclusive? Bitter and depressed? Violently aggressive and angry? Impossible to tell until it happened, and here’s to such imaginative end-of-the-world-ness never being made decayed flesh, but in the main cast, and many of its passing characters, we saw people who moved from the early days of the fall of humanity into its darkest annals, simply doing the best they could.

And behold, it was very , very good.

 

Home, home on the range … where the undead dead, antelope and people don’t so much play as eat you alive (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

Funny thing though, and let’s be honest here, it was not even remotely worth a titter or a giggle, let alone a guffaw, AMC didn’t really see it that way.

What they seemed to see, and quite a number of rusted-on The Walking Dead were more than happy to trollingly join their addled Greek chorus, was a broken show, a spin-off that limped in the ratings, eschewing sensational plot arcs and wantonly manipulative character deaths, though it did succumb to both a little at times, in favour of slowly and carefully documenting the downfall of once great and mighty Homo Sapiens.

In terrifying real time we witnessed each death, each loss of comfort, of security, of inner morality and ethical outlook, all of them chipping away a little more at the civilisational sheen we all like to wear to feel better about ourselves.

Little by little, Fear the Walking Dead peeled that away, exposing hitherto unknown (if fleeting) humanity in self-preservational people like Victor while driving others like Madison, who managed to bring down an entire survivalist cult in her wake, to commit once completely unthinkable acts.

It was gloriously, slow-burningly authentic, striking at the heart of our grand delusions and self-justifications about pretty much everything, a morality tale writ large that, because it kicked off at the very start of the zombie apocalypse, felt far closer to home than even The Walking Dead.

Somewhere somehow the parent show lost its way, drained of meaning and purpose in favour of schlock narrative sleights of hand and repetitive good vs evil where the lines blurred so badly that everyone ended up rank and unlikable.

But Fear the Walking Dead kept its soul, refusing to sign it over to the ratings devil – no one’s saying at this point that ratings don’t matter but if keeping them means gutting everything you’ve created, then something is clearly very wrong, a case of the ratings tail wagging the creative dog – and benefited from balancing the imperiling of everyone in the show at their own hands and that of the undead with careful, nuanced storytelling that hit you in the heart because it felt like it could happen.

No one wanted it to, of course, since (a) running for your life is nowhere near as much fun as Netflix-and-chill-ing and (b) its far better to live out your disaster porn fantasies in a fictional setting than for real, but if it does come to pass, then Fear felt like it gave us a fairly good idea of how it might all go down.

Not gilded, not overdone, not stupidly videogame violent or sensationally vacuous; just real people in fantastical situations doing their best to muddle their way through.

 

Swimming with zombies is the latest apocalyptic fitness crazy but is it really as good for you as people make out? (image courtesy AMC via Spoiler TV)

 

Yet, for all that, for all its relative non-brokenness, its mainly whole narrative slow-burns and revelatory character studies, Fear the Walking Dead has been “fixed”, given an overhaul when one was not even remotely needed.

This unnecessary overhaul, this re-decorating of the show’s look and feel, and narrative core, the product you suspect of new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg and transplanted executive producer Scott M. Gimple, looked egregiously opportunistic, something noticed not just by yours truly.

Or try this tweet on for size …

Season 4’s return wasn’t completely botched, of course, with new characters, likeable loner John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and journalist Althea (Maggie Grace) coming across as real people who had somehow found a way to keep their humanity largely intact.

In this fast-forwarded, time-jump-heavy iteration of Fear the Walking Dead, quick-marched to the present day of the apocalypse, the better to pointlessly shoehorn Morgan into its unbroken narrative, the new characters worked well, making sense with their mix of accommodation to the darkness and unwillingness to let it swallow them whole.

But for all the time on spent on these people, and the seemingly unending (and occasionally poetic) introduction of Morgan to the now-unrecognisable world of Fear in a slow, moody montage that feel a The Walking Dead-lite sequel to the that show’s largely inert, directionless and faux-meaningful eighth season, you were left wondering what the hell had happened to Madison, Alicia, Nick and Victor and why Fear the Walking Dead no longer looked like the show we had once loved.

Sure we saw our favourite zombie survivors at the very end, playing a con’s game of done-over survivor who tricks Morgan, John and Althea with her whispered trauma of “There are bad people out here”, but they made no sense, raw, dark and twisted in ways that made no sense and felt alienating.

Perhaps it will all work itself out in next week’s “Another Day in the Diamond”, and we’ll begin to pivot back to the show we know and love – just for the record, I am not averse to shows growing and developing; in fact it’s something I crave but this week’s episode was less evolution than wholesale butchering of a once-vital and engaging premise – but right now, it feels like the zombies, of which there were plenty this episode, weren’t the only dead things shuffling across our screen.

 

Road to Eurovision 2018: Week 5 – Moldova, Montengero, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia

(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.

 

“My Lucky Day” by DoReDos

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 Week 3 Moldova flag


THE ARTIST
The accepted wisdom, oft-uttered at marriage ceremonies, is that two is better than one (unless you have chocolate in which being alone rules).

But if you’re DoReDos, Moldova’s folk/pop-inclined entry for Eurovision 2018, then you would be inclined to turn that wisdom on its head, and celebrate the power of three; in this case, three talented music artists from Rybnitsa in the northeast of the country who found each other very early on and decided they could make sweet music together.

Marina Djundiet, Eugeniu Andrianov and Sergiu Mîța, all with extensive musical backgrounds despite their young age, have taken this kernel of an idea and run with it, winning the New Wave contest in Sochi, Russia where they were noticed by the 1995 Russian contestant for Eurovision, Philipp Kirkorov, who, just like that, took a liking to them and composed them a song, “My Lucky Day”.

So much luck and happenstance and being in the right place, quite literally, at the right time – could something big, bright and Eurovision-y being on their collective horizon then?

 

DoReDos (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
You know, it just might.

“My Lucky Day” is an incredibly jaunty, fun and lighthearted slice of ethnopop that zhoushes, dives and dances with the kind of energy that makes it all but impossible to stay seated while you’re listening to it.

I can guarantee that the audience in Lisbon’s Altice Arena will be on their feet and dancing in the aisles, assuming security will let them, when Moldova do their jaunty thing, singing, as best as I can tell, about a wholesome, boy and girl next door love triangle (there’s bound to be a Hallmark card any day now for just a situation).

Whatever the true lyrical intent, the song is an absolutely high-spirited gem that while it can’t be guaranteed to get Moldova into the grand final (although I remain quietly and hopefully confident it will), it should turn semi final into a joie de vivre-filled dancefest … and at Eurovision, or indeed in life generally, that is never a bad thing.

 

 

MONTENEGRO: “Inje” by Vanja Radovanović

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 Week 3 Montenegro flag

 

THE ARTIST
As a music artist, if you can write and perform your own songs, you’re in a unique position to directly control and influence your own career.

That’s not to say you’re a better performer than people interpreting other peoples’ songs – Israel’s Netta Barzalai is an instructive case in point – but you are your own creative world and can inhabit it and play with it as you so desire.

And so Vanja Radovanović has, winning Best Debut at the 2004 Budva Music Festival with the song “Dripac”, releasing a single, “Pričaj dodirom”, and an album of the same name in 2007 (which happily sold like the proverbial), the first of many singles in his name, and writing countless songs for others when he’s not performing as the lead singer of the band VIII2.

So boxseat of life, thy occupant is called Vanja Radovanović with Eurovision glory potentially awaiting him … or is it?

 

Vladimir Radovanovic (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Well, if you’re a fan of breathy, intensely-earnest ballads, then sure.

“Inje” is not exactly a kick up your heels dance song, in keeping with a trend this year to lo-tempo songs sung in national languages (the latter development is particularly heartening to see) and as far as it goes, it works nicely enough.

But its great failing, which doesn’t extend to either Vanja Radovanović’s vocal prowess or that of his delightfully-harmonised backing singers, is that it doesn’t really stand out in any meaningful fashion.

Touching and intense, majestic and epic absolutely but in a been there, done that, got the sparkly Eurovision T-shirt (in muted colours, natch), not bringing anything new to the table kind of way.

Look for this one to be nothing more than a blip, however, pleasant, on the semi final 2 radar.

 

 

 

NORWAY: “That’s How You Write A Song” by Alexander Rybak

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Norway flag

 

THE ARTIST
Behold, he has returned! (No, not Jesus!)

First bestriding the glory that is the Eurovision stage way back in 2009 when he won the contest with “Fairytale”, amassing the highest tally ever under the old voting system, Alexander Rybak is back, older, wiser and determined to teach us the art of songwriting (as an allegory for life, of course).

Well, possibly not, but the cherubic-looking artist who doesn’t appear to have aged a day, is back with a catchy number called “That’s How You Write a Song”, his violin-playing skills in tip-top shape, and that boy next door grin working overtime.

And yes, while they say lightning can’t strike, surely that doesn’t apply to the magical world of Eurovision and the winning thereof?

 

Alexander Rybak (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Hopefully not, but let’s be honest, it’s a long shot and if anyone’s knows that it’s Rybak who’s stayed closely connected to Eurovision, even performing for the interval acts in 2012 and 2016, and composing entries for finalists in Norway’s national selection trials in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

So assuming hope is springing eternal, and remember he’s older and wiser that he was in 2009, does history have a hope of repeating for Norway?

Likely not, but not for want of trying.

“That’s How You Write a Song” is an absolute delight, bouyant, exhilarating pop from the get-go that kicks off with some Michael Jackson-esque flourishes before gleefully sauntering into a loping ball of feel-good energy.

You can’t help but love the raw sense of fun that percolates all through the song but it’s not quite as special as “Fairytale” and while it’ll definitely get Norway to the grand final, it’s doubtful we’ll see history repeat itself.

A pity because lord god almighty, that smile of Rybak’s needs to be seen as much as humanly possible throughout this year’s contest …

 

 

POLAND: “Light Me Up” by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Poland flag

 

THE ARTIST
Who doesn’t love to see two friends getting together to make sweet, sweet music?

No, that’s not a euphemism, thank you; in the case of Poland’s entry for this year, DJ Gromee who is the king of audio and video streams in the country and sharer of concert stages with the likes of NERVO and Steve Aoki, is joining forces with his friend, Swedish singer Lukas Meijer who, the Eurovision bio notes, is known for “being able to adjust the right feeling to every song he sings without losing his own character on the voice.”

Bringing together a DJ who has founded his own radio station and record label and a singer who has worked with the likes of Stevie Aiello (30 Seconds To Mars), Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper, Hollywood Vampires) and Grammy nominee Mark Holman (Daughtry, Three Days Grace) would seem to be a no-brainer, a marriage of musical talents that can’t help but be a raging success.

After all, isn’t the whole always greater than the sum of its parts?

 

Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)


THE SONG
Hard to say in one sense since I haven’t had any previous exposure to the work of either artist, both of whom, as noted, have done quite nicely on their own thank you very much.

But as songs go, “Light Me Up”, while catchy enough, and possessed of an of-the-moment beat and danceable sensibility that should make for a captivating live performance, isn’t distinctive enough to make for a truly memorable entry.

It’s like one of those songs you hear on the radio, assuming you still listen to it, and enjoy enough to keep it on for the duration, but not enough to go and add it to one of your many Spotify playlists.

A bundle of pop fun that should kick Poland into the grand final because chart-topping songs like this (it’s done very well in Poland) are always attractive but does it have the kind of stuck-in-your-brain longevity it’ll nice to win?

Likely not but we should some ephemeral fun dancing to it in the interim.

 

 

ROMANIA: “Goodbye” by The Humans

 

 

THE ARTIST
Hailing from Bucharest, The Humans, a prosaical name that leaves no doubt about what kind of beings you’ll see on stage, is a band of six people (of course), who, we are assured, have “their own mix of musical backgrounds”.

Four of the members, Alin Neagoe (bass), Alex Matei (piano), Cristina Caramarcu (vocals) and Adi Tetrade, were in a band called Jukebox, but seeking greener musical pastures, decamped, joining forces with Alex Cismaru (guitar) and Adi Tanase (vocals) to form a brand new band.

As new projects go, The Humans are off to a pretty promising start you would think, what with being selected to present the country and all.

But being selected is one thing, a rather fetching shade of green you would have to say, but winning another, or at the very least escaping semi final 2.

Do The Humans have what it takes?

 

The Humans (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Written by three of the band members (Cristina Caramarcu, Alexandru Matei and Alin Neagoe), “Goodbye” kicks some serious rock butt.

It starts off slowly true, but builds and builds thanks to Caramarcu’s impressive, emotionally-resonant vocals, drawing off some fine musicianship and live performance chops, ending up redolent with passion, longing and a whole lotta humanity.

What it doesn’t have enough of, and this will hurt its chances in the contest, is true originality; it sounds far too much like a thousand other songs, which may not be a problem on radio or streaming, but matters a great deal in a live contest like Eurovision where memorability is everything.

It’s hardly going to bring shame to Romania, but beyond providing a heartfelt interlude to semi final 2, won’t really make much of a lasting impression.

 

 

RUSSIA: “I Won’t Break” by Julia Samoylova

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 week 3 Russia flag

 

THE ARTIST
Second time’s the charm hey?

To be fair to Julia Samoylova, she never got the chance to make a first impression with Russia with the superpower withdrawing from last year’s contest when Ukraine refused to let their entrant enter the country due to her appearance on a list of banned singers who had performed in the disputed territory of Crimea.

Whatever your view of that particular stoush, it means that Samoylova is coming to Lisbon to make a second first impression, bringing the talent that won her X-Factor, got her a gig singing at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi in 2014, and won her Alla’s Golden Star, an award named after Russia’s 1997 Eurovision participant Alla Pugachova.

So she has the talent to make all kinds of impressions, of whatever numerical and chronological value you care to assign, but will all that impressing get her, and by extension, Russia anywhere?

 

Julia Samoylova (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
If you like reasonably unadventurous songs sure.

“I Won’t Break” is decidedly anthemic, redolent with healthy defiance and tenacity, the sorts of themes that Eurovision was purpose built for back in the day as a way of healing the rifts in postwar Europe (which, you may have noticed, are rather gaping at present).

The song has power and undoubted balladic energy, and should make for a great live performance, particularly given Samoylova’s vocal emotiveness.

But advancing to the grand final and a top 10 finish will hinge entirely on her live performance which will need to be damn good to make up for a song that is nowhere near as impressive as the singer herself.

 

 


EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

 

We know Eurovision is, among many other things, about love sweet love.

But love sweet Love Boat?

According to website Descubriendo ESC that’s exactly what it is and the results of bringing together the classic ’70s TV show and this year’s Eurovision contestants is retro kitsch wonderful.

 

Weekend pop art: The watercolour wonder of Alina Chau

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

There is an exceptional beauty and gentleness to the extravagantly beautiful work of Alina Chau, an animator with many years experience in the industry who has worked on the likes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Beautiful and gentle it maybe, embodying the loveliest aspects of watercolour work, but it is also vibrantly playful and alive, reflecting the zesty pop culture properties from which this talented artist draws her inspiration.

As someone who adores and is attracted to the use of bright, rich colour, Chau’s artwork entrances because she uses her pallette perfectly, never too much in either direction, giving us renditions of characters we know and love that sing and dance just as you imagine them, but with the addition of lovely extra hours to the visual mix too.

You can find more of Chau’s watercolors, which make use of papercutting to add extra layers of depth and wonder to her work, at her website alinachau.com where you can even buy a print if you desire.

(source: Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

(artwork (c) Alina Chau via Nerdist)

 

Countdown to new Lost in Space: First 3 eps original 1960s series (review)

(image courtesy Irwin Allen Productions)

 

Nostalgia is a pretty unreliable lens to look at anything through, prone to rose-coloured distortions, warm-and-fuzzy childhood memories, and a willingness to forgive all kinds of deficiencies in the service of venerating something you love.

All of which complicates reviewing a series that came out in the year I was born (1965) but which, happily, doesn’t make such a task impossible.

On the surface at least, reverence for Lost in Space, Irwin Allen’s take on Johann David Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, one of multiple attempts to send a lost family into the far reaches of the galaxy in comic or TV form in the 1960s, would seem to be a prime candidate for nostalgia-distortion.

A staple of my childhood in the 1970s when the colour episodes were everywhere but rarely the black-and-white ones – explained no doubt by the local TV station’s willingness (yes just the one commercial channel, kids; you may “Gasp! Horror! now if you like) to demonstrate their bright and shiny new-fangled non-black and white broadcasting – Lost in Space is one of those shows I remember fondly.

It tapped into many things that have become enduring loves of my life – science fiction, outlandish storytelling, imaginative melodrama, quirkiness and the sense that life can be much bigger than humdrum reality might give the impression it’s capable of.

And it unashamedly ran with those elements, serving up adventure after adventure that relied not so much on logic and good sense as an entrenched willingness to suspend belief, even before you’d have a chance to bring it into existence at all, and a desire to take the trippiness of the ’60s and the fast-and-loose sensibilities of the ’70s and marry them together into one mesmerisingly over the top futuristic whole.

Looking back, many years later, on the first three episodes that ushered in the mayhem and often downright silliness of the later seasons, which ended rather unceremoniously and on a cliffhanger to boot, in March 1968 after 68 episodes, it’s tempting to dismiss it all as overwrought, pot-boiled television, storytelling on acid that has more logic holes than Swiss Cheese, frippery that doesn’t deserve all that nostalgia piled upon it with boyhood reverence.

 

 

And honestly when I was re-watching the three episodes one Saturday morning, my analytical adulthood brain, which still marches in service to my rampant imagination and willingness to put aside the more barbed of critical observations if I am truly moved by something, or at the very least, swept up into it in a way that makes me forget I’m all grown-up, if just for a little while, went to freaking town pointing all kinds of weird inconsistencies:

  • Why was it that only Major Don West (Mark Goddard) seemed to have any real skills at all? Things gowrong, as they are wont to do but mostly at the hand of camp saboteur/villain/cybernetics expert Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) whose extra weight on the ship sends them off course in the first place, but only West seems able to fix them at all.

It’s he who figures out how to get the ship out of the meteor storm that sends the saucer-shaped Jupiter 2 (known as Gemini 12 in an un-aired pilot that included neither Smith nor the “Danger, Will Robinson!” robot, voiced by Dick Tufeld, the show’s narrator) way off course, he who manages to rescue a clueless John Robinson (Guy Williams) from not one but two spacewalks, he who comforts June Robinson (June Lockhart), who shows a propensity for collapsing that surely should have disqualified her from space travel, and the one who gets them to the surface of their first alien planet and into the Chariot to rescue John Robinson whose tangled in some energy-laced branches under a cliff.

Yes, John and Maureen Robinson are eminently qualified in their respective fields – he an astrophysicist, she a biochemist, and nine-year-old son Will (Billy Mumy) is an aspiring specialist in electronics and computers, but beyond they appeared to have received no training at all in anything to do with space travel. It’s no wonder they ended up lost and stayed lost really with that level of non-expertise between them.

  • There is misogyny aplenty. True, this was made in the 1960s and is a product of its age, and yes it’s a family show where mum Maureen and daughters 19-year-old Judy (Marta Kristen), a one time musical theater talent, and 11-year-old Penny, who adopts an alien creature called Debbie with nary an afterthought, are looked after by the men of the family as they keep the Jupiter 2 homestead fires burning, but it’s weird how Will goes everywhere while Judy (who flirts endlessly with Don West) and Penny are stuck with B-storylines pretty much all the time.
  • The launch sequence where everyone, and I mean everyone is standing around the Jupiter 2 three minutes before launch. How the entire support team at mission control doesn’t end crammed into the ship I have no idea with people tinkering with things, LIFE-SAVING THINGS thank you, mere minutes before liftoff where one family, one terribly ill-trained family, is about to jet off into the stars to save humanity by settling a planet near Alpha Centauri.

So yes, my nitpicking adult brain, the one that serves me so well when it comes to writing reviews of books, TV shows, comic books and movies on this blog, had a field day picking apart the glorious inanity of parts of Lost in Space.

 

 

Yet for all that, and ever-mindful of the corrosive effects of nostalgia on reviewing anything from your youth, there was enough gee-whiz, isn’t-this-fun adventuring to keep me engaged.

Much of that comes down to the very impossible situations that make my adult brain cringe more often than that – every moment of the show is a cliffhanger, all the characters make questionable decisions, no one seems to be in control of a situation that demands control in spaces, and yet for all that, my inner 10-year-old is cheering the whole thing on, gleeful about the idea of heading to space, wondering what it would be like to face strange planets, imperilled spacewalks and odd aliens which send EMP surges through the Chariot, leaving everyone stranded (well, until they decide to walk home, anyway).

Lost in Space sits then in that much-hallowed space where adventure takes precedence over logicality, where getting into peril, and escaping it naturally, forces all kinds of reasonable assumptions to play second fiddle, and where the way we feel is in the driver’s seat, forcing pretty much everything else to sit in the back, uttering not a word of reproach.

In that sense, it’s an air to the cinema shorts of the golden age of Hollywood, rampantly and breathlessly over-the-top storytelling that concentrated on creating tension, hackneyed though it might be, in the service of keeping patrons on the edge of their seats and certainly in these first three episodes, there are cliffhanger moments galore where a giant spaceship swallows the Jupiter 2 whole, where John Robinson is floating off into space with no one to help him and where Will awakens an alien being who gives chase.

All nervewracking, heart in your mouth stuff that, if examined too closely is inherently silly and overdone, but which in the service of escapist television, and that is what Irwin Allen was the schlocky king of for many triumphal years, works perfectly.

Is it perfect television? Not really does it divert, entrance, entertain and delight, taking us away from the everyday each episode with gloriously absurdist intent?

That it does, and that it does very well indeed, and so even with the myriad reasons to poke hole in these three introductory episodes (more than the meteor storm had done anyway), I am happy to let, if not nostalgia then a sense of childlike fun and adventure, carry the day, confident that there are plenty of very adult things to consume once the escapism of life lost in outer space has run its course once more.

 

 

URL for extra section

Watch the Inspiring Lost In Space Opening Theme

Looking right down the barrel: Colony S3 trailer previews toughest season yet

(image courtesy USA Network)

 

SNAPSHOT
The new season begins six months after the Bowmans’ escape from the Los Angeles bloc as Will (Holloway) and Katie (Callies) struggle to rebuild their family in the world beyond the walls. When their peaceful existence is shattered, they are sent on an odyssey that will finally reveal the horrifying truth behind Earth’s mysterious occupiers and once again force our heroes to choose sides. (synopsis (c) IGN)

The battle is not over yet.

That was apparent at the end of season 2 of Colony when our involuntary alien overlords – to be fair, the collaborators among humanity have gone along quite merrily, and voluntarily, with the new largely-hidden regime in town – were still very much in control, the clock was counting down ominously to humanity’s extinction (with most people blissfully unaware) and the Bowmans?

Well, the Bowmans had left the LA Bloc, and as this season 3 featurette makes clear, have settled into as close a bucolic life as you can manage in the midst of a genocidal alien apocalypse.

But good things cannot last when humanity’s neck is on the chopping block nor can the Bowmans, well some of them at least, quell their inner resistors (and thank god for that) and simply lie low while the world comes to even more of an end than it has already.

So it looks very much the battle will be rejoined, and once again, this superbly well-executed show will do a brilliant job of showing just what it takes, and what it costs, to stand up to the horrifically dead hand of dictatorship.

Colony season 3 premieres on USA Network on 2 May.

 

Countdown to new Lost in Space: Original comic book series (review)

(image via Pinterest)

 

Pick up any issue of Space Family Robinson Lost in Space, and the first thing you’ll notice beyond the gloriously melodramatic painted covers, is the complete absence of pretty much every character we love in Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space TV series.

Where’s Zachary Smith? The Robot? Major Don West? For that matter where are the Robinsons themselves – John, Maureen, Will, Judy and Penny? How do you create a spinoff comic book series with none of the characters from the TV show?

Quite easily, in fact, if the comic book series in question, based, as was the TV series, on the book Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, predates Allen’s delightfully schlocky space masterpiece by some three years.

Debuting in 1962, the comic series from Gold Key Comics ran for 59 issues until 1982, with a few cancellations, revivals and name tweaks along the way, arriving at a time when the idea of a family lost in space was a hot pitch.

In fact, in the early ’60s, before Lost in Space blasted off rather wonkily in September 1965, there were two other competing TV shows on offer according to Pop Matters:

“What’s more, once Space Family Robinson became a success for Gold Key, the film and TV rights were sold to TV writer Hilda Bohem, who worked up a treatment called Space Family 3000.

“Case Closed? Again, not so fast. There was still another Space Family Robinson to contend with. Ib Melchior, author of the story Death Race 2000 was based on, began pitching his own Space Family Robinson in 1964. So, that makes three Robinson projects being volleyed before Lost in Space‘s debut.”

Confused yet? Feeling a little lost yourself?

Don’t be – leave that to the Robinsons who are, let’s face it, perenially good at getting profoundly, deeply and narrative-fuellingly lost.

 

(image via Etsy)

 

In the comic book series, the Robinsons, as mentioned, come in a completely different combination, as does their mode of travel.

In this iteration, they are onboard what was Earth’s first orbital outpost, Space Station One – issues 37 to 44, published from 1973, carried the tag “On Space Station One” – which departs Earth in 2001 bound for the stars, equipped with everything from hydroponic gardens, an observatory and shuttlecraft known as Spacemobiles”.

Everything it seems but a compass; although to be fair, a cosmic storm in issue 2 is the culprit that sends them hurtling into the great galactic beyond, leaving the Robinsons in their titular lost state and the comic book series rich with all kinds of storytelling possibilities which they used quite effectively, if colourfully.

It’s the make-up of the family using “inter-dimensional space jumps” to get home that is interesting here.

The comic book Robinsons are led by Craig and June, described in issue 18 of the series as “scientists working in space technology laboratories” who were deemed to be “the most mentally and physically qualified [people] to man [sic] the station”.

Coming along for the ride, for what is the Robinson family without some kids, are children Tim and Tam – yes their names do make up the name of one of Australia’s famous biscuit exports, the Tim Tam but surely that’s just a coincidence? – who are equal parts adept and not depending on narrative demands (although it’s usually Tam, the girl, who ends up in damsel in distress mode), dog Clancy and parrot Yakker.

And that, really is it – no robot, no pesky Dr Smith, no Don West, and consequently not a lot of cheesy moments or quippy catchphrases.

The comics by writer Del Connell and artist Dan Spiegle are, hyperbolic melodrama aside, something which likely reflects more of a 1960s mindset that anything else, reasonably serious, gung-ho affairs in which some outlandish plot development occurs, ranging from a plague to giant flying characters to being stuck in a medieval landscape, the Robinsons respond and ultimately triumph.

It’s great episodic storytelling that, like the TV series that both succeeded and ran concurrently for three years with it, is great escapist sci-fi fun.

Without, it must be said, much of the charming histrionic nonsense that Allen brought to the table.

To be honest, I am a fan of all the insanity and over the top frippery that came with the TV series, with the show occupying a great big warm-and-fuzzy place in my heart, but it is ridiculously silly at times too.

 

(image via Comic Book Realm)

 

True, much the same accusation could be leveled at the comic book series at times.

But mostly, odd monsters and strange flying creatures aside, Space Family Robinson is much more serious and intense, with the family tackling each and everyone narrative obstacle with customary gusto and knowhow.

The premises might be outlandish but the family isn’t, with everything being taken very seriously, very much in the same spirit of cinema serials from the ’40s and ’50s which came with, to modern sensibilities at least, manically outsized melodramatic scenarios but which were always treated with grave concern and intensity by the characters.

That my friends, is now good escapist entertainment should work, and Space Family Robinson excels in this regard, allowing you to tap into your inner comic-reading child, and relive the wonder and enchantment that came with reading about people in impossible situations who somehow always came out on top.

It’s tempting to be cynical and postmodern and gently, or not so gently for we are now in a viciously intolerant digital media age, make fun of TV shows, movies and comic books like the Gold Key series but honestly, they’re a lot of fun to read, visually adventurous and expansive with the kind of blockbuster, out there adventuring that even a jaded adult laden with the burdensome realities of life, would find liberating.

There’s something distinctly therapeutic about surrendering yourself to the adventures of the comic book Robinsons; sure they’re cheesy, a little bit sexist (OK, a lot at times) and hilarious OTT, but they represent something we’ve lost in our more knowing, meta age, the opportunity to go on a grand and exciting adventure where the stakes are high and consequences deadly, but you always know the heroes will triumph.

 

The One With Purple Walls: How design powerfully influenced Friends

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
“I said I think we should paint the wall purple. Everybody was really anxious about it. Nobody likes change until I painted the little model purple. Color is really important in terms of establishing the show identity. …One of the responsibilities of a production designer is to look into the future. If you can. We put a door all the way up this hallway and we really didn’t say where it went to. I said, why don’t we just wait and see where the story is taken.” (John Shaffner, Great Big Story, “Designing the Apartment in Friends” via Laughing Squid)

When we’re watching a show, and these days in the bountious plenty of the new golden ages of TV, that’s a lot of shows, one of the things we’re drawn to is the sense of place.

Sure we love the characters, and we’re utterly and completely drawn in by the storylines but there’s also a strong attachment to where all the action takes a place, which, in the right hands, can become a character in and of itself.

In the case of Friends, Monica’s apartment and the coffee shop gathering place Central Perk were not only the hub of narrative interaction but pivotal to the overall look and feel of the show as this marvelously illuminating video essay from Great Big Story featuring renowned set designer John Shaffner makes wonderfully clear.

Apart from a renewed appreciation of the importance of set design to the overseas televisual creative process, you will come to understand that colour is everything, the colour purple in particular.

Oh and mysterious doors to nowhere? Worth sticking around to see where they lead …

 

Road to Eurovision 2018: Week 4 – Australia, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Malta

(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.

 

AUSTRALIA: “We Got Love” by Jessica Mauboy

 

 

THE ARTIST
Hailing from beautiful Far North Queensland, Jessica Mauboy is no stranger to the world of the Eurovision Song Contest.

She performed as the interval act at Copenhagen in 2014, part of the push that saw Australia, which we will accede is not technically part of Europe (satirical map memes aside, of course), join the contest as an active participant in 2015 when Guy Sebastian sang “Tonight Again”.

The daughter of a mother who has roots in two indigenous tribes, the Wakaman and the KuKu Yalanji, and a father from Timor Leste, Mauboy found fame and glory back in 2006 as a 16-year-old as the runner-up on Australian Idol, and she hasn’t looked back since with a slew of highly-successful albums, starring roles in films Bran Nue Dae (2010) and The Sapphires (2012), touring with Beyoncé, collaborating with the likes of Pitbull and Ricky Martin, and performing for Ellen, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

So, a fairly low-key career so far, poor dear. (Kidding.)

With her name already well-known in Eurovision circles, can Mauboy add a win for Australia, chock full of a veritable rainbow of European nationalities, giving her career that extra lift it so desperately needs. (Again, clearly kidding.)

 

Jessica Mauboy (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Her success with “We Got Love”, which she co-wrote with David Musumeci and Anthony Egizii, will really come to her performance on the night.

A reasonably straightforward pop thumper which ticks all the right Eurovision idealistic boxes – she describes the song as “a reminder that love, acceptance and the power of inclusivity can overcome all obstacles or hardships that arise” – and comes equipped with Mauboy’s equally-powerful voice, “We Got Love” has everything you need to knock it out of the park live.

By all accounts, this just happened at the recently-staged London Eurovision Party on 5 April, one of a series of publicity events held in various European cities in the lead up to the context proper, where Mauboy made quite the impression.

That is, naturally, the main barometer of success at Eurovision – how well a song comes across alive; while the song still sounds a tad too formulaic for my liking, it is undeniably a “banger” as Ed Gleaves from the UK’s Daily Star christened it on Twitter, which could see Mauboy and Australia leaping from semi final to grand final and perhaps even coming close, like Dami Im in 2017, to actually winning the thing.

 

 

DENMARK: “Higher Ground” by Rasmussen

 

 

THE ARTIST
Channelling the infamously iconic look of Rasputin if he had been good-looking and talented at creating music, which history suggests he was not, Rasmussen or Jonas Flodager Rasmussen as he is known to family, friends and Cambridge Analytica, is a Western Denmark-dwelling artist of considerable musical eclecticism.

When he’s not performing in musicals such as West Side Story and Les Misérables, he’s singing in a choir alongside The Rolling Stones, drawing on his inner ABBA, Elton John or Paul McCartney for tribute concerts, and working as a voice and performance coach.

No chance of bemoaning the drab uniformity of his life then.

Rasmussen’s striking looks (and talent for energetic performances) have no doubt snagged him many of these opportunities but they’re also going to aid him in his Eurovision performance which draws on his resemblance to the classic idea of what Vikings looked like.

Why, you ask, does that matter?

 

Rasmussen (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Mainly because his song, “Higher Ground”, written by Swedish songwriters, Niclas Arn and Karl Eurén, preaching a message of listening to each other and choosing peaceful resolution over violent means, draws on the personage of one Magnus Erlendsson, a Viking who defied his king in 1098 by hewing close to a philosophy of non-violence and refusing to take part in the Battle of Anglesey Sound.

A ballsy move in a society known for its bold, territorial conquests by most-decidedly violent means, and the inspiration for a song that ticks all the favourite Eurovision boxes of peace, love and inclusion with gusto.

Message? Tick! But is the song musically up to the task?

Mostly – it has a goosebump-inducing epic quality to it that though it dips a little inertly in the verses, kicks things up a notch or two in the bridge and chorus; but while it is hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care material, it never really gets going as full bore as you think it might, only belatedly picking up in the pace towards the end where it’s a little too late to make much of an impact.

A lovely, stirring song as far as it goes but not enough, I suspect, to propel Denmark to anywhere really significant this year. (Although what do I know when it comes to Denmark and its song choices? I didn’t love their 2013 entry “Only Teardrops” by Emmelie de Forest and that won them the damn contest!)

 

 

GEORGIA: “For You” by Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao

 

 

THE ARTIST
You have to hand it to Georgia’s entry this year.

Where you might be left wondering what kind of genre other countries’ artists will be employing in the pursuit of Eurovision glory, Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao nails their genre colours, or sounds really, to the mast from the get-go.

But what you ask, as an irregular consumer of Georgian music, is ethno-jazz when you’re streaming Spotify at home?

According to the good bio-writing folk at Eurovision, it’s a distinctly Georgian style of music that’s “based on Georgian polyphonic music and harmony, saturated with jazz and modern music elements … [with the] group’s name derived from a phrase, “Iriao-uruao” which comes the famous yodeling singing style “Krimanchuli” of Georgian traditional polyphonic music.”

Got all that? Suffice to say that David Malazonia and the rest of this unique band, who have performed at major festivals around the world, garnering themselves quite a reputation in the process, have a thoroughly unique sound that may stand them in good stead in the musical uniformity that is sometimes Eurovision.

 

Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Or perhaps not.

Lovely though “For You”, writer Irina Sanikidze and composers David Malazonia and Mikheil Mdinaradze, is it lacks the kind of oomph needed for a memorable, vote-pulling performance at Eurovision.

More suited to a thoughtful indie movie soundtrack, final act of a Disney movie (no put down; I love those films) or 3 am in a bar where you’re finally relaxing after a stressful week, the song will be a pleasant interlude in the midst of semi final 2 but not much more I’d wager.

Thank you Georgia for a gorgeously moving song which should sound lovely on its one and only outing at this year’s contest; it’s doubtful that this pretty song will make it past the gatekeepers of the grand final.

 

 

HUNGARY: “Viszlát Nyár” by AWS

 

 

THE ARTIST
Now this is what we’ve been missing in the Lordi-shaped vacuum we’ve had to endure in the dark non-metallic days since 2006 when “Hard Rock Hallelujah” took Finland to an unexpected victory.

AWS, who apparently describe themselves as “modern metal band with attitude” – as opposed to the shyly inoffensive ones who say “please” and “thank you” and “How may I help you”? – have been around since 2006 when teenagers Bence Brucker, Dániel Kökényes, Örs Siklósi and Áron Veress (later joined by Soma Schiszler) got together to make big, loud, attitude-laden music.

Drawing on a heavy melange of metal, psychedelic rock, alternative and post-rock styles and writing pretty much exclusively in Hungarian, the band is known for can’t-look-away live powerhouse performances, have a lot to say it turns out being more than a little anti-celebrity and extremely concerned about the state of the world, an ethos that fits perfectly with a genre of music that has never inclined to chat politely and wait for consensual agreement.

So is this really the kind of approach that will resonate with Eurovision voters who like their peace, love and mung beans message but usually, I stress usually, wrapped in nice dulcet ballds or chirpy upbeat tunes?

 

AWS (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
That really depends if the Eurovision audience is a fan of music that makes use of “a wide range of emotions ranging from extreme anger to exalted joy”.

“Viszlát Nyár”, which translates as “Goodbye Summer” is certainly all about high-octane mournfulness, delivered with pounding rhythms, insistent beats and vocals that don’t suggest a chilled walk in the reasonable discourse park.

Thing is, full-on though it is, and let’s be fair it’s doubtful they and Georgia’s entry will be jamming anytime soon, it’s a gorgeous melody running through it and should make for one hell of a live performance.

Look for this to possibly crunch and push its way into the grand final but even if it does, don’t expect it to make much of a wave beyond that.

Still as Lordi proved, you can never rule any song or artist out completely now can you?

 

 

LATVIA: “Funny Girl” by Laura Rizzotto

 

 

THE ARTIST
Laura Rizzotto is not one of those artists you could ever accuse of jumping on the warm-and-fuzzy message wagon just to get a shot at Eurovision glory.

The daughter of a Latvian father and Brazilian mother of Portuguese decent – rather fitting given the location of this year’s contest, Rizzotto has devoted much of her musical career to causes that she passionately believes in.

From the age of 11 when she wrote her first song to studying Berklee College of Music in Boston before pursuing a Masters degree in Music and Music Education, at Columbia University in New York, where she now lives, Rizzotto has made music that matters.

Her Song “Miracle” was written as a tribute to road accident victims and was used at the UN’s second Global Conference on Road Safety, while her second album Reason to Stay promoted a message of environmental protection, a pertinent issue worldwide but especially in her home country of Brazil which faces some serious conservation issues.

But is a history of activism through music going to be enough to cut through all the competing worthy messages that fill Eurovision like key changes in an ever-escalating soaring ballad?

 

Laura Rizzotto (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Well it might have been if Rizzotto had written a song that even remotely touched on the sorts of themes beloved by the contest.

But “Funny Girl” is all about falling in love, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that since (a) romantic songs fit beautifully at Eurovision, which has always had more than its fair share of them, and (b) it beats writing some cobbled-together earnest ditty that sounds like worthy anthem by numbers, it fails to really spark in any kind of meaningful way.

Sure the song has a mild torch song vibe to it, and Rizzotto’s voice is more than up to make her presence felt on stage, or anywhere for that matter, but it’s nothing special in the end, a song that will burn brightly and briefly and leaves to much of a trace at the end.

Ballads traditionally do well in this arena but they still need a certain presence and chutzpah, everything that “Funny Girl” in its sweet, low-key lovely way, doesn’t possess, leaving Latvia to spend the latter part of semi final 2 voting watching other acts with the requisite memorability go on to the grand final.

 

 

MALTA: “Taboo” by Christabelle

 

 

THE ARTIST
All hail musical prodigies of which Christabelle is most definitely one, kicking off her now-roaring career at the tender age of three.

Twenty-three years later, she has more than lived up to that early promise participating in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, working with the who’s who of British and American producers to create chart-topping songs such as “I Wanna Know” and “Flame”, won a slew of Bay Music Awards (the highest award for music artists in Malta) and performed with or opened for internationally-known singers such as including Gigi D’Alessio and Laura Pausini.

Even her Eurovision entry “Taboo”, which has kicked off a national debate in Malta about mental health, has seen her elevated to the laudable position of ambassador of the Maltese President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society for Mental Health.

So yeah potential well and truly realised, but all the success in the world doesn’t always translate to accolades when you step onto the stage at Eurovision; so does Christabelle, who gave up skipping rope and playing with dolls for singing very early on, have what it takes to add further success to that already achieved?

 

Christabelle (image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Wisely teaming with a past winner, Thomas G:son, and much-experienced Eurovision songwriters Muxu and Johnny Sanchez, Christabelle has penned a song that does a nice job of offering up some lo-fi edgy electronica, redolent with an air of intense mystery and off-kilter emotion.

“Taboo”, while failing to fully ignite as you expect it to, is nonetheless a catchy upbeat pop song that comes with a necessarily important message about being open and honest with the darkest of struggles, not only to free yourself but others in the same position.

Drawing off the artist’s own experience dealing with mental health issues, this has a ring of authenticity missing from the more calculated, worthy entries, and with a killer live performance, which Christabelle gives every indication she’s more than capable of, could see Malta, kicking off with ease to the grand final.

It may not win the country the glittering crystal microphone trophy but if it starts a Europe-wide conversation about mental health, then it’s more than lived up to its potential, just like the artist performing it.

 

 

EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!

Order! Order! What order will everyone sing in?

You may not think the order in which countries sing makes a difference to voting patterns but it does, which is why the announcement of the running order for both semi finals attract such fervent speculation.

Such as the prognostications on Wiwibloggs about who will get through from semi final 1 and semi final 2.

 

Oh my you’re cinematically naked! What movies look like without special effects

(image via YouTube)

 

CGI is in! It’s in BIG in movies and if you’ve seen any blockbusters lately, and if not, why not, there are some damn good ones out there, you will have seen all kinds of gloriously-created worlds (think A Wrinkle in Time), augmented characters (War For the Planet of the Apes) and things far outside our own reality.

It’s amazing what it can do but what it turns out is almost as much fun, as video essay from Looper attests, is what movies reliant on CGI look like before all the special effects bells-and-whistles are added.

Referring to CGI as “digital make-up”, the video beautifully illustrates how films like the Harry Potter franchise, The Life of Pi and Beauty and the Beast, and TV shows like Game of Thrones which employ amazing effects to bring Daenerys’ dragons to fantastical life.

It will make look at these movies in a whole new light or atop realistic water or from atop a careening dragon …

(source: Laughing Squid)