Weekend Pop Art #4: Zombies are everywhere

The Corpse Wars (image (c) Matt Busch via neatoshop.com)

 

These days you could be forgiven for thinking that zombies are everywhere.

So prevalent have the post-apocalytic undead become that they are starting to pop up in movies that never featured them in the first place and it’s thanks in part to the imaginative brilliance of one Matt Busch.

A talented artist and illustrator who has contributed art to official Star Wars releases since 1994, and who has worked on movies such as Con-Air, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings, Matt is held in high regard, Matt has one of those out-of-the-box perspectives that makes him a compelling chronicler of pop culture.

 

Who Maimed Roger Rabid? (image (c) Matt Busch via neatoshop.com)

 

And if we needed any more of an indication that his finger is firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, he has a released a brilliant series of posters that perfectly merge all sorts of great cinematic masterpieces with our favourite monsters de jour – zombies.

Admire, enjoy and if you want a print of your very own, they’re on sale at Matt’s neatoshop.com store.

 

The Princess Died (image (c) Matt Busch via neatoshop.com)

 

Come join the “Revolution” My current thoughts on a show I once spurned

(image via dougtvreview.com)

 

Way back when J. J. Abrams’ latest hit TV series, Revolution, debuted in October 2012, I was initially underwhelmed by a show that, though armed with an imaginative, promising premise, seemed uncertain how best to execute on it.

The pilot episode, which introduced us to a world where electricity had simply vanished in a split second throwing civilisation into chaos, wasn’t a failure by any means introducing just enough tension and drama and “what ifs” to keep me watching till the end.

But it wasn’t compelling enough to make tune in for the second episode nor to reconsider my decision not to watch any further episodes even when I read about its blockbuster ratings in the US which were partly responsible for dragging last place network NBC briefly back to the top of the ratings.

In retrospect I probably should have given it another chance since shows like Fringe and Stargate SG1, which I now consider to be some of the best TV I have ever watched, didn’t grab me by the proverbial short ‘n’ curlies at the start of their debut seasons.

But I persevered with them, journeying with the makers of the TV till they found their storytelling rhythm and began delivering on the exciting premises they had outlined at the beginning of their shows’ runs.

For reasons I can’t explain but which likely has to do with the surfeit of exceedingly good TV on offer at the moment making it all too easy to dismiss a show that doesn’t wow you at the get-go, I never offered Revolution the second chance I gave to these other shows.

 

Some of the main players in “Revolution” L-R: Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth), Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell), Charlie Matheson (Tracy Spiridakos) , Miles Matheson (Billy Burke), Jason Neville (JD Pardo) and major Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) (image via nbcrevolution.tumblr.com)

 

And after having finally heeded my house mate’s urgings and watched all of the episodes in the series telecast so far, I am happy to admit that I shouldn’t have been so hasty.

Revolution has indeed found it sweet storytelling spot, and is delivering, week after week, consistently good episodes that have me actively anticipating the next instalment in its apocalyptic tale.

And here’s the five things I love about a show that has carved out its own distinctive portion of the post-apocalpse genre which as we all know is swarming with more shows that a group of survivors overwhelmed by a fast moving zombie pack.

(1) Brilliant execution on a tantalising premise
After a hesitant start when it seemed unsure of the best way forward, Revolution has parlayed a great idea into a well told, fulsomely-articulated story.

I was a more than a little concerned by the quick, almost unseemly hurry that the series displayed in hurrying through the events of the apocalypse itself in the sort of “nothing to see here, move on” style displayed by the Battlestar Galactica mini-series (which of course became one of the defining shows of the Noughties), with the electricity pretty much off before the opening credits on the pilots had fully rolled.

But by taking advantage of a narrative much loved by Lost, another of Abrams’ superbly successful TV efforts, the intermittent backstory, it hasn’t just fleshed out the backgrounds of the characters but of the world itself and the conspiracy of misguided scientific endeavour that plunged humanity back into the agrarian age.

Revolution has wisely not over used this device, doling out the backstory revelations in easy to digest portions that never detract from the present tale they are trying to tell.

By so doing, they have delivered handsomely and then some on all that initial promise.

 

It’s not just the maps that have changed beyond recognition. The world has changed dramatically with brute force and realpolitik replacing the niceties of civilisation (image via revolutiontvshow.net)

 

(2) They are providing answers and lots of them
Yes we all love a good mystery.

Nothing makes us keeping watching a show that a well turned “Why” or “What if?” but keeping the carrot dangling for too long with no chance of ever catching it and viewers may well conclude there is a better narrative meal to be had elsewhere.

The makers of Revolution have wisely worked that out – it’s likely that the lessons of Lost and sundry other shows since where the reveals came at a glacial pace in the hope of keeping the tension just so have  not just been learnt but acted upon – and have given us insights at a regular, but not overwhelming rate, into why electricity came to disappear from the face of the Earth and the role the various players had in making that happen, or reshaping the world that followed in its wake.

They have magically managed to keep the balance between the grand theatrical reveal and mystery of what is unknown taut and steady and as a consequence watching has become a must-see event since you may miss out on something important should you miss an episode.

 

Not just a decorative device, these lockets, first seen in the hands of Ben Matheson in the rushed lead up to the end of civilisation as we know it, can actually summon power when needed giving key players including Sebastian “Bass” Monroe, unhinged dictator of the Monroe Republic, an advantage denied to much of the population (image via maskedheroes.co.uk)

 

(3) Characters that are more than 2D cardboard cutouts
Giving all your characters sufficient breadth and depth, especially when you are dealing with an epic ensemble show like Revolution can be a challenge of exhausting proportions.

But bit by bit through finely wrought conversation, selective flashbacks, and narrative twists that have caused various characters to reveal, willingly or unwillingly, their true often-flawed colours,  the show has introduced us to people who have a real reason for being there and aren’t simply superficially-generated slaves of narrative momentum.

When your characters are as instrumental in moving the story forward as your plot, you have constructed a sophisticated well rounded show that isn’t in danger of running out of storytelling grunt any time soon.

And characters that we will want to spend time with for as long as the show is around.

UPDATE 29/5: Here’s a great opinion piece on the strength of Revolution’s characters by Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun.

 

The ever closer relationship between one time Monroe republic bigwig Miles and his niece Charlie is the emotional heart and soul of the show but there are so many relationships that come a close second such as that between Miles and Nora or Rachel and Aaron that you know you have a show that knows its characters are every bit as important as its setting and plot (image via anythinghorror.com)

 

(4) Death is a real and present danger … as is pain and sorrow
One of the great downfalls of any show in a scarred, post-apocalyptic landscape is rendering your characters essentially bulletproof. (Dark Angel, an early-Noughties drama from James Cameron, is one series that fell into just such a trap.)

In other words, even though they are living a precariously balanced life in a dog-eat-eat world, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune seem to slide right off them like they’re covered in some sort of human-sized teflon coat.

Alas in the real world that’s never the case and while losing any character we care about is tough, it does lend credibility to a show, especially one that wants us to believe, as Revolution does that it’s telling a harrowing story of a world where the value of human life only extends as far as its usefulness to someone else.

We may  be emotionally shellshocked, and loudly lament the passing of the character, such as when Danny Matheson, beloved brother of Charlie, and long separated son of Rachel died heroically defending the rebels from an aerial attack from the newly energised forces of General Monroe, but we respect the show for staying true to its core idea that the world they represent is a dangerous one and survival is never a given.

I am impressed that Revolution is willing to kill off key characters and expose those left behind, as well as those watching the show, to the inevitable pain and sorrow that follows.

 

Danny’s death was a real shock and as emotionally harrowing as a character’s death can be, but it lent “Revolution” credibility as a show willing to give its post-apocalyptic world the sort of realness it needs to come across as truly authentic (image via revolutionison.blogspot.com)

 

(5) It is willing to possibly completely re-shape its premise if needs be
Now this is where I venture, rather riskily I might add, into the realm of supposition and conjecture.

From the way the show is tracking at the moment – the most recent episode “Clue” had Monroe and his forces including the dastardly Randall Flynn (Colm Feore) poised to enter the mysterious “The Tower” in Colorado, which can turn the power back on for everyone, with Rachel and Aaron hot on their heels, and a mysterious group watching from inside – it is highly possible that the original premise of the show, that there is no electricity, could be turned on its head by one flick of the switch.

It would not be the first time a show has done this with Once Upon a Time ending its first season with the lifting of the curse which had sent all the fairytale characters hurtling into our flawed world, ripped from the moorings of their magical land.

 

“Once Upon a Time” completely altered the fundamentals of the show at the end of season 1, a brave decision that sent the show off on a wholly new, rewarding trajectory (image via mission2mum.co.uk)

 

While you might think that pulling the rug of the original premise out from under a show might send it into a calamitous death spiral, quite the opposite happened.

Once Upon a Time built upon this momentous change, which still left the characters with both the consequences of the curse being enacted and then lifted, and took the narrative in an even more muscular, engaging direction.

I suspect much the same would happen with Revolution.

The world has changed forever and won’t simply revert back like a magic wand has been waved to its original pre-apocalyptic state.

The juice may be flowing again but the world is still monumentally messed up and there is still a great deal of drama to be had.

 

Or maybe not so forever after all. But even if the power comes back on, our world is changed forever and nothing will ever be the same again (image via 15991471.wwww.fanpop.com)

 

So yes I was wrong to dismiss Revolution so quickly.

It has grown into a startlingly good show and one that I am sure will come back from the summer break – its finale airs on June 3 in the US – bigger and better than ever.

Now this is music #7: My 5 favourite songs of the week – Lindsey Stirling, Godwolf, Jagwar Ma, Emma Louise, Haerts

Much as I have loved my time in Eurovision-land, it is time to dive right back into the gloriously unceasing flow of music cascading past my ears on a daily basis.

Some might all that new music a little overwhelming; I find it ridiculously exciting. a chance to discover new and amazing artists that might otherwise pass me by.

All hail the digital revolution, the music it brings my way, and of course, these five songs in particular.

Enjoy, and groove away on public transport when you think everybody’s looking … go on! I dare you …

 

Halo Theme by Lindsey Stirling and William Joseph

 

Lindsey Stirling and William Joseph (image via youtube.com)

 

Lindsey Stirling is a very talented, and one can only conclude from her list of creative pursuits and achievements, a very busy young lady.

A quarter-finalist on America’s Got Talent in 2010, where apparently she was known as the Hip Hop Violinist, she is an “American violinist, dancer, performance artist, and composer” (source: Wikipedia), who also keeps her own uber-successful YouTube channel with legions of fans humming along, and I am sure, as a result she must never have time to sleep!

If she is sleep-deprived she gives no indication of it on her after-clip soundbites where she is as unfailingly bright, upbeat and as great to listen to as her music.

Ah yes … the music.

I was first put onto it by a good friend in my writing group, and frankly she was a revelation.

Melding classical influences, modern pop, and an almost retro throwback to the classical/pop fusion sounds of the 70s and 80s, her instrumental pieces are full of life, grand melody, and soaring emotion.

“Halo Theme” is no different, at times majestic, sometime contemplative but always deliciously, richly melodic and as with all her tunes, accompanied by an imaginatively-themed and shot clip.

If you’re looking for something totally different, you need to check out her music.

 

 

“Alone” by Godwolf

 

Godwolf (image via Facebook.com)

 

With a name that actually has some deep meaning for the band behind it – “We like the idea of blending the ethereal with the vicious: the ambient with the aggressive: the God with the Wolf.” (source: triplejunearthed) – Godwolf were formed to create music that is a mix of the contemplative and calm with the rampantly full and aggressive.

And they have succeeded very nicely thank you.

“Alone”, which is the first single from their EP Throw An Ocean, is a beautiful mix of the serene and the chaotic, best described one of my favourite music blogs Your Music Radar as “honey and silk to the ears”.

They got it absolutely right.

It’s that sublime mix of slowly building guitar and synth that gathers pace note by note, with a beat that sounds not unlike a galloping horse tapping away in the background accompanied by soft, perfectly-harmonised vocals, before exploding into a passionate wall-shaking dancefloor-worthy  track.

It shifts back and forth between these two ear-pleasing extremes creating a fabulous middle ground of listening pleasure.

These guys are going to go far.

 

 

“Man I Need” by Jagwar Ma

 

Jagwar Ma (image via thefourohfive.com)

 

Keeping it local, Jagwar Ma, who describe themselves as “Sydney-born, Pan Pacific-raised”, are an experimental duo with a nice line in haunting, emotion-laden vocals, quirky animated video clips and trippy blissed out groove.

“Man I Need” is a follow up to their previously-released songs “Come Save Me” and “The Throw” and it’s a lush, almost ethereal-sounding track that comes armed with a beat that won’t let go and a delightfully offbeat sensibility.

Their fresh, bright sound promises that their album Howlin’, recorded in Sydney, Berlin and France – it appears they have extended their pan Pacific travels to the entire world – and set to be released on 10 June will be one to check out if you want a sound that is a hypnotic mix of pop and otherworldly bliss.

While they have recently had some setbacks due to the illness of Jono Ma, who is effectively Jagwar Ma, along with the vocals of Gabriel Winterfield from Ghostwood, I can’t see any way that Jagwar Ma won’t be all the man we need for quite some time to come.

 

 

“Mirrors” by Emma Louise

 

Emma Louise (image via theripe.tv)

 

Hailing from Cairns in far North Queensland, Emma Louise is crafting the sort of meaningful, beautiful music that is already endearing her to a great many people who know a talented singer/songwriter when they hear one.

Thankfully she has eschewed the temptation to simply keep writing copycat versions of her first big hit, the glorious “Jungle”, her first release and an instant hit on radio garnering her lots of unexpected attention, in favour of writing what she feels and knows, an attitude which indicates she is in it for the long haul and considers her artistry every bit as important as chart success.

It’s a refreshing attitude, especially with the pressure to keep getting yourself noticed in today’s crowded, nosy digital marketplace and comes from a well thought out place as she told Kayla Clobborn at the brag.com:

“I didn’t even expect [‘Jungle’] to get on the radio at all. I was very lucky and I’m very grateful. It was a bit of a – I don’t want to say the word ‘fluke’, but it definitely put the pressure on. A lot of people were asking what the next ‘Jungle’ would be, and there were people talking over my other songs at my shows. It kind of scared me a bit. I had a choice to write more songs like ‘Jungle’ and get on the radio, but then I wouldn’t have been fulfilled. So I chose to stick with what I was feeling.”

I’m glad she did.

“Mirrors” is a sublimely beautiful, rich, almost haunting piece of work giving her gorgeous voice the chance to soar and whisper in equal measure, and a clear sign that even if she keeps turning heads musically and she will, that she will remain an artist first and foremost.

 

 

“All the Days” by Haerts

 

Haerts (image via pigeonsandplanes.com)

 

One of those bands that proves the world is a small and ever shrinking place, Haerts (and no I am not misspelling on a grand scale; that is how you spell the band’s name) hail from Germany, the United States and UK – the members are Nini Fabi, Ben Gebert, Garrett Ienner, Derek McWilliams, and Jonathan Schmidt – and now call Brooklyn home.

With the release of their debut album looming ever closer, it’s not hard to see why there is such anticipation for the five piece band’s release.

“All the Days” is one of those utterly distinctive songs that stays with you long after you’ve heard it, thanks largely to Nini Fabi’s haunting vocals and a melody that will not be denied.

Pigeonsandplanes.com described their sound best I think when they said:

“Dreamy vocals flow over triumphant, pulsing drums, and of course a little bit of synth for good measure.”

It’s exactly the sort of one-of-a-kind sound that an artist needs to cut through all the cacophony of a tsunami of new music and I would wager will keep them riding high in the public consciousness for some time to come.

 

 

* So what’s your favourite tune?

“Goodnight Sweet Grimm” … well, it’s time to go … (review of season 2 final episode)

Should you really venture into the docklands late at night in pursuit of a voodoo doctor Wesen? Nick and the gang are about to find out [hint: NO] (image via blog.zap2it.com )

** SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ZOMBIES, LOTS OF ZOMBIES **

There are zombies in Portland!

And not just any zombies.

No, these are authentic voodoo-priest created zombies – the priest in question is a seemingly ageless Wesen called Baron Samedi (Reg E. Cathey), a Cracher-Mortel who spits a vile green slime onto the faces of his unsuspecting victims which painfully kills them before they rise from a brief death-like state – who move with swift, violent aggression, much like the zombies in 28 Days later or the upcoming World War Z.

They are nasty creatures, running on anger and adrenaline, acting much like hopped-up junkies on a rampage.

When the Baron unleashes them on downtown Portland – part of a plan sanctioned by Eric Renard (James Frain), one of the Wesen royal family heirs and estranged brother of Sean Renard (Sasha Roiz) – all hell breaks loose, drawing Nick (David Giuntoli) away from a lazy morning after a big night before with Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch) with whom he has now thankfully been reunited, and into the chaos the undead have unleashed on the unsuspecting city.

 

Just another undead day at the office as Portland gets its very own mini-zombie-esque apocalypse (image via hypable.com)

 

Chaotic though it is, it is but the curtain raiser to Eric’s grand plan to draw Nick into his nefarious hands, and the coldblooded way he goes about it, taking delight in the zombiefication of one of his own men simply because he wants to see how the Baron goes about his cruel work, sends shivers down the spine.

It’s clear at this point that Sean Renard is well within his rights to treat everything Eric says about a reconciliation with a great deal of scepticism, since Eric’s presence in the city, which by the way he makes clear he regards as a laughable backwater in comparison to the grandeur of his beloved Vienna, has nothing to do with his bastard brother and everything to do with Nick and the key.

 

Eric behaves like a delighted schoolboy when Baron Samedi, the ruler of death, demonstrates his zombie-creating power on one of the prince’s bodyguards (image via rickey.org)

 

And Nick, who doesn’t connect the dots, and why would he since Eric and the Baron go to great lengths to keep well within the shadows at all times, is drawn step by step into their carefully-thought out plan until he is lying, in the Baron’s induced death-like state, in a coffin to be shipped back to Europe under a false name.

Fortunately Juliette, and Nick’s friends and often partners in fighting Wesen crime, Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner) are able to escape the deadly shipping container labyrinth within which the Baron has laid his trap.

But as the episode ends on a cliffhanger big enough to fit several Grand Canyons of narrative, they sit besieged in their car, unable to drive off, and certainly unable to administer the antidote they have concocted to free the zombified from their wholly unnatural state.

 

After a wonderful night in which she and Monroe finally took their relationship to a whole new intimate level – at the same as Nick and Juliette did the same, reaffirming their love for each other – Rosalee, along with Monroe and a newly Wesen-aware Juliet, experiences a less than stellar follow up evening (image via seriable.com)

 

Which includes Nick, sans the key, which is safely ensconced in a hiding place in Rosalee’s spice shop, who is about to be delivered into the hands of his mortal enemies, the Wesen royal family of which Eric and Sean (now Nick’s ally in a bizarre upturning of the traditional Grimm/Wesen order of things).

Alas the antidote can only be administered when the victim is in their fourth and most violent stage of zombiefication by which Nick will be far away in Europe, unable to be aided his friends.

Or will he?

I suspect that Sean, Monroe, Grimm/Wesen newbie Juliette (fresh from seeing her three friends “woge” for her with Monroe sensibly going last) and Rosalee, along with Nick’s now Wesen-aware police partner Hank (Russell Hornsby), who have already made it clear they will make quite the team, will be finding themselves on a plane to Europe, to fight Eric and his dastardly plans for the nicest Grimm of them all, Nick.

 

Stefania more than knows how to look after herself as Frau Pech, who drugs Adalind so as to swap appearances with her, discover to her cost (image via Facebook.com)

 

And Europe of course is where Adalind (Claire Coffee), pregnant with a royal heir who she is rather cold bloodedly looking to trade for the regaining of her Hexenbiest powers, is spinning a nasty web of her very own.

In league with both Frau Pech (Mary McDonald-Lewis) and Stefania Vaduva Popescu (Shohreh Aghdashloo),  the Zigeunersprache of the Schwarzwald gypsies (don’t say that too fast or you may rip the tongue of your mouth before a Hexenbiest can do it to you), who aren’t on the best of terms, Adalind realised in “Goodnight Sweet Grimm” that she had to choose sides.

That decision was made immeasurably easier by Frau Pech’s rather clumsy attempts to threaten her life, which spurred Adalind and Stefania to cook up a plot to dispatch Frau Pech’s off to the great Wesen hunting ground in the sky and use her heart to get Adalind’s Hexenbiest-ishness back, her price for giving up the baby.

Frau Pech clearly was on the losing end of Adalind’s endless mercenary strategising, and learnt the hard way that you can’t really trust anyone in the murky labyrinthine world of the Wesen.

I have a feeling that Adalind’s playing of just about everyone in her life is going to earn her a well-deserved and rather messy comeuppance, but for now she appears to be in the driver’s seat, in control of her destiny.

 

Nick finishes the episode in a death-like state and on his way into the hands of the royals. Could things get any worse? Of course they could! (image via huffingtonpost.com)

 

Grimm has raised the stakes quite substantially for just about everyone involved with “Goodnight Sweet Grimm, signalling that the show is getting to ready to stage a rather large thematic and narrative leap away from its case-of-the-week approach of the first two seasons and into a far more dense, arc-liike show.

That makes sense since both Hank and Juliette are now in the know about Nick’s true calling as a Grimm and have effectively become a team with Monroe and Rosalee, and oddly enough, Sean, making it very hard to go back to the same-old same-old.

And with the stakes being raised all the time and a power struggle to end all power struggles once the keys are all found in the offing, focus must necessarily turn to this building tension, and attempts to avert an all out human-Wesen war.

Even with this move to a larger, more epic tableau, I don’t see Grimm losing its focus since it remains at heart the story of a group of unlikely travelling companions, all tied closely to each other one way or another, who just happened to be wrapped in an extraordinary, ever growing world.

 

 

Sneak peek: “Europa Report” trailer

(image via flixist.com)

 

MOVIE SYNOPSIS
[A group of astronauts] embark on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to investigate the possible existence of alien life within our solar system. When unmanned probes suggest that a hidden ocean could exist underneath Europa’s icy surface and may contain single-celled life, Europa Ventures, a privately funded space exploration company, sends six of the best astronauts from around the world to confirm the data and explore the revolutionary discoveries that may lie in the Europan ocean. After a near-catastrophic technical failure that leads to loss of communication with Earth and the tragic death of a crewmember, the surviving astronauts must overcome the psychological and physical toll of deep space travel, and survive a discovery on Europa more profound than they had ever imagined. (source: seat42f.com)

 

“Found footage” as a genre is a curious beast.

The films which call it home are put together in such a way that we’re led to believe that the footage survived all manner of terrible events, was found by those who went in search of the unfortunates who filmed it (and usually didn’t survive doing so) and reconstructed as a documentary of their terrible ordeal.

Done well – The Blair Witch Project (1999), Monster (2008), Cloverfield (2008) and Paranormal Activity (2009) are notable examples – these films have a real, visceral quality and an immediacy that can’t help but capture your attention.

While not a genre to be consumed en masse by those with an aversion to shaky hand-held cameras, they are a great way of drawing audiences almost immediately into the action, and if they’re compelling enough, not letting them go till the hopefully satisfying conclusion.

And there’s the rub.

So many of them are all spooky, intriguing set up with often a fair to middling payoff.

If you’re going to tantalise, then you need to deliver, and deliver impressively.

 

It all seems to be going so well until, as is always the case, all hell breaks loose (image via nextprojection.com)

 

The buzz around Europa Report suggests it will do just that.

Visually stunning – its filmmaking artistry and representations of deep space have been compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Moon (2009) by space.com – it takes its premise from the idea that there is life in that there moon, Europa, life that may hold the secrets to where humanity came from, and whether we are truly alone in this big galaxy of ours.

Of course, as you might be expecting all that scientific curiosity and the philosophical musings that come with it do not always lead to the bright promised land we are expecting (Prometheus made that very clear).

And often it goes horribly, terribly wrong, and we’re reminded, yet again, that life is a fragile thing.

Europa Report looks like it will tick all the found footage genre boxes, as well as fulfilling all of the big bad monster at the end of the road promises it makes, which means all we need now is a devastatingly great ending.

We find out if it has one when it releases on 27 June this year (internet only) and in US theatres on 2 August.

 

 

That’s a wrap! A review of the Eurovision 2013 Grand Final

Emmelie de Forest and the rest of the Danish team celebrate their sweet Eurovision victory with the song “Only Teardrops” (image via scmp.com)

 

I seem to have lost something.

I had it for years, it served me well, and unerringly came to my aid when I need it the most, usually in May every year.

What is this mysterious something? (And no, it is not Andrius Pojavis from Lithuania thanks for asking.)

Why, my ability to reasonably accurately predict the final Eurovision top 10 which in past years has seen me correctly pick 80-90% of the final top 10.

I am not sure whether it was the sameness of many of the songs, the tight leather pants of Ireland’s dancers which distracted me greatly, or some stray glitter in my eyes, but apart from placing some of the eventual top 10 randomly in my rankings, I appeared to be greatly out of step with the European zeitgeist.

(I suspect it has something to do with ignoring my gut instinct, which would have placed two songs I love, “Kedvesem” by ByeAlex from Hungary and “Birds” by Anouk from The Netherlands firmly in the top 10; instead I tried to second guess Europe and failed.)

Not that it will distress me greatly fortunately since I sensibly don’t base my self-esteem on how I psychically predict Eurovision voting patterns, but it underlined once again just how unpredictable this year’s results were.

 

 

While Emmelie de Forest was long favoured to take out the event, along with Norway and Greece if you believed this prediction, or with Azerbaijan and Romania (!) if this poll was to be believed, and Norway and Ukraine were always expected to place well (very well in my opinion – see below – which sadly proved to be unfounded), other songs confounded pundits like me.

For a start I clearly completely underestimated the appeal of Greece’s entry, Koza Mostra.

Yes “Alcohol is Free” had an infectiously catchy ska sound going for it, the presence of a revered national musical treasure in Agathon Lakovidis, and an irrepressible cheeky energy that saw it overcome the deficiencies in what was, by any estimation, a less than stellar song.

But it was also firmly in the novelty song camp, not quite “Who Let The Dogs Out” terrible to be fair, but veering dangerously close it, with a limited lifespan surely.

Unlike say the Ukraine’s entry “Gravity”, which has charted on iTunes across Europe, reaching #8 in Sweden for instance or Norway’s Margaret Berger whose catchy electropop number, “I Feed You My Love” which reached #2 in Greece and Sweden, and #3 in Finland (source: wiwibloggs.com), Koza Mostra have only managed to chart significantly in Greece itself.

Admittedly that is probably largely due to it being sung mostly in Greek but even so, it underlines that it’s appeal and shelf life are limited, which frankly begs the question – why did so many people vote for it right across Europe?

 

They were possessed of seemingly unstoppable energy, kilts and smiles as big as the Parthenon and they garnered enough votes to finish in 6th place overall – why, Europe, why?! (image via greece.greekreporter.com)

 

Another song that left me perplexed, confounded, befuddled and everything in between was “”It’s My Life” by Cezar from Romania.

He is, by all accounts a singer of great talent, a contratenor who won Romania’s version of The Voice, and a graduate of the Giuseppe Verdi Music Academy in Milan, and came to the contest with a song written by popular Romanian composer and writer Cristian Faur.

And yet with all that talent in hand, he chose to dress in a glittery Dracula-esque outfit, sing a falsetto so grating that dogs and cats were paddling across from Malmö to Copenhagen to escape the wailing.

Clearly he struck a chord with voters across Europe – perhaps the ones who, like my partner, celebrate the more kitsch acts of Eurovision with gusto and thankfulness that the contest still throws up these almost comical oddities – placing at #13 out of 26 but I am at a loss to explain why beyond his obvious novelty value?

Surely it wasn’t the quality, or lack thereof, of the performance?

Are they are all True Blood fans?

 

I have to award points to Cezar for living the kitsch cliche of Eurovision to the full but for the song itself? Nul points on all fronts (image via queerty.com (c) eurovision.tv)

 

By and large though the Grand Final played out much as expected.

Strong contenders like Norway – such a dynamic performance by Margaret Berger on the Grand Final night after a slightly shaky start during Semi-Final 2 – and Ukraine placed high on the rankings, although I still expected Norway to be slightly higher than it was, while Italy and Azerbaijan charmed the crowds with their gorgeously sung, if conventional, ballads.

 

The song may have been a tad conventional, and Marco may have demonstrated the limber elasticity of a store window mannequin on stage – read he barely moved – but his voice soared with the angels that no doubt got him and Italy into the top 10 (image via Facebook.com)

 

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I regret not going with my instinct and giving Hungary and The Netherlands a place in my top 10.

I am not sure why I erred except to say that I think I was trying a little too hard to second guess the voters of Europe who I thought would like the songs but not as much as they did.

I loved both songs the moment I heard them – Anouk gave “Birds” an engaging otherworldly flavour while “Kedvesem” bounced along with a quiet, percolating joy and ByeAlex’s suitably soft and raspy voice – and should have made the decision on that basis alone.

After all, for the all the jokes about Eurovision not being about the music, and songs like “It’s My Life” popping into the top 15 (when really it should have swapped places with Ireland’s Ryan Dolan and his song “Love Survives” which didn’t deserve to finish in last place), good quality songs usually don’t make into the top rankings since neither the general voting public, nor the juries of music professionals – each score is made up of a 50/50 split of each group’s votes – are willing to give the tick of approval to sub-standard music.

No matter what the Eurovision conspiracy pundits may say.

 

Hungary’s ByeAlex, who totally rocked the hipster outfit, delivered “Kedesem” with all the happy grace and charm the song deserved, and the voters of Europe rewarded him with a much-deserved top 10 finish (image via smh.com.au (c) eurovision.tv)

 

France’s low finish was a surprise since Amandine Bourgeois – BEST. NAME. EVER. – gave a smokin’ performance of her Amy Winehouse-esque song “L’Enfer et Moi”, giving her heart and soul, and a fair swag of her melting mascara, to delivering one of the emotionally-intense performances of the night.

Another song that I expected to do far better “Marry Me” by Krista Siegfrieds of Norway.

I doubt it was the controversial (only if you’re a right wing tabloid I would wager) kiss at the end of the song where she locked lips with one of her female back up singers, since much of Eurovision’s core demographic these days is the gay community and their friends and family.

Perhaps the song simply couldn’t compete with the heart rending ballads, or no one wanted to marry Krista, which is hard to believe since she came across as absolutely delightful in the interview she did with Australia’s SBS television network, but whatever the reason, she deserved a far higher placing for a brilliantly catchy song performed with all the energy you could ask of any performer.

In the end of course, predicting who will and won’t win Eurovision, and who will place where is as problematic as any other contest with a host of variables – in this case mostly highly attractive, reasonably talented variables with a penchant for tight dresses, leather-clad back up dancers and pyrotechnic curtains of fire and light – and Eurovision 2013 didn’t disappoint in that regard, confounding and surprising pretty much as it always does.

 

All the contestants paraded into Malmö Arena across a brightly lit walkway far above the crowd to the tunes of a new Benny and Björn and Avicii written instrumental that was as epic and grand and beautiful as you could want for a fanfare (image via eurovision.tv)

 

Final results for Eurovision 2013

Denmark: Emmelie de Forest, Only Teardrops – 281 points
Azerbaijan: Farid Mammadov, Hold Me – 234 points
Ukraine: Zlata Ognevich, Gravity – 214 points
Norway: Margaret Berger, I Feed You My Love – 191 points
Russia: Dina Garipova, What If – 174 points
Greece: Koza Mostra feat. Agathon Iakovidis, Alcohol Is Free – 152 points
Italy: Marco Mengoni, L’Essenziale – 126 points
Malta: Gianluca, Tomorrow – 120 points
Netherlands: Anouk, Birds – 114 points
Hungary: ByeAlex, Kedvesem – 84 points
Moldova: Aliona Moon, O mie – 71 points
Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa, Love Kills – 71 points
Romania: Cezar, It’s My Life – 65 points
Sweden: Robin Stjernberg, You – 62 points
Georgia: Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani, Waterfall – 50 points
Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya, Solayoh – 48 points
Iceland: Eythor Ingi, Eg a lif – 47 points
Armenia: Dorians, Lonely Planet – 41 points
UK: Bonnie Tyler, Believe In Me – 23 points
Estonia: Birgit, Et uus saaks alguse – 19 points
Germany: Cascada, Glorious – 18 points
Lithuania: Andrius Pojavis, Something – 17 points
France: Amandine Bourgeois, L’enfer et moi – 14 points
Finland: Krista Siegfrids, Marry Me – 13 points
Spain: ESDM, Contigo hasta el final – 8 points
Ireland: Ryan Dolan, Only Love Survives – 5 points
(source: mirror.co.uk)

And the top 10 I picked (with Norway as the winner, and the other 9 in no particular order):

Norway        Just fourth place? Really? She was willing to feed you her love! HER LOVE DAMMIT.
Denmark    Granted I didn’t love this song but Emmelie de Forest sang it with passion and deserved a win
Georgia        Not the best ballad true but better than Azerbaijan’s effort I thought
Italy               He sang like an angel and looked gorgeous in the suit but he was so still. SO VERY STILL.
Greece          Sixth place Europe? Did you let all the free Ouzo go to your head just a little?
Iceland         Such a touching uplifting song and what a hunk of a man. Vikings? Yes please!
Estonia        She elevated an ordinary song with a extraordinary performance.
Belgium      I didn’t expect to like this song or Roberto as much as I did. A big surprise.
Ukraine      Such a powerful in-your-face song awesomely performed by a born entertainer
Ireland        Another song that grew on me. It deserved better than last place.

* So which songs would have made your top ten?

 

 

THE AFTERMATH

Every year, in the days following The Eurovision Song Contest, all the brotherhood and bonhomie breaks just a little, or a lot in some cases, and the accusations fly. Here’s a few articles you may find make interesting reading:

* Think it’s JUST a song contest? Think again says Russia.

* Was it our bad song perhaps? No, we lost because of the gays allege F.Y.R. Macedonia’s entrants (one of whom clearly think he’s god’s gift to, well, just about everyone.

* And as with every year, some entrants say they were robbed of valuable points by fraudulent voting practices, something the European Broadcasting Union has strenuously denied.

 

 

But not everyone is cranky. Robyn Stjernberg from Sweden, though placing 14th behind Romania, was ecstatic about his performance!

And Crikey.com.au had this fascinating look at the language of Eurovision.

** so onward and upward to 2014 and Denmark. See you in red and white then!

Meet you at “The World’s End” (movie trailer + poster)

(image via impawards.com)

 

MOVIE SYNOPSIS
20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World’s End. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but humankind’s. Reaching The World’s End is the least of their worries. (source: screenrant.com)

 

Isn’t nostalgia a wonderful thing?

It casts the past in such a flattering light that our present seems dim and tawdry by comparison, and we wonder if maybe, just maybe, a trip back to from whence we came via memory lane might be the ticket for what currently ails us.

Slapping on a our rose-tinted glasses, and packing our regrets of which we have many, we do our best to recreate the past with often mixed results.

In the case of Gary King (Simon Pegg) rushing back to embrace the past is about all he has left and he goes out all to convince his four reluctant friends, all of whom have well and truly moved into the sedate arms of adulthood (unlike perpetual teenager Gary), to go one last epic pub crawl.

But a disappointing recreation of a seminal event in their younger years is the least of their worries when they discover that the patrons of the pubs they visit are not who they once were …

And replete with glowing eyes and zombie gait, they seem hellbent on bringing down humanity starting with the five old friends.

 

Five friends reunite … for an epic pub crawl of course (image via teaser-trailer.com)

 

The final film in the Edgar Wright-directed/Pegg and Wright-scripted Three Flavours Cornetto/Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, so named because they all feature one of the characters purchase an appropriately-coloured Cornetto ice cream, World’s End is an apocalypse film with an hilarious difference.

Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have also starred in the previous two films in the series, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007), as well as Martin Freeman, Eddia Marsan, Patty Considine and Rosamund Pike, the film looks like an impressively funny mix of the world ending, and friends wondering if you can truly recreate the past (which if they prove unsuccessful at stopping the ghouls may be all they have left).

* The film will premiere in New Zealand on 18 July – it’s not clear though if this will be a world premiere as such – with the UK following on 19 July, USA on 23 August, and Australia on 3 October.

 

 

Done and dusted: Eurovision 2013 Semi-Final #2 review

Ooh la la Krista Siegfrids! “Marry Me” indeed! (image via euronews.com)

 

This was a night for great surprises.

Great big shiny, gaudy, oddly-sung prizes in Dracula-esque outfits no less.

And frankly I was wholly unprepared for them.

That may sound like an odd thing to say when I have spent week upon glitter-saturated week listening to, thinking about and pontificating about the various songs on offer this year, which have run the gamut from of-the-moment brilliance through to sideshow carnival-cringing (or in other words, golden oldie classic Eurovision.)

But despite allowing for the fact that what I like won’t exactly match what the European public at large want, and so including songs in my Semi-Final Top 10 that were a mix of personal favourites and more populist numbers I may not necessarily love but could some appeal to, I still found myself reeling, yes reeling at some of the choices made tonight.

 

He’s alive! No. it’s not Dracula, despite appearance but Cezar, whose choice of outfit caused much mirth across social media, as did the song (image via metro.co.uk)

 

The most significant of these surprises was that Cezar, a man who apparently is quite a gifted operatic singer and much revered in Romania, made it through to the Grand Final.

Yes, the man who sounded like he had eaten one of the Bee Gees who were in turn desperately trying to climb out of his mouth, managed to secure enough votes to sing again.

Think about that.

It all means of course that we will treated to his comical Dracula-evoking outfit which had me laughing so hard that I found it hard to concentrate on listening to the song.

Which in retrospect wasn’t necessarily a bad thing I suppose.

Quite how a novelty act at best – which many people revered as a symbol of the old quirky, the-weirder-the-better- Eurovision of old, including I must sadly admit, my partner – could garner that much support and be given another chance to raise the dead is quote beyond me.

 

“Alcohol is Free” and apparently the boys of Koza Mostra with guest star Agathon Lakovidis had been hitting the ouzo pretty hard as a result (image via facebook.com (c) eurovision.tv)

 

Another shock win-through to the Grand Final was Greece.

Though they at least had a fairly funky ska sound running in their favour, which redeems them somewhat, and are undoubtedly talented musicians and singers, the song is gimmicky at best.

And while I expected there to be a fairly strong Greek vote for the song, I didn’t expect it to be of a great enough extent to get them to the point where performing in the Grand Final could be a reality.

But here they are, kilts and all, ready to dazzle, or appall, Europe all over again.

 

He is a bright, happy bundle of happiness so while I don’t think the song is a world beater in any sense, I can hardly begrudge Gianluca his moment of glory (image via maltatoday.com.mt )

 

On the Richter scale of face-palming, OMG surprises, Armenia’s successful entry into the Grand Final wasn’t such a shock since it’s good old-fashioned rock and roll sung with a great deal of passion, if not much else.

So too Malta making it through.

Granted Gianluca is a sweet, handsome young guy with a lovely voice but “Tomorrow” is a slight song of little consequence that, as one of my friends noted during his performance, sounds like an album filler track, rather than a stand alone song.

Clearly though the good people of Europe thought differently.

Still I wonder how long it will survive out in the big, bad world of real singles which will likely eat “Tomorrow” alive before racing to the top of the charts.

 

ByeAlex started a little slowly and timid of voice but slowly gathered pace and confidence to bring “Kedvesem” home to the Grand Final for Hungary (image via eurovisionfamily.tv)

 

The rest of the Top 10 – Hungary, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Norway, Iceland and Finland – fell into place much as expected although both Hungary and Norway started out a little shakily leading me to worry that their ability to deliver on the stage of Eurovision would be claimed by nerves, the blinding LED lights, or a fear that Greece would dance on stage midway through their act.

But both ByeAlex and Margaret Berger, rallied, and rallied magnificently, helped along great talent and  songs that are so good they could pretty sing themselves.

Such were the Eurovision landscape-shaking surprises in Semi-Final 2 that I am beginning to seriously wonder if I, or anybody else for that matter can predict what Europe will go for in the Grand Final.

While I still believe the Top 10 songs, in no particular order (although I expect and hope Norway will win) will roughly look like this:

Norway (to win)
Denmark
Georgia
Ireland
Greece
Iceland
Estonia
Belgium
Ukraine
France

I am also fully prepared, this time at least, for the fact that good austerity-addled people of Europe may completely my predictions completely out of the wind-machine whipped waters of Eurovision.

And the let the wailing and gnashing of teeth, amidst the detritus of another Eurovision Song Contest.

For an eternity of course if you’re Dracula … sorry I mean, Cezar.

Can’t wait to see: “Fruitvale Station”

(image via huffingtonpost.com)

 

MOVIE SYNOPSIS
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station” tells the true story of Oscar Grant (Jordan), who was shot and killed at age 22 by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station in Oakland, Calif. on New Year’s Day in 2009. Grant’s death was caught on video thanks to cell phone cameras focused on his arrest, and the footage sparked outrage around the country. “Fruitvale Station” deals with the last day of Grant’s life. (source: huffingtonpost.com)

 

Movies that deal with recent real world events can be problematic.

Without the benefit of sufficient time elapsed to probably analyse the incident at hand, and with emotions running high, and perspectives skewed somewhat by closeness to the event, you can up with a movie that omits important facts, leans too far one way or the other, and which fails to adequately convey the full import of the moment.

By all accounts, Fruitvale Station, which recounts the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an unarmed man who was shot once in the back by a member of the San Francisco Police Force after reports of a fight on a train and died the next morning, avoids all these pitfalls.

It benefits in part from the fact that the tragic incident was captured on multiple by multiple witnesses on a large number of mobile devices, ensuring that any conjecture about what was said and done was relatively moot.

 

Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) on the fateful last day of his life (image via aceshowbiz.com (c) The Weinstein Company)

 

Of course, what all this documentary evidence can’t comprehensively identify is why Officer Johannes Mehserle acted in the manner he did, using his gun instead of a taser to subdue Grant, nor what was going through Grant’s mind as he lay face first on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) platform, an innocent man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much of the why, though of course not all of it, is drawn from the two court cases which followed Grant’s death.

The first one undertaken by Alameda County where the incident took place, and where Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter; and the subsequent Federal civil rights case brought by the U.S. Justice Department where Mehserle was given a two year sentence, less time already served.

Whatever the hard, cold nuts and bolts of the case, the fact remains that a man lost his life that day, and it’s this fact that forms the powerful emotional core of this remarkable movie.

Fruitvale Station opens in limited release in the USA on 12 July 2013, with other countries to follow later in the year and into early 2014.

 

 

Done and dusted: Eurovision 2013 Semi-Final #1 review

This year’ host Petr Mede not only styled it up in a fabulous dress that was equal parts Alfoil-chic and Addams Family Vogue, she was funny … genuinely, side-splittingly funny which is good thing since she is after all a comedian (image via metro.co.uk)

 

This was the year that the gulf between what happens in the studio, and what happens under the bright lights, wind machines and pyrotechnic curtains of the main Eurovision stage, grew to abyss-like proportions (an abyss albeit decked out in shiny LED screens and surrounding  by thousands of glowing electronic wristlet-fans).

Act after act stepped onto the Austerity Stage at Malmö Arena – so named because Sweden chose to spend only about half of the normal amount lavished on Eurovision, in keeping with the stripped back spirit of the times – and took songs that has been uninspiring and turgid on CD and turned them into overwhelming musical triumphs.

OK that might be taking things a little too far.

But it is true that countries like Estonia (“Et Uus Saaks Alguse” by Birgit) and Belgium (“Love Kills” by Roberto Bellarosa), whose songs had left me cold and unimpressed, came alive with performances that lifted their songs way beyond run-of-the-mill and into the sort of stratosphere where Europeans happily plucked them out of the musical ether and awarded them one of the precious top 10 spots and thus entry into the grand final on Saturday night.

 

Roberto Bellarosa in full flight during Semi Final 1 (image via eurovision.tv)

 

Admittedly neither of them exactly excelled in the choreography department with the deer-in-the-headlights persona of Roberto for instance content with standing reasonably rigid on stage, in a very nice suit mind you, lifting his arm from time to time with feeling and dramatic urgency.

But who cares about impressive dance moves when the song is so damn infectious?

Certainly not the good people of Europe who propelled Belgium and Estonia, with two songs, based on their studio versions alone, that I had expected to be left behind in a cloud of listless glitter as more accomplished acts, on YouTube performances at least, like Austria (who failed to qualify thanks largely to a reasonably average turn on stage; which was in stark contrast to her bubbly, engaging personality offstage) and Cyprus roared past them.

How wrong I was.

While, as I predicted, Ukraine (who shone on the night) and Denmark, Serbia (their faux-lesbian playful onstage banter was not enough to get them through) and The Netherlands turned in impeccable performances that had the crowd eating out of their hands – that’s if you can eat with wind machines buffeting your every move – acts that I thought would be spending grand final night constructing stage props out of uncooked pasta, glue and felt tipped pens like Estonia, Belgium, and Russia instead found themselves propelled into contention for the main prize.

 

Andrius Pojavis, though undeniably a handsome, telegenic man, failed to stay in key pretty much the entire song and moved with the urgency of a comatose penguin and still managed to gain a berth in the Grand Final (image via eurovision.tv)

 

The biggest surprise on the night, if you leave aside the fact that not a single one of the Balkan contenders made it through, is that Andrius Pojavis from Lithuania found himself with something other to do than wash his lustrous locks on Grand Final night.

Along with Russia, whose song and to be honest timid performance made watching luridly-coloured paint dry a compelling alternative viewing option, Lithuania surprised me by making it into the top 10, a feat I did not think possible based on Andrius’s smile-adorned by lacklustre live rendition of “Something”.

Ireland was another surprise with Ryan Dolan’s voice sounding far more assured and powerful live than the recording had led me to believe.

The fact that his tattooed back up dancers/drummers, in leather pants so tight they must have been sewn into them at birth,  were absolutely breathtakingly handsome and buff did not sway my opinion in any way, shape or form.

No, not at all.

 

I was completely entranced by Ryan Dolan’s magnetic performance … yes that’s right … just that … yep … sorry what were you saying again? (image via entertainment.ie)

 

Hot, buff back up men aside, it was a night that left me wondering if I still have my finger on the European zeitgeist.

Well, as much as I once did anyway.

While six of the acts I predicted would be successful in getting through to the Grand Final did in fact manage to do just that, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia and Belgium caught me completely off guard by romping through against all expectations.

Still, while it played havoc with my chosen top 10, these sorts of catch-you-unawares moments are a very welcome thing indeed since a contest where everything plays out as expected would be boring to watch indeed.

Much like glitter-flecked paint drying really, and we all know how well that usually turns out.