Sonic Bliss #16: my favourite songs of the moment

chotda via photopin cc

 

The great Christmas album rush may have almost petered out but artists the world over are still releasing amazing music that moves, entrances and yes, hopefully sends you into a state of bliss.

So here are the latest five songs that have grabbed my attention, slapped on a pair of headphones and demanded I listen.

Naturally I complied …

 

GYPSY AND THE CAT – “Bloom”

(image via themusicninja.com)

 

Hailing from Melbourne, Gypsy Cat which burst onto the scene in 2010 with the album Gilgamesh, are, according to Wikipedia an “indie/dream pop” duo – “dream pop” I have discovered is a meshing of pop rock and alternative rock; it’s my new favourite sub genre of music name and I shall often, whether warranted or not – whose new single “Bloom” is all over the radio.

And deservedly so.

Kicking off with breathy vocals – were they working out in the studio when they recorded it; if so I applaud their multi-tasking! – and jangly guitars, the song lopes along, throwing off more summer vibes than a lazy afternoon at the beach.

The vocals too have that far off otherworldly feel that suggest they were recorded in another more ethereal dimension, which adds to that sense that you aren’t just listening to a song but being transported to somewhere entirely new, relaxed and far removed from the daily troubles of life.

It’s the perfect song for summer …

 

 

FAYE – “Breathe Out”

 

(image via thelineofbestfit.com)

 

One thing must be made clear from the get go.

Faye, once part of Swedish group, Play (who toured the world with Aaron Carter and Destiny’s Child) has an impressive, goose bump-inducing vocal range completely captures your attention from the moment you hear it.

In this austerely beautiful song, which is all gorgeous synth pop hooks and melodically-rich icy electronica, you can’t help but be entranced as her voice dips and soars seamlessly from low to high notes, investing the song’s lyrics with so much anguish and pain that you living the death of her dreams, not just listening to it.

She is clearly not the sort of artist who deals in half measures.

She seems to have poured every last drop of pain she has ever experienced in her life into this pop gem, and visually too she oozes style and glamour with the song’s accompanying video all old style Hollywood glamour and delicious monochrome.

Faye is a star in the making.

 

 

CHROMATICS – “Cherry”

 

(image via antiquiet.com)

 

Another song of lost love, wrapped in the pain of what might have been.

But if you’re going to break up, and you’re the Chromatics (a band who hails from Portland Oregon), this is the way to do it.

First pour all your sorrow and heartache into lyrics that appropriately mourn the end of a passionate love affair without descending into suffocating pointless self pity.

There is a great sadness yes but also a recognition that the romance has run its course. (“I can’t see a light for us anymore”.)

Then overlay the heartfelt lyrics onto music so impossibly soft, melodious and shimmery that you feel like you have been drawn into one of those romantic film noir movies set on the moors on a stark moonlit night, and you’re watching the heroine, in her long cape and hood, stride sadly but purposefully awake from another downcast silhouetted figure.

Like everything the Chromatics do, this is a song of great beauty and lyrical intelligence, perfect for the long moonlit walks we all claim to like taking (in personal ads anyway).

 

 

KATE BOY – “Northern Lights”

(image via slyapartment.com)

 

Hot off the pop press – is there such a thing? There is now! – comes Katy Boy comprised of Kate Akhurst, an Aussie singer-songwriter and a Swedish production threesome known as Rocket Boy (Hampus Nordgren Hemlin, Oskar Sikow Engström, and Markus Dextegen), and their instantly engaging debut single, “Northern Lights”.

This songs bounces along like a melodic pogo stick, its starkly arresting breathy electronica married perfectly with Kate’s delightfully quirky vocals, which reminded me almost instantly of one Gren Stefani, without for a second sounding derivative.

It’s a gorgeous slice of brilliantly original electronic pop, and follow up single, “In Your Eyes”, while a little slower at the start, ramps up to be every bit as bewitching as its predecessor.

I can’t wait for the EP, also named “Northern Lights” to bow on January 22 on the band’s label IAMSOUND.

 

 

BEN PEARCE – “What I Might Do”

 

(image via futuredisco.net)

 

Keeping the slow, chilled, kicking back in summer vibe going strong – can a chilled vibe be strong? I say yes – is DJ Ben Pearce whose music, according to futuredisco.net, “is rooted in 4/4 and house with hints of garage: a smooth, deep sound with a slow build led by beats that somehow sound both loungy and jacking.”

It is being hailed as THE Deep House track of the year by just about every site going, and justifiably so.

The pace is languid but powerful, the beat insistently pounding along even as it lulls you into the most gloriously relaxed stupor.

And those rich, deep vocals feel like great big warm arms wrapping around you.

It is an extraordinary piece of music and yet another perfect accompaniment for a summer where I suspect I shall be completely spoilt for choice for mood-setting music.

 

 

Love to know what you like, didn’t like, would like to strap a concrete block to and sink to the bottom of the ocean!

George Clooney + the writer of “Argo” + Paul Greengrass = Must See Movie

George Clooney (image via skepticalteacher.wordpress.com)

 

So how about this for a dream combination?

According to the always well-informed folks at Variety, there’s an unnamed crime drama in the works at Sony starring George Clooney (who will also produce it with his business partner Grant Heslov) and written by Chris Terrio, the writer of one of the best films of 2012, Argo, and directed by the amazingly talented Paul Greengrass.

Are you ridiculously excited yet?

I know stars align (and yes un-align) in Hollywood like the rest of us change our underwear, and this movie, tantalising though it is, may never see the light of day,  but the very idea of all these impressive talents in the one room making a movie is enough to make this cinephile start lining up at the cineplex already.

 

Chris Terrio (image via zimbio.com)

 

OK, not quite – for a start the line to the box office would have to go through my room at the Sheraton to make it even halfway palatable to queue for anything for longer than 1/2 hour – but it does make you wish that movies would simply materialise into being at the local cinema the moment someone came up with the idea for them.

What makes this combination so enticing is that Clooney – yes George Clooney, star of The Descendants, Up in The Air, and the Ides of March, is in the movie! – and Heslov and Terrio have already worked their magic, in combination with one of the great emerging directorial talents of our time, Ben Affleck, on Argo.

No word yet on when the film will go into production and even less word on when it will be released – don’t start heating up the popcorn just yet but hey an advance slurpee would be totally fine – but it may be a little while given how busy and in demand this dream team is.

 

Paul Greengrass (image via snarkerati.com)

 

Terrio, for instance who is now hot property after the phenomenal success of Argo, is working on not one, but two soon-to-be-filmed scripts, Tell No One and A Murder Foretold, while Paul Greengrass has just wrapped the filming of Captain Phillips, an upcoming movie starring Tom Hanks.

George Clooney of course barely stops working, either as an actor or a producer and will next be seen opposite another favourite of mine, Sandra Bullock, in Gravity (March 2013).

But the fact that somewhere out there all these amazing talents will be making what I fully expect to be an engrossing drama about New York criminal syndicates – yes I am half glass full kind of guy; filled with champagne too if at all possible – at some stage in the near future is anticipation enough for now.

Now all I have to do is convince Sheraton to build a hotel at my local cinema complex in time for the queueing …

 

 

The poor sequin-less souls of Eurovision

(image via worldtvpc.com)

 

Pack the sequins away.

Stow away the glitter.

And don’t even think about setting off that pyrotechnics display.

No, not all of you.

 

Portugal (image via eurovision.tv)
Cyprus (image via eurovision.tv)

 

 

 

 

 

Just Portugal, Poland, Greece and Cyprus who hinted strongly this week that the European debt crisis may just have claimed its most sacred scalp of all – their participation in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

 

Greece (image via eurovision.tv)
Poland (image via eurovision.tv)

 

 

 

 

 

The annual song contest, which began in 1956 as a way of uniting the divided countries of Europe – at least those west of the Iron Curtain who briefly held their own rival competition, Intervision – and advancing the cause of peace through music, and appeared unstoppable as a cultural force not just in Europe but throughout the world, could be facing one of its greatest challenges yet.

While it is unlikely to permanently spell the end of the contest, which has been re-energised in recent years by the enthusiastic participation of the former countries of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, now free to participate in it, it will nonetheless mean at the very least a diminished contest in 2013 and possibly for a few years afterward.

So far 38 countries have signed up to strut their stuff on the stage at Malmo, down from the 45 who participated in 2012 in Baku.

 

(image via lena-globalchaos.blogspot.com)

 

Hardly a collapse of popular support for the contest you might think, but it is an indication of just how expensive it has become to slap on the glitter and knock out a tune for many European countries – not to mention how expensive it is to stage it right Sweden? – and the increasing numbers that simply can’t justify spending that money when social security programs are being gutted and people are rioting in the streets.

Justifying Greece’s likely decision not to take part, a Greek government spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou was quoted in a Guardian news and media article on the withdrawals carried by Fairfax media in Australia as saying:

 ”Public television ought not to participate in this year’s Eurovision contest in correspondence with overwhelming public sentiment. It is very unlikely that Greece will take part.”

 

Greece’s 2012 entrant Eleftheria Eleftheriou isn full flight during rehearsals for this year’s contest in Baku (image via washingtonpost.com)

 

In other words, when you’re cutting back on the size of peoples’ pensions, and laying off government workers by the truckload, it is not a good look to have a flamboyant singer in skin tight costuming singing their heart out against 1000 LED screens.

Not taking part in Eurovision is an acknowledgement by fiscally strapped governments that the debt crisis has moved far beyond simply “bread and circus” appeasement policies with people too deeply affected by the budgetary cuts to be distracted by a week of glitzy froth and bubble.

Cyprus’s state TV channel, PIK, echoing Greece’s position was quoted in the article as describing their participation in Eurovision as a ”possibly provocative” move.

 

Ivi Adamou sparkles for Cyprus in Baku this year (image via good-wallpapers.com)

 

And considering the depth of feeling at all the austerity measures being introduced, it likely would be.

While only Poland and Portugal have so far definitively ruled out taking part, it would take a miracle of epic proportions for Greece and Cyprus to have the financial wherewithal to take part.

After all, things are only likely to get worse in the short term for these two countries, and for now at least, glitter and sequins will have to take a back seat to simply paying the bills.

 

 

Stephen King’s “The Dome” heads for TV

(image via strontiumcrypt.blogspot.com)

Apocalyptic tales are all the rage these days as AMC (The Walking Dead) and a newly resurgent NBC (Revolution) have discovered to their great satisfaction and now CBS is climbing aboard the end-of-the-world bandwagon with a 13-part serialised adaptation of Stephen King’s 2009 novel The Dome.

And the plot, about a small New England town inexplicably, and suddenly, sealed off from the rest of humanity by a seemingly unbreachable transparent dome whose sudden appearance plunges the community into a post apocalyptic nightmare, is a perfect fit for the newly popular genre of doom.

Harnessing Stephen King’s legendary storytelling ability – he will serve as an executive producer along with a number of others –  is a sensible move for CBS (especially since The Dome is regarded as one of his best novels in years) but even more canny is the fact that Steven Spielberg will oversee the production of the series through his production company, Amblin Entertainment.

 

(image via thestar.com)

 

 

This is what Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment had to say about CBS’s move to join zombies and the power-deprived with their own take on the end of the world as we know it …

“This is a great novel coming to the television screen with outstanding auspices and in-season production values to create a summer programming event. We’re excited to transport audiences Under the Dome and into the extraordinary world that Stephen King has imagined.”

One of the most interesting aspects of CBS’s announcement is its decision to move it from its cable channel Showtime to the main broadcast channel itself.

This is an acknowledgement that genre TV, which has long been consigned to the nether regions of many channels’ programming with the notable exception of syfy, is now a cultural force to be reckoned with, and increasingly a viable proposition for mainstream entertainment.

 

(image via oregonlive.com)

 

Certainly the viewing figures for AMC’s smash hit, The Walking Dead, where it is consistently #1 in the key 18-49 viewing demographic, would indicate that genre television is being seen by many more people than was previously the case as drama that is not only worthwhile viewing in and of itself, but also one that speaks to the age we live in like few other types of shows can.

The hope by CBS is that The Dome, which Entertainment Weekly advises is being scripted by Brian K. Vaughan (Lost) as an ongoing serialised drama with a likely different ending to the book, will live on far beyond its initial episode run in the northern summer of 2013.

Given the pedigree of writing and producing talents involved – again Entertainment Weekly confirms that “Neal Baer, Stephen King, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Stacey Snider will serve as executive producers along with Vaughan” – The Dome has every chance of being every bit as successful as its apocalyptic drama contemporaries and will give viewers of a network known more for its procedural police dramas, a chance to willingly quake in their boots and experience the end of the world from the safety of their couches, remotes in hand.

Until of course the zombies arrive, in a dark and sealed off world and it all begins for real.

But hey that’s another story completely …

 

Backstage with the stars of TV (3)

Jonathan_W via photopin cc

 

It’s a brave new social media-saturated world out there for celebrities, and while for some of them it is tinged with more than a hint of bad PR-waiting to happen, for most it is a golden opportunity to have a two way mutually-beneficial conversation with fans.

Everyone walks away happy, and as the good people of tvaddict.com keep reminding us in their Photo of the Day section, we also end up with the sort of wonderfully candid photos and information releases that would never have happened in days gone by.

You know, like, 2006.

Yep that long ago.

So in the interests of turning the conversation into an ongoing joyous babble of voices, here are some tweeted pics that caught my eye …

 

I am not alone in loving “The Big Bang Theory” with the show building its audience significantly in its sixth season to the point where it was watched recently by a record-breaking 17.39 million people in the USA (episode: “The 43 Pecularity”). It makes sense – its intelligently written, consistently funny, with a cast of distinctive characters you want to spend time with. One of them is Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) who spent the first part of this season in space separated from new wife Bernadette (Melissa Rauch). in this photo he is pictured with the real Howard Wolowitz, good friend of the co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory” Bill Prady (@billprady). Tweeted Prady: ““For the record, the only thing my friend Howard Wolowitz shares with the character is his name. Not his personality.” (source: tvaddict.com)

 

To my unending frustration, “Glee” is one of those shows this year that has fallen through the cracks in my time-poor viewing schedule. While I plan to catch up over the Christmas break – DVD box sets at the ready! – in the meantime I am keeping track of what’s going on in season 4 when it seems all the established couples have gone their separate ways. But could Sam (Chord Overstreet) and Brittany (Heather Morris) be about to tie the knot? Doubtful but who can say for sure? Certainly not series co-creator Ryan Murphy (@MrRPMurphy) who coyly tweeted this leading pic along with the words: ““The Wedding Of The Year.” (source: tvaddict.com)

 

Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) has appeared in all sorts of shows such as “King of Queens”, “Community” and “Bored to Death”, but he clearly has a future in costume design should the acting bug ever desert him. Here he pictured as Dr Octopus ready to hit the Halloween trail with the cutest Spider-person ever! He tweeted: ““Mission accomplished. With a LOT of help from @donttrythis (MYTHBUSTERS’ Adam Savage). #Halloween #doctorockapus” (source: tvaddict.com)

 

Am I insanely excited that “Arrested Development” is filming new episodes due out on Netflix next year? Yes indeedy! So this pic of late night TV show host Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) from the set of the show is a wonderful peek, and yes just the tiniest of peeks into what may be. Let our imaginations run riot! Tweeted O’Brien: “Here’s the 1st official photo from the new Arrested Development on @Netflix. Spoiler alert: I’m an amazing actor.” (source: tvaddict.com)

 

I will admit it – I have yet to sample the delights of “Covert Affairs” due to the huge viewing workload I already have but this photo of easy-on-the-eye (not to objectify him of course but still …) series star, Christopher Gorham (@chrisgorham), late of “Ugly Betty” among other shows, who plays Auggie Anderson on the hit show, may just encourage me to get those box sets into my DVD player quick smart! Tweeted Gorham back in late October: “Proper Exit. Last day of Covert Affairs S3 in Toronto!”

 

Thanks once again to the wonderful people at tvaddict.com, who continue to find and curate these great photos from the unending stream coursing through the Twitterverse.

Movie review: “Celeste and Jesse Forever”

(image via graffitiwithpunctuation.net)

 

One of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Celeste and Jesse Forever is a romantic comedy in reverse.

The script by Parks and Recreation Star, Rashida Jones (who also plays Celeste) and Will McCormack, which has earned the pair a 2013 Spirit Awards nomination, plays merrily, and without apology, with the hallowed conventions of this much-maligned genre to great effect.

As it crunches gears and hurtles backwards with the sort of witty yet charming abandon that characterises much of the titular couple’s largely congenial relationship, you watch the slow dissolution of a romantic relationship that has its start during their high school days.

The film begins with a montage of still shots that tracks the growth of the couple’s friendship into romance then marriage and finally, although this isn’t revealed till a fraught dinner early in the movie with best friends, Beth (Ari Graynor) and Tucker (Eric Christan Olsen), who are planning their own marriage, their separation.

 

Clowning around in a phone booth, the montage which starts the film is poignant, sweet and funny and aptly describes, using visuals only, how close this unusual twosome is (image via showwatcher.com)

 

And what a cleverly scripted reveal it is.

Midway through dinner with their friends, as they are working out what Mexican food to order in fake German accents, and amusing themselves no end in the process, they are stopped by a clearly upset Beth who says “I can’t do this anymore” before storming out of the restaurant.

Shocked at her reaction, which you initially think is simple irritation at their meal-ordering tomfoolery (which is clearly meant to indicate a couple very much in love and at ease with each other), Tucker explains that it’s weird that they are still acting like a real couple when they’ve been separated for six months.

It hasn’t occurred to either of them that it’s odd that they’d not only still be hanging out almost 24/7 with each other but still living in the same house – well sort of; Jesse (Andy Samberg, Saturday Night Live) sleeps in his very bachelor-esque studio out the back – when their marriage has run its course.

But then that lack of awareness speaks to the enduring closeness of the friendship which undergirds their entire relationship, and which defines the way they see each other, their friendships and all their interactions with the outside world.

They are inextricably Celeste and Jesse Forever, and it looks doubtful, even when it’s clear they must do so, that they will be able to pull apart and stand on their own two feet.

 

Celeste and Jesse are shocked when their close friends finally reveal what everyone else is thinking – they need to stop acting like they’re still a fully-functioning married couple and move on with their lives (image via kentuckytheater.com)

 

But time and events inevitably force them to do just that, but the process is neither pretty nor evenly paced, and there are just as many regretful steps backward as there are faltering steps forward.

The back and forth pull between the two ex-lovers, but enduring best friends, rings true on any number of levels, and illustrates vividly that life is not a series of elegantly-executed, well-thought maneuvers (much as we would like it to be) but a messy melange of half-decisions, backtracks and emotional confusion.

And it’s on this point that you realise that Celeste and Jesse’s friends are completely missing the point.

Yes the marriage is over, and yes Jesse has moved on to the lovely Veronica (Rebecca Dayan) with whom he is having a child, and true Celeste needs to move and finally realise Paul from yoga (Paul Messina) is the one for her, but it’s not as simple as that.

 

The cast of “Celeste and Jesse Forever” get goofy for “Entertainment Weekly” (image via tumblr.com / source: ew.com)

 

You don’t simply and cleanly end one part of your life and faultlessly commence the next, and Celeste and Jesse Forever isn’t afraid to acknowledge this.

But nor does it shirk from pointing out that difficult though this transition is, that both Celeste and Jesse are refusing to even try, at least initially, to fully commit to the next phases of their lives, all too aware it will be an uncomfortable, awkward and painful separation.

Which is exactly what it is when it finally gets underway.

Celeste handles it in a spectacularly all-over-the-place way getting high once too often with mutual friend and pot dealer Skillz (Will McCormack; co-writer of the screenplay), delivering slightly inappropriate but heartfelt wedding speeches, and accidentally designing a logo for her company’s new signing pop starlet, Riley Banks (Emma Roberts) that looks, ahem, like a penis entering a butt.

Jesse for his part is more low key with his yearning for a return to the closeness of old – falling into bed with Celeste after a night of too much red wine and the creation of robot sculpture from a destroyed IKEA dresser and dropping around one night just to cuddle her – yet it is he who realises first that what they had as married partners at least is gone and it is time, wrenching though it may be, to move on.

 

Helping your ex assemble an IKEA dresser – thoughtful and kind; getting drunk and sleeping with them – not so thoughtful, or in the end, that kind for either party (image via enthunder.com)

 

But move on they do, through a whole lot of missteps, in jokes, witty humour, and biting regret and they manage what I think is the only scene involving the signing of divorce papers that actually had me cracking a smile.

What makes what is at heart a long and sad pulling part of two once close people (who thankfully manage to retain the friendship that gave birth to the whole romantic mess they are trying to extricate themselves from) work so well is the visible chemistry and witty banter between the two leads.

They are totally believable as close friends with a shared history that will endure long after all their other bonds have been dissolved.

Helping too is the fact that Jones and McCormack wisely don’t portray the two new partners – Veronica and Paul – as crudely drawn cliches who don’t belong anywhere near Jesse and Celeste respectively.

 

He loves me, he really does – Samberg holds Jones close (image via myeveryzine.com)

 

They are rendered as real people who are rightly excited by the possibility of new love which is a refreshing change from the usual lazy tendency to show the other parties in a breakup as idiotic saps who don’t deserve a relationship with anyone, let alone the couple as the centre of the story.

It’s almost like they are “bad” people simply by virtue of being the next partners the two protagonists in a dissolving relationship move on to next.

It marks Jones and McCormack as screenwriters to watch with the emotional insight and ability to render fully fleshed out characters who act in believable real life ways.

 

Celeste and Scott, business partners and friends, light up the scenes they share (Image via -andrews.tumblr.com)

 

And that in the end is what drew me, and will likely draw you, to these two characters, and their associated friends and business colleagues – Elijah Woods is particularly fine as Celeste’s gay friend and business partner Scott who finds it hilariously hard to integrate his “gayness” into any conversation – their realness as people.

They don’t claim to have all the answers, they stumble and fall but they get back up again, laugh and cry about in equal measure, and yes, eventually bow to the inevitable and move on with life, savvy enough to know that the one thing worth holding on to is their friendship.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a funny, charming, totally real subversion of almost every romantic comedy cliche you can name, buoyed by sterling performances from Samberg and Jones, and a reminder, if we needed one, that while life can be messy and complicated, it’s the important stuff like friendships, and yes love, that usually win out in the end.

 

 

Miranda Hart asks: “Is it just me?”

(image via curtisbrown.co.uk)

 

In the fine tradition of all modern media personalities, Miranda Hart, star of sitcom Miranda (soon to return for series 3), and Call the Midwife, not to mention (and yet I just did) sometime Swiss mountain climbing companion of one Bear Grylls, has branched out and written a book.

Full of passages that had me laughing openly – yes Sydney commuters I saw you judging me as I giggled loudly on public transport; I care not – and others that actually had me thinking quite deeply, and yes even some that managed the rare feat of inducing both at once, Is It Just Me? sounds like Miranda Hart doing a stand up comedy routine in your head.

And that, My Dear Reader Chums (or MDRC, to borrow one of Miranda’s terms from the book; I am sure she won’t mind), is a very good thing.

For you see, distilling a comedy routine that works jolli-bells (read: well) – once you start reading the book, using words like this seems entirely appropos – on a stage or in a sitcom into written form is fiendishly hard, and not everyone makes the transition gracefully or with comic wit intact.

 

(image via hachette.com.au)

 

But Miranda Hart does, and it is one of those rare occasions where hearing voices in your head – she peppers the book with conversations between her now “very young indeed” 38 year old self and Miss M, her 18 year old self boarding school-resident who is convinced she will be wildly successful in every facet of her life by age 25, 30 tops – will be welcomed with open arms, and not great handfuls of medication.

Admitting upfront that while she can handle the major events in life such as “births, deaths, the reminiscences” because they come fully equipped with easy to navigate rituals and regulations, she is often stumped by how to handle, with any sort of dignity, the small awkward moments in life.

You know the ones.

Where you accidentally fling a prawn across a restaurant into someone else’s drink, or meet someone for the first time, someone important, and ask them how to pronounce their name, which is, um, Bob.

There are no roadmaps for negotiating these sorts of tricky life situations, and while I am sure many of the stories Miranda makes note of are played up for hilarious comic effect, they do serve the very real purpose of perfectly underlining that more tends to go wrong rather right for many of us.

 

Miranda Hart at the signing for “Is It Just Me?” (image via digitalspy.com)

 

We dream, like her younger self Miss M, of sashaying confidently out into the world with all the elegant prepossession of a supermodel only to trip and fall on the first step, or as she did on one date, emerge from the toilet on a particularly romantic date trailing loo paper from her like a streamer.

“Where’s the flipping guidebook? There are thousands of  years of writing devoted to  dealing with birth, death, ageing, love and the meaning of it all; but absolutely nothing to tell me how to handle the indignity of briefly turning oneself into a human party popper to the detriment of one’s romantic prospects.” (p5, hardcover)

So fed up with the lack of such a life manual to prevent such catastrophes (or at least mitigate them), Miranda Hart, with all the endearing wit and charm you would expect, offers us, what she likes to call, a “Miran-ual”.

 

The cast of Miranda Hart’s hit sitcom “Miranda” (image via comedy.co.uk)

 

(Which, as she points out, is the completely correct use of “what I like to call” since only she, at least till we readers got our hands on the term, calls it that; now of course once it enters widespread use it will be incorrect to use … see so many things to think about!)

And she covers a lot of ground in her attempt to arm us to meet life’s seemingly innocuous, but bristling with the propensity for embarrassment on a grand scale, moments.

Everything from music – we all imagine we will be walking encyclopedias of hip musical taste but many of us get stuck somewhere between our adolescent top 40 tastes and knowing the songs from “four or five hit Broadway musicals” – to hobbies (she admits that she, like most people, fall back on “swimming, reading and travelling: the holy trinity of boring acceptable things everyone likes) to holidays (hiking the alps is an adventure; picnics are NOT).

 

(image via womanandhome.com)

 

The only time of the year that she finds she can relax is Christmas which she embraces “with childish excitement and glee”.

But even that can be fraught with anxiety if you have one of those mothers who strides around the house organising everything to within an inch of its merry life like “an over-caffeinated, tinsel-decked Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army“.

It is the sheer universality of her hilariously-framed observations that resonates, and you are reassured over and over that no matter who you are, life has the ability to humble us with our inability to handle it with total ease and grace.

“… I know that even that star [she was on a Christmas chat show with a major movie star once] regularly feels like an idiot. To varying degrees, we all feel awkward. Whether we hide it with arrogance, shyness, modesty; whether we lay the clown or the trendsetter, everyone struggles.” (p322, hardcover)

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miranda Hart and Ronnie Corbett on “The Graham Norton Show” (image via jobsformyprofile.com)

 

You may even find, like I did, that Miranda’s witty stories get you thinking about all sorts of life issues in a totally serious way – perhaps a little less social media recording of life’s experiences and – gasp! treasonous thought incoming! – simple living of them? – which makes sense since once the laughter has dissipated into the universal ether that is the point of most stand up comedy anyway isn’t it?

One thing is certain at least.

Once you have laughed and pondered your way through Is it Just Me? you will agree wholeheartedly that a manual for life’s weird little moments is desperately overdue, and this book may just be the panacea for all the embarrassing ills that ail us.

But more importantly you will realise that it doesn’t really matter in the end if we stuff things up from time to time – OK most of the time – since we’re all doing it so perhaps we should get on with “Life eh?” and simply hope for the best … and laugh a lot more in the process.

* Here’s a great interview that Miranda Hart conducted with Chris Harvey from the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper to mark the launch of the book.

Zombies with you “In the flesh”

(image via hollywood-spy.blogspot.com.au)

 

In the Flesh (written by newly-discovered writer Dominic Mitchell and directed by Jonny Campbell who has previously worked on Doctor Who) is an imaginative new three episode drama from the BBC, currently in production, charts the events that follow one startling night when the dead rise and, as the undead are want to do, cause all manner of havoc, mayhem and death.

But in an interesting twist on the whole zombie apocalypse scenario, society isn’t brought wholly undone by the rise of this new class of person, officially tagged as Partially Deceased Syndrome (PDS) Sufferers, and instead, after their capture and rehabilitation – including some no doubt much needed cosmetic make up and specially adapted contact lenses – the survivors are welcomed back to their families and loved ones.

But of course, as you might have guessed, it isn’t quite as simple as that.

The PDS Sufferers, who committed unspeakable acts when they were in their full zombie state are not only struggling to cope with the guilt they inevitably feel for their past murderous actions, are also trying to come to terms with the dislocation of going from life to death to some weird halfway state inbetween the two.

 

Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) finds life isn’t any easier the second time around in “In the Flesh” (image via hollywood-spy.blogspot.com.au)

 

And of course, there is the inevitable prejudice and bigotry that always goes hand-in-hand with any major upheavals in society, and as upheavals go – at least the ones where civilisation isn’t vanquished by apocalyptic events –  they don’t come much bigger than this.

The premise suggests to me a mix of The Walking Dead meets True Blood, and alludes to what I expect will be an exploration of the dynamics within the families of the survivors and society as a whole, and whether the PDS sufferers can truly ever be a part of mainstream society again.

 

Is “In the Flesh a mix of “True Blood” meets … (image via kamikazeegirl.wordpress.com)

 

… “The Walking Dead” (but without the breakdown of society as know it?) with a healthy dose of gritty, heartfelt British drama? I certainly hope so (image via scifimafia.com)

 

It is seeking to accomplish what I imagine is a fairly weighty ambition by focusing primarily on teenager Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry, Anna Karenina, Doctors) who commits suicide after his best friend Rick Macy (David Walmsley) is killed in Afghanistan, and is re-animated, along with Rick on that fateful night.

Certain they would never see Kieren again, and unaware of why he took his life in the first place, his family and friends, and according to the official synopsis quoted on cultbox.co.uk, “a village that always rejected him” must now deal with his reappearance, along with that of Rick, a fellow PDS Sufferer.

It promises the sort of high level concept drama, full of humanity and rich with emotion, that the British excel at, with director Jonny Campbell describing it like this, again on cultbox.co.uk (a brilliant site by the way which is well worth checking out):

“From the moment I read the opening scene I was hooked. Dominic is an utterly fearless and instinctive young writer with an uncanny ability to tell a great story full of humour and humanity in a most original way. An elusive and rare combination in TV drama. What’s most exciting about In The Flesh is that it challenges our pre-conceptions about the standard zombie genre and in so doing almost certainly creates a new one.”

It does indeed sound like an imaginatively fresh take on the whole zombie phenomena and promises rich viewing days ahead for those of who love our semi-apocalyptic drama served up with a substantial dose of the undead.

Birthdays: a TV show writer’s best friend

(image via fox.com)

 

Birthdays are a great narrative device for any TV show.

Unlike other major holidays such as Christmas, Halloween or Thanksgiving (the latter two being especially favoured by US TV while Christmas it seems belongs to everyone) which aren’t about anyone in particular (anyone mortal anyway), birthdays are about one person and one person only, and allow great writers to draw something out about that character in a series of interactions with everyone else in the show.

Shows like The Gilmore Girls (Rory’s birthday parties were legendary), Friends (“The One Where Everyone Turns 30” is a classic) and Modern Family (I have never laughed so hard watching an episode of this show as I did when Mitchell desperately tries to get rid of all evidence of a The Wizard of Oz theme when he finds out his Kansas-raised boyfriend Cameron has tornado issues) skilfully use birthdays to advance plots, bring to light something new about a character, and do something out of the box that ordinary day to day life doesn’t easily lend itself to.

 

Ditch the rudy red shoes Mitchell, ditch ’em now! (image via afterelton.com)

 

It’s a lesson that the writers of one of my favourite TV birthday episodes have learned well.

In the season 1 episode of smash hit sitcom New Girl, “The Story of 50”, the gang learns via a melodramatic announcement by Schmidt (Max Greenfield) that he has lost his booking on the party bus – complete with a very tasteful “love grotto” and stripper pole – he had booked for his 29th birthday which he views as his last real chance to celebrate before he turns 30 and “it all goes downhill from there”.

It is an episode that takes place roughly around the halfway mark of the debut season where we are still getting to know each of the characters, and the exposition of what makes them intrinsically them is in full swing.

 

The infamous Douchebag Jar (image via fanpop.com)

 

On the surface we see Schmidt in usual full douchebag mode – the title of the episode refers to the amount of  money accrued in the “douche jar” into which Schmidt must deposit money every time one of his housemates deems him to have acted in a less than socially acceptable way (hilariously illustrated by a series of vignettes inserted into the credits) – and in the hands of a less talented team of writers this is pretty much all we would see.

But thanks to the talented production team , led by showrunner Liz Merewether, and actor Max Greenfield’s remarkable ability to find the simply humanity in a character who could simply have wound up as a skirt-chasing slime ball, we see a lost little fat kid behind the douchebag who still longs for real love and acceptance.

To get that he was still willing to do pretty much anything – lose all the weight he arrived in L.A. carrying on his self-conscious frame, put up with the “friendship” of Benjamin, a crass, narcissitic man he admits he hates, and describes in true Schmidt style as his “bronemy”, changed his style of dress and as he admits to Jess “I even dropped my voice half an octave”.

 

Schmidt’s heart-to-hearts with Jess form the emotional core of an episode which uses his birthday as the perfect character fleshing-out device (image via wetpaint.com)

 

He is even willing to sing an insulting version of “We Built This City” by Jefferson Airplane – “We Built This Schmidty / On tootsies rolls” – with Benjamin every time he sees him just to retain some friendship from this odious man who despite his many flaws is still one of the few people with which he has shared any type of emotional intimacy.

And the desperate lengths he is willing to go to feel some measure of social acceptability, however precariously balanced, are laid bare when he and Benjamin break into the hurtful ditty in front of Jess, Nick and Winston as they’re about to board the school bus Jess has hurriedly fashioned into a replacement party bus.

Their collective shock that Schmidt would submit to this just to keep a “friend” is palpable and real, as is their growing distaste for the deeply flawed, and highly conditional friendship that Benjamin offers Schmidt, a man he clearly holds in contempt.

 

The lengths Schmidt will go to to be liked are on graphic display the night of his party when he submits to all manner of humiliation for his old “friend” Benjamin (image via tvrecaps.ew.com)

 

In stark contrast to Benjamin’s louche, uncaring treatment of Schmidt is the effort that his housemates, Jess, Nick and Winson go to to fashion the school bus from Jess’s school into a replacement party bus so Schmidt’s pivotal party can go ahead.

And they go to an amazing amount of trouble, corralling guests at a moment’s notice, and decorating the bus so beautifully, complete with keg, “kosher yoghurt and honey”, and “the R-rated section in the back with the stripper pole, normally used for stability but tonight it’s gioing to be used for $50 worth of semi-nudity” (used by a male Gospel-singing stripper mistakenly booked by Jess).

While the party’s execution may have been a little, in Jess’s words “flawed” – they crash it into a pole and a giant pile of garbage ending the party’s bus’s journey of fun – Schmidt is amazed that his friends care so much and they would do all this for him.

 

The gloriously kitsch interior of the party bus fashioned by real, enduring friendship (image via givememyremote.com)

 

As he says to Jess as they’re waiting for the tow truck, a crash caused by the way by Schmidt and his friend’s rejecting Benjamin’s sleazy behaviour in definitive fashion, the night was “10s across the board, no splash.”

He admits that “no one has ever done that for me before”.

It is touching and sweet, and while Schmidt almost immediately reverts to his douchebag persona by trying to kiss Jess (which in a way is refreshing since a fairy tale change to perpetually lovely Schmidt would have been unrealistic, not to mention fingernails-on-a-chalkboard annoying), it reveals a soft fiercely protected side of the birthday boy that elevates him far above the simple comedy cliche he could have so easily been.

And enriches the whole show in the process.

 

It takes almost a whole birthday-centric episode but Schmidt finally realises, just a little that these people are his real friends who like him for all the right reasons (image via fanpop.com)

 

The revelations and frank conversations are of the kind that could really only take place at a significant event like a birthday when pretty much everything about who you are and what matters to you in life is rawly exposed, whether you’ll admit it or not.

New Girl recognises that truth and runs with it, and in so doing gives us insights into one its main characters that arguably couldn’t have taken place in any other type of episode.

It is a truly funny, remarkable episode that beautifully illustrates that birthdays are so much more than just another day on the calendar, and a powerful way to bring alive a character and yes, an entire TV show.

 

 

Happy birthday to … my favourite fictional celebrities

JD Hancock via photopin cc
JD Hancock via photopin cc

 

Right … now … in the interests of complete and utter birthday cake-covered full disclosure, it is my birthday today.

And in the interests of making that full disclosure even more plump, I love birthdays.

I mean seriously love them in a would-celebrate-them-24/7-365-days-a-year kind of way way.

So at the risk of looking ridiculously narcissistic and self-absorbed – but surely this is the one day of the year that that is totally and completely justified – I have compiled a list of five fictional characters whose birthdays would be an absolute kick to celebrate (drawn from a series of cool info graphics put together by the clever folk at flavorwire.com).

Happy birthday to …

 

NATE FISHER (Six Feet Under), born on 8 January 1965

 

Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) (image via hbo.com)
Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) (image via hbo.com)

 

I think it’s fair to say that Nate, who shares the same birth year as me, would not welcome a surprise birthday party with open arms.

Actually if the featured picture of him is any guide, and it is a good one, then it’s doubtful he would want you even remarking on the fact he was having a birthday. (I mean, look at him – a beautiful woman, likely Brenda Chenoweth, his on-again, off again girlfriend in Six Feet Under played by Australia’s own Rachel Griffiths, holding him close and he still manages to look miserable.)

Nate Fisher, played with admirable subtlety by Peter Krause who managed to turn him into somebody likeable and sympathetic despite his often moody, introspective disposition, and yes sometimes annoying self-absorption, was not a spontaneous fun-loving kind of guy.

And yet out of all the characters on what is without a doubt my favourite HBO show ever, and there are a sizeable number jockeying for the honour of that dubious accolade, Nate Fisher is undoubtedly my favourite.

So even though you would likely throw the champagne back in my face, and schmoosh the birthday cake through my hair in a fit of pique, I salute you Nate Fisher and wish you a Happy, ahem, 47th Birthday.

Wow that old? OK you may now officially look miserable.

 

COOKIE MONSTER (Sesame Street), born 2 November

 

"C is for Cookie" right? Yes it is my dear friend! (image via fanpop.com)
“C is for Cookie” right? Yes it is my dear friend! (image via fanpop.com)

 

While the menu might be a tad limited – BYO savoury treats I am thinking – shopping for it would be a snap.

Cookies, and lots of them.

(And an industrial sized vacuum cleaner to hoover it all up later since let’s face it, he has a major issue with crumb spillage.)

But regardless of the limited food options, the party would be raucous, fun and loud since Cookie Monster, is no shrinking violet and as gregarious a personality as you could ask for.

With his origins dating back as far as 1966 when Jim Henson sketched him out, along with two other monsters for a commercial, he has demonstrated that nothing fazes him, and he will have fun as long as his demands for cookies are met.

Of course if you run out of cookies, I would duck for cover as quickly as possible.

 

MACGYVER (MacGyver), born on 23 January 1951

 

Now that's a missile! MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) swings into action (image via rapgenius.com)
Now that’s a missile! MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) swings into action (image via rapgenius.com)

 

Can you imagine a birthday party with the ’80s ultimate ironic action hero?

Forgot to go to the store to get ingredients for the cake? No problem, MacGyver would whip you one up with paprika and chicken wire using an old recipe his grandma left him.

No party venue? No problem. Jump out of the plane with him and he would fashion a full balloons-and-streamers-six-course-meal-with-champagne-in-a-homemade-circus-tent somewhere between yelling “Geronimo” and pulling the first rip cord.

While I am guessing his work for the fictional Phoenix Foundation, which saw flung into all manner of hotspots around the world (all of which managed to look eerily like southern California to one degree or another) to rescue lost souls, mete out justice to tinpot dictators and evil drug lords, and resolve lingering issues for friends seemingly incapable of doing themselves, wouldn’t leave him much time for partying, if he put his mind to it, it would be a doozy.

Talk of a MacGyver movie in the works should be reason to start calling the party coordinator I would think.

Best order the paprika now I’m thinking … or you know, an actual cake.

Nah, where’s the fun in that?

 

LORELAI GILMORE (Gilmore Girls), born on 26 April 1968

 

Ah dear Lorelai. Conversations with you would be a hoot. Yes a hoot! (image via midwesttvguy.com)
Ah dear Lorelai. Conversations with you would be a hoot. Yes a hoot! (image via midwesttvguy.com)

 

You know how at a party, no matter how hard you try to avoid them – feigning death, pretending to speak only Farsi, impersonating a zombie are among a handy list of options I have developed over the years – there’s always that one person who never stops talking and seems to hold you within their orbit like a rogue’s spaceship in the tractor beam of the Enterprise? (Yes I just geeked out on a profound level.)

Well I am confident Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) wouldn’t be one of them.

In fact, I would happily spend an entire party just chatting to her and her alone.

One of the things I loved most about The Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) was the witty pop-culture saturated wordplay between Lorelair and her delightfully precocious daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel).

Much like the characters in any Aaron Sorkin drama where words beguile and entrance, Lorelai was a delight to listen to.

And frankly if she invited me to her birthday party, I would be there early, my head brimming with every witty pop culture reference I could find, ready to play verbal repartee for the night.

Now that would be a party where the “I’m a zombie” defense would not be needed.

 

SNOOPY (Peanuts), born 2 October

 

Author, aviator, cool dude ... is there isn't Snoopy can't do and still look cool doing it? I say no (image via blogs.popart.com)
Author, aviator, cool dude … is there isn’t Snoopy can’t do and still look cool doing it? I say no (image via blogs.popart.com)

 

I have loved Snoopy ever since I first laid eyes on one of the paperback Peanuts collections that you could buy for 10c-20c in the local second hand bookstores in Grafton, NSW where I lived till age 10.

There were was something about his gleeful dismissal of anyone who stood in his way that engaged me from the word go.

He wasn’t arrogant or rude; just delightfully confident in his own ability to do whatever he laid his paws to – novel writing, Scout leader, Joe Cool hanging at the dorm, or fighting the Red Baron.

Whatever it was he could do it well, in stark contrast to poor Charlie Brown who could never seem to catch a break.

And I am fairly confident that he would be a lot of fun to celebrate a birthday with to.

As long as he didn’t hold the party on a “dark and stormy night” which frankly, given his predilection for starting all his stories that way, is all but inevitable.

* So which fictional characters would you like to party with? Why exactly?