Sonic Bliss #14: My favourite songs of the week

JD Hancock via photo pin cc

 

Ah spring … or autumn/fall if you live in the top half of planet earth … and the torrent of music that washes over during the year becomes a flood of Noah-like proportions as we head into the festive shopping season.

So you can expect way more Sonic Bliss posts than usual over the next few months as I bring you so much wonderful new music that your ear drums may likely burst with joy from all the pleasure.

No, seriously that is a good thing – I even provide you with a mop and bucket to clean up the mess –  as are the five new songs I have for you …

 

LITTLE BOOTS: “Headphones”

 

(image via homorazzi.com)

 

Little Boots is back and what an entrance she has made.

But then ever since the release of Hands in June 2009, when she was part of an almost tidal wave-sized group of young women paying homage to the 80s in their music – think Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine, Ladyhawke to name a few – she has been a distinctive part of the electro-pop scene, rising head and shoulders above many of her contemporaries.

She is that rare beast of a charting artist who doesn’t sound like she rolled off a synthesised music production line, musical cookie-cutter in hand, straining to sound like everyone else out in the pack. Which is good thing since when your pack contains the likes of Lady Gaga, since playing the party of artistic copycat means you will likely get lost in the lookalike crowd, and if you are noticed, you won’t stand out for long.

So Little Boots, or as the good people of her hometown Blackpool call her Victoria Christina Hesketh (but only when she’s in trouble no doubt), has sensibly concentrated on a delivering a distinctive bright electro pop dance beat in her songs, with the occasional meaningful ballad thrown in for good measure such as “Every Night I Say a Prayer”, made all the more distinctive by a voice so light and playful it fairly skips across the notes it’s accompanying.

This song, which comes with one of the best clips I have seen in a while which is all about finding your true self on the dance floor – it’s not as glib as it sounds; watching the timid, battered-down-by-life souls come alive to the music is almost inspiring and actually moving – carries it with a hefty dose of funk, the most hypnotically fun “La la las” in a chorus I have heard for a long time, and a driving bass beat that will propel you onto the dance floor before you have even finished laced up your glittery dancing shoes.

Seriously why aren’t you there already?

 

 

DRAGONETTE: “Live in This City” / “Rocket Ship”

 

(image via bangstyle.com)

 

What a voice does Martina Sorbrera have!

The lead singer for this Toronto-based 80s-inspired indie electro pop outfit, along with bassist and producer, Dan Kurtz, and drummer Joel Stouffer, infuses every single song she sings with a jangly sensuousness that fairly leaps out of the speakers with crackling energy each and every time.

That is definitely the case with not one but two songs – goodness always comes in infectiously catchy pairs right? – “Live This City” and “Rocket Ship” – the first of which pounds the pavement with a fervent declarations of owning this city and acting like you do (with more than nod, though not one of slavish mimicry to Jefferson Airplane, who I hear built a city on love once), while the latter bubbles along with dirty synth beats before exploding into an insistent upbeat chorus that will not let you go till presumably you have ridden said spaceship into the stratosphere.

They are one of the most original, consistently listenable bands out there at the moment. It doesn’t seem to matter what they sing about or at what tempo – you can’t help but listen, or dance along, and who knows, they may also prompt an insanely insistent urge to build a rocket ship one of these days …

 

 

 

PET SHOP BOYS: “Ego Music”

 

 

Everyone’s favourite electronic dance music duo, who were last seen careering around the Paralympics closing ceremony in a chariot, return this month with their new dreamy-sounding album Elysium, which sees Neil Tennant (vocals and keyboard) and Chris Lowe (keyboards) shifting things down a notch musically, but still retaining the intense lyricism that has been their hallmark since day one.

The latest single, “Ego Music”, follows this tradition of not pulling any punches lyrically. In a song they maintain is not aimed at anyone in particular, and which was originally written with a much tamer set of lyrics, they allow their razor sharp satirical observations of today’s modern pop star to run free.

Says Neil of the song in an interview with Attitude:

“It’s not specifically about Lady Gaga, it’s about the modern pop star. Pop music is very ego-driven these days. The modern pop lyric is like a diary almost. In other words, people don’t imagine, they just say what it is… A lot of lines [in the song] are direct quotes from what people say in interviews. ‘I am my own demographic’ is a direct quote.”

It matches the mocking tones of songs like “Yesterday” and marries it with a mid tempo melody that is characteristic of the album it comes from as a whole. Lushly produced, and suffused with the achingly beautiful melancholic tunes the Pet Shop Boys excel at, Elysium (meaning bliss/happiness or the location of Norse afterlife) is a rich tapestry of emotions, some regretful, some mocking but all bitingly intense, embedded in music of rare quiet beauty.

This song, and its siblings suggest a late night vibe that suggests sitting in a bar in the early hours of morning pondering the meaning of life and the state of your own life, and doing with the sort of articulate insight that most people long to emulate.

So find a small bar somewhere, order a drink or two, and drift off into a world that may be chilled and beautifully expressed but is never, ever boring. Like you ever expected the Pet Shop Boys would be.

 

CYMBALS EAT GUITARS: “Hawk Highway”

 

(image via consequenceofsound.net)

 

What kind of indie rock band are you aching to listen?

One from Staten Island? CHECK.

That’s composed of two high school friends Jopseph D’Agostino and Matthew Miller? (Yes you must be particular about the names or this snappy opening section will simply not work; so work with me please). CHECK.

And who named their band after a quoted by Lou Reed as he sought to describe the wholly unique sound of The Velvet Underground? CHECK.

Then Cymbals Eats Guitars is the band for you o fussy seeker of new music within narrow parameters.

The thing is, all that frantic checking of boxes aside, is that this band is good. Very good.

Kicking off proceedings in 2007, they quickly created buzz with their 2009 release, Why There Are Mountains, and didn’t let up till their latest album Lenses Alien (they love their slightly off kilter grammatically discordant titles don’t they?).

Now they’re back with a new song, which is HOT off the presses (released mere days ago so the steam is still rising off it) and it’s causing consternation because it’s a lone single release, with no album release impending to keep it company. It’s unusual for rock bands to send an orphan single out into the world but not unheard off; still there is hope from their many fans that this is the harbinger of a longer release to come.

Whether it finds its sibling songs or not, it’s a fine track. Wearing a 60s inspired theme with pride, and redolent with airy slightly distant but powerful vocals that lend an ethereal quality to it, it is nonetheless a song where they have managed to grab the guitars out of the mouths of the hungry cymbals and use both instruments to create a engaging wall of sound that is both melancholic and uplifting all at once.

Get driving. This is one highway you’ll want to keep driving down.

 

 

DAY JOY: “Go To Sleep, Mess”

 

(image via themuseinmusic.com)

 

Day Joy, a new band that grew out of the band Saskatchewan when member Michael Serrin and friend Peter Michael Percival were looking for new ways to spread their musical wings, is a dreamy delight.

The band’s songs, which are marked by 60s-inspired folk sensibilities that sound deceptively slight and fey but have a great melodic strength to them, wrap themselves around you like an ethereal half-remembered dream, wafting in and out of your consciousness, daring you to forget them.

And forget them you won’t. Stalking the ground between waking and sleeping, the music is warm and reassuring at the same time as it is dark and unsettling. But it is always, always, a rewarding listen.

Time for a trip to dreamland I think …

 

 

So much music and so little time … what tracks will sneak onto your playlist? 

Review: First episode of “Dr Who” season 2 – ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

 

When I first heard that the opening episode of the new Doctor Who season was going to be about his long time enemies the Daleks, my heart sank a little.

It’s not that the Daleks aren’t scary, remorseless, and one of the most nightmarish baddies to emerge from a sci-fi writer’s overactive imagination, and thus worthy of ushering in a new Dr Who season; I just had this sense, and partly still do, that they have been used to death by a franchise that has shown it can create all new, chillingly soulless opponents such as the utterly amoral Weeping Angels in its sleep, and shouldn’t need to keep returning to the fetid well that houses the Daleks and the Cybermen, among others.

But return they did for this episode and you know what?

It was a triumph! It more than underlines that I should never be let into a scriptwriting session for Dr Who, at least not one where I have total veto power. (With the chance of me being allowed into a room full of Dr Who scriptwriters remote at best, I think we’re all fairly safe from me ever sitting across from Steven Moffat and torpedoing the BEST SCRIPT IDEA EVER.)

 

Steven Moffat (image via tardis.wikia.com)

 

While Mr Moffat, who I think was worthy of being the successor to Russell T Davies as executive producer of the series, has demonstrated a gift for high-concept ambitious storyline that dazzle and impress, he hasn’t always drawn them together into a coherent, affecting narrative worthy of the idea itself.

But with “Asylum of the Daleks” he not only came up with a wholly original take on the Doctor’s long time enemies – Dalek-Human hybrids, a planet full of insane Daleks, and the Doctor being asked to save the Daleks; yes the Doctor did a triple take on that one – but crafted it into a an episode so compelling and emotionally rich that it ranks as one of the best of the modern era.

It began in suitably chilling fashion with a grand panoramic sweep across a still smoking post-apocalyptic Skaro, the original home planet of the Dalek. It was as effective a way of setting time and place as any I have seen, and made the clandestine meeting between the Doctor and a women claiming to be an escapee from a Dalek prison camp, and needing help to save her still-trapped daughter, all the more eerie.

Naturally of course, it was all a big trap, something the Doctor, though suspicious, only twigged to when she mentioned escaping from the prison camp. “No one escapes from a Dalek prison camp” he said seconds before we saw something no one had witnessed before – an eyestalk pushing through the forehead of the woman, quickly followed by the archetypal Dalek gun mount coming out of her raised hand.

 

The Doctor and his Dalek-Human kidnapper (image via thegeekgirlproject.com)

 

The emergence of this Dalek-Human hybrid or “puppet” – truth be told not much is left of the original human occupier of the body once the “hollowing out”, as the Doctor scornfully termed it, is completed – was the first such revelation of an episode replete with them.

The Doctor’s capture by the Daleks, followed by those of Rory and Amy, who had just signed divorce papers as the culmination of barely heralded, and poorly announced marital difficulties – see my review of the lead up vignettes to season seven, Pond Life – and their transfer to the Parliament of Daleks is done elegantly and quickly, and ushers in a breathtaking sequence where the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves are lifted up into a massive chamber full of tens of thousands of Daleks.

As Rory asks the Doctor “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much trouble are we in?” and the Doctor replies, “11”, they are greeted by the woman who kidnapped the Doctor, and the Prime Minister of the Daleks, who is not in a robotic shell, and all the creepier for it.

 

(image via thereelbits.com

 

It is then that the Doctor, to his unending shock, is asked to “save the Daleks”, a bizarre and unexpected rallying cry that echoes round the chamber as thousands of Daleks repeat it over and over in their jarring electronic voices until all anyone can hear is a maddening cacophony of pleas for the Doctor’s help.

It emerges that they need the Doctor to go down to the legendary but assumed mythical planet known as the Asylum where all the Daleks who have “gone wrong” are sent. Given that “healthy” Daleks are only one straitjacket away from an asylum, devoid of every emotion bar hate, a planet of unhinged Daleks is not something anyone wants to contemplate, much less venture into, including, as the Doctor mockingly notes, the Daleks themselves.

The Doctor is surprised to learn that the Daleks don’t simply mercilessly dispatch their broken comrades to their version of the afterlife, and says as much to the Prime Minister who makes it clear that they can’t destroy “beauty of hatred”,  a twisted veneration that sickens the Doctor.

 

The Daleks Prime Minister wouldn’t be wearing any beauty contests soon (image via cultfix.co.uk)

 

In a nod though to the morally grey areas that the modern iteration of Doctor Who has been prepared to entertain on more than one occasion, with an emphasis on the fact that the Doctor is prone to moral failings and not the always virtuous do-gooder he has been portrayed as in the past, when the Doctor expresses his revulsion at the motion of hatred being beautiful, and that they should just destroy it, the Prime Minister, aware of the devastating point he is about to make, and chuckling as he delivers it, says “But Doctor, that is why we have not destroyed you.”

But now of course is not the time or place for a discussion with the Daleks about what they do and don’t value, regardless of whether they have struck a nerve with the Doctor (which as his wincing as he walks away from the Prime Minister suggest they have), and so he, Rory and Amy submit to being beamed down to the planet via high energy particle beam that essentially slams them rather unceremoniously into the planet’s snowbound surface.

 

I am fairly certain that Daleks Asylum: The Theme Ride won’t get many takers (image via scifi.about.com)

 

And this is where the fun begins because the discarded, unhinged Daleks are a nightmarishly demented lot, guarded by a nano cloud that instantly turns any organic creature, living or dead, into a Dalek “puppet” (from which the Daleks thoughtfully provide protection via a glowing blue wristband).

When our intrepid trio, once they’re reunited of course from their widely dispersed landing spots, aren’t running from shipwrecked “puppets” who still think they’re human till they’re activated (much like a enemy sleeper agent), or all manner of old model Daleks programmed with only aim, which is, you guessed it, to “Exterminate!” every non-Dalek in sight, they’re desperately looking for a way to turn off the forcefield (it can only be turned off from the inside) so the Daleks can blow the whole place to kingdom come.

And that is when they meet Oswin (Jenna Louise Coleman), a junior entertainment on a cosmic cruise ship, which crashed into the planet a year earlier, trapping her inside a sealed section and preventing her from being turned into a “puppet”. Or so she tells the Doctor, who quickly christens her “soufflé girl” when the peppy confident young women tells him she has passed her time listening to classical music, making the delicate French desserts, and helpfully for the Doctor and his companions, hacking into the Asylum’s computer systems, giving her control over doors, insight into the layout of the place and all sorts of other handy pieces of information.

 

Oswin the plucky heroine who saves the Doctor’s bacon more than once (image via gerard.wordpress.com)

 

She comes to their rescue more than once, and when it comes time for the forcefield to be dropped, and the team to beam back to the Dalek mothership orbiting above split seconds before the Daleks vaporise the Asylum – naturally the Daleks have every intention of destroying the Doctor, or “Predator” as they call him – the Doctor rushes to save her.

Only to find, heartbreakingly, that she isn’t trapped in a crashed spaceship at all but rather has been turned, not into a “puppet” but a fully fledged Dalek. In denial about her conversion, Oswin has created a dreamworld where she is able to cook soufflés and wish her mum “Happy birthday”- which answers the question posed by both the Doctor and Rory about where she gets her eggs from; she doesn’t alas – and never confront who she is again.

It is a touching scene up there with the best of David Tennant’s time as the Doctor.

I had found Matt Smith’s attempts to meet his predecessor’s ability to be empathetic limited by scripts that didn’t give them the chance to show how deeply the Doctor is touched by what happens to the people he encounters (and hence why he fights so hard to save them, whatever his failings may be) but this time script and Matt’s willingness to suspend his omnipresent goofiness aligned perfectly and you felt deeply for Oswin and cried for the humanity she had brutally stolen from her.

 

The Doctor encounters the real Oswin for the first time (via tumblr.com)

 

And you well understood why she retreated well into herself, and why when the Doctor forced her to confront that truth that her initially strong pronouncements that “I am human!” wavered to a reluctant but inexorable “Exterminate” before rebounding to a defiant declaration of innate humanity that drives her to erase all memory of the Doctor from the collective memory of all the Daleks and aids their escape before she retreats back into her Julia Child’s make believe world of cooking and classical music.

It is raw, anguished humanity writ so large and nakedly that you can’t help but weep for her tragic loss.

This inspiring statement of what it means to be human was unfortunately diluted a little by the somewhat rushed and trite nature of Rory and Amy’s reconciliation. Poised to divorce at the time of their abduction, but galvanised to declaring their true feelings for each other by Amy’s possible nano cloud-induced transformation into a Dalek “puppet”, they beamed off the Asylum a couple once more in love and devoted to each other.

I love a good love story so this one should have truly touched me since it meant not just the restoration of their marriage but also the halting of Amy’s Dalek-ising since the overpowering power of their love halted the tsunami of hatred that had been threatening to sweep the true of essence of Amy into oblivion.

Unfortunately it didn’t resonate as powerfully as it could, and came across as almost twee, and all too convenient (not to mention that Amy was in trouble again; time for a new angle for her perhaps?) and was the one weak point in a story that was, by and large, profoundly moving, revelatory and engrossing, and a sign that season 7 is off to a very good start indeed.

 

(image via nikkistafford.blogspot.com)

“Walking Dead” season 3 poster + news

The just released poster for “The Walking Dead” season 3

 

As I have made abundantly clear in posts past, the idea of zombies in general scare the proverbial out of me, and I have, until now, with the exception of the brilliantly crafted 28 Days Later and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, avoided the undead like, well, the plague.

But The Walking Dead, which kept glancing across my viewing schedule courtesy of my zombie-obsessed housemate, who likely owns most forms of zombie-esque entertainment ever brought to death by the minds of men, has convinced me, by sheer dint of its sheer dramatic prowess, that some zombies, and those they pursue, deserve a place in the long and growing list of shows I watch.

Which is why I am eagerly awaiting, along with many others, the arrival of season 3 on October 14.

 

(image via watchthewalkingdeadepisode.blogspot.com)

 

The season promises a racheting up of the action as our intrepid band of survivors, still dealing with the loss of several key members including Shane, the belatedly delivered news that they are all zombies-in-waiting (the virus is already in them simply waiting to be activated) and the dramatic announcement by Rick that he is their new dictator-for-life, fight their way into the prison they saw at the end of season 2.

It is naturally infested with zombified prisoners, and the trailers for this season have shown the lead up to what will no doubt be a series of pitched battles inside the faciluty as the group seeks to secure the prison as their new zombie-free pied-a-terre.

But as the season’s tagline intimates, it is not the undead inmates that will pose the most trenchant threat to our plucky band of survivors.

 

 

Rather, they have more to fear from those still living souls who have decided, in the wake of the apocalypse, that the quaint niceties of civilisation are a luxury mankind can ill afford. At least the substantial ones that really matter, that is.

The Walking Dead‘s showrunner, Glen Mazzara confirms this will be a prevailing theme in this season:

“[The zombies] are always a horror but as our folks learn to live with them, the new horror becomes what people will do to survive and to protect each other in this world.”

Of course, this means that all the basic tenets of humanity that Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) was urging everyone in his group to cling to even as his own life slipped away from him, are in danger of becoming products of a bygone era as everyone contemplates resorting to a gruesome and bloody survival of the fittest.

It is a theme echoed in many of the current crop of apocalyptic dramas, with the 2nd Mass. in Falling Skies, also seeking to hold fast to the core human values they hold dear even as the world they knew goes to hell in a spaceship around them.

Here is a vitally question they must ask themselves.

How much of what defined civilisation do you cling to, and how much do you dispense with, as you face unimaginable threats where you don’t have the time to reflect or react with anything like measured thinking? You can hardly consider the measured words of Plato or Voltaire when a zombie is threatening to separate you from your intestines with brute animalistic force.

 

The Governor, as he is played by David Morrissey, and as he is rendered in the graphic novels that gave birth to the TV series (image of tvovermind.com)

 

A debate of this nature is made all the more difficult to resolve however when figures like the Governor pop up, who come bearing promises to restore all the trappings of civilisation lost, all gussied up in a Stepford Wives/Leave it to Beaver suburban purity of his zombie-free enclave of Woodbury.

On the surface it is everything that an apocaylpse-weary soul would welcome, initially at least, with open arms. But as Andrea (Laurie Holden) who was saved from a living death at the end of last season by the katana-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira) and her pet armless zombies discover all too quickly, what is the worth of window dressing with the vestiges of civilisation if the values of humanity no longer underpin the manicured lawns and perfectly painted frontages?

It is this sting in the tail that will cause soul searching aplenty in this season as Rick’s brand of dictatorship, cleverly dubbed by some as a “Ricktatorship”, which is at least clear and open about its intentions comes hard up against the snake-in-the-grass realities of the Governor’s brutal rule by stealth.

 

Members of the group fight their way into the prison, and possible sanctuary … or is it? (Image via moviesonline.ca)

 

Many may well conclude that it might be preferable to take your chances with the zombies than deal with a Betty Crocker-esque exterior of humanity which cloaks mankind at its most violent and survival hungry.

Whatever the group decide, they will face the loss of another major member of their “family” early on the season, the return of the pathological redneck Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) who was last scene on the roof of a department store in Atlanta chained to a pipe (where he had to be abandoned by Rick and T-Bone; when they returned for him all that remained was his severed hand), and a safe haven that may turn out to be anything but.

No one said that the apocalypse would be easy, a fact underlined in blood more often than not by the survivors and their desperate will to survive in a world gone to undead hell.

 

(image via weloveeveryone.posterous.com)

 

“Elementary”: Holmes Sweet Holmes

 

Elementary is part of the crop of new Fall TV shows due to launch on US TV.

Following in the footsteps of the contemporary British re-imagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular detective, and the Sherlock movies starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, comes the US’s idea of the sort of life Mr Holmes would lead if he was around in early 21st century America.

Slated to air from September 27, the series, which stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes (Eli Stone, Trainspotting) and Lucy Liu in a daring break from tradition as Watson (Charlie’s Angels, Southland) – I can hear all the traditionalists pointlessly gnashing their teeth now – features Holmes as a recovering addict and former consultant to Scotland Yard, and definitely not the know-it-all soul of old, who arrives in New York to go to rehab., and ends up staying with Joan Watson.

It this iteration of the tale, Watson is not really a comedic sidekick but rather a friend and companion, and isn’t so much a part of the mystery solving as she invested in Holmes staying Holmes and present in his newly sober existence.

 

 

Says Liu of her playing of the Watson role in an article on the show’s cast and crew’s appearance at TCA 2012, featured on Hollywood Reporter in July 2012:

“Who Watson is now is someone who’s on the sideline; she’s his sober companion, she’s engaged in him, not the mystery. From that point on you get to see how that blossoms out. The foot-in-the-bucket and that kind of Watson happens because in entertainment, there’s got to be a sidekick. In this case, that’s not the direction we’re going in. Ask me in six episodes and if I have a foot in a bucket then we’ll have a discussion.”

Speaking at the same appearance, the series showrunner, Rob Doherty, who is an avid fan of Conan Doyle’s creation said:

“I feel like I see Sherlock everywhere, on almost every procedural. Most shows have a Sherlock in them — they just happen to be named someone else.

“These are stories and characters that I don’t know if they were a century ahead of their time or if it’s just a paradigm that works. Having always been a fan of the character, I’ve seen him in present, past future, books, movies. Arthur Conan Doyle knew what he was doing.”

 

(image via sharetv.org)

 

It will be interesting how this pans out and how closely it resembles Sherlock, which CBS, the channel on which Elementary will appear, wanted to remake for American audiences. CBS opted not to go down that route but the producers of the British show have made it clear they will be watching Elementary closely for ant similarities, beyond the obvious of course.

I wonder just how edgy it will be since that kind of look and feel is usually reserved for shows that originate on US cable channels. One can only hope they will be as brave and daring and creative as it sounds like they want to be.

Either way, we find out in just a few short weeks.

 

 

It’s a “Cougar Town” TGIF y’all!

(image via Cougar Town page on Facebook)

 

One of my favourite sitcoms is due back on TV in 2013 on US cable channel TBS and the gang behind the show are going all out across the web to heighten the anticipation.

Their Facebook page is particular is going great guns and is filled great photos and quotes and all the information you could want on this funny subversive show.

In honour of the weekend being just around the corner, which naturally mean Wine O’Clock is close at hand, here’s a wonderful photo and quote by Jules, and the promise of even more hilarity to come:

 

Jules: “I can’t believe we’re in Napa. I think we’re meeting God.” (image via Cougar Town page on Facebook)

 

As Jules, wise queen of the cul de sac would say, I’ll pound grape to that!

Can’t wait! To see these movies

LOOPER

 

(image via celebrity-oz.com)

 

Looper, written and directed by Ryan Johnson and starring acting wunderkind Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as younger and older versions respectively of Joseph Simmons, a time-travelling mafia contract killer from 2044 who finds out that next his target is … himself,  looks like the sort of movie that will have you on the edge of your seat, with your brain doing cartwheels trying to get to work out the usual time travel conundrums, and your adrenaline pumping as the action kicks into high gear early on and doesn’t let up.

The action centres on the younger version of Joseph Simmons, who is based in Kansas City in the year 2044, trying to track down his older self who escapes and goes on the run, forcing Simmons the Younger to give chase and kill him, or face death himself at the hands of his Shanghai-based employers who go after him when he fails to fulfil his latest contract.

The good thing about this futuristic movie, which stylistically tips its hat as much to the retro gangster stylings and art deco sensibilities of the 1930s and 1940s as it does to any school boy’s imagined idea of what cars, clothes and cities in the middle to late 21st century might look like, is that it gives the impression it will be an intelligent thriller with more than just gun fights and endless chase scenes to recommend it.

The movie opens later this month … or perhaps it has already opened? Who’s to say?

 

 

ARGO

 

(image via thepopcornjunkie.com)

 

Ben Affleck has made a remarkable recovery from a bad patch in the mid-Noughties when Gigli and Saving Christmas took some lustre from his bankability as a star (a period which included a relationship with Jennifer Lopez which had them less than winningly tagged as “Bennifer”) to become a director and actor of some note.

His latest movie, Argo, which follows on from earlier directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone 2007), and The Town (2010) tells the story of an imaginative attempt to spirit six Americans out of Iran in 1979 in the wake of the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran and the capture of 52 diplomatic staff who were held for 444 days.

The usual exit routes were out of the question, and the CIA quickly realised that the only way to get the six diplomats, who had escaped out the back door and found shelter at the Canadian Ambassador’s home, out of the country was to come with an out of the ordinary plan.

And come up with one they did. Or rather, Tony Mendez (who is played by Affleck in the film), then a CIA technical operations officer in charge of clandestine CIA operations did. The plan involved pretending that the small group of Americans were part of a production company scouting locations for a new film called Argo. Harebrained though the idea might have sounded, it worked, thanks to a well-constructed cover story using designs and a screenplay stolen from a Hollywood production company, and the Americans made it back home well ahead of their colleagues.

It looks to have it all – high calibre production (Affleck directing with George Clooney, Grant Heslov and David Klawans producing with a script by Chris Terrio), drama, humour and a good old dollop of “based on a true story” to support the whole enterprise.

It opens in October and is one of the movies I am most looking forward to.

 

 

CLOUD ATLAS

 

(image via bluelight.ru)

 

How on earth do you tell a story that ranges from the nineteenth century right through to a post apocalyptic future, moves between the remote South Pacific, Belgium and Hawaii (to name just three of the locations) and moves forward in time before retracing its steps back to where it started?

With great care I would imagine. The task of translating David Mitchell’s complex and imaginative series of six interlocking tales, published as Cloud Atlas in 2004, has been taken up by brother and sister production team Andy and Lana Wachowski, who along with Tom Tykwer (also co-composer of the soundtrack), have written and directed the movie which is due out in October.

To call the scope of the movie epic would be a massive understatement. Melding this complex but rewarding multiplicity of interweaving story lines together would have been no easy task and required a galaxy of stars including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, James McEvoy and Ian McKellen to play the various parts.

If nothing else, this ambitious movie looks like it will be a lush and visually gorgeous excursion into a myriad of possible pasts and futures, and while it could end up swallowing itself with its own complexity, the trailer inspires hope that it will instead be a sprawling coherent tale of mankind’s ability to survive down through the ages.

Until it opens, I will keep watching the trailer which frankly is one of the visually and musically beautiful advertisements for a movie I have seen.

 

 

SKYFALL

 

(image via movieposterdb.com)

 

Bond. James Bond.

It is one of those classic catchphrases that immediately identifies a man and mythos that has endured since the character’s creation in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming who penned 12 novels and two short story collections and who spawned to date 22 films in the Bond franchise.

The 23rd film, Skyfall, starring the current Bond, Daniel Craig (who has also appeared in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), and is largely responsible for me becoming belatedly besotted with the film series (well the recent films anyway), storms into theatres with equal mixtures of bravado and élan in November.

The release of the movie, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the release of the first film, Dr No in 1962, has been much delayed due to MGM’s financial troubles, but looks set to return James Bond to the centre of the spy-driven action thriller.

While the franchise now shares space with the likes of the Bourne franchise, there is something about a Bond movie, with its theme song, and requisite villain (in this case Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva), and lately a heapin’ helpin’ does of moral relativity – who is really good and who is really bad? – that captures your attention and holds it in a way few other movie franchises have been able to do.

I have no doubt Skyfall will be in much the same vein.

 

THIS IS 40

 

(image via homorazzi.com)

 

Billed as the “sort-of sequel” to Judd Apatow’s 2007 release, Knocked Up, This is 40 is in truth more of a spin off.

And a very amusing one at that.

Centering on Debbie (Leslie Mann, who played the sister to Katherine Heigl’s Alison in Knocked Up) and Pete (Paul Rudd) who played her husband, the movie updates the story of this couple and where they are as they approach an age that is a crunch time for many people – 40.

Both of them have a gnawing sense that life could be better than it is. They sense that their marriage could be more vital, their relationships with their kids closer and that the surreptitious glances over the fence to the greener grass of “What if?” (in the human form, for Debbie at least of her personal trainer, played by Jason Segel) are possibly signs of a discontent that could wreak havoc down the track if left unchecked.

But for all this introspection, it is still a comedy (albeit an Apatow one) which means that there will be gross out humour and out-and-out gags doing what comedy does best – helping the medicine of life’s lessons to go with a spoonful of laugh out loud sugar.

At least I think that’s what Apatow is aiming for.

Regardless it looks very funny and with Mann and Rudd front and centre, you know it’s going to be quality comedy you’re seeing.

 

 

But there are more movies on the list – of course there are! – so stay tuned for part 2, for which there may or may be a trailer …

Movie news: “Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters”

(image via moviesblog.mtv.com)

 

It will come as no surprise to many that we no longer want our fairytales served up with a   large side order of twee.

Gone are the days, for the most part, of movie makers bringing out fairytales movies, whether live action or cartoon, that don’t feature some kind of self-referential post-modern wink-and-a-nod, pop culture references, and most recently, a searing dose of gritty realism (think Snow White and the Huntsman).

Such is the case with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters by director Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) which is due in cinemas in January 2013, promising to tell the much-loved tale in a way that Disney would never dream of doing.

 

Gemma Arterton (Gretel) and Jeremy Renner (Hansel) poised and ready for action (image via forevergeek.com)

 

Starring the man with the most hypnotically blue eyes since Daniel Craig, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is described by Moviefone news as “kind of like Ghostbusters, but with witches” and picks up the tale of the plucky brother and sister duo 15 years after their encounter with the witch and her deadly gingerbread house.

They scour the land searching for witches and when they find them, dispatched swiftly and without ceremony. Clearly their near-encounter with the cannibalistic witch left them more than a mite traumatised and they are clearly our for revenge.

 

(image via fairytalenewsblog.blogspot.com)

 

The good news is that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. The terrible twosome are clad in leather for a start, have a high powered arsenal of weapons that would make an army weep with longing, and a brazen chutzpah to just get the grisly job done with little regard for the mess that results.

It’s hard to say where it will land on the grand scale of Hollywood quality but I am betting that with Tommy Wirkola involved and Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke  Janssen and Peter Stormare that it’s bound to be a lot of fun if nothing else.

Fire up your ovens witches while you can!

 

 

Movie review: “Moonrise Kingdom”

(image via slackershack.wordpress.com

 

The need to belong is common to all people regardless of race, creed, colour or any of the other thousand and one permutations of humanity.

And Wes Anderson, the delightfully idiosyncratic auteur who brought us Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, a keen observer of the human condition and student of the more absurdist behavioural manifestations of  this and many other imperatives common to people everywhere, has given it full expression in his new film set in the imagined pre-digital idyll of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom.

He gives voice to our innate need to have a place to call home, one which is not simply a roof over our heads, and food in our bellies, through a cast of diverse and dysfucntional characters on the small fictional island of New Penzance Island, ostensibly located off the New England coast of North America.

Each of these people, though they live on an island wrapped in the perpetual glow of summer, and the bucolic charm of an idealised world, long for something more than what they have, and it fuels the movie’s narrative throughout.

 

Sam Shakusky, Khaki Scout, and forger of his own path (image via citypaper.com)

 

Take the protagonist Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman). An orphan in foster care, he is a member of a curiously over-regimented troop of Khaki Scouts, a fictional counterpoint to the real Scouts, and shunned by all its members who regard him as weird, and socially mal-adept, he leaves camp one night with all the survival gear he can muster to find a place he can live far away from the people with whom he doesn’t feel he has a home.

As news of his escape from society breaks, his foster parents, the Billingsleys (Mr Billingsley is played with brusque efficiency by Larry Pine), who run what looks like a foster camp factory declare they can no longer tolerate his presence in their home, to the consternation of the police chief, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who can’t fathom that anyone would deny a young boy a place to call his own.

 

Sam Shakusky and Captain Sharp are two souls adrift who find a home with each other by movie’s end ((image via thefineartdiner.blogspot.com)

 

This raises the curious scenario where even if they find Sam, who let’s face it is running away on a very small island with very finite boundaries, he has no place to return to. Social Services, which is the only name given to the coldly efficient, detached mannerisms of its representative, Tilda Swinton, only has one response – test him for electroshock, which appals Captain Sharp, Sam’s Scout troop and the good people of the island.

Sam though is not entirely alone. He has a kindred spirit in Suzy Bishop, a girl his own age who lives with her parents, Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) and three brothers (one of whom declares her a “traitor to the family” at one point, a description which suits her just fine) in a prim and proper red house perched on the edge of the island.

 

Walt and Laura Bishop with the Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) – (image via examiner.com)

 

It is the sort of house you find in all Wes Anderson movies. A little bit Addams Family, a little bit Smithsonian Museum exhibit of the perfect 1960s home, clean and tidy but quirky to its rooftop beams, and crammed with all sorts of artfully arranged household flotsam and jetsam. At first it looks like the idyllic place to grow up but it soon becomes clear that while the home itself is immaculate, the lives of its inhabitants are anything but.

Walt and Laura are trapped in a stultifyingly humdrum marriage where communication has been reduced to updating each other on the status of their cases before the court (both are lawyers, though you never see either leave for work), and interaction with their children, for Laura at least, is usually via shouted instructions through a megaphone. (Although she does share one tender heartfelt moment with her daughter which in the grand tradition of Wes Anderson is neither twee nor forced, and entirely believable given what has just transpired between them.)

 

Suzy Bishop, social misfit and proud of it (image via flixist.com)

 

It is from this physically warm and cosy but emotionally distant household that Suzy, all heavy blue eye shadow (which stays on even after she goes for a swim), petulance, and sullen stares, escapes with Sam off into the wilderness.

They meet when he is watching, and she is performing in the island’s production of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde as a raven (although her unwillingness to buckle to social norms has her humorously busted down to the rank of bluejay, a lesser bird apparently).

(Britten’s music, which includes his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra features prominently in the movie, and augments the whimsical air that pervades its length.)

Though they do manage to make good their escape, not once, but twice – once Sam’s scout troop learns of his fate they conspire to spring him and Suzy from their respective prisons, and spirit them away to a planned new life away from the island – and establish a sort of idyll in a cove (which is rudely interrupted by their discovery by Captain Sharp, Suzy’s parents and the entire Khaki Scout Troop), they don’t find what they are looking for, which is somewhere they truly fit in.

 

Sam and Suzy plot their well-equipped (Suzy brings her record player, books and kitten with her) escape from society (image via filmschoolrejects.com)

 

Eventually fit in they do, after enduring a storm, lightning strikes, and yes getting married, but they are emblamatic of the curse, humorously expressed by Anderson that afflicts all the people in the film, of not really belonging anywhere.

It is an unsatisfactory state of being that affects them, Suzy’s parents, Scout Master Ward who is nothing without his position and his troop, Captain Sharp (who is bereft when Laura temporarily suspends their affair), and it is their quest to remedy it that forms the emotional and philosophical core of this film.

But heavy though that theme may seem, it is handled with aplomb by Wes Anderson in his typical idiosyncratic way that infuses the movie with a jauntily comedic touch and larger-than-life personas and life situations but which are all firmly rooted in a world where real meaningful conversations take place, and people struggle with real, painful dilemmas.

 

The narrator takes us through the history of the island with an earnest love of his subject matter (image via bigredrobot.tumblr.com)

 

It looks beautiful too. From the quirky 1950s look to the geographical explanations provided by a gnome-like red jacketed Narrator (Bob Balaban), who does a beautiful job of establishing a time and place that is very much 1965 and yet timeless and out of season, to the stark bright yellows of the Billingsleys home (which sits in contrast to the bland emotional paucity of their child rearing philosophy) and the uniformity of the Khaki Scouts uniform and the lushness of the outfits worn by all the performers in Noye’s Fludde, this is a movie to sink into, to immerse yourself in.

It is lush, joyously mad, completely sane, a riot of colour, clever bon mots, and gloriously dysfunctional characters which reminds us that, much like Dorothy discovered all those years ago in Oz, that there is no place like home.

Once you actually find it, that is.

 

 

 

Movie review: “The Sapphires”

(image via impawards.com)

 

It is rare to find a movie that gloriously and unapologetically seeks to engender a feel good vibe so infectious you are tempted to dance, or at the very least sashay, like a member of a 60s female soul group, out of the theatre at the end of it, but that also seeks to make a political statement of some kind.

Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires manages to do just that, and then some.

It evokes the heady spirit of the 60s, when the strictures of conservative 1950s society were cast aside by the flower power generation, suddenly making, at least at first glance, anything possible.

But at the same time, it is careful to remind people that it was also a period when Australia’s indigenous population were still treated as second-class citizens having only obtained the right to be officially counted as part of Australia’s population in 1967, and were constrained by a status that held them back from fully participating in the full gamut of Australian life.

The Sapphires doesn’t shirk from conveying the kind of racism, both implicit, and horrifyingly explicit (the scene in the pub where the girls perform in a talent contest graphically illustrates some of the forces at work in the country at the time), and the way in which white Australia sought to either expunge indigenous people from the mainstream by consigning them to far way missions, or via the forced removal of children from their families during the Stolen generation period ( a fate which befalls one of the girls, which is told in a terrifying flashback sequence), integrate them into it so that they effectively vanish as a distinct people group anyway.

 

The three sisters – Julie (Jessica Mauboy), Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) – channel the kind of defiance they display at regular intervals throughout the movie when they are told something isn’t possible (Image via sunshinecoastdaily.com.au)

 

But its real power, apart from the music that binds the lives of everyone in it together in ways too powerful for even prejudice to counteract, is that it shows the way in which certain people decided to stand up against these odious attempts to treat as less than full citizens of the country, and claim what they believed was their birthright through sheer force of will and determination.

And sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Diana (Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and their estranged cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) have this defiance in abundance.

It propels far beyond the small world designated for them by an outside world that thinks they should know their place in society and meekly and thankfully stay in it.

This unwillingness to accept that they can’t realise their dreams their dreams of singing together in wider society, takes them, via the hand of “music promoter” (his claims to the title are dubious at best; his deep love of Soul music is not) Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd, IT Crowd) who they meet the aforementioned pub, from the obscurity of Cummeragunja Mission in rural Australia to the relative bright lights and big cities of Vietnam during the war.

At its heart then, the movie is a love letter to the notion that you can rise above the limitations imposed upon you by social mores or economic circumstances – an issue just as relevant today was it was in 1968 when we first meet the girls – a notion it triumphantly celebrates all the way through its running time.

 

(image via hopscotchfilms.com.au)

 

But it dovetails all this social commentary and quest for a better life by four young indigenous women, and yes one very lost white man, so neatly into this foot-stomping, Soul-harmonising romp through the momentous changes of the period (deftly summed up in a news montage near the start of the film) that it becomes one beautifully told story of self-realisation via the power of music, rather than the split-personality movie it could so easily have been.

Yes there are a few overly convenient plot shortcuts – the girls go from being deeply  antagonistic to, and suspicious of Dave Lovelace, the man compering the pub talent quest, where the racism of the white drinkers is raw and blindingly evident, to convincing him to take them to the auditions for entertaining the troops in Vietnam in about 5 minutes flat, and Dave convinces the girls’ sceptical parents in even less time – they are necessary to get these siblings speedily to where they need to be.

And some of the dramatic moments feel curiously stunted, cut off just as they are beginning to summon a decent head of steam – Deborah Mailman excels even so as the emotional heart and soul, or the “mama bear” as Lovelace calls her during one heartfelt moment, and pulls together more than one scene that without her would have been far less than it ended up being; her chemistry with the cheeky O’Dowd too is as perfect as you’ll get in any movie – and this does rob the movie of some of its great moments of gravitas.

 

The Sapphires and their manager Lovelace on the way to Nha Trang without a military escort where everything will change in an instant; they are intercepted on the road by a Viet Cong patrol who magically, and somewhat conveniently, let them go on their way after Kay greets them with a traditional Yorta Yorta greeting
(image via spotlightreport.net)

 

However, as their glorious adventure through the new sights and sounds of a land far removed from their own descends into the hell of war, and everyone is forced to assess what they mean to each other – which triggers a more than believable reconciliation between Gail and Kay, who was removed from the mission as a young girl due to her mixed race parentage, an act which left Gail feeling guilty and resentful – the drama is pitch perfect and evokes, without flinching, the nightmare of being in a warzone.

Yes it is a feel good movie, which luxuriates in the deeply felt Soul music of the period, which Lovelace points out in a humourous moment is all about fighting back when life does you wrong, and the blissfully beautiful harmonies of the four young women.

But it is also a tale of coming of age, of the deep importance of family and the land, of the deep injustices unfairly visited on certain groups in society, and the fact that no one should ever simply accept their lot in life, no matter how great the oppression arrayed against them, if they have within themselves the power to bring about change.

 

 

Dr Who season 7 and the curious case of the prequels

The BBC is treating the first five episodes of season 7 as stand along movie-like episodes and so each is being its own movie poster (image via nerdbastards.com)

 

I am all for teaser campaigns.

Especially for my favourite TV shows.

They build interest in the upcoming season, are a treat for long time fans wanting a window into what lies ahead for their favourite character/s, and can be a whole world of fun in themselves.

If they’re done properly of course.

Alas not all of them are.

Some campaigns, as with so many things in life, are better than others, and this is true of Dr Who season 7’s attempts to engender excitement and hype about the first seven episodes which start tonight UK time, and on September 8 in Australia (although the ABC will have the episodes on iView within minutes of the credits rolling on the BBC).

For instance this prequel to the first episode is gripping, sparsely but elegantly scripted, and stylishly realised, and makes me want to watch the first episode even more than I already do.

 

 

However these five 1 1/2 minute mini-episodes (see below), cutely titled “Pond Life”, which are supposed to reacquaint us with Dr Who (Matt Smith is, I have to admit, in fine form at least) and his current companions, Amy and Rory Pond, go nowhere fast.

I think the writer is trying to instill a sense of building crisis, of lives spiraling out of control which only the Doctor naturally can restore to balance.

 

Title sequence to “Pond Life” (image via constantlycalibrating.com)

 

But it is only in episode five that the mini-series sheds belatedly sheds its almost comic airs and brings into play something approaching drama.

It is though too little, too poorly realised, too late and a stands, for me at least, as a failed attempt to draw me back into a world I am happy to inhabit anyway.

Better luck next time hey chaps?