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  • Now this is music: The exquisitely heartfelt harmonies of You+Me

    (image via Josep Vinaixa)
    (image via Josep Vinaixa)

     

    In the grand scheme of musical things, the idea that P!nk (aka Alecia Moore) and Dallas Green (City and Colour, Alexisonfire) would ever come together and record an album was not the first thing that sprang to most peoples’ minds.

    After all, one is a bona fide rock god superstar, bestriding the arena stages of the world with a fierce vocal power, astonishing athleticism and an appealing line in down to earth wit and charm; the other is a softly spoken, self-effacing master indie-rock music artist, channeller of emotionally-evocative home truths and gently-articulated though searing insights.

    And yet as you listen to the two longtime friends – they met through Moore’s husband Carey Hart – on their recorded-in-a-week album rose ave., it seems like the most natural thing in the world that these two talented singer/songwriters would come together and craft an album of astonishing intimacy, depth and beauty.

    And it is immensely beautiful and incredibly intimate.

    It’s as if you have been dropped unseen and unheard into their home studio, watching on in hushed appreciation as the two artists, who have taken a pleasing detour into delicately pastoral folk/country for the album, sing of the highs and lows of life, the good and the bad moments that define us all with a disarmingly bare honesty that is as stripped back as their sound, which relies largely on subtlely-expressed guitar, percussion and keyboard work.

    What particularly sets rose ave. apart is the seamless way that Moore and Green’s voice blend together in harmonies so rich and lovely that you would swear they have been singing like this for eons, so perfect and absolute is their vocal joining together.

     

     

    Not that they are locked in complete harmony on every verse, bridge and chorus.

    On many of the songs, particularly the deeply affecting “Capsized”, “Second Guess” and “Love Gone Wrong” they trade lead vocal duties on the verses, reuniting on the choruses, which are sublime.

    It’s a pattern repeated on many of the songs which boast lyrically poetic musings on finding the love of your life “You and Me”), or the need to comfort someone who has found life to be more taxing and adversarial than a shared journey with a like-minded soul (“Break the Cycle”), paired with melodies and harmonies that ache with longing, pain or the simply joy of being with someone.

    There is an emotional authenticity that carries right through rose ave., a commitment to telling and singing it like it is than benefits greatly from both Moore and Green’s ability to channel a thousand different emotions through each and every word they utter.

    This is not paint-by-numbers music, or a vanity project to be dashed off quickly simply to see where it might lead, or to prove that there is more to their musical repertoire that the sounds that have defined their careers to this point; this is heartfelt, beautifully enunciated, sparsely-played music from deep within the soul that is soothing in the way that only great truths sets to profoundly touching music can be.

    Rose ave. is proof that you can take two inordinately talented people form two different musical worlds, bring them together and create an album of such deeply-affecting truth and beauty that, though it was conjured up in just over a week, is likely to have an impact for quite some time beyond that.

     

     

     

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  • Movie review: This is Where I Leave You

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    Dysfunctional families are to indie dramas what spectacular explosions are to blockbuster action thrillers – the bread and butter of their narrative, an indispensable part of their storytelling DNA.

    There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, since these dramas, with their focus on slowly-unspooled stories and richly-wrought characters who are given plenty of time to talk and work through their issues are ideally suited to exploring the machinations of families who long ago left behind any semblance of the Hallmark ideal, assuming they ever had it at all.

    But like any element that crops up and again in a particular genre, how it is used becomes almost as important, if not more so, than the fact that it is there at all, given it is all too easy to trot out the same stock standard characters and tropes, thrown them into all manner of confronting been-there-done-that situations and let loose the dogs of dysfunctional conflict.

    That’s why This is Where I Leave You, directed by Shawn Levy (The Spectacular Now) and based on the best-selling book of the same name by Jonathan Tropper (who also provides the tautly paced screenplay) is such an enjoyably unexpected achievement.

    Here is a family, headed by just-widowed feisty matriarch Hillary Altman (Jane Fonda), that is rife with the sort of dysfunction that has filled a thousand indie films before it – unhappy, squabbling siblings, thwarted life ambitions, adultery and its aftermath, unfulfilling relationships, regret and loss, and the confounding need for new beginnings in a landscape where neither the road less travelled or the road most travelled is an appealing prospect.

     

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    And yet somehow outspoken, over sharing therapist Hillary and her brood – eldest son Paul (Corey Stoll) who has never left the family’s hometown and runs their sporting good store, Judd (Jason Bateman) whose marriage ended along with his job when he found his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) having sex with his boss Wade (Dax Shepard), Phillip (Adam Driver), youngest son and self-admitted family screw-up, and daughter Wendy (Tina Fey), doting mother and exasperated wife – manage to transcend the many cliches that abound in a story that follows the week following the untimely death of their husband and father.

    Asked to sit shiva, a Jewish practice which requires immediate family members to gather in one home for seven days while receiving visitors offering condolence, as a dying wish of father Altman, the family is thrown together in ways that prove confronting to a group of people that had long since ceased saying anything meaningful with each other, a coping tactic brought on by Hillary’s propensity to share all their secrets in her wildly popular therapy books.

    Forced to sit side by side for most of the day on low slung chairs that negate the concept of personal space or privacy, a host of skeletons are released from closets, some on purpose, most accidentally and unwillingly, including Judd’s broken marriage, Paul’s inability to have a baby with wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn), who is also Judd’s ex-girlfriend, Phillip’s dead end career prospects and Wendy’s pining regret for her mildly brain-damaged old boyfriend Horry (Timothy Olyphant) who lives across from the family with his mother, Hillary’s close friend Linda (Debra Monk).

    What saves this litany of woes from becoming one tiresome parade of annoying disappointed-by-life cliches is that fact that underlying all the fractiousness are strong bonds of affection and love, long left idle and untested by distance, both emotional and physical, but very much still in place.

     

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    The Altmans then are not the flag bearers for cartoonish dysfunctionality, with real close relationships underpinning all the testy moments, the snarky quips, of which there are amusingly plenty, and physical jousting.

    Hillary, for all her lack of boundaries in respecting the privacy of her children – an irony given her book Cradle and All, is all about raising happy, healthy successful kids – genuinely and deeply loves her children and shares many profoundly touching moments with them throughout the film.

    The siblings too, for all their frustrations with each other, are never less than fully supportive of each other - Judd and Wendy are particularly close, spending many scenes on the roof of the house with each other - able to talk things through rather than have their issues divide them for all time.

    These characters are actually likeable people, with real problems recognisable to anyone with a reasonably functional life and family, which makes them inherently relatable and enjoyable to be around.

    It helps that Levy, apart from crafting an ending that accurately reflects the loose thread, not-everything-gets-resolved nature of things, has assembled such a talented, accomplished ensemble to bring the Altman family to less-than-perfect life.

    Fonda is remarkable as Hillary, ballsy and unedited in her comments and her acutely sensitive when the situation calls for it; in other words a real person grappling with her own unmet needs and expectations for life.

    Bateman as Judd is pitch perfect – world weary and exhausted by the twists and turns in his well-planned life but never tiresomely so, his budding relationship with high school crush Penny (Rose Byrne) realistic and yet rom-com sweet, his relationships with his siblings hilariously true to life, informed by his goofiness as much as his witty observations.

    Fey, Stoll and Driver are also excellent in their respective roles, as is Connie Britton as Phillip’s much older therapist girlfriend whose outsider status affords her a perspective that the Altmans and those close to them don’t always possess (though they are, by and large, a fairly self-aware bunch … eventually).

     

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    This is Where I Leave You works so well, and leaves such a favourable impression because it recognises that while dysfunction does exists in even the best of families, given they are populated by fallible people with good intentions but imperfect execution, it doesn’t mean it has to define the family in its entirety.

    The Altmans, test each other, annoy the hell out of each other, and constantly butt heads but they are, for the most part, in love with each other in a way that only parents and siblings who have genuine connections with each other can be.

    Their relationships may not always find fully formed, pleasing expression but they are very much there and intact which means they can withstand the 21st century arrows and slings of outrageous domestic misfortune and emerge on the other side to face another day.

    All of which makes This is Where I Leave You, a pleasingly mature treatise on the nature of family, one that has all the hallmarks of a dysfunctional indie family drama but isn’t captive to them, that is able to place them in the sort of context that that makes immediate sense to anyone watching while articulating them with insightful humour and likeability, reminding us in the process that for all their faults, we often need our families far more more than we might think we do.

     

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    Check out the trailer and series of interviews and interviews for the film …

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Unleash the Battlesaurs: Toy Story That Time Forgot (poster + trailer)

    (image via Hypable (c) Disney / Pixar)
    (image via Hypable (c) Disney / Pixar)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    After a post-Christmas play date, the Toy Story gang finds themselves in uncharted territory when the coolest set of action figures ever turn out to be dangerously delusional. If the gang hopes to return to Bonnie’s room, they’ll have to rely on Trixie the triceratops (Kristen Schaal). (synopsis via EW)

    Another holiday season beckons, and with it, happily for those of us who love Pixar and all its marvellously whimsical, engaging creations, another hilarious, imaginative and inspiring Toy Story special.

    Everyone we know and love is back for this latest excursion into Buzz Lightyear and Woody’s lunacy-laced, heartwarmingly funny world including the two protagonists (voiced as always by Tim Allen and Tom Hanks), “Isn’t this festive?!” Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and they’re joined this time around by newcomers Angel Kitty (Joan Cusack) and Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd), who heads the Battlesaurs, a new line of dinosaur toys introduced in the special, who are completely and delightfully delusional, having no idea they are toys.

    It will be up to Wood and Buzz and the gang, which will includes Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles) to help them realise they are the playthings of the children, that this is incredibly special (a message Toy Story has always been at pains to get across) and they need to embrace who they are, and yes let everyone return to Bonnie’s room.

     

     

    While not a Christmas special per se, Toy Story That Time Forgot does take place around the holiday season with Derek Thompson, head of story for the special explaining to Hypable what they were aiming for with Woody and Buzz’s latest adventure:

    “We were very conscious of trying to keep the Christmas ingredient integrated in the show in an organic way and not feel like a tacked on thing, so beyond the fact that it’s the setting of Christmas, we have the Angel Kitty. Her participation in the show actually expanded during the story development because she could represent the voice of holiday wisdom.”

    One thing that Thompson was quite clear about is that the theme of giving, central to any Christmas story, is front and centre in the storytelling of Toy Story That Time Forgot:

    Charlie Brown Christmas does a great job of having a real heart about the values of Christmas, and we talked about values at the holidays like giving and surrender. This notion of giving is really important. Does a toy give themselves over to a kid when they’re played with? And Trixie’s issue in the beginning is she wants to be played with in a certain way. So she’s going on an adventure to give oneself over to their child.”

    The real fun, as always, will come from the playful anarchy and heartwarming, though never saccharine, sweetness of each and every one of the Toy Story characters, who somehow manage to have an insane amount of fun and adventure while learning some sort of (non heavy-handed) lesson along the way.

    Toy Story That Time Forgot premieres on Tuesday, 2 December at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

     

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  • Movie review: Fury

    (image via Good Film Guide)
    (image via Good Film Guide)

     

    War is hell.

    That much we know to be true from firsthand accounts, documentaries, books and a seeming never-ending succession of movies and TV series, and in a sad sign that little has changed, from current nightly news broadcasts, all of which speak of its nightmarish horrors, its soul-destroying inhumanity, its ruthlessness suppression of the nobler instincts of our collective character in favour of death and destruction.

    The question then is whether David Ayer’s Fury, which he wrote and directed and which doesn’t flinch from portraying war in all its gruesome depravity and unavoidable brutality, really adds anything to this ongoing, vitally important, conversation.

    Not that it necessarily needs to of course but movies focused on a time of war, particularly those focusing on the two World Wars our planet has endured, can’t help but take on a thematic weight far in excess of what their dramatic intent might be, and Fury is no exception to the rule.

    And the answer unfortunately, despite its obvious intentions to be that and more, is no.

    For while it ably explores how harrowing an experience it must be to be asked to kill your fellow human beings, and what a traumatic departure from the relatively benign business of 9-to-5 living it is - we see this most effectively addressed in the person of US Army Private Norman “Machine” Ellison (Logan Lerman), a young typist who finds himself unexpectedly on the frontline with little to no warning or training – Fury sacrifices any real sense of the emotional impact on those called on to commit these acts in favour of depicting them in all their stomach-churning glory.

     

     

    It’s an effective approach if you are looking to get a sense of what war can do to a person, and how destructive it can be to their sense of self, and the way in which they relate to others but not so effective if you are looking to examine, as Ayers claims to be, on the nature of “family” and the way people intensely bond in unusually perilous situations such as a theatre of war.

    This is not to say that the tank crew of the US 2nd Armored Division which Ellison joins in April 1945 in the dying days of the Allied advance across Germany, led by brusquely tenacious Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt in fine nuanced form), and which includes Shia LaBeouf as US Army Technician 5th Grade Boyd “Bible” Swan, Michael Peña as US Army Cpl. Trini “Gordo” Garcia and Jon Bernthal as US Army PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, aren’t a family.

    Bonded in battles that have extended for three years across Africa, France, Belgium and now the homeland of the murderously infamous Third Reich, they are as much family as anyone can be, a highly fractious, sometimes downright antagonistic dysfunctional one, but a family nonetheless.

    Moving forward solely on the sacred vow that Collier has made to get them all home in one piece – there is no evidence of the noble patriotic drive that seemed to fuel Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers; Collier and his men are there to get a job done - they do not take kindly as first to the entry of Ellison to their number, a man who ends up killing multiple score of enemy soldiers on the front line in the course of witnessing unspeakable horrors.

    Through the young recruit’s eyes, we see masses of the dead being interred with little formality or sentiment into mass graves, men caught in exploding tanks aflame, whose only escape is a self-inflicted bullet to the brain, and civilians, in the wrong place at the wrong time, bombed or gunned down with little fanfare, and even less mourning.

    It is nasty, brutal and unforgiving, extending little time to the uninitiated like Ellison to adapt to its unpredictably violent demands.

    It asks a great deal of a person, of a team,which is why Collier (who we do see in one all too rare moment privately grieving his lost comrade), frustrated that his newest team member isn’t getting up to speed as quickly as he would, that he is flinching at the idea of killing the enemy, “bloods” him by forcing him to kill a captured German soldier in close quarters.

    It has the desired effect of forcing Ellison to lose his innocence, and reminds us once again that it is a dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed world when you’re at war, but something of Ayer’s exploration of family is lost in that moment, if it was ever fully, authentically there in the first place.

     

     

    The inherent failing of Fury, for all its dramatic bombast and visually shocking moments, of which there are many, is that it loses any real sense of humanity in the process of being the most authentic war movie it can be, unable to fully establish what it is that bonds the five man of the tank together in any meaningful fashion.

    True, they speak of working towards Collier’s goal of getting them home in one piece to their loved ones, but theirs is ultimately a false, almost hollow, camaraderie, one in which the words are spoken, the deeds done but with no real sense that these men actually care for each other, not in the way it is suggested they do.

    This leaves the audiences curiously emotionally uninvolved in the final climactic scene when all of this great bonding, this family of brothers is put to its final, greatest test.

    There are moments of great determination and resolve, and real anguish but these are sapped of their power to a large degree, despite the swelling, highly emotive and downright eerily beautiful score of Steven Price, by characterisation that is nowhere near as sharply defined, or well lived out, as it could be.

    For all its arresting visual power and awe, its stark lessons on the darkness and futility of war, its sometime poignant interludes – the meeting of Ellison and a German girl Emma is especially affecting – you are left at the end of Fury feeling curiously empty and unmoved.

    It is not quite sound and fury signifying nothing but it comes awfully close.

     

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  • The Walking Dead: “Strangers” (S4, E2 review)

    Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) finds himself in a bit of a pickle and without any weapons of any kind wouldn't you know it? (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)
    Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) finds himself in a bit of a pickle and without any weapons of any kind wouldn’t you know it? (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)

     

    *Hey they’re spoilers ahead … and walkers … and foul, damaged humanity … but you knew that already right?*

    Well, no surprises for guessing that once again humanity came off second-best in the PR stakes to the walking dead.

    You have to wonder how that can be don’t you, what with zombies possessing the sort of sunken, sloughed-off faces only a motherly member of the undead could love, an incessant need for human flesh which kinda makes it hard to make friends with anyone but other rotting dead people, and the social niceties of, well, zombies?

    It’s an especially confounding thing to grapple with in an episode like “Strangers” that featured, among its carnival of apocalyptic nasties, a sunken pool of zombie-swimming horror inside an abandoned food bank that smelt so bad that, in Bob’s immortal words, “if a sewer could puke, this is what it’d smell like”.

    And almost beyond comprehension when you ponder the fact that Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) had to then semi-swim around in this 3ft tall pile of rotting flesh and water to (a) kill a lot of zombies and (b) retrieve shelves full of food in cans so they could eat after a couple of days with just dead squirrels, courtesy of Daryl (Norman Reedus), for sustenance.

    Somehow though, even with all this highly objectionable stuff to their credit, and more besides – exploding skulls of someone that someone that used to know? Yes Gotye your song still has emotional resonance even after civilisation has well nigh breathed its last – the zombies came off looking better than humanity (hell of a PR team guys!).

    And we can slate this reputation-winning strategy to three people; or more correctly one person, a ragtag bunch of other people with a taste for human flesh – yes the Terminians led by Gareth (Andrew J. West) after back to their finger-lickin’ worst with poor zombie virus-infected Bob on the menu in one of the more horrific twists a show full to the brim with them has pulled – and a mysterious person or persons in a car with a cross stuck onto the back window who may or may not have kidnapped Beth (Daryl and Carol, played by Melissa McBride took off in their newly-discovered, though sadly not latest model Hyundai, car to see if that’s them).

     

    Now this is living! Even in a murky pool full of rotting zombies, Michonne is loving where she is now a million times more than where she once was (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)
    Now this is living! Even in a murky pool full of rotting zombies, Michonne is loving where she is now a million times more than where she once was (image (c) Gene Page/AMC)

     

    Even worse for humanity there’s a mighty good chance that all these seemingly disparate people know each other, a highly unsettling idea for Rick and his “family” - yes the people that Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) declared could be better than “survivors” if only they’d go to Washington DC on Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) likely fool’s errand (hell even in the apocalypse you have to constantly better yourself; oh the pressure!)- who have just shacked up in a church with one of them, a man of God by the name of Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) who you’ll be pleased to know has so many sins to his credit that he has to confess them every day to God.

    Just God, mind you and no one else, something which gets Rick more than a little nervous; that and the fact that someone is trying to gouge their way in with knives through the windows, is scrawling “YOU’LL BURN FOR THIS” in the wooden exterior walls (scary enough to make “We’re strong enough to help people” Carl (Chandler Riggs) re-think his new kumbayah strategy of relating to the world), and the good old reverend overall well-fed, well-laundered and just fresh as an un-walker-trampled daisy good looks.

    Something smell rotten and it’s not a decayed swimming pool full of zombies.

    But with Father Stokes played the “gee whiz I can’t kill zombies” card because, and I quote “The Lord abhors violence” (so the whole Old  Testament was just one long uncorrected typo then?) and demonstrating an almost laughable inability to fend for himself – they meet when the survivors, at Carl’s urging, rescue the reverend from atop a rock surrounded by snapping walkers – and the not small matter of the church to shelter in and food to eat, Rick has no choice but to trust him for now, albeit with two very wide open eyes not letting him out of his sight (which is why Gabriel came to the food bank too where he, ahem, met an old lady friend of his, looking slightly the worse for wear).

     

    "Why hello there! Come here often?" Bob makes the acquaintance of an underwater zombie who may just be the one to end his "Everything is awesome!" party (image via Crave Online (c) AMC)
    “Why hello there! Come here often?” Bob makes the acquaintance of an underwater zombie who may just be the one to end his “Everything is awesome!” party (image via Crave Online (c) AMC)

     

    It wasn’t exactly looking like humanity’s finest hour but somehow this didn’t deter Bob – yes he who would later find himself the centre of the Terminians latest freakish repast where he also had to listen to a stomach-churningly self-serving lecture from Gareth about how they’re not bad, just misunderstood and pushed into a man-eating corner; in other words, all human limbs and no responsibility – from expecting everything to come up roses.

    In one of four major themes that percolated their way through “Strangers” – along with Optimism vs. Pessimism, we had Old Lives vs. New Starts (Michonne confessed she was OK without the katana since it represented her old, little-lamented pre-Rick and the gang days), Things Hidden Vs. Things Disclosed (Tara confessed her Governor-heavy past to Maggie and got nothing but hugs while Father Stokes kept mum on everything) and Taking Charge vs. Victimhood (hello Gareth you eternal bleating victim you!) – Bob, in endlessly kissing love with Sasha (who very much returned the favour), decided that the bluebird of happiness, and not the zombie crow of rotting flesh and misery, was following them all the live-long day.

    Witness this exchange, a game called Good, Ugly, Bad between Bob (B) and Sasha (S) to get some sense of the man’s sunny side up state of mind:

    S: “Wet socks.”
    B: “Cool feet.”
    S: “Mosquito bites.”
    B: “Itching reminds you you’re alive.”
    S: “Danger around every corner.”
    B: “Never a dull moment.”
    S: “Hot sun beating down on you.”
    B: “C’mon! A glorious tan” [they both smile then break into laughter] “Well I said it and I meant it.”
    S: “No privacy.”
    B: “A captive audience” [kisses as Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Judith's new eternal shadow, looks on smilingly]

    The man is damn near unstoppably upbeat even answering Rick’s grim assessment that “This is the real world” with “Nah, it’s a nightmare and nightmares end.”

    It was a pleasure to behold, to see someone so in live with life in a world that most assuredly isn’t, and it made the idea that Bob likely got bit in his encounter with an aquatic zombie in the flooded basement, all the more desperately sad (although if he succeeds in infecting the Terminians as they chow down on him without his permission then silver lining regained people!).

     

    Bob's gruesome predicament, which closes out "Strangers" with a horrifying visual reveal and a self-serving sermon from Gareth, is sad possible finish for what who is the bluebird of happiness of Rick's group (image via Crave Online (c) AMC)
    Bob’s gruesome predicament, which closes out “Strangers” with a horrifying visual reveal and a self-serving sermon from Gareth, is sad possible finish for what who is the bluebird of happiness of Rick’s group (image via Crave Online (c) AMC)

     

    While slower paced than last week’s full-on flaming zombies season 5 opener, “Strangers” suffered nary a sophomore episode slump, succeeding brilliantly in:

    * cementing the relationships between everyone in the group via a series of rich little person-to-person vignettes, many involving Carol, focused on confessing past sins with the constant refrain of new starts, something Daryl particularly was keen on and Rick wholeheartedly embraced telling Carol “I owe you everything”.

    * introducing a kick ass new environment in which to wrestle with zombies (all that’s left is a pool full of jello/jelly) and giving us some emotionally-fraught – for Father Gabriel anyway who reacted none too well to his supposed now zombiefied paramour swimming to wards him in the rotten goop – action of the highest order.

    * and weaving in all manner of philosophical conversations (see the bolded bits above) that have been just as much a mainstay of the The Walking Dead as its heart stopping action.

    It was a fine piece of taut, character and action rich storytelling, reinforcing the idea that the show is on a narrative roll (and that humanity needs to hire a better PR consultant stat).

    Watch out for next week’s “Four Walls and a Roof”, the promo for which follows …

     

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  • The Guardians of the Galaxy have never looked more animated!

    Peter Quill (image via YouTube (c) Marvel/Disney)
    Peter Quill (image via YouTube (c) Marvel/Disney)

     

    Looking back, it seems incredible that anyone could have doubted that The Guardians of the Galaxy would become the movie success of the year, sweeping all before it as it powers towards a likely worldwide $800 million box office haul.

    But as with anything that steps outside the box of tightly held expectations of what will and won’t work, the James Gunn-directed romp across the stars, which featured a talking genetically-modified raccoon, a grown up kidnapped Earth boy with delusions of naming grandeur, a green-skinned warrior princess with one hell of an adoptive father, a strong, monosyllabic tree and a blue-toned muscle man with revenge on his mind, brought forth the naysayers who opined that a Marvel film without Spiderman or The Avengers would leave the moviegoing public cold.

    But thanks to an inventive script, which deftly took the mickey out of science fiction conventions, even as it paid grand and visually impressive homage to them (the closest example I can think of movie-wise is The Princess Bride, which was both a parody and a standard bearer for the fantasy genre) and stuffed full of witty oneliners and hilarious set pieces, The Guardians of the Galaxy was a much needed breath of fresh air in the superhero genre, which particularly in the well-oiled Marvel stable, was in need a little bit of a creative shake up.

    So successful has the film been in fact that it has already been greenlit for a sequel, due in 2017, and now an animated series due to air next year on Disney HD, which had a teaser trailer released for it as the just completed New York Comic Con, and which is included for your viewing pleasure below.

    You can’t really divine too much about the direction of the series from the brief snippet of test footage which features a brief and characteristically witty exchange between Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon but it does seem to promise that it will hew, at least in spirit, to the tone and look and feel of The Guardians of the Galaxy movie which can only be a good thing.

    It will also do a nice job of tiding fans of the movie over until the next instalment of the franchise hits theatres in the far off days of 2017.

     

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  • Thanks for the animation memories: Where are all those ’80s cartoon characters now?

    Their glory days long behind him, life is a whole lot tougher for the once fesity duo of Roger and Jessica Rabbit (image via Vimeo (c) Steven Cutts)
    Their glory days long behind him, life is a whole lot tougher for the once fesity duo of Roger and Jessica Rabbit (image via Vimeo (c) Steven Cutts)

     

    It’s hard for any public figure in the midst of their glory days to imagine a time when they won’t be adored, feted or valued beyond measure, when the spotlight will move on to younger, more beautiful souls and they will be left alone in the dark, railing against the dying of the light, much like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard who famously proclaimed “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

    And now thanks to the marvellously imaginative talents of Steven Cutts we know it happens to even beloved animation figures too.

    In this hilarious and yet desperately poignantly sad piece of animation, we find out that time has well and truly moved from Jessica and Roger Rabbit whose passionate love affair has devolved into an endless procession of fried chicken meals, and by the sounds of Jessica’s gravelly voice, a raging nicotine habit, Skeletor (now a call centre drone trying to sell life insurance policies; oh the irony), ALF (now a minimum wage worker at The Chicken Palace, Jessica’s home away from home) and even Dastardly Dolittle and Mutley who are now running a food van selling burgers.

    Life isn’t pretty, a welter of vanished stardom, failed dreams and non-existent animation work, and you can help but feel sorry for once-beloved characters as they struggle to live life far from the celebrity lives they once led.

    Only He-Man, who seems to have owned up to his true sexuality, seems to have escaped unscathed, living the high life, and naturally enough, the designer of a range of lingerie.

    It’s an inspired, incredibly clever look at the passing of time through the eyes of many of our favourite characters, one that will hopefully remind us not to turn to excessive chicken consumption in our declining days.

     

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  • Movie review: Force Majeure

    (image via IMP Awards)
    (image via IMP Awards)

     

    The brutal shattering of long held perceptions is at the heart of oft Cannes-feted director Ruben Östlund’s latest provocative work, Force majeure, a film which takes a forensic look at the aftereffects of a runaway avalanche on the hitherto picture perfect marriage of workaholic Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) and his subconsciously resentful wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli).

    Away for five precious days of family time with their pre-teen children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren), the Swedes are the epitome of Ikea-catalogue perfection – laughing, smiling, kitted out in the latest ski gear and staying at an immaculate ski resort that seems to cling precariously to the plateau it occupies high in the Swiss Alps.

    No doubt if you had asked Tomas or Ebba on their first idyllic day of skiing – the film is divided into five parts each corresponding to a day of their holidays – about the state of the relationship both would have described it in unequivocally glowing, healthy terms (although there are visible cracks in this tightly-controlled self-delusion such as when Ebba over-sharingly tells a fellow Swede she meets at reception that “We’re here because Tomas works too much; he’s going to dedicate five days to his family.”)

    Things change entirely, and not for the better, on the second day when one of the resort’s regular “controlled avalanches” – an oxymoron surely Östlund seems to suggest since who can really successfully coerce Mother Nature to do their will? – appears to go awry, sending a wall of snow cascading down onto the terrace restaurant where the till-then jovial family is having lunch.

    In the face of this growing threat, some people panic and leave immediately; others such as Tomas pull out their phones to record the event, confident the resort’s authorities are fully in control of the situation.

    But as the avalanche careens ever closer to the perilously-placed tourists, Tomas, ups and runs, seemingly ignoring Harry’s desperate cries of “Daddy! Daddy!”, leaving Ebba to grab both the children who, proving too heavy to carry away, are forced to hide with her under the table in the hope it will provide sufficient protection.

     

    Exhausted after their first day of skiing, Tomas, Ebba, Harry and Vera sleep together, one last moment of familial bliss before their world takes a turn for the troubled and dark (Image via Hitfix)
    Exhausted after their first day of skiing, Tomas, Ebba, Harry and Vera sleep together, one last moment of familial bliss before their world takes a turn for the troubled and dark (Image via Hitfix)

     

    In the end, no harm comes to them and the avalanche is revealed to have stopped some distance from the restaurant, sending only what is called “avalanche smoke” their way, a ghostly white but harmless apparition which soon clears like the fog is appears to be.

    But the damage is done and Tomas and Ebba’s relationship isn’t quite the same in the aftermath, previously unseen, or rather more likely unacknowledged fissures in their once “perfect” coupling rending their union wide asunder, breaking the all-smiling surface in spectacular fashion.

    Not that this is acknowledged, much less discussed immediately though, with Ebba instead growing sullen and irritable, and Tomas defensive and initially unwilling to admit fault – the children, instructively, are the only ones to actually vent their feelings though they aren’t treated seriously by their parents because to do so would mean owning up to that fact that something is wrong – neither able to admit to themselves or to each other, at least at first, that their perceptions of each other and of the relationship have been proved a lie in one heart-stopping moment.

    As the days unfold, the contagion of mistrust and self-doubt swirling in and around Ebba and Tomas spreads to Tomas’s newly-divorced best friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and his new 20 year old girlfriend Fanni (Fanni Metelius), with the latter couple’s relationship coming under temporary strain when Ebba drunkenly shares what happened on the terrace with them, leading Fanni to imply then outright suggest that Mats would likely act just as Tomas did, given modern men, in her opinion, aren’t as likely to be heroic as their forebears.

    Force Majeure is an emotionally, stark unadorned film that explores this modern concept of masculinity, as well as the fissures wending their way through Ebba and Tomas’s relationship with a subtle perceptiveness that sometimes explodes into caterwauling pain – witness Tomas’s tearful breakdown in the hallway one night that Ebba is powerless to curtail – but sticks for the most part to expression through deathly quiet interludes between the couple, discreet tilts of the shoulder or eyes that quietly indicate all is not well in the relationship.

    Even the benign nightly act of brushing their teeth carries with ominous intent, reflecting the unspoken drift that has occurred between the two since the traumatic incident.

     

    Fresh from some high altitude skiing, and some primal, anger-relieving screaming, Tomas and Mats relax at a bar and endure yet more indignity (though it is awkwardly amusing) when a woman tells Tomas, on behalf of her friend, that he's the hottest guy there, only to retract it moments it later (image via Indiewire)
    Fresh from some high altitude skiing, and some primal, anger-relieving screaming, Tomas and Mats relax at a bar and endure yet more indignity (though it is awkwardly amusing) when a woman tells Tomas, on behalf of her friend, that he’s the hottest guy there, only to retract it moments it later; this darkly comedic scene is followed another bizarrely funny one when Tomas, unable to locate Ebba and the kids, is accidentally swept up into a sauna of drunk, primal-screaming men (image via Indiewire)

     

    Each day’s scenes are separated by long, evocative shots across the snowfields and the resort, the chillingly-quiet pans across the visually impressive scenes interrupted only by the staccato blasts of the avalanche-clearing guns, and short, sharp bursts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which expresses the fury which is bubbling away under the surface of Tomas and Ebba’s wounded marriage but which, until the penultimate day of skiing, is not expressed in any meaningful way.

    Ebba, who has invested a great deal of her identity, time and effort into the marriage and is deeply shaken by the sense it may have all been for nought – this is demonstrated most sharply in an conversation she has over wine with a newly-made holiday friend, a woman who admits she has affairs while on vacation without her husband’s knowledge; Ebba is confronted by this, amazed that anyone could treat their marriage in so casual a fashion – is the one who expresses her pain first but in typical Östlund fashion, in the most public and socially-awkward of ways, over dinner with friends.

    Tomas only follows some days later but by then you have to wonder if permanent damage has been done and if there any chance of reconciliation at all?

    Force Majeure then is a masterfully-nuanced exploration in modern gender roles and relational dynamics, a film unafraid to pose a series of emotionally-confronting, hard-hitting questions to devastating effect.

    It’s only significant flaw is the over-long ending which lends both Tomas and Mats a rather contrived chance to re-assert their masculinity, to atone for their sins (which in Mats case are hypothetical only) but which only serves really to finish what has been a searing, insightful examination of flaws inherent in all of us, alone or in a relationship, in a rather limp and too neat way.

    Even so, it is a minor misstep in a film that compellingly explores the vast gulf exists between perception and reality in all of us, and in our relationships, leaving us wondering if there would be some meeting of the two if we were to find ourselves in a similar situation one day?

     

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  • Weekend pop art: Poster Posse pays beautiful tribute to Big Hero 6

    (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)
    This poster was handed out to everyone who attended the Big hero 6 panel at the recently-held New York Comic Con (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Big Hero 6 is co-directed by Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh) and Chris Williams (Bolt) with a script that Jordan Roberts (3,2,1…Frankie Go Boom) co-wrote with the former. Based on the comic book series of the same name, the film marks the first collaboration between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Marvel. The story follows brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion—a robot named Baymax—Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city. (synopsis via First Showing)

    From the first moment I heard about this collaboration between Marvel and Disney – the former is owned by the latter but this is the first time apparently they have worked directly together on a project – I have been entranced by the humour, the whimsy, the sheer imaginative breadth of the story … and yes the artwork which is both adorable and breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time.

    (Check out my previous posts on Big Hero 6 here and here.)

    It’s this artwork which has been brought even more magnificently to life by Poster Posse, who have previously created one-of-a-kind posters for films like Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla, and who have now their attention their official tributes to Disney and Marvel’s upcoming film.

    The results are unsurprisingly gorgeous, a pleasing mix of technicolour comic book imagination and vividly-realised art, a further sign that Disney is willing to push the boundaries of the movie poster in ways that aren’t just functional, they’re beautiful.

    And if you’re one of those fans who were lucky enough to get into the Panel at New York Comic Con, you’ll be able to gaze upon the giveaway poster (above) right up until the film and beyond, and remind yourself that great art knows no boundaries or purposes and can be found even in the calling of a young boy from San Fransokyo and his sweetly goofy robot.

    Big Hero 6 opens in USA on 7 November 2014 and in Australia on 26 December.

     

    (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)
    (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)

     

    (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)
    (image (c) Poster Posse via First Showing)

     

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  • Who wants to go shopping at Horrorstör? (book trailer)

    (image via Call of the Small (c) Quirk Books)
    (image via Call of the Small (c) Quirk Books)

     

    Aarrggh! Forget zombies and vampires and werewolves and White House-exploding alien invasions.

    What is truly scary beyond measure is walking through a brightly-lit, sanitised assemble-it-yourself furniture megastore, with all its shinier-than-shiny, squeaky clean evocations of a The Stepford Wives-like lifestyle … and realising you will have to spend countless hours, and expend blood, sweat and tears and more swear words than a dock worker on morning break, assembling it all, praying all the while that you don’t leave a part out.

    But what if there was something even scarier than that? Yes scarier than trying than to follow one of those strangely oblique assemblage plans that always look like they have skipped a step or three hundred?

    What if you worked there and had to stay in the store overnight on a graveyard shift? What then?

    Well then you would have Horrorstör, a novel by novelist and New York Asian Film Festival co-founder Grady Hendrix whose cover, by Christine Ferrara of Call of the Small, resembles one of IKEA’s famed catalogs (it’s also filled with IKEA-like ads for creepy non-existent products by Mike Rogalski), and which promises, murder and mayhem in amongst, as c|net observes, “ready-to-assemble furniture like Jodlöpp, the Ingalutt and the Kraanjk — which are ‘based on real devices used in 19th-century prisons’, according to Hendrix.

    This inventively-premised and cleverly-packaged book by Quirk Books, comes complete with a beautifully-shot trailer which was shot at a furniture store 24e in Savannah, Georgia by Epic Image Entertainment, who have succeeded beyond measure in bringing to life the spine-tinglingly scary plot of the book (taken from Quirk Books site via c|net):

    “Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Brooka glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofa beds — clearly, someone or something is up to no good. To unravel the mystery, five young employees volunteer for a long dusk-till-dawn shift — and they encounter horrors that defy imagination.”

    It’s available now and if you can handle the idea of flatpack furniture posing a danger to your life and limb – well more than it does already; those Allan keys are dangerous people! – you can check out an excerpt here.

     

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