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  • Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious goes death metal: Mary Poppins as you’ve never heard her before

    Mary Poppins and Burt in full Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious flight (image via Disney wikia (c) Disney)
    Mary Poppins and Burt in full Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious flight (image via Disney wikia (c) Disney)

     

    It will come as no surprise to anyone that movies often significantly depart from the books upon which they are based.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean they are a diminished form of the story; simply different.

    Some authors, however such as J. D. Salinger and Roald Dahl, most certainly thought the movie adaptations of their books were lesser works, and one in particular, P. K. Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins, expressed her displeasure in sternly vociferous terms, a version of which, a highly fictionalised version say some, was featured in Disney’s Saving Mr Banks.

    Travers’ Mary Poppins was a good deal different to her movie counterpart, earthier, sterner and more apt to say what was what as Kathryn Hughes noted in her Guardian article What Saving Mr Banks tells us about the original Mary Poppins:

    “…as Travers’s text makes clear, Mary Poppins is no beauty. She has squinty eyes and big feet and regularly attracts the comment from the other characters that she is “not much to look at”. Nor does the original Mary Poppins sound anything like the carefully modulated Julie Andrews. Travers gives her the accent and vocabulary of a real London nanny: cockney base notes overlaid with a strangled gentility. So she says things like “I’ll have you know that my uncle is a sober, honest, hard-working man!” and punctuates her pronouncements with “a superior sniff.”

    I’d like to think that this wholly more grounded version of Mary Poppins – for the record, I am a fan of both, delighting in both Travers’ literary creation and her all-dancing, all-singing Disney incarnation – is the inspiration for a Death metal version of one of the best known songs from the film, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, by Andy Rehfeldt.

    Certainly the song, which is as joyfully loud and thunderous and just plain seditiously wonderful as you might hope for, and features vocals by Sera Hatchett of Mercy Brown and Thomas Hinds, arrangements by music producer Grant Cornish and instrument playing by Andy Rehfeldt, channels just the kind of vibe of which the book version of Mary Poppins might have wholly approved.

    As long as they stopped their glorious noise before bedtime, of course.

    (source: Laughing Squid)

     

     

    And for comparison here is the original scene from Mary Poppins, starring the incomparable Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke …

     

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  • Movie review: Queens and Cowboys #mgff2015

    (image via official Queens and Cowboys site)
    (image via official Queens and Cowboys site)

     

    Food, water and shelter aside, one of the most basic needs a person can have is the one to belong.

    Whether we are conscious of it or not, or even admit to its existence,  all of us are looking for a group of likeminded people we can call family, people who will support us,amuse us, comfort us, challenge us and be there for us in ways we may not have even thought of yet (and of course, vice versa).

    It is the overriding theme that emerges quite powerfully in Matt Livadary’s profoundly-moving and deeply-inspiring documentary film Queens and Cowboys, which tells the story of a year on the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) circuit and the disparate group of men and women who are its living, breathing, beating soul.

    To a person, they have all encountered prejudice and discrimination of one form or another at regular rodeo events in USA and Canada, withdrawing from a sport they loved in response, grievously convinced there was no real alternative where they could feel included, valued, and where most importantly, they could live out a passion so strong that they , in the words of one of the fascinating people featured, Wade Earp, they “… live and breathe cowboy.”

    That is, until they came across IGRA, an organisation that survives on the smell of an oily rag but nevertheless sends an impressive amount of money to the slew of charities via the funds raised by their rodeos.

    Earp, who is as you might have guessed is a descendant of one of the most famous cowboys of them all, is emblematic of a cast of characters who, despite their financial challenges and health issues, never think of giving up doing what they love – “[You] get up, dust yourself off, and keep going” (Earp, a man who has a way with words and touching self-analysis, again) – or the eclectic group of volunteers, spectators and competitors who spend a great deal of their non-work waking hours following a series of rodeos that wind their way from Florida through the midWest to Calgary, Canada and California.

    So compelling is this need to belong, participate and be a part of something bigger than themselves, that each of the five people featured go to inordinate lengths to make it to each and every rodeo.

     

    The deep sense of belonging that permeates every facet of IGRA's existence find its most affecting expression in the financial (and emotional) support to one of the people featured, Ty Tiegen, who is battling stage 4 ovarian cancer (image via and (c) official Queens and Cowboys site)
    The deep sense of belonging that permeates every facet of IGRA’s existence find its most affecting expression in the financial (and emotional) support to one of the people featured, Ty Tiegen, who is battling stage 4 ovarian cancer (image via and (c) official Queens and Cowboys site)

     

    They all freely admit to a person that without the IGRA their lives wouldn’t be as rich and fulfilled, or even, in the case of 26 year old Oklahoman native and rancher to his core, Chris Sherman, whether they would even be alive.

    Livadary, who began the project almost by accident when research for a television show led him to IGRA, shows a remarkable gift for drawing out the stories of Earp, Sherman, transsexual Travis Gardner who believes “IGRA gave him the strength to be the man he always knew he was”, doggedly determined lesbian bull rider Char Duran and Ty Tiegen, a talented cowgirl battling end-stage ovarian cancer, with touching humanity, vivacity and grace.

    Each of these passionate, compelling characters come alive under Livadary’s deft touch, their stories resonating with anyone who has ever battled to find a place to call home and a group of people to call family.

    That each of them have done so on the gay rodeo circuit is powerfully and affectingly revealed in ways that will surprise you especially if you, like myself, have never found yourself attracted to the sport of rodeoing in any way, shape or form.

    In fact, I will freely admit that were it not for a last minute invitation from a friend I might have never seen this film; after living through the struggles, joys and tenacity of Earp, Sherman Garner, Char and Tiegen, that would’ve have been to my great loss.

    To a person, everyone at the screening I attended identified with and was drawn into the stories of the five impressive individuals Livadary features in Queens and Cowboys, cheering Earp once in his hitherto unsuccessful quest to become “All Around Cowboy” at the finals rodeo in Forth Worth, Texas (which finishes off the year of competition), willing Char to win her first bull riding buckle (this requires staying on the bucking animal for six seconds) and hoping Tiegen will win her greatest battle of all with the cancer consuming her body, but not delightfully, her sassy sense of humour or love of rodeo.

    And in an almost Vaudevillian fashion, the audience booed the seemingly eternally successful, David Lenier, a consummately confident verging on arrogant man from San Diego who has grabbed the “All Around Cowboy” crown more often than he hasn’t, and is intent on doing so again at the expense of Earp, the earnestly enthusiastic perennial runner-up for IGRA’s highest award.

     

    While Earp watches on, Char competes once again in the bull riding, despite never having won a buckle (The rodeo equivalent of a trophy) and sustaining what sounds like a neverending list of life-threatening injuries (image via and (c) official Queens and Cowboys site)
    While Earp watches on, Char competes once again in the bull riding, despite never having won a buckle (The rodeo equivalent of a trophy) and sustaining what sounds like a neverending list of life-threatening injuries (image via and (c) official Queens and Cowboys site)

     

    While Queens and Cowboys follows a reasonably typical documentary style, it is anything but ordinary in the stories it tells.

    Delving into the back stories of its cast, and outlining how gay rodeo is still seen as some sort of illegitimate poor cousin by the vastly larger “straight” rodeo organisations, it is never less than utterly compelling, reminding us with every heart-stopping buck of the bull, every race against the clock that IGRA is not simply a run of events on a calendar.

    It is life to each and every one of the people who are involved with it, a home away from home, that sustains them, gives them a reason to keep going and most importantly, allows them to still be a part of something that is central to their identity, an opportunity denied by the more mainstream rodeo competitions.

    Far more than just a chance to compete though, IGRA is above all, a family, a place to belong and we see that profoundly expressed time and again as it supports, uplifts and encourages every single person in its ranks, and through its extensive roster of charitable donations, people who wouldn’t know a barrel ride from a calf roping.

    Queens and Cowboys is that most special of films – a sensitively-wrought, deeply human and effortlessly moving reveal of a vitally important world very few of us would have known existed otherwise, one which is vital and life-sustaining to the remarkable gay and lesbian cowboys who call it home.

     

     

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  • Velociraptors on motorcycles! This Jurassic Park parody video is pre-hysterically funny

    Velociraptors on motorbikes are go! (image via YouTube (c) Darren Wallace)
    Velociraptors on motorbikes are go! (image via YouTube (c) Darren Wallace)

     

    I have no doubt that the upcoming Jurassic World film, which features Chris Pratt as velociraptor-wrangling, Indian Jones-arua emitting, dinosaur DNA-fiddling averse hero-in-the-making Owen Grady will be a tour deforce of edge-of-your-seat prehistoric thrill-making.

    And I am also fully convinced that the dinosaurs that will fill the film, from said velociraptors to trained giant plesiosaurs to the mutant T-Rex beast that could doom everyone, Indominus Rex, will be impressive beyond belief, worthy foils for the puny humans who try their best to counteract humanity’s once-more vaulting hubris.

    But there’s something about this parody trailer by Darren Wallace, of the official Jurassic World trailer, that suggests to me that if just a few of the elements featured in the tongue-in-cheek trailer variant were used, that the resulting film would be even more awesome indeed.

    I mean, c’mon people, velociraptors on motorbikes!

    Jeff Goldblum heads on an onrushing herd of Gallimimus!

    Who doesn’t love that? Well, apart from the people not on motorcycles trying to escape them or those with Jeff Goldblum aversions (what kind of monsters must they be, I ask you?).

    But beyond that pesky little issue of survival, and velociraptors with afros, there’s lots to like about this trailer which comes packed to the gills with all kinds of funny “Dad jokes” and pop culture references (check out the sign at the start).

    It’s a hoot me hearties! (This will make perfect sense when you watch the trailer, trust me.)

    Jurassic World opens in Australia on 11 June 2015 and USA and UK on 12 June 2015.

     

     

    And here is the most recent Jurassic World trailer for comparison …

     

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  • You know we can’t Let It Go: new short Frozen Fever gets a trailer worth holding on to

    Olaf is back! Along with Anna and Elsa and Kristoff and Sven ... and well, everyone! (image via YouTube (c) Disney)
    Olaf is back! Along with Anna and Elsa and Kristoff and Sven … and well, everyone! (image via YouTube (c) Disney)

     

    As you may have noticed if you haven’t been trapped under an ice floe for the past 15 months or so (and possibly still even then), Frozen, Disney’s music-filled, visually-stunning, heartwarming take on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale “The Snow Queen”, is a BIG DEAL.

    I mean, grossed $1.2bn [insert Dr. Evil from Austin Powers doing his thing here] to date, world wide phenomenon that shows no sign of stopping, “Let It Go” on endless repeat while little girls dance around in colourful, gossamer princess dresses BIG.

    And it shows no sign of slowing down anytime yet.

    Now, while there is no confirmation of a feature-length sequel in the works – at least a movie sequel anyway; Disney announced mid last year that it would continue the story of Anna and Elsa and their eclectic bunch of friends in book form – there is a brand new 7-minute short, Frozen Fever, that will be the lead-in to Disney’s live action re-telling of the classic tale of Cinderella.

    Exciting news for sure, and now we have a tangible sense of what the short, directed by the same people who helmed Frozen itself, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee and featuring the same voice cast which includes Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad, will be like in the form of a delightful 39 second trailer.

    It has, as you’d expect, a show-stopping song, again by the same team that made Frozen such a musically magical experience, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Olaf acting goofy and eating cake, Anna and Elsa showing the sisterly love, and the whole kingdom of Arendelle turning out to celebrate in fine style.

    To complicate things just a little bit Elsa also gets a cold and her powers, which have proven to be a little chilly and unpredictable cause havoc once again.

    It sounds like delightful fun, so much fun in fact that I am highly tempted to fly up north to the Gold Coast in southern Queensland, and take my niece to go and see it.

    I have every feeling that it, and Cinderella itself, will be worth the time and expense.

    Yup, it looks like neither I, my niece or any of Frozen‘s fans are going to be able to “Let It Go” anytime soon.

    (source: Hey U Guys)

     

     

    And here’s an interview with conducted by the awesome people at Hey U Guys with the directors of Frozen, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee …

     

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  • Can’t wait to see: Félix And Meira (poster + trailer)

    (image via Indiewire)
    (image via Indiewire)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    In Maxime Giroux’s latest feature, an unusual romance blos­soms between two lost souls who inhabit the same neigh­bourhood but vastly different worlds. Meira (Hadas Yaron) is a young Hasidic Jewish mother in Montreal’s Mile End dis­trict who secretly rebels against her faith by listening to soul music and taking birth control pills; Félix (Martin Dubreuil) is a loner grieving the recent death of his estranged father. Intrigued by Meira, Félix hopes her religious devotion will provide insight into his loss, and though she rebuffs him at first a mutual affection soon arises between the two. As Meira’s desire for change becomes harder for her to hide, the young woman is faced with a stark choice: remain within the community she has always known, or pursue an uncertain future outside of it. (synopsis via TIFF)

    It’s all too easy to stick with what you know.

    After all, it’s well mapped out, there are no uncomfortable surprises lurking where they can’t be seen, and you can luxuriate in knowing what’s expected of you.

    But what if you’re the kind of person who’s not satisfied with that kind of strictly-codified lifestyle? What if you need more?

    What if you’re Meira, the Meira of Maxime Giroux’s Félix and Meira, a member of Montreal’s tightly-knit Hasidic Jewish community who wants more than the proscribed forms of behaviour and longs for something indefinably more?

    Then you will likely fall for the flirtatious advances of an atheistic man by the name of Félix who is unsure of what he wants or where he fits anymore either but thinks Meira might be the one to help him find it.

    And together you might go some way, in the chaste though intimate relationship that follows, to figuring out what it is you want from a life that sweeps far broader and takes more chances than the one you’re currently living.

    But as Josh Cabrita of The Now observes, for all the life-changing possibilities the relationship between Félix and Meira offers, it won’t ever be the cure for all their existential ills:

    “Becoming alive for Meira is not as simple as it may seem. Leaving her Hasidic community is not a black-and-white decision. Stay or go: either way Meira leaves something behind. No imperfect world perfectly satisfies. Life isn’t like most movies. Felix and Meira is at its best when it recognizes this.”

    And while Peter Debruge of Variety also notes that the movie itself is far from a perfect creation, it does have a lot running in its favour:

    “Though set in present-day Montreal, this tender romance unfolds like an episode from another century, paying the sort of careful attention to social boundaries you’d expect to find in a classic forbidden-love novel. While neither Meira’s arc nor her Orthodox Jewish environment constitutes especially new territory, this Oscilloscope acquisition distinguishes itself through its subtlety and sensitivity …”

    It sounds like the sort of film that offers you the chance to think about your life, where it is and where it could be, and what you would change and wouldn’t, all wrapped up in a gentle, incisive and socially-aware slice of life drama.

    That is what cinema should be about – telling you stories that start you off thinking about your own.

    Félix and Meira, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2014, is currently awaiting a general international release dates after appearances at a suite of festivals worldwide.

     

     

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  • The smart sounds and bright colours of Faded Paper Figures

    Bathed in a luminous colourful glow, Faded Paper Figures are any but a dim echo, their music bright, intelligent and all-enveloping (image via and (c) official Faded Paper Figures Twitter account)
    Bathed in a luminous colourful glow, Faded Paper Figures are any but a dim echo, their music bright, intelligent and all-enveloping (image via and (c) official Faded Paper Figures Twitter account)

     

    It seems to have been a recurring pattern in my music-appreciating life that the bands I fall for most heavily and with the most passion are the ones that seemingly come out of nowhere.

    It’s been the case with artists as diverse as Bombay Bicycle Club, who I came across quite by accident while listening to Australia’s publicly-funded national radio station JJJ, Pomplamoose, who were casually mentioned on a blog post I chanced across one day, and solo artist MINDR, whose debut album I impetuously picked and bought by, songs unheard, based simply on the album cover.

    And now history has repeated itself with Faded Paper Figures, possessor of one of the most imaginative, evocative and playfully whimsical band names I have heard in some time, who followed me on Twitter a few days ago.

    Intrigued by a band who appeared to follow me out of the ether, I made haste to iTunes – after first following them back, naturally – where I listened to and bought pretty much everything this L.A. and New York based band, formed in 2007 and made up of R. John Williams (guitar and vocals), Kael Alden (bass, guitar, drums, etc…), and Heather Alden (lead vocals), have ever released.

    For a band that holds down down jobs, and happily admit to pursuing their ever-increasingly successful band in the “wee small hours and weekends”, they have managed to amass an impressive array of indie-pop songs, all of which owe a considerable debt of gratitude and reason for being to the ’80s-influenced synth-fuelled “electro-organic” sound that defines them.

     

     

    What makes their songs so instantly likeable and accessible is the freshness of Heather Allen’s voice which seems to trip and lilt across and through the songs, none of which sound exactly alight and yet still manage to sound as if they occupy the same cohesive, genre-specific niche.

    Self-described in the band’s bio as “alternately sparse and epic, harmonic and grinding, pensive and playful”, their music has developed and grown, something noticeable just from a listen or two to each album – the band has four to their name Dynamo (2008), New Medium (2010), The Matter (2012) and Relics (2014) – while still holding onto a recognisable sound, something few bands manage with any real success over time.

    Underlying these alternately bright and happy, and pensive and thoughtful, melodies is an intelligent sensibility which eschews the usual filler lyrics which quite a number of synth bands tend towards – there’s nothing wrong with that of course since often the music is the thing with very danceable tunes but still it is enormously pleasing to be able to move your feet and think at the same time – for ones that dare to think and ponder deeply about love, life, the universe and everything.

     

     

     

    It’s a highly appealing, intoxicating mix, the product one suspects of three people who aren’t satisfied with simply throwing something together, who, as in their demanding day jobs – Heather is a doctor, John a professor of literature and Kael an in-demand creator of music for films, TV and video games – seem to expect and deliver a great deal of themselves.

    It isn’t enough it seems for them to just record brilliantly interesting music that entrances and seduces, it must say something worthwhile, a sentiment borne out in a statement made by the band, which I discovered on Paste magazine:

    “To become a meditating astronaut, in our view, means using our technological and political tools to come to a more thoughtful, earth-saving perspective, realizing that our place in the cosmos is small, sacred, and fragile.”

    It makes sense then, given my predilection for quality, clever pop that enriches the soul and feeds the mind, that I’d end up falling almost instantly, helplessly in love with a band as inordinately talented, hard working and thought-provoking as Faded Paper Figures.

    Like all my instant head-over-heels musical love affairs, starting with ABBA all those years ago, I highly suspect this one will go the distance and I will be listening and thinking and dancing to the band for quite some years to come.

    To discover more about Faded Paper Figures, go and check out their website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

     

     

    If you want to find out all about Faded Paper Figures from their own highly-articulate and down-to-earth mouths, check out this interviews with the band from Elite Music Enterprises and then CMJ Festival …

     

     

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  • Movie review: A Most Violent Year

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

     

    The clock is ticking, ticking loud and fast in J. C. Chandor’s slow-burning tale of one man’s pursuit of the American Dream, A Most Violent Year.

    It is 1981, statistically one of the most violent in New York’s history, and aspiring businessman, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is intent on turning his growing heating oil company, Standard Oil, into an empire worthy of his grand visions for the future.

    To do that, he needs to complete the purchase of an abandoned fuel facility on the river, with just 30 days to find the remaining $1.5 million needed to seal the deal and a whole host of unexpected obstacles standing in his way.

    Out of nowhere, and with the worst possible timing, someone is stealing his trucks, draining the oil and leaving traumatised drivers including Julian (Elyes Gabel), and a looming financial headache in their wake.

    If that isn’t problem enough, the powerful Teamsters Union is threatening to pull Standard’s drivers off their trucks unless each of them are armed with handguns, District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) is filing a raft of charges against the company whose sales people are being kidnapped and roughed up before being released for daring to solicit business on other companies’ turf.

    Compounding this bevy of seemingly intractable issues, is the corrupt nature of the industry in which Abel, a man of honourable intentions and conduct, has chosen to make his money and name; like much of New York at the time, the heating oil industry is has been infiltrated by organised crime whose less than honourable modus operandi is painfully familiar to Abel whose wife, the fiery but devotedly protective Anna (Jessica Chastain) is herself the daughter of a major crime figure.

    In accordance with Abel’s wishes, she has largely held off implementing the tactics she grew up watching her family employ to stay ahead of the game, but with the prospect of losing everything she and Abel have fought hard to create, including a very comfortable life in an upmarket suburb, the temptation to resort to old tricks is tempting, only stymied by Abel’s edict that they will not go down that shadowy road.

     

     

    There is a great deal going on in A Most Violent Year, but for all that, it remains throughout an elegantly sophisticated slow-moving drama that eschews the usual cliched narrative route for crime dramas to end up into an orgiastic inferno of guns and violence.

    Instead, much like Morales himself, who stays his hand repeatedly and holds his course when everything and everyone, including his gangster lawyer Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) is urging him to cut loose and play ball like everyone else is, Chador holds back from heading down the expected route.

    What we are given instead is a carefully-built, multi-layered, nuanced drama that pivots on the central idea that money, success, prestige and power are worth nothing if you have had to sell your soul to obtain it.

    It sounds all very idealistic and out of touch with reality but lest you think this is a fairytale evocation of one man’s determination to hold onto his principles and ideals, it becomes quickly apparent that Morales will have to do some very nimble footwork indeed to create his American Dream in the image of his choosing.

    In fact, it is intimated in one the final scenes of the movie with DA Lawrence, and in one key scene before that with his wife, that Morales may not not be able to stay as untainted as he would like to, that the morass of crime and corruption into which New York has tumbled in this period may yet claim his as one of its occupants, if only a partial one, and only with great reluctance.

    But where he is able to, and he remains relatively more squeaky clean than any of his competitors right to the end of the film, he will build his empire through hard work, grit and determination, and bask in the knowledge that he got there on his own merits.

     

     

    It is, in some ways, an intent of delusional character, something his wife, whose knows a thing or two about what it takes to make it in the cutthroat world of early Eighties New York business, points out to him over and over, with a mix of mocking frustration and grudging admiration.

    But so well-written is the film, that J. C. Chandor makes you believe it is possible to bring your dreams to fruition exactly as Morales intends, that you can follow his sage advice to “take the path that is most right” and emerge a triumphant owner of your coveted piece of the American Dream.

    Perhaps it is a fabled tale of immigrant success and hard work but it is worth remembering that a story such as this still holds a powerful allure, with immigrants and refugees the world over continuing to believe that it is possible to better yourself, to grab ahold of what Oprah would call “your best life” on your terms and with little in the way of compromise or less than honourable intent.

    Chandor rather realistically suggests that playing the game as Morales plays it may not be an entirely feasible proposition – the dark tones of Bradford Young’s cinematography suggest pulling yourself fully away from the grey areas of life is not always possible and you inhabit them whether you want to or not – but as a study in one man’s desire to make it his way, and his way alone (Sinatra would be proud) it is a brilliantly-realised piece of drama that is as close to a morality play as our modern cynical age is likely to produce.

     

     

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  • The Walking Dead: The Distance (S5, E11 review)

    New characters, and sweetly-dedicated life partners Aaron and Eric are reunited after Rick's group, or more particularly Rick, makes things as difficult as possible for them (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
    New characters, and sweetly-dedicated life partners Aaron and Eric are reunited after Rick’s group, or more particularly Rick, makes things as difficult as possible for them (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

     

    *** THERE BE SPOILERS … AND ROAMERS/WALKERS/ROTTERS AND LOVE SWEET LOVE AHEAD ***

     

    Heaven, I’m in heaven
    And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
    And I seem to find the happiness I seek
    When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek
    (as sung by Frank Sinatra)

     

    It may appear a little odd, just a trifle, to reference the lyrics of an impossibly romantic song by the king of cool Frank Sinatra at the start of a review of an episode that featured a fearsomely good right punch, walker guts clogging up a car and more outright suspicion and mistrust that a rabid gathering of conspiracy theorists.

    But dancing, admittedly of the troupe variety and not the 1950s romantic comedy kind, was referenced in “Distance”, an episode that underlined how hard it is to see the welcoming forest for the trees of past experience and how that might come back to bite you on the ass way before a walker can sink its dental hygiene-challenged chops in you.

    Rick (Andrew Lincoln), for his part, was doing his best disillusioned lumberjack routine, refusing to accept that Aaron (Ross Marquand), one of the two lead scouts for the Alexandria Safe Zone; ASZ from hereon (along with his boyfriend Eric, played by Jordan Woods-Robinson, with whom he enjoyed some genuinely tender moments, intimate banter and a scene-stealing, heartwarming kiss), and The Walking Dead‘s first openly gay character, might actually be on the level.

    To be fair, if someone came to your ragtag bunch of exhausted, existentially stretched to breaking point group of survivors, your “family” as Rick touchingly referred to them at one point, and said “Hi there, ho there, hey there, I have water, and impossibly tall, strong steel fences and all the food and peace and quiet you could want … and by the way we’re super swell people who never eat anyone or try to impose their psychotic will on them” – for the record Aaron, careful of speech and the odd side joke, wasn’t quite this hard sell but only just – you could be forgiven for thinking it a little bit too good to be true.

    SASHA: “He has a camp nearby. He wants us to audition for membership.”
    AARON: “I wish there was another kind of word. Audition makes it sound like we’re some kind of dance troupe. That’s only on Friday nights.” [crickets chirp, no one laughs, the joke officially tanks bigtime)

    Or in Rick’s case, not believe a freaking word of it, punch the guy out when he tries to show you photographic proof that the ASZ is a paradise here on apocalyptic earth, tie him up and treat him like a Klu Klux Klansman come selling white sheets and racial intolerance.

    I mean, Rick and the gang have been through a lot and have every right to be enormously, ridiculously, Sequoia Tree-toweringly suspicious of anyone, Greek or otherwise, who come nearing gifts (including the water they came across on the road in last week’s “Them”).

    And Aaron did come bearing gifts and the post-apocalyptic version of a Powerpoint presentation, with well-polished lines that you can only presume have won over other hardened and weary hearts in the past.

    But as proof that even after the world has ended some people still hate slick, well-put together presentations with a joke or two – alas Aaron seemed to have left his Powerpoint preso at home in the laptop although he remembered to dress well and keep his sense of humour, at least at the start – Rick reacted none too well to Aaron’s attempts to get him and the other 14 survivors to “audition” (Sasha’s words, not mine) for this safe-and-snug Hallmark-approved community.

     

    "Do we look happy to see you?" Um, no, no you don't and frankly let's hope the good citizens of the ASZ aren't offended by snarly responses and having their welcoming basket of muffins knocked to the ground and stomped on by Rick (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
    “Do we look happy to see you?” Um, no, no you don’t and frankly let’s hope the good citizens of the ASZ aren’t offended by snarly responses and having their welcoming basket of muffins knocked to the ground and stomped on by Rick (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

     

    Again, while you can well understand why Rick would feel this way, he frankly came across as kind of jerk.

    An angry, overly-suspicious, everyone-is-a-homicidal a**hole I won’t play nice with them I won’t douchebag jerk.

    Yes Aaron didn’t exactly help his cause by admitting he and Eric had been shadowing the group for days, that they had listening devices to hear their conversations and likely had a (non-bloody) stalker wall full of photos of Rick’s group back in their high-walled Shangri-La.

    But you can hardly blame the ASZ people, who if the comics are any guide, have a pretty sweet thing going on, one that wouldn’t be enhanced by bringing in a group of Governor-esque psychos or people who lick their lips every time you expose a bit of flesh, for wanting to make sure their new community members are going to be more apt to plant potatoes and sit on the porch than shoot them all while they sleep.

    But even with all that in mind, it felt like writer Seth Hoffman, who otherwise framed a particularly good taut episode, and director Larysa Kondracki, might have gone a little too hard on the whole angry, ain’t-gonna-like-ya-or-trust-ya and you can’t make me Rick.

    No doubt he was yanked character-wise to the extremes so that Michonne (Danai Gurira), who had urging Rick for some time to find a home, a real home, could come across as the sweet, honey-coated voice of reason – not really honey-coated; can you imagine how hard it would be to get walker body parts off you after a skirmish? – and essentially make the decisions that Rick could not.

    And make the decisions she did.

    To send Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) – who managed to find some time, in-between killing walkers and rifling through Aaron’s food-stocked Winnebago, to sort out their recent relationship “hiccups” – and herself to check out if Aaron’s story about their being two cars parked a ways off was true.

    GLENN: “He said he was watching us right? It means he saw us yesterday. After everything we’ve done, why would he want us to join his  group?
    MICHONNE: “People like us saved a priest. Saved a girl who rolled up to the prison with the Governor. Saved a crazy lady with a sword. He saw that.”

    To take everyone to the community after everything Aaron had said largely checked out and to not look a hey-we’re-actually-safe-really-safe-from-walkers gift horse in the mouth and say “Hell no!”, which seemed to be the only reaction Rick, who Michonne had to talk around more than once to sound reason and non-puchable behaviour, was capable of evincing throughout “Distance”.

    Rather than undercut his authority or breed resentment between them, what Michonne and Rick’s interchanges accomplished, and where Seth Hoffman excelled, was advancing the lovely sense of intimacy that is growing between the two.

    There is talk that Rick and Michonne may become an item – the fact that they and Carl and Judith all ended up in the one car travelling to ASZ’s steel-trimmed Happy Valley might have been a hint that is in the offing – but even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that Michonne can speak her mind and Rick will actually listen can only be good for the group’s overall welfare.

     

    ROAD TRIP! Normally something that cause people to smile, you would have thought, and again it makes sense they wouldn't want to get their hopes up, that Rick and the gang were off to a convention of cannibalistic Amway salespeople (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
    ROAD TRIP! Normally something that cause people to smile, you would have thought, and again it makes sense they wouldn’t want to get their hopes up, that Rick and the gang were off to a convention of cannibalistic Amway salespeople (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

     

    So yes Michonne, along with Maggie and a few of the others (Daryl just mumbled snarkily pretty much the whole time), finally argued that they owed it to themselves to at least check out the ASZ.

    But even here, after everyone had piled into cars, and head off down the road to what might be their new, walker-free, anxiety-absent home – if you plan on being a post-apocalyptic real estate salesperson, I’d would advise you lead with this in your sales spiel – Rick, who never met a faux-Trojan horse he didn’t like, almost royally fouled things up for everyone.

    Ignoring Aaron’s advice to go down Route 16, which he said they had cleared out – quite how you’d stop new walkers ambling across it wasn’t clear but they seemed to have managed it – Rick opted to go down Route 23 north which was fairly seething with more rotters than you can shake a katana at.

    He, Michonne, Glenn and still hand-tied Aaron somehow escaped with their lives – not before spectacularly lighting up a walker’s head like a candle-lit pumpkin head on the 4th of July which was awesome indeed – but it underscored that Rick’s mistrust, while stemming from some rather ugly past experiences, was now more of a liability than asset, something Michonne happily made clear to him in no uncertain terms.

    MICHONNE: “We need this. So we’re going – all of us.”

    Back on Route 16, at which point Aaron restrained himself from saying “I told you so!” over and over in multiple languages and in ever more accusatory tones – his introduction was a masterstroke by Seth Hoffman, who quickly and elegantly, aided by Marquand’s just-so nuanced performance, helped us to understand how committed, compassionate, reasonable, empathetic, intelligent and deeply in love with his partner he is – they found the others, who has saved Eric from becoming walker chow (Aaron was, as you’d expect, deeply thankful) and rolled up the gates of the ASZ, ready to see if paradise or hell lay waiting behind the silent, very tall walls.

    It sets things up nicely for next week’s episode “Remember” in which it appears old habits die hard …

     

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  • Big Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Orange Pants): Sesame Street’s delightful parody of Oscar winner Birdman

    (image via YouTube (c) Sesame Street)
    (image via YouTube (c) Sesame Street)

     

    Birdman is a remarkably brilliant movie.

    And Sesame Street, 45 years old and going strong, is remarkably well-versed in the art of both educating children and parodying occupiers of the pop culture zeitgeist.

    Together they have created the remarkably delightful parody video of Big Birdman, that plays off one of the central plot devices of Birdman which is the ongoing, often argumentative and haranguing conversations that Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) has with the unseen by anyone but him larger-than-life persona of Birdman, the superhero who brought him fame many years earlier and who now hangs like an easily-mocked albatross around the would-be serious thespian’s neck.

    These often uncomfortable discussions, which go to the core of Thompson’s furious, self-hatred filled battles with himself, are central to the beautifully-executed existential angst that underpins much of Birdman.

    Tapping humourously into the same vein, although there is no suggestion that Caroll Spinney is anywhere near as conflicted as Thompson, Sesame Street has brought another avian icon, Big Bird, together with the man who has voiced him for 45 years in a deeply satisfying parody that asks the all-important question “How do we get to Sesame Street?” (Doesn’t matter!)

    It talks of a place “crawling with monsters” and “smell[ing] of birdseed”, asks “How many ways can you learn the alphabet?” and muses whether they should have done that Raymond Carver play?

    There is some Big Bird-esque existential musing that will have you grinning from ear to ear and a clever sight gag to wrap things up in just the way you’d expect Sesame Street to do it.

    And it might have you looking over your shoulder for your very own fine-feathered companion with whom to debate the whys and wherefores of life.

    Which if it happens like Big Birdman won’t be a bad thing at all.

     

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  • Movie review: Lilting #queerscreen

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

     

    Anyone who has ever experienced any form of profound loss will know all too well that grief is a peculiar, never ending lament with a thousand different reminders everywhere you turn.

    The truth of this painful reality is authentically conveyed in starkly moving, intimate terms in Hong Khaou’s largely assured debut feature, Lilting, a film that understands all too well that you never truly “get over” the loss of someone you loved with all your heart.

    This understanding of the power of grief to inform every last facet of your existence informs the lives of Richard (Ben Whishaw) and Junn (Cheng Pei-pei), the partner and mother respectively of Kai (Andrew Leung) whose sudden death at the hands of a “c**t of a driver” has left the two most significant people in his life in emotional limbo.

    Both Richard, who remains in the flat he and Kai called home – a place his partner largely ordered and decorated, another daily reminder of the loss he has experienced – and Junn are desperately searching for meaningful ways forward, ones that allow them to hang on to the memory of the man they loved deeply.

    But as anyone with a heartbeat knows, this is far easier said than done, and in the case of Richard and Junn, complicated by the fact that Kai hadn’t yet come out to his mother at the time of his death.

    So Richard remains in the relational shadows, still tagged with the appellation of “friend” by Cambodian-Chinese Junn who fully confesses she didn’t like the man her son shared a home with, seeing him as a threat to her almost wholesale dependence on Kai who helped help her to navigate life in her adopted home country, the United Kingdom, a country whose language remains a mystery to her decades on.

    Imprisoned by their unrelenting grief – for Junn, who resents bitterly the perfectly lovely retirement home she was moved into not long before her only child’s passing, it has taken on a physical form – they are left to replay their last conversation with Kai, imagining over and over what it would be like to have him with them one last time.

     

     

    Pushed to the point of breaking by Kai’s loss, and so understandably emotionally fragile that tears are never far from falling, Richard decides that the way he is going to be able to press forward with his life is to forge some form of connection with Junn.

    Armed with impractical idea of asking Junn to move in with him, a wildly improbably possibility made perfectly, delusionally reasonable by the distortions of his grief, he enlists Vann (Naomi Christie), a non-professional translator with whom he becomes friends, to build a  bridge of sorts between Junn and himself.

    Realising though that this might be a little too confronting for Junn, who wonders more than once why her son’s “friend” is going to so much trouble to help her and what his ulterior motives might be – they are surprisingly pure and self-sacrificial but Junn isn’t privy to this – he offers his and Vann’s assistance to translate for the budding relationship Kai’s mother is enjoying with Englishman Alan (Peter Bowles).

    While this starts out as the ostensible reason for Richard’s presence in Junn’s life, the two eventually form a faltering bond, one often interrupted by misunderstandings of intentions, connections and motivations, and the wide, almost uncrossable cultural chasm between them, one only slightly bridged by Richard’s ability to cook deliciously authentic Chinese cuisine.

    Hampered all the way through by that last crucial unshared but utterly crucial piece of Kai’s identity, Richard and Junn dance around each other, each clutching their grief and their unvoiced last thoughts to Kai close to them, many of their most honest thoughts left untranslated, at their request, by Vann who is often caught uncomfortably in the middle of their attempts to relate to each other in some form.

     

     

    What truly sets Lilting apart, quite aside from its delicate addressing of both the chaotic tumult and emotionally-entrapping nature of grief, is the gentle, unhurried way  that Khaou goes about telling this often quite touching tale of two people separated by language and culture, their own interpretations of who Kai was, and their all-too-human fumbling attempts to deal with his departure from their lives.

    Khaou, working off his own finely nuanced script, lets the story meander along, its often fraught but also sometimes humourous, scenes – Alan and Junn, for instance, often find Vann’s presence as their interlocutor intrusive and un-conducive to possible love, true love – punctuated by cinematographer Urszula Pontikos’ beautiful, stark sweeps of frost-covered, tree-filled landscapes which visually match to an unsettling tee the isolation and sense of desolate loss felt by Junn and Richard.

    Whishaw is immensely moving as a man wallowing in grief untold, his mourning escaping unbidden at key moments when a stray question from Junn, unaware of the depth of Richard’s connection to her son, pokes a little too closely into his usually well-hidden wounds, while Cheng is mesmerising as a woman, trapped in a Russian nesting doll of various emotional and cultural prisons.

    While Lilting may sound unremitting bleak and uncomfortably sad, and to be fair it is at times, a natural occurrence given the subject matter explored, it is first and foremost a poignantly touching portrayal of two people, separated from each other, trying hard to create a connection through which their shared memories of the man they loved more than any other might finally find an audience.

    While the ending is deliberately ambiguous in terms of whether Vann actually translates the home truths finally shared – I suspect not although Khaou rather cleverly leaves that to our own interpretation – there is a sense that for all the obstacles in their way and the unintended missteps along their shared journey, many of them wrought by the grief that warps what you suspect they would normally say and do, that Richard and Kai do reach an understanding of some kind, a shared sense of loss and quite possibly, a way forward out of the seemingly endless mire of their grief.

     

     

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