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  • First impressions: Z Nation (S1, E1 “Puppies and Kittens”)

    (image via Beyond Hollywood (c) syfy)
    (image via Beyond Hollywood (c) syfy)

     

    Ladies and gentlemen, it is my dispiriting task to inform you that we have now reached Peak Zombie.

    Yes, much like Peak Oil, where all the oil that can be found, has been found and it’s only downhill from here, zombies have finally reach the summit of pop culture visibility and are now sliding down the other side, clutching the withered, schlock-stained husk of syfy’s Z Nation close to their decaying bosoms.

    It is not, as you might expect, a pretty picture but nor is it a completely hopeless one.

    Movies like the superlative 28 Days Later and World War Z, both heirs apparent in their own way to the literal biting, savage social satire of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its successors, and of course the zeitgeist juggernaut that is The Walking Dead, are prevailing reminders that you can still say something fresh and provocative with zombies should the intent seize you.

    Even the more comedic members of the genre such as Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead serve as potently humourous examples that it is possible to have some fun with the zombie apocalypse and say something worthwhile too.

    And yet somewhere in the midst of all this finely-executed zombie-ness, the producers of Z Nation, the first TV series from The Asylum, the self-aware purveyors of trashy so-bad-it’s-good fare like Sharknado and a thousand other schlocky masterpieces like Bermuda Tentacles, never got the memo.

    The result is the first, wretchedly-amateur step down the slippery slope from Peak Zombie where it is, against all odds and expectations, possible to begin to tire of the biting and the chomping, the gritty survivalist dramatics and the satirical barbs levelled at a society fast disappearing up its own social media-obsessed narcissistic backside.

    Plainly put, Z Nation, while armed with an intriguing premise, a roguish sense of humour and the requisite larger than life characters, somehow manages to come up wanting, dragging its high concept aspirations down into a finished half-baked product that clearly wants to be the Zombieland of 2014 but isn’t quite sure how to do it.

     

    Awww what a sweet, um, flesh-eating baby ... nope, not really; just a hammy, ridiculously-executed plot device ... move on there's nothing to see here (image via Inlander (c) Syfy / The Asylum)
    Awww what a sweet, um, flesh-eating baby … nope, not really; just a hammy, ridiculously-executed plot device … move on there’s nothing to see here (image via Inlander (c) Syfy / The Asylum)

     

    Part of the problem, rather ironically for a show with decaying tongue planted very firmly in swiss cheese’d cheek, is that it actually takes itself all too seriously.

    There is not a hint of irony when at one point a lovely sweet helpless baby boy, who somehow survived the car crash that killed his mother, suddenly turns into a meat-hungry zombie-let with a ridiculously fast crawl rate and murderous intent burning in previously placid eyes.

    It’s like Chucky Jr., kicked the baby to one side, jumped into frame and went to town, in this case on temporary hero Delta Force soldier Mark Hammond (Harold Perrineau), with no sense of how ridiculous he must look.

    It’s clearly met to be a tense showdown of some sort, since the disparate ragtag members of Hammond’s group like National Guard soldier Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott) and Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith) are pacing nervously back and forth outside the door, flinching and staring gravely everytime Hammond so much as knocks a tin can over.

    It is patently absurd, manifestly over the top, and quite possibly meant to be insanely silly but there’s far too much faux-gravitas and tension to treat it as some sort of clever wink-wink-nudge-nudge joke.

    What you end up with, time and again in the hilariously named “Puppies and Kittens” – points at least for a inventive title, if nothing else – are scenes where our heroes duck and roll in glorious slo-mo, shooting and axe-wielding as they go, dramatic intent writ large upon their humourless faces.

    And yes it makes sense that they wouldn’t look like they’re having a day at the picnic.

    But Z Nation is never sure if they should be deadly serious survivalists, or quip-heavy, gun-toting men and women who are laughing in the face of very real and present danger, and stuck awkwardly in the middle with low rent, poorly made up zombies melodramatically racing towards you, the show suffers as a result.

     

    "Sorry what's that? What? Can't hear you over the stilted dialogue, melodramatic kill scenes and hammy everything" (image via Media Inc (c) Syfy / The Asylum)
    “Sorry what’s that? What? Can’t hear you over the stilted dialogue, melodramatic kill scenes and hammy everything” (image via Media Inc (c) Syfy / The Asylum)

     

    It’s not all a complete mess.

    The premise, as mentioned, is clever, with Hammond charged with spiriting the only known survivor of a zombie bite, eight of them in fact, Murphy (Keith Allen), a man whose blood is presumably swimming with zombie virus-zapping antibodies all itching to save the rest of the human race, all the way across the U.S. from east to west to the last functioning viral lab in California.

    It’s a neat twist on the usual survivors just trying to survive schtick, and gives the show a lot of room to move in terms of creating and dealing with week-to-week threats within the overall narrative arc.

    The society that has arisen in the wake of government and all civil authorities collapsing three years after the epidemic began also shows promising signs of being well fleshed out with death rituals, that involve those near to breathing their last being ceremoniously shot in the head before they can turn, and a nascent barter economy and innovative weapons industry that has found alternate uses for no longer needed baseball bats in evidence.

    And everyone, for the most part, seems to be doing their best to act their hearts out, especially DJ Squalls as irreverent Good Morning Vietnam-esque ex-NSA radio jockey Citizen Z, although they are hampered by a muddled script, lacklustre dialogue and the aforementioned tonal gap between satirical, over the top silliness and grave drama.

    It is entirely possible that Z Nation can fashion a viewing diamond out of this undead decaying rough, given the fact that Zombieland and even the recent Life After Beth have proven it is possible to be funny and zombie-ish all at once, but I would go holding my breath.

    There’s a good chance that a real zombie apocalypse come come along before Z Nation gets its necrotic narrative house in order.

     

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  • Book review: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

    The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden MAIN

     

    It becomes obvious, almost from the first pages of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, where we meet the savvy though often misjudged Soweto latrine emptier Nombeko Mayeki, that Jonas Jonasson (The 100 Year Old Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared) is a talented heir apparent to the often under-estimated Scandinavian penchant and talent for absurdist, over the top comedy with heart.

    His gift for taking the most ridiculous ingredients and weaving them seamlessly, and with great humour, into a captivating tale of one girl’s climb from the slums of South Africa, with quite a few detours along the way (all of them graciously handled and used eventually to good effect), to Sweden and an abandoned building-come-pillow factory in Fredsgatan then to a potato farm in Sjölida and finally back to South Africa under vastly more elevated circumstances, is masterfully impressive.

    He somehow manages to take elements as diverse as twenty pounds of antelope meat, a three ton megaton nuclear bomb, twin boys (one officially registered with the Swedish government, one not by an eccentric father who confusingly named them both Holger), dentures made of diamonds, a procession of modern political figures including Hu Jintao, Nelson Mandela and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, a statue of Lenin, fake Chinese pottery and three sisters who grow rich making and selling them, a Countess potato farmer, and a crazed potter who sees the CIA around every corner, and fashion a cohesive, clever narrative from it, that only peters out a little towards the end.

    For the most part though, it is a glorious, fun-filled, romp through the pages of modern history (events are faithfully though amusingly conveyed to set time and place), with wry political and societal observations sitting cheek-by-jowl with characters and plot points so outrageously implausible they begin to seem quite sane and rational after a while (a fluffily benign version of Stockholm Syndrome perhaps?), and a cheeky sense of humour that rarely lets up or pauses for breath.

     

     

    You could be forgiven for wondering, as the impossible twists and turn pile up like Mossad agents at the bottom of the Baltic Sea – there are deaths aplenty but they all happen to those who most deserve it and in fantastically inventive and pleasing ways – whether you can possibly survive all that rollicking hilarity coming at you page after page, sometimes paragraph after paragraph.

    After all, even good farce can become exhausting, as you race to keep up with the rapid fire jokes, silly observations and verbal and physical slapstick, and yet somehow Johansson largely manages to not overstay his welcome, with the characters remaining as fresh and fun to be around at the conclusion of their unlikely tale as they are at the beginning.

    This is not to say that The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden isn’t without its flaws.

    It is, as previously noted, a little weak and repetitive in its final chapters, with the absurdist denouement sputtering a little as the plot is stretched out over a dinner party involving an angry revolutionary woman, her aristocratic grandmother and republican boyfriend Holger One, Nombeko and her boyfriend the (officially) non-existent Holger Two, a drunk Mossad agent, the King and Prime Minister of Sweden,  some tractor repairing and a happy tying up of loose ends.

    And you do long at times for characters to behave as normal people, and not as crazy, silly, Chaplin-esque fodder for narrative momentum, who though likeable are sometimes a little hard to care about.

    The most well-rounded, and the one in whom you become most invested is, of course, hardy maths genius Nombeko, a woman with an insatiable love of reading and information acquiring, an almost savant gift for language learning and all the emotional and intellectual nous that anyone could ask for (and which comes in mighty handy throughout the book where great demands are made of our plucky protagonist).

    She is never less than a delight, always one step ahead of those who would derail her making-it-as-she-goes life, even when when she is quite palpably slipping far behind, and the main reason, along with some incisive political and societal observations that do provide a welcome pause for thought, why Jonassons’ action-packed, wittily-written, fairy floss-light literary confection is such a beguiling, if ephemeral, joy to read.

     

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  • The travails and joys of being Jane the Virgin

    (image via Spoiler TV (c) CW Network)
    (image via Spoiler TV (c) CW Network)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Set in Miami, the series will detail the surprising and unforeseen events that take place in the life of Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a hard-working, religious young Latina woman whose family tradition and a vow to save her virginity until her marriage to [her] detective [boyfriend] Mike (Brett Dier) is shattered when a doctor accidentally artificially inseminates her by mistake during a checkup. And to make matters worse, the biological donor is [Rafael - Justin Baldoni] a married man, a former playboy and cancer survivor who is not only the new owner of the hotel where Jane works, but was also her former teenage crush. (synopsis via Wikipedia)

    Let’s be honest – the premise of this series is gloriously over the top fanciful with Matt Webb Mitovich of TV Line humorously and correctly observing:

    “No real-world scenario supports the premise by which she gets accidentally inseminated (with the thawed sperm of, coincidentally, onetime crush-turned-hotel magnate Rafael, played by Baldoni), so if you hold The CW to the same standards as Science Channel, this isn’t your cup of sangria.”

    He goes to say though that “if you are willing to suspend belief for that pivotal (and hilariously played) examination room sequence — and you have mad ninja skills when it comes to programming your DVR during this highly competitive hour — you’re in for a treat. Because even upon a second viewing (which Jane’s medically unsound conceit demanded), this telenovela-tinged dramedy still charmed my socks off.”

    And he’s spot on with his assessment of Jane the Virgin, which features soon-to-be-breakout star Gina Rodriguez (who invests the titular character with likeable earnestness and charm), a series that even with all the manic energy of the telenovela it is essentially created to be, possesses huge doses of heartwarming humanity, saving it from spiralling into a ridiculous melange of half-baked melodrama.

     

    Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is stunned to learn she is pregnant as is pretty everyone she knows from her mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) who believes her daughter is the bearer of the "Immaculata", abuela Alba (Ivonne Coll) and long suffering but head over heels in love boyfriend Mike (Brett Dier)
    Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is stunned to learn she is pregnant as is pretty everyone she knows from her mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) who believes her daughter is the bearer of the “Immaculata”, abuela Alba (Ivonne Coll) and long suffering but head over heels in love boyfriend Mike (Brett Dier) (image via Filmsor (c) CW Network)

     

    It reminds me in that respect of Ugly Betty, a show that never forgot that no matter how outlandish the plots might be, that they had to be anchored in some kind of authentic, believable human experience to be even remotely engaging or meaningful.

    Jane the Virgin, which is going to have its fair share of wacky, soapy plot lines “including the arrival of the dad Jane never knew, an investigation policeman Mike is involved in that threatens to expose a key character’s secret and, I am guessing, the eventual someday-maybe rekindling of Jane’s aforementioned crush on Rafael” (TV Line), seems to have learnt that lesson well.

    But even if it does forget to keep things real enough to be at least somewhat believable, I have a feeling that Gina Rodriguez and the rest of the extremely likeable cast – with the possible exception of Petra (Yael Grobglas), Rafael’s scheming wife – will lend a sense of basic human decency and warmth that will see it through all the myriad twists and turns that looks to be heading Jane’s rather delightful way.

    Jane the Virgin premieres on CW Network on October 13, 9/8c.

     

     

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  • Movie review: Magic in the Moonlight

    (image via Teaser Trailer)
    (image via Teaser Trailer)

     

    Life is, notes one of the main characters in famed writer/director Woody Allen’s latest love letter to the glories and excesses of the Jazz Age, Magic in the Moonlight, a Nietzchean exercise in self-delusion, with every moment dedicated to distracting ourselves from what the German philosopher called “the horror or the absurdity of existence”.

    It may sound like an overly serious, not to mention oddly dour observation for a character surrounded by the romance and endless pleasures of life in the south of France in the late “Roaring Twenties” to make but in the context of a movie devoted to the collective pulling of wool over the eyes of the rich and gullible, it is perfectly at home.

    Theirs is, after all, a fairytale existence, doomed to end only a year hence with the onset of The Great Depression – the movie takes place in 1928 at the family estate of the fabulously wealthy Cattlidges, headed by matriarch Grace (Jacki Weaver) – one devoted, almost entirely, to holding that absurdity at bay.

    It’s a grand and seductive world, and one in which reputed psychic Sophie Baker (Emma Stone) and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), have made themselves right at home, a million miles from their deprived lives in faraway Kalamazoo, Michigan.

    Essentially now members of the family, with Sophie courted, indulged and serenaded by ukelele by Grace’s lightweight son Brice (Hamish Linklater), and fawned over by Grace who is desperate to believe her deceased husband was not only faithful in this life but happy in the next, and who regards the attractive young American’s spiritualist gifts as a godsend, they are viewed with lingering, though waning, suspicion by Brice’s sister Caroline (Erica Leerhsen) and brother-in-law George (Jeremy Shamos) who summon famed illusionist Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth in oddly stilted form, at least at first) aka the famed Wei Ling Soo, via mutual friend Howard Belkin (Simon McBurney), to see if Sophie’s contact with the spiritual world is “the real deal”.

     

    Sophie may be a real psychic, the one capable of chasing "the black clouds" away from Stanley's perpetually bleak existence and it certainly seems that way at first at a seance held held to communicate with Grace's dearly-departed husband (image via official Magic in the Moonlight site (c) Sony Pictures)
    Sophie may be a real psychic, the one capable of chasing “the black clouds” away from Stanley’s perpetually bleak existence and it certainly seems that way at first at a seance held held to communicate with Grace’s dearly-departed husband (image via official Magic in the Moonlight site (c) Sony Pictures)

     

    Crawford, a thunderously angry and unhappy man who fails to see the magic in anyone or anything, and doesn’t so much stop to smell the flowers as stomp all over them – Howard refers to him at one point as a “perfectionist genius with all the charm of a typhus epidemic” – is almost fiendishly dedicated to uncovering the psychic charlatans and fakes of the age, of which there are many, and takes on the assignment with glee, eager to debunk yet another bogus spiritualist sucking off the marrow of the easily-fooled, and desperate to be distracted, rich.

    But a funny thing happens on the way to the unerring logical and scientific Stanley’s near-certain (in his extraordinarily self-assured mind at least) unveiling of Sophie’s brazen deception as he finds himself, completely and unexpectedly, falling for the charming and well-poised possible psychic, a woman who is not intimidated in the least by his cynical bluster and swagger.

    Uncomfortably torn between believing she is the fake he expected her to be, and that she is, indeed the very personification of all that is good, perfect and magical about the world – this epiphany, while welcomed by him, is simultaneously treated with horror by a man used to a world with sharply drawn black and white parameters and no hint of mystery or the divine at all – he struggles to deal with what may be a seismic shift in everything he believes.

    It all makes of course, in Allen’s talented hands, for a mirth-filled comedy, one that pivots deliciously as always on his (mostly) sharply-written dialogue, delight in skewering pretensions of any kind, and well-wrought delineations of the flaws and quirks of humanity.

     

    What are these strange emotions stirring with Stanley Crawford? Could it be that he, a man who chose his fiancee Olivia  (Catherine McCormack) purely based on their compatible minds is not as captive to the bleakness of a life without magic, mystery and religion as he thought? (image via official Magic in the Moonlight site (c) Sony Pictures)
    What are these strange emotions stirring with Stanley Crawford? Could it be that he, a man who chose his fiancee Olivia (Catherine McCormack) purely based on their compatible minds is not as captive to the bleakness of a life without magic, mystery and religion as he thought? (image via official Magic in the Moonlight site (c) Sony Pictures)

     

    Unfortunately that is about where the magic ends.

    While Magic in the Moonlight is undoubtedly funny, and armed to the teeth with ferociously-observed satire, it fails to fire overall, with Firth and Stone, though reasonably impressive in their own roles, particularly failing to bring any great spark to the relationship that is at the heart of the film.

    While Linklater is pleasingly fey at Sophie’s light-as-air beau – “She [Sophie” is both a visionary and a vision!” he happily exclaims to an incredulous Stanley – and Eileen Atkins makes superb work of Stanley’s free-spirited but insightful (and hilariously subtlety manipulative) aunt who practically raised him and knows her way around his arrogantly-armoured defenses, it’s not enough to rescue a film that ends up a pale imitation of Allen’s more accomplished releases.

    The dialogue, which does occasionally rise to the beautifully-articulated back and forth zing of movies like Blue Jasmine and Midnight in Paris, limps along, the mystery at the heart of the film – is Sophie a real psychic or not? – is treated with almost Agatha Christie-ish afterthought near the end of the film, and the two main leads never really convince as two highly different people suddenly willing to to see their well-set lives aside for a chance at love true love.

    It’s not a disaster by any stretch, since even a less than brilliantly-realised Woody Allen film possesses the power to entertain and amuse, but it lacks the bite, flow and satirical sting of previous efforts, and only serves as a temporary, and quickly forgotten, respite from the absurdity of life that all of Allen’s characters, and one suspects the writer/director himself in common with the rest of us, try so hard to keep at bay.

     

     

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  • Marvellous Massing of Movie Trailers: Monsters: Dark Continent, Maggie, Shaun the Sheep, Burying the Ex, Exists

    originalpozer via photopin cc (the attribution text for ferret pic)
    originalpozer via photopin cc

     

    These are not your grandmother’s movie trailers my friends.

    Un less of course they have a thing for the undead, weird tentacled beasties from outer space, legendary creatures from the dark woods or talking claymation sheep.

    OK maybe that last one is so scary or deeply unsettling but really he’s just there so you don’t get completely and utterly freaked out.

    So build your blanket fort, hide behind a wall of pillows, whatever works for you and feast your eyes on movies that, while they may not be Oscar winners or indie darlings, will entertain, enthral and yes scare you just a little.

    You may want to put a lid on your popcorn … you know, just in case …

     

    MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT

     

    (image via Teaser Trailer)
    (image via Teaser Trailer)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    The alien lifeforms which arrived on Earth some years previously via crashed NASA space probe and subsequently colonised and took over half of Mexico, displacing people and the natural ecosystem alike, and from which two young lovers went to hell and back to escape in Gareth Edwards’ 2010 breakout hit Monsters, have now spread to the Middle East where they are creating new variations on their form and hence a whole host of new problems for humanity to handle. Monsters: Dark Continent centres on a group of soldiers charged with dealing with the burgeoning alien threat and most particularly on two men who journey into the heart of one of the Infected Zones to help a friend in peril, discovering along the way that the greatest threats may not be extraterrestrial after all.

    Gareth Edwards, as anyone has who watched 2010′s Monsters and this year’s Pacific-spanning, civilisation-stomping re-imagining of Godzilla will tell you, is a very talented man.

    Able to invest big concept, epic narratives with intimate explorations of humanity, he is the man who takes movies that should be nothing more than big, bombastic creature flicks and gives them real storytelling heft and emotional impact.

    It’s a real gift, and while he is only listed as an executive producer on Monsters: Dark Continent, his focus now primarily on directing the Star Wars stand alone film due in December 2016, and Godzilla 2 in 2018 (mark your calendars!), his creative imprint is all across the new chapter in the tale of humanity vs. Great Bog Bio Threat From the Heavens.

    While obviously given a bigger budget to play with, and tilting towards more action than that of its predecessor, Monsters: Dark Continent retains that human touch, focusing in the man on two men on a heroic tale to look after a friend in one of the (now) most dangerous places on Earth – an Infected Zone in the Middle East.

    It’s an impression given weigh by Edwards himself who is quoted on SFX as confirming that first time feature film director Tom Green (Misfits) has kept to the spirit of original film:

    Monsters was a very personal film to me, so it’s been a surreal honour to have such talented filmmakers and actors work so hard to create such a beautiful and heartfelt sequel. Tom Green has taken the organic filmmaking spirit of the original and created something very unique and incredibly bold. I think people will be very surprised by the film. It is uncompromising in its storytelling and as a result creates a very realistic and believable world. The visual effects and cinematography are impeccable; there isn’t a bad frame in the movie. This combined with such soulful performances from the main cast, makes for a really impressive debut film… Think I better watch my back!”

    All that is enough to have me lining up for a ticket and some popcorn and keeping one eye behind to make sure I am only joined by humans in line and not, um, extremely large tentacled beasties.

    Monsters: Dark Continent opens in UK on 28 November 2014 with other countries to follow.

     

     

    MAGGIE

     

    (image via First Showing)
    (image via First Showing)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in the film as Wade, a Midwestern U.S. farmer who stays with his beloved teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine, New Year’s Eve) as she slowly turns into a cannibalistic, flesh-eating zombie. (synopsis via First Showing)

    Alas Maggie, which debuted as the Toronto International Film Festival this month does not have a trailer just yet.

    But by all accounts the movie, whose screenplay by John Scott 3 made the 2011 Hollywood Black List of Best Unproduced Screenplays, is that rare thing in the world of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies – an intimate character drama that touchingly portrays one man’s unwavering love for his slowly zombie-fying daughter.

    Infected as part of a worldwide plague that is decimating humanity, a standard trope of this genre but no less frightening an idea for that, Maggie, more than ably acted by the enormously talented Abigal Breslin, is clearly scared of what it is happening to her as anyone in her position would be.

    And who would you want by your side if you’re a scared teenager faced the greatest and likely last struggle of your life?

    Your dad of course, and though we’re judging purely by photos alone here, he’s a father who’s naturally devastated by the impending loss of his beloved daughter to a horrible de-humanising, life-stealing disease.

    Maggie, which represents Henry Hobson’s feature-length directing debut, is much like Signs in that it takes a look at a small very human part of a wider well-trod narrative - in this case the zombie plague as opposed to alien invasion – focusing in on the harrowing experience of one family in an extraordinary situation, and by doing so, gives us a whole new revealing slant on the greater story in a way that World War Z, for all its excellence, simply could not do.

    It will be interesting what impression the film leaves when the trailer, along with mainstream release dates, is finally available.

     Maggie screened at the just-concluded Toronto International Film Festival but there are no official release dates just yet.

     

    Daddy's little girl won't be so sweet and lovely once she turns into a zombie but her dad refuses to leave her side, testing the boundaries of true love (image via First Showing)
    Daddy’s little girl won’t be so sweet and lovely once she turns into a zombie but her dad refuses to leave her side, testing the boundaries of true love (image via First Showing)

     

    SHAUN THE SHEEP

     

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

     

    SNAPSHOT
    When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for! Shaun’s mischief inadvertently leads to The Farmer being taken away from the farm, to the Big City…

    Join Shaun, Bitzer and The Flock on their hilarious, action-packed, big screen adventure as they make plans to rescue the missing Farmer. A story about how we sometimes forget to appreciate the things we have in life, and the people who love us. Shaun the Sheep the Movie introduces us to two new Aardman characters; Trumper, the animal warden who rules the city’s animal shelter with a rod of iron and Slip, an inner city orphan dog who helps Shaun save the day. (synopsis via Hey U Guys)

    This, THIS, will be fun!

    Gloriously silly, Aardman-esque, visual slapstick-y fun.

    What is so enchanting about the films that come from Aardman Productions, who have teamed with Studio Canal to bring us Shaun the Sheep the Movie, is that they don’t prioritise laughs over exquisitely-crafted characters or brilliantly-written dialogue; the humour always comes, as good humour is wont to do, from the interactions between the characters rather than belaboured jokes being set up on after the other, like awkwardly-placed comedic dominos.

    And Shaun the Sheep, who first appeared in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave, and was voted the “best BBC children’s TV character of all time in a Radio Times poll” according to The Independent is a very fine character indeed, a beguiling mix of innocent abroad, cheeky child and canny leader of The Flock who has delighted audiences in his television series, and will no doubt do so again on his much-anticipated, fleecy leap onto the big screen.

    Shaun the Sheep the Movie opens in UK on 6 February 2015 and Australia on 26 March 2015. 

     

     

    BURYING THE EX

     

    (image via Collider)
    (image via Collider)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Anton Yelchin plays Max, an L.A. hipster obsessed with Italian horror B-movies. His green-obsessed girlfriend Evelyn, Twilight’s Ashley Greene, blogs about saving the planet and turns their apartment into an OCD earth-friendly haven, at the expense of Yelchin’s most prized horror memorabilia. When he finally gets the nerve to break up with her, she gets hit by a bus. After a new love interest Olivia, played by Alexandra Daddario, shows up, Evelyn rises from the dead to prove to herself that their love really does last forever.

    Burying the Ex is a humorous account of the possessive nature of love, showing what happens when a person who is fine in every other way just can’t let go of a bad relationship. (synopsis via Hollywood Reporter)

    Ain’t love grand?

    Well, most love yeah but not the love of Max and Evelyn; well not as far as Max is concerned.

    Fortunately he is spared an awkward, desperately emotional break up by the death of his girlfriend, and in normal circumstances that would be that.

    But that would not make for much of an engaging movie would it?

    So naturally Evelyn rises from the dead, seemingly indestructible – you should see her new chiropractic moves! Head turning … no really – and wants to go back to what she perceived as happily ever after.

    Max, understandable doesn’t, happy now he is with the lovely, far more compatible Olivia but it doesn’t look like Evelyn is really good in the way of boundaries, respecting that her ex has moved on – in her world he’s not her ex; he’s her current boyfriend – or um, staying dead.

    This looks like a really clever of examining the way in which two people, who may be just wonderful by themselves, are not always good together. (You can check out what the stars of the film have to stay about toxic love here.)

    There’s shade of Life After Beth, which has sadly gone straight to DVD here in Australia, but this looks likes its own very clever cinematic animal and the fact that it stars the awesome Anton Yelchin makes it even more appealing.

    Burying the Ex premiered at the Venice Film Festival on 4 September 2014; no wide release dates available just yet.

     

     

    EXISTS

     

    (image via imdb)
    (image via imdb)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Exists is directed by Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) and written by Jamie Nash (writer of a segment in V/H/S/2). For five friends, it was a chance for a summer getaway— a weekend of camping in the Texas Big Thicket. But visions of a carefree vacation are shattered with an accident on a dark and desolate country road. In the wake of the accident, a bloodcurdling force of nature is unleashed—something not exactly human, but not completely animal— an urban legend come to terrifying life and seeking murderous revenge.
    (synopsis via First Showing)

    I am not usually a Found Footage genre kind of guy.

    This is usually because the films of this ilk, which largely consist of “discovered film or video recordings, often left behind by missing or dead protagonists”, are horror movies such as Paranormal Activity, Eyes in the Dark and of course the most well known, though not earliest, member of this often over-used genre, The Blair Witch Project.

    And I do not handle horror movies at all, avoiding them wherever humanly possible.

    The few exceptions to the rule though such as J. J. Abram’s masterfully-realised Cloverfield and Chronicle have convinced me that, used well, and from what I have read it often isn’t, that it adds a veracity and authenticity to a film not achieved by usual dramatic techniques alone.

    Now I know the first thing you’re going to say is that Exists looks suspiciously like the kind of movies I usually avoid, and for the most part, I think you’re right – it is after all directed by Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project fame – but as someone who has always found concepts of Bigfoot/Yowie/Abominable Snowman and The Loch Ness Monster more intriguing than terrifying, I am inclined to give this film a slight benefit of the doubt.

    Of course whether I will actually go and see it is another thing entirely.

    Exists premiered at South by Southwest on 7 March 2014 opening in wider release in USA on 24 October 2014.

     

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  • Batman meets The Incredibles: Pixar’s creation is given a suitably dark, Nolan-esque vibe

    (image via Comic Vine (c) Pixar / Disney)
    (image via Comic Vine (c) Pixar / Disney)

     

    I adore pretty much everything Pixar does.

    Even owned as it is by Disney (who truth be told have lifted their game under Pixar maestro John Lasseter), it remains the most magical, inventive, innovative animation studio there is, able to invest every single one of its films – yes even Cars which, while not the pinnacle of their storytelling prowess, is nevertheless engaging in its own way – with visual brilliance, humanity and a gleeful tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that leavens out even the most serious and emotionally affecting of its tales such as Toy Story and UP.

    Their movies are pretty much perfect in every way … but that doesn’t you can’t have some fun re-purpsoing them with a little judicious editing.

    Talented YouTube user Bobby Burns, through a clever mash-up of  some of the film’s more serious scenes, Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy music and a smattering of baddy Syndrome’s lines, has made it clear that the Brad Bird-directed The Incredibles, while delightful and funny and just plain laugh out loud clever, could also have done most excellent double duty as one of master auteur Christopher Nolan’s gritty, searingly-dramatic films.

    It’s brilliantly realised and thoroughly satisfying to watch and makes the wait for The Incredibles sequel, announced in March this year, just that little bit harder.

    (source: Following the Nerd)

     

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  • Between the living and the dead: Scott Westerfield’s thrilling new novel Afterworlds

    Image via official Scott Westerfield site)
    Image via official Scott Westerfield site)

     

    An interesting has happened to my reading patterns of late.

    Long held in thrall by adult fiction and deeply-detailed non-fiction tomes, it’s now increasingly finding room for quite a few Young Adult (YA) novels such as those by John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) and Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking trilogy), helped along in part by teenage nieces who are eagerly devouring every word they can from these two brilliant writers, and many more besides.

    It’s all been a pleasant surprise – not because I didn’t expect YA fiction to be clever, witty, substantial and captivating; I knew from close writer friends that it’s all that and then some, but because I thought I was long past the age of reading books that are, strictly speaking aimed at people considerably younger than myself.

    It is, of course, one of the genres at the moment, waving a ride of talented authors who seem to be able to link directly into the turbulent psyche of the average teen but by Hollywood’s obsessive interest, evidenced by the flurry of recent YA movie releases such as the Hunger Game trilogy (based on the books of Suzanne Collins),the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer), Divergent (Veronica Roth), and the just-released Maze Runner, which draws on the book of the same name by James Dashner.

    And so it makes sense it would have to come to my attention sooner or rather later, but my recognition and enjoyment of YA literature has also been given a boost by the inventive marketing being used to promote them, in the case of Afterworlds by Scott Westerfield (Simon and Schuster USA/Penguin Australia), a lavish, beautifully-produced book trailer which resembles one of the current crop of YA films in the theatre than the usual promo videos that accompany most book releases.

     

    (photo by Samantha Jones, 2002 via official Scott Westerfield site)
    (photo by Samantha Jones, 2002 via official Scott Westerfield site)

     

    Quite apart from its engaging book trailer, Afterworlds comes with a suitably gripping otherworldly premise:

    Darcy Patel has put college on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. With a contract in hand, she arrives in New York City with no apartment, no friends, and all the wrong clothes. But lucky for Darcy, she’s taken under the wings of other seasoned and fledgling writers who help her navigate the city and the world of writing and publishing. Over the course of a year, Darcy finishes her book, faces critique, and falls in love.

    Woven into Darcy’s personal story is her novel, Afterworlds, a suspenseful thriller about a teen who slips into the “Afterworld” to survive a terrorist attack. The Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead, and where many unsolved—and terrifying—stories need to be reconciled. Like Darcy, Lizzie too falls in love…until a new threat resurfaces, and her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she cares about most. (synopsis via and (c) Simon and Schuster)

    It’s a clever, post-modern narrative device, one that fits in nicely with the sorts of novels that Westerfield, who splits his time between New York City and my hometown of Sydney, Australia, excels at – interesting premises (the Ugly series for instance is set in a world where cosmetic surgery is mandatory once you reach 16, making an untouched face a thing of rebellion) superbly executed with characters that come alive and fairly spring off the page.

    There’s no reason to believe that Afterworlds won’t follow in the footsteps of his other New York Times bestselling series such as Leviathan when it is released on 23 September in USA and 24 September in Australia but until we have a chance to read this eagerly-waited novel, there is always the matter of that book trailer, which is a engrossing tale unto itself.

     

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  • Weekend pop art: The imaginatively dark and quirky claymation art of Evil Corp

    I adore the IT Crowd and Evil Corp have done an amazing job of rendering Moss, Jen and Roy as their claymation doppelgangers (image via and (c) Evil Corp)
    I adore the IT Crowd and Evil Corp have done an amazing job of rendering Moss, Jen and Roy as their claymation doppelgangers (image via and (c) Evil Corp)

     

    Ever since I clapped eyes on the whimsical claymation twosome Wallace and Gromit, I have been enamoured of an artform that requires intense creativity, patience and an eye for detail.

    You can’t just whip up these figures on a whim – they need a whole lot of time to be drawn, moulded and sculpted; not to mention the fact that you need to also give them personality and a sense of whimsical verve if you don’t want them to be simply pretty colourful lumps of clay (or their virtual computer-drawn equivalent) – which is why I am mightily impressed with the work of Evil Corp, a UK-based company who produced all manner of clever animated shorts and describe themselves thus on their Facebook page:

    “Whilst, in the UK, our business activities are concentrated primarily in the field of Television Advertising, A Large Evil Corporation has many other interests around the globe including toxic waste management; the petrochemical industry; airlines; pharmaceuticals; crematoria; confectionary and light-entertainment.”

    While I can’t vouch for the extra interests listed, I can confirm their artwork and shorts (see below) are a real delight, mixing beautiful craftsmanship, a truly creative mindset and that all important whimsical sense of fun to create characters that enchant.

    They have recently finished work on their homage to the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, a series of films - Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013) – written by Edgar Wright (who also directed) and Simon Pegg, and have turned their creatively-inspired attention to pop culture icons like The IT Crowd, The Shining and An American Werewolf in London.

     

    Andy and Gary in fine form, defending themselves and the pubs of their youth from an unexpected alien threat (image via and (c) Evil Corp)
    Andy and Gary in fine form, defending themselves and the pubs of their youth from an unexpected alien threat (image via and (c) Evil Corp)

     

    David and Jack from An American Werewolf in London as you've never seen them before (image via and (c) Evil Corp)
    David and Jack from An American Werewolf in London as you’ve never seen them before (image via and (c) Evil Corp)

     

    If you wanted to see more of Evil Corp’s wonderful work, check out their website, follow their Twitter account and “Like” their Facebook page.

    Oh, and make sure you watch this brilliant showreel that showcases their engaging shorts in all their fabulous glory …

     

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  • Movie review: What We Do in the Shadows

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

     

    If ever you look around and the glamourously undead denizens of Twilight, Nosferatu, Interview with the Vampire, and yes even the relatively “young” whippersnappers of The Vampire Diaries are nowhere to be seen, then book yourself a ticket to Wellington, New Zealand and you will likely find them, dancing alongside the shuffling masses of The Walking Dead‘s zombies and plaid-wearing “Werewolves, not Swearwolves” at the Unholy Masquerade Ball.

    Only there is an extremely good chance that they won’t be engaged in gothically-tinged romance, or epic undead skullduggery, concerned instead with whose turn it is to wash up five years of blood-covered glasses and plates that have accumulated in the sink, levitate with élan as only a vampire can and vacuum the upper reaches of the hallway or how to convince a mute 8000 year old vampire with significant manicure issues and dentals problems than it is high time he finally attended a housemate meeting and pay rent (he won’t and he doesn’t).

    Yes, you will soon realise that the vampires of Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, Boy) and Jemaine Clement’s (Flight of the Conchords, Men in Black 3) hilarious Sundance-premiering mockumentary on the secret lives of those beings that normally live anonymously in the dark and the shadows bears no resemblance to the blood-sucking Draculas of old, and much more with harried everyday (or rather everynight) concerns of the domestically-challenged sanguine.

    It’s not, of course that they don’t try to maintain the look and aura of vampires past – which after all is them in many ways – with orgy-favouring, hirsute 862 year old Vladislav (Gemaine Clement), sweetly earnest 379 year old dandy Viago (Taika Waititi), youngster and self-professed sexual god 183 year old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and extremely taciturn 8000 year old Petyr (Ben Fransham) all favouring the look, feel and mindset of every vampire cliche you can think of and then some.

    Yes bringing unsuspecting victims back for the all-too-necessary feeding frenzy is important but sweet-natured Viago despairs about his housemates unwillingness to clean up after their bloody selves (image via official What We Do in the Shadows website)
    Yes bringing unsuspecting victims back for the all-too-necessary feeding frenzy is important but sweet-natured Viago despairs about his housemates unwillingness to clean up after their bloody selves (image via official What We Do in the Shadows website)

     

    It’s simply that the business of “living”, itself a very loose construct in their post-deceased world – humans are, naturally enough, pre-deceased – is infinitely more complicated than simply working out which unsuspecting human being in a nightclub will be your meal for the night (which you will consume only after laying down newspaper to minimise mess, so begs Viago in one of the movie’s more amusing scenes).

    There are the usual internal housemate conflicts to deal with, servants to contend with – Deacon’s all-too-willing acolyte is Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) a suburban housewife who serves him on the basis of eventual vampiric immortality – feuds with past lovers to brood menacingly and/or petulantly about, and lost loves to mourn (Viago’s touching affection for Katherine, played by 96 year old Ethel Robinson is touching).

    Things are made infinitely more problematic when Petry sires a new offspring, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a hipster who takes to the nighttime lifestyle with vigour, getting the group, who are still uncertain about his disruptive effect on their centuries-old lifestyle, into nightclubs like Boogie Wonderland (they must be invited in, as per vampiric lore, by the bouncers) telling everyone who will listen that he is a vampire (a definite no-no which upsets Deacon most of all), and flying everywhere, again to the chagrin of Viago and the others, who fear what the neighbours will think.

    The neighbours of course do eventually work out that the bloodcurdling screams and BBQ-like smells emanating from the creepy Addams Family-meets-your great grandmother’s down at heel, undisturbed for 60 years share house aren’t the stuff of ordinary suburban life anyway, calling the police in one mirth-inducing scene which has them missing a whole host of incriminating goings-on thanks to Viago’s limited duration hypnosis spell.

    The only compensation for Nick’s rather clumsily-enthusiastic embrace of his new persona is that he brings with him the extremely likeable IT programmer Stu (real life Stu Rutherford) who is so amiable and helpful – he helps Viago, Vlad and Deacon see a sunset for the first time in centuries thanks to the miracle that is YouTube – that no one actually wants to eat them, a very unusual development to hear the inhabitants of the world’s most blood-soaked share house tell it.

     

    Nick loves everything about the vampire lifestyle at first, and isn't afraid to tell anyone who will listen, but soon realises there are downsides to the lifestyle such as the inability to eat his fabourite food, hot chips (image via official What We Do in the Shadows website)
    Nick loves everything about the vampire lifestyle at first, and isn’t afraid to tell anyone who will listen, but soon realises there are downsides to the lifestyle such as the inability to eat his fabourite food, hot chips (image via official What We Do in the Shadows website)

     

    The central narrative conceit of What We Do in the Shadows is that the usually off limits activities of the nocturnal vampires is being recorded for a documentary on the Unholy Masquerade, a yearly ball, and social high point, for the supernatural citizens of Wellington and surrounding environs, which is held in the Cathedral of Despair aka Victoria Bowling Club.

    Palpably excluded are the plaid-loving Werewolves, led by Alpha Male Anton (Rhys Darby) who closely monitors the consensual nature of the pack down to whether everyone is laughing at the same joke at the same time, and advises on the wisdom of certain clothing styles being optimal on “transformation nights”, with whom the vampires spar rather energetically throughout the film.

    The real joy of the movie, which for all its non-stop laugh-out loud observations on share house co-existence,  the difficulties of living lifestyles outside the norm, and the sometimes dubious benefits of immortality – you’re constantly saying goodbye to people admits Deacon to a later-chastened Nick – is that it wears its heart on its sleeve every bit as much as it glorifies endlessly funny jokes and hilarious set pieces.

    It is deft balancing act to say something meaningful in a script peppered with one witty, wry observation after another but Waititi and Clement manage it masterfully, giving this enormously clever parody of every vampire cliche you have ever seen, and likely will see, unexpected emotional heft.

    But most of all, you will laugh and laugh hard, and wish fervently that every other movie you ever saw on the undead was this funny, this insightful and this brilliantly executed, daggy special effects and all.

     

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  • Now this is music #37: Manfred Kidd, Lemonade, Nick Hakim, Fantastic Fantastic, Perfume Genius

    Ross M Perkins - AUTOmersion via photopin cc
    Ross M Perkins – AUTOmersion via photopin cc

     

    More music to warm the heart, cheer the soul and keep summer alive and kicking no matter where you may be.

    With the artists hail from diverse parts of the globe – Australia, Sweden, UK and the USA – they all share one thing in common, which is an ability to fashion music that allows you feel something.

    Ear candy is wonderful, and trust me there are times when it’s all we want to listen to, but for those occasions when you want to sit back, soak up music and have the sense that the songs you’re listening to, which are affecting you on a level way beyond merely aural, actually mean something to the artist who made them, you want music like the kind made by the five artists in this edition of Now This is Music.

    So go sit back in a bar in the early hours of the morning or a hill dappled in sunshine and soft breezes or anywhere that makes you happy and listen to music that’s as good for the soul as it is for the ears.

     

    “Lights” by Manfred Kidd

     

    Manfred Kidd (image via and (c) official Manfred Kidd Facebook page)
    Manfred Kidd (image via and (c) official Manfred Kidd Facebook page)

     

    Thank god for nostalgia.

    It was what likely propelled Victor Crusner and Fredrik Folkestad, childhood friends who met again by chance as adults on a late night tram in Gothenburg, to re-connect and in the midst of re-living no doubt fond memories discovered that they shared some musical sensibilities.

    Fast forward to some recording in what My Spoonful, who thankfully introduced me to this rejoined duo via one of their brilliant new artist emails, called “a timeworn inn and a tiny cabin on the Swedish coast” – it seems to be the thing to do if you’re a Swedish musician with Björn and Benny from ABBA often writing in their tiny studio on the island of Viggso in the Stockholm archipelago – and the creation of gloriously sunny slice of upbeat indie pop with exquisite harmonies, their first single “Lights”.

    While not entirely emblematic of the duo’s overall sound which jumps around genres with a spirit of gleeful invention on their EP When Were You When You Were Us, it is the perfect introduction to this talented twosome who seem to have a knack for crafting music that warms the soul, regardless of which track you’re listening to.

    Manfred Kidd’s music is the perfect accompaniment to warmer weather which makes it arrival at the start of the southern hemisphere spring where the cooler temperatures of winter are on their way out a real gift from the musical gods.

    But hey regardless of where you are, this is the kind of beautifully-produced music that will make your day a better place no matter where you are so do yourself a favour and throw a little sunshine into your day via Manfred Kidd.

     

     

    “Come Down Softly” by Lemonade 

     

    Lemonade (image via and (c) official Lemonade Facebook page)
    Lemonade (image via and (c) official Lemonade Facebook page)

     

    Originally from San Francisco, California and now resident way over on the east coast in one of the current world hotbeds of music creation, Brooklyn, New York, Lemonade (vocalist Callan Clendenin, bassist Ben Steidel, and drummer Alex Pasternak), who have just released of their third album Minus Tide, know a thing or two about gorgeously-lush, harmonies-drenched shimmering pop.

    There is something almost luminous about songs like “Coming Down Softly”, which is one of the most beautiful, chilled songs I have heard in quite a while, a melodic, otherworldly gentle reverie that has been described perfectly by passionate music blogger All Fresh Sounds:

    “‘Come Down Softly’ suggests a slow, feathery fall onto a mattress and that’s the mood Callan Clendenin and company fashion here. Clendenin’s voice hardly rises above a whisper. Alex Pasternak’s drums alternate between thump and unobtrusive ticking. The group’s tropical flavored synthesizers wash over everything like waves from a lagoon. At a critical juncture Clendenin soulfully murmurs ‘a place that I know, this time I’m not alone, the hair bangs on your shoulder breaks my fall.’ There’s no gigantic drop-off, just a gentle ride into the sunset.”

    It is music to drift away with but hardly ephemeral fluff for all that remaining true to the band’s signature indie dance electro pop.

    Above all, though, Lemonade have crafted a song that connects emotionally every bit as much as it does musically, a sign that this is a group that isn’t simply producing music for its own sake – it means something and matters to them, and now thanks to their immensely listenable artistry, to all of us as well.

     

     

    “I Don’t Know” by Nick Hakim (Pigeons and Planes)

     

    Nick Hakim (Photo by William Hacker via official Nick Hakim Facebook page)
    Nick Hakim (Photo by William Hacker via official Nick Hakim Facebook page)

     

    Nick Hakim is nothing if not prolific.

    With the musical “ink” barely dry on his last EP Where Will We Go Pt 1, the DC-based music artist has now seen fit to bestow on us another musical gem, the bluesy, sparsely-beautiful “I Don’t Know” and the promise of an EP Where Will We Go Pt 2 to follow.

    It is an elegantly laid back, a rich mix of lush, chilled vocals, R&B and blues influences and piano-driven melody that sounds, as Pigeons and Planes rightly observed, like it “should be playing in an almost empty bar at 1am as you drink your sixth whisky and take another drag on that cigarette.”

    It’s that languid sense of being ensconced in your own little world, the harsh reality of 9-to-5 jobs and deadlines and taxes far, far away from you, that makes Nick Hakim’s music so compelling.

    That and as Becca Gleason at Nerdist observed his appeal to just about anyone with a heart and a pulse and a love of “buttery vocals”:

    “His music speaks to the lonely, the broken hearted, and probably the broken hearteds’ pets. If you’re in a perfect relationship, listen, cry together, and make your relationship even more perfect. Nick Hakim’s music is fulfilling but also leaves you wanting so much more.”

    More music for the heart? Thank you I do believe I will take that, go to the nearest bar and let Nick Hakim take me away from it all, drink in hand, and mind, heart and soul a million miles form nowhere.

     

     

    “Houses” by Fantastic Fantastic (Hilly Dilly)

     

    Fantastic Fantastic (image via official Fantastic Fantastic Facebook page)
    Fantastic Fantastic (image via official Fantastic Fantastic Facebook page)

     

    But you can’t sit still forever right, lovely thought that might be so along come one-time London based DJs, Micke and Kris from Fantastic Fantastic, recently signed to UK label 37 Adventures, and their insanely funk pop catchy debut single “Houses”.

    It is bright, shimmery, shiny summery feel good pop, populated by sweet harmonies, infectiously upbeat melodies and replete with what Tarynn Law of The 405 correctly says are “oozes sunshine, driving to the beach with your friends vibes”.

    Their sound has been influenced no doubt by their countries of origin – Micke is from Sweden and Kris from Sydney, Australia – with both their home locales homes to innovative, musically adventurous pop that is able to fold in influences like the “80s and ’90s sounds that percolate through “Houses” without losing a shred of its original sound.

    Add in their obvious knack for infectious hooks and you have a sound that will be just as home on the radio as it is on a hipster’s iPod (assuming they even have such things anymore, which I doubt).

    It’s music for the everlasting summer in all of us.

     

     

    “Queen” by Perfume Genius

     

    Perfume Genius (photo by Annie Collinge Photography via official Perfume Genius Facebook page)
    Perfume Genius (photo by Annie Collinge Photography via official Perfume Genius Facebook page)

     

    There is something quite mystical about the Pacific Northwest of America with its towering mountains, dense primeval forests, and evocative overcast skies that makes it the perfect place for a singularly unique music artist like Perfume Genius aka Seattle-based solo artist Mike Hadreas (who has toured with the likes of Beirut and Gold Panda), to base himself.

    In common with many other creative types who call the region home, he has drawn on its pleasingly unusual vibe and  what must be searing life experiences, to create songs of sublime beauty, which ache with a thousand kinds of emotion and lyrics that are both poetic, authentic and to the point, all wrapped up in ornate, grand orchestral epic melodies that overwhelm and subsume in the best possible way.

    It is music for the mind as much for the senses, and “Queen” is a perfect example of his songwriting craft, a song that Pitchfork describes as “a perfect merger of intent and execution” that features “bigger drums, new keyboards, grunting samples, barely any reverb”, a marked change from his earlier work which was redolent with “creaky vocals, piano, and a kind of reverb that makes all his stories sound like shellshocked, PTSD recollections.”

    What strikes me most strongly about his songs is that for all their raw, bombastic intent, there is an underlying fragility and softness, of someone who has managed to draw successfully together vaulting sounds and intimate confessionals into songs that strike at your heart even as they wash over you in wave after wave of deliciously off-kilter melodies.

    It is quite simply beautiful, daringly different music that makes you really feel something and which we will be able to indulge to our cathartic heart’s content when his third album Too Bright releases on September 23 this year.

     

     

    NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

    One of the songs I loved back in my now distant youth was The Knack’s “My Sharona”, an infectiously upbeat rock song/pop song that spent a huge amount of time on the Aussie charts in 1979.

    What I have just discovered is that a lot of people most definitely did not like them, according to Trouser Press via Laughing Squid:

    “Wildly successful, endlessly arrogant, press-shy and an easy target for hipster belittlement, the Knack immediately attracted a backlash that lasted well beyond its disintegration two years later. Beatles purists objected to the Knack tarnishing the Liverpool lads sacred image (the front and back cover of Get the Knack echoes the look of Meet the Beatles). Women’s rights activists objected to the group for its neanderthal views of romance. An entrepreneurial hippie from San Francisco began a grass- roots campaign against the band, selling T-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons featuring the slogan ‘Knuke the Knack.’”

    Nevertheless the appeal of “My Sharona” endures and now Go Home Productions have teamed it, ironically enough with The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” to brilliant effect …

     

     

    Lorde is one of the most innovative, clever, and talented artists out there who has achieved an enormous amount at an impressively young age.

    Now the song that started it all for her, the contagious beyond measure “Royals”, has received the ultimate cover treatment, courtesy of Farmer Derek Klingenberg who has previously covered “Happy” and “Timber” with his song-lovin’ cows …

     

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