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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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  • Movie review: Force Majeure

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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  • Now this is music #39: Kate Boy, Chela, Sui Zhen, BC Kingdom, Little May

    aussiegall via photopin cc
    aussiegall via photopin cc

     

    All hail the music-listening Australian Kelpie!

    He has had the good sense to pick out, along with some help from my good self,  four Aussie artists (plus one more than worthy American ring in) to populate this instalment of Now This is Music.

    All five of the artists are committed to their craft, passionate about what they have to say, and say it with music that is beautiful, heartfelt, moving and alive with all kinds of emotional possibilities.

    It is the kind of music you can’t help but be gratefully subsumed by, a sensory experience so all-enveloping and overwhelming in the best possible sense, that you will wonder how you ever got by without them.

     

    “Self Control” by Katy Boy

     

    Katy Boy (image via official Katy Boy Facebook page)
    Katy Boy (image via official Katy Boy Facebook page)

     

    Kate Boy is one of those serendipitous coming together of likeminded artistic souls that the universe seeks fit to bring together to the collective benefit of us all.

    Made up of Australian Kate Akhurst and two Swedes, Hampus Nordgren Hemlin and Markus Dextegen (known as the production team Rocket Boy), Kate Boy almost didn’t blossom into existence with Akhurst only meeting her future musical collaborators (which initially included fourth member Oskar Sikow Engström who left in late 2013) during the last two days she was in Sweden (they recorded their first song “Northern Lights” the same night they met).

    The name of this just-in-the-nick-of-time joining together, which has already generated the Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel-infleunced Northern Lights EP, was the result of a desire to reflect to the instantaneously close working relationship that these artists from the opposite sides of the world formed as Dextegen explained to Pitchfork:

    “We basically do everything together. We all write and produce everything together, and play each other’s instruments as well.”

    Added Akhurst:

    “[We consider Kate Boy ]“this androgynous person, almost like a character.”

    And now this tight knit threesome are readying the release of their debut album, of which “Self Control” is the lead single.

    A little more warm and earthy than the icily melodic electro-pop delights of Northern Lights, “Self Control” (and follow up single “Open Fire”), it still retains Kate Boy’s trademark powerfully emotionally resonant vocals (courtesy of Akhurst), thumping production values and epic take-no-prisoners choruses which soar to the heavens and back again.

    It’s the perfect marriage of Australian and Swedish musical sensibilities, which Noisey Vice correctly described as “crisp as freshly pressed linen, with just the right proportions of Knife-like cool, Kate Bush-esque vocal elasticity, and sexy synth-pop.”

     

     

    “Romanticise” by Chela

     

    Chela (image via official Chela Facebook page)
    Chela (image via official Chela Facebook page)

     

    Hailing from Australia’s stylish second city Melbourne, which lives and breathes cutting edge chic and cool, Chela first came to everyone’s attention when she provided the vocals to Goldroom’s achingly atmospheric synth beauty “Fifteen” (she followed that up with work for Viceroy and Clubfeet).

    Sporting the full name Chelsea May Wheatley on her driver’s licence and what Bit Candy refer to as “a Tumblr-approved fashion sense”, Chela went on to release an EP all of her own on the Kitsuné label way back in late 2013.

    While I am a bit behind the eight ball on this artist, I am intensely grateful I have finally found her since “Romanticise” is one of those blissfully evocative tracks that sounds like all the happy things you have ever experienced in your life, all of which are taking place on a breezy, relaxed summer’s evening when autumn has yet to sting us with its chill and leafy decay.

    Sleek and upbeat electro-pop, and adorned by Chela’s remarkably sweet but unmissable voice – she is also in possession of one of the best, most creative and damn near hilarious bios out there at This is Chela thanks to the talented Luke Benge – “Romanticise” lives up to its title, effortlessly evoking a shimmering idyll far from the maddening crowd.

    It’s a gorgeous slice of pop, the fruition of years of dabbling in everything from rap to punk rock and even a little (or a lot) of Michael Jackson, and one that is garnering this mischievous Aussie songbird a lot of well-deserved attention.

     

     

    “Infinity Street” by Sui Zhen

     

    Sui Zhen (image via official Sui Zhen Facebook page)
    Sui Zhen (image via official Sui Zhen Facebook page)

     

    Stark and stripped bare, with its insistent melody popping up as unexpectedly as the pulsing drumbeat that underpins it, Sui Zhen’s “Infinity Street” is by her gorgeously dreamlike, almost-girl like voice which floats across the song like gossamer wisps of fog.

    It is an undeniably minimalist track that is nevertheless utterly compelling listening with all manner of pleasing vocal and melodic distortions adorning it, rendering it one of those songs you will find yourself drawn further and further into each time you listen to it.

    A Sydney-based singer and artist, who has turned heads with a string of EPs over the last year or so, Sui Zhen is readying the release of her debut album Suddenly Susan in 2015 on the Bright Lakes label, an “independent, artist-run label based in Melbourne, Australia” that playfully but poetically describes this innovative artist’s music’s first album single as “the first taste of a strange and sweet-tasting concoction, it’s balearic beats and airy vocals transporting the listener into Zhen’s unique world. It’s lyrics speak of a post-apocalyptic daydream where our protagonist chases a never-ending sunset. It’s about the persistence of desire and unquenchable thirst.”

    That’s a lot to pack into one song but underscores that you can’t judge this song on one listen alone (even though one listen will be all it takes to get you hooked) nor can you pigeonhole this immensely talented and incredibly busy artist who performs solo, as a DJ, in tandem with Andras Fox (Fox + Sui), in a band as Sui et Sui (with with Ashley Bundang and Alec Marshall) as well as lending “vocals and percussion to Melbourne bands NO ZU and Hot Palms” (Bright Lakes bio).

    She appears to be a woman of limitless energy and imagination, all of which is reflected in the endless, languorous stretches of “Infinity Street”, a brilliantly sublime harbinger to many laid back melodic treasures in store for us.

     

     

    “Colours” by BC Kingdom

     

    BC Kingdom (image via official BC Kingdom Facebook page)
    BC Kingdom (image via official BC Kingdom Facebook page)

     

    BC Kingdom, LA-based purveyors of what Pigeons and Planes calls “futuristic R&B” are spinners of melodically-shaped meteorological wonders – so soft and tremulously beautiful is “Colours” that you honestly feel like you are drifting away on a large fluffy white cloud to wherever musical nirvana might lie.

    It is honestly one of the most divinely ethereal tracks I have ever heard – delicate and fey on one hand but robustly dark and mysterious on the other, as dense and dark as it is atmospherically light.

    Pigeons and Planes note that BC Kingdom draw their “dance music-influenced production” influences “from the UK underground as well as forward-thinking American crews like Fade To Mind, and mix it with truly soulful vocals and a huge chorus.”

    “Colours”, which samples Moby’s “Natural Blues”, is a truly remarkable one-of-a-kind song which The Interns perfectly described as “a brooding, powerful ballad that proves both Solange and James Blake‘s high praises of the producers should be taken very seriously.”

    If you’re on the lookout for something different that is worth rhapsodising to the heavens for, BC Kingdom are well and truly worth taking seriously, all the more so with the impending release of their Buckwild Spirit EP.

     

     

    “Dust” by Little May

     

    Little May (image via official Little May Facebook page)
    Little May (image via official Little May Facebook page)

     

    More dreamy drifting, at least in the opening stages of “Dust”, from Little May, a Sydney trio composed of Liz Drummond, Hannah Field and Annie Hamilton who have just signed to local label, Dew Process.

    It’s not hard to see why as the threesome’s sublimely-lush harmonies, driving folk pop melodies and emotionally-insightful lyrics seduce within the heady space of one intoxicating listen.

    It’s exquisitely alluring stuff, the product of artists who sound like they are more than willing to wear their hearts on their sleeves if it produces great and enduring art which this most certainly is.

    There is an authenticity to the songs of Little May, who played Splendour in the Grass in July and BigSound in September, which can’t be faked, back by skilled musicianship which recognises that truly moving music, and this is deeply moving, must be invested with raw, heartfelt emotion if it has any hope of connecting with people on an enduring basis.

    I have no doubt Little May will be around for some time to come as a result, especially since “Dust” is joined on their just-released Little May EP by equally heart-stoppingly emotive gems such as “Bones”, “Hide” and “Midnight Hour”.

     

     

    NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

     

    Aretha Franklin is a musical legend whose voice and artistic presence is as commanding now as it has ever been, clearly evidenced by her performance, with a sizeable band that included Cissy Houston on backing vocals, on David Letterman of a stirring cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, with some “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” thrown in for good measure.

    It’s a great way to announce the impending release of her Great Diva Classics album on October 21.

    (source: Stereogum)

     

     

     

    My lord but isn’t Pharrell Williams fun!

    And talented.

    He’s back with a bright, colourful clip for “It Girl”, which is the result of a collaboration with “acclaimed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who stood in as producer, to create a handful of seriously colorful and animated versions of himself” (zap2it).

     

     

    Speaking of Pharrell, one of my favourite artists Gwen Stefani, who is well-known as the lead singer of No Doubt as well as a successful solo artist, and now judge of the American iteration of The Voice, is finally releasing a third album of her own material, produced by the man himself, in December eight hours after The Sweet Escape.

    As Hollywood Reporter notes she is also busily recording No Doubt’s new album too, all of which makes you wonder when she finds the time to sleep, much less host a juggernaut TV show.

    She’s an amazing lady and I am looking forward to December, already a favourite month thanks to Christmas, in ways that words can’t possibly do justice to.

     

    Gwen Stefani (image via official Gwen Stefani Instagram account)
    Gwen Stefani (image via official Gwen Stefani Instagram account)

     

    And now to Röyksopp, who caused a scare a couple of weeks ago when they announced they were about to release their last ever album The Inevitable End.

    Fearing the worst, fans rushed to social media to lament, and shower themselves in the Scandinavian version of sackcloth and ashes, but a closer reading of their statement revealed they were simply saying goodbye to the traditional album format and had no intention of ceasing their creation of ethereal, delightfully moody synth pop any time soon:

    “We feel like this is a goodbye to the traditional album format, In our consecutive run of albums, we have been able to say what we want to say and do what we want to do with the LP. We’re not going to stop making music, but the album format as such, this is the last thing from us.” (source: Hypetrak)

    The announcement was accompanied by the release of the album’s lead single “Skulls” which is classic catchy Röyksopp.

     

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  • Movie review: Pride

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

     

    It can be hard to imagine, as the idealists are want to have us do, a world in which people of vastly opposing views come together and get to know one another in a way that transcends trite social niceties, bonding in ways so powerful that real, life-affecting change happens.

    But this is precisely what happens in the Matthew Warchus-directed Pride, a joyfully-uplifting feel good film with substance that tells the true story of the unlikely but transformative union of a determined group of twenty-something gays and lesbians in London, and a plucky but beleaguered Welsh mining village in the Dalais Valley during the bitterly divisive miners’ strike of 1984-85 in Britain.

    At a time when Margaret Thatcher’s bold capitalist experiments were driving yawning fissures into much of British society, one determined young gay man by the name of Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), raised in the fractured society of Northern Ireland and convinced that everyone’s rights are worth fighting for, decides that he and his friends, who collectively christen themselves as the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), would do what they could to support and stand in solidarity the miners, a group who, by standing up in defiance of the prevailing political creed of the day, had managed to draw the ire of the British establishment and media in a way that homosexual men and women were only too familiar with.

    It is a bold move on Ashton’s part, one driven by a sense of understanding and camaraderie with the miners - “If anybody knows what this treatment feels like, it’s us.” – with whom the much-maligned and constantly harangued gays and lesbians of London share a great deal in common, despite the obvious differences.

    Wasting no time, Ashton marshals his friends to collect funds in colourful plastic buckets outside the “Gay is the Word” bookshop, a move which attracts plenty of opprobrium but also a great deal of support, with the latter increasing still further when one of the members of the mining village’s strike committee, openminded though nervous Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine) who good-naturedly admits “I’ve never met a gay before”, travels to London, meets with Mark and his friends, and eventually stands up in one of the local gay nightclubs to thank LGSM and the wider gay community for their generous offer of help.

     

     

    This unexpectedly successful meeting sets in motion a close knit relationship between the two disparate groups, one borne initially of mutual need – for the miners, of funds to support the striking miners and their families, critically important after the government freezes the accounts of the National Union of Mineworkers in an attempt to force them back to work, and for LGSM, to reach out to a similarly ostracised community where they may be able to make a difference as they struggle to advance their own cause in meaningfully practical ways.

    It requires both groups to venture far outside of their comfort zones, a journey that we see reflected in Joe (George MacKay), a 20 year old  closeted gay man who makes his first step into a new life on the day of 1984′s London Pride Parade – writer Stephen Beresford’s beautifully calibrated script neatly uses the following year’s parade as an inspirational finishing point for the film – and Siân James (Jessica Gunning), a miner’s wife who, contrary to her limited ambitions, quickly assumes a leading role on the miners’ committee, especially in its dealing with the group affectionately known to most in the village as “The Gays”.

    Both of these finely-drawn characters – they are not alone in a film brimming with many such vividly-realised true to life creations, many of whom are based on the actual figures involved in this highly unusual marriage of mid-1980s Britain’s outcasts – are the audience entry points to the mindset changes that happen on both sides as they struggle together for the type of societal change both desperately need.

    What makes Pride such a satisfying experience at just about every turn, albeit one tempered by the always present and never ignored cruel realities of life for both the miners and the gays and lesbians who come to their aid (such as harsh police treatment and AIDS), is that many of the seemingly-cliched events which pepper the film, and from which much of its inspiration is drawn, actually took place.

    The massive Bronski Beat-anchored Pits and Perverts Concert which forms the centrepiece of LGSM’s fundraising efforts really was held, the miners and LGSM, both of whom makes trips back and forth to each other’s homes, really did come together in a profoundly close way (there were hold outs on both sides of course, a fact not ignored by a movie that doesn’t dispense with the truth simply to generate mere warm-and-fuzzy feelings) and many of the figures featured such as directionless HIV-positive Jonathan Blake (Dominic West) really played a major part in helping this unique partnership bear the spectacularly successful fruit that it did.

     

     

    The judicious inclusion of these actual events transform Pride from just another lightly dramatic British feel good film – this is by no means a bad club to belong to however since it includes such luminously uplifting films as The Full Monty and Billy Elliott, members of a genre that is far more substantial than it might appear to a cursory glance - into one redolent with an authentic re-telling of the challenges, the joys and the victories inherent in this unique partnership.

    That it ends on a victorious high of sorts is not a case of the sort of emotional manipulation that a film like this could too easily tumble into in less assured hands.

    Rather, reflecting again actual events, it is testament to the fact that sometimes the idealists are right, that people from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences, who have not so much as shared a coffee let alone a unifying thought, can come together and find that the gulf separating them is not as fearsomely wide or unable to be breached as they first thought.

    That they can do it in such a warm, funny and life-changing way is nothing short of miraculous, giving you hope that many other seemingly intractable divisions could also be handled in the same way if only people would take the time to listen, to get to know each other and to act.

    In that respect Pride isn’t simply a masterfully-told, funny, engaging and searingly authentic record of a unique moment in time; it’s also proof that humanity’s woes may not be as unsolvable as we thought.

    Maybe the idealists are right after all.

     

     

     

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  • First impressions: Gotham (S1, E1 “Pilot” / E2 “Selina Kyle”)

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    The world is an irredeemably wicked and violent place from which little to no good can ever come.

    Grimly cynical yes but that seems to be the prevailing worldview of almost everyone in Gotham, a city ruled over by a witches brew of organised crime and institutionalised corruption where the overwhelming consensus seems to be to look purposefully and defiantly the other way.

    Someone though forgot to give rookie police detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) the memo, and the decorated war veteran takes to his new profession with gusto, determined to rid his adopted city of its dank and poisonous soul in the latest superhero TV show to hit the small screen Gotham.

    Gordon’s crusade of sorts sports an laudable aim surely but one which smacks of Don Quixote tilting at a thousand windmills as everyone from Gordon’s ennui-laden, casually violent corrupt police veteran partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) to the captain of the Gotham City Police Department Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara) and gangsters like Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and the king of Gotham’s rancid underbelly Carmine Falcone (John Doman) all seek to convince that joining them is far easier than opposing them.

    He isn’t convinced of course but with the support of his fiancee Barbara Kean (Erin Richards) and innate sense of right and wrong that he can’t openly persuaded to abandon, he maintains the rage albeit while appearing to largely go along with the powers that be.

     

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    This makes him of course the perfect person to bond with a young, impressionable, deeply traumatised Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), newly orphaned after the brutal slaying of his parents by a supposed mugger, and looked with zealous, almost familial regard by the family’s butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), who within days of the tragic event is well on his way to become his eventual alter ego Batman.

    Having lost his father to a random shooting when he was just a boy, Gordon is able to empathetically talk to the young boy on the night of the murder, the two of them sitting in an alleyway, joined by a shared experience that no one should ever have to go through.

    Making a commitment to bring his parents to justice, Gordon sets about trying to find out who was behind the vicious crime, an investigation which brings him into contact with many of the proto-villains who will become Batman’s most trenchant adversaries such as police coroner Edward Nygma (Corey Michael Smith), sociopathic gangland operative Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), and sassy street kid Selina “Cat” Kyle (Camren Bicondova).

    Noe of them, of course are the people they will eventually become of course but in the fertile soil of Gotham’s degenerative culture, it won’t take long for them to become the criminal legends of lore, part of one of the most diverse and profoundly fleshed out cast of rogues in any superhero universe.

    They are not, naturally enough, the focus of Gotham, nor of Gordon’s attention which is focused much more immediately on finding the killers of Bruce Wayne’s parents and solving the multitude of other crimes besetting the good people of the seething metropolis, while keeping his hands as clean as possible in the process.

    It’s an uphill task, and one you could argue neither he or Batman are ever destined to permanently win but it’s fascinating watch him try to clean up a city that looks to be all but irrevocably soiled.

     

    Gotham Bruce Wayne
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    Its that kind of rich characterisation that marks Gotham as one of the more complex entries in the increasingly crowded TV superhero show field.

    With relatively long established comic book to TV shows like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Arrow, and new season entrants like Constantine, and the well-reviewed The Flash jostling for company on viewing schedules, Gotham needs to have a real point of difference to attract attention.

    It achieves this through superbly drawn characters – some work better than others but all makes for compelling viewing – a glossy visual aesthetic which combines grim realism and retro fantasy to pleasing effect, and story lines that don’t simply focus on a case of the week approach in and of themselves but use them to explore still further into the murky world of Gotham and the compromised souls who call it home (something you see to great effect in the second episode “Selina Kyle”).

    So well wrought is the show from the get go that you feel as if you have walked into a show already half a season in, a high complement for any show since most struggle to form any kind of cogent identity or ongoing consistent narrative momentum till well into their first season, and sometimes not even then.

    This is not to say the show ticks all the boxes – it can’t for instance quite decide of it is going to follow Christopher Nolan’s darkly gritty take on Gotham, or Tim Burton’s more theatrically over the top one although it seems to be settling, in the first two episodes at least, for a serious drama with flourishes of cartoonish flair – but it manages to hook you almost immediately and take you immediately and deeply into a world that newly-arrived James Gordon is still trying to figure out for himself and makes it case for you sticking around.

    It will be intriguing to see how the relationship between Gordon and Wayne develops, how the nascent detective fares keeping his soul squeaky clean and how he deals with the fact that for all his efforts villains like Catwoman, the Penguin and the Riddler all manage to emerge on his watch.

    For now though, Gotham, a robustly substantial show with much to recommend it, is focusing on Gordon’s growing bond with young Bruce Wayne and the rise of the Penguin, played with delicious lunacy and coldblooded sociopathy by a talented Robin Lord Taylor, and looks worth sticking around for, if only to see if good has even the remotest chance of triumphing over evil.

     

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

     

    (image via Den of Geek via EW)
    (image via Den of Geek via EW)

    Gotham Selina Kyle

     

    Here for your additional viewing pleasure (after watching the first two episodes of course) is the trailer for the series but a series of character profiles which includes naturally enough the city of Gotham itself.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Poster me this: Character art for The Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies

    (image via Screenrant)
    Bilbo Baggins (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the third in a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

    The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies brings to an epic conclusion the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and the Company of Dwarves. Having reclaimed their homeland from the Dragon Smaug, the Company has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force into the world. Enraged, Smaug rains his fiery wrath down upon the defenseless men, women and children of Lake-town.

    Obsessed above all else with his reclaimed treasure, Thorin sacrifices friendship and honor to hoard it as Bilbo’s frantic attempts to make him see reason drive the Hobbit towards a desperate and dangerous choice. But there are even greater dangers ahead. Unseen by any but the Wizard Gandalf, the great enemy Sauron has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain.

    As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide – unite or be destroyed. Bilbo finds himself fighting for his life and the lives of his friends in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, as the future of Middle-earth hangs in the balance.

    (synopsis via Coming Soon)

     

    Galadriel (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)
    Galadriel (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)

     

    It was that great rock philosopher of the Swinging Sixties , Jim Morrison, who once opined:

    This is the end, beautiful friend
    This is the end, my only friend, the end
    Of our elaborate plans, the end
    Of everything that stands, the end
    No safety or surprise, the end
    I’ll never look into your eyes, again

    These poignant lyrics were penned by the lead singer of The Doors about his breakup with then-girlfriend Mary Werbelow, but were, in the words of the songwriter himself, “sufficiently complex and universal in its imagery that it could be almost anything you want it to be”.

    Which is why I am co-opting them as a way of expressing my sadness that the great Middle Earth saga, which Peter Jackson first brought to cinemas in the Lord of the Rings saga (2001-2003) and re-commenced in the less universally-popularly received but nonetheless equally as impressive The Hobbit series, which reaches its all too soon conclusion in the suitably epic The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

    I say “epic” not simply because of its larger-than-life narrative and sumptuous visual stylings but also in deference to its role as the grand bridging movie between the two towering fantasy franchises, a link between the events of The Hobbit, which details Bilbo Baggins throughly unexpected adventures into lands far beyond his own small world of the village of Hobbiton and the later battle for the soul of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, of which Bilbo’s nephew Frodo was the beating heart.

    All of the events of the later saga have their origins in The Hobbit, a small book that Peter Jackson has seamlessly fashioned into a three movie series thanks largely to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien which allowed him to include details from the countless reference books that the great fantasy author wrote to accompany his fictional works.

     

     

    Gandalf the Grey (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)
    Gandalf the Grey (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)

     

    I’ve greatly enjoyed both of the already-released instalments of the series The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) but I am well aware, like Sandy Schaefer at Screenrant, that not everyone is so well disposed to Middle Earth journeys of Bilbo Baggins, placing a great deal of importance on the final pivotal instalment:

    “It’ll likewise be interesting to see how Battle of the Five Armies affects general opinion on the Hobbit trilogy as a whole, seeing how the reception’s been far more mixed than it was for Jackson’s Rings films. Most people will probably still prefer Frodo’s journey over Bilbo’s at the end of the day, but if Jackson finishes his Hobbit trilogy on a strong note then it could improve the outlook towards his decision to split Tolkien’s Hobbit source novel into three movies to begin with.”

    I have every confidence it will be the epic tour de force that Schaefer and other including myself hope it will be, since Jackson has shown a deft hand for taking the words of Tolkien and bringing them consistently, and with impressive narrative and visual mastery, to gloriously enchanting, utterly compelling life.

    The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is out in New Zealand on 11 December, UK on 12 December, USA on 17 December and Australia on 26 December 2014.

     

    Tauriel (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)
    Tauriel (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)

     

    You can find the full set of already-released character posters over at Screenrant.

     

    Thorin Oakenshield (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)
    Thorin Oakenshield (image via Screenrant (c) New Line Cinema)
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