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  • Falling Skies: Drawing Straws (S4, E10 review)

    Lexi returns in dramatic fashion at the end of "Drawing Straws" ... or should that be The Days of our Masons (image via YouTube (c) TNT)
    Lexi returns in dramatic fashion at the end of “Drawing Straws” … or should that be The Days of our Masons (image via YouTube (c) TNT)

     

    * SPOILERS LIE AHEAD … AND BEAMERS … UNLESS LEXI BLOWS THEM FROM THE SKY *

    Like humans through an Espheni Skitterisation factory … these are The Days of Our Masons …

    Yes, folks, after dodging the Mason family soap operatic tendencies of Falling Skies for nigh on 10 melodrama-free season 4 episodes, “Drawing Straws” saw us plunged back into the maelstrom of angst, sullen glances and poorly-timed heart to heart discussions that is life with Tom (Noah Wylie) and his erratic brood.

    It made sense that the writers had to fill the awkwardly-placed penultimate episode, which occupied an unenviable position between last week’s “We have a Beamer and we’re flying to the moon! Yeah!” decision, and the finale where they are clearing flying to the moon, with nothing of any real import since how do you top a mission to the moon, but even so, filling it with Tom being a selfish self-anointed saviour god, Matt (Maxim Knight) being a prat, and Hal (Drew Roy) and Ben (Connor Jessup)  fighting over Maggie (Sarah Carter) may not have been the wisest course of action.

    The one saving grace of this return to the Masons thinking that the 2nd Mass. is their very North Korean dynastic dynasty – although admittedly Tom has way better hair than Kim Jong-Un so he has that in his favour – was that everyone around them  including Tom’s own wife Anne (Moon Bloodgood), Pope (Colin Cunningham) and even Weaver stood up to them at a crucial point and said enough is enough.

    Thank the Volm for that really!

    The critical point in question was who would fly the Beamer, which Dingaan (Trev Etienne) had partly worked out how to fly by grabbing tendrils together in what frankly looked like a haphazard manner, and naturally Tom, who can do no wrong (at least in his own eyes), decided that only he had the wherewithal and divine anointing to pilot the Beamer to the moon, blow the power station to pieces and gently coast back down to earth on reserve power.

     

    Dingaan has 13 hours as a pilot up his sleeve, Weaver a wealth of military experience but it's Tom who MUST go on he Beamer ... so says Tom with messiah-like certainty (image via Tv.com (c) TNT)
    Dingaan has 13 hours as a pilot up his sleeve, Weaver a wealth of military experience but it’s Tom who MUST go on he Beamer … so says Tom with messiah-like certainty (image via Tv.com (c) TNT)

     

    In all honesty did the character of Tom Mason no favours since while Tom has been painted as a reasonably headstrong person in the past, his leadership has always rested on the consensus of his 2nd Mass. peers that he should lead and not on some pigheaded messianic complex writ large.

    He came off tonight as arrogant, disrespectful, rude, selfish and narcissistic, none of which are terribly attractive qualities and which detract from the essential decency of the man who leads because he is fighting for his family.

    What he devolved down too in the space of one episode – although there had been signs in previous episodes such as “Door Number Three” that Tom was losing the plot somewhat – was the sort of person you wouldn’t want anywhere near the leadership of anything in particular.

    He was dismissive, convinced he had to go (though he only had a hunch to go on and nothing more) and unwilling to brook any meaningful discourse on the subject, especially that which tended to a position he didn’t hold.

    He even rigged the vote that was agreed to after the 2nd Mass., tired of Tom grabbing all the leadership toys for himself, demanded that they have a say in who piloted the Beamer.

    It was all very dramatic in one sense true, and in some ways Tom did stay true to his convictions, and he is after all the Alpha Male, the Chosen One of Falling Skies, but to execute the centrality of his role in such a priggish, unattractive way – hell he even treated his wife’s opinion like it didn’t really matter even if he did at least give her the chance to have her say – did his character no favours and diminished the inevitability hero of the earth role he is destined to play.

     

    "Don't touch that Matt ... don't go there Matt ... Matt what did I tell you?" ... all Matt hears? "Blah blah blah ... touch the panels with the blue lights ... blah blah blah ... " (image via Examiner (c) TNT)
    “Don’t touch that Matt … don’t go there Matt … Matt what did I tell you?” … all Matt hears? “Blah blah blah … touch the panel with the blue lights … blah blah blah … ” (image via Examiner (c) TNT)

     

    His kids didn’t fare any better either.

    Matt, while admittedly a 13 year old teenage boy with raging hormones, and the need to challenge everyone who lives and breathes around him, nonetheless came across as an idiotic fool.

    If he was standing smack bang in the middle of an alley of rubble pointing his gun at approaching beamers – that was until Weaver told him to “Stand down!” – he was dashing back into the Beamer when Tom had expressly asked him not to, touching buttons here, and pushing panels there till a console magically popped from the floor that, surprise, surprise, surprise, allowed them to steer the ship.

    So points to him for that at least but he didn’t come across as rebellious so much as a bona fide moron, who didn’t exercise sound judgement and could have got himself and everyone else killed.

    Yes I know teenage boys don’t exercise sound judgement a lot of the time and so in that respect, he was bang on the hormonal target but it turned him into an annoying character who I was glad to have offscreen as much as possible.

     

    Ain't love grand? Why yes it is ... unless you're Hal watching the woman you love Maggie going gaga for your brother who is secretly and then not-so-secretly in love with her (image via The Young Folks (c) TNT
    Ain’t love grand? Why yes it is … unless you’re Hal watching the woman you love Maggie going gaga for your brother who is secretly and then not-so-secretly in love with her (image via The Young Folks (c) TNT

     

    And then there was Hal … and Ben … and Maggie.

    Sigh, the love triangle of the Masons, a staple of any decent soap opera, even one taking place at the end of the world, or reasonably near to it anyway.

    Hal, at least, exhibited some noble, better angels of our nature characteristics, acknowledging he wasn’t Maggie’s master – a pleasing reversal of last week’s misogynistic comment that Maggie was his – and forgiving and embracing Ben right before Ben and his dad were about to pull a Frank Sinatra and fly right to the moon.

    So Hal earns our Most Improved Mason of the week award but given the low baseline he and the rest of his family – Anne aside who came across as sane, balanced and articulately insightful – are operating from, no one should give him a standing ovation just yet.

    Ben at least had the decency to admit he’s in love, twu love with Maggie to Hal, and through clenched teeth, acknowledged that Maggie probably only wanted to kiss him and ahem, other things, because of the influence of the spikes.

    So points to him too but again, don’t get too excited too quickly.

     

    Lexi is happy as an Espheni hybrid with elemental powers can be ... until she overhears dad agreeing to her untimely demise (image via TV.com (c) TNT)
    Lexi is happy as an Espheni hybrid with elemental powers can be … until she overhears dad agreeing to her untimely demise (image via TV.com (c) TNT)

     

    And what of Lexi, the poster child of wayward Masons?

    Off learning with her “father”, the Monk, to be a all-powerful, “divine” being, who will only be used to spread peace, love and mung beans to all – the fact that she bought this particular line from the alien race who violently and genocidally invaded the Earth speaks volumes about the fact that for all her rapid physical growth, she is still very much a naive child psychologically and emotionally – she discovered, while listening in a conversation between her Espheni dad and the burned ghetto Overlord that she was an instrument of war, not peace (wouldn’t Lourdes, had she lived, been a tad disappointed to say the least?).

    Not only that but she learned that the Espheni realised they may have gone a tad overboard in turbocharging the godlike abilities to deconstruct the atomic structure of trees or subvert gravity, and decide that Lexi would have to be done away with.

    Chalk that one up to a bitter life lesson that Lexi will not soon forget, and as we’ve seen, forgive.

    Spitting the damn near omnipotent being dummy, Lexi wasted no time in trooping back to the 2nd Mass., blowing up a gazillion Beamers that were on their way to blow the few-in-numbers survivors off the face of the Earth and cheerily greeted Tom like she’d just popped down to the grocery store for a ice cream with her gal pals.

    Cue all manner of mistrust and what-the-hell do we do knows from Tom, her family and the rightly suspicious denizens of what I like to call Rubble Town.

     

    Tom, Cochise and Weaver realised too late that the Beamer they'd bought was missing its instruction manual (Image via Spoiler TV (c) TNT)
    Tom, Cochise and Weaver realised too late that the Beamer they’d bought was missing its instruction manual (Image via Spoiler TV (c) TNT)

     

    The problem in the end was not so much that time was spent on the Masons.

    They are, after all, the heroic core of the 2nd Mass., and thus of Falling Skies and it makes sense that they are given prominence more often than not since that is the right and the way of protagonists.

    My issue is that they took up too much time in “Drawing Straws”, drawing oxygen away from other characters, other issues and lessening the heroism of the task at hand, which is deal a crippling worldwide blow to the Espheni through destroying their lunar power base, by reducing Tom particularly and his squabbling or rebellious boys to the sort of people you’d rather hand across to a Skitter hybridisation factory – which a mysterious transmission is Spanish made clear is in full swing with ghettos empty and factories full – than spend any more time with.

    And you sure as hell wouldn’t want them to lead you.

    It’s not the first time Falling Skies has played the Restless Masons / Bold and the Masons card but for the sake of a heroic end to both season 4 and the series (number five will be its last), showrunner David Eick, who has powerfully transformed the show this season for the better (mostly) into a genuinely gritty apocalyptic drama, needs to make sure that the characters at the centre of it all remain people we actually want to have as our saviours.

    And behold the promo trailer for the final double episode finale Space Oddity/Shoot the Moon …

     

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  • First impressions: Intruders (S1, E1″She Was Provisional”/E2 “And Here … You Must Listen”)

    (image via Load TV (c) BBC America)
    (image via Load TV (c) BBC America)

     

    Humanity has long been fascinated by the idea of what lies beneath, or just beyond, the limits of our perception.

    Anchored most firmly to the three dimensions of the physical world, and mired in the turgid everyday certainty of the banal and the ordinary, there has always been a sense that there must be something more to this life, something more dramatic, more meaningful.

    And so, in pursuit of this sixth sense that gods, good and bad, occupy the trees and the rocks and the sky, or that angels hover protectively over us or demons beset us, we have adopted religions, listened to conspiracy theorists, watched the sky for aliens swooping down to confirm to us that, if nothing else, we are worth invading, that we matter, that life isn’t simply the dreary bricks-and-mortar existence we know all too well.

    Intruders, the new series from BBC America, who gave us the similarly conspiratorially-inclined Orphan Black, makes it clear, almost from the get go, that we would be better off dropping this wonder-filled search for something otherworldly beyond the daily commute, that this way trouble, and much of it, lies.

    Or that if we must pay attention to it, that we do so with vigilance and care, of guardianship for our very souls, for in the shadowy world of Intruders, where mystery is commonplace, and answers to life’s big questions scarce, there are more threats than there are blessings, more fear than kindly spiritual concern.

    Based on The Intruders by Michael Marshall, a novel which mixed police procedural with supernatural conspiracies to devastatingly gripping effect, Intruders, in its own richly-atmospheric suggestion-over-substance way gives us a world in which the ordinary things of life mask secret societies, a battle for the souls of the living, a war between those who would seek eternal life at the expense of the living and the those few aware enough people willing to fight to stop them.

     

    Jack is still very much in love with Amy ... but is she even the Amy he knows and loves anymore? (image via official Intruders site (c) BBC America)
    Jack is still very much in love with Amy … but is she even the Amy he knows and loves anymore? (image via official Intruders site (c) BBC America)

     

    Jack Whelan (John Simm), retired LA cop now resident near Portland in the US Pacific Northwest is not one of those people, at least not initially.

    Happily ensconced in his idyllic seachange world with wife Amy (Mira Sorvino), he is done with looking under stones, the seedier side of life, content to enjoy the sweet, crime-free banalities of life.

    But when Amy starts to act out of character, listening to jazz, a genre she always professed to hate, becomes distracted and disengaged in their marriage where once she was loving and present, and then with no warning, outright disappears one day, Jack is confronted with a world beyond the one he knows which is far darker, insidious and secretive than anything he came across in the criminal underworld.

    Intruders though is not the type of show to give up its secrets easily, even to a hardened, tenacious, intensely-focused ex-cop like Jack who slowly but surely realises there is more afoot than simply his wife going AWOL.

    Quite what is happening though is a mystery, even to those of privy to far more information that Jack, who bit by bit, and person by person begins to piece together where Amy has gone and why.

     

    The deeply unsettling scene on the beach where Madison (Millie Brown) is approached by a mysterious man is emblamatic of the show as a whole - the subversion of the everyday by the secret and unknown, the mixing of a real world threat with a decidedly otherworldly one (image via Intruders official site (c) BBC America)
    The deeply unsettling scene on the beach where Madison (Millie Brown) is approached by a mysterious man is emblamatic of the show as a whole – the subversion of the everyday by the secret and unknown, the mixing of a real world threat with a decidedly otherworldly one (image via Intruders official site (c) BBC America)

     

    Of course in the first two episodes of this tautly-written, of short on details, show, those pieces come together very slowly indeed.

    What we do see is more the sense of things that their actuality, the idea of evil, of something supernaturally malignant this way coming; details are short while impressions are many (which is not such a bad thing if you throw out some narratively explanatory breadcrumbs but these are few and far between to non-existent, resulting in a viewing experience which owes more to head-scratching befuddlement than “ah-ha” moments).

    What we are witness to is a little girl in the present day being approached on an isolated beach near her beachside home by a black-clad man (James Frain) who simply hands her a shell and a card with the number 9 on it, which precipitates a titanic battle between her soul and that of an intruder, a man who is hard, cold and patently dangerous.

    We travel back almost 25 years to the birthday party of a woman called Donna, who is subject to a home invasion by, again, men in black called Shepherds, operatives who don’t harm her physically, simply handing her a yellow object, saying “It’s a secret you gave to us. We’re here to give it back to you, just as you asked all those years ago. We’re just here to shepherd you.”

    And we are handed a bewildering array of freaky television tropes – people with perpetually widened pupils and absent looks, a secret society complete with arcane rituals and riddle-filled literature, a dissident group of conspiracy theorists who are right on the money about the society’s evil intent, murder most foul (of both people and a cat), and symbols aplenty, all of which seem to revolve around the number 9 and birthdays.

    It’s clear that Intruders is pulling back the curtain between the banal and the supernatural but quite what it is is showing us isn’t quite clear even two episodes in.

    It is satisfying viewing in the sense that there is a pleasing sense of wonder and mystery to it all, confirmation that our suspicions that something more than bill paying and nights out fills this world of ours, but quite what it is, beyond the idea of  two souls fighting for possession of  one body and a vaguely-enunciated quest for immortality isn’t delineated all that well.

    Stonewalled at every turn,  Jack begins to suspect there is something more afoot than simply his wife's disappearance (image via Intruders official site (c) BBC America)
    Stonewalled at every turn, Jack begins to suspect there is something more afoot than simply his wife’s disappearance (image via Intruders official site (c) BBC America)

     

    The danger of course with this style of storytelling which glories in narrative sleight-of-hand and the impenetrable mist of otherworldliness is that you are left feeling like you’re grasping at the fog, with little of any substance to hold onto.

    That it is compelling viewing isn’t in dispute; it was almost impossible to look away from the hushed tones, the grey day time visuals and the night time skullduggery, the hints of darkness below the veneer of the everyday, fearful you might miss a vital clue, a telltale sign that will explain, even in a small way, what is going here.

    But too much of this, too few answers, too little understanding of what is going on and you run the risk that emotional investment is well nigh impossible, that whatever beguiling effect the look and feel of the show might have on you, will quickly be supplanted, in the absence of concrete answers, by an evaporation of caring, of the compulsion to see what happens next.

    It’s not necessarily a damning criticism since it is refreshing to come across a self-assured,confident in its storytelling style show, happy to take its time unveiling its secrets; but you can only hope that it doesn’t follow the lead of the reluctant to divulge, suitably creepy secret society at its heart, and leave the telling of these secrets too late for it to actually matter.

     

     

     

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  • Now this is music #36: Buchanan, Mansions on the Moon, Generationals, Salt Cathedral, Javelin

    Pragmagraphr via photopin cc
    Pragmagraphr via photopin cc

     

    Whoosh!

    Was that another second, another hour, another frantically busy day of life screaming on by?

    Yes it was, and while it is energising and thrilling to a point, and gets the blood pumping and the juices flowing, there comes a time when you need to ramp things down, watch the sun sink down below the horizon and stop and smell the roses, or at least drink a fruity, flowery wine if nothing else.

    And what would all that peaceful naval-gazing be like without some chilled music to accompany it?

    It’s the reason why I have picked the five following groups, all of whom are distinctly different but share a commitment to creating gorgeously original music that will soothe the aching, frantic soul and take it somewhere soft, relaxed and far, so far, from the maddening crowd …

     

    “Coming Down” by Buchanan

     

    Buchanan (Photo: Adam Baidawi via official Buchanan Facebook page)
    Buchanan (Photo: Adam Baidawi via official Buchanan Facebook page)

     

    According to the very good people at Triple J Unearthed, an initiative by Australia’s publicly-funded youth radio broadcaster to find and promote hitherto unheard musical talent from all corners of this wide and sunburnt country, Buchanan, once of Melbourne, now of London, England, are pronounced “bew-cannon”.

    This will in no way, of course, influence your enjoyment of their one album, two EPs and catchy new single “Coming Down”, the latter of which was how I came across the alternative rock/pop band formed by the sublimely talented English-born Josh Simons and his friends in 2009, but I thought you should know how to say the group’s name before you start incessantly talking about them because, trust me, you will.

    One listen to the endlessly listenable “Coming Down”, the first fruit of their quest “to find new and interesting ways to meld some of the dancier elements that our producer Simon Duffy has brought to the table with our more traditional acoustic/alternative roots” (Vents magazine), and you will want to talk of nothing else.

    Recalling the tribal African sound and joyful danceable pop exuberance of Dario G’s “Sunchyme”, the Simon Duffy-produced track (Dirty Vegas, Leftfield) is an infectious mix of electronic dance influences, exhilarating harmonies, a soaring chorus and grounded, acoustic pop that made their name in Australia before their triumphant shift to Europe.

    It has received major airplay on some of the UK’s biggest radio networks and it’s not hard to see why – “Coming Down” is one of those giddily happy songs that will have you on the dance floor in an instant, an ecstatic grin on your face, its appeal widespread without being in the least bit generic.

    So get on up and get down and get happy and remember there’s another album on the way to keep you on your feet.

     

     

    “Don’t Tell” by Mansions on the Moon

     

    Mansions on the Moon (image via official Mansions on the Moon Facebook page)
    Mansions on the Moon (image via official Mansions on the Moon Facebook page)

     

    If you’re showing a marked reluctance to stop grinning like the happiest person on planet earth after Buchanan’s pop gem, then immediately turn your attention to “Don’t Tell”, the latest slice of what Stereogum perfectly summed up as “an effervescent strain of dance-pop that matches the glossy metropolitan music of Phoenix and Empire Of The Sun with crisp disco production that gives the sense that you’re dancing in a dream.”

    And the band you have to thank for this sublime drop of glistening pop is Mansions on the Moon (Ted Wendler, Ben Hazlegrove, Jeff Maccora and Lane Shaw), a four piece band based in L.A. who have the incredible knack of conjuring up songs from the musical ether that come suffused with otherworldly harmonies, insistent, beautiful melodies and a beat that will have you up and dancing in no time flat.

    Their exquisitely infectious songs, which Shae Haley and Chad Hugo of N.E.R.D. referred to as “the future of music” – a high accolade by any yardstick, but one made even more impressive, coming as it does from musicians of such talent and great renown – have attracted a huge amount of attention, most notably on Wiz Khalifa’s Green Carpet Tour in 2012, which was the first time they had toured as a proper band.

    With a name that reflects the enormous challenges in forging a career in the music industry – as they told Rebecca Haithcoat of LA Weekly, “So many people are trying [to make it in music] it does seem impossible, like building a mansion on the moon” – and a sound they jokingly referred to as being not unlike “a Christian trance band”, Mansions on the Moon are that rare breed of grounded musicians that make music that is anything but.

    In fact, awash in the euphoric surge of their songs, it would not be hard to imagine yourself being transported far, far away from your daily troubles and cares, the ultimate compliment for any band, especially one as talented as the men of Mansions on the Moon.

     

     

    “Black Lemon” by Generationals

     

    Generationals (image via official Generationals Facebook page)
    Generationals (image via official Generationals Facebook page)

     

    If it wasn’t for the sheer abundance of music in this day and age, I would be almost embarrassed about the fact that it has taken me this long to come across the delights of the New Orleans duo, Generationals, who have released one EP, three albums, and are reading their fourth, Alix, for release on September 16.

    Playing in much the same musical vein as Mansions on the Moon, but very much in possession of their own sound, look and feel, Generationals, comprised of Grant Widmer (vocals/guitars) and Ted Joyner (vocals/guitars) have been at the music of crafting irresistibly attractive songs for quite some time now.

    First coming together as The Eames Era, a Baton Rouge-based band who managed to get a song on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack in the initial heady days of the now veteran show when groups left, right and centre were finding themselves thrust into the spotlight on the back of the travails of Ellen Pompeo’s angst-ridde doctor, they formed Generationals in 2009, naming their new musical endeavour, according to the Austin-American Statesman, after watching CNN’s coverage of the 2008 Presidential election where “nearly every issue was dubbed a ‘generational’ issue”.

    Armed with an up-to-the-minute band name, they chose instead to draw their harmonies-rich pop sound from the ’60s, mixing it in with a light, breezy band of pop that owed much to the guitars they have been playing since their kids, an innate gift for plucking divinely-beautiful melodies out of nowhere, and the nous for blending the acoustic and the electronic together to intoxicatingly pleasing effect.

    And “Black Lemon”, one of the lead tracks from Alix, fits into that fine tradition, mixing what NPR said was “marimba-based jolliness and lyrics tinged with darkness” to create a song that “looks at life’s ties that bind and searches for ways to chill and not fight every battle.”

    However you choose to describe, Generationals have created music so substantial and yet so light and bouncy that it’s impossible not to want to download everything they have ever recorded and do nothing but listen to it.

    Wait, that’s already happened! Best you catch up too …

     

     

    “Holy Soul” by Salt Cathedral

     

    Salt Cathedral (image via official Salt Cathedral page)
    Salt Cathedral (image via official Salt Cathedral page)

     

    Salt Cathedral, pleasingly sporting one of the most one-of-a-kind evocative names I’ve heard in a while, are another entry in the burgeoning genre of ethereal pop, and a welcome one, merging a light-as-air sound with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics which have been channelled into the laconic beauty of new single “Holy Soul”, described by music blog Pigeons and Planes as “a balladic take on their otherworldly synth-pop.”

    It is departure from what Line of Best Fit referred to as Brooklyn-based Salt Cathedral’s “propensity for crafting wonderfully vivacious and layered pop songs” but it works superbly, anchored by a delicate, languid melody and the fey, dulcet vocals of Juliana Ronderos (who together with Nicolas Losada writes, records and produces all the band’s songs) which are never less than ineffably lovely.

    And Salt Cathedral, according to Consequence of Sound, have drawn from a multi-country well to craft their appealing sound with Ronderos and Losada hailing from Columbia, and the rest of the band Silvio Vega (guitar), Stefan Bildy (drums), and Tommy Hartman (bass), coming from Florida, Canada and New Jersey respectively.

    If that wasn’t diverse enough, the five prodigiously talented musicians came together in Boston before settling down in New York City, home to a dizzying around of up-and-coming bands and a music scene that startles with its breathtaking sound and vision.

    This melting pot of music has clearly inspired the band who have shown they can craft music to get you up and dancing, and now with the lush “Holy Soul”, sitting down and calmly watching the world slowly and gorgeously slide on by.

     

     

    “Everything U Need” by Javelin

     

    Javelin (image via official Javelin Facebook page)
    Javelin (image via official Javelin Facebook page)

     

    There is an achingly beautiful feel to “Everything U Need” from Brooklyn-based Javelin, comprised of cousins George Langford and Tom Van Buskirk who have making sweet music together since 2005.

    And they have clearly spent all that time writing, playing and producing to good effect, with each musician capable of playing a multitude of instruments including mandolin, piano, cello and drums and working across genres as diverse as ’80s pop and country music.

    It explains why a track like “Everything U Need” that barely raises itself above a soothing murmur can be so utterly captivating.

    Like so many simple sounding songs, it’s not simple at all, the result of the two cousins working their way through what Pitchfork termed  “a [musical] ransom note cut-and-pasted together from an old stack of XXL, Tiger Beat, and Wire magazines” (Jamz n Jemz, 2009), the “cyber-Western” of the Canyon Candy EP, and the pop meets hip-hop fun of last year’s Hi Beams, their first “proper” studio record.

    These guys are seriously talented, willing to experiment and see where it takes them, and seemingly not content to sit in a groove or rut anytime soon, if ever at all.

    If you listen hard enough, you can hear it all in “Everything U Need” which channels a chilled ’80s vibe with an almost-’70s melodic sensibility to pleasing effect.

    Given the prodigious talent and musical wherewithal they have at their fingertips, don’t be surprised if Javelin rise and rise till they are pretty much everything you need.

    Well in that one quiet reflective moment you finally manage to take at the end of the week anyway.

     

     

    NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

    “Happy” by he of the fantastic hat, Pharrell Williams, is a rare song these days.

    In an age where everyone often sticks to their own small corner of the fragmented internet, the song has ignored tribal and genre groupings, leaping with joyful bravado from one group to another, uniting (almost) everyone in its gloriously euphoric web.

    It is a phenomenon and now it has captured the attention of the amazing kids and staff of Camp Mark Seven’s Deaf Film Camp, which according to Hollywood Reporter, “offers filmmaking instruction to deaf and hard-of-hearing youths”, who have translated all the lyrics to this celebration of blissful joy into sign language.

    It’s absolutely inspiring.

     

     

    Now, on a slightly less inspirational, but no less fun, note, here’s Chris Martin of Coldplay singing about old yellow shoes and bananas, as part of an interview promoting the band’s newest release Ghost Stories with iHeartRadio.com, .

    Yes really, and it is as silly and delightful and wonderful as you could wish for.

     

     

    And if that’s not enough Coldplay goodness for you, here’s the imaginative new video for their latest single “True Love” …

     

     

    And last, but never, ever least, here’s everyone favourite Icelandic avant garde music artist Björk and the trailer for her multidimensional concert documentary Björk: Biophilia Live which, according to SPIN, “will begin a series of screenings at cinemas, museums, libraries and festivals worldwide”, starting on 5 September at Bíó Paradís in Reykjavík, Iceland.

    Here’s how SPIN described the film:

    Björk: Biophilia Live was directed by Nick Fenton and Peter Strickland, who edited together live show clips with animated sequences and gives viewers an up close look at Björk’s epic performances with her experimental custom-built instruments that include a hybrid gamelan-celesta, a Tesla Coil, and pendulum harp. The documentary performance also features an Icelandic female choir as well as a series of nature films.”

    It sounds like nothing you’ve ever seen which in a been-there-done-that world is exactly what we need.

     

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  • Movie review: The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

    (image via Cookienscreen)
    (image via Cookienscreen)

     

    Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) likes to blow things up.

    It doesn’t really matter where or when – at one point he fights against Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War simply so he can hear things go “Boom!”; his allegiance is to the explosion and only the explosion such that he happily accepts Franco’s offer of hospitality when he inadvertently “saves” his life – as long as he is able watch his mother’s Russian nesting dolls or his henhouse or bridges blow into a million tiny pieces.

    His needs are simple and his philosophy, gleaned from his mother’s unhappiness with his intellectual revolutionary father’s propensity to think and say too much, that “life is what it is and will do what it will do” is what propels him through life, and in turn gives vigour and humour to the absurdist delights of the lengthily-titled The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared, based on the best-selling book by Jonas Jonasson.

    His entire life, which he notes began with people screaming at him and will likely end in the same way (his is not, after all, an entirely unselfish existence), is an accidental one, neither planned nor well thought-out, a series of impulsive moves that eschew any weighing of the pros and cons, relying solely on whether it seems like a good idea at the time, or who he has for company at a given moment.

    And now at the ripe old age of 100, consigned to a small room in a nursing home when his attempts to dynamite the fox that killed his beloved ginger tabby Molotov go horribly awry, he is left sitting on his bed, stripped of any choices, with life one predictable moment after another, anathema to to someone who lived such a made-up, who knows what’s coming next life as he has.

     

    With characteristically minimal thought but maximum consequences, Allan Karlsson goes off on his latest grand adventure, profoundly changing his life and that of a disparate group of individuals forever (image via Outnow (c) Buena Vista International)
    With characteristically minimal thought but maximum consequences, Allan Karlsson goes off on his latest grand adventure, profoundly changing his life and that of a disparate group of individuals forever (image via Outnow (c) Buena Vista International)

     

    Thus, with a birthday party of sorts imminent, Allan, after a characteristically nanosecond of contemplation, opens the large window to the outside world, clambers out and shuffles off to the local bus station, and boards the first bus going anywhere, hauling behind a large silver suitcase stuffed with 50 million krona he was minding for a rather disagreeable young biker youngster.

    This act, as little thought-out as any in Allan’s delightfully shambolic life, sets in train a series of hilariously farcical events which sees him accumulate, in short order, the attentions of the police, sundry gangster thugs (all of whom prove ill-adept at recovering their boss, Pim’s (Alan Ford) money, and the company of a disparate group of fellow lost souls.

    These people who become a family of a kind by film’s end – bored retired train worker and accordionist Julius (Iwar Wiklander), indecisive, “almost” zoologist/HR specialist/veterinarian/psychologist Benny (David Wiberg) and self-assured farmer and animal rights activist Gunilla (Mia Skäringer) and her purloined circus elephant Olga – make for a hilariously mismatched group on the surface but as the events of the movie play out, they turn out to be more alike in spirit and intent than might have been initially apparent.

    A delightfully off-kilter chase movie of sorts, which intersperses the event of the present with Allan’s colourful life which sees him move from a mental hospital to working on the Manhattan Project  to meeting with Stalin to life in a gulag and life of spying; basically whatever took Allan’s fancy at the time, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared is a quirky delight that pleases at every turn.

    Fuelled by comedian and actor Gustaffson’s impressive turn as a centenarian living, as always, in his own little world – in the midst of disposing of bodies or fleeing the unwanted attention of the inept thugs after their money, he is more concerned with what there is to eat or drink, or if he can have a swim than the critically important events at hand – the film follows a reasonably straightforward narrative, neither taking itself too seriously, nor becoming a thriller in even remotely the strictest sense of the word.

     

    With his new-found and thoroughly unexpected family in tow, an unfazed Allan, used to life delighting and surprising in unexpected ways, sets off for another adventure thanks to his long time friend Oleg (Sergej Merkusjev) (Image via Critics Notebook (c) Buena Vista International)
    With his new-found and thoroughly unexpected family in tow, an unfazed Allan, used to life delighting and surprising in unexpected ways, sets off for another adventure thanks to his long time friend Oleg (Sergej Merkusjev) (Image via Critics Notebook (c) Buena Vista International)

     

    Every twist and turn in this laconically-paced but never boring film, which come along one after the other in the sort of way that would throw most people, such as his newly-found companions, leave Allan utterly unfazed.

    His life has always been about seeing what a particular event would lead to, no matter how bizarre, extreme or unusual it might be, and so the idea of gangsters chasing him, or being in possession of more money that he has ever seen in his life, or the cross-country riotous journey through Sweden and beyond that it takes him on is treated with the sort of equanimity produced by a lifetime of just accepting what comes along.

    It’s this blithe attitude that gives the quietly comedic moments in the film, of which there are many, so many power to amuse and delight.

    Taken at face value, the ever building pile of dead bodies, unlikely compatriots and joyfully-lucky coincidences should be leading to a film so farcically wound up that by the credits it should be a spinning, spitting ball of roiling absurdity.

    But taking its cue from Karlsson’s whatever comes along, just deal with and enjoy it mentality, The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared, directed with assured comic direction by Felix Herngren (who wrote the screenplay with the author and Hans Ingemansson), and accompanied by mischievously chipper, grin-inducing band music, happily potters along treating every gleefully over the top moment as if it  a normal part of life, amplifying the humour a hundred-fold as a result.

    It is not a laugh out loud movie but then I suspect it was never intended to be.

    Rather the enjoyment of watching this film, which has been a massive hit in the cinemas of Scandinavia and deservedly so, lies in its willingness to let everything simply play out, and its fulfillment of the idea that an unplanned life, no matter how messy or loopy, is not a wasted one; that if you simply put your mind in park, and accept what  is handed you, it will work itself out in ways both unexpected and pleasing, and ultimately, no matter how wrong turns you take, deeply-satisfying.

    Even if everyone does insist on screaming at you for no accountable reason.

     

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  • #Emmys2014: 5 things I loved about the 66th Primetime Emmys Awards show

    Seth Meyers was definitely the man for the job - hilarious! (image via @LateNightSeth (c) NBC / Emmys)
    Seth Meyers was definitely the man for the job – hilarious! (image via @LateNightSeth (c) NBC / Emmys)

     

    Once more to the Primetime Emmy Awards my friend, once more!

    And once more, as seems to be the case every year, there is controversy aplenty but not this time, oddly enough, about the content of the show itself , but rather the style of the annual awards ceremony, which was described as possessing “an overall air of boring boring boringness” (Willa Paskin, Slate), and fronted by a host, the amiable and funny Seth Meyers, who was given the backhanded compliment of being “adequate” (Josh Dickey, Mashable).

    And yes, it was as safe and predictable, from the jokes told – incisive but not too cutting or controversial – to the winners – to no one’s surprise Modern Family won Outstanding Comedy Series again (pushing out Orange is the New Black and Veep sadly), and Jim Parsons took out Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the 4th year running – he is wonderful but 4 years in a row? Why not salute the superlative talents of Louie C.K. or William H. Macy? –  to the speeches which were inspirational, or wryly amusing or just sweetly down to earth.

    But is that really a bad thing? Have we become so addicted as a society to the extreme, the sensational, the troll-attracting edgy or opinionated that simply putting on a reasonably enjoyable awards show is some kind of crime?

    Granted it was not exactly a thrill-a-minute spectacle, but there was plenty about the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards that was ridiculously enjoyable, moving, hilarious and downright inspired, and yes even a little controversial.

    But only a little mind you …

    Even thought I think it all worth watching (with the remote handy for the boring bits; you may decide what they are) if the thought of watching the entire Emmys ceremony, which stretched to an almost marathon 3 hours is too much for you, too safe or not, then take a look at the following 75 second summation of the night courtesy of TIME:

     

    (1) THE PRESENTERS WERE HILARIOUS

    It wasn’t just Seth Meyers, who helped the Emmys to their second highest ratings in eight years, that shone.

    Yes his opening monologue was wryly amusing, poking fun at the VMAs and an NFL exhibition match pushing the telecast off Sunday night for the first time since 1976 - “This year we’re doing it on a Monday in August which I understand in television means the Emmys are about to get canceled” – and the slightly fluid award categories which saw all sorts of shows end up in questionable categories – “This year we had comedies that made you laugh and comedies that made you cry, because they were dramas submitted as comedies”.

     

     

    But Meyers had the good sense to ask some of his friends to help out which is how we came to have the pleasure of seeing Billy Eichner drag Seth along in his wake on a special Emmys edition of Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street, terrifying and delighting Emmys-knowledge deprived New Yorkers in equal measure:

     

     

    And Jimmy Kimmel have too much fun for just one Primetime Emmys Awards show, “roasting” a bemused Matthew McConnaughey (nominated for his role in True Detective) for being far too good looking to be at the Emmys, and greedy for wanting so many awards – “Should we give you the BET award for the best hip hop artist too, while we’re at it?”

     

     

    But Meyers didn’t let his pals hog all the comedic highlight hosting a hilarious Q & A session with stars like Melissa McCarthy (Mike and Molly) and Jon Hamm (who sadly didn’t get an Emmy again for his amazing work on Mad Men) and Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine Nine) asking Very Important Questions about parking and the location of the Emmys bathroom key.

     

     

    (2) “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC GIVING VOICE TO VOICELESS TV SHOW OPENING THEMES

    Let’s be honest.

    TV show opening themes, if they’re there at all, are quite what they used to be.

    Stellar though the ones that do exist in this modern day and age are – think True Blood, Nurse Jackie and Intruders to name just three – one thing they do lack are lyrics explaining exactly what the show is about.

    Cheesy it might have been in some ways but who could get to the end of the theme songs for The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island and not know exactly what the show was about?

    Sensing a chance to right some creative wrongs, Seth Meyers got “Weird Al” Yankovic to pen some way overdue lyrics for shows like Game of Thrones and Homeland, and the results were a hoot, helped by perennial, adorable ham Andy Samberg dressing up as Joffrey Baratheon from the former show, and the sidesplitting side of George R. R. Martin being handed a typewriter as “Weird Al” and the singers urged him to write faster!

     

     

    (3) FUNNY, FUNNY, FUNNY! SPEECHES

    Ah yes the speeches.

    Often rambling, many times heartfelt but very rarely truly, GIF-worthy, memorable.

    But the 66th Primetime Emmys gave us a few reasons why it’s a good idea not fast forward through the speeches (not that anyone would do that because, um … look over Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston kissing!) such as …

    Jimmy Fallon hilariously gatecrashing Stephen Colbert’s award for Outstanding Variety Show for The Colbert Report right after Gwen Stefani, bless her auto-cue misreading socks, christened it The ColBORT Report

     

     

     

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Bryan Cranston, who had set up a joke about the former not remembering playing opposite the latter when he appeared on Seinfeld as her dentist boyfriend Tim Whatley while presenting the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, following it up with a magnificent kiss as Louis-Dreyfus went up to accept the Outstanding Lead Actress in the Comedy Series award for her role as Selina Meyer in HBO’s superlative Veep

     

     

    Ricky Gervais, who lost out to Jim Parsons for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, using his presenting stint for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special which went to a very funny and thoroughly deserving Sarah Silverman …

     

     

     

    (4) THE EMOTIONALLY PITCH PERFECT, MOVING TRIBUTE TO ROBIN WILLIAMS

    Following the usual, and always deeply moving, In Memoriam segment which paid tribute to recently-lost actors of the calibre of Lauren Bacall, Bob Hoskins, Ralph Waite (The Waltons), Peter O’Toole and Shirley Temple (with a touching rendition of the Charlie Chaplin classic “Smile”, sung by Sarah Bareilles, to accompany it), Billy Crystal, a long time, close friend of Robin Williams paid the most perfectly articulated and heartfelt tribute to the legendary comic who he rightly described as “the brightest star in the comedy galaxy” …

     

     

    (5) FUN EXTRA STUFF

    In the lead up to this years Emmys, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Julia Louis-Dreyfus filmed a (fake) reality show clip Barely Legal Pawn for Audi which looked at what happens when a star needs to sell their Emmy to fund the purchase of their won island …

     

     

    And Ricky Gervais jumped right inside a series of Netflix shows such as Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Lilyhammer in a commercial that aired during the Emmys.

    It was as close as Netflix got to winning a major award that night despite Seth Meyers predicting that cable, once the challenger to broadcast television, would have to give way to Netflix and Amazon’s newly-found streaming dominance …

     

     

    You can find the full list of the nominees and winners at Emmys.com

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  • Hello Girls! Lena Dunham, a wayward bike and the season 4 teaser trailer

    Lena Dunham, upright and carefree, but as always, not for long (image via YouTube (c) HBO)
    Lena Dunham, upright and carefree, but as always, not for long (image via YouTube (c) HBO)

     

    For all her narcissism and the resulting social blindness it engenders, there is still something inherently likeable about Hannah Horvath, the wanna-be successful writer/great friend/stellar lover and partner portrayed by soon-to-be published author Lena Dunham in HBO’s Girls, a show she also writes and produces.

    It has a lot to do with the fact that the yawning disconnect between Hannah’s good intentions, and her actual often less than desirable actions, while exaggerated obviously for comic effect, tends to have a lot in common with our own often bumbling efforts to make a stellar success of life.

    But not only can we identify with Hannah’s attempts to get life right the first time, we can also see in her repeated failings to master the nuances of the holy life trio of career, friends and family, and love our own inability to learn from our mistakes.

    And nothing makes a comedy more compelling than when it hits homes, and hits home hard where it matters, not just in our funny bone.

    If you were worried that Hannah might suddenly have got all her sh*t together since the end of season 3, which saw her gain entry to the fabled Iowa Writers Workshop and declare to boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) that she wanted to find “a whole new world in the shape of me and just fill it up [creatively]“, and may therefore be a little harder to identify with, fear not for the teaser trailer for season 4, which sees the budding writer seemingly happily ensconced in Iowa working on her craft (and is accompanied by a charming Aberfeldy song “Friend Like You”), puts paid to all that.

    What starts out as a happy bike ride along sun-dappled lanes soon turns into a slow motion face planting on some roadside grass and the embarrassment, a state which is almost Hannah’s second home, of people having to rush to her aid.

    It’s classic, classic Girls – since let’s face Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) aren’t exactly killing at life either, especially not as season 3 ended – and bodes well for the recently-wrapped season 4 which will air early 2015.

     

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  • Doctor Who: “Deep Breath” (S8, E1 review)

    The new Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) find themselves in Victorian  England dealing with dinosaurs and cyborg gents oh my! (image via official Doctor Who site (c) BBC)
    The new Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) find themselves in Victorian England dealing with dinosaurs and cyborg gents oh my! (image via official Doctor Who site (c) BBC)

     

    You could be forgiven for expecting Doctor Who, newly moved on from massive 50th birthday celebrations last year, and about to induct a new Time Lord occupant of the TARDIS, Peter Capaldi, as the 12th Doctor, to lay on the gravitas and serious drama for “Deep Breath”, the first episode of the new era’s 8th season.

    And while there is drama aplenty, not least the Doctor trying desperately hard to remember who he is exactly – as with all Doctors before them, there is some post-regenration temporary dementia and identity uncertainty – and companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) trying to work how she feels about this changed man before her, the episode, gleefully and happily kicks off with a Tyrannosaurus Rex storming along the Thames River in Victorian London, moments before it vomits up a goo-draped TARDIS on the muddy shore.

    Along with the almost comic book appearance of Sontaran soldier-turned-butler Strax (Dan Starkey), Silurian detective Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and her wife Jenny (Catlin Stewart), regulars of the reincarnated franchise and major characters in their own right, and some witty TARDIS door opening and closing repartee and dinosaur sweet-talking – apparently Time Lords can speak Rex which makes sense really if you think about it – “Deep Breath” clearly aims to have some fun with Doctor Who before settling down to the business of scaring us once again.

    Well, attempting to scare us really.

    For while Half-Face Man (Peter Ferdinando), the leader of a race of ancient clockwork robots trapped underground in London for millions of years who are pillaging body parts from unsuspecting late 19th century Londoners, is diabolically freaky and also oddly melancholic, a being lost in time and space not unlike the Doctor in some ways, his role, and that of his spooky compatriots is less as a threat than as a necessary foil for Doctor Who, an older, wiser Doctor Who with spectacularly large eyebrows, to work out his kinks and get a grip on what it means to be this incarnation of the universe’s favourite Time Lord.

    The scenes involving Half-Face Man are chilling to a degree yes, and you are invested in finding out whether Clara, abandoned by the Doctor in the robots’ lair in what may or may not be a sign that the Doctor is more brutal and colder than his previous incarnations or simply good old dithering forgetfulness, but largely this storyline simply exists to provide us with some insight into how the new Doctor, played with welcome gusto by Capaldi, will react to a threat to those he isn’t quite aware he cares about yet.

    Nor are we sure that the Doctor, who behaves a little cruelly at times, taking a heavy winter coat off a vagrant, played by Brian Miller the husband of Elisabeth Sladen who played beloved companion Sarah Jane Smith, at one point, and blithely leaving people to their own devices at the other, is someone we are going to particularly like.

     

    There are a lot of dramatic moments in "Deep Breath" but also a greta deal of humour, much of it provided by Strax, who along with Madama Vastra and her wife Jenny prove to be invaluable friends and allies of the Doctor once again (image via official Doctor Who site  (c) BBC)
    There are a lot of dramatic moments in “Deep Breath” but also a greta deal of humour, much of it provided by Strax, who along with Madama Vastra and her wife Jenny prove to be invaluable friends and allies of the Doctor once again (image via official Doctor Who site (c) BBC)

     

    Gone is the brusque but cheery brio of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, and the flippant, almost cavalier manic energy of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, replaced with a man who looks like he is harder, colder, less inclined to flirting (thank goodness for that; Doctor Who as sex symbol always sat a little oddly within the franchise) and more open to do whatever pleases him rather than what is good for those around him.

    But then moments of clarity become more common place, the Doctor remembers who he is and just as importantly why he is, and in Capaldi’s assured and eminently capable hands, we are introduced to a new version of the Doctor who gives every suggestion he is going to be a ball to watch, as well far more substantial and measured than at least his immediate predecessor.

    Thrown by the new Doctor’s appearance and behaviour, Clara is understandably unnerved, as anyone would be, unsure if she wants to be travelling the length and breath of time and space with a man she barely knows anymore (to be fair for much of the episode the Doctor barely knows himself).

    Confronted by a deliberately cold and unreasonably Madame Vastra, who works hard to provoke a reaction from a shocked and dithering Clara, the Doctor’s companion is given some of her finest screen time yet, sorting through how she feels with an almost aggressive, and yet also emotiionally-nuanced determination, and reminding us that The Impossible Girl is both a force to be reckoned with but also a fragile, vulnerable human being.

     

    Clara and the Doctor, firm friends and possibly on their way to being much more in during Matt Smith's occupation of the role, find themselves having to re-navigate their relationship after the Doctor emerges older, a little colder and with bigger eyebrows after his most recent regeneration (image via official Doctor Who site (c) BBC)
    Clara and the Doctor, firm friends and possibly on their way to being much more in during Matt Smith’s occupation of the role, find themselves having to re-navigate their relationship after the Doctor emerges older, a little colder and with bigger eyebrows after his most recent regeneration (image via official Doctor Who site (c) BBC)

     

    The character re-setting for both Capaldi’s Doctor, who could be the making of this modern era of the franchise, and Coleman’s Clara is impressively first rate (helped along by a surprise cameo) and tied in nicely to characters old – the return of Vastra, wife Jenny and unintentional comic genius Strax (whose scenes with Clara are pure comic gold – and new, especially the introduction of the enigmatic Missy, hidden away in what is religiously referred to as “Paradise” or “The Promised Land”.

    The only failing of this stellar episode was the rather bloated storytelling with rather more time than needed given to the Doctor’s befuddlement, and the robots who were never going to be the main game in town anyway.

    But as showrunner Steven Moffat-helmed episodes go, and many of his efforts, for all their inspired underpinning ideas and dazzling execution, are messy, confused and go nowhere in any sort of meaningful or satisfying narrative style, “Deep Breath” did an excellent job of introducing us to Capaldi’s more serious, grave yet curious Doctor, a newly-tense and uncertain Clara, and the mystery of who Missy is, and which unknown woman has orchestrated the Doctor and Clara to come together and stay together, not once but on multiple occasions.

    If Moffat can keep a tight rein on the storytelling, as he did in the brilliantly-realised 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and continue to methodically develop the new Doctor’s personality and his nervous relationship with Clara, and why it matters that they are together, then season 8 (which comes with an impressively original new fan-designed opening sequence) could turn out to be a finest journey we have undertaken with the last Time Lord for quite some time.

    The second episode of season 8 sees the return of the Daleks in “Into the Dalek” …

     

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  • FUNX3 with Parks and Recreation: Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman

    Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones may have flown the Parks and Recreation coop but everyone else will be back for the sitcom's 7th and final season on NBC (image via HitFix (c) NBC)
    Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones may have flown the Parks and Recreation coop but everyone else will be back for the sitcom’s 7th and final season on NBC (image via HitFix (c) NBC)

     

    I know someone, somewhere rather sagely once noted that all good things must come to an end, and while I appreciate the logical sentiment embodied in this, let’s be fair, rather obvious observation (no points for originality there buddy) and its universal truth, it still saddens me to think that of the things I love that will soon no longer be around and those that have already shuffled off this merciless chronological coil.

    One of the hardest things about this maxim is that it applies to my favourite TV shows which, if I had anything to do about it, would continue on and on and on to, and here I borrow liberally from Buzz Lightyear without shame, infinity and beyond! (much like the ad breaks which sandwich their eternally golden scenes).

    Saying goodbye to people you have come to know and love is hard; even more so when they’re scripted entities who don’t demand birthday gifts, late night phone calls and hand holding at important times in their lives (kidding: I love all that stuff … mostly) and who effortlessly amuse, inspire, freak out, delight you on a regular basis.

    Even worse though than this final televisual goodbye is to simply have these characters disappear thanks to the flamboyant swirl of an accountant’s pen without the chance to properly farewell them; which is why the fact that one of my favourite sitcoms EVER, Parks and Recreation, is coming back for a 7th season (albeit one with just 13 episodes) fills my heart with L’il Sebastien levels of gladness.

    Granted Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones have left the show, and there has been a jump three years into the future, but Tammy II is back (Megan Mullaly) tangling possibly with Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser), legendary Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch is appearing in at least one episode, and teases star Chris Pratt (Andy) “We’re going to be in the national forest office walking around sleek like the f***ing West Wing.”

    So lots to look forward to, and even better, until the show is back on our screens (no date specified that I can locate at this point), we have a season 6 blooper reel to keep us chortling away, waffles piled high before us, with L’il Sebastien back from the dead and reincarnated as all the characters (is there nothing he cannot do?! NO), slip-ups by all the actors and even an ad for Tom’s Bistro.

    And remember, as Ron (Nick Offerman) always says, “Live your life how you want, but don’t confuse drama with happiness.”

    (Actually this is not really relevant to anything; I just really, REALLY wanted to put a Ron quote in there somewhere.)

     

     

    AMY POEHLER

     

    Amy Poehler channels the black-garbed art dealer type with effortless, hilarious ease (image via Old Navy YouTube channel (c) Old Navy)
    Amy Poehler channels the black-garbed art dealer type with effortless, hilarious ease (image via Old Navy YouTube channel (c) Old Navy)

     

    Whoever it was in Old Navy’s marketing department that decided Amy Poehler should be the hilariously snarky face of their ad campaign should be a given a raise and a promotion, an all-expenses paid holiday to Australia so I can thank them personally, and yes, a whole new wardrobe naturally.

    It is quite simply an inspired decision.

    Whether she is channelling a spelling bee moderator, lawyer or sports coach (and yes a burrito server), she is never less than laugh-out-loud funny, and so persuasive about the merit of the brand she’s helping to advertise that I would quite happily jump on a plane just to buy their jeans (assuming I could stop laughing long enough to do that).

    You know assuming, of course, that the piece of clothing I wanted was “aggressive … dangerous … stupid” and was TOTALLY OK’d by Poehler’s black-clad arbiter of cool.

    Which naturally it would be.

     

     

    CHRIS PRATT

     

    Chris Pratt is a complete and utter delight, one of those refreshingly down to earth stars who isn't letting his stardom define him (image via TIME)
    Chris Pratt is a complete and utter delight, one of those refreshingly down to earth stars who isn’t letting his stardom define him (image via TIME)

     

    All hail Star-Lord!

    Fresh from saving the galaxy and channelling a pretty but dangerous purple Infinity Stone into the bargain, in Guardians of the Galaxy, the amazing Chris Pratt who can do wrong and is as adorable and down-to-earth sweet as they come, is now making the lives of sick kids just that little bit, OK a LOT, better.

    He recently popped up, in full Star-Lord “Ravager” regalia at The Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and as Samantha Grossman at TIME points out, it’s just another reason to love the rising star:

    “We already knew Chris Pratt could rap, French braid, be hot, be hilarious, and be adorable with pugs.

    Oh, what’s that? That’s not enough for you to have a mega-huge crush on him? Well, here’s something he did that is even more amazing.”

    Oh and he looks awesome in a suit.

    Just sayin’.

     

     

    NICK OFFERMAN

     

    Nick Offerman delivers Reddit's impressively insightful Shower Thoughts with all the Ron Swanson gravitas he can manage ... which is quite a lot since he is, you know, Ron Swanson (image via YuoTube (c) Mashable/Reddit)
    Nick Offerman delivers Reddit’s impressively insightful Shower Thoughts with all the Ron Swanson gravitas he can manage … which is quite a lot since he is, you know, Ron Swanson (image via YuoTube (c) Mashable/Reddit)

     

    When you’re in a need of a laugh, and let’s face it who isn’t at the moment what with the world currently going to hell in a rather bloodied hand basket, who better than Nick Offerman in full Ron Swanson mode to offer inspiring words of wisdom, drawn directly from Reddit’s inspirational Shower Thoughts, and recorded for posterity by Mashable.

    What makes all these pearls of practical wisdom, and wry observation all the more compelling, is that Shower Thoughts is raising money for Charity: Water, an innovative, transparent non-profit organisation with a mission to deliver clean water to as many communities worldwide as possible.

    If that’s not a good reason to get creative in the shower, and put your thoughts on Reddit to Nick Offerman can intone them in his most thoughtful poses, then I don’t know what is!

    Soap up people – Ron Swanson is waiting!

     

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  • Book review: The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

    The Long Mars book review MAIN

     

    If there is one thing that defines humanity, it is our capacity for optimism, the seemingly endless capacity we possess for believing that despite all the wars, repressive regimes, famine and natural disasters, poverty and starvation, and whole host of other societal and personal demons too numerous to mention, that life can get better.

    To some it is the wishfulness of the fool but for most of us, it is an innate sense that the glass really is half full, that possibility waits just around the next corner if we are just alert enough to recognise it.

    It is that inbred ability to keep tenaciously pushing forward when common sense might dictate we retire to a remote backwoods cabin with all the wine we can carry and a good stash of paperbacks that fuels the citizens of the Long Earth in 2045, millions upon millions of alternate versions of our home planet all linked together like a cosmic daisy chain that were opened up to the beleaguered citizens thirty years earlier on what was quickly called Step Day.

    Freed from the constraints of living on what is now known as Datum Earth, humanity quickly spread through to the Low Earths, the iterations of our homeworld just a few steps away from our own, then into the far reaches of these endless Terran carbon copies, buoyed by the idea that here was a second-chance, new resources, supplies, possibilities.

    First detailed by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett in The Long Earth (2012) and continued in The Long War (2013), The Long Mars continues the story of the Long Earth, a series which confirms that along with our capacity for idealistic optimism and wonder, and there is a great deal of this in the third volume in the series from these two talented authors, come the lesser angels of our nature, the dirtier, grubbier, less praiseworthy aspects of our collective being that left unchecked can rob us of any advantages gained from our more enobling traits.

    For all of the momentous discoveries on the long Mars by natural “Stepper” Sally Linsay, her father Willis and astronaut Frank Woods, our planetary neighbour’s equivalent of the multiple earths, all of which are described with palpable and excitement by Baxter and Pratchett, and all of which promise advances untold and wonders unrivalled, humanity remains mired in petty paranoia and fear, specifically of the Next, a super-intelligent race of human beings with their genesis in the far reaches of the long earths who make their presence felt rather profoundly.

    As much as The Long Mars concerns itself with the beautifully-articulated unique wonders of the multiple stepwise earths journeyed through by US navy commander Margie Kauffman, and the selflessness of the people who rescue millions to the Low Earths when the Yellowstone volcano on Datum Earth explodes and renders much of the northern hemisphere unliveable, it is also very much aware that new locations do not have a completely new flaw-free humanity make.

    Hence humanity reacts with fear and torches and pitchforks to the arrival of the Next, and Lobsang, an AI presence and supposedly the re-incarnated intelligence and soul of a Tibetan mechanic, and multi-billionaire Douglas Black, while ostensibly facilitating humanity’s re-invention as a multi-planet species, have suspect agendas of their own.

     

    The Long Mars book review back cover

     

    In that respect, The Long Mars is a clever novel, full of interesting ideas, and deep philosophical questions about the nature of humanity and its potential, as well as the sort of giddy, breathless enthusiasm for the ability of science and nature to surprise and delight us that would not be out of place on a National Geographic documentary.

    Where The Long Mars falls down is in its fashioning of a well-flowing narrative that would comprehensively unite the sometimes one note characters populating its pages.

    While there is graphically descriptive, astoundingly creative world building aplenty and and the constituent stories work well in and of themselves, there is never any sense of everything being stitched together into some monumental whole.

    The threads never quite tie up, save for a belated gathering of the main characters in one room in the small, almost after thought epilogue which, though mildly rewarding and the set up for what I presume in the next entry in the series, never really compensates for the often discursive storytelling up to that point.

    It’s not a fatal flaw, for The Long Mars has enough wonder, and suspense and enthusiasm for life and its infinite possibilities and variations and hence readability to keep you turning the pages, but these narrative shortcomings detract from all the effort the authors have clearly gone to make to make the long Earths and the Long Mars places of true wonder and possibility and somewhere you are more than happy to spend some time lost in the optimism which defines us all to one degree or another.

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  • Weekend pop art: Rocket and Groot (Guardians of the Galaxy) find new life in inspired fan art

    Tom Bancroft's rendering of Groot and Rocket is all kinds of Calvin and Hobbes-ish brilliant (c) Tom Bancroft via DeviantArt)
    Tom Bancroft’s rendering of Groot and Rocket is all kinds of Calvin and Hobbes-ish brilliant (image (c) Tom Bancroft via DeviantArt)

     

    It’s clear by now that Guardians of the Galaxy is a phenomenon.

    Back on top at the U.S. box office, and benefiting from strong word of mouth and stellar reviews, this is the movie that keeps on keeping on, the film that dared to play hard and fast and downright silly at times with the tried-and-true Marvel formula and came away an undisputed winner.

    A large part of its appeal, apart from the liberal and perfectly placed used of classic ’70s tracks and stellar performances by all concerned especially Chris Pratt as the playful man/boy Peter Quill, are the bromantic twosome of Rocket (Bradley Cooper in hilarious form) and Groot (Vin Diesel) whose devotion to each other is pretty much the emotional lynchpin of the entire film, and of the comic book series that preceded it.

    If you want some indication of just how loved Rocket and Groot are, io9 has gathered together a whole lot of impressive fan art paying home to the wonderful relationship enjoyed by the unlikeliest of friends, all of which bears testament both to their newfound and enduring appeal, and the impressive talent out in the fandom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

    There is a whole world of fabulous Groot and Rocket fan art out there – check more of it out at io9.

     

    I love the idea of Rocket and Groot as Golden Book characters! Thank you Joey Spiotto! (c) J Spiotto via his blog
    I love the idea of Rocket and Groot as Golden Book characters! Thank you Joey Spiotto! (image (c) J Spiotto via his blog jspiotto.blogspot.com.au)

     

    This has all the warm and fuzzy gorgeousness you could want and perfectly illustrates that Rocket, for all his bravado, is a marshmallow softy inside (image (c) and via Wetrilo at Deviant Art)
    This has all the warm and fuzzy gorgeousness you could want and perfectly illustrates that Rocket, for all his bravado, is a marshmallow softy inside (image (c) and via Wetrilo at Deviant Art)
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