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  • Scorpion: “Pilot” (S1, E1 review)

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

     

    Scorpion is, on paper at least – and let’s face it, none of the characters, save for possibly veteran FBI special Agent Gabe Callo (Robert Patrick), would be seen dead around anything so physical and antiquated - a bundle of well-used network formula drama tropes that have been gathered together from various police procedural shows, series centred on inspired but socially-awkward geniuses, and quite specifically, given that it airs in the US on CBS (Channel 10 here in Australia), The Big Bang Theory.

    It shouldn’t by any stretch of the viewing imagination, and it is pulled like a piece of super-malleable saltwater taffy in a thousand different directions in the pilot alone, such that, oh say, a plane could fly through the holes created, come across as fresh, fun or highly entertaining with so many borrowed influences.

    But somehow it does, thanks largely to a storyline that glories in its over-the-top persona, characters that for all their archetype-ness can actually be cared about, and a premise that will allow the show to pop in any narrative direction that seizes its vaulting imagination.

    Subtle and layered it is not, but Scorpion somehow manages to mostly transcend its all too obvious been-there-done-that dramatic components as it tells the true story (a claim that suggests more airy influences than flesh-and-blood factual re-tellings) of Walter O’Brien (Elyes Gabel), an Irish boy who at 13 years of age was taken into custody after he hacked his way into sensitive US government computer systems.

    Granted an “Extraordinary Ability” visa, similar to the one that was granted to Albert Einstein (who, O’Brien is quick to point “only ” had an IQ of 136 while he possesses 197, the fourth-highest ever recorded) after doing a deal with the “Men in Black”, O’Brien went on to form a multinational company that has reputedly saved the world several times over, including to help track down the Boston bombers.

    It is, from any objective point of view, an impressive, inspiring story, one tempered however by the downside of possessing such fearsome, greater-than-lesser-mortals intelligence which is an almost-absent ability to function as a “normal” member of society, one  usually driven as much by emotional impulses as cerebral insight.

     

    In the case of Scorpion‘s version of Walter O’Brien, and the supremely-gifted friends he gathers around him – “human calculator” Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham), mechanical engineer Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong) and behavioural specialist Toby Curtis (Eddie Kaye Thomas) – their lives are circumscribed almost entirely by their IQ than their EQ (emotional quotient), rendering them a group of ferociously smart people with  a combined IQ of nearly 700 [who] can’t even pay our bills.”
    Struggling to keep their business afloat, they are thrown a lifeline by Agent Callo, the man who first sough to arrest O’Brien many years earlier, and with whom he shares an uneasy history, who asks them to restore the software that allows the control tower at LAX after its automatic update is mysteriously corrupted, preventing them from assisting 56 soon to run of fuel planes from landing.
    It ignores of course the fact there would be multiple redundancies for a critical system like this, necessitating ever more outlandish schemes such a plane flying perilously low to the ground over a speeding Lamborghini to restore the original software and prevent a huge loss of life.
    Through the course of their ever more frantic and over the top quests to solve this latest challenge to their combined intellect, one that comes close to defeating them until the waitress Paige Dineen (Katharine McPhee) at the cafe where they have based themselves (she is the mother of a gifted 9 year old boy who touchingly bonds with O’Brien) successfully appeals to O’Brien’s modicum of EQ to take another look at the problem, you are asked to suspend  your disbelief to such an extent that it is barely in one piece at episode’s end.
    But it matters not ultimately since Scorpion isn’t so much interested in being utterly, completely one hundred percent true to life as it is in telling the story of four people trying to fit into a society that really doesn’t comprehend who they are or what they do exactly.
    It is, in essence, a tale of misfits trying to find their own unique place in the world, a theme which the pilots returns to again and again, and one which gives the show some much needed grounding and humanity in amongst all the down-to-the-wire and patently absurd plot twists and turns.
    It’s hardly going to challenge Breaking Bad or Mad Men for dramatic gravitas or probing intellectual dissertation but then it isn’t meant to; it is designed to entertain, enthral and capture our hearts – the nascent relationship between O’Brien and Dineen, though a tad emotionally manipulative, is still enjoyable to watch – and bring some “gee whiz” fun back into our viewing schedules.
    And in that regard, in the pilot episode at least, it succeeds admirably, although whether it can sustain it over the longterm without succumbing to the ennui of case-of-the-week-itis is another thing entirely.
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  • Movie review: The Little Death

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

     

    Australian cinema is nothing if not brave and brutally frank, a reflection of a national psyche that is, by and large, willing to tackle an issue rather than leave it happily unattended.

    And while this narrative embracing of the elephant in the room often pays dividends, it can also result in films like The Little Death (the title derives from the French term for orgasm “La petite mort”) which promises titillation and the brave baring of sexually taboo subjects in equal measure, but which fails to leave much of an impression on either score.

    Rather than the cheeky examination of sexual mores than the trailer promises, we are given instead a sometimes delightful, often awkward, occasionally even cringing look into the bedrooms of five Australia heterosexual couples, all of whom are using sex, to varying degrees, as a relationship bolsterer rather than a pleasurable pursuit in and of itself.

    In that respect, The Little Death is a clever undertaking, advancing the idea that sex has ceased to be the simple, uncomplicated joining of one person with another, becoming in our modern well-informed “Just Google it!” age a minefield of fantasies, kinky activities, role plays and barely-articulated psychological impetuses.

    There’s nothing wrong with these sexual manifestations, of course - the human race has proved itself sexually inventive and adventurous since ancient times with little ill-effect; the problem is that modern couples feel an almost communal pressure to not only be aware of all the non-vanilla sexual extras but to try them out, even when one of the partners isn’t necessarily that way inclined.

    In a healthy relationship, this pursuit of sexual experimentation would merely be a blip on the bedroom radar, but in the lives of the couples featured in the Josh Lawson-penned and directed The Little Death, they become loaded guns, aimed at the heads of emotionally-fragile participants, many of whom are unwittingly in the death throes of their couplings and trying to paper them over with ever more daring sexual stunts, with unforeseen deleterious results.

     

     

    It’s all fairly serious stuff and to be fair, Josh Lawson does his best to give these issues their due weight, examining the way in which sex has come to be the panacea of modern relationship ills, rather than an enjoyably passionate, and pressure-free, outworking of them.

    Unfortunately mixed in with the fairly sober examinations of couples struggling to bridge the emotional gulfs between them with sex in all its myriad forms, are sight gags and oddly out of place one-liners, and even the presence of an older, slightly creepy man Steve (Kim Gyngell) who links all the couple together as he walks from house to house in the street they all share, introducing himself as their new neighbour and smoothing his legally-obligated announcement as a registered sex offender with boxes of politically-incorrect golliwog biscuits.

    These cheek-by-jowl disparate elements, which often co-exist in the one scene, only serve to create jarring tonal and thematic shifts which leach any fun out of the humour the jokes may have generated or trivialise the serious dramatic gravitas Lawson is clearly also aiming for.

    Take Richard (Patrick Brammall) and Rowena (Kate Box), a loving couple who have been trying for three years to have a baby, religiously having intercourse on the days on which Rowena is ovulating, sadly with no pregnancy forthcoming.

    Rowena is exhausted by the process but in a relationship marked by Richard’s happy obliviousness and her timidity to broach even the mildest of subjects, this baby making ennui is never raised, subsumed, at least by Rowena in the pursuit of sexual arousal triggered by her partner’s crying.

    Known as Dacryphilia, it finds expression in Rowen’s endless, and guilt-ridden attempts to get stoic Richard to break down in tears, first from the death of his father, then the engineered disappearance of  their dog Roxane, and her false admission of a cancer diagnosis.

    It’s played for laughs but in the end simply ends up as vaguely weird, twisted and kind of cruel, with Rowena coming across as some sort of selfishly deviant, manipulative person – in her defence she is aware that what she is doing is wrong but seems powerless to do anything about it – who is willing to hurt the man she loves and sabotage her relationship in the pursuit of satisfying her own desires.

    The key issue of course is that their relationship isn’t as healthy as it seems, and so instead of a full and frank discussion of the issues confronting them, which a full-functional relationship would naturally default to, both partners choose their own ways of getting what they need, none of which do either of them any real favours.

     

     

    It’s the same for Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie (Kate Mulvany) who, at the suggestion of their therapist who believes they have “communication issues”, are encouraged to try roleplaying as a means of enlivening their moribund marriage.

    It isn’t the solution of course since what directly ails them is an inability to talk with any meaningful purpose to each other rather any problems in the bedroom (the latter is an outworking of their relationship malaise rather the root of it), and while the roleplaying is amusing especially as Dan increasingly treats it as a selfish artistic pursuit in and of itself rather the possible salvation of their relationship, it soon becomes oddly discordant, symptomatic of a film that isn’t sure if it wants to be thigh-slappingly humourous or deeply insightful.

    Much the same applies to Maureen (Lisa McCune) and Phil (Alan Dukes) whose marriage died long ago in bitterness and recrimination – she appears to blames him for their dead in the water existence – but which lives on, weirdly enough, in Phil’s nocturnal explorations of Somnophilia (being aroused by a sleeping person) where he drugs his wife with heavy duty sleeping pills, using her inert form to play out a series of sweetly romantic scenarios, a clear sign of the emotional paucity between them.

    It is deeply troubling and sadly touching that their relationship’s glory days now exist only in this watered-down fantasy world in which one half of the partnership isn’t even conscious to participate but this is almost lost in The Little Death‘s unwillingness to let go of its propensity to try to generate laughs and nod sagely and with knowing understanding at the same time.

    The only happy couples – one of which is barely nascent at best by the film’s end – are Paul (Josh Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) who communicate freely and openly, are clearly devoted to each other even as Paul struggles, in understandable discomfort with Maeve’s rape fantasy, and Sam (T. J. Power), a deaf graphic novelist who has an unexpectedly profound connection with the interpreter, Monica (Erin James) as she translates his trouble-plagued online tryst he wants to have with a sex worker.

    In a movie that struggles to form a coherent voice, it is the sweet innocence and unexpected connection of Sam and Monica that leaves the most indelible impression, much like the two pornography film stand-ins in Love Actually who feel in love simulating sexual acts while lighting and camera angles were set up, simply because of the unambiguous purity of the emotions expressed.

    It is not enough to save The Little Death, which though entertaining in parts, and possessed of some genuinely moving and/or very funny scenes, never quite knows what it wants to say or how say it, an affliction which burdens the film right up its extraordinarily odd, and almost disturbingly dark and out of sync with everything before it ending.

     

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  • Bring on the bloopers: The light side of Star Trek Into Darkness

    Spock (Zachary Quinto) displays rare whimsy as he comes perilously and humourously close to breaking down the fourth wall (image via YouTube (c) Paramount)
    Spock (Zachary Quinto) displays rare whimsy as he comes perilously and humourously close to breaking down the fourth wall (image via YouTube (c) Paramount)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Director J.J. Abrams’ global sensations Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness set a course for the ultimate home entertainment package in STAR TREK: THE COMPENDIUM, arriving September 9, 2014 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. The set includes four Blu-ray Discs with both films in sparkling high definition and the IMAX version of Star Trek Into Darkness, Digital HD copies of both films, plus previously released bonus material, including the Star Trek Into Darkness director’s commentary. STAR TREK: THE COMPENDIUM also boasts never-before-released footage from Star Trek Into Darkness including a gag reel and new behind-the-scenes featurettes. (official synopsis via Blastr)

    Star Trek is, as franchises go, a pretty serious affair.

    Sure there is some banter and the odd quip here and there – Scotty from Star Trek: The Original Series was renowned for it and there was that matter of a hilarious surplus of Tribbles – but by and large there are diplomatic fracas to settle, wars to fight, murderous enemies such as the humourless assimilating Borg to combat and much philosophising on the nature of existence, civilisation and whether a perfect future is even possible (Trekkies, of which I am one, like to believe there is).

    That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for galactic mirth, merriment and general gallivanting.

    Unless of course you happen to be one of the actors or the director, J J Abrams, on Star Trek: Into Darkness and someone decided to gather together all your missteps, misspeaks and sundry gags and moments of joviality for say a Blu-ray and Digital HD release, Star Trek: The Compendium, which contains re-releases of both Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and its rebooted predecessor Star Trek (2009).

    And then, well then, it’s open the floodgates of hilarity, Borg or no Borg, and let loose the quips of Star Trek-iness and just hope to god that the Romulans don’t choose to drop in for a skirmish while you’re bent over double on the floor laughing.

    (source: Laughing Squid via IGN, Blastr)

     

     

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  • Undead LOLZ: The Walking Dead S4 gets the Bad-Lip Reading treatment

    (image via YouTube)
    (image via YouTube)

     

    There isn’t much to laugh about in the deadly serious world of The Walking Dead.

    After all, a mysterious virus has long since turned the vast majority of the world’s population into slavering, flesh-craving undead beings, left those people who remain alive fighting day by day, inch by inch for their survival, and reduced civilisation to a Darwinian shell of its former self.

    It’s not exactly the kind of environment where you’re apt to break into rap (with a walker chorus backing you up) while your dad lies deathly injured and comatose on a couch in barricaded house, or where you can sing songs about Mr Potato Head on long-abandoned pianos, or even where lady zombies talk earnestly about what they want in an undead guy.

    Well, ordinarily it isn’t.

    But if you’re the insanely talented anonymous person behind Bad Lip Reading, who see thoroughly plausible, though gloriously loopy, conversations in every frame of the apocalyptic drama, then there is humour aplenty, not to mention intense philosophical discussions about the exact relationship between dolphins and apples (which trust me is a pretty important one if you’re Darryl, Rick or Tyreese).

    You will laugh till you cry as the hilarious insanity of it all, and even learn something about zombie etiquette (“Excuse me sir, I need to get in and I can’t” says one as he tried to push in a gate).

    Who knew the end of the world could be this funny?

     

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  • Lena Dunham wants you to know she’s Not That Kind of Girl

    Lena Dunham proudly shows the cover of her upcoming book at this year's BookExpo America in New York City (image via Bohomoth)
    Lena Dunham proudly shows the cover of her upcoming book at this year’s BookExpo America in New York City (image via Bohomoth)

     

    Lena Dunham is an impressively talented young lady.

    Along with creating, writing and starring in the critically-acclaimed and immensely popular HBO show Girls, about the lives of four flawed but earnest twenty something women in New York, and heading up projects via her production company such as the documentary Three Suits about a team of Brooklyn-based tailors who cater to transgender clients, she has also been busy writing a book of personal essays cleverly disguised as an advice book, Not That Kind of Girl (out September 30 this year).

    And by all accounts, well that of Michiko Kukatani of the New York Times book review, it’s good, very good:

    “Ms. Dunham’s smart, funny new book, Not That Kind of Girl is a kind of memoir disguised as an advice book, or a how-to-book (as in how to navigate the perilous waters of girlhood) in the guise of a series of personal essays … Ms. Dunham doesn’t presume to be “the voice of my generation” or even “a voice of a generation,” as Hannah does in the show. Instead, by simply telling her own story in all its specificity and sometimes embarrassing detail, she has written a book that’s as acute and heartfelt as it is funny.”

    In writing what sounds like a thoroughly entertaining and quite possibly useful book, Lena Dunham has joined the ranks of fellow funny women like Jennifer Saunders (Bonkers), Amy Poehler (Yes Please, due October 28, 2014), Mindy Kaling (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns)) and Miranda Hart (Is It Just Me?), all of whom have taken their life insights and gift for incisive comedy and turned them into hilarious tomes that are more than worth their space on your bookshelf.

    And like any self-respecting author worth her salt, albeit one with a far higher profile than most, Lena Dunham is going all out to promote her book both conventionally, via a very much in demand book tour, and delightfully and unconventionally via a series of advice videos entitled #AskLena, according to Esther Zuckerman at Entertainment Weekly:

    “In anticipation of the release of her upcoming book, Lena Dunham is doling out advice in a series of YouTube videos, which feature an Eloise-esque backdrop and cameos from her dog, Lamby.

    “The topics Dunham tackles in the video aren’t necessarily out of left field considering her body of work. In the first, she counsels a woman who considers herself a feminist but also likes to ‘dress like a ho’”.

    They are full of sage advice, good humour, and all the delightful quirkiness you would expect from this funny, clever and endlessly appealing young woman and worth watching while you wait the book to fall into your soon to be page-turning hands.

     

     

     

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  • Movie review: The Maze Runner

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

     

    It would be easy to assume, given the recent deluge of movies adapted form red-hot popular YA novels,that there is a large factory hidden out the back of Hollywood in which pale and drawn authors, shackled to their typewriters (for they are far more evocative than PCs), are writing dystopian tales rife with plucky protagonists, a corrupt but powerful status quo and a thrilling challenge to the established order that, though resisted, is usually never less than overwhelmingly successful.

    This is not to suggest of course that these authors who supply the movie-making apparatus with tales of humanity regained are lacking in narrative imagination; simply that there seems to be a rather established way in which these tales play themselves out with easily-recognisable villains, obvious heroes and clearly marked out windmills for would be Don Quixotes to tip their lances at.

    While many of these elements are in place in the Wes Ball-directed The Maze Runner, based on the popular novel by James Dashner, it takes some time for them to become clearly-defined in a film that peppers its tautly-paced, action-packed running time with a lot more mystery and unknown foes that we are used to seeing in the movies that populate this genre.

    From the very beginning when a dazed and confused Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arrives via The Box stripped of all his memories in The Glade, a verdant, almost paradisiacal sharply-defined square of land surrounded by the towering stone walls of a constantly-realigning maze in which spider/scorpion/cyborg creatures known as Grievers patrol with murderous intent, it becomes clear that there is a lot more that the Gladers, the name the male-only inhabitants have given themselves, don’t know about their three year old home than they do.

     

     

    It’s not that the Gladers, led by the calmly charismatic Alby (Aml Ameen), who has formed and administers a justly-run, well-ordered society out of the previous Lord of the Flies-esque chaos that threatened to kill all of the Glade’s inhabitants whose numbers are bolstered by the monthly arrival of another amnesiac male citizen, don’t possess any curiosity about who or what has imprisoned them within the maze’s intimidatingly tall and thick walls.

    But with the Runners, the most fleet of foot among them who have been tasked with charting the entire length and breadth of the maze during daylight hours when one of the walls opens enough to gain them admittance, and the Grievers are snugly tucked away somewhere, failing to find any kind of escape route, thoughts mostly centre on growing food, constructing shelters and whiling away the evening hours with wrestling and other testosterone-fueled activities.

    It’s a society that functions relatively well, given the highly unusual circumstances in which it exists, and a sizeable number of those who call it home, led by vocal bully boy Gally (Will Poulter), afraid of what lie beyond their understanding and comfort zones, see no reason to engage in the kind of testing of the waters that Thomas begins to almost instinctively indulge in, once he grows (quickly) accustomed to his unexpected home.

    Powered by enough curiosity to send a legion of purring moggies to early graves, Thomas, with the aid of young kindhearted Chuck (Blake Cooper), who provides much of the little that passes for humourous diversion in The Maze Runner, chief Runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) dares to enter the maze at night (a big no-no), finds hitherto uncharted passages which may or may not lead to the outside world, and rallies the bulk of the Glade’s inhabitants to leave their comfortable prison behind and see what lies beyond the high stone walls that encircle them.

     

     

    This includes the last person and first and only woman to arrive, or so the note she is clutching when she turns up unconscious in The Box, Theresa (Kaya Scodelario) who carries with her two mysterious vials, one of which is used impulsively by Thomas to save Alby when he succumbs to a “sting”, a fatal disease administered by the Grievers that sends its victims mad.

    With Alby temporarily not in possession of the presence of mind to lead the group, Thomas steps in and sets in train a tumultuous chain of events that sees the Gladers idyll rocked to its foundations, such that the majority of the boys and Theresa have no choice but to take their chances in the maze.

    The Maze Runner, though possessed of some quiet moments of contemplative character building and interaction, and archetypes that manage to transcend their limited parameters, is a film that seldom sits still.

    Thomas, who it turns out has quite a few secrets tucked away that not even he is aware of till late in the piece, adjusts with alacrity to his new home, and within a day or two is challenging many of the rules and assumptions that have kept the Gladers safe within their home, which is, as is the way of these movies, nowhere near as safe as it looks, nor as consequence free as it might appear.

    He triggers an avalanche of discoveries and answers, some of which don’t make sense – why for instance would the creators of the maze, who it turns out live in a resources-starved post-scorched-by-the-sun apocalyptic Earth devote so much time and effort, not to mention near non-existent food, water, building materials etc to testing their subjects in the human-sized equivalent of a rat maze? – but which in the fast and furious context of this highly enjoyable film are required to stand up to much sustained scrutiny.

     

     

    Plot holes aside, The Maze Runner is actually a highly enjoyable dystopian tale that keeps many of its surprises and secrets in reserve until they will have the maximum effect.

    The well-written, tightly-constructed screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin, rarely puts a foot wrong, and doesn’t confuse full speed head pell-mell action for meaningful narrative momentum, resulting in a superbly told, gripping and mostly satisfying challenging of dystopian authority.

    The only thing that doesn’t sit as well as it could have is the ending which features some deeply emotional moments, which though undeniably touching, lose something thanks to insufficient set up earlier in the film, and a cliffhanger element that though intriguing, is a little frustrating given the time it will take for the inevitable, CGI-heavy sequel to manifest itself.

    All that said however, The Maze Runner is by and large a skilfully told, though admittedly not deeply substantial, tale set in a well-realised world that keeps enough mystery and uncertainty at the forefront of the action-heavy story to mark itself out as something a little different in the crowded YA genre of which it is indisputably a welcome part.

     

     

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  • Good times and bad guys: The dimly-lit world of Moonbeam City’s Dazzle Novak

    (image via YouTube (c) Comedy Central)
    (image via YouTube (c) Comedy Central)

     

    SNAPSHOT
    Set in the 1980s, with the color palate to match, [Rob] Lowe plays Dazzle Novak, a not-so-bright undercover cop who is always in search of a good time (when in fact he should be hunting down the bad guys). Banks co-stars as Novak’s hard-ass boss, while [Kate] Mara plays a young officer considered a rising star in Novak’s same squad.

    Although Novak bears a striking resemblance to Sterling Archer, in both appearance and demeanor, Archer’s skill level in the field supersedes Novak’s skill set by more than a mile. To Novak’s advantage, though? An awesome stripper name.      (synopsis Indiewire)

    I am a man who lived through and loved the ’80s.

    I listened to the songs of Duran Duran and Tears For Fears, managed to not break any windows when I threw my maddening Rubik’s Cube as far away from me as possible, witnessed the end of the Cold War, survived the split of ABBA and happily wore stonewashed jeans hypercolour T-shirts (and bright red men’s sandals).

    It was a happy decade, one that I seem to constantly re-visit in the best possible way any time songs by La Roux and Lady Gaga are played or TV shows like The Goldbergs show an episode, and now I get to experience the Miami Vice-inspired colours and sensibility in Comedy Central’s new animated masterpiece Moonbeam City.

    Scheduled for a premiere in 2015, and written by Funny or Die‘s Scott Gairdner, it centres on a detective working in the titular Moonbeam City, dubbed “America’s most fluorescent metropolis”, who is more adept at looking fashionable and having a good time than actually, you know, solving crime.

    With a soundtrack provided by synth pop group Night Club, and according to Cartoon Brew, “a striking visual style that consciously references the iconic early-Eighties illustrator Patrick Nagel“, Moonbeam City looks like a gloriously technicolour hilarious homage a decade that is going to delight and muse my ’80s loving soul no end.

    Bring on the animated shoulder pads, I’m ready for all the absurdist fluorescent mirth you can throw at me!

     

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  • No one told you it was going to be this way: Happy 20th anniversary to everybody’s favourite Friends!

    (image (c) NBC)
    (image (c) NBC)

     

    Happy 20th anniversary Friends!

    Yes, everyone, you are officially allowed to feel ridiculously, insanely old as you realise – rather quickly unfortunately thanks to the totally unambiguous declarative sentence that opens this anniversary tribute – that the first episode of Friends, a seminal sitcom that defined what life was life was like for twenty-somethings in the 1990s (well the ones in New York City anyway) went to air at 8.30pm on September 1994 and was reviewed favourably by a number of outlets including The Hollywood Reporter:

    “There’s a sustaining humor at work on the new NBC entry Friends.

    This ensemble comedy about a pack of young adults holed up in Manhattan starts in a capable manner, evidencing a solid understanding of the forces at work within the series’ architecture. True, there is some forced shtick, but nonetheless, Friends makes the lives of its protagonists humorously involving …

    While Friends sometimes does appear more like a clumsy parody of MTV’s The Real World than as a knowing effort to comically report on the real world, by and large the series puts its band of actors into engaging predicaments, resulting in good laughs.”

    (You can read the full review here.)

    It set in train a comedy phenomenon, one that included an obsession with Rachel’s distinctive hairstyle, a thousand memorable catchphrases, the defining of what exactly constitutes a relationship “break”, a hygienically-challenged feline, but one most of all that made us care, really care, about six close though totally different friends; care so much in fact that the show is still ubiquitous even 20 years later.

    It was one of those rare shows that I watched week in, week out for the entire 10 year run, laughing more than I have with many other sitcoms (save for Frasier and Mad About You) and during which I felt like I was, corny as it is to say, hanging out with friends.

    That’s how well the producers, writers and actors brought these characters to life – you felt like they were close buddies you were hanging out with rather than watching, and you rarely got sick of them, a rare feat for any show, especially one that ran as long as Friends did.

    In honour of those 20 years, there have been countless “Twenty best episode lists” including one on The Sydney Morning Herald which included one of my favourites, “The One With All the Cheesecakes” …

     

     

    In honour of the show’s 20th anniversary, Warner Bros put together a 236 second video that honours all 236 episodes of the decade-long series, giving each member of the cast – Ross (David Schwimmer), Monica (Courteney Cox), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) – their moment in the sun as US Weekly reports:

    “Jennifer Aniston opens the visuals as Rachel Green in her wedding dress from the show’s pilot, later marrying Ross Geller in Las Vegas and experiencing personal triumphs such as finishing a crossword puzzle. Courteney Cox, who tweeted on Monday, ‘Friends premiered 20 years ago today. How time does fly’, is shown as her character Monica Geller, acting out her famous ‘seven’ scene and dancing with a turkey on her head. Ross (David Schwimmer) is seen rocking out on his keyboards, reinforcing his break from Rachel, and getting way too artificially tan.

    Matthew Perry has a segment as Chandler Bing, repeatedly asking if things could ‘BE’ any worse, and working at his mysterious job. Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), complete with ‘How you doin?’ phrases, faces off with his buddy, trying on everything in Chandler’s wardrobe and saying, ‘Look at me, I’m Chandler! Could I BE wearing any more clothes? Maybe if I wasn’t going commando!’ The group is topped off by Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), singing ‘Smelly Cat’ and attempting to seduce Chandler. Even Janice (Maggie Wheeler) makes an appearance to utter ‘Oh. My. God.’”

     

     

    But perhaps my favourite tribute simply because it chooses to both honour Friends and have a huge amount of fun with them is Comedy Central UK‘s series of “Badly Dubbed” videos which gives the very American set of friends very British accent and thus, all sorts of fresh hilarity-inducing potential, which they admirably realise.

     

     

     

     

    You can check out more Comedy Central UK’s fabulous dubbed tributes to Friends on their 29th anniversary at their YouTube channel.

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  • Now this is music #38: The Knocks, Team Me, J Tropic, Fickle Friends, PROM

    marciagalante via photopin cc
    marciagalante via photopin cc

     

    It doesn’t take much for life to get crazy busy does it?

    One extra project at work here, an unexpected errand there, and suddenly your calm and well-planned day goes spiralling out of control and with it your peace of mind and low blood pleasure.

    Which is why we’re lucky that the following five artists have come up with music that magically transports you far, far away from the trials and tribulations of the rat race to places soaked in sun, champagne and the eternal balm of an idyll summer’s day.

    All you need to do is stop for a moment, grab a glass of something bubbly and your favourite dancing shoes and let the music take you away …

     

    “Classic (featuring Powers)” by The Knocks

     

    The Knocks (image via official The Knocks Facebook page)
    The Knocks (image via official The Knocks Facebook page)

     

    The Knocks, a producer duo (B-Roc and JPatt) who hail from New York City, have conjured up a groove-laden slice of disco that would likely not have been out of place in the much-fabled Studio 54 club of old.

    From the opening countdown 1-2-3 that opens the even-then energetic song to the sweeping funk of the opening bars and the first notes of vocalist Powers aka Crista Ru summertime sultry vocals, “Classic” takes you back to the glory days of disco, with a heavy measure of funk and ’90s clubland melodies thrown in for good measure.

    It’s well nigh impossible to listen to this song without imagining yourself at some picturesque beach in the south of France, champagne in hand, lost in the music and dancing as if this is the only thing that matters.

    There is something all encompassing about this song that makes you forget all your cares and woes just like a night on the dancefloor is supposed to do, transporting you to all every last one of the “happy places” you have in your escapist armoury, which is exactly the effect that The Knocks were going for according to a letter they released with the track:

    “We have found that the best way to successfully traverse the current landscape of the music industry is by releasing music that invokes some kind of emotion in the listener. We want our music to take you to whatever place we were in while we were creating it so that there is a true bond created between the listeners and what they are listening to … With “Classic” we tried to create a well of nostalgic energy that anyone could easily access by simply pressing play.”

    Mission accomplished gentleman, and then some.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol are expecting me back on the dancefloor in 1979 and I don’t want to keep them waiting …

     

     

    “Blind as Night” By Team Me

     

    Team Me (image via official Team Me Facebook page)
    Team Me (image via official Team Me Facebook page)

     

    There is a immensely compelling epic quality to “Blind as Night” by Norwegian indie pop band Team Me from the first dramatic note.

    I think Pigeons and Planes, who tipped me off to its existence, captured the vibe perfectly:

    “Their sound is a contrast to a lot of the minimal sounds of the moment. Imagine sitting on a throne, on top of a mountain, above the clouds, with an eagle on your shoulder. That’s what ‘Blind As Night’ sounds like. Their music is of imperial proportions, layered and orchestral.”

    What makes the song truly gripping is the stirring combination of urgent melody, pounding drums, vibrant strings and raw guitars, insistent, and almost shouted vocals, coupled with the sense that every last emotion in the world has been poured into the mix, every last last thought, sensation, feeling.

    It may sound too much to those who crave a simpler sound but if you are into songs, and indeed bands, who strive to make a statement, to make you feel as if you have been swept into something far beyond yourself, even for just under four minutes, then you will delight in the blistering surge of feelings and melodies that is “Blind as Night” (released as a double A-side, to use old vinyl single parlance, with “The All Time High”, the lead singles to recently released album Blind As Night).

    This is music to create goosebumps, to take you away from the bland everyday nothingness of life, and make you feel truly alive, something that not a lot of music manages to achieve.

     

     

    “Love Up” by J Tropic

     

    J Tropic (image via official J Tropic Facebook Page)
    J Tropic (image via official J Tropic Facebook Page)

     

    The sunny vibes and cubicle-unshackling sense of breezy getaways continues with Brighton, England-based J Tropic, one of the latest singings to Duly Noted Records (IYES, Manou).

    Their first utterly mesmerising song, “Love Up”, swims in much the same summery champagne sea that The Knocks’ “Classic” likes to frolic in, though with less funk and a lighter feel more akin to a ’90s beach party, with Cole Ryan at respected music blog Hillydilly having this to say about their sound:

    “Smooth synths and fresh percussion lay the ground work on the track, while electronic melodies and a stunning chorus build up an exemplary work of poolside pop. The female singer on the track is unknown, but there’s no escaping the shine of her vocals, and atop the sonic stage J. Tropic provides, they work in majestic fashion.”

    While little is known of the man behind the sound yet, and the female vocalist remains curiously unidentified – a trend in much of modern indie music that I guess is aiming for a sense of artistic mystery, all the better to intrigue and draw us closer – one thing is certain – this is music to languorously groove the night away, R&B-influenced dance floor pop that slow jams with magnificent, blissful ease.

    It is so evocative in fact of a perfect summer night with those you love that you will likely keep playing it right through the colder winter months if only to remember, in a glorious sun-drenched instant, how good it makes you feel.

     

     

    “For You” by Fickle Friends

     

    Fickle Friends (image via official Fickle Friends Facebook page)
    Fickle Friends (image via official Fickle Friends Facebook page)

     

    Staying in the coastal surrounds of Brighton, Fickle Friends take us back another decade or so to the synth-washed ’80s New Wave pop.

    There is a delightful sense of the ’80s meeting the modern day in every song this talented band releases and “For You” is no different, suffused with an easy driving beat, Natassja Shiner’s luminescent vocals and a melody that suggests lazy summery daydreams of love true love.

    “For You”, which Prefix Mag rightly noted is an “infectious number” of “jangling guitars, slapping percussion, and soaring synths”, is one of those songs you listen to as the day is winding down a little, and you’ve retired to the side of the pool or under the umbrellas on the beach for some wine, some chilled conversation and the company of good friends.

    There is a welcoming sense of warmth and dreamy relaxation to the track which is the perfect wind down from a busy day, or possibly a lead-in before a second wind hits for the funk-filled dancefloor sounds of later in the evening.

     

     

    “Flickers” by PROM

     

    PROM (image via official PROM Facebook page)
    PROM (image via official PROM Facebook page)

     

    “Flickers”, from PROM (Brooklyn-based electro-pop duo, Ella Zoller and Gabriel Stanley), begins with a door-shuddering synth-driven rat-a-tat-tat before bursting into exquisitely lovely vocal harmonies that soar and lift with every passing bar.

    It’s a grand and quite atmospherically beautiful opening for a band who share much in common with the likes of the School of Seven Bells and Alpine; that sweet sense of epically rich, layered vocals and melodies that capture the heart and the soul in one easy listen.

    I can’t help but agree with Brooke Ferguson of The Music Ninja who enthused about the sound of “Flickers” thus:

    “Bursting with vibrant instrumentals, spine-tingling melodies, powerful percussive elements, and a ying and yang effect to balance out Ella and Gabriel’s stunning vocals, “Flickers” is an enchanting piece of art that is bound to make you smile from ear to ear.”

    It’s an impressive calling card for the new band’s EP which is due out in October from Crazy Heart Records, launched by indie band Ghost Beach who are looking to create an artistic musical community of likeminded souls.

    If this is the kind of sound and feel they’re aiming for, then I wonder if they’ve got room for one more person?

    I won’t actually make any music alas but if everyone makes songs as compelling, substantial and glisteningly beautiful as PROM, then I will listen the hell out of everything they release.

     

     

    NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

    They’re back!

    Yes the fun-loving, talented twosome Ylvis, who daringly asked us “What Does the Fox Say?” in 2013, have returned with a new song “The Trucker’s Hitch”, an entertaining and educational track that discusses how to variety of knots including the frustratingly elusive titular knot.

    It’s catchy, its fun and you’ll never have to worry about tying most knows again …

     

     

    But if you’re yearning for something a little less practical, and perhaps even epically nostalgic, then why not take a look at Panic! At The Disco‘s cover of Queen’s immortal classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” which they are performing on their current Gospel Tour …

     

    Speaking of awesome and amazing ’70s-era that are still kicking it bigtime in the 21st century, Kate Bush recently performed a series of 22 shows at London’s Eventim Apollo venue to rapturous acclaim from fans and critics alike who hailed the legendary singer for her artistic vision and innate sense of epic showmanship.

    And now those of us who couldn’t make the concerts, which sold out in under 15 minutes thanks to server-crippling worldwide demand, will be able to watch the concert on DVD and see once again why Kate Bush is regarded so very highly by so many people.

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  • Moone Boy: The comfort and power of an imaginary friend

    (image via IMDb (c) Sky TV)
    (image via IMDb (c) Sky TV)

     

    “Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the west of Ireland? Me neither. But there you go.”

    And with that pithy, funny, narrative-encapsulating line, Moone Boy, set in late 1980s Ireland and starring Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd, Girls, Family Tree) as said imaginary friend Seán Murphy (“the most common name in Ireland”) to endlessly optimistic, quirky as hell, lost in his own cartoon-populated world 12 year old Martin Moone (David Rawle) is off and on its charming way through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

    What makes spending time with Martin so winningly enjoyable is that he remains happily unfazed by any and all of these trials and tribulations whether they involve arriving at school blissfully unaware he is sporting green eye shadow and ruddy-red blush courtesy of the sister with whom he shares a room Sinéad (Sarah White), losing his brand new bike to neighbourhood bullies Jonner and Conner (Brendan and Cillian Frayne) or having his sister Trisha (Aoife Duffin) taunt him with the idea that he is a “mistake” (to which Seán responds “Accident — accident, not mistake!”, though no one but Martin can hear or see him naturally).

    Unprepared for many of the rites of passage common to a boy his age, thanks to loving but sometimes self-involved parents Liam and Debra (Peter McDonald and Deidre O’Kane) who married and had children young and still seem to be figuring out how to handle their new adult roles years later, Martin treats his first erection as some sort of physical defect – he and Seán decide it is a fungal infection caused by a chicken dinner left to defrost too long by his mother – the resulting nocturnal emissions as a matter of sheet-burying necessity, sweetly and cluelessly unaware that the two occurrences are most definitely related.

     

     

    Sentimental to a fault, Martin, who wants to be bad and tough and treat his last day at primary school in the Lord of the Flies manner that his classmates do, instead succumbs to nostalgia and slight melancholy at “the end of an era”; as a result the scene where the young Moone recites a speech of thanks to his soot-stained, harassed teacher is a gem, the latter amazed that the former is so delightfully out of sync with other boys his age.

    He is also possessed of a naively illogical ignorance of the effects of his actions.

    Seeking a quicker way to school so he has time both to eat breakfast and scrub off Sinéad’s frequently-applied cosmetic efforts, he realises that if he simply dismantles the shoddily-constructed wall that stands between his backyard and his school, he can walk straight through giving him nine extra precious minutes to prepare for his often chaotic days.

    While this works a treat for him, it also allows just about everyone else in the town of Boyle where he lives to get to the school faster too, resulting in his backyard becoming a busy pedestrian-thoroughfare, much to his parents’ displeasure.

    But though he may not excel scholastically, he is in many ways an old soul in a pre-pubescent boy’s body, his insights often far more profound that those of his parents, and his observations more finely attuned (he picks for instance that his eldest sister Fidelma, played by Clare Monnelly is pregnant way before anyone else in the family does).

     

     

    Through all of Martin’s oddly endearing excursions through the minefield of looming adolescence, his constant companion is Seán, who at the whim of Martin’s active and idiosyncratic imagination is as likely to be sporting bright pink ladies high heels shoes as he is much more preferred  soccer boots, as he dispenses wisdom about life, the universe and everything.

    He is course, the manifestation of Martin’s quirkily lateral mind, so his advice is only really as good as Martin’s limited understanding of the world at large but O’Dowd, who writes the series with Nick Vincent Murphy, invests him with endless patience, a line in self-depractory wit, and an endless supply of witticisms that leave you giggling with glee long ago Martin is off on yet another ill-thought but innocently-executed escapade.

    He is also wonderfully fleshed-out, as is the secretive world of imaginary friends of which he is indelibly a part, so that when Martin temporarily pushes him away at the urging of his hipster musician uncle Danny (Steve Wall) and he is forced to hang out in the pub with other rejected and current imaginary friends, including the gorgeously-named Crunchie Haystacks, a wrestler who keeps Martin’s best friend Padraic (Ian O’Reilly) company, you feel sorry for him, aware that like the inhabitants of Pixar’s heartfelt Toy Story franchise, that his sense of self-worth and usefulness is wholly dependent on how long Martin chooses to keep him around.

    Peppered with all manner of ’80s fashion items, toys, and political events – we witness the election of Mary Robinson as Ireland’s first female president and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (and David Hasselhoff’s best forgotten concert on top of it) – Moone Boy is at heart a creatively-articulated, funny, frequently absurd and touching insight into the inner workings of a young boy doing his best to make sense of the world around him with little to no meaningful assistance and failing repeatedly to be as successful as he think he is going to be.

    But so infectious is his positive outlook on life, and his unwillingness, with Seán’s protective help, to let the turkeys keep him down, that you always know he’s going to bounce right back, and it’s this never-say-die spirit, in the face of utterly uncontrollable, frequently nonsensical but all too real odds, that gives Moone Boy so much of its universally-relevant, charming appeal, and make you wish, just for a moment that you could have your own imaginary friend, especially one played by the talented Chris O’Dowd, always at your side.

     

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