These days you could be forgiven for thinking that zombies are everywhere.
So prevalent have the post-apocalytic undead become that they are starting to pop up in movies that never featured them in the first place and it’s thanks in part to the imaginative brilliance of one Matt Busch.
A talented artist and illustrator who has contributed art to official Star Wars releases since 1994, and who has worked on movies such as Con-Air, The Matrix, and Lord of the Rings, Matt is held in high regard, Matt has one of those out-of-the-box perspectives that makes him a compelling chronicler of pop culture.
And if we needed any more of an indication that his finger is firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, he has a released a brilliant series of posters that perfectly merge all sorts of great cinematic masterpieces with our favourite monsters de jour – zombies.
This was the year that the gulf between what happens in the studio, and what happens under the bright lights, wind machines and pyrotechnic curtains of the main Eurovision stage, grew to abyss-like proportions (an abyss albeit decked out in shiny LED screens and surrounding by thousands of glowing electronic wristlet-fans).
Act after act stepped onto the Austerity Stage at Malmö Arena – so named because Sweden chose to spend only about half of the normal amount lavished on Eurovision, in keeping with the stripped back spirit of the times – and took songs that has been uninspiring and turgid on CD and turned them into overwhelming musical triumphs.
OK that might be taking things a little too far.
But it is true that countries like Estonia (“Et Uus Saaks Alguse” by Birgit) and Belgium (“Love Kills” by Roberto Bellarosa), whose songs had left me cold and unimpressed, came alive with performances that lifted their songs way beyond run-of-the-mill and into the sort of stratosphere where Europeans happily plucked them out of the musical ether and awarded them one of the precious top 10 spots and thus entry into the grand final on Saturday night.
Admittedly neither of them exactly excelled in the choreography department with the deer-in-the-headlights persona of Roberto for instance content with standing reasonably rigid on stage, in a very nice suit mind you, lifting his arm from time to time with feeling and dramatic urgency.
But who cares about impressive dance moves when the song is so damn infectious?
Certainly not the good people of Europe who propelled Belgium and Estonia, with two songs, based on their studio versions alone, that I had expected to be left behind in a cloud of listless glitter as more accomplished acts, on YouTube performances at least, like Austria (who failed to qualify thanks largely to a reasonably average turn on stage; which was in stark contrast to her bubbly, engaging personality offstage) and Cyprus roared past them.
How wrong I was.
While, as I predicted, Ukraine (who shone on the night) and Denmark, Serbia (their faux-lesbian playful onstage banter was not enough to get them through) and The Netherlands turned in impeccable performances that had the crowd eating out of their hands – that’s if you can eat with wind machines buffeting your every move – acts that I thought would be spending grand final night constructing stage props out of uncooked pasta, glue and felt tipped pens like Estonia, Belgium, and Russia instead found themselves propelled into contention for the main prize.
The biggest surprise on the night, if you leave aside the fact that not a single one of the Balkan contenders made it through, is that Andrius Pojavis from Lithuania found himself with something other to do than wash his lustrous locks on Grand Final night.
Along with Russia, whose song and to be honest timid performance made watching luridly-coloured paint dry a compelling alternative viewing option, Lithuania surprised me by making it into the top 10, a feat I did not think possible based on Andrius’s smile-adorned by lacklustre live rendition of “Something”.
Ireland was another surprise with Ryan Dolan’s voice sounding far more assured and powerful live than the recording had led me to believe.
The fact that his tattooed back up dancers/drummers, in leather pants so tight they must have been sewn into them at birth, were absolutely breathtakingly handsome and buff did not sway my opinion in any way, shape or form.
No, not at all.
Hot, buff back up men aside, it was a night that left me wondering if I still have my finger on the European zeitgeist.
Well, as much as I once did anyway.
While six of the acts I predicted would be successful in getting through to the Grand Final did in fact manage to do just that, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia and Belgium caught me completely off guard by romping through against all expectations.
Still, while it played havoc with my chosen top 10, these sorts of catch-you-unawares moments are a very welcome thing indeed since a contest where everything plays out as expected would be boring to watch indeed.
Much like glitter-flecked paint really, and we all know how that turns out.
The departure of a major character from a show, whether universally loved, ambivalently tolerated or loathed with a passion is never easy.
However you handle it, you run the risk of upsetting fans, ripping the heart out of the show, and upsetting the delicate equilibrium that you may have taken seasons to establish between the various characters.
But in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, the latest Dr Who episode to feature the quietly malevolent Weeping Angels, Steven Moffat has succeeded brilliantly in farewelling the Doctor’s long time companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams.
While not everyone loved them – I fell into the ambivalent camp vacillating between loving them in some episodes and hating them in others – there is no denying that Moffat and his team crafted an enormously strong and intricate bond between the time travelling husband and wife duo and the Doctor that added immensely to the richness of the series as a whole.
And their departure will leave a hole that the creative masterminds behind Dr Who’s modern incarnation will have to work hard to fill.
Having said that, the core of the show, as ever, is the Doctor himself and no doubt the addition of a new companion in the form of feisty Jenna-Louise Coleman will help to heal the wounds caused by Am and Rory’s departure.
And what a beautifully handled departure it was.
While the episode itself, breathtaking in scope though it was with the Doctor’s discovery of a Weeping Angels “feed lot” in a building in 1938-era New York where they trapped people thrown back in time and fed off their temporal energy, suffered from Moffat’s “Big Bold Imaginative Ideas, Flawed Execution” dynamic, the farewell to Rory and Amy was taut, tight and as emotionally resonant as you could hope for.
The beauty of it was that you weren’t quite sure what would happen to the now-happy couple, who at the start of series 7 were in the midst of a messy divorce until an unexpected reconciliation in the middle of a Dalek insane asylum – full points to Moffat for an imaginative take on couples’ therapy which likely won’t catch on with the general populace – but had moved on to domestic bliss and were actively considering leaving the Doctor to have a normal life.
Any ideas of putting vacuuming and bill paying ahead of saving the galaxy were put aside at the end of episode four, the jaunty, almost comical “The Power of Three”, when Rory’s dad of all people encouraged them to go forth and live an amazing life with the Doctor since anyone could do humdrum reality and they had a choice not to.
And for most of this episode which hinged on the imaginative idea that Rory and Amy’s daughter, and the Doctor’s “wife” River Song (Alex Kingston) had written a noir thriller centred on a female American “gumshoe” (detective) Melody Malone, you thought there decision was a good one.
Here they were, with the Doctor in an idyllic setting in Central Park enjoying the sunshine, unaware that the book the Doctor was reading aloud, to Amy’s annoyance, was a prophetic re-telling of future events (wrap your head around that time paradox for a minute).
Events from their future.
The Doctor rips out the final page since, as he admits freely to Amy, he “hates endings”, a facet of the Doctor’s makeup that River Song confirms later on when she warns Amy, rather prophetically, to “never get old” as the Doctor hates saying goodbye (the implication being he will let you go rather than watch death take you from him), and thinks that is that.
Until, of course, Rory, who has gone to get coffee, disappears and finds himself in 1938 to be greeted by his daughter, a mysterious mobster called Grayle, and his own place in the Weeping Angels brownstone chamber of horrors, and the Doctor and Amy set off in pursuit using the book as a guide of sorts.
The Doctor keeps cautioning Amy not to read ahead but they cheat a little by reading the chapter headings and one ominously reads “Amelia’s Final Farewell”, a disclosure the Doctor doesn’t share with Amy or River Song.
Eventually tracking Rory down to the Weeping Angels nightmarish “feed lot”, their attempts to free him from the hotel room in which he is trapped by encroaching angels are thwarted when it dawns on them all that the old man in the next room is an old and dying Rory.
Horrified, Rory, who reasonably expects the Doctor to have a solution to every dire situation asks what they need to do to fix it but the Doctor stumped admitting he doesn’t think they can escape this one.
And it’s at this point that the beauty of Rory and Amy’s love story comes to the fore.
We always knew there was a powerful bond between them, which became stronger still once Amy realised that the “Raggedy Man, as she affectionately calls the Doctor would never be the one to offer her true love and sanctuary in life, but it became heart-rendingly clear when Rory declared he would simply run from the Angels and Amy, without a moment’s hesitation stepped to his side and vowed they would never take her husband.
It was a beautiful, touching moment and as powerful a declaration of love and commitment in some time.
But that was just the start of their last emotionally-powerful journey together.
Trapped, after their escape from the hotel room, on the building’s room, being threatened by a Weeping Angels-esque Statue of Liberty, Rory and Amy make the decision to jump reasoning their death will be the catalyst in creating a time paradox which River Song and the Doctor agree is likely the only way to erase the Weeping Angels nightmarish hellhole from existence.
As a recently arrived River Song and Doctor look on in horror, Amy and Rory jump … and the screen goes to white before showing the couple, very much alive in the middle of a graveyard in modern day New Yorkm a visibly relieved Doctor and River Song running up to greet them.
It looks like another close escape from another villains’ nefarious plans until Rory, about to walk back to the T.A.R.D.I.S. with the others notices a gravestone with his name on it.
Barely having time to remark that someone else with his name is buried in the cemetery, Rory winks from existence and a traumatised Amy notices a lone weeping angel standing near the headstone, a survivor of the paradox who has reached out and reclaimed Rory to his original place in the time line.
Or at least the place they had imprisoned him in.
And despite the Doctor’s desperate entreaties to Amy not to do what he instinctively knows she has no choice but to do (while a visibly upset but far more practical River Song hangs back), Amy, with fond farewells to her “Raggedy Man” reaches out to touch the Angel and joins Rory in his hotel room prison, and also on the headstone, making the ultimate sacrifice for the man she loved above all others.
It was desperately sad with the sort of finality that only death can bring, but also inspiring at the same time that Amy’s love for Rory was so powerful that it eclipsed all reason in the way only great enduring loves can do.
Seizing on a remark by River Song that she had asked Amy to write the Afterword to the book, the Doctor races back to their picnic basket in Central Park, finds the last page he had ripped out and reads a final touching goodbye by the little girl who waited for him, who confirms that she and Rory lived a loving long life together, affirming her love for the man who caught her heart in the way the emotionally damaged Doctor could never do, and pleading with the Doctor to not leave her sitting alone in the dark in the garden as a little girl.
It’s a beautiful, poignant, and touching nod to the way the Doctor and Amy came together and a heartbreaking farewell that perfectly captured the way Rory and Amy’s love transcended everything else, even travels with the Doctor to the ends of time.
It’s been three years since this superbly-written show debuted as a mid-season replacement on April 9, 2009, its initial six episodes introducing us to the perky, optimistic and ambitious Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her almost Herculean plan to turn a giant pit in Sullivan Street, Pawnee, Indiana into a community park.
Its use of a faux-documentary style, much like The Office (it was originally intended as a spin-off of this show), and Modern Family, allowed insight into what the characters were thinking, as much as what they were saying, and its this to-camera honesty that is one of the cornerstones of the show.
This was particularly beneficial for viewers in the case of Leslie, a mid level bureaucrat in the city’s Parks Department. She is one of the few people – perhaps the only one really – left among her colleagues who truly believes in the power of government to do good, and it was this passionate belief in the face of all evidence to the contrary that got me attracted to this show very quickly.
I decided to re-visit season 1 of the show and was reminded (not that I really needed reminding!) that the show is brilliantly funny, incisive, and brutally honest in its assessment of the bureaucracy, peoples’ hopes and ambitions, and life’s way of not always giving you what you think you want pretty much straight out of the gate.
The real joy of Leslie Knope, whose character was re-tooled slightly in season 2 to meet claims that she was a little too ditzy (I didn’t see her as ditzy at all; she is idealistic and naive true, but she has proved time and again, that she is an intelligent woman, both intellectually and emotionally) is that she’s honest. Delightfully, smile-inducingly honest.
“This is huge. I am barely 34 and I have already landed a Parks department exploratory sub-committee … I’m a rocket ship.” (Leslie Knope, pilot episode)
Her unedited and oft-repeated happiness at being named to head a sub-committee, which to most people would seem like an unalloyed waste of time, is contagious. She has had just as much thrown against as anyone else in the Pawnee bureaucracy but she bounces back every time, determined to fight the good fight and make a difference and isn’t embarrassed to articulate that.
She doesn’t care if other people snigger or jest – frankly I think she is probably too wrapped up in her Walter Mitty-esque world to even think that people would be cynical – she plows on, happy in her small parcel of the world, and it is this that makes her such an engaging character and one that you warm to very quickly.
“I would say I lost my optimism in about two months. Leslie has kept her’s for six years.” (Mark Brendanawicz, played by Paul Schneider, a close work colleague in the pilot episode.)
She is not even persuaded to forgo her giddily upbeat view of the possibilities of her position by her boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who is the director of the department, a confirmed cynic (albeit one with a heart of gold) and a man who as a Libertarian believes strongly in the smallest governmental oversight of the populace as possible.
“There’s a new wind blowing in government and I don’t like it. All of a sudden there’s all this Federal money coming in and Paul the city manager is telling us to build parks. Start new community programs. It’s horrifying.” (Ron, episode 2, season 1)
One person who almost gleefully stands in direct contravention to Leslie’s pure belief in the goodness of government is Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) who subscribes to all the cliches about government employees.
It’s like the writers have happily tipped every last prejudice people have about people working in a bureaucracy into this one feisty on-the-take guy – he does as little as possible, he is outwardly supportive of Leslie but does as little as possible when she’s not looking, is always looking to cheat on his wife (and failing miserably), loves playing politics (going so far as to lose every Scrabble piece he plays with Ron), and can’t be trusted as far as you can thrown him (although he is a genuinely charming, and yes, witty guy making him hard not to like).
One person who isn’t fooled by Tom’s act is Ron. He knows Tom is more than able to win every Scrabble game if he wants to, and in one piece to camera sums him up like this:
“I like Tom. He doesn’t do a lot of work around here. He shows zero initiative. He’s not a team player. He’s never one to go that extra mile. Tom is exactly what I am looking for in a government employee.” (Ron, episode 3, season 1)
One of my favourite characters is Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), the every woman who is introduced in the first episode as a nurse living with her goofy musician boyfriend, Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt – he was intended as a guest character but worked so well he was made permanent in season 2) near the pit that Leslie wants to turn into a park, red tape be damned! She confronts Leslie at a town meeting demanding that something be done about the park into which Andy has tumbled and broken his legs.
Leslie, looking like a deer in headlights at Ann’s willingness to speak her mind – I don’t think she is used to someone being this direct; she may be honest about her feelings but she is used to the obtuse way things are said and done in local government so Ann’s policy of saying it as it is is a shock – decides to make Ann part of the solution. She is placed on the afore-mentioned sub-committee with Tom, Mark, and April the slacker summer intern (who is actually quite smart) so there is an outsider’s perspective on the park project.
Ann’s involvement in the sub-committee allows the laughably slow progress of the pit’s progression into a park, and the attendant wheeling and dealing, to be exposed in all its frustrating lack of glory, which is good since Leslie, as part of the system, is charmingly blind to it.
Ann is also the voice of reason when Leslie’s grand dreams tend to overtake what is humanly, or physically possible:
“Leslie Knope: Dream with me for a second, Ann: doesn’t this neighborhood deserve a first class park? Imagine a shiny new playground with a jungle gym; and swings; pool; tennis courts; volleyball courts; raquetball courts; basketball courts; regulation football field; we can put an ampitheater with ‘Shakespeare in the Park’… Ann Perkins: It’s really not that big of a pit. Leslie Knope: We can do some of those things.”
But in the end the show revolves around Leslie, dear sweet honest Leslie who approaches each and every moment of her working life as if it will be the best one ever. She is the emotional core of the show and the one upon whom this beautifully written and exquisitely acted show hangs.
She deserves to be President one day if only so we can have a sitcom about it.
Well, now I do. Hated them at high school when the only ones I saw were weird, odd, or badly put together. But modern French movies have struck a chord with me, and from the delights of Amelie, to the darker story of The Hedgehog, I love the sense of whimsy, fun, or oddness that imbues many of these movies, with a sentimentality that in an American movie would be thick as treacle in it’s corniness, but in these movies carries with it a real sense of what it means to be human, with real people leading real lives.
Yes it is quaint and cute, and the ending lifted straight from a modern fairytale, but it is also grounded in the darker realities of life where people are treated cruelly by those who should love them – Gerard Depardieu’s Germain’s mother is played with neglectful menace by Claire Maurier – aren’t given the chances in life they should have been given, and are dealy unfair blows by the simple process of ageing (the delightful Gisele Casadesus imbues Margueritte, who in many ways saves Germain, with a sweet intelligence, coloured by a sad recognition that life is taking much of what she values from her). The relationship that forms between Germain, and Margueritte is real, and affectionate, and ends up giving each of them as much as they give away to establish and grow it. It could have been saccharine overload but it isn’t because these two fine French actors, ground their characters in lives that make sense and could happen.
Oh and about the happy ending? By the time you reach it, it seems perfectly fine to end the way it does, so powerfully have the two actors brought their journey together to life.
I was introduced to this supremely talented, gloriously idiosyncratic English’s artists music by the indie movie, Garden State, which starred Scrubs’s Zach Braff and loved her from the word go. Of course on that soundtrack she was working with Guy Sigsworth (with whom she had earlier made music while he was in his band Acacia) in the guise of their shortlived collaborative group, Frou Frou, which produced the divinely lovely song, Let Go.
Then, thanks to my dear friend Monica, then girlfriend and now wife of my wonderful friend and old house mate, Andrew, introduced me to her album Speak For Yourself, which includes the tracks Hide and Sick, Just For now (which Imogen used as a wonderful crowd singalong during the concert) and Clear the Area, released in 2005, and followed four years later by Ellipse, which was every bit as melodic and poetic.
I have for years adored her love of intricate achingly emotional melodies, layered sonic templates, and a voice that conveyed so much pain, sadness, introspection and wistfulness that you could only wonder what sort of person was in possession of it.
Well, last night, after buying the tickets the moments I saw she was touring, I found out. Imogen Heap is a brilliantly talented, delightfully offbeat, woman who’s hilariously funny between songs, sings with passion and who has grapples with the big questions of life with as much humour as she does pain and wondering. In between the songs, 12 of which were chosen in an online poll on her website prior to the event, she delighted everyone with her witty observations, offbeat takes on events, honesty and easy humour to the point where I didn’t want the concert to end.
It was like spending the night with the best friend you always wanted, who is funny, talented, clever, intelligent, amazingly technologically proficient, who samples sounds and throws them into the rich, sonic washes of sounds she produces on a stage that resembled an eerie yet comforting section of English woodland (albeit populated by all manner of instruments), who forgets to sing the intro to one song and laughs it off, and who has so little ego she asks other supremely talented artists,in this case, Lula Bliss (reminded me of Bernadette on Big Bang Theory) and Cafe of the Gates of Salvation, to join her and collaborate on stage. She even dispensed with the walk off between the end of the main set and the encore, admitting quite honestly that ‘you all know I am coming back when I walk off so why walk off in the first place?’ I have always wanted an artist to do that and Imogen granted me my wish!
In short, she was amazing, and delightful, and a joy to spend time with me, so much so that I want to spend the rest of my life following her from concert to concert. OK that’s technically stalking I guess, but what a glorious way to get arrested. She’d be worth it! (Imogen if in some freak accident of web surfing you read this, I have no actual plans to stalk you, but cannot wait to see you in concert again!)
This is a fun movie (Open Air Cinema, 17 February).
No, it won’t win Oscars, and doesn’t canvas any great social issues – unless you consider fragile egos, and media vacuousness to be crushing issue that are about to doom society as we know it; although watching some of the tabloid schlock that passes for news these days makes you wonder if one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse isn’t employed by Murdoch et al – but it does look at the issue of media identities, ratings, work/life balance, and what really matters in life in an amusing way with lots of witty banter.
It won’t change the world but it will make you laugh…. and it will make you eternally glad you don’t work in breakfast television. Watching it is bad enough but working in it looks even worse! But in the hands of Rahcel McAdams et al, funny, very funny.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming as the first song I chose!
When people think of ABBA they invariably think of Dancing Queen, Fernando, Mamma Mia or The Winner Takes It All, and why not? They are all brilliant slices of sparkling pop, daring you not to like them…. and I do like them.
However, it’s ABBA’s more obscure songs that seem to have captured my imagination and my heart – songs like Elaine, which when I first heard it sounded indescribably dark, dangerous and almost raunchy to a very sheltered Baptist pastor’s son (not so sheltered now but it still has an edge)), not to mention threatening, desperate and sad, something that other earlier songs seemed to lack. But it seemed that as ABBA moved on with their career, their albums grew progressively more musicaly sophisticated, lyrically mature, and while they didn’t completely lose the sunny upbeat feel of earlier material, many of their later songs did dwell in the darker shaded areas of life.
Songs like Should I Laugh or Cry, which detailed a woman trapped in a relationship which seems to be equal parts frightening and darkly amusing, and The Visitors, which talked about dissent being crushed in a dictatorship. For some reason despite my eternal optimism, the darked and more troubled the songs, lyrically and musically, the more they captured my attention, and captured me with their emotional intensity.
Most people may not have heard of them, and perhaps I am an ABBA tragic and gay drama queen who loves nothing more than emotional intensity ramped up to levels so high my heart bleeds hysteria, but I like to think that I am simply appreciating very good songs that speak to me, and never really got their moment in the pop sun.
Odd you may think since we extrovert creative types generally all the over boiled melodrama we can get our hands on, feast on it for months till the marrow is all sucked dry, and then moe on to the next over wrought incandescent piece of hyperbole. But too often I find that hype does a disservice to the event/film/song etc being promoted, and rather than lifting it up, almost succeeds in tearing it down, or lessening it’s impact. The product may be the bext thing since sliced bread, but with peoples’ expectations build up by a relentless tide of “This will be HUUUUUGE!!!!”, the only realistic outcome is disappointment.
I would much rather the merchants of hype simply promoted it and let the event etc fall or rise on it’s own merits. Generally, if it’s good, it will shine anyway, go viral on the internet, clog airwaves everywhere, and become it’s own piece of self-sustaining pop culture fun, floating into everyone’s consciousness till it is supplanted by the next sparkly piece of zeitgeist-ness. But somehow, I think my hope is forlorn, and we will continue to get bombarded by ceaseless hype till you cease to care about what’s being promoted, or doggedly keep caring, and find the song etc diminished by the expectations placed around it.
Such is the case with Born This Way by Lady Gaga. The way it was promoted you would have assumed she, Jesus and Buddha had got together, made a baby who became the Messiah mark 2 and was coming to make us all joyfully happy and eternally love with mung beans and marmots. It verged on the ridiculous. I like Lady Gaga’s music a lot, love her idiosyncratic style and find her fun and interesting, and a definite talent who leaves other female popsters looking pallid and talentless in comparison.
But the insane level of hype that accompanied this song means that while it is very good, with empowering lyrics that speak to me as a gay man, and a catchy disco vibe, I am actually disappointed by it, and I daresay, much like other things before it – Jurassic Park springs to mind – once I distance it from the hype, and let it stand on it’s own two sonically pleasing feet, that I will love it. Possibly….
But right now it’s a victim of hype, and I am not happy that some trigger happy publicist has soiled what could have a been a moment of shiny pop perfection….