Monday, 25 August 2014

ABC's Selfie: Pilot review



Selfie: behind this annoying title referring to the current annoying social media phenomenon lies ABC's new comedy show inspired by George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. Pygmalion for the 21st century, if you will. The comedy starts on ABC in a little over a month but the pilot episode has been streamable online for a few days now.

There are many things wrong with the pilot episode of Selfie, thankfully the actors aren't one of them.
Most sci-fi fans will be familiar with Doctor Who/Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillan and Star Trek/Flashforward's John Cho. They are both accomplished actors who are able to use a wide range of means of expression. John has an easier role here, perhaps, as his Henry is more of a "straight man" in the pilot. Karen's role is more challenging: her Eliza is supposed to be the "active comic" here and many times during the episode she is called upon delivering the textspeak and hastagspeak of the social media generation a)  out loud in a rapid fire fashion, and b) in an accent different from her own. She doesn't always succeed, but that is mostly down to the quality of the material she is given. Those who know Karen from Doctor Who won't be surprised to observe that the more serious and dramatic moments in Selfie are those Karen shines in the most.

The quality of the writing then, ranges from very subpar to subpar. It gets better towards the end of the episode when we finally get to see the characters a bit better: Eliza as the perhaps over-sensitive and lonely young woman who tries to numb her "feels" with addiction to social media fame, loud make-up and skimpy (if designer) clothes, and Henry as a marketing genius who nevertheless, is so boring and lacking in "life spark", his last girlfriend had to leave him. The earlier escapades involving vomiting and towel-dress wearing on a plane are forgotten and the viewer can see that Selfie might actually have some potential; at least for those who enjoy romantic comedy.

I couldn't say I particularly enjoyed the pilot. I feel that the send up of the insta-generation just simply wasn't funny enough. I realise there had to be some sort of catalyst for Eliza to want to change herself, to "re-brand", but I wish it could have been done using a "classier" and cleverer brand of humour. Similarly, the moments of self-reflection don't quite go deep enough (though I have to acknowledge it does sort of make sense with this character, as we are only at the beginning of her journey). So far, Selfie hasn't gone beyond "insta-connection = bad, actual contact with real life human beings = good", it's a cliché and it's thin.

Despite that I did make it till the end and I would give it another chance. I want to see if the writers end up finding the right balance between "today's society satire" and a romantic comedy. I do hope they'll get enough time to gradually forget the Pygmalion premise and concentrate on the characters themselves. I want to see Karen and John, both of whom I like, find the right "groove" for their characters and strengthen their chemistry together.

The pilot of Selfie is not great, it's not even good but there is definitely a lot of potential in the material, and if it gets developed better in the future it might just work.

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Review



No wonder it wasn't easy for Ben Stiller to make the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (which itself is a loose remake of the 1947 film of the same name). It's pretty much an unsellable film which genre is hard to describe. But I sure am happy it did finally get made. It's one of Stiller's best directorial projects, if not the best one; and I'd dare say it also features his best performance as an actor.

Ben's never had a problem underselling himself, playing characters of say...simple nature, like Derek Zoolander or Tugg Speedman and "bumblebees" like Greg Focker. "Mouse" Walter Mitty, a negative assets employee at dying Life magazine, might be the closest Stiller ever got to play a real, relatable character. Though it has to be said Walter too is lead to some extremes, especially early on, when the script is trying to dig as much excitement from Walter's unexciting day to day life, way of his action/comedy daydreams.

Indeed, Walter's daydreams are the weakest part of the film (well, maybe apart from the iceman & Benjamin Button ones...), they break up the narrative and are not particularly funny. Despite his only seemingly exciting daydreams you can't say Walter is not an interesting person in his real life. He is not a confrontational sort, seems weird (thanks to his zoning out) and "grey" to those around him but even in the first third of the film you can see while seemingly shy and underachieving, he is not a coward and that he is person of integrity. Exploring all this was the interesting part of the first, weakest third of the film. The Secret Life... noticeably picks up after Walter starts chasing after a lost negative and his photographer sort-of-friend Sean and then never lets go.

Walter, who gave up on cool life (mohawk-wearing & skateboarding youth) after his father's death, once reality bit (yes, I've seen quite a few of Stiller's films!), suddenly - thanks to some encouragement from Cheryl, his potential love interest - finds himself in Greenland and after a very interesting interpretation and use of David Bowie's Space Oddity (for me a contender for a best use of a Bowie song on film) the adventures keep on rolling.

Yes, there is a message. Don't we hate Hollywood messages. Don't Instagram everything. Live life to the fullest. Don't ever give up. Value those around you. Beauty is everywhere in everything. Blah blah. The success of the Secret life of Walter Mitty lies in how surprisingly grounded in reality and "the moment" it stays. The film is not about how Walter lost 20 years of his life not going after his dream and how he finally did just that and suddenly a fairytale happened. It actually ends up celebrating the past 20 years of his life and simply evolving the character, not completely transforming it.

Ben Stiller is on screen pretty much the whole film and his performance is very strong throughout, the rest of the cast enhances it accordingly, with the Nordic actors adding a great unusual flavour. It was nice seeing Kristen Wiig duet with Bowie (sort of), Shirley McLane being as charismatic as ever playing Walter's mum, and Sean Penn doing his "cool lone wolf giving life lessons" étude was also quite fun to see.

Another great positive of the film are the locations. Greenland, Iceland or Himalayas are used quite well for eye candy purposes (the Iceland skateboard ride makes me emotional just thinking about it, pure beauty) but they also keep the story going and help explore Walter's character.

Honourable music mention, I am the music buff after all. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty uses quite a few songs (apart from the aforementioned Bowie also by Arcade Fire, Of Monsters and Men or Rogue Wave) which all enhance the whole "fly little Mitty fly" feel of the film, the score in comparison to them was less striking, but that really should be a positive. A good score should not take attention away from the story, just enhance it, and that's exactly what Theodore Shapiro's score does.

Final verdict: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not a perfect film but it sure is a visually striking and heartwarming sort-of-a comedy, which avoids quite a few clichés and doesn't try too hard to exploit emotions from its audience. Quite what its audience is is another matter. My screening had a couple, me (a mid-20's woman, that is) and a dad with two sons. Everyone stayed till the end and didn't leave right as the credits started rolling (which I found unusual), so I guess we all liked it. Well I wish Walter does find its audience, as well as some critical recognition. It deserves it. And so does Ben Stiller, one of the hardest working men in Hollywood.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Franz Ferdinand - Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action **Review**



Come home, practically all is nearly forgiven

I didn't love Franz Ferdinand's first album enough for me to ever think their later two albums were any worse than the a bit over-praised debut. And that in turns makes me expect each new FF album with an easy-going optimism. And indeed, they didn't disappoint with their fourth outing either.

The band's strength is in its oddness, not in its hip-ness. No-one with a pair of working ears and some taste can say the band was "shite after the summer of 2004" (sadly I've seen this kind of nonsense floating around the internet). Despite some experimentation with production in the past (the luckily scrapped Xenomania flirtation) they somehow always managed to stay true to their sound and keep the quality of their music high. Personally my favourite album of Franz Ferdinand's is Tonight. I haven't listened to Right Thoughts... enough yet to see if it'll end up surpassing Tonight but after a few listens I'm already sure I like it. A lot.

Ace double single (Right Action/Love Illumination) aside, the album features a playful and catchy-in-a-weird-way Evil Eye, or the unexpectedly developing beauty that is The Universe Expanded. I have a soft spot for songs that zig when you expect them to zag and the awe from the first listen has yet not waned, even though the song has already firmly lodged itself in my head. Goodbye Lovers & Friends is truly a magnificent closer (this really is the end being the hopefully not too ominous last words of the regular version of the album). The only song approaching a filler, (after the first few listens at least) is probably Bullet, and the only thing that's missing a wee little bit is a truly tender acoustic moment a la Eleanor..., Katherine... or Dream Again. So much for the constructive (?) criticism.

Compared to the band's previous albums, Right Thoughts is a bit more even in tempo and mood. It presents the sound of a mature and well coordinated band that nevertheless is still very creative, playful (see also the two new videos below), and just the right kind of odd.



Monday, 15 July 2013

Pet Shop Boys - Electric - Review



Ten months after their previous album, Elysium, (which I reviewed here) the mighty Pet Shop Boys give us another one word album beginning with the letter E (at this point they should make an E Trilogy, really). And this one is a slightly different beast. Elysium a bit on the contemplative side but Electric, released with a new company Kobalt on their own label x2, is...electric indeed, a pulsating dance-oriented beauty. Produced by Stuart Price (the man behind The Killers' finest pop moment Human), it's every bit as good as you'd expect a collaboration between the dance pop* producer and the dance pop** duo to be.

Electric is somewhat less lyric-oriented than PSB albums tend to be but that doesn't mean Neil Tennant's signature wit and wordsmithery lack completely. It's just somewhat diluted. If you want a higher concentration, revisit Elysium. Lyrics are really not so much the centre of the record but I don't consider that a negative, I merely observe.

Wish for a track by track commentary? Well, what do you know...here's one:

Axis - Turn it up! Kay, whatever you say, sir! This is the song that introduced the album to us back in May. When I first heard it I was a bit confused...I waited for it to go somewhere but it never did. But going somewhere is not the point of the song, is it. Hardly any lyrics, just "electric energy". And after repeated listens it works. And just like most of the rest of the album it manages to sound simultaneously retro and futuristic.

Bolshy - I found this song a bit annoying at the very first listen. But most of it has grown on me since, at first thanks to the lyrics, suggesting the singer of the song is in fact a bit obsessed with a Russian person. You don't get many songs about that. You can also use this song as a starting point for learning the Russian language, since several lines sung by Neil get briskly translated by a Russian female voice. A special note: Bolshy features the sexiest sounding "oh!" I've heard in quite a while.

Love Is A Bourgeois Construct - The title almost sounds like a parody of a Pet Shop Boys song title. But it is probably the poppiest song on the album (!). The hero of the song is not a fan of love (until his "you" comes back to him). Also fanfares and male choirs. Pure pop.

Fluorescent - One sexy beast. It's reminiscent of the Scissor Sisters' Sex and Violence which, as the rest of the Night Work album, was also produced by Mr. Price. Hands down the hottest song on Electric. And it features the word "incandescent", which is kind of brilliant.

Inside A Dream - A pretty track. Very sound landscape-y. Which to me translates as a bit boring. It conjures up images of pretty people on a pretty beach on a pretty island by a pretty sea. And that's not so much a life I covet.

The Last to Die - A cover version of a five year-old Bruce Springsteen song I don't really know. Getting the "I know this is not the best or most inventive song I've ever heard but I'm a bit obsessed with it at the moment" feeling. (Well as much as you can get obsessed by a song about blood being spilled for a mistake.)

Shouting in the Evening - The weakest track on the album for me (it does have some good bits though). Very rave, reminds me of the kind of early 90's dance music that I pretty much hate. But I guess it was fun to make? If it was, good for the Boys.

Thursday - while the rest of the album sounds very dance 90's, Thursday is the song that would quite easily fit into Please. The bass, the house piano, Neil's lyrics containing "let's do it right" and "stay with me for the weekend". But it also features something new for the Pet Shop Boys - a guest rap section by a still somewhat young man called Example. Also on this track: Chris Lowe's showing us that he does, in fact, know the names of the last four days of the week, and that is pretty much the cherry on top. Thursday might be my favourite on the album at this point.

Vocal - well this song is about dancing to music in a club (or other places densely populated by dancing people). The current single from the album got a pretty spot on video that many fans disliked because of its simplicity (it showed people dancing). Interestingly, the song's "vibe" reminds me a bit of Robbie Williams's Summertime, only Vocal is about 50% less depressing, with 89% less lyrics. But it's equally great and melancholy.




I like the people, I like the song
This is my kind of music
They play it all night long
I like the singer, he’s lonely and strange
Every track has a vocal, and that makes a change


Electric is a perfect album for these summer days and summer nights. It's very alive, which makes it a perfect dance (if still slightly melancholy) counterpart to the end of things-themed Elysium. Get it, listen to it, dance to it. Camp at a music festival. Stop hating people. Get a dog. And/or a lover. Proper speakers.

A grill!

*I realise Stuart has produced non-dancy stuff. See pretty much everything he's ever done with the Killers, except Human, that is.
**I'm not good with labels in music, so I call everything pop-ish you can dance to "dance pop". Sorry.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Lone Ranger - Review

I saw The Lone Ranger two days ago and let me tell you something straight up: it is NOT a bad film.

Now that we got this out of the way and you already know this won't be an angry rant, let us proceed with the actual review/my impression of the film.



The positives: 

Depp's make-up, crow headpiece and outfit are a work of art. I don't care what anyone else says, it's beautiful. Full stop.

Johnny Depp gets his quirk on again but never takes it too far. You can see hints of Captain Jack a few times but other than that his take on Tonto is its own thing. It's ruthless, it's tender, it's funny and it's dignified in its madness. There is tragedy behind the quirks. I've never seen the original TV show so I have no idea how different the characterisations of Tonto & John in this film are from the show but this Tonto is a lone wolf. He doesn't "represent" Native Americans. He just happens to be one. One who wants to right a wrong he did eons ago. And I think Johnny Depp portrayed all this well.

Armie Hammer as the title character of the Lone Ranger (aka former lawyer John Reid) towers over the whole film. Dude is tall. He's also very handsome. And he can act. And most importantly he can do comedy really well. This man was the biggest positive surprise of the film for me.

Tom Wilkinson solid as usual, ditto Helena Bonham Carter (I kinda want that leg). William Fichtner gave a good, charismatic performance.

The main story of the film was never confusing, made sense all the way through and received a satisfying ending. If there's one positive in this whole "biggest flop in Depp's career" talk going around now, it's that it doesn't look likely this story will get weaker and more convoluted sequels. So yay.

Another of the positives of the film: it looked good. Apparently it features a hell of a CGI but honestly I wouldn't have been able to tell, it all blended well together and it was a joy to watch it on a big cinema screen.

Some people got confused by this but I personally love that the film is a blend of comedy and a serious take on something the US audiences know from old TV. Maybe it helps I really had little idea about the original and also the fact I do love a slight clashing of humour, drama and adventure, I didn't find it jarring.

The flipping action scene near the end of the film was AMAZING. Thumbs up to Gore Verbinski for pulling this thing off. The actors, the CGI, the choreography, the humour. I tend to find lengthier action sequences boring but this beauty kept me glued every second. Brilliant.

And I do think Hans Zimmer's score deserves a shout out as well. There were a few times during watching the film I thought - ooh, I like this theme, I have to get the soundtrack! I'm going to have to listen to the whole score on its own so I can compare where it stands with the rest of Hans's work but I did like a lot of what I heard in the cinema.

The negatives:

It's just fucking long. If you cut the framing scenes set in the 30's and John's sister in law/love interest & kid you wouldn't really lose much and the film would be tighter, shorter and probably overall better (in the 85% - 100% territory for me).



As the film is, it is definitely not flawless, though with some re-writing it could have nearly been. So the biggest fault I do not see with the main stars or with the direction but first and foremost in the script. But as you can see the positives still outweigh the negatives (however non-substantial those negatives are). The film is still well beyond average for me. And I'd urge everyone who likes good entertainment to give this film a chance. I can't grant you'll love it but you should not give up on it without giving it a try.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness **Review**

[The post features SPOILERS for those who haven't seen the film yet.]

Well, it finally happened. After a full month plus some extra days of furiously avoiding spoilers and the temptation of downloading a shitty camera copy I finally saw Star Trek Into Darkness in the cinema. And my resolve paid off. What a great surprise the film was for me.

I can't say I was particularly happy with Khan being the main villain in this film, or with the very first trailer, so I tried to curb my enthusiasm for the much belated second reboot film as much as I could. I knew I'd still enjoy it, as long as it was Star Trek enough, because I'm someone who pretty much got hooked on the whole Trek phenomenon after seeing the Star Trek Motion Picture film at my (Trekkie) friends cottage about five years ago. Yes, Star Trek, the Motionless Picture, or, as we dubbed it Stare Trek (ever noticed how much everyone's staring in it, especially Kirk?). I'd been aware of the TOS characters and had seen a few episodes of The Next Generation & Voyager series but STMP was my first proper introduction to the world of the original crew. And even though the film was flawed (and upon rewatching it recently I also found it very out of character for many of the characters) it nevertheless sparked my interest in the universe of the franchise and episode by episode of the original series I fell in love.

So I do have a very strong connection to Star Trek as a whole, and especially to the original series crew, and especially to the Sex on Emotionless (Not Really) Stick that is Mr Spock, (whoever plays him). I was still in my forming Trekkie phase when the first reboot film with the original crew came out. I loved it. Saw it twice in the cinema (something I rarely do) and countless times on the DVD. I couldn't wait for the sequel, even though I was worried if they'd be able to come up with something as good as the first film. I was very cautious. But I don't hate easily. I rarely actively hate a film. I either finish watching a film or I don't. I can be disappointed or have suggestion to what I'd want for it to do differently but I rarely truly hate a film. Life's too short for that. So I did know I wouldn't hate this one. But I was very cautious.

I was afraid of too much action. I was worried Into Darkness would end up trying to be too much like the Avengers in the amount of action and the tempo of the film, but without Whedon and his clever one liners it would fall short. I was not enthusiastic about Khan featuring once more in a Trek film. I was worried too much of the film would take place on Earth...

And so I ended up being positively surprised by the whole thing. Only part of the film took place on Earth, Khan was OK and even though there was too much action for my taste, it was mostly really good. I don't know how I'm supposed to take the Khan being taken to the prison scene because it strongly reminded me of a similar scene in The Avengers. Was it Abrams's friendly shout-out to Whedon? Was it just a coincidence?

Anyway, all my fears died in the course of the film. Good story, neatly tied up, but with an open enough ending. It had the right amount of emotion, just like the first film (watching Spock cry devastated me, ditto Pike's death), and it had a surprising amount of references to the original Trek series and subsequent films.

Some see this particular thing as a weakness. They call this film unoriginal but even though I could have done without ever seeing Khan again I ended up enjoying how this film mirrored the second of the original Star Trek films. Because it made perfect sense. And the surprising Nimoy cameo was the final secret ingredient, which enabled all of the new and recycled elements to work seamlessly together. Now, that's how you utilise the part of your own new film series which is at the same time your sole connection to the original TV and film series. I fully expected never seeing old Mr. Spock again. If someone told me he would be here, I'd be grumpy, thinking the way we last saw him in 2009's Star Trek was the perfect send-off. But I didn't have any idea whatsoever and ended up loving this particular part of the film.

I have to disagree with anyone who's singled out Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan/George John Harrison as the stand out performance in the film. Yes, Cumberbatch is a great actor and he's shown as much range here as the character allowed him but it would be foolish to put his performance above Zachary Quinto's and Chris Pine's. The whole trinity of these actors did an equally great job. I personally would mention Simon Pegg as a stand-out among the secondary characters. The range of his ability deserves recognition. He plays in a perfect Scottish accent, he's brilliant as the comic relief of the film but he also got the chance to show his serious side in this film, and he was spot on. But all of the actors did a great job in this film, I even found Zoe Saldana's Uhura much less annoying this time around...

What would I wish for the future films: less action, more moral and philosophical dilemmas (aka the Star Trek trademark), a bit of Shakespeare. Do continue developing the Kirk and Spock dynamic but please reinstate Bones as the third part of the core of the films, Uhura and the gender politics be damned. And since it's a five year mission, try having some fun this time round. Or the next time round, at the latest.

But so far, job well done, by everyone. Dear Star Trek Into Darkness cast and crew: thank you!

Favourite quotes:

"How does it even work?" - Kirk to Uhura on lover quarells with Spock

"You know, when I dreamed about being stuck on a deserted planet with a gorgeous woman, there was no torpedo." - Bones

Pike: " Are you giving me attitude, Spock?
Spock: "I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously sir, to which one are you referring?"

"KHAAANNNN!" - SPOCK!!!!!!!!!


Friday, 12 April 2013

My Musical Diary LVII

Hello guys, the newest Diary is here. Sadly it's also the last music Diary for quite a while. I really need to concentrate on working on my thesis now but I do hope to resume writing these when my studies are over. I also plan on writing a film diary once in a while, so that's something you can look forward to (I guess?). Anyway, without further ado I give you the 57th edition of My Musical Diary. Enjoy!

Kate Bush - Jig of Life


Kate Bush - Jig Of Life by goldrausch

Kate got her CBE yesterday. Very, very well deserved. For me, Kate is the greatest female musician/artist of all time. Nothing more needs to be said.

I understand the story of the Ninth Wave (the B side of Kate's 1985 masterpiece album Hounds of Love), to a certain degree I understand the concepts, including Zen philosophy that the songs include. But I still couldn't put into words how I personally interpret Jig of Life. From the music point of view I keep getting drawn to this particular song. It's hypnotic. And its use of Irish music motives is just very clever. This is not the sort of song you like on first listen...but once I personally got it, I haven't been able to let it go.

Just play this one at my funeral.

Shakira - Dónde Están Los Ladrones



Yep, I'm still on the Shakira wave. I've just been listening to her a lot lately. This is the title track from Shakira's 1998 album, which I already mentioned last week. And again, this song wasn't released as a single, just like last week's Si te vas. A testament of how good this album is. Though I have to agree that this song might not be single material. It's not primarily catchy, its strength lies in Shakira's vocal, which in parts of the song get very rock. Shakira isn't all yodel, her voice can be very steady and powerful when it's needed.

INXS - Original Sin



I watched the recent BBC Nile Rodgers documentary two days ago and while I did know Nile has had a hand in many a hit I had no idea he actually produced this great INXS song. Of course now that I know I can hear the signature sounds...anyway, discovery of the century!

Cher - The Shoop Shoop Song



After about 20 years I was able to rewatch Mermaids on YouTube a few days ago - and this time was actually also able to get what the film was about, not being 5 or 6 any more. It was definitely an enjoyable experience. All of the main actresses, plus Danny DeVito were great and the film was not nearly as silly as I expected it to be. I was shocked to learn the little girl in the film was Christina Ricci but of course once I knew that information I couldn't believe I actually didn't recognise her right from the start.

But I'll be honest with you, I pretty much watched this film because of Cher. When it comes to music I'm on greatest hits terms with her - I love her voice but apart from Heart of Stone I don't really own any other of her studio albums. I have however seen quite a few films with her, enough to know she's a pretty good actress (and she always looks gorgeous...I don't care how she does it!). In short, I just really like her and even if she starts looking like Amanda Lepore, I'll still like her for her singing and her acting. However...The Shoop Shoop song was such a big part of my childhood, it was always on the radio, always, so as a result I managed to develop quite an allergy to this Cher's cover of the Betty Everett hit. The song is just wonderfully silly, and catchy....the recipe for a monster hit and a perfect torture tool.

Yet something happened when the credits for Mermaids started to roll...the song started but...I didn't hate it any more! I haven't listened to it in years, so I had no idea my allergy was gone and...pow! I actually love the song again!


Rufus Wainwright - Sanssouci 



I was in a Rufus mood a few days ago and when this song started playing it immediately transported me to Potsdam 4 years ago. I visited the beautiful park/garden (incl. the amazingly ugly little palace there...just my personal taste people, I just don't like stuff like that) and had a great time there. The garden is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited, especially the whole ancient Roman-like part of it. A day does not pass by I don't want to magically teleport there and take a walk, for at least a few minutes. And this song reminds me of the great few hours I spent there, late summer of 2009. Sigh.....






Thank you all for reading. Before this Diary hopefully resumes in the autumn I will still keep this blog alive: a review here, a film diary there...so do keep coming back. For now...

Love, Peace and Ringo! xxx