“Can I Still Have My Lightsaber Back Though?”

Jenny Nicholson as ‘Luke Skywalker’ in “If Rey is a Skywalker”So, t’other day I was searching through various online name generators, when I discovered the YouTube channel of a young “video maker and amateur theme park fan” named Jenny Nicholson. The clip that drew my attention, “How To Make Up Star Wars Names”, is pretty short and mostly just consists of her reciting ridiculous names to camera, but she has such great delivery that I quickly became hooked on her sweet-but-snarky skits. Some of the older ones are a little outdated now, as she rips into fan theories about then-upcoming movies, which have since been proven/disproven by the actual releases (such as “If Rey is a Skywalker”), but even those vids are worth watching for her hilarious performances as multiple conversing characters. The, uh, “production values” leave a little to be desired*, but the writing and comic-timing are top-notch, and her critiques of plot-holes and inconsistencies are so sharp, she’ll make you side-eye all your favourite franchises… but in a fun way! At the time of writing, her channel had nearly 300,000 subscribers, and that doesn’t surprise me at all… she deserves every last one of them, and plenty more besides! Surely it’s only a matter of time before “Jimmy Scrambles” and “Robo-Legs McLachlan” make it into the Star Wars canon…?

P.S. Apparently she also wrote an article for the Playboy website about “The Secret Sex Lives of Muppets”. M’kay…

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* To be fair, the paper beard she wore as an older ‘Luke Skywalker’ was pretty adorable…

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Too Much Music?

Sarah Nixey circa 2018How much music is “too much”? According to my ears, there’s no such thing… but sadly my wallet doesn’t agree! This predicament was made even more painful yesterday, with the release of three great albums to taunt/tempt me…

First up is Sarah Nixey’s Night Walks, featuring the sultry insomniac’s first new solo material since 2011’s Brave Tin Soldiers! Fun fact: The video for lead single “Coming Up For Air” co-stars Nixey’s daughter, Ava, who I was going to say “looks eerily like her”, but it’s not really that “eerie” for relatives to resemble each other, is it?

Next up is Darkness Rains by Death Valley Girls, who I “discovered” when they were announced as a support act for L7’s tour earlier this year. I know it’s superficial and unimaginative to describe someone’s sound by simply comparing them to another existing artist, but lead singer Bonnie Bloomgarden really reminds me of Karen O, back in the good old days…

Then there’s Windhand’s Eternal Return. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only recently turned on to the hypnotic power of “Doom”-y rock/metal, with its relentless/churning bass-lines, and despairing vocals, but I’ve quickly fallen under its demonic spell, and really dig the psychedelic/phantasmagorical videos… though I imagine they’re a lot more fun if you’re drunk/high when you watch them…?

On top of that hat-trick, there’s also Vodun’s voodoo-channeling Ascend, which came out in September… Leader of Down’s Cascade Into Chaos (which boasts two tracks with the late Lemmy Kilmister on lead vocals)… and the forthcoming (retitled) re-release of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills (aka “Sex, Dope, and Cheap Thrills”) to add to my wish-list! Ack!

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R.I.P. Carlos Ezquerra (1947 – 2018)

Durham Red, as drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, circa 1987Sad to say, Carlos Ezquerra, the legendary Spanish comic-book artist who co-created futuristic/fascistic lawman Judge Dredd, bounty-hunting mutant Johnny Alpha, and badass vampire “bitch”* Durham Red (among many other characters), has passed into the infinite, at the age of 70.

Ezquerra was undoubtedly one of the finest draughtsmen to ever lend his talents to the British comic-book industry, and I have always been a huge admirer of his work. I remember, back in the days before the internet and cheap flatbed scanners, repeatedly trying to “input” a picture of Alpha into a school computer using a hand-scanner that distorted the image every time my hand shook a little or inadvertantly varied the speed of its movement across the page. Later, during my university days (when I was still trying to pass myself off as a cartoonist), I even attempted to imitate the signature bumps that he added to the outlines of his characters, but never managed to pull it off because I was using a cheap biro to “ink” my doodles, rather than the proper pens and brushes. Tch!

I never had the pleasure/honour of meeting Ezquerra in person, but I was chatting to (the equally legendary) Alan Grant at a convention once, when he pointed out his frequent-collaborator/friend passing us by on the other side of some trading tables… so I have at least been in the vicinity of the two men who created one of my fave sci-fi femme fatales… and that has to count for something, doesn’t it…?

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* That was the unflattering (?) title of the Strontium Dog strip in which she first appeared (2000 AD, #505–529) (1987), and has also been used for several U.S. reprints of her adventures!

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“This Is Why I Prefer Nightmares.”

[Contains pixelated “penis hats” and SPOILERS!!!]

Amy Poehler as ‘Leslie Knope’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S5)Unfortunately for all, the major story arc dominating Season Five of Parks and Recreation (2012) was newly-elected-council-woman ‘Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) clashes with overbearing butthead ‘Jeremy Jamm’ (Jon Glaser), who is easily the worst recurring character this show has introduced to date. I mean, I understand that he was intentionally written and played as an irritating antagonist, but that doesn’t make the irritation that I felt every time he appeared any less off-putting… like a car alarm blaring away in the street at night, the knowledge that it’s just doing what it’s designed to do doesn’t make the actual noise any less annoying to hear. On the other hand, Leslie also came off as quite a judgemental and controlling dick in a couple episodes, most notably ep #5.7, when she took exception to ‘April’s (Aubrey Plaza) proposal to turn Lot 48 (aka the-muddy-patch-formerly-known-as-“The-Pit”) into a dog park. Leslie’s vehement opposition to this idea seemed especially odd since she hadn’t even mentioned the Lot in a looong while (maybe a couple seasons?), having been otherwise engaged running for a seat on the council (among other projects), so she kinda came off like a selfish child throwing a tantrum because her little sister had started playing with an old toy that she’d otherwise forgotten about. Of course, they eventually reconciled and joined forces, after ‘Ann’ (Rashida Jones) made them both apologise to each other, but I really don’t believe that April had anything to apologise for, besides being more awesome than the both of them combined! Also, when is Leslie going to stop ragging on ‘Orin’ (Eric Isenhower) for being who he is? Gah! Thankfully the other characters aren’t oblivious to the fact that she often tries to steamroll them into thinking/acting more like her, and she does get called up on it from time to time… and more often than not her conscience leads her back towards the side of the angels. Phew!

On a happier tip, Leslie and ‘Ben’ (Adam Scott) finally tied-the-knot, in ep #5.14, which went some way to satisfying my soppy sentimental side, though the actual ceremony left me a little cold… partly because I’d already seen the “makeshift workplace wedding” twist play out in Brooklyn Nine-Nine (which technically came out after this show, but I saw it there first, so that’s the association I made), and partly because the vows were spoken over a montage of not-always-very-romantic clips from previous episodes, which kinda killed the mood for me. Meh.

Aubrey Plaza as ‘April Ludgate’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S5)April also had a rather hit-and-miss year, with fewer meme-worthy one-liners and wicked looks-to-camera, though there were still plenty hilarious highlights for her admirers to cheer/chuckle over: Such as the way she cracked the whip (and deployed random forehead kisses) to unsettle a preppy intern (ep #5.2)… The super-cute retirement ceremony she organised for ‘Andy’s (Chris Pratt) alter-ego “Burt Macklin”, complete with a super-fancy certificate of being-in-the-FBI-ness (ep #5.8)… Pretty much the entirety of ep #5.11, from April snarkily trolling a former-councilwoman (Bonnie Bartlett) with regressive post-feminist claptrap, to enthusiastically embracing Leslie’s plan to work on a garbage truck (to prove that female trash-collectors could be just as capable as the men), to eagerly digging through an old high-school enemy’s bins for embarrassing evidence, to thoughtfully wrapping a gift-box of rubbish for Leslie as a memento of “the best day of my life” (Aw! Ew!)… Her unconvincing attempts to channel/impersonate Leslie while chairing a series of public meetings, leading Andy to accidentally-on-purpose “lose” her bag of disguises, and trick/encourage her into being her scary badass self instead (ep #5.12)… Singing an impromptu, but surprisingly passionate, rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” with Ann and ‘Donna’ (Retta) (ep #5.16)… The snarling revelation that she was “part wolf”, followed by her brainwave to absorb Animal Control into the Parks Department, thus earning a promotion to “deputy director” (ep #5.18)… The way she played ‘Ron’ (Nick Offerman) and ‘Chris’ (Rob Lowe) against each other, in order to avoid attending a management training course (and “earn” herself $20 pizza-money in the process) (ep #5.19)… And the great fake-out in the finale, implying that she might be pregnant, only to reveal that she had in fact applied to veterinarian school! (ep #5.22) I was especially warmed by that twist, because it validated Andy’s wide-eyed belief that she would have told him straight-up if they were “with child”…

Lucy Lawless as ‘Diane Lewis’ in “Parks and Recreation” (ep #5.03)Speaking of which, Ann got a very enjoyable and engaging storyline this season, following her decision to get sprogged-up via a sperm donor… besides giving Jones a lot of great comic and emotional beats to play, it also made me actively care about her character again, for the first time since… er… she kiboshed Andy and April’s budding romance back in S2. Tch! Ron also found himself contemplating fatherhood, albeit via unofficial “adoption” rather than actual conception, when he began dating a single-mother with two young daughters… and while the girls themselves (Sadie Salazar and Rylan Lee) were an ear-splitting, chaos-spilling, glitter-spewing assault on the senses, it’s easy to see why Ron would tolerate the disruption and destruction, in order to spend more time with no-nonsense matriarch ‘Diane’ (Lucy Lawless). His appreciation for strong women is well-documented, and they don’t come much stronger than Xena, do they? The couple first met-cute in ep #5.3, when Ron (and his staff) was roped into answering complaint calls from the public, and he got so sick of listening to Diane berate him about a pothole outside her house that he drove around to fill it in himself (while Andy played princess-dress-up with the girls, and later encouraged their mother to contact Ron, who would never have pursued the relationship if left to his own gruff devices)… they then weathered a couple storms together, before falling foul of the aforementioned positive pregnancy test in the season’s cliff-hanger ending! Dun-dun-dunnn! (ep #5.3/5/9/11/22)

Jenny Slate as ‘Mona-Lisa Saperstein’ in “Parks and Recreation” (ep #5.16)Another note-worthy addition to the cast was Jenny Slate, as ‘Tom’s (Aziz Ansari) terrifying new employee/“love-interest” ‘Mona-Lisa’, who’s variously described as a “monster” and “legit insane”, but is also blessed with an irresistible sex-appeal, to compensate for her slack work-ethic, roving eye, and random threats of violence (eps #5.16/21-22). Meanwhile, Esther Povitsky had a small role as ‘Julie’, a local student roped into serving snow-cones at a mini-golf course to help Leslie schmooze Jamm (ep #5.21), and Autumn Butler made a rare on-camera appearance as a stylist giving Leslie half-a-perm, echoing her real-life day-job as head of the makeup department on this series, and dozens of other shows.

Regular recurring Pawneans included: Mo Collins as “first-rate newswoman” Joan Callamezzo, who experienced an unfortunate on-air black-out caused either by “allergies” or a “booze cruise” bender, depending on who you ask (eps #5.3/13/15)… Christie Brinkley, Sarah Wright, Katie Gill, and Maliabeth Johnson as ‘Jerry’s (Jim O’Heir) inexplicably attractive wife and daughters, respectively (ep #5.4)… Megan Mullally’s annual outing as shameless sex-terrorist “Tammy Two”, once again scrapping with Leslie for Ron’s soul (ep #5.9)… Alison Becker as super-cute newsie ‘Shauna Malwae-Tweep’, who covered various stories throughout the season, including Ben’s “crazy rotating bachelor party”, which resulted in her hooking-up with a lonely-hearted Chris (eps #5.10-11/15/22)… and Mara Marini as local celebrity ‘Brandi Maxxxx’, who became Leslie’s literal pornalike in ep #5.16, when she paid homage to her bailout of a failing video rental store (which then switched from stocking art-house films to “adult” flicks, in order to stay afloat) in a movie titled “Too Big To Nail”, before singing her “hero’s” praises at the town forum in ep #5.22!

Katie Dippold as ‘Mindy Marfan’ in “Parks and Recreation” (ep #5.18)I also have to give a belated shout-out to Darlene Hunt, who played ‘Marcia Langman’, a “family values” agitator who’s challenged Leslie on numerous previous occasions (ep #2.1 (gay penguin marriage), ep #3.3 (Twilight time capsule), and ep #3.11 (Jerry’s nudey painting)), but had a much larger role this season, disrupting our heroine’s attempt to teach “sex education” to the elderly (ep #5.4), and cheering on the campaign to have her recalled in the finale. Fun fact: Hunt is also a television producer and writer, who’s worked on shows such as Will & Grace, The Goldbergs, and the ill-fated Roseanne revival, as well as creating the Showtime series The Big C (which scored multiple award wins/nominations during its run). Meanwhile, Katie Dippold, who played ‘Mindy Marfan’, a scaredy-cat candidate for the Animal Control vacancy in ep #5.18, and previously appeared in ep #2.9 (as “Woman in Line”) and ep #4.19 (as “Mindy”), is credited as a writer/story-editor on numerous episodes of P&R, as well as co-writing Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016) with Paul Feig.

Last but not least, Ben’s out-of-town (mis)adventures brought us Kathryn Hahn’s brief return as his Washington-based boss-lady ‘Jennifer Barkley’ (ep #5.5), and Annabeth Gish’s one-off appearance as his ashamed/unsupportive sister ‘Stephanie’ (ep #5.17). Boo to her!

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Callistriumph

The cast/crew of The USS Callister in “Black Mirror” (ep #4.1)Well, the “USS Callister” episode of Black Mirror boldly went and won a handful of Emmys last week, for its Outstanding Writing (William Bridges & Charlie Brooker), Single-Camera Picture Editing (Selina Macarthur), Sound Editing, and overall Television Movie-ness. Hurrah! It lost out in a couple categories, and wasn’t even nominated in some others, so kinduva mixed bag… though this is the show’s winningest episode to date, as far as I can tell. There are still vague rumours/suggestions about a spin-off series, but nothing concrete as yet. For the record, I’d love to follow the ongoing adventures of the in-game starship crew (especially if they can figure out a way to resurrect Jimmi Simpson), but have zero interest in the “irl” investigation of blokey’s murder. Basically I want a female-fronted Farscape with swearing, please and thank-you.

Meanwhile, Game of Thrones won Outstanding Drama Series, and Supporting Actor (Peter Dinklage), as well as a sled-load of behind-the-scenes awards, but none of their female cast members got a look-in, sadly.

I didn’t watch the ceremony itself, only a couple clips on YouTube, but did want to give Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson snaps for their hilarious warm-up to announcing the “Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special” award… makes a pleasant change to have presenters who know each other well being intentionally awkward for a laugh, rather than a pair of random strangers reading stilted “banter” from a teleprompter!

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R.I.P. Fenella Fielding, OBE (1927 – 2018)

Fenella Fielding as 'Valeria Watt' in "Carry On Screaming!"Sad news: Fenella Fielding, the inimitable actress best remembered (and adored) for her role in classic British horror-comedy Carry On Screaming! (1966), recently passed into the infinite, at the age of 90.

According to a statement from her spokeswoman: “This follows a severe stroke two weeks ago. During that time, she has been very comfortable and always looked tranquil and divine. And always wearing her eyelashes… Miss Fielding was an incredible talent. That voice! A unique woman, much loved by family, friends, and fans. She will be missed tremendously.” Amen.

Fun fact: Fielding’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, making her a prime example of the sort of talent and beauty we’ll miss out on if we get too dickish about hardening “our” borders…

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Too Little Time

Laura Dern as ‘Clementine’ in “The Good Time Girls” (2017)Browsing Annalise Basso’s IMDb page t’other day alerted me to the existence of a short (NSFW) western joint called The Good Time Girls (2017), directed and co-written by Courtney Hoffman (with Lucy Teitler), who’s worked as a costume designer on numerous big-name movies, though the one that really leaps out here is Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, since this flick shares a lot of its darkly-comedic-oater DNA. With such a brief running time it’s kinda hard to summarise the plot without spoiling it… suffice to say, Laura Dern stars as a woman taking revenge against the men who’ve wronged her, along with her cute-but-deadly accomplices, played by Basso and Alia Shawkat. It’s a well-crafted piece as it goes, and has been lauded by critics for its “radical feminist” credentials… however, I couldn’t shake the nagging sense that it seemed more like the climactic sequence from a much larger story, or a proof-of-concept demo, rather than a satisfying self-contained story in itself. Thankfully Hoffman and Teitler are currently working on a feature-length “remake”, which will hopefully deliver on the strong potential that they (and their characters) demonstrated here.

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