Category Archives: Film & TV

Review Pandora, Season 1 (CW/Syfy UK) by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Created by Mark A. Altman, a producer on The Librarians and Castle, CW’s summer sci-fi series Pandora follows Jacqueline ‘Jax’ Zhou (Priscilla Quintana), a young woman who enrols in Earth’s Space Training Academy after her home is destroyed and her parents killed under suspicious circumstances. It’s 2199, and humanity is recovering from a decade of war with their extra-terrestrial neighbours, the Zatarians (who are essentially just Romulans with better hairdos). Jax must navigate new alliances, friendships and romances while training to defend the planet in an era of fragile peace and ultimately unravelling her own mysterious origins.

It’s easy to write off any fantastical school as a Hogwarts rip-off, but Pandora’s alma mater is more akin to a sexed-up Starfleet Academy (already a high bar, given Trek’s sexy track record) or even Starship Troopers: The College Years. Now, it’s nowhere near as bitingly satirical as Paul Verhoeven’s stylistically cynical space-soldier romp – and Pandora does name its space academy in the blandest way possible – but there’s a layer of interesting social commentary under the preternaturally pretty sheen of your typical CW cast. It can, at times, lapse into a kind of thematic genericity – but when it hits gold, it glitters.

Nine episodes in to its thirteen-episode first season, and I’m hooked. There’s an indefinable magic to the series that has me eagerly anticipating each weekly instalment. The hardest element of the show, according to its producers, was assembling the right actors for the roles – and in this area they have excelled. The cast really commits to the characters and the story, and the chemistry between the central ‘Scooby gang’ feels natural and genuine, in spite of the rapidity at which it developed. I was invested in the team by episode two and as the show goes on, it shifts the spotlight onto different characters to flesh them out.

The natural leader of our merry band is, of course, Priscilla Quintana as Jax, a character who feels like the descendant of Talon (Jessica Green) from The Outpost, another CW show which has a small budget and a big heart (aka my kryptonite). Quintana is a charming lead and makes Jax feel like a fully realised, even relatable, character when she could so easily have slipped into stereotype. I love that she genuinely cares about people and risks her own safety to do what she believes is right – whilst also being sarcastic as hell. The central mystery as to who – or what – Jax truly is, or could become, drives much of the series’ intrigue; the question of whether Jax – ostensibly the titular Pandora – possesses the calamitous powers of her mythological namesake has become its most relentlessly interesting aspect.

I think the major reason her friendships with her college buddies works so well is that the cast get along and they’re all having a riot. Much of the levity stems from two characters in particular: Atria Nine (Raechelle Banno) and Greg Li (John Harlan Kim). Atria is a clone who escaped her abusive creators to join the academy. Whilst almost everyone else is kitted out in the generic grey-green garb of most science fiction, Atria looks like she’s been pulled straight out of an anime – with her purple hair and technicolour outfits, she could easily come off as parodical, but Banno’s effervescent performance and her character’s internal quest for a soul promise more interesting character beats for her to come. Pandora is also refreshingly clear and upfront about its characters’ queerness, with Atria and Jax openly attracted to people of all genders, and Jax’s relationship with ex-girlfriend Cordelia Fried (Isabelle Bonfrer) taking centre stage in episode eight.

Greg, meanwhile, is a medical student so charming you almost overlook the fact that he is given next to nothing to work with story-wise. Kim played the roguish Ezekiel Jones on TNT’s The Librarians, televisual comfort food at its fluffiest and finest, who started off as a cardboard cut-out and ended the show’s four-season run as its best and most beautifully developed character. Here, he’s a college-era Han Solo with shades of ER’s Dr Ross. It’s refreshing to see a romantic lead who is a genuinely good guy, and not a tormented bad boy with a dangerous streak. Even though ‘Greg’ may not be the most swoon-worthy name in the book, Kim’s charisma and leading man charm is a real boon to Pandora – which is why it’s a shame that he’s side-lined so early on. After a strong start which positioned him as one of the main leads alongside Jax, and a serious contender for her affections, Kim simply doesn’t appear for a good portion of season one for reasons unknown and unjustified.

Greg has two major rivals for Jax’s heart, at least in the main cast: Xander Duvall (Oliver Dench), a teaching assistant at the academy, and Ralen Maht (Ben Radcliffe), son of the Zatarian ambassador, and whose enrolment at the Academy is something of an olive branch after years of warfare between his species and humanity. I’m fairly certain that Xander is being set up as Jax’s endgame love interest, which is a shame because of her four suitors he’s the least compelling thus far. Despite being some kind of super-badass TA with a secret mission and murky past, there’s no real emotional hook to his character, and he’s written to be so buttoned-up and officious that he can’t even rely on charm, as John Harlan Kim does, to plaster over the gaps – the writers seem to have decided he’s The One and that’s the end of it. I would be pleasantly surprised if they’ve planned a more interesting trajectory for him (à la Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but I’m not optimistic.

Ralen, on the other hand, is much more intriguing. Although he’s initially sketched in the broad strokes of Star Trek’s Lt. Comm. Data – driven by logic and intellect over outward emotion, often to humorous effect – Radcliffe rises above archetype and crafts Ralen as a sweet, sensitive and soulful person torn between loyalty to his people and his newfound human friends. His striking performance is embellished by subtly effective makeup and a great wardrobe – he looks like if Tom Holland was possessed by a demon and subsequently raised by David Bowie and Spock. Ralen’s already great on the page and on the screen but Radcliffe is the reason he’s so compelling – not only does he get to shine in fight scenes thanks to Radcliffe’s gymnastics know-how, his physicality in dialogue-driven scenes gives the character a genuine alien feel that enhances the sense of otherness between him and his Academy friends.

Rounding out the fellowship are Thomas James Ross (Martin Bobb-Semple) and Delaney Pilar (Banita Sandhu), arguably the characters with the most potential going forward. Pilar is a nannite-enhanced human whose cybernetic implants allow her to access the Datastream (basically the internet but turned up to eleven). She’s given centre stage in episode six, where she is bullied and attacked by other students jealous of her beauty and academic prowess, in a way which interestingly investigates campus culture. As Jax’s roommate, Pilar shares the most screen-time with her so far, but I’m hoping she and Atria will grow closer because of their shared territory in bio/tech fusion.

As well as being the best-dressed on the show by a mile (I think half the budget went on his jackets, and I call that money well spent), Thomas also has the strongest arc so far, thanks to a wonderfully anchored performance from Bobb-Semple and some brilliant developments in episode five, where he is reunited with his fair-weather father, Billy D. (Richard Blackwood). Billy can read minds, Thomas can read emotions – and while Billy initially comes off as a suave psychic conman, the episode explores the complexity of their relationship and the dark origins of Billy’s powers and their connection to Earth’s wartime strategy against the Zatarians. Their complex father/son is a definite highlight of the series so far, and their story was genuinely emotional.

The episode, and Thomas in general, also brings some much-needed conflict into the main gang in a show in which everyone seems to have buddied up instantaneously, when he falls out with Jax for very legitimate and understandable reasons and causes a rift amongst the ‘Super Friends’. There’s a general wariness of Ralen, as the sole Zatarian student, but this brings conflict of a passive kind. The conflict involving Thomas occurs because he is a more active character, narratively speaking – and the show would do well to write more of its characters in this way. Conflict drives the story and reveals who the characters truly are because it forces them to make challenging and difficult choices – our cast of young heroes is diverse, charming and brimming with potential, but there’s simply not enough friction between them just yet.

Pandora — “Simple Twist of Fate” — Image Number: PAN113_000.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Noah Huntley as Osborn, Oliver Dench as Xander, Priscilla Quintana as Jax, Vikash Bhai as Shral, Tehmina Sunny as Regan and Isabelle Bonfrer as Cordelia Fried — Photo: The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The gang’s most obvious Earthbound antagonists, for now, are their professors. Profs Ellison Pevney (Tommie Earl Jenkins) and Martin Schral (Vikash Bhai) are basically Lupin and Snape in all but name – Bhai’s supercilious Schral even reprimands Jax for being late in an almost beat-for-beat recreation of Alan Rickman’s introductory scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – but the most pivotal is Jax’s shady uncle Professor Donovan Osborn (a nefarious moniker if ever I’ve heard one).

Played by Noah Huntley and looking like the bewaistcoated lovechild of Peter Facinelli and Eric Bana, Osborn may be largely confined to his (rather swish) office as yet, but he’s an intimidating and perplexing presence – is he a cog in the machine or the puppet master? The existence of Osborn alone raises several points of interest, not least the seemingly non-existent separation of powers in late 22nd century Earth – Osborn is not only a professor in wartime politics and battle strategy at the Academy, he’s also a high-level operative in the Earth Intelligence Service, which is (by Huntley’s own admission), a ‘futuristic CIA’. On a more superficial note, the man should really have his own fashion line in sci-fi couture, because his outfits are to die for. If you’re a fan of how the genre tweaks familiar clothing in ways that make them more science fiction-y, Pandora is the show for you.

Although its world-building can sometimes feel derivative, and the inner lives of its characters are still being formulated, Pandora is an intriguing and compulsively enjoyable show that has much to recommend it and heaps of potential for its future. It’s another entry in the ‘small on budget, big on heart’ genre I love so dearly, and it does a lot with what it’s got, incorporating exciting fight scenes, cool missions and constructing its plots around thematic analyses of xenophobia, intolerance, climate change, and colonialism. I hope the bizarre choice to call the alliance of planets a ‘Confederacy’ is critiqued in-universe and that we see more sympathetic Zatarians than just Ralen. A second season has already been ordered, and though the first has so far been a shaken martini of potential, I’m interested to see which box Pandora opens next.

Pandora airs on Syfy Channel in the UK on Thursdays at 9pm.

Mymuna Soleman and The Privilege Café

Hi Mymuna great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi Guy thank you for this opportunity, my name is Mymuna, I’m of Somali origin and was born and bred in Cardiff, Wales. I have a huge passion for equality and diversity but most importantly equal representation for Muslim women of colour like myself. I studied Health and Social Care at undergraduate level and my Master’s in Public Health; both obtained from Cardiff Metropolitan University.

I set up The Privilege Café as soon as we got into Lockdown as I was frustrated with the lack of diversity and couldn’t express myself as a woman of colour in spaces filled with privilege.

To date, I’ve facilitated 10 sessions on Zoom covering various themes including mental health, ‘unconscious’ bias and privilege in the recruitment process. The level of engagement has been incredible and the speaker’s insight knowledge and expertise have brought nothing but positivity to all those who have attended the sessions. I’m truly greatful to everyone who has been part of this learning and growing journey with me; Diolch o galon.

The Café is an open to all, its a safe space for all to engage, learn and to use their privilege for good.

 As you have mentioned you run The Privilege Café, the Café is advertised as a place to discuss all things privilege. For those who have not yet attended how would you best describe the Café and its work?

I would describe the virtual Café as a safe, open forum whereas you say we discuss privilege among other topics which to date since starting on April 20th this year have included mental health and privilege, language and linguistics, ‘unconscious’ bias and various others. I created the Café as I was frustrated with this whole ‘systems’ approach which is very formal, agenda-based and wanted the Café to be the opposite of that. Once I decide on a theme and a title for discussion, I put out a call out on social media for anyone interested to speak for a 10-15 mins or so and then open it out for open questions and discussions. Like I said it’s a very informal space so anyone is welcome to come, learn and discuss ‘difficult’ topics but most importantly how people can use their privilege for good.

To discuss specifics White Privilege is an overarching topic in every Café. Why is this such an important area of discussion in the Café?

I think the words white privilege hold a very strong and weighty meaning for so many people not just people who are non-white. White privilege is a difficult concept to take on board and is not something you can pinpoint onto one individual. The unearned privilege or superiority white skin gives people is wider and deeper than something a lot of people deem to be ‘individual finger pointing’, you know the whole ‘I’m not racist’ sentence which usually takes up the space where more meaningful conversations could be had. This is why I have the mindset that white privilege will not be tackled in one session or ten sessions, but that it is the foundation and base of all conversations had at the Café. Positive mindset change takes time and it would be disingenuous and frankly hypocritical if I expected people to come one session and then I ‘ticked off’ the white privilege element. White privilege is a deep thread embedded in society and the same goes for the café. That thread will be untied, hopefully, through various discussions, themes, conversations and questions as the café evolves.

The Café is a space where contributors can share real points or lived experiences that many people find difficult. The Cafe is a safe space for these conversations. As the meeting host you frequently state it’s OK to ask questions. How did you decide how to format the Café and the conversations that take place there?

Its always OK to ask a question in my view, the Privilege Café being on Zoom doesn’t make that approach any different for me. As I said above, I didn’t want to have a ‘format’ so to speak, it’s much more of a safe, open forum which naturally involves asking questions to learn and engage more. I feel that the more I reinforce that it is OK to ask a question, the less intimidated people feel and if that’s what it takes for me to help educate people then that’s what I’ll do. Learning is always a two process and open questions, for me, give that relaxed, open atmosphere which is part of the DNA of my Café.

Has this changed as the number of Café’s have increased and the number of your guests?

No this approach hasn’t changed nor has it impacted the number of guests. I guess the more guests there are as in speakers the less time to answer questions but again I try to answer as many questions as I can though the chat as well as the open forum discussions with the help of my incredible speakers. The number of panel members really does depend on the interest after I put the call out and so again this reinforces my approach for my Café to be very informal, space and open to all.

During Lockdown the murder of George Floyd and worldwide public demonstrations under the Black Live Matter movement have highlighted institutional racism, inequalities and discussion around Privilege. Do you feel The Café has a role to play in tackling some of the areas above?

Yes, I feel the Privilege Cafe does have a role to play in terms of raising awareness of the issues you raised in the question and it is the exact reason why I created the Café in the first place. I felt that these topics were always seen as ‘add-ons’ in every space I went to and they were always on the ‘menu’ until I as the only person of colour the  majority of the time brought them up during discussions and so with The Privilege Café I hope these issues are on the table and open for debate, discussion and hopefully positive change.  

I first became aware of your work in The Privilege Café on social media. I found the Café and format to be a revelation in terms of the conversations in which you could actively participate. You bring together a broad range of people, providing new perspectives and the opportunity to learn.  There has been a great deal of discussion during the Lockdown of a rejection of the “Old Normal” and embracing the “New Normal” For me personally discovering and attending the Cafes has been one of the most positive outcomes of Lockdown. Your attendance’s can be as high as 300 people, which is staggering. It’s evident your work is hugely important, what would you like to happen next?

Thank you for your comments and an excellent question. Ideally, I would like to take the virtual Privilege Café I have created online and take it offline, in the ‘real world’. I’d love to have a ‘Centre for Women’ where the Privilege Café takes up the main holding space. I’d love the Café to have separate rooms just like it does online where each room has a different speakers or panel members tackling a different theme each week. These rooms would cover topics similar to the ones I’ve covered on zoom which include mental health and wellbeing, education and employment.

Get the Chance supports the public to access and respond to arts activity, if you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would fund Somali folk dance classes as this is a huge passion of mine as a Somali-Welsh female living in Cardiff; a city with a huge Somali population, one of the oldest minority ethnic group in the UK. Somali folk dance is exciting, fun and most of all its an amazing way to keep fit and healthy; yet this is not included in the ‘arts’ in Wales and this needs to change.

During Lockdown a range of arts and third sector organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working that you would like to highlight?

I don’t think there’s a particular way to engage or work with people, it’s about your network and how you use them wisely, transparently and honestly without trying to better yourself or achieve personal goals. I think what some organisations have found difficult is that they haven’t engaged as they should have prior to Lockdown and so now adapting to the new way of working has meant that those challenges will be that much harder. Advice I would give to these organisations is to be as honest as possible and openly admit that this is not tokenistic and that they haven’t done as well as they should have but this is the long term sustainable goal we want to achieve, oh and we will pay you for your time as we value your input.

Thanks for your time

The Gift of a Garden in Lockdown with Yaina Samuels

In this exclusive interview, Yaina Samuels (Founder & Director of NuHi Training Ltd a social enterprise which offers bespoke education and training workshops for people with substance misuse problems) speaks to the Director of Get the Chance about her background, the challenges presented in Lockdown. Her love of gardening and lack of black presenters in the media. Yaina also discuss where she thinks arts funding should be focused.

Hi Yaina great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

A few years ago, a friend once described me as a disruptive influencer. I thought at the time it was a bad thing. Reminded me of school, my end of term reports (for lessons that I didn’t like/couldn’t get my head around) always read “Yaina is a disruptive influence in the classroom”. That was then and this is now! For me being described as a disruptive influencer is very much a good thing. I’ve decided to also add the word innovator as it aligns well with the person that I am today. I consider myself to be a ‘disruptive innovative influencer’ seen through my life experiences, the work that I do and the things that I am passionate about

During Lockdown you have been sharing updates on work in your garden. Have you always been interested in gardening?

If it wasn’t for gardening, my emotional health and wellbeing would have taken a steep nosedive during lockdown. I am the type of person that likes to be actively involved in doing something. Living alone, being in lockdown, working from home on my laptop, was driving me nuts. I had to sort my head out and fast.


My passion stemmed from my early childhood experiences of visiting extended family who were keen gardeners. As a young child I loved visiting my grandmother’s house in West Close, in the Docks. She had a long path to the front door and there were always pretty coloured flowers and plants filling the borders, they smelt wonderful to my little nostrils.

Another experience: visiting my cousins in Ely meant that I would get to see what uncle Les was growing on his garden veg plot. He spent hours in the back garden, tending his plants, tying up canes for his runner beans, and weeding the ground. When we had a Sunday roast dinner at my uncle’s house, the vegetables were always freshly pick from his garden that same morning.

From the age of nine we moved to a housing estate in Newport we were fortunate enough to be housed directly opposite miles and miles of green fields. For years I would watch the farmer from my bedroom window ploughing, planting and harvesting his crops. In my teens, to earn pocket money, I worked at a local farm at the weekend picking blackcurrants.

You use lots of recycled materials in your garden projects, where do you get them from and which are you most pleased with?

I get my recycled materials such as wood and pallets from skips by the side of the road. I can’t drive past a pallet without stopping and putting it in the car. I’m obsessed with pallets; I go to bed at night watching YouTube tutorials of creative things to make with pallets. Ideas come to me when I’m sleeping, next morning I can’t wait to get out of bed to get started.

I got into the habit of carrying my jigsaw tool with me as I quickly came to realise that pallets come in different shapes and sizes and some need cutting to fit into my small car. Friends who follow me on social media have also messaged me to offer me pallets.

You have also been growing your vegetables, which you have had to defend from garden predators! Have you managed to save any veg and made any nice meals?

Growing veggies brings forth both pain and joy. For the first few weeks I had a nice harvest of rocket lettuce, chives, mint, rosemary, parsley, garlic, and strawberries. So far, I’ve made several dishes of tabbouleh salad – main ingredients parsley and mint. I shared much of my rocket and mint with my lovely neighbours. My cucumbers, cabbage and courgettes are growing slowly but surely, as I put them in a raised bed. However, my lettuce has been totally annihilated by the invisible slugs that come and go in the night, the only evidence being their slimy silvery trail.

There are very few black gardeners in the media, what can be done to increase representation and support people into considering this as a career path or as a pastime?

My biggest passion has always been plants, gardening and nature. Up until last year I had never seen a black woman garden presenter on TV, I was a follower of Charlie Dimmock, that’s all we had. Imagine my joy when I first saw Flo Headlam on Gardeners World in 2017, about time too! Then I remember Juliet Sargeant a black garden designer winning gold at the Chelsea Flower show in 2016 for her creative expression of modern-day slavery.

The black gardeners that I have mentioned above are from over the bridge in England. I would love to see Wales cultivate and nurture our very own homegrown black gardeners – Wales is missing out on so much by not embracing this unique and diverse talent.

Get the Chance supports the public to access and respond to arts activity, if you were able to fund an area of the arts what would this be and why?

If I were able to fund an area of arts I would most definitely choose presenting or hosting. We need more black people presenting topical issues that relate to all. The media is a very powerful tool which is, all too often, used to spread hate and promote divisiveness in relation to black people. As a black woman born in Cardiff, with strong Sierra Leone roots, I feel hopeful that change is finally coming on a global scale. Such a shame that it took the death of George Floyd to get us to where we are now.

During Lockdown a range of arts and third sector organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working that you would like to highlight?

For me Zoom conferencing has all the components needed for running a successful activity online, engaging with people who may not normally attend such events. Also allowing people to join and just listen without having to walk into a room full of people, which to many community members, is a pretty daunting experience.

The added bonus of Zoom is the break out room facility where a large group can be broken into smaller groups for discussion. I feel that online engagement is the future. Being able to access a service or event without leaving the home will enable far more people to participate and get their voices heard in relation to issues that affect them and their communities.

Thanks for your time Yaina

Don’t F**k with Cats – A Review by Eva Marloes

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The Netflix true crime mini-series Don’t F**k with Cats is not a documentary. If you expect a documentary exploring the who, what, how, and why of a crime, you will be disappointed. You will also miss what Don’t F**k with Cats is all about. The show is about the porous boundary between reality and social media. It’s about us watching videos created for social media, the reality behind the videos, and how real social media are in bringing people together to act in ‘real’ life.  The weakness of the show is that director Mark Lewis is not fully aware of that.

Don’t F**k with Cats follows is a bunch of amateur sleuths investigating a killer. It is an entertaining and disturbing Miss Marple on Facebook. Gripping, fun, and shocking, but showing little awareness of what true crime is about and spoiling it all by blaming the audience for being voyeurs. The show fails to grasp the relationship between reality and cyber-reality, how social media make us actors not mere audience.

It begins when a shocking video of a young man killing a couple of kittens is posted online. Facebookers in horror, anger, and condemnation. Then Deanna Thompson, a data analyst for a casino in Las Vegas, who uses the alias of Baudi Moovan on FB forms a group to track down the killer. Baudi and a man using the alias John Green are the key investigators of the group looking for clues in the video to identify something that might lead them to the location of the killer.  

The killer is a narcissist seeking attention. When the group has taken the wrong turn, he seems to throw them a bone to get them to chase him. Does the investigation encourage the killer to commit more crimes? I personally doubt that the killer, Luka Magnotta, would have stopped killing had the group stopped chasing him. People become serial killers because they get away with crime after crime, and their crimes escalate. Don’t F**k with Cats should have included an expert commenting on this, especially given the fact that the amateur sleuths ask themselves the question.

Don’t F**k with Cats is not a documentary!  It is a show playing with our curiosity while at the same time wanting to expose our thirst for blood, real blood. We are the sick people watching and enjoying the crime. Filmmakers like playing innocent (see this analysis of Vice), but if they choose to lead us in a direction, they are to blame. Not to mention the fact that they do so to profit from it. Crucially, Don’t F**k with Cats does not focus on the crime. It gives us no details of it, nor does it explore the personality of the killer.

The show focuses on the investigation. It is the investigation done by ordinary people that is engrossing. Director Mark Lewis should have had a little more awareness of the structure of his own show and how it ‘reads’ to the audience, and have spared us the preaching.

Don’t F**k with Cats fails to focus on the most interesting and socially relevant element: the investigators are ordinary people. It is us. We do not experience social media passively, like a film or TV show. We are actors. We discuss, condemn, form opinions, and influence people using mainstream and non-mainstream media. We create misinformation and spread conspiracy theories. We also collect evidence, we shine a light onto police brutality, we organise protests. All on and through social media. The old saying, ‘Police don’t solve the crime, people do’ is at the basis of Don’t F**k with Cats. It is its strength. Someone should tell the director.  

Review Vagrant Queen by Barbara Hughes-Moore

[This review contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker]

Imagine, if you will, that the ‘Scavenger Rey has royal lineage’ twist had been the plan from the beginning of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, and not just The Rise of Skywalker’s tacked-on cynical move to appease sexist fanboys? If you want to know how to do that plot properly, look no further than Vagrant Queen, Syfy’s latest swashbuckling series set in a galaxy far, far away.

Co-produced with Blue Ice Pictures, Vagrant Queen is that rarest of gems: an under-the-radar show that truly deserves the spotlight. Created by Jem Garrard and based on the Vault comic book series of the same name by Magdalene Visaggio and Jason Smith, the series stars Adriyan Rae as Elida, a scavenger on a desert planet who has long been running from her secret past. Elida, aka Eldaya El-Fayer, was once the child-queen of Arriopa, a sprawling celestial empire in another galaxy (not ours), until she was deposed by a band of revolutionaries led by Commander Lazaro (Paul du Toit) who shot Elida’s mother (Bonnie Mbuli) in front of her. Over a decade after she went into hiding, news that her mother may be alive after all leads Elida to team up with the roguish Isaac (Tim Rozon) and the effervescent Amae (Alex McGregor) on a hazardous quest to learn the truth and overthrow the corrupt government that stole everything from her.

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Sunshine Express Yourself” Episode 107 — Pictured: (l-r) Adriyan Rae as Elida, Alex McGregor as Amae, TIm Rozon as Isaac — (Photo by: Riyaaz Dalvie/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

Space train! Karaoke death battle! Spaceship murder mystery! What more could you possibly want from a show? In its DNA is the antipodean oddness of Farscape, Mad Max, and Thor: Ragnarok, coupled with a Mystery Men-style wackiness that ticked every one of my boxes. Colourful, campy and cool, it’s a delightfully zany mishmash of all your sci-fi faves – Star Wars, Killjoys, Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy – but with a tone and style that’s completely its own. Whilst a lot of low budget sci-fi restricts its setting to a single spaceship and a handful of samey locales, Vagrant Queen is filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, and takes its audience to a smorgasbord of smorgasbord of distinct, memorable and diverse locations, making it a genuine delight to see where the characters will go next. The series isn’t afraid to end a fight scene with a cheesy pun or a pop culture reference, but it’s all done with a winking self-awareness that is so refreshing in our recent glut of grimdark genre fiction. In a landscape of po-faced programming, Vagrant Queen was bright, breezy breath of fresh air that didn’t take itself too seriously. My kingdom for a bit of light entertainment!

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Pilot” Episode 101 — Pictured: Adriyan Rae as Elida — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

Showrunner Jem Garrard has assembled a multi-talented team of brilliant women both in front of and behind the camera – not only is every episode written and directed by women, Vagrant Queen’s lead character Elida is a Black queer woman who is wonderfully complex and multi-faceted: impulsive, kind, cynical, loyal, occasionally cavalier, and delightfully unafraid of punctuating a punch with a dorky pun, Elida is reluctantly heroic and compulsively likable. Adriyan Rae is utterly magnetic in the role, moving effortlessly between comedy, drama and action – by the end of the show you’ll want to go for a drink with her and take down a totalitarian government with her! Rae, a multi-talented Renaissance woman (she was a scientist before becoming an actor, singer and model) with recent credits in Atlanta and Burning Sands, is definitely one to watch.

Although Elida starts out as something of a lone wolf, she quickly assembles a motley crew in her quest comprising of Isaac Stelling (Tim Rozon) and Amae Rali (Alex McGregor). Isaac is more Jack Sparrow than Han Solo, haplessly selfish and frustratingly self-centred, but Rozon (of Wynonna Earp and Schitt’s Creek fame) manages to make the character relentlessly endearing in spite of his many transgressions. Amae is a whip-smart, endlessly kind and joyously optimistic engineer who is probably the only reason Elida and Isaac haven’t killed each other yet. I wish we’d seen more of Amae’s bartender brother Chaz (Steven John Ward), but their bond was excellently sketched even in the brief time they shared the screen. McGregor is utterly charming in the role, and it’s easy to see why she and Elida fall for each other.

To see a healthy, loving and well-written queer romance in any show is something to celebrate, especially in an era in which showrunners are more than happy to bury its gays (*cough* The 100 *cough*) or string its audience along with the promise of an LGBTQ+ love story while never intending to make it canon (looking at you, Teen Wolf). Representation in Vagrant Queen is straightforward and unfettered right out of the gate: we first meet Amae in bed with another woman, and often see her flirting with other women throughout the show. The sweet, sparkling chemistry between Rae and McGregor is right there in their first interaction, and the bond they strike up through various (mis)adventures makes for both a breathlessly swoony and emotionally healthy romance – they support each other, trust each other, listen to each other, protect each other, and truly care about each other as friends first and (potential) lovers second. Not only is this a particularly brilliant queer romance, it’s just a gorgeously written romance full stop, one which doesn’t function solely on angst for angst’s sake (*ahem* Vampire Diaries).

The show’s fun, feminist and cheekily badass vibe has shades of Lost Girl and Wynona Earp, but sometimes it goes full-on Saw – and the character responsible for most of the bloodshed is the meticulously unhinged Commander Ori Lazaro (Paul du Toit). If you were to mash together Joaquin Phoenix’s roles as Emperor Commodus and Johnny Cash with a pot of hair gel and a pair of elf ears, you’d get Commander Lazaro. Du Toit may be having the most fun of the entire cast, which is really saying something – and it’s easy to see why. Lazaro is a completely looney tune; a preening sadist with both a raging superiority streak and an inferiority complex (a dangerous combination). This is a galaxy which feels genuinely dangerous, especially for our three ramshackle heroes, and it’s largely down to du Toit’s unnervingly psychotic performance.

My only real point of contention is that I think the show is often too gory for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of gore – but it has to fit the tone of its story. The campy ultraviolence of Punisher: War Zone matched its hyperbolically brutal tone; the casual carnage in Deadpool is an essential part of its cynical metatextuality. Vagrant Queen’s not afraid to Go There™ – and that’s commendable, but its gore often feels disturbing for the sake of it – there are things that Lazaro compels lackeys and prisoners to do to themselves that will haunt me for a long time, and while it reinforced his credentials as a worthy villain, it often feels gratuitous and unnecessary given the otherwise tongue in cheek tone. At the same time, it’s commendable of the show to have the courage of its convictions and go to some truly dark places…

…Because this is a show which is 100% itself. It’s refreshingly proud of its strangeness, and its scrappy, unpolished charm is a real draw in an age of by-the-numbers blockbusters. This is a show that cares. It cares so deeply – about its characters, its story, its world, and its audience. It knows when to be goofy, when to be cool, and when to be emotional. Everyone on this show is giving it their all, from the hapless loyalists to the Republic guards (essentially Goth Stormtroopers) who all have distinct, quirky personalities. One particular standout is Thembalethu Ntuli who plays Nim, a canine-faced humanoid who steals any scene he’s in and is in too few of them. Ntuli’s performance is so good he makes you forget that the CGI on his face is little more a marginally enhanced Snapchat filter.

There is a genuine warmth and sincerity infused in every frame – and shows with a low budget and a big heart are my kryptonite. It’s clearly having a ball and wants you to join in with the fun. It’s a terrible shame that Syfy thoughtlessly cut the party short when it was only just beginning – and also a huge mistake for a channel with the least inspiring line-up of shows that don’t come close to filling the void left behind by Vagrant Queen. It could have been their new Killjoys – but instead, with Van Helsing ending and Wynonna Earp as their sole remaining draw, most of their remaining content is composed of rookie shows in their first seasons – like Vagrant Queen, which had so much potential that I can only hope another network has the guts to put their faith in.

With very few exceptions, it is unwise to judge a series on its first season alone. They need time to breathe, to experiment, to play, until they’ve settled into a tone. Cancelling a series after one season is like throwing a first draft in the bin – and Vagrant Queen, like many shows cut down before their time, got better and better with every episode. There’s a common misconception that a pilot has to hook you for a show to be worth investing in. I’ve been guilty of switching off a show mid-premiere, only to give it another try and become involved. Killjoys’ first season was shaky but promising. The Expanse’s first episode was almost unwatchable, but a mid-season turn got viewers hooked. Dark Matter had an intriguing pitch but its slow burn approach to character and plot rewarded viewers by the end of its first season. Season one is where you work out your tone; season two is where the story you want to tell truly begins. You need to give a series the time and space to find its footing and build its audience.

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Requiem For The Republic” Episode 106 — Pictured: Tim Rozon as Isaac — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

For my part, I feel that every series should be automatically locked in for a first and second season when a network green lights them – a single season is just a graveyard of missed opportunities otherwise. There seems to be an increasing aversion to investing in shows which aren’t an immediate worldwide sensation. Networks are giving hope and opportunity to creators without actually giving them a chance to build new worlds with long-lasting mileage. It seems that if a series isn’t an instant hit, it’s binned – and there’s a trend of co-productions not lasting long at Syfy (I’ve never got over them cancelling Dark Matter three seasons into a five-season plan). Haven’t networks learned from Firefly that cutting down a promising show before it’s even hit its stride is a mistake in the long run?

VAGRANT QUEEN — “Sunshine Express Yourself” Episode 107 — Pictured: Adriyan Rae as Elida — (Photo by: Marcos Cruz/Vagrant Productions/SYFY)

After The Rise of Skywalker crushed my love for Star Wars into a fine pulp, Vagrant Queen was like the fix-it fic I desperately needed. Knowingly campy, pulpy fun with fantastic costumes, striking makeup design, a goofily psychedelic tone and technicolour palette that makes it one of the most distinctive and innovative shows on TV right now, Vagrant Queen is a neon-splashed, gung-ho space adventure that has an enormous amount of fun and wants you to bring you along for the ride.

Sign the petition to #SaveVagrantQueen and stream the series on Syfy.com.

Review Justified (2010- 6 series ) by Kevin Johnson

The Get the Chance team share some of their favourite binge-watch series they have been enjoying during Lockdown. First up Kevin Johnson with Justified.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a hitman while both are sitting in a Miami rooftop bar, the latest of many such incidents. Although the shooting is considered ‘justified’ by the authorities, as a punishment he is reassigned to his home state of Kentucky, a move he considers a demotion. There he’s forced to face his past, including his ex-wife Winona (for whom he still has feelings), his estranged criminal father Arlo (for whom he doesn’t), and his old friend, and crime family kingpin, Boyd Crowder (for whom?).

While ostensibly a crime show, Justified is also a modern take on the western, as well as a psychological drama. The characters are rarely either completely good or bad, with relatives and friends on both sides of the law. They’re living in a state that is poor, jobs are scarce but drugs aren’t, and corruption is rife. To show how morally confused things are, in one story Loretta, a teenage girl, outwits a sexual predator, who is an enforcer for the crime family that also employ her & her father to grow cannabis for them.

An excellent cast is well-served by superb writing that not only conveys believable characters, but has a rich vein of laconic wit running through it. At one point Raylan, after warning a criminal about trying to kill him, punches him to the floor, drops a bullet on his chest, and remarks “next one’s coming faster”. To a snitch too scared of another criminal to talk, he says “You think you’re scared of him? You got no idea what you can expect from me.”

Nor is he the only one to be given good dialogue. About to be shot by a member of the Bennett clan over a family feud, he’s told ominously “this bullet’s been on its way for 20 years.”.

While Raylan is terse, Boyd Crowder is all Southern charm, whether he’s trying to relate to someone or about to shoot a rival criminal. There’s a bond between the two from when they worked in the mines:”we dug coal and drank beer together”, as Raylan puts it. He joined the Marshals and Boyd enlisted in the army and served in Iraq, both trying to get away. Both failed.

Despite being the ‘hero’, Raylan is actually a tragic figure, often his own worst enemy. His boss Art, a father-figure to him, driven to exasperation by his actions says at one point “you’re a great lawman but a lousy Marshal”. Brooks, a black female Marshal, also tells him that he wouldn’t get away with such behaviour if he weren’t white, male, and handsome, which given that this was said in 2013 was a little ahead of its time.

There are also many layers to the storyline, and events often take place without Raylan’s participation or knowledge. One of the best scenes is in a diner where his Aunt Helen is meeting with Mags, the head of the Bennett family. What seems like a simple chat over a coffee is actually a parlay between the matriarchs of two warring families, both trying to negotiate a peace treaty before there is more bloodshed. It’s subtle, but almost Shakespearean in its execution.

Each series also features a new antagonist, as well as recurring characters, and it helps to keep the show fresh. The scope also varies from Kentucky to Florida to California, as well as Mexico, which feature memorable figures who may or may not turn up again.

Despite it being a great series overall, I was disappointed that the characters of Tim Gutterson, a former army Ranger, & Rachel Brooks, a black female Marshal, colleagues of Raylan’s, are not really developed over six series, despite both being fascinating. But with so many others in the cast, that’s understandable.

The show was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, who got the idea for it after meeting a young man at a book convention in Amarillo, Texas. When finding out that the man’s name was Raylan, Leonard asked him, “How would you like to be the star of my next book?”.

One more thing, Raylan always wears a white hat. Whether this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to him being the hero, I don’t know. As he says himself when asked about it: “I tried it on and it fit”.

If you’re looking for a good drama with plenty of action, but also one with a lot more depth than your average shoot-em-up, this is the show for you.

Review Fy Ynys Las, Eddie Ladd, A Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales production in partnership with BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Arts

From one Country Bumpkin to another..

Eddie Ladd provided us with a virtual tour unlike any other. This captioned performance gave the audience an insight into Eddie’s childhood home and where she was residing for lockdown. By using a pre-recorded Zoom session, Eddie shared her screen as she looked back through images of her home, telling whimsical tales and allowing us to experience her nostalgia of her childhood with her.

Eddie sat in one corner of the screen, using the rest to direct us through her process of thoughts. By seeing her reactions to what was occurring on screen, the audience resonated with her and her experience of these events whilst still allowing us to create our own experiences of what was happening. She used layering of images in a stylistic way, much like how we would layer movement to create effect. A box of files also sat on the screen, organised by section into folders of Subheadings. This gave a very organic feel to the performance as was if she was flicking through her memories rather than watching a finished performance. By also using her dialect and country slang, all formalities of the performance were lost and hence it became a sharing, from one person to another.

The performance paralleled with Martin Parr’s exhibition “Martin Parr in Wales”. These snippets of images resonated with a sense of home and a resemblance to growing up on a farm (although mine was a sheep farm in Yorkshire). This is something I have never come across before. Through the familiarity of how ordinary farm life was and the niftiness of adaptations (using a soil filled bucket as a dumbbell), the piece really resonated with me and my lived experiences. It held truth and honesty about a simple life of living in the sticks, and especially highlighted how British farming has changed over the past decades and even more so the economic struggle of British Family farms today.

Not only did this resonate through farming life but also through the isolation of being in Lockdown and how it has affected our livelihoods as artists. The resilience needed to continue and adapt with the change happening all around us (and in Eddie’s case, with a fallen tree full of memories) was eminent as looked through past, present, and future obstacles. With comparative reflections of the events that occurred over time, Eddie used a mixture of light-hearted anecdotes and trivial props to provide a wonderfully human experience. This alongside the pulsating techno, carried us through a vast range of shared experiences whilst also gaining insight into Eddie’s creative process.

This piece was refreshing and an honest reminder of the beauty within simplicity and the importance of shared human experiences. And for that reminder, thank you Eddie, as it’s something we all need. Now more than ever.

Becky Johnson, GTC

Connor Allen, Opportunity (Two Years On…)

This article is a follow on from “On Opportunity” Written by Connor Allen in 2017, which can be found below

“We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.”

2 years ago I wrote that above quote

On Friday 28th June 2019 … Thousands of young boys and girls sat at home from their “cheap seats” and watched history play out.

They watched a 24 year old Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr. headline The biggest music festival in the world. Or as many and most people know him by the name of Stormzy.

The reason I start this article with that is because 2 years ago I wrote about Oprah being sat at home as a little girl in 1964 and watching history play out with Sidney Poitier winning an award and found herself inspired.

Now fast forward over 50 years and the exact same thing has happened.

There are little boys and girls who were either there like I was lucky enough to be, or at home watching, but either way were inspired to see a young Black British man on the biggest stage in the world and his talent and hard work got him to that position.

That inspiration is priceless. And that’s how we encourage the next generation to strive for bigger and better things.

By showing them what they can achieve.

Like I said 2 years ago “If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?”

Stormzy, for example, got the opportunity to headline and smashed it out of Worthy Farm. His talent got him there, not the colour of his skin and that’s inspirational to everyone that can relate. Thats inspirational to all our peers and to the next generation who can watch that and believe that they can headline Glastonbury, Or perform or direct at the National Theatre or on Broadway, Or be on the front cover of GQ, Or play football for a premiership team, or be in the next avengers movie. Or be the next Stormzy or Oprah.

During Stormzy’s set he bought on Dave and Fredo to perform ‘Funky Friday’

He used his platform and his moment to give an opportunity to Dave and Fredo to perform on the pyramid stage and to experience that thrill and allow them to share in the moment.

Thats huge!

I say it all the time in conversations with friends, when running workshops or giving talks – If I’m winning then we’re all winning because I’m going to learn some new skills, new knowledge and make new networks etc which I can then relay back to others to allow them to bask in the new found knowledge and glory I have gained and vice versa.

If YOU are winning then we are all winning because you’re going to learn things that can only help benefit others journeys and careers.

To quote Denzel (as I always do) – “I’m not in this to compete, I’m in this to get better”

That night in June at Glasto, Stormzy was winning but he gave an opportunity for others to win as well.

That for me is on the Macro Level in Stormzy and Oprah and I’m going to bring it to the Micro Level of myself and Wales.

Back home in Wales the last 2 years have been a whirlwind (for me personally)

I’ve been given so many opportunities that have led to me:

  • I’ve had organisations like Literature Wales believe in me and my talent to help develop further works of mine.
  • I’ve been on TV (which for a kid from Hammond Drive is huge – Check out changing the narrative from 27 for more clarity)
  • I’ve been a part of a sold out show by the incredible Tin Shed Theatre again in my hometown.. bringing top class theatre to my doorstep (something I never had when I was growing up)
  • Ive been made Associate Artist of The Riverfront in my hometown of Newport.

And so much more

And when I think of all that and more, I’m so blessed to have had the opportunities to get me to this position in my life and career 2 years later.

Ive had so many people like Julia Thomas, Branwen Davies, Gary Owen, Helen Perry, Justin Cliffe, Louise Richards, Olivia Harris, Bryony Kimmings and more, all give me an opportunity and help nurture my talent and craft so I can be in a position where I can help and inspire the younger generation. I can open doors for them (potentially) that were never opened for me.

But again as I echoed 2 years ago the key word in ALL of that is opportunity.

They’ve given me the opportunity so i’m on the same page as other creatives and artists.

They gave me that opportunity to either sink or swim but it’s that chance that is so greatly needed. Without that chance, very few people can reach the potential that they have the ability to reach.

Without opportunity all that remains is an imbalanced and under-represented system where inspiration can’t flourish.

And without Inspiration many journeys won’t even start and many potentials never realised.

I can’t write this and act like opportunity hasn’t been present for me because it has but hard work and determination has been right along side it as I’ve built a career for the past 6 years.

The more I reflect on the past 2 years since writing that article the more I realise that it has been a good starting point in Wales where more of my peers and community are getting given opportunities and they’re smashing it outta the park everytime.

Alex Riley is breaking down barriers with her Mixed documentary and being a member on the above writing groups alongside myself and starring in smash hit TV like The Tuckers and End of the F***ing World

Mali-Ann Rees is killing it in the Tourist Trap alongside Leroy Brito.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06mf8kn

Kyle Lima, like myself with The Riverfront has been made associate artist of HIS hometown theatre at The Sherman.

The reason I list these Kings and Queens is simply because like myself, 2 years ago they weren’t in the position that they are now.

Through hard work they’ve been given opportunities which they have consistently smashed.

So many young Welsh black and mixed race girls can turn on the tele and see Alex and Mali on their screens. Thats huge! because that’s inspirational. Thats showing them that it can be done and they can one day be in the same position as them.

Like Oprah did when she turned on the TV back five decades ago.

Youth who see Kyle and myself in Associate roles at their hometown theatres again can start to think that they too can achieve the same success. That those local buildings are for them as much as anyone else. They can start to aim for similar aspirations.

Once opportunity is given then all you’re judged on is your talent. It’s a level playing field where all it comes down to is you. BUT opportunity has to be given for the talent to shine.

So carry on giving opportunities to the talented individuals that warrant them and if you can’t find those talented individuals then seek them out. Because trust me theres plenty of them!

Talent comes in all shapes and sizes and we simply HAVE to find that and represent that.

We can’t afford to be lazy.

I guess what am I trying to say with all of this ….

Well simply put, I recently asked a close friend of mine to list White Welsh Published Playwrights and without hesitation they were able to list many amazing playwrights, many of whom I look up to myself and have helped paved the way for me BUT then I said now name me Black Welsh Published Playwrights and there was a pause as we both tried to think.

That pause is what has to change!

And that’s why I list the amazing individuals and there are so many more but in future when little welsh boys and girls of colour are talking about playwrights and writing that represents them and inspires them, they can think of Connor Allen, Alex Riley, Kyle Lima, Darragh Mortell, Taylor Edmonds, Durre Shahwar and so many more

There won’t be a pause.

Thats how we change the system and keep that encouragement for the next generation to follow in the footsteps that we lay before them. We must become the change that we seek. We must become the role models that we never had growing up.

Mentorship and role models are huge and so vital to development. It’s the work of them that lays solid foundations and blueprints down for the next generation to follow and build upon, so they can make a more equal and justified system and industry.

Opportunity is now being given and its a great and much needed starting point.

But we have to develop that starting point.

There is still more that can be done to make equality and inclusivity a more normalised thing within the arts.

Create more gate keepers, role models and mentors that relate to and represent the communities that make up Wales’ rich diverse culture and history.

According to Welsh Government Data only 6% of Wales is made up of “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” (not sure how much I believe that) but my point is that in a country that is predominantly white we need to make systems and industries that represent ALL walks of life. Even the 6%.

We are experiencing a real positive shift at the moment and this can only be fully realised through education and sacrifice of power and privilege.

I realise that the more I am improving and the more success I gain, the more power and privilege I am given. BUT with that power and privilege I am given, I can make a choice to share that.

Take my recent Literature Wales commission 27, I chose to give some of my commission to other artists to allow them the opportunity to have paid artistic work where one of the artists is still in high school, one is yet to graduate and another has only recently graduated. Now I don’t say that to be like “oh look at me” I say it simply because if I can do that then people in far bigger and more important positions than me can do that as well.

I know how important opportunity has been in getting me to the position I am in today so i’ll never shy away from offering opportunity to those coming up

J Cole says it brilliantly in Middle Child – “I’m dead in the middle of two generations I’m little bro and big bro all at once”

It was only 5/6 years back that I myself was one of those artists looking for a chance and if it wasn’t for people taking a chance on me and believing in me well, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so its only fair that I give back where and when I can.

And if I can do that so can other organisations and institutions. I’m just one man with a modicum of influence. Imagine the potential if others with far more influence and power made the same approach that I have done.

Its about being courageous and then we will see some positive changes. Changes that are generational. That can have an impact for future generations.

Every single role model/person that we look up to, started off exactly like us. As people learning and working to get better.

Yes, many of my community are angry, upset, confused and more at the moment. And its the likes of role models on a global and local level that will maintain the inspiration and development of the next generation. If we don’t see ourselves and our representation then how are we meant to be engaged and inspired to be the next generation of role models and trend setters.

It’s cyclical.

In these dark times we must never forget our own power, our own talent, our own strength.

It’s only in the darkest of times that we can see the light.

And even though opportunities are becoming more and hopefully more of the younger generation are finding hope and inspiration in looking at the current generation of us achieving success we have to strive for more.

Opportunity is just the planting of the seeds, For real fruition we have to see representation in all forms, from all walks of lives showcased throughout the arts and throughout all sectors.

We live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world where all forms of race, gender, sexuality, disability and more are ripe and without positive and sustained change then we run the risk of an industry not embracing that and not showcasing every form of the human condition.

Art is a reflection of life, in ALL its forms.

Real collective change can only be made when representation is across all levels of infrastructure.

PERIOD

So as always

Much Love

Keep dreaming

Keep striving

Con x

REVIEW Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams star as a quirky Icelandic musical duo who fail their way to the top in representing their nation at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is, at its heart, a celebration of togetherness; it’s essentially a festival of campy delights that annually gathers the wondrous and the weird together on a single stage. It’s so singularly, spectacularly strange that I’m not surprised to hear that Will Ferrell of all people is a fan. The man loves to sing! He sings in practically all of his movies, like this one, this one, this genuine belter from Casa de Mi Padre and of course this classic. He even sang at the Oscarstwice!

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: The Story of Fire Saga – Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong, Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir. Credit Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX © 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga brings two of these loves together in a joyous ode to being completely and defiantly true to yourself. Directed by David Dobkin, the film follows Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell), a lovably unlucky wannabe-musician who dreams of nothing but winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The only support from his small-town home of Húsavík comes in the form of his long-suffering bestie and Fire Saga bandmate Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who has been in love with the oblivious Lars since they were children. Through a series of loopholes, freak accidents and government wrangling, the unlikely duo finds themselves representing their nation in the contest.

Ferrell could play the lovable man-child archetype in his sleep, and in his last few films he seems to have done just that – Daddy’s Home 2, Get Hard and Holmes & Watson all missed the mark in so many ways – but here he’s on top form (aided in no small part by an absolutely fantastic wig). Rachel McAdams shines once again in a comedic role after her hilarious turn in Game Night, and they have real chemistry – even if the film veers into fantasy by suggesting that McAdams and Ferrell could have grown up together or that she would be the one pining for him and not the other way around. Fire Saga is not quite a musical, not quite a pastiche, but its songs are enjoyable across the board. I liked that neither Lars nor Sigrit are inept musicians – the lavish music video for the extremely catchy ‘Volcano Man’ may exist only in their dreams (for now), but their songs are genuinely excellent, from the foot-tapping ‘Double Trouble’ to the sweeping ballad ‘Húsavík’.

The highlight of the whole thing is Dan Stevens having the time of his life as Alexander Lemtov, an ostentatious singer representing Russia in the contest. Not to spoil the film, but you should absolutely know in advance that there is a scene in which Stevens, wearing a gold-brocade suit and a Careless Whisper-era George Michael wig, sings a song called ‘Lion of Love’ while flanked by a group of scantily-clad hunks. You owe it to yourself to watch that in HD.

A starry medley featuring a multitude of Eurovision winners (I spotted Conchita Wurst and Alexander Rybak) is the cherry on top of a loving homage to the hilarity and exuberance of the contest. It compelled me to revisit my Eurovision favourites of yore – Only Teardrops, Running Scared, Hard Rock Hallelujah and Fairytale – and though nothing could ever beat Ukraine’s entry from 2007, Ferrell has distilled the magic of what makes a classic Eurovision act, capturing the campy charm in a way that only a superfan could.

Sometimes Ferrell’s comedies veer into the mean-spirited (Get Hard, Anchorman, Daddy’s Home) – that’s not the case here. Instead, the film affectionately teases a show which is already acutely self-aware, and gloriously proud, of its quirks. In terms of Ferrell’s filmography, it’s his most successful blend of good comedy and genuine emotional warmth since 2003’s Elf (although I have a place in my heart for both The Other Guys and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, you would be hard-pressed to call either film particularly warm-hearted).

Although it’s a shame we won’t get to witness Daði Freyr win the top spot with the immeasurably catchy ‘Think About Things’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling this year’s contest, Netflix’s endearing, fun tribute is a loving send-up of the things which make Eurovision bizarre and brilliant in equal measure. It may not be for everyone, but for me it’s the best film released in lockdown so far, and a welcome slice of escapist fun.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is currently streaming on Netflix.

Review, Her Ffilm Fer, Hansh, S4C by Gareth Williams

The old adage that the two most difficult genres to write are comedy and horror seemed to have bypassed the ears of some of Wales’ top producers. The likes of Ed Thomas (Hinterland) and Euros Lyn (Doctor Who) decided to devilishly choose the latter for a short film challenge put on by S4C’s Hansh (of which they were judges). To raise the stakes even further, the films were required to be made within 48 hours, which under lockdown conditions, seems like a pretty tall order. But I guess that’s where creativity can either flourish or flounder, producing a fight-or-flight response which, for those of the former persuasion, led to some pretty professional-looking and eye-catching pieces.

The variety of films that were sent in made it difficult for the judges to compare them. But they managed, in the end, to narrow it down to a shortlist, before announcing a couple that were deserving of special merit; that came very close to the standards of the overall winner. Of the three runners-up, Martha a’r fantell ddu was my personal favourite. It contained a lovely, light humour which, in typical horror fashion, slowly turns sour as strange things begin to occur in the life of the protagonist. Much like other entries Dilynwyr and Y Glesni, it uses the prevalence of digital technology to create a familiar experience which, like The Blair Witch Project and Unfriended, is then brilliantly skewed to generate unease, concern, and, finally, terror. But it is the performance of the actor who plays Mari (the film’s producer, Erin?) that makes Martha a’r fantell ddu stand out from the crowd. The effervescence she brings to the role perfectly encapsulates that of the enthusiastic YouTuber. Yet as things get weird, her increasing paranoia is displayed not only in her facial expressions but in the nuanced delivery of her dialogue. She succeeds in taking us on a journey through a narrative that is character-driven, leading us to be entertained, concerned and fearful for her, as we are drawn into her experience to really emotive effect.

The overall winner takes a somewhat more conventional line. There are no livestreams or Zoom calls here. 03YB is a clever, playful and absorbing film that takes familiar tropes from the horror genre and executes them incredibly well. There is enough originality and fresh impetus in the plotline though to test your expectations, as the creators use skilful editing to keep you guessing throughout. The ear piercing music is largely effective, grating only slightly at points, whilst the costume is utilised brilliantly. More specifically, the ears on the hood of the protagonist’s onesie become a fantastically devious signifier for blood at one point, representing the kind of deceitful intentions that the film’s creators look to insert at almost every turn. 03YB reminds me of the kind of visceral scenes at the start of many contemporary Welsh television dramas, posing just as much mystery as them too. It leaves you with enough questions to want to enquire further. It has the makings of a full-length episode, if not series. It is a well-deserved winner.

It appears that there is plenty of talent in Wales when it comes to the creation of original, suspenseful, and entertaining shorts. Thomas, Lyn, et al, clearly sussed that setting such a hard challenge would lead to some excellent entries. I wonder if it did leave them surprised however by the quality of the filmmaking. Given the lockdown restrictions, alongside the competition’s time constraint, I would say the films were of a remarkably professional standard. If they are representative of Wales’ young creative talent, then the current generation can rest assured that the future looks to be in very safe hands. I just hope that the opportunities come for these young filmmakers to grow and develop in their creative potential. Without investment in the arts at all levels, but particularly at the grassroots, going forward, the worry is that their chances will be severely curtailed.

You can watch all 42 films that were entered into the competition here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams