Category Archives: russia

Bad Blood

Regular readers know how much I love HBO’s “True Blood.” I even reviewed every episode of season three here on the blog. Now, in its sixth season it has started to go sour for not just myself, but for a lot of fans. Here are just a few reasons why, and not just because Sookie and Bill and/or Eric are not still together.

From the beginning, within the show’s credit sequence, and with references like “God hates fangs” and “coming out of the coffin,” the vampires of “True Blood” have always been a metaphor for the gay rights movement. At times the analogy has become quite uncomfortable, while happily when homosexuality has been shown in the world of the show, it’s been normal and accepted.

This makes “True Blood” a welcome fence post in modern television, but this season has been different. It’s cutting too close to the bone. The in-story escalation of anti-vampire protests has produced some frightening parallels, the most horrifying being the dragging to death behind a car of a young vampire in Texas.

We all know this happened to a young man a few years back, spurring on murders against race and gender minorities. I, like most viewers, turn to TV fantasy to get away from the cold darkness of the real world. I not only don’t want to be reminded, I don’t want to see such things trivialized in what has become a supernatural comedy drama. And with recent events in Russia these last few weeks, the vampire concentration camp subplot is even worse by comparison. There may just be such places for gays soon.

Those issues aside, the stepping down of show creator Alan Ball as writer and showrunner seems to have had a serious negative effect on the show. In my mind “True Blood” seems to have lost its way. The show this season feels more disjointed and less real.

The characters feel more like cookie cutter templates being moved about a chessboard than real people. They have been broken down to their basics and show very little else in the way of depth. Sookie, Jason, and Tara, for instance, might as well just be ‘slut for supes,’ ‘dumbass,’ and ‘clever curser’ for the lack of depth they have shown of late.

This just might be the end for me as far as “True Blood” goes. But for those still on the bandwagon, be sure to catch my friend and colleague Marie Gilbert‘s recaps/reviews of the current season of “True Blood” at Biff Bam Pop!.

Eurovision 2013 – The Last Five of the First Semi-Final

Montenegro – “Igranka” by Who See

If I’m being honest, I love the video but only like the song. It does have more happening both musically and visually than many of the other contenders. However I think it might be like one of my previous favorites, Svetlana Loboda, just way too much going on at once. Either way, I dig this one.

Russia – “What If” by Dina Garipova

One of the better entries, but not one of my favorites, this one has an excellent chance of finishing high, if not winning. Ballads that are songs of hope are always favorites in this competition.

Serbia – “Ljubav Je Svuda” by Moje 3

Another one of my favorites, and not just because of the beautiful women singing. Dance numbers that are a little off, and outlandish outfits are Eurovision tradition. Also, the tune is catchy and gets in your head.

Slovenia – “Straight Into Love” by Hannah Mancini

I’m not fond of her voice, or the way the music starts and stops, but the dance track could easily be a 1990s Cher club hit.

Ulkraine – “Gravity” by Zlata Ognevich

LIke Montenegro, I like the video more than the song. It’s kind of quirky, and grows on me each time I hear it, but I doubt it will get to the finals. Time will tell.

The first Semi-Final for Eurovision 2013 will be held in Malmo, Sweden on the 14th of May.

The Americans

FX has been hyping this new series for a while. Quite honestly I was getting tired of seeing ads for it during this past season of “Sons of Anarchy,” but I guess the saturation effect worked. I did DVR the pilot and I did watch it.

At first glance “The Americans” appears to be a Reagan era Cold War drama about Soviet sleeper agents, designed to cash in as some sort of hybrid of both “Mad Men” and “Homeland,” but it’s just a little bit more. As a survivor of the period, I can tell you the music is time correct, and I have to say the opening sequence using Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” is just short of amazing. Serious props to writer and creator Joe Weisberg and director Gavin O’Connor.

The problem is my interest plummeted after that opening sequence. The characters were not engaging, and neither was the acting. Maybe if they had stuck with the slick MTV vibe of the opening, or washed us more in the nostalgia of the 1980s, this could have been good…

Notably, it was nice to see Richard (John-Boy Walton) on TV again, but even his brief presence couldn’t save this. Of course there’s always the possibility that FX could retool or fix this, but it might be too little, too late.

Arrow: Vertigo

Back in the day, let’s say the 1950s, back when Green Arrow was literally Batman with a bow, he had a serious rogues gallery. There were a multitude of bizarre criminals who menaced Star City on a regular basis. True, most of them spun on the unoriginal twist of using some sort of bow and arrow motif, but Green Arrow and Speedy had lots of enemies.

The 1970s came along, Speedy got hooked on heroin and left his mentor, Green Arrow, who had changed his costume and facial hair to a more modern look, and turned his aim on social issues rather than super-villains. By the end of the decade however, things had come full circle, and costumed criminals came back in vogue. The powers that be decided Green Arrow needed a rogues gallery, albeit a more believable one, without the mandatory bow and arrow.

Enter Count Vertigo. With a name like Werner Vertigo, what else could he become but a super-villain, right? The Count part comes from being the last member of the royal family of Vlatava, so he has the resources of a small eastern European nation behind him. Afflicted with a balance problem he had a device implanted in his head that prevented vertigo. After years of tinkering with it he found he could affect the balance of others, causing dizziness, and yes, I’ll say it, vertigo. He can also fly. No idea how he does that though.

Merlyn the Magician may the king of super-villains who use bows and arrows, and Green Arrow’s natural opposite number, but when most folks think of the emerald archer’s archenemy on the scale of a Joker or a Luthor, they think Count Vertigo.

But that’s the comics, on the “Arrow” TV series, things are a bit different. Vertigo is a new drug, one that got Oliver’s little sister in a car accident, and arrested in but one of last week‘s cliffhangers. And the drug lord pushing vertigo onto the streets is called The Count.

The hot button comics reference this episode is Thea’s middle name – Dearden. Not only is her nickname Speedy, but in the comics, Mia Dearden is the young girl who was the second person to take on the Speedy identity as Green Arrow’s sidekick. Is this homage or foreshadowing?

The Count, as played by Seth Gabel of “Fringe,” is very manic, theatrical, and dangerous in that mad villain unpredictable way. Brilliant casting, and great costuming, I kinda got a Captain John Hart vibe as well.

Nice to see the writers haven’t forgotten Oliver’s Russian Bratva connection, I just hope that they don’t forget to explain it. It’s also good to see The Count has not lost his Eastern European origins as well. I also like the explanation of his name. Nice touch. And the color of the drug itself? It’s green, like Count Vertigo’s color scheme in the comics.

Detective Quentin Lance’s outrageous grudge against Oliver is getting old, and kind of silly too. I do however like the cast addition of Janina Gavankar from “True Blood” as Detective McKenna Hall. With Laurel tied up with Tommy, Oliver needs a good potential romantic interest. Please don’t bring back the Huntress.

The Count is taken down, of course, but with the possibility of a return, and possibly more like the comics version next time. We’ll see. He reminded me a bit of Mark Hamill’s turn as the Trickster on the old “Flash” series on CBS. Maybe we will get powers and costumes next time.

In this week’s island flashback, we learn more about Yao Fei, Ed Fyers, Deathstroke and the terrorists there. We also see a slick trick make folks look dead. Don’t try this at home, kids. We also see, much too briefly, Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak with some bad news for Oliver. But I’m sure we’ll get more of that next week, and hopefully more Felicity as well.

The Last Five Entries to the First Eurovision Semi-Final 2012

Russia: “Party for Everybody” by Buranovskiye Babushki

Hungary: “Sound of Our Hearts” by Compact Disco

Austria: “Woki Mit Deim Popo” by Trackshittaz

Moldova: “Lautar” by Pasha Parfeny

Ireland: “Waterline” by Jedward

Poor Ireland. Why they are not always a part of the Final is beyond me. They always try so hard, and they are the only country to win twice with the same performer. Unfortunately, they went with Jedward again this year. Sigh. Better luck next year, I guess.

I have to admit, Austria is kinda catchy though. We’ll see. The First Semi-Finals take place on May 22nd, in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Space Hotel

Launching in 2012 will be the Galactic Suite, a space hotel where visitors can spend three days in Earth orbit for the low low price of $4.5 million.

Passengers will get to the hotel via Russian rocket and get to see the sun rise sixteen times a day. And that’s not even mentioning the joy of zero gravity sex for couples who want to take that plunge.

For more, click here.

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Eurovision 2009: The Final

Tonight is the Finals of the 54th Eurovision Song Contest, live from Moscow’s Olympiyski Indoor Arena and hosted by Alsou and Ivan Urgant. In London, it will also be the first year without favorite host Terry Wogan, newly replaced by Graham Norton – who the Eurovision website inexplicably calls Norton Graham. Just part of the Eurovision wackiness, I suppose.

In this Final, the twenty entries from the two Semi-Finals are joined by the four original Eurovision nations: United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany as well as last year’s winner and this year’s host country, Russia who all automatically qualify for the contest. Some of the entries will remain the same as what was seen in the Semi-Finals, and some will pull out the stops and the surprises for this final appearance. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Another surrealist fairytale opens the Finals, of the sort that only occurs at Eurovision, and then spins into a bit of amateur Cirque Du Soleil – that actually turns out to be the real thing. I like the music and the participants are frantic and non-stop, and there seems to be too much going on. Last year’s winner, Dima Bilan, appears from the sky on a wire, and with lots of special effects (and one of two glitches) and reenacts his barefoot stage rolling performance that won last year.

None of it makes sense, but that’s okay, this is Eurovision.

The participants, in order of appearance on the stage:

01 Lithuania – Sasha Son’s “Love”
This is just the first of what I assume will be many sharper and more refined performances that simply repeat what was done in the Semi-Finals. Nice start.

02 Israel – Noa & Mira Awad’s “There Must Be Another Way”
The music is a bit more upbeat and the singers a bit more charismatic. The Finals are A game time. Lots of support for Israel in the audience.

03 France – Patricia Kaas’ “Et S’il Fallait Le Faire”
Very simple and understated, and to the point, reminiscent of the old cabarets. One has to wonder how much France really wants to win when they make such a big deal about having the song in their native language. It’s almost like saying, “We don’t care about your silly contest as long as our culture remains intact.” Hope the voters in the rest of Europe feel the same way, as no country can vote for their own entry. A shame as the song is quite pretty and might stand a decent chance if everyone could understand it.

04 Sweden – Malena Ernman’s “La Voix”
Still not thrilled with the song, but Malena seems both more confident and happy to be on the stage.

05 Croatia – Igor Cukrov featuring Andrea’s “Lijepa Tena”
Does Igor know something we don’t know? He’s not trying as hard as he was the other night, as a matter of fact I think that night’s performance was better than tonight’s.

06 Portugal – Flor-de-lis’ “Todas As Ruas Do Amor”
Like many others, a more practiced and competent repeat of the Semi-Final. The backgrounds still look like a 1970s “Brady Kids” cartoon threw up. Quiet and colorful, upbeat and traditional, Portugal is a serious contender.

07 Iceland – Yohanna’s “Is It True?”
Not as boring as the first time. Strong ballad, but I still can’t place who she sounds like. I like the subdued blues in the stage, lights and costumes. At least it didn’t put me to sleep this time.

08 Greece – Sakis Rouvas’ “This Is Our Night”
Sakis is more in step with his back-up dancers tonight, and seems obsessed with showing the world his toned tummy. An outstanding performance, yet, he doesn’t look as happy or confident as he did in the Semi-Final.

09 Armenia – Inga & Anush’s “Jan Jan”
Theatrics abound in this entry that surprisingly impressed last time. A prime example of how visuals can propel a so-so song to the top. I like this one the more I hear it. Pavlov in the MTV age.

10 Russia – Anastasia Prikhodko’s “Mama”
Highlighted by gigantic Big Brother-esque TV screens that don’t highlight her looks, my first thought is would this entry have gotten to the Finals had Russia not won last year? The aging effects on the screen are interesting but not attractive. The Russian audience loves it, but I don’t.

11 Azerbaijan – AySel & Arash’s “Always”
For me this one seems to be the opposite of Armenia. The more I hear the less I like it. The two singers’ overtheatrical expressions don’t help the situation either.

12 Bosnia & Herzegovina – Regina’s “Bistra Voda”
Zzzzzz… I don’t know. I know folks who think this could win, but it does nothing for me. But what do I know, I still don’t believe barefoot boy won last year. And I hope they can get the bleach out of those costumes before they return them to My Chemical Romance.

13 Moldova – Nelly Ciobanu’s “Hora Din Moldova”
The performance seems weaker and shakier than the other night, and the stage much bigger. It picks up later but still… What happened?

14 Malta – Chiara’s “What If We”
Did Chiara catch something from Nelly Ciobanu? Is her mike broken? Nowhere near the power or talent Chiara has had in the past on the Eurovision stage.

15 Estonia – Urban Symphony’s “Rändajad”
This is growing on me. There are others I want to win more, but I’m still pulling for Estonia. Watching it I have to wonder if some flash and color could push this one over the top to the winner’s circle?

16 Denmark – Brinck’s “Believe Again”
Lionel should have done “Brick House” instead. Although, jokes aside, he sounds more like an American country singer tonight. Weird.

17 Germany – Alex Swings Oscar Sings!’s “Miss Kiss Kiss Bang”
This one was one of my favorites early on. After seeing the stage performance I’m not so sure. A sexy guy and girl (even if it is Dita Von Teese, and only for a few seconds) just isn’t enough. I still think it might be just quirky, retro and catchy enough to capture all of Europe’s imagination. But not enough to win.

18 Turkey – Hadise’s “Düm Tek Tek”
The audience cheering before and as the music begins says a lot. An early and steadfast favorite, this is still a strong contender, and has an excellent chance of winning.

19 Albania – Kejsi Tola’s “Carry Me In Your Dreams”
Vote no on Disco Gumby.

20 Norway – Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale”
Like Turkey, the audience roared before and as the music started for this one. Catchy tune and cute guy are sometimes all you need. Still love the dancers. Another strong contender.

The male host of the show just better stop shouting at me. This is TV and internet, he doesn’t have to yell loud enough for me to hear. The nation hats in the inserts and intros border on the interesting to the boring. Good concept though.

21 Ukraine – Svetlana Loboda’s “Be My Valentine! (Anti-Crisis Girl)”
I love this entry, and although I doubt it will win, I’m still pulling for Svetlana. I suspect there might be too much going on on the stage, but based on the pre-show, it would appear folks in the Russian states like that sort of thing. Oh well.

22 Romania – Elena’s “The Balkan Girls”
The dancers certainly don’t appear to have practiced much since the other night. Very tame and I’m not sure about the pseudo-fairy costumes. Elena should have borrowed some of Svetlana’s stage dressing. In this case, the audio version of the song is much better.

23 United Kingdom – Jade Ewen’s “It’s My Time”
Also much cheering before this entry. The UK would like very badly to win another Eurovision. There was talk a couple years back of Morrissey entering in the nation’s name but that fell through. This year, at least one big gun has been pulled out in this entry written by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. Sadly, it’s not one of his better efforts. And Jade doesn’t help that much either.

24 Finland – Waldo’s People’s “Lose Control”
This is a much stronger performance than the other night’s, so much so it’s surprising. High energy and enthusiasm. Could this be another win for Finland?

25 Spain – Soraya’s “La Noche Es Para Mí (The Night Is For Me)”
Spain opens with a bang and much theatrics, beautiful people and of course Soraya’s incredible outfit. She might win alone for that dress from her admirers throughout Europe. The song however is just standard dance music, but that dress… And they also take a cue from Belarus a few years back and add some stage magic, always fun. Great showstopper, but not a winner I don’t think.


War and More Plagiarism

All the text covered in the video aside, there is also the issue of the song sounding very similar to “Disco Inferno” by the Trammps. But still, why go to the nation that invaded you to participate in a contest, and not have some comment, right?

I Still Don’t Believe…

It’s been over six months since Dima Bilan won Eurovision 2008 for Russia, and I still don’t get it. There were so many much better acts in my opinion. Either way, looking forward to Eurovision 2009 in Moscow this year.

And for those interested, I will also be blogging about Eurovision here as well this year.

Eurovision Song Contest 2008 – Winners!

Sadly, once the voting for the 53rd Annual Eurovision Song Contest ended, the folks in Belgrade, Serbia decided to punish us with “the best band for weddings and funerals.” My question: what did we do to deserve this? Oh lordy (pun unintended), these people make Dustin the Turkey and Verka Serduchka seem like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. And horrifically, they did more than one song. Or maybe it was one long song that just felt like it never ended.

I suppose that making us watch that mess made the usual tedious checking in of each nation with their votes less so. The rules stipulate that each country may not vote for itself so sometimes the votes tend to lean toward neighboring nations – unless of course they hate each other, like Turkey and Greece for instance. But, it’s pretty evident from the boos in the audience that this is a practice that is not only considered a cop out, but also seriously frowned upon.

And here are the final standings. Obviously I was waaay off in my predictions…

3. Greece – “Secret Combination” by Kalomira

2. Ukraine – “Shady Lady” by Ani Lorak

1. Russia – “Believe” by Dima Bilan

Wow, that barefoot guy won. But that was terrible… Maybe he can afford some shoes now.

For the full results, please click here, where can also view the semi-finals and the final as well.