Alien and kittens? Yep, it’s all fun and games on board the Nostromo

(image via Mashable Watercooler YouTube (c) 20th Century Fox)

 

By any measure, Alien is a scary, tense thriller.

It’s hard not to watch the crew of the Nostromo succumb one by one to the xenomorph stalking them with horrific precision – except for you Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Jones the intrepid crew cat – without goosebumps, hands over eyes and frequent retreats in the nearby blanket fort you constructed ahead of viewing. (Yes I am a great big scaredy cat, why do you ask?)

And yet, as Mashable Watercooler gleefully demonstrates with their comedic reimagining of Alien’s trailer, it is possible to turn this gripping, extraterrestrial bloodbath into a thigh-slappingly funny sitcom that will have everyone throwing their heads back with glee and cat lovers wondering how is it they never realised what a feline-centric film Alien is.

It’s very funny and involves zero need to hide under the couch until the scary bits have passed, because what’s scary abou cats doing the darndest cute things?

Nothing at all, unless you’re allergic to them or a dig person in which case my stack of blankets is that a-way people!

(source: Mashable)

 

Blast off into dramedy space with The Orville

(image courtesy Noah Schutz/Fox)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the 25th century, Earth is part of the Planetary Union, a far-reaching, advanced and mostly peaceful civilization with a fleet of 3,000 ships. Down on his luck after a bitter divorce, Planetary Union officer Ed Mercer MERCER (MacFarlane) finally gets his chance to command one of these ships: the U.S.S. Orville. Determined to prove his worth and write a new chapter in his life, Ed finds that task all the more difficult when the First Officer assigned to his ship is his ex-wife, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki).

As the new commander, Ed assembles a qualified, but eccentric crew, including his best friend, Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), who has problems with authority, but is the best helmsman in the fleet; Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald), one of the Union’s most accomplished physicians; Bortus (Peter Macon), an alien from a single-sex species; Isaac (Mark Jackson), an artificial life-form from a machine society that thinks biological life-forms are inferior; navigator John Lamarr (J. Lee), whose casual humor cuts through even the most dire situations; Alara Kitan (Halston Sage), a young, inexperienced security officer whose home planet’s high gravity gives her superior physical strength; and Yaphit, a gelatinous creature voiced by comedian Norm Macdonald. Somehow, Ed and Kelly must put the past behind them and, with the help of the crew, navigate fascinating and sometimes dangerous adventures in outer space, as well as the tumultuous and captivating day-to-day personal relationships with their colleagues. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Having treated us to a wholly dysfunctional animated family (Family Guy) and a bawdy but endearing friendship between a man and a wisecracking teddy bear (Ted) in the current day, Seth MacFarlane is now sending us 400 years into a galatic future with Fox’s new dramedy The Orville.

Owing more than a little debt of gratitude to Galaxy Quest (but not a derivative copy by any means), The Orville is a Star Trek-like sci-fi series that combines MarFarlane’s trademark edgy wit with what we’re assured are some reasonably serious moments.

 

 

It sounds like an entertaining mix, and we can only hope that the show survives what could be a fairly competitive timeslot on Thursdays at 9pm when it’s up against watercooler hit and ratings juggernaut This Is Us.

In a year that is blessing us with Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi masterpiece Valerian, the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi and the return of Star Trek to the small screen via CBS All Access (Star Trek: Discovery), it will be good to have a show that adds some comedy into the mix, rounding out what will likely be a very satisfying year of heading out into the great galactic beyond.

The Orville premieres this US autumn on Fox at 9pm Thursdays.

Movie review: 20th Century Women

(image via IMP Awards)

 

When a film has been as long a time coming as 20th Century Women has been one its long and winding trip to the cinemas of Australia, you begin to wonder if it will match the hype and breathless reviews that precede it.

In many cases, films don’t meet that magically high mark up in the reviewing stratosphere; the good news in the case of Mike Mills’ latest directorial effort is that 20th Century Women matches the superlatives and then some, delivering up a gem of a quietly-simmering slice-of-life drama that is quite possibly one of the best films of the year.

Much of its appeal rests with its willingness to simply tell a story, one that is less a coherent end-to-end narrative, though that exists throughout, than a series of episodic moments in the lives of the people of one Santa Barbara boarding house in the transitioning time of 1979.

In this 1905-era home, which is in a near-permanent state of renovation, Dorothea (Annette Bening in a justifiably highly-regarded stellar performance) is the owner, den mother and quirky aspirant to a happy life, something that she admits is often just out of reach.

Her 15 year old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is close to his mother but like all teenagers also seeking to assert his own independence, arrived relatively late in Dorothea’s life (when she was 40), his birth followed not that long after by his mother and father’s divorce.

With dad pretty much permanently out of the picture, Jamie and Dorothea have each other’s backs, something that Jamie, for all his newfound assertiveness, still very much values.

Dorothea, though besotted with her son and a loving if often unorthodox mother – at one point she challenges her son’s frequent school absences on the basis that not all education takes place inside the four walls of centres of learning – doubts whether she can deliver on his desire to give Jamie a happier life than she managed.

 

 

In her quest to build a  village to raise her son, Dorothea enlists one of her boarders Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a young Santa Barbara-born and raise photographer battling cervical cancer, and Jamie’s platonic best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), who refuses to have sex with him, fearful it would forever alter their lifelong friendship.

Both take to their roles, first with uncertainty then gusto with Abbie introducing Jamie to feminism, punk music and illicit trips to clubs, and Julie spiriting him away, at his suggestion, on a trip along the Californian coast.

Unsure about what they are imparting to her son, and even more so, how they are going about, Dorothea steps in, asking each of them to pull back and leave the parenting to her.

It’s a back and forth give-and-take approach that speaks less to Dorothea’s fitness as a mother than to her doubts about her own fitness to parent, and while there are tensions between all parties, no bonds are irrevocably severed, with everyone eventually moving in entirely natural ways.

20th Century Women is set in a time of real change, with the upheaval of the 1970s leading people to crave more certainty, a mindset that among things leads to Ronald Reagan supplanting Jimmy Carter, whose Crisis of Confidence speech (15 July, 1979) as US President.

That speech, which features in a key scene where all the members of the household, which includes drifting carpenter William (Billy Crudup), and the extended circle of friends that orbit them sit watching in silence save for a brief, post-speech debate, echoes the uncertainties of everyone’s lives.

It’s not just Jamie, for all the obvious teenager reasons, who is in a place of transition.

Dorothea realises she has only ever chosen safe men to be involved with, not those she actually likes and begins to wonder if has sufficiently enjoyed the world outside, which she samples when Abbie takes her to a club; Abbie meanwhile, who had to return to Santa Barbara upon her cancer diagnosis, frets that she hasn’t lived enough, afraid that she’ll live really live if she stays rooted in their hometown.

William is in flux, knowing his hippie lifestyle of the past, adopted to impress a girl who eventually dumped him after many years of relationship, is not really who he is, and Julie, afraid she might be pregnant, is entirely sure where her 17 year old life is headed next.

 

 

While you might well argue that everyone’s lives are in constant turmoil to one extent or another, Mills, who based the screenplay based partly on the relationship between he and his mother, does an exemplary job of knitting together the personal and societal aspects of everyone’s lives, giving us a film that is very much a product of its fluxing time.

Augmenting the skillfully-wrought storytelling, that only really falters from a lack of equal attention to all the characters and relationships in the film – there are perhaps a few too many balls in the narrative air – is a captivatingly unique visual style and a sage choice of musical accompaniment.

Particularly effective are the scenes where people are driving, or Jamie is riding his skateboard down long, lonely car-less roads, all of them accompanied by Roger Neill’s exquisitely beautiful, emotionally-evocative score.

The provide a counterpoint, a quiet wordless break, from the scenes between which are never overbearing but are dense with dialogue and the sense that change is coming and no one is entirely certain what to do with it.

As a paean to a bygone time, it is near seamless, evoking the look and feel of the late ’70s with a keen eye and pinpoint societal and familial observation, but it really excels as an exploration of the way disparate people, temporarily bound together in an unorthodox family, handle the propensity of life to keep changing the goalposts at will with out rule book provided to point to the next step forward.

It is joyfully, meditatively beautiful, anchored by superlative performances, a knowing and insightful screenplay, and a willingness to have some fun with visual styles – the use of still shots, references to 1970s books such a M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled and judiciously placed narration are supremely effective – one of those films that doesn’t simply live to its promise but exceeds it, in the process providing us with a deeply emotionally-rewarding meditation on life and the way it changes in ways we never see coming but somehow, by trial, error and love & support, manage to successfully navigate.

 

 

 

The absolute Wonder of love and acceptance (poster + trailer)

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Based on the New York Times bestseller, Wonder  tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. (synopsis via IMDb)

When it all comes down to it, all any of us want is to be loved and to belong.

Simple, really.

But in the real world, away from our (hopefully) loving families, not everyone is as accommodating as they could be to that simple truth, something that Auggie Pullman, who has endured innumerable operations in his short life and all the rejection from the wider world that comes with not looking “normal” (whatever the hell that is), knows all too well.

As someone who went through hell on earth at school and was bulled from kindergarten to my final year in school, for my sexuality not necessarily looks (though the net effect was the same), it’s an unenviable state of being that I can relate to, along with many others, a fact that propelled the book by Raquel Palacio to the top of the bestseller lists.

And now to a worldwide cinema release where the endlessly relatable story of Auggie, his loving family and a not entirely loving outside world will be granted their biggest exposure yet.

Who can identify with this film on some level, either as a fellow victim or someone with a beating, compassionate heart?

Expect Wonder to do very well, and maybe, just maybe, remind a few more people that feeling different simply needs to be met with love and compassion.

Simple, really.

Wonder opens  in USA on 17 November and Australia on 30 November 2017.

 

Now this is music #89: Knox Fortune, STRØM, Lxandra, Refs, Ruby Fields

 

One of the things I love about music is its complexity and relatability, the way it helps you to not just make sense of life but to add to it too, even if it all it does is lift you up for a moment.

At the end of a long week, the ability of music to transform a moment or a day is a godsend, a lifting of mood and spirit that can transform a dreary Friday, weighted with the stresses and worries of the week, from “just gotta get through it” to “maybe I can dance just a little.”

The best part of these five artists is that they combine some heady mood-lifting with lyrics that actually ponder life in a substantial way, giving you blissful escape and existential musing all at once, surely the best way to end any week.

 

“Help Myself” by Knox Fortune

 

Knox Fortune (image courtesy official Knox Fortune Facebook page)

 

There’s an exuberant musical diversity to “Help Myself” from singer and producer Knox Fortune, the voice on Chance the Rapper’s insanely-catchy and very popular uptempo song “Up All Night”.

It’s a reflection of the talent of this artist who, as Sterogum rightly observes, “moves from florid orchestral pop to hard, rhythmic old-school soul.”

You can understand why Knox is widely regarded as an up-and-coming artist to watch, someone who can move fluidly from sound to sound, genre to genre, and invest songs like “Help Myself” with a wistful emotional intensity.

He is most definitely one to watch, an artist who has shown with just one song that he is on the cutting edge, capable of blending beautiful music with thoughtful lyrics into eminently listenable and immersive tracks.

 

 

“Mesmerize” by STRØM

 

STRØM (image via official STRØM Soundcloud page)

 

In a sign that the deep well of musical talent in Sweden is nowhere near close to being tapped, 27 year old STRØM has emerged with a brilliant sound that blends etehreally-light vocals with some hard, dark electronica.

His approach finds full voice, quite literally, on “Mesmerize” which, as Hillydilly notes, is a pleasing bringing together of all sorts of sounds and influences:

“When first listening to this, you will hear electronic-pop tones with a definitively dark undertow, yet, it cannot be confined exclusively to that categorization. If isolated, the delicate falsetto and subtle guitar arrangements from STRØM would work just as well in the indie-folk genre, yet “Mesmerize” is given life through dark, pulsing synths that are punctuated by sharp, stabbing percussion to create a sound that is almost otherworldly.”

It very much reflects a Scandinavian musical aesthetic, an enticing mix of light and dark, sweet and bitter, that lends pop music from places like Sweden so much substance and weight, and makes STRØM such an exciting person to keep an eye on.

 

 

“Flicker” by Lxandra

 

Lxandra (image courtesy official Lxandra Facebook page)

 

Hailing from the small Finnish island of Suomenlinna, Lxandra is blissfully, fabulously one of a kind.

Possessing an earthy, rich, emotionally-resonant voice, her songs, though possessed of whimsically pop flourishes, are intensely thoughtful pieces, lyrical thoughtful and and pronounced, coupled with music that is both jaunty and suitably dramatic too.

Marrying all these elements is not something that many people would attempt but Lxandra manages it with aplomb creating something singularly different and utterly compelling in the process.

If you’re looking for a departure from the musical everyday, then Lxandra is most definitely the artist you have been looking for and should keep listening to over and over.

 

 

“Forever” by Refs

 

Refs (image courtesy official Refs Facebook page)

 

It’s been a reasonable break between musical drinks for Refs aka Broolyn singer/songwriter/producer Zachary Lipkins but after making a big splash a couple of years back with debut single “Pain Goes Away, but he’s back with a deeply soulful uptempo number “Forever”.

This is a joyous gem of a pop track, surging forward with a heady, carefree momentum that will quickly wrap you up in its upbeat soul exuberance and belie its lyrical sober context .

Featured on the final season of HBO’s Girls, “Forever” is the product of refs trying to challenge the way he makes pop music.

“I think it was Tears for Fears where I was first like, wow, this is incredible music, but it’s also pop. That was sort of the bridge to pop music. Then I became invested in, okay, how could I take all these textures and environments that I’m familiar with and that are important to me and that I love and make it available for everybody to appreciate? I wanted to make stuff that I was really proud of, from where I was coming from.” (source: The Line of Best Fit)

He can definitely be proud of a song like “Forever” which is about as close to perfect as pop music can get.

 

 

“I Want” by Ruby Fields

 

Ruby Fields (image courtesy official Ruby Fields Facebook page)

 

Life is an altogether complicated, often agnst-ridden beast and you have to suspect that new Aussie artist Ruby Fields has tipped every last existentially-worn bit of it into her giddily upbeat punkish “I Want”.

It’s a driving piece of guitar-driven uptempo music that never stops for a moment but yet contains all kinds of introspective lyrical moments that give the song a thoughtful centre to all its bright, brash musicality.

“I Want” is an aspirational piece of rock – “I want to be more than my parents’ opinion and my ATAR” – an ode to life’s possibilities from an artist who’s clearly not going to settle for the same old same old.

It’s brilliantly good music that captures you instantly and may lead you to make all kinds of life affirming decisions; as life declarations go, you couldn’t hope for a better soundtrack.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

With the Eurovision Song Contest done and dusted for another year, one thing many people can agree on is that the winning song “Amar Pelos Dios” by Salvador Sobral from Portugal was a worthy, inexpressibly beautiful and poignant winner.

As you might expect, the covers have already begun to flow with one of the standouts being this lovely rendition by Alexander Rybak who won the contest for Norway in 2009 with the impishly joyful song “Fairytale”.

Enjoy and waft away on a raft of delightful loveliness and whimsy …

 

 

What will you become? Fear the Walking Dead season 3 (poster and trailers)

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
As Fear the Walking Dead returns for season three, our families will be brought together in the vibrant and violent region formerly known as the U.S.-Mexico border. International lines done away with following the world’s end, our characters must attempt to rebuild not only society, but family as well. Madison has reconnected with Travis, her apocalyptic partner, but Alicia has been fractured by her murder of Andres. Madison’s son is only a few miles from his mother, but Nick’s first action as a leader saw him and Luciana ambushed by an American militia group – the couple escaped death, Luciana was shot, and Nick no longer feels immortal. Recovering both emotionally and physically, Strand has his sights set on harnessing the new world’s currency, and Ofelia’s captivity will test her ability to survive and see if she can muster the savagery of her father. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

One of the great strengths of Fear the Walking Dead, the spinoff of AMC’s ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead, is that it has always been prepared to ask the really hard questions about what happens to humanity when all the comforts and moral assurances of civilisation are unceremoniously, and suddenly, pulled from underneath it.

You might well argue that The Walking Dead has done the much thing but after watching two seasons of Fear the Walking Dead, I would argue that the zombie drama’s progeny has done a far better job of showing what would really happen to people in such an unexpected, and highly stressful, apocalyptic situation.

Right from the start, everyone has grappled with the great survival vs retaining humanity conundrum, not from some French-like penchant for philosophical musing, but because their lives very much depend on it.

With its taut, slowburning style, Fear the Walking Dead has demonstrated how hard and fraught a transition this is, and how many people don’t want to succumb to some kind of Lord of the Flies scenario if there’s any way to avoid it.

 

 

Given the slow decent into undead madness that accompanied the beautifully-calibrated first season, we watched as each of the characters struggled to balance who they once were and wished to remain with a world that cares not for the niceties of civilised discourse and human rights.

Granted for some people it was all a bit too slow and meandering, but it was, and is, a refreshing change from The Walking Dead‘s nihilistic barbarity, with the successor show doing a far better job of consistently giving us drama that explores, in gripping detail and intensity, what it means to find your way in a new world not even remotely of your making or liking.

With season 3 beckoning, the tagline of “Fear what you become” suggests the show will continue to ask the hard, gritty questions, in ways that aren’t simply violently excessive but which actually have a pleasingly accessible existential basis to them.

It may not be to every fan’s taste but Fear the Walking Dead, is clever, intelligent and insightful, balancing gripping action with thoughtfulness, in the process giving us one of the best shows on the apocalypse on TV at the moment.

The dead that we should sensibly fear shuffle back on our screens on 4 June in USA on AMC and 5 June in Australia on Foxtel.

 

Book review: The End of the Day by Claire North

(image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

Let’s face it – Death does not have the best reputation around.

It is seen, at least in much of Western secular thought, as the end of things, the loss of everything we know and love and hold dear, a terrifying journey into a dark unknown from which there is no return.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course with many religions and non-Western forms of thought advancing the idea that death is less the end of things than another stage of life, a transition to a state of being that transcends anything we known while we’re alive.

Wherever you land on that particular belief curve, Claire North’s At the End of the Day is an interesting excursion into what Death, and the capital D is deliberate since we are talking the Being themselves and not simply the cessation of life, represents and whether there is far more than the grim finality that many of us dread and recoil from.

In North’s unstintingly poetic hands, this beautiful, ruminative book ponders the nature of humanity, and way the endless push-and-pull of time and the many changes it inevitably generates affect our lives, and in the end, our deaths.

Not always, as you soon realise, for the better.

In fact, in chapters that act as literary connective issue for their most narrative-based counterparts – it has to be noted at this point that the book does not follow a conventional narrative path, being more of a series of interconnected episodes centred on Charlie, Death’s Harbinger aka Executive Assistant  and his worldwide travels in advance of his boss’s arrival – we are given what first appear as series of disconnected utterances by myriad people on an eclectic range of topics.

But as the book goes on in its lilting, deeply thoughtful and insightful way, you begin to understand that these are snippets of conversations between Charlie and the people he visits, some of whom are close to death, others of whom are simply representative of a particular way of life or a language group or style of thought.

The lesson through this original and quirky though never less than utterly immersive novel, is that Death comes not simply to usher people through to the Other Side – whatever that is; at no point is this ever firmly established with death only ever referred to in the most oblique of terms – but to honour particular moments in human experience and civilisation.

In that respect, Death is given possibly one of the PR jobs of his/her/their immortal existence, being painted as a kind, benevolent being, who appears to each person through their own filter, and who stands in stark contrast to their fellow Riders of the Apocalypse, War, Pestilence and Famine who extract altogether too much enjoyment from their respective domains.

Death goes to great trouble to honour those whom he or she is ushering from life, even going so far as to travel as they would travel, live as they live as a way of communicating to them that they matter and their lives matter.

 

Claire North (image courtesy official Claire North Facebook page

 

 

It’s touching and beautiful, and you can well understand why many people greet Death at the end of their lives, not as a thief and spectre but as a friend, a confidant who has come to give them a priceless gift.

Death’s beneficence extends to Charlie who, through the course of the book has to juggle kidnapping, death threats and the emotional toll of being with many people as death nears – many of these experiences are profoundly moving and enriching but nonetheless take their toll on the young Englishman who is very much mortal (everyone assumes he isn’t) – with a life back home including a budding relationship with Emmi, who comes to embrace her boyfriend’s very odd occupation even as she has legitimate concerns about its effect on him.

At the End of the Day is a supreme joy, a quietly powerful book written by a superlative writer with real insight, poetry and a quiet celebration of the human spirit and willingness to portray the best and worst of humanity (humanhumanratrat is a constant refrain) that never rises to any great narrative crescendo but nevertheless is endlessly, brilliantly engaging from start to finish.

Rather than being diminished by its less than conventional narrative structure, the novel is actually all the richer for it, its small and sometimes extended tales encompassing a rich cross section of the human experience that never fail to move, educate or set you thinking.

Taking the position that death is not a negative but rather an affirmation of life, a rejoinder to pursue life in all its myriad forms with vigour and passion, truth and honesty, At the End of the Day is a meditative evocation of the many permutations of humanity, and that the way to cheat death is not to bargain and cajole and brutally coerce but to live your very best life (Oprah will be pleased!) and to go boldly into its end with head held high, heart singing and embracing what you have been and where you will go.

And to the living such as Charlie who rises and falls and rises again in the course of his most gratifying and yet emotionally exhausting of jobs, the book is a poignant reminder that we should grab hold of life and celebrate it at every turn, taking chances, opening our hearts and never being less than entirely open to what it may bring you.

These may sound like the product of Hallmark cards run amok but the reality is that At the End of the Day is heartfelt, grim, real, joyful and whimsically substantial, written by a powerhouse voice who conveys with grace, passion and quiet observation both the horror and joy of life and the inextricable link between life and death and the many points inbetween that define us as people, no matter who or where we may be.

Boldly going all over again: First Star Trek Discovery trailer

(image via IMP Awards (c) CBS All Access)

 

SNAPSHOT
Set roughly ten years before the events of the original series, Star Trek: Discovery shows a never before seen era that shaped Federation history. First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) encounters new ships, worlds and villains as the threat of war looms.(synopsis via Netflix)

There was a point, at what has at times felt like a five year voyage of its very own, that I’ve been given pause to wonder if Star Trek: Discovery, which will debut an enlarged 15 episode this fall on CBS All Access and Netflix this northern autumn, would ever reach the screen.

After a lot of Star Trek TV episodes and movies – to get some idea of just how much, check out this Wired article – including my favourite series Deep Space Nine, which winningly introduced some grit into Star Trek‘s perfect future worlds, it will be great to have a new series to immerse ourselves in.

While the movies have made for enjoyable instalments in the long, much-storied history of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian future, particularly the reboot ones of late, there is a sense that Star Trek‘s real home is television and it is good to see it returning to where it all began.

 

 

The trailer augurs well for Star Trek: Discovery being a fine addition to the venerable franchise with Wired noting it has a great many good, fittingly progressive things working in its favour:

“Discovery will focus on a callow commander (Sonequa Martin-Green) rather than a sophisticated captain, though we’re still getting the latter, too, played by the great Michelle Yeoh. Lantern-jawed cis-het white men have been rightly cleared off the bridge in favor of a team that more accurately reflects the galaxy (and Gene Roddenberry’s vision). New ship, new crew, new strange new worlds, new life, new civilizations. Beam me up.”

That’s a lot of boxes ticked and you can only hope that the series isn’t simply content to do just that but is happily to boldly go once more, all too aware that there is still a great deal of mileage to be made from Star Trek‘s visionary premise and promise, and why not use a Federation starship to fulfill it once agin on the small screen?

Star Trek: Discovery debuts this autumn on CBS All Access in USA and Netflix internationally.

Movie review: Wilson

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Balancing snark and sweetness is never an easy undertaking in storytelling, with two quite disparate elements either slipping one way or the other out of balance, or failing to get at all, leaving you with confused characterisation, a muddled narrative and ultimately, half-baked, listless story.

But in the case of Wilson, directed by Craig Johnson, and based on the cult favourite graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay), the push-and-pull between acerbic grumpiness and aspirational humanity is deftly and pleasingly handled.

The damn near perfect narrative balancing act gives us a film that, while itdoesn’t pull any punches when it comes to a bleak outlook on humanity and its less satisfying expression, never sink into a morasses of existential hopelessness.

Much of that comes down to Woody Harrelson, who has proved brilliantly adept in recent years at playing snarky, borderline dislikeable who are saved from being utterly unbearable to watch by a quick wit and a sage way with advice that, grumpiness aside, resonates with real truth and honesty (think his disillusioned teacher in Edge of Seventeen or his wily gungho apocalypse survivor in Zombieland).

Far from succumbing to the Johnny Depp curse of making every role that plays to his strengths sound like only a wafer thin departure to all of those that have gone before, Harrelson invests every role with a playful, emotionally-authentic difference that makes it easy to identify with and actually like characters who are definitely not on the Pollyanna end of the humanity spectrum.

Wilson is divorced, childless, and very close to the start of the film, fatherless after his dad passes away from cancer (his much-loved mother died some years before), friendless – his only remaining friend Orson (David Warshofsky) – his only emotional connection to his dog Pepper with whom he lives in a home that is piled high with books and other paraphernalia, so densely packed in that it’s less bohemian intelligentsia chic than borderline hoarder.

 

 

He doesn’t have a lot going for him, and remarks in the film’s opening scene on the yawning gulf between the excited expectation of childhood when life swims with a myriad of technicolour, limitless possibilities and later life when all the optimism and hope has given way to a resignation that all those dreams are dead in the water and not open to resuscitation.

It’s a bleak outlook, but given Wilson’s outlook, and the loss of wife Pippi (Laura Dern) and a hoped-for daughter to an assumed abortion, a realistic one that, owing to his self-declared emotional immaturity (he knows he has to grow up, his partial self-awareness part of his considerable appeal), seems to have no real chance of being challenged or overturned.

So you can imagine how happy he is when, following the deeply-emotionally death of his father – one of the great scenes of Wilson happens when the grumpy, mouthy, antisocial titular character reveals he has the same heart and longings as the rest of us, breaking down at his dad’s bedside – he reconnects with Pippi, who’s back in town trying to turn his drug-addled life around, and finds out he has a 17 year old daughter.

Well, after a manner of speaking anyway, given she adopted, not aborted all those years ago; naturally Wilson being Wilson, disillusioned with reality and looking for any straw to clutch, no matter how fanciful, takes to his newfound fatherhood with gusto.

He stalks Claire (Isabella Amara), Pippi, despite her substantial (and it turns out well-justified) misgivings, connects with her without any warning in a scene at a mall that is both heartfelt and hilarious all at once, and even takes her away for a weekend to Pippi’s sister Polly’s (Cheryl Hines) suburban idyll where unfortunately all the spinning plates that make up Wilson’s fantasy family life comes crashing down to the ground in a scene that is heartbreaking to watch in so many ways.

What it, and many other scenes establish profoundly and with a relatable,  emotional vividness, is that Wilson, for all his railing against working with the establishment and selling out a consumerist, suburban culture, and his emotional hypocrisy (he claims to be a people person but for most of the film, hilariously isn’t) simply wants to be belong, to be loved, to matter.

 

 

It’s this humanity, which Crowe manages to both articulate and subvert to equal pleasing measure – every heartfelt sentiment, though truly meant, is matched almost word for word with a stinging, acerbic companion – that anchors Wilson, which never becomes unbearably snarky nor saccharine sweet.

While you could argue the ending is a subversion of much of the bile-drenched potshots that have come before, it actually rings beautifully true, exposes what we come to realise fairly quickly has been there all along – Wilson’s damaged but ultimately healable heart, which finds a great deal of its restoration through his friendship and later, relationship with onetime dogsitter Shelly (Judy Greer).

That Wilson manages to both affirm the fact that life’s limitless endless possibilities don’t come to a shuddering halt with childhood, and embrace the fact that it often feels like they do, speaks to Crowes inspired ability to speak to the grim reality of life in the trenches of adulthood.

It’s not perfect, often far from it, but it is salvageable, all appearances to the contrary and it is Wilson‘s to hold these two equally valid, and profoundly well-articulated truths in equal and relatable tension that grants the film, and the character always at its epicentre, such a truthfulness and likeability.

This is the film to see if you have become convinced that there is no hope left, that the only way to handle life is to treat everyone and everything as an existential enemy combatant, but are still inclined to believe that behind all the snark and the disillusionment lies a wittily-articulated way out of the deadend morass just waiting to be found if you’re so inclined.

 

 

 

What does Neil deGrasse Tyson think about this summer’s sci-fi movies? We’re glad you asked

(image vie YouTube (c) The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)

 

Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of a particularly remote moon of late, you would be aware that Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, author and all science expert, is insanely good at communicating everything you could possibly want to know about the world around us and the space that it inhabits.

So it makes perfect sense that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert would draw on his expertise to take a look, tongue partially in cheek at some of this US summer’s slate of sci-fi movies such as Alien: Covenant and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and um, Baywatch (the less said about that film the better frankly).

Selecting him to comment on these films is pure genius because he is amazingly articulate, funny and able to touch on the great divide between scientific reality and movie-making fantasy in a way that doesn’t sound pompous or overly serious, just pretty damn sensible.

It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and a great primer for any upcoming trips to the cinema.

Now all you need is a really big box of buttery popcorn and an enquiring mind …

(source: Laughing Squid)