SNAPSHOT The series, which revolves around the ace fighter pilots of Leia Organa’s burgeoning Resistance, follows a young pilot named Kazuda Xiono (voiced by Days of Our Lives’ Christopher Sean), recruited by the rebel group to conduct secretive spying missions on the growing reach of the villainous First Order. (synopsis (c) Gizmodo)
Those far-off days when new cinematic and televisual Star Wars instalments were few and far between, and longtime fans like yours truly – who is so old he saw the original Star Wars, when it was just called Star Wars, in a cinema in 1977 – had to wait a while for the next part of the story to be told, now seem like a weird dream, a distant memory.
For ever since Disney got their hands on Lucasfilm, it’s been all systems go with an endless parade of mostly very good films – for the record I loved Solo and was meh about The Last Jedi (but not, I must stress, for the reasons advanced by the misogynistic fans who bizarrely want to remark it; I just thought it dull and scattered in its storytelling) – and TV shows which have taken our “long time agaon in a galaxy far, far away” to all kinds of wondrously expansive places.
Next up is Star Wars Resistance, an animated series that tAkes place before The Force Awakens when Poe and BB-8, who’ve around the Resistance traps once or twice greet a new crop of raw recruits eager to do their bit for a free galaxy and fight the pernicious inroads of the First Order.
The trailer has a delightfully comic air to it that dovetails nicely with the fact that the protagonist Kazuda soon finds that aspiration and reality aren’t always the best of bedfellows and that perhaps there’s a lot more to being a spy that he bargained on as the synopsis for the first episode makes all too clear.
“Poe and BB-8 assign newly-appointed spy Kaz to the Colossus, a massive aircraft re-fuelling platform on an outer rim water planet, home to colourful new aliens, droids and creatures. While undercover, Kaz works as a mechanic and lives with Poe’s old friend Yeager, a veteran pilot who operates a starship repair shop run by his crew: Tam, Neeku and their old battered astromech droid, Bucket. Kaz soon finds himself in over his head with his new friend BB-8 as he’ll have to compete in dangerous sky races, keep his mission a secret from his newfound family, and avoid the danger of the First Order.”
So derring-do adventures, danger, intrigue and some comic lightness? Sounds like the perfect Star Wars adventure and you can catch it all, if you’re in USA, from October, when Star Wars Resistance debuts; international dates TBC.
Childhood is supposed to be a safe, idyllic, untroubled place.
Yet for a million different reasons that are as diverse as the various failings of the human race, it fails to be the fairytale dream it’s supposed to be, overwhelming young growing minds with the kinds of challenges and traumas no one should encounter until they’re an adult (and not even then if at all possible but grown-ups are at least somewhat armed with the ability to handle the messy vagaries of life).
Estiu 1993 or Summer 1993, based on the life of Carla Simón who wrote and directed the Catalan-Spanish film, explores what happens one six-year-old girl Frida (Laia Artigas) is forced to leave the only life she’s ever known in Barcelona following the death of her parents.
While the film never explicitly comes out and states what happened to her parents, subsequent conversations point to the fact that they were junkies who ended up contracting HIV/AIDS at the height of the crisis when ignorance was rife and options for long-term management of the condition were next-to-no-existent.
In the end, while how the parents died does affect Frida’s life to some extent – the scene where she hurts herself playing and bleeds quietly but forcefully underlines how people reacted out of fear, not understanding in the early Nineties – the issue is more how someone so young processes such a loss, especially when it has the effect of sending her to a world wholly different to her own.
Sent to live with her mother Neus’s brother, Esteve (David Verdaguer), his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí) and their daughter Anna (Paula Robles), who very much want her, she reacts much as you would expect any child to, with a mix of uncertainty, quiet acquiescence, rebellion and escapism.
The performance by Laia Artigas is phenomenally good, evincing this range of emotions with a palpable sense of disclocation, beginning in Barcelona where she is almost always the centre of attention, with the various adults, including her grandparents and aunts hovering off to the side, busy with packing up the lives of Frida’s parents and of course, the young girl herself.
You know there’s a lot going on behind the facade, that Frida may look quietly accepting of her new lot in life, going where she is directed, but as Summer 1993 progresses it becomes clear that it’s more shock than anything else at work here.
As she slowly becomes accustomed to her new life – keep in mind that for much of the film “accustomed” does not equal “acceptance”, more an interim uncertainty about how handle a markedly new set of life circumstances (it makes sense – she’s just a kid, after all) – she begins to push back, in ways small and life-threateningly large, at least for Anna who ends up as the recipient of Frida’s cruel acts of defiance.
You feel for Anna, who’s only four and utterly excited about and devoted to her new sister, since she’s the one, more than even Esteve and Marga who bears the weight of Frida understandable inability to wholly adapt to her new life out in the countryside hours away from Barcelona.
It would be easy to think of Frida as some kind of mini-devil incarnate, dispassionately lashing out the person least able to defend herself or work out what’s being done to her, but if you consider what she’s experienced in her short life from junkie, likely inattentive parents (that much is clear when you see her play “Mothers and Fathers” with Anna) to a life that is much more normal than what she’s known but a million miles from where she is most comfortable.
Not helping matters is the understandable over-indulgence of her grandparents who have sought to give her the love she’s missed out on, an approach which has had the effect of leaving Frida spoiled and uncannily able to manipulate the people around her because she knows it elicits a positive response.
Cleverly, Summer 1993 doesn’t immediately offer an easy solution on its languid way to an indeterminate final act, choosing to keep the low key drama – this is a film that perhaps dawdles a little too much at times but in so doing it captures the slow, almost unchanging nature of time and reality from a child’s perspective – on its toes to the very end.
While Esteve and Marga find their patience tried at times, and Frida does occasionally delve into minimalist demon spawn from hell territory (again usually at poor Anna’s uncomprehending expense), it’s all very realistic in keeping with the fact that this is a story about a young uprooted, unsettled, uncertain child who reacting less as a monster and more as an ill-equipped small human well and truly out of her depth, despite now being in a loving home.
In that type of scenario, there is no immediate happy-ever-after and sometimes not at all, and Summer 1993 wisely stays true to that, offering Frida as a work in progress who will likely come good but not in the road-to-Damascus fashion so beloved of Hollywood and its cookie cutter easy answers.
That is the joy of this remarkable film – it’s willingness to let the reality in and eschew the fairytale, ushering us into a world that is bucolic in its setting and loving in its familial offering but which can’t instantly mend a problem years in the making, as true to life as you’re going to get in a world where problems and solutions don’t always find their way together.
Avengers: Infinity War is grim, people, GRIM with the kind of ending that has you leaving the theatre with a desperate, impelling need to eat your body weight in junky comfort food (which as luck would have it, cinemas have in abundance; true, it will bankrupt you ten times over but it’s there).
But it did really have to end that way?
If you’re Marvel and want the mother of all cliffhangers to eat away at people like a cancerous plot point – I have no idea what that is but it sounds dramatic and so shall it stay in the copy – then it’s damn near perfect; but what if, reasons the good, fiendishly clever, and devilishly-funny folks at How it Should Have Ended, there was more than one out of 14,605 ways (the odds calculated by Dr Strange) to avoid Thanos’s click of the fingers?
What might that have looked like?
Well, wonder no more for there are 11 minutes of all kinds of humourously-delivered, well thought-out musings on how the film could have ended instead, which will leave you with the sickening realisation that you might have been able to avoid the 60 kgs of buttered popcorn you consumed after all. (I mean, IF you had; really who would do that? Me? Ha ha no, you’re kidding right … haha.)
There is a brittleness that permeates the entire length of the Björn Runge directed, Jane Anderson-scripted film The Wife (based on the book of the same name by Meg Wolitzer) which has nothing to do with the snowy wintry setting of Stockholm where much of the story takes place.
The fragility at play is one borne entirely of emotional decisions long-ago made, and forever after regretted, a self-made Faustian pact that has locked husband and famed novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce as older Joe, Harry Lloyd as the younger) and supposed behind-the-scenes wife Joan (Glenn Close in a mesmerisingly-gripping, award-worthy performance; younger version by her daughter Annie Starke) into an alliance of duplicity that has corroded their marriage to the point that only the loving, picture-perfect facade, and some whispers of once vital love, remain.
Their tense-but-enduring bond may have lived on until the end of their natural lives had Joe not been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, triggering a cascading series of events that ultimately unravel the fraud in which they were both once willing participants and precipitate a reckoning that is long overdue.
To discuss this pact of beautifully-manicured but ultimately poisonous lies would be to reveal too much of a plot that unfolds with an exquisitely well-wrought glacial slowness that is never less than utterly engrossing; suffice to say that the revelations that passively-aggressively tumble out in long-held slow motion are enthralling, if only for what they disclose about the darker shadows of human nature and the lies we tell ourselves and others.
The unfurling is aided in part by the presence of writer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), an ambitious though opportunistic would-be biographer who finagles his way on the Castlemans’ Concorde flight to Europe in pursuit of the holy grail of biographies – the life story of the great Joe Castleman himself.
In response to Nathaniel’s cheerfully menacing approaches – his style is all sweetness, light and writerly camaraderie but his piranha-like intent is manifestly clear – Joe is brusquely-dismissive, Joan is icily-pleasant and their disaffected son David (Max Irons), who is an aspiring writer clamouring for his father’s imprimatur, is fair game, so laden with hurt and anger that he cannot see Nathaniel for who he actually is.
Nathaniel, however, is not the problem; rather he is the messenger, the one blowing a revelatory trumpet that Joe does not want to hear and which Joan, who is every bit as complicit in the literary charade as her husband, has grown tired of hearing to the point where her well-deflective facade begins to slip and fall, just when it is needed, in some senses, the most.
Long unhappy with the deal she long ago made with her husband, which has shunted her to a supportive she never wanted but felt she had no choice but to accept, she had made an art of acting as the happy spouse, the one an arm’s length from the messy business of writing, who is nonetheless, integral to her husband’s success.
The issue is, of course, just how crucial is she?
No one is saying, save for Nathaniel, but as Joe is schooled in Nobel Prize receiving etiquette, where he is both elated and conflicted and tempted to once more stray romantically, this time with Linnea (Karin Franz Körlof), the photographer assigned to capture his steps to Nobel glory, and Joan is forced to play the part of the supportive wife and nothing else, the smile long gone from her eyes and present only on her mouth, it all begins to unravel, thread by agonisingly painful, emotionally-repressed thread.
For a process so wretchedly painful, and yet for Joan simultaneously, oddly-cathartic, it is beguilingly beautiful to watch, with every scene, augmented by Close’s masterful ability to say a great deal with very little – the role is largely an internalised one with Close’s eyes doing much of the breathtakingly-impressive heavy lifting – and the gorgeously restrained cinematography of Ulf Brantås which uses shadows, the icy stillness of night and the vastness of the hotel rooms and presentation halls to speak volumes about the great divide that exists between Joe and Joan behind the picture-perfect “love of my life” facade.
In the early stages of the film where the outer veneer reins supreme, there are telltale lines of dialogue and facial expressions, courtesy of Close, that suggest everything is not as rosy as her pasted-on smiles and well-practised spiel suggests.
These hints of a storm beneath the idyllic overlay are given far more substance and import when flashbacks to the early days of Joe and Joan’s relationship, which begin in infidelity with the former as an Ivy League married college professor and the latter an ambitious writing student, and continued in much the same deceptive vein thereafter.
Much of the duplicity stems from Joan’s internalised belief, based partly on the bitter late-1950s warnings of writer Elaine Mozell (Elizabeth McGovern) and on her observance of the misogyny of the day (which the #MeToo movement has highlighted is still all too rampant), that she will never make it as a writer on her own.
The brilliance of The Wife is that it never nails any obvious clumsy judgements to the wall; rather it lets Joe and Joan hosit themselves on their own failing petard, again and again, both complict, both fallible and both driven by personal demons that somehow common ground and sense of self in their marriage.
This is a morality tale that never attempts to be that patently transparent or clumsy; it is content to tell it story and tell it slowly, richly and with great unravelling import, and let the long-disguised chips fall where they may.
Though it recalls those immortal lines from Sir Walter Scott’s 1808 poem, Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field “Oh, what a tangled web we weave
/ When first we practise to deceive!”, the intent of The Wife, one of the most hypnotically-magnetic films to arrive in theatres in some time, simply seems to be to shine a light on the crumbly fallibility of humanity, and in so doing, underline how even the most inspired of initial plans can quickly curdle and sour into a monster than quickly subsumes and subverts any of its promised or imagined rewards to the near-eternal detriment of everyone involved.
In one of his latest instalments, he explores how a big, bombastic blockbuster, Jurassic Park, used it riveting storyline and finely-etched characters to explore some pretty big, important themes such as just because technology gives you the ability to do something, does that really mean you should do it?
That great ethical dilemma finds itself a “real world” example in its debate about bringing extinct species back from the dead; in this memorable case, dinosaurs who refuse to observe the script set for them and who underline, in their natural willfulness, how life has a way of testing our hubris.
The video essay perfectly explores this deep issue, and some fairly personal ones for Grant and Hammond, in the process serving a whizbang action thriller that seamlessly folds in some pretty cool philosophical debates.
Watch and realise all over again what a clever move is Jurassic Park.
We all love music that lifts up, lightens the soul, stirs up the joyous and the good, stills the anxious and the bad.
That kind of music is all the better when it’s accompanied by lyrics that speak to the human condition in authentic, accessible, profoundly touching ways.
Too good to be true?
Hush your mouth doubters for these five artists all know their way around seriously catchy music but just as importantly how to infuse their works of danceable art with perspectives on life, love and the travails of the human condition, getting you thinking as you dance.
It’s beautiful, it’s meaningful and its yours – have a listen.
With a debut single titled “Pumpin Blood” (2013), there’s a fair bet that Swedish dance band NONONO (Stina Wäppling, Tobias “Astma” Jimson and Michel “Rocwell” Flygare) are committed to their musical ethos.
So it is with “Ego”, a song that percolates with a consistently-mesmerising beat, Wäppling’s resonant vocals that glide through and over the electropop sensibilities with elan and an easy danceability that will have you up on your feet in no time.
This is not ferocious electropop; rather there’s a breezy warmth and welcome to songs like “Ego” and previous hit “Friends” balanced, as is much of Scandinavian music, with an eye on the darker realities of being human.
This balance is what makes this music so real and immediate – yes it’s instantly appealing and almost joyous and yet lurking beneath is a cautionary tale, an admission that life may not be quite as bright as the music and that gifts the songs of NONONO with as much substance as they have sparkle.
Time to think, to really dig into the marrow of our lives, is a rare commodity these days but Canadian Kirsten Ludwig (she hails from Calgary, Alberta) found it and used it to somewhat cathartic effect as she mused on a lost relationship.
Her wandering thoughts gave birth to “There You Are”, a song which carries a great deal of personal importance for her:
“It felt like every time I got in the car to make the trek to the next show, that person was there, again, with me and I couldn’t seem to get away. In a sense, this is the ‘I’m sorry’ song on the record—detailing my shortcomings as well as theirs. I somehow found the strength to admit that there are two sides to everything after all.” (Paste Magazine)
There’s a hushed beauty and sense of regret to the country-tinged, guitar-rich track which carries Ludwig’s hauntingly emotionally-evocative vocals aloft on a sea of honest recollection which is as good for the soul as it is for the ears.
Winningly-described by Australian public radio music station Triple Jas “a disco ball of falsetto lines and uptempo house-filtered energy”, “Heavy, California” is a all modern soul, easy-loping melodies that suggest the broad reaches of the song’s geographical namesake rather than London where the band, founded by childhood friends Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson, hails from.
Pulsing with an energy that never lets up throughout the song, “Heavy, California” is one of those tracks that gives just about every situation in which it’s played a richness and sense of chilled renewal that can’t help but buoy the soul.
It may hard to believe but one of the most innovative pop artists ever, and yes, I do mean ever, Sweden’s Robyn has hadn’t a single all her own for eight long years.
Sure she’s collaborated with heaps of other artists – Neneh Cherry, the late Christian Falk, Todd Rundgren and Röyksopp – but a song that’s just hers? You have to go back to 2010’s AMAZING Body Talk LP.
Happily, her new single, “Missing U” returns Robyn to her cring in the disco roots as Variety happily notes:
“Before ‘Crying in the Club’ was the title of a Camila Cabello song, it was Robyn’s entire ethos, if not registered trademark. In the eight years since the Swede released a proper solo album, no one has quite recaptured the combination of b.p.m. and pathos she perfected in the run-up to the turn of the last decade. Now she’s back with ‘Missing U’, the abbreviated title of which suggests the university-level course in loss and regret it delivers.”
Does it deliver? Oh how it delivers as Variety once again beautifully explains:
“[The song is] basically the sound of a bass drum being struck steadily for pretty much the entire 4 minutes and 51 seconds. But there’s not a lot of skimping in the rest of the production, which cycles through bittersweetly grandiose synth loops to meet Robyn at the depths and heights of her despair. It’s the partial handiwork of longtime collaborator Klas Ahlund, who worked on both her self-titled masterpiece ‘Robyn’ (2005) and the EP-combining patchwork ‘Body Talk’ (2010), along with Joseph Mount of the electronic music group Metronomy. And it’s a welcome return to somewhat traditional pop form after her mid-decade collaborative efforts took her in more experimental directions.”
Now all we have to do is wait for the eighth album to appear which hopefully won’t be eight years hence because Robyn’s music is, for all its pathos, a highlight of anyone’s day.
As performing names go, it’s hard to beat the delightfully quirky inspiration for Miss Eaves (aka Shanthony Exum), a Brooklyn resident by way of North Carolina who took her music moniker from her favourite font Mrs Eaves.
It’s exactly what you’d expect from an artist whom Bust Magazine has justly cited as a multi-talented feminist rapper” whose dedicated to “combating ‘the negative body image issues that arise from the media’s narrow portrayal of beauty.'”
As you’d expect from someone of Miss Eaves socially-aware calibre, her music is similarly captivatingly catchy and substantial all at once, a beguilingly infectious mix that delights with its electro pop-rap and knowing understanding of the way the world is lamentably often better at pushing down with destructive force than lifting up with positivity and empowement.
Miss Eaves aims to combat that one infectiously-listenable song after another, with the video for the song featuring people around New York dancing in their own inimitable style, haters begone!
NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!
There’s more to many songs than meets the eye. Take “Message in a Bottle” by The Police which “doodling music theorist and musician” 12tone has explored in depth, focusing on how its “use of quintal harmonies, power chords and the wandering passage the music takes before it find the root (E Major) [evokes a] sense of melodic meandering emphasizes the very feeling of being lost at sea.”(Laughing Squid)
Sadly overnight the world lost one of its great musical talents – the incomparable Aretha Franklin. A phenomenon who changed soul and blues with her brilliantly-distinctive style, and known for showstopping songs such as “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman”, she will be greatly missed. RIP
In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean, her feisty elf companion Elfo, and her personal demon Luci. Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.
The series will feature the voice talents of Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) as Bean, Nat Faxon (Tammy) as Elfo and Eric Andre (The Lion King) as Luci. They will be joined by John DiMaggio, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, David Herman, Matt Berry, Jeny Batten, Rich Fulcher, Noel Fielding, and Lucy Montgomery. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
I love a well-executed piece of post-modern animated fun and honestly Disenchantment (I also adore a clever play on fairytale words which this title delivers in glitter-filled handfuls), the new comedy from Matt Groening looks like it has the capacity to deliver that in spades.
Not everyone is convinced – see this critique from Rolling Stone – but these character profiles, which are an absolute hoot to watch (yes I used the word “hoot” so you just know I really liked them) indicate that we’re in for a brilliantly quirky romp into the land of princesses and medieval familial expectations.
Take time to watch them all since they’re a great primer for the series. How do I know this without having seen a single episode?
Well, Groening has demonstrated with both The Simpsons and Futurama that characters, beautifully-written, appealingly-executed characters are at the very heart of every one of his shows, and given how well the characters do their thing in these short videos, it’s obvious that Disenchantment won’t be an exception to the rule.
How right I am will be come obvious today when Disenchantment premieres its full 10-episode first season on Netflix.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ZOMBIES WHO ARE BLOWING IN THE WIND … THEY’RE BLOWING IN THE WIND MY FRIEND
Things got more than a little Z Nation in the opening episode, “People Like Us”, of the second half of the fourth season of Fear the Walking Dead.
The undead, who are looking less and less attractive – to be fair, they were never going to win any “Most Beautiful Person” contests anytime soon, or ever, really – were being blown hither and yon, yon and hither by a massive storm that mirrored the emotional state of everyone in the wake of the seismic events of the mid-season finale when Madison (Kim Dickens) most likely met her doom. (I say “likely” because there is an idea out there in fandom that she lives because no one saw her die. Put that in your conspiracy theory pipe and spoke it why don’t you?)
Admittedly the storyline that unfolded throughout the episode wasn’t that hilarious – this is the apocalypse folks where happiness is simply a muted form of fear, not a cosy, blissful state unto itself – but damn it if those easily picked up from the ground, light-as-air zombies weren’t an absolute hoot to watch, much as they are in Z Nation, a brilliantly-clever show in its own right that went one step further and created a “zombienado”, and yes a GIANT zombie cheese wheel.
It was even funnier watching them ka-thunk, bump onto the ground although if you were in the way, as June/Laura/Naomi (Jenna Elfman) and Al (Maggie Grace) were at one point, thankfully secure in the Armoured SWAT Van That Fears Nothing, have one come down hard onto you was no laughing matter.
But all that Dylan-esque, Peter Paul and Mary blowing in the wind aside, and again wheeeee!, there was some serious questioning about life, the universe and everything down on the ground, which each character handled in vastly different ways.
Before we travel down each of those twisty, existential-angsty paths, one thing worth noting, once again, is how brilliantly-well Fear the Walking Dead frames everything in terms of raw, visceral, real humanity.
The temptation after a big bombastic finale is surely to throw everyone back, with no ceremony and a devil-may-care, ratings-grabbing attitude, into the mincer of life is a messy pile of shit and you’re soaking in the worst of it AGAIN, but Fear didn’t do that; in fact, it pulled back, taking us one month down the road where everyone who survived the fateful turn of events at the stadium had fallen into a rather ginormous funk.
It makes sense right and feels wholly relatable; after all, who of us, even in the face of looming undead death, and maybe even more so then, wouldn’t seek some form of escape or lapse into despair and questioning about what to do next.
Where The Walking Dead has lost its way, and honestly, is making its characters acting like aggressive set pieces in a big grand apocalyptic tableau – true you could argue people might end up like Rick et al, constantly playing Lord of the Flies games, but I think they’re far more likely to act like the people in Fear who, in one form or another, are wanting to hide from the worst of life around them in ways that are unique to each person.
“People Like Us” feels just like you’d expect people after a major traumatic event to behave and each and every character is palpably human through this softly-spoken but deeply-impacting episode that may pull back on the hard, in-your-face action but which never forgets that these are real people we’re talking about here and has each of them act accordingly.
Take Victor (Colman Domingo), for instance.
In the aftermath of losing Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison in quick succession, our once-was-a-millionaire has retreated to a big lavish gated house, surrounded by mostly-intact fencing, to drink himself stupid each day on a cellar stocked with expensive red wines.
Is it productive? No. Will it help him move forward? Not really. But is it a really human reaction? Absolutely, underscoring that people don’t always fight back against trauma and terror and in fact, especially in the face of massive terror writ large, which in anyone’s book is exactly what the zombie apocalypse is, run from it, his reaction makes sense.
As does Luciana’s (Danay García) decision to sit in a room, headphones on and listen to an endless parade of old country music records, her back to the world and her pain shut maybe a little, with only the odd wandering zombie to almost kill her (thank goodness for Victor and a broken wine bottle!).
And on we go with Morgan (Lennie James) deciding that Virginia is after all where he wants to be – given the bonds he’s formed with John (Garret Dillahunt) and the time he spends with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) in this episode, it doesn’t ring true and smacks more of writers wondering what the hell to do with him than anything else – and June/Laura/Naomi unsure if John loves who she really is or who he imagines her to be.
Even Charlie, who’s living with John and June/Laura/Naomi (henceforth JuLomi) on a bus on an easily-defendable bridge from which the fishing is easy – bar the zombies who keep washing up on the shore, complicating reading on the riverbank – is conflicted, hardly a surprise given how much she’s lost and who hates her (Victor, Alicia, Luciana) and that she’s still a very young woman who doesn’t have the adult coping mechanisms (actually given how well everyone else is doing, they’re not really what they’re cracked up to be now are they?).
Everyone, and I mean everyone, is searching, regardless of how they’ve reacted to the events of one month back, and reacting just like normal people would.
Not apocalyptic warriors. Not feudal tribes locked in war. Not play actors in some deathly struggle. But real, all-too-relatable people who don’t have the perfect reactions to events but then, stop and think about it, who of us really do?
Would we suddenly get miraculously better at it in the apocalypse? In any kind of civilisation-ending event for that matter? We might, but we might not, with my money more on the latter than the former, a constant contrary, fallible trait of humanity that Fear the Walking Dead used to brilliant effect in “People Like Us” which explored the after-effects of trauma in a way that was gut-wrenchingly impacting in its own quietly-devastating way.
The film centers on a family in crisis. Bridget (Hilary Swank) returns home to Chicago at her brother’s (Michael Shannon) urging to deal with her mother’s (Blythe Danner) Alzheimer’s and her father’s (Robert Forster) reluctance to let go of their life together. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
Life, for all its many blessings, can be a frightening inhospitable place at times.
That’s why family and friends, and the shared lives we create with them are so important; they anchor us, give us a sense of belonging, of time and of place, and so losing them … well losing them is just about unthinkable.
But sadly it happens, and What They Had dwells in that awful in-between place where everything you once loved and enjoyed is on its way out but hasn’t yet left, leaving you grieving and lost in an almost-impossible-to-bear limbo.
No doubt, this will be a devastating film for anyone who’s ever lost a parent, or really any significant life relationships at all, but it will speak the truth of what it’s like when life loses a little bit of its sustaining richness and we’re left to carry on as best we can.
What They Had premieres 19 October in USA and Canada.
A child on the autism spectrum, he also has synaesthesia, a condition which joins one or more senses together, meaning that where we might just hear someone speaking, someone like Jasper both hears them and sees what they are seeing in various colours (or might taste it).
He also has prosopagnosia, a neurological disorder which renders someone like Jasper unable to recognise peoples’s faces; it doesn’t matter how familiar you are to him or how many times he’s seen you, he can’t remember what you look like and must rely on telltale giveaways such the colour of glasses or a regularly watch or item of clothing (and if these change then he’s back to square one, a fact that is used effectively by the author in this novel).
It’s an extraordinary mix and one that makes Jasper, the protagonist in The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J, Harris a wholly-captivating, utterly-unique young man who provides a perspective on the world many of us would have little to no familiarity with.
“Bee Larkham’s murder was ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged, silver icicles. That’s what I told the first officer we met at the police station, before Dad could stop me. I wanted to confess and get it over and done with. But he can’t have understood what I said what I said or he forgot to pass on the message to his colleague who’s interviewing me now.” (P. 1)
While some might see this as some sort of affliction, Jasper loves that he can see the world this way; it’s all he’s ever known, and while he knows that his synaesthesia and prosopagnosia make him different to most other people, and disadvantages him in certain situations, he wouldn’t trade his gifts as he sees them for anything.
It does however make life challenging for Jasper’s father Ed, a former British marine who, due to his many postings in combat zones, doesn’t have the rapport with Jasper that his “cobalt blue” mother, who dies four years previously from cancer (and whose cardigan is a reassuring safety talisman for Jasper when he’s traumatised) once did.
It means that the now single father he has his hands full with a son who is both enabled and incapacitated by his conditions, and who relates events that take place in his wife in the most literal, direct way possible.
This causes problems of course at school where other kids don’t tolerate Jasper’s inability to know who they are until thy speak them (and even then, this mode of recognition can be muddied if a cold or an emotional state changes the tenor, and thus colour, of their voice) and becomes almost overwhelmingly problematic when the new neighbour in the street, Bee Larkham, who’s moved into her mother’s old home, causes all kinds of neighbourhood before finally disappearing and possibly ending up murdered.
The thing is, Jasper, who’s one of the only people who saw Bee on the Friday in question (an Indigo Blue day) isn’t unable to relate events like his father, who works hard to protect him from the fallout of this horrific event or neighbours like Ollie Watkins (home to clean out his mum’s house) and long-time resident David Gilbert who abhors the parakeets which Jasper loves with an obsessive regard and which he paints with endless fascination (syneasthesia means his paintings are highly abstract, a sense of the object, creaure or event rendered in colours either vivid or subdued, or a mix of both).
All of which makes the events of The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder a fascinatingly-different, engrossing murder mystery that pivots just as much, if not more, on who Jasper is and what’s going on in his life than finding out who killed her (if anyone; for much of the novel, despite Jasper being adamant she’s dead, no one knows exactly where she is).
Harris writes beautifully with real insight and understanding – like any author worth their salt, she has researched and consulted widely to give the most accurate portrayal of someone with synaesthesia and prosopagnosia, albeit, as she admits, with some poetic license thrown in for good storytelling measure – gifting us with a picture of a young man grappling with grief, self-worth and a sometimes subsuming sensory overload that makes life almost impossibly difficult to traverse.
This difficulty becomes even more pronounced when Jasper is plunged into the midst of the missing person/murder investigation, an extraordinarily-stressful event that creates fissures in the already-troubled relationship with his father – Ed clearly loves him but is stymied by his lack of understanding or connection much of the time – and which complicates his life as he finds people don’t always mean what they say, an issue when you navigate based on the surety of what people are saying to you (and the colours they create, the consistency of which is a navigable aid for Jasper, especially when he’s treading on uncertain ground).
“I don’t need a paintbrush. I’m painting the colours in my head while Leo talks to the detectives. The day of Bee Larkham’s murder should have been a breathtaking indigo because it was a Friday, but all I coudld see was sky blue. The colour of Bee Larkham’s voice.” (p. 304)
Harris has written a novel unlike any I’ve read in quite some time.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder manages to be both quirky and offbeat and deeply, affectingly emotionally-resonant, and incredibly beautifully illuminating as you discover how everyday words and figures of speech and emotional states come with their own colour designations.
Not every person with synaesthesia sees words in the same way as Jasper himself admits; his mother also had the condition and saw things differently to him but their bond was strong because she was the one person who really understood him and to whom he never had to explain himself (although this is always a challenge with Jasper articulating how he sees the world in the colours it presents, something few other people without the condition can appreciate).
It’s this bond that creates one of the great emotional anchor points of The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder as Jasper struggles to not explain the events of Bee Larkham’s disappearance and murder to his father and the police, but to find his ways through the terrain of life without his mother as champion and guide.
There are times, thanks to the richness of Harris’s writing that you want to hold Jasper close and reassure him that everything will be all right; but then you realise you can’t be sure of that as the narrative keeps you guessing right until the final dramatic and emotionally-affecting chapters.
This is a remarkable novel, one that is quirky and unusual and yet deeply human and real all at once, that doesn’t pull its emotional punches on any level and doesn’t attempt to sugar coat Jasper’s experiences nor those of Bee, Ollie, Ed and many others, all of whom are painted in vividly-arresting fullness such that you are engrossed not simply by the storyline but these utterly-compelling characters.
The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder reminds us at every turn that there are many colours in life’s spectrum and we can’t ever assume we see all of them, and we would be wise always pay attention to people like Jasper who can provide a whole new, illuminating perspective on this many-hued thing we call life.