Wayward Pines: “Sound the Alarm” (S2, E5 review)

Well hello good looking ... the first female Abbie to appear on Future Vogue was hailed for her,um, piercing intensity (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)
Well hello good looking … the first female Abbie to appear on Future Vogue was hailed for her,um, piercing intensity (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)

 

*SPOILERS … AND A WHOLE LOT OF ABBIES INTENSITY GOING ON*
So we witnessed the first strike for Abbies equality this week when it was revealed, via a neat sequence at the end of the episode, that all the males of the species are controlled, drone-like, by the females who have way more going on than good old Megan Fisher (Hope Davis), hypnotherapist/world’s best researcher (not hard when there’s only a few hundred humans left) or anyone else for that matter has given them credit for.

Not so dumb after all then huh?

If you were paying attention, and sadly no one beyond Dr Theo Yedlin (Jason Patric), who took over as Megan’s boss after a deal with Kerry (Kacey Rohl), blinkered as they are by the supposition (an increasingly erroneous one really) that the Abbies are an evolutionary deadend and will be soon be gone anyway.

Clearly that’s not the case, and one glance at the unwaveringly intense eyes of the first ever female Abbie captured in Wayward Pines – rather too easily when you think about; make you wonder if she isn’t some sort of psychic Trojan Horse … oh of course she is – tells you all you need to know.

The female Abbie, nicknamed Margaret after Megan’s assistant’s (Nathan Witte) long dead ex-girlfriend, sat there rather docilely being poked and prodded by all and sundry, all the time studying her captors, taking it all in.

The interesting part of this whole narrative strand was the way it illustrated just how Pilcher’s acolytes such as Megan and Jason (Tom Stevens) haven’t actually taken the time to study and adapt to the actuality of their new surroundings.

Everything they come across such as the Abbies in general and the female in particular are interpreted through assumptions that were arrived at a long time ago and remain steadfastly unchanged after 2000 years.

Yes a guiding hand and continuity of belief are wonderful things but not if they so skew the way you react to a new set of circumstances that you miss the truth standing right in front of you.

 

You can stare all you want Megan but the reality is that the square peg of who the Abbies really are won't fit into the round hold of your dangerously set-in-concrete assumptions (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)
You can stare all you want Megan but the reality is that the square peg of who the Abbies really are won’t fit into the round hold of your dangerously set-in-concrete assumptions (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)

 

The female Abbie is a sterling case in point.

She is quite clearly not what they suppose her to be – she is astute, intelligent, sentient, calculating and fully able to adapt to new situations and very much the brains behind the male-centric operation.

But how do the good people of Wayward Pines see her?

As an abnormality, a dumb irritant that with enough research and resources will be consigned to the evolutionary dustbin leaving humanity free to subjugate the planet all over again.

The truth? By ignoring who she really is, and sticking doggedly to their creaky suppositions, humanity faces the real danger than the Abbies could literally and figuratively sit up and bite them, leaving humanity as the ones on their way into the evolutionary abyss.

It’s a dangerous way to operate and one that could doom the Wayward Pines experiment if someone like, oh let’s see Dr Theo Yedlin doesn’t call them on it (and trust me, arrogant he might be but he’s the only truly critical mind operating in the town right now, save for Adam Hassler, played by Tim Griffin, who keeps warning everyone that there’s more to the Abbies than meets the eye).

While Megan, Jason and the others stick their heads ostrich-like in the sand, a few other secrets came crawling out of the collective human unconscious.

For instance, turns out that Rebecca Yedlin (Nimrat Kaur) was a major founding figure in Pilcher’s Army of the Deludedly Prepared but got cold feet when she realised the town she had designed was not a here-and-now endeavour but one that would be put an ice for 2000 years.

Makes sense she’d think that – it’d be the first reaction of any sane rational person, irrespective of whether Pilcher eventually turned out to be right when he obviously did.

The fact that she was woken suddenly and way ahead of Theo suggests that her reluctance to fully drink the apocalyptic Kool-Aid meant that a lot of her choices were taken from her such as you know being assigned to Xander as his wife.

Yup she was married to the “reformed” rebel, something that Theo understandably didn’t take too kindly to – back to the marriage counsellor then guys?

 

"Yeah I think like all this camping outside the wall stuff - makes me feel so alive." Said ... No one ... Ever (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)
“Yeah I think like all this camping outside the wall stuff – makes me feel so alive.” Said … No one … Ever (image via Spoiler TV (c) FOX)

 

And in others news, turns out Theresa (Shannyn Sossamon) wants to stay out beyond the wall to be closer to Ben who is now very, very dead, and Frank Armstrong (Michael Garza), brother to Lucy (Emma Tremblay) might be gay which won’t go down well in “Reproduce! Reproduce!” Wayward Pines.

(Rather sweetly, Frank had no idea what  being gay, initially assuming Dr Theo Yedlin meant he was really happy: when he realised that it meant same sex attracted, he was crestfallen largely because not reproducing essentially makes you surplus to requirements … did no one keep the IVF How to manual?)

Minor issues on one level but all speak to the central dilemma for the cabal in charge of Wayward Pines – what happens when things don’t go according to plan and the world refuses to march to Pilcher’s vision?

More flexible souls would change strategy and adapt before it’s all too late but you have to wonder if Wayward Pines is capable of doing that; my money is on no unless someone like Theo Yedlin, who performed a coup by taking over research on the Abbies from Megan, actually gets listened to in some meaningful fashion.

If he isn’t, then humanity and Pilcher’s grand vision is pretty much dead in the water; time will tell if that’s the case …

*So what lies in next week’s ep “City on a Hill”? Not a lot of good things really … the fun and games continue with humanity’s future on the line …

 

What is the nature of your reality? Westworld plays with your conceptions

(image via Night Nox (c) HBO)
(image via Night Nox (c) HBO)

 

SNAPSHOT
The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.

The cast of the 10-episode series includes Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Jimmi Simpson, Rodrigo Santoro, Shannon Woodward, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Ben Barnes, Simon Quarterman, Angela Sarafyan, Luke Hemsworth and Clifton Collins, Jr. Inspired by the motion picture “Westworld,” written and directed by Michael Crichton. (official synopsis via HBO)

Holidays are wonderful things.

You get a break from the everyday, a chance to do the love you really love at a pace that suits you and usually return and restored, at least for an hour, to the rat race?

But what if, asks HBO’s upcoming show Westworld (based on Michael Crichton’s novel and the 1973 film starring Yul Brynner) your break turned out far more darker, unsettling and menacing than anything you encounter on your train rides to work?

What if, beneath all the escapist fun, lurked threats unimaginable? The very opposite of what you are seeking? Not so much now is it?

“I think there may be something wrong with this world. Something hiding underneath.”

Westworld’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t assume the best of humanity or any of the many distractions and diversionary baubles it creates to keep reality at arm’s length; it assumes we’re all flawed and dark inside and runs with it.

It’s revealing, confronting and makes for some damn good drama.

Humanity beware – relaxing may look like a great idea but it could just kill you.

Westworld premieres on HBO in October this year.

 

Movie review: Independence Day Resurgence

(image via IMP awards)
(image via IMP awards)

 

Good lord but Earth continues to be popular with the invading aliens crowd doesn’t it?

And it’s not like they just visit the one time; in Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich’s bigger-than-galactic-Ben-Hur follow-up to 1996’s Independence Day everyone’s favourite hive mind aliens are back and this time they’ve bought an even bigger ship, a badass queen intent on bestriding the land Gulliver Travels-like and the kind of firepower that Earth, despite appropriating all the alien tech it could lay its hands on, simply can’t match.

So yes alien numbers are up but you have to wonder if we can survive all the attention – this time they want to suck the Earth’s core dry which in one fell sweep will take away our magnetic fields and atmosphere which frankly we kind of need to hang on to – and whether the old adage of you can’t really go back applies to both the aliens and audience members keen to see a sequel 20 years in the making.

As far as the aliens go, it will surprise no one – MILD SPOILERS AHEAD – that the aliens don’t fare too well.

Yes they have a monstrously big ship that dwarfs the entire Atlantic Ocean and comes with its own gravity causing more than a few cities to come to grievous sucked-up-and-then-smacked-down ruin (including unaccountably Singapore which lies, ahem, nowhere near the body of water in question), an armada of satellite-destroying planes and the ability to drill into our the depths of magma core with ease.

But for all that overwhelming force, and the murderous mindset of the revenge-minded – they are responding to a distress call sent out by the aliens in the first film, moments before a virus somewhat preposterously destroyed their ships – they are seem content to either stay put in their ship or set out to do away with a another alien force, their sworn enemy, who arrives just ahead of them and may hold the key to the entire galaxy, not just humanity, seeing off the hive aliens for good (do I smell another sequel? Yes indeed I do).

And therein lies their undoing humanity once again rallies, this time without an inspiring 4 July speech, though several contenders do vie for viewers’ hearts and minds – and sees them off with relatively few complications.

C’mon, you can’t tell me you didn’t see the whole humanity victorious thing coming a mile off?

 

 

The thing is for all the predictability of the plot, and some narrative disconnects and plotholes big enough to fly a moon through, Independence Day: Resurgence is still hands down a big dumb rollicking slice of ’90s blockbuster fun.

It’s all here – the ominously slow build-up as telltale signs emerge around the globe, on the 20th anniversary of the aliens’ original attack no less when current US President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward) is hosting grand and epic celebrations, the awakening of characters to the renewed threat facing them, and the inevitable arrival of the queen’s mother ship which graphically underscores the need for less champagne-quaffing and more laser cannon pointing (those that survive the initial attack anyway).

Many of the characters we know and love from the original return including David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who is now head of Earth Space Defense (ESD) who once again plays a vital role in sniffing out the threat and saving the day, his dad Julius (Judd Hirsch), Dr Okun (Brent Spiner) who continues his gleeful love affair with all things alien tech (despite forgetting his underwear; he’s in a hospital gown having been awakened from a 20 year coma by alien signals) and past President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), whose hold on sanity these days comes and goes.

Joining them are the Independence Day: The Next Generation crew, some of whom are the sons and daughters of key characters from Independence Day such as Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) who is a rather lacklustre replacement for his hero stepdad Steven (Will Smith), Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) and her fiance Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) who with best pal and fellow orphan Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope) are pilots in the ESD who fearlessly win out when others fall by the wayside.

And yes the plot is pretty much been-there-done-that but it’s all carried with such po-faced, end-of-the-world seriousness that you can’t help but be swept up in it and go along for the ride.

Granted the alien queen isn’t the brightest thing at times, clearly capable of steering a ship across the galaxy but not able to tell a real enemy alien space ship from a fake until it’s too late, and humanity does manage to sort things a little too easily with some tension drained away from the climactic scene as a result, but by and large Independence Day: Resurgence still channels the look, feel and spirit of its predecessor without being a slavishly blind copy of it.

 

 

The film, fuelled by a five person script team including Emmerich and longtime creative collaborator Dean Devlin, knows its all a bit silly and ridiculousness but never treats it as such, granting us an alien invasion spectacle that is almost the equal of what came before.

The only thing missing perhaps is any real sense of peril – it becomes fairly obvious, fairly quickly that humanity will win the day one way or the other, but that could have just as much to do with the loss of novelty that all sequels suffer from than any inherent flaw in the film.

The thing is though we don’t the same focus on key characters struggling to survive in the midst of an unprecedented, unimaginable threat, and some of the emotional investment is lost as a result, there are enough returning characters and well-introduced and fleshed-out new characters that there is still a sense that people we care about are in mortal danger.

In essence, this is one sequel that while it doesn’t quite match the original, nevertheless dazzles with a portentous build-up full of visions and warnings, an alien arrival as epic and devastatingly destructive as you could ask for, a fight for survival and a climactic victory that promises that Earth will be at the centre of a galaxy-wide fight to see off the hive aliens threat once and for all.

What needs to be remembered anytime you watch a blockbuster of this ilk is that it’s not aiming to be Shakespeare or an Oscar-contender; rather, it simply wants to entertain, to enthrall, to tell a larger-than-life story and to draw us into an escapist world when the fate of the entire world hangs perilously in the balance.

Independence Day: Resurgence does that and then some, the most fun you can have trying to see off an alien invasion, a return to the gloriously good days of cheesy, fun-filled, thrill-jammed blockbusters that simply want to entertain, over-thinking not included.

 

 

Don’t cry for me Eurovision: Leonie Sii’s tips for coping with post-event depression

Leonie Sii in full post-Eurovision mourning mode (Image via YouTube (c) Leonie Sii)
Leonie Sii in full post-Eurovision mourning mode (Image via YouTube (c) Leonie Sii)

 

One thing that I discovered fairly quickly when I began watching the Eurovision Song Contest is that it’s impossible to simply view it and feel nothing.

You either loathe and detest it (yes there are people out there that do believe it or not), or adore it and love it with every fibre of your being and mourn its passing each year into the pop culture ether.

For those in the latter camp, and yes I will admit to being a tad melancholy when it’s over for another year, Leonie Sii knows your pain.

In fact the prolific YouTube channeler and self-confessed Eurovision-obsessive knows it and has now documented it on a video that neatly and with a good sense of humour lays out what it’s like to feel bereft and letdown when the lights go out at the end of the grand final.

Trust me, even if you’re only a minor Eurovision tragic like me, this will resonate, and then when you’re finished watching it, you can get ready for next year’s event!

Yup it’ll be here, glitter and all, before you know it!

 

Now this is music #70: Broods, Foreign Air, Makelove, Sizzy Rocket, Yoke Lore

Now this is music 70 MAIN

 

Life is way too short to be beholding to unhealthy attitudes, other people’s suffocating opinions or playing it too safe.

So these five artists, with songs as animalistic and forceful and yet engagingly attractive and listenable as the subject matter they convey go some way to getting you to a healthy liberated place where you can be your best you.

Or whatever it is that works for you.

The thing is all this personal growth can come while you’re dancing up a storm and that can never be a bad thing.


“Free” by Broods

 

Broods (image via official Broods Facebook page)
Broods (image via official Broods Facebook page)

 

While there is nothing at all wrong with singing about love sweet love till the Cupid-addled cows come home, Georgia Knot, one half of sibling duo Broods from New Zealand (along with brother Caleb) told Triple J radio she was aiming to be far more artistically expansive:

“I didn’t want to just be up there singing about love.

“I wanted to talk about other things – things that people might really be going through … I wanted to make great pop songs that also feel just a little more mature.”

And so it is with “Free”, a synth-rich anthemic stomper of a tune that talks about the freedom to be yourself come what may, the lead tune from the band’s second upcoming album Conscious that sees Broods reuniting with Joel Little, the man who co-produced and co-wrote their award-winning debut album Evergreen.

The song kicks off with a forceful, soulful accapella vocal intro courtesy of Georgia before busting out some rich multi-layered harmonies and beat-heavy thumping synth-driven melodies and a driving chorus that cannot but help you to stake your claim in the world, being anyone’s clone be damned.

It’s powerful on a thousand different levels and a welcome return for the talented brother-sister musical wunderkind.

 

 

“Free Animal” by Foreign Air

 

Foreign Air (image via official Foreign Air Facebook page)
Foreign Air (image via official Foreign Air Facebook page)

 

There’s a trippy, throbbing intensity from the opening atmospheric bars of Foreign Air’s “Free Animal”, which drips enticing, deliciously dark menace laced with gloriously ominous melodies that curl lusciously inside the haunting vocals of members Jacob Michael and Jesse Clasen.

An intoxicating mix of growling indie rock and electronica, “Free Animal” is the result of a collaboration that saw the two men meet in a host of different US cities such as Washington DC and New York City after sharing all kinds of musical ideas online.

A song that asks us to find our inner animal and set it free, primal instincts and all, “Free Animal” is a call to bust free from convention and expectation and let yourself go for broke.

It’s reflected in the song which spends it’s time sauntering back and forth like a fearsome beast of prey, coming from here and back to there, all dripping attitude and invocation to let your animalistic freak flag fly.

Just try to be conventional after listening to it.

 

 

“Dancing All the Time” by MakeLove

 

MakeLove (image via official MakeLove Facebook page)
MakeLove (image via official MakeLove Facebook page)

 

Disco is not dead people!

And you’ll know it within seconds of British producer’s Makelove’s airy, sweeping nu-disco track “Dancing All the Time” kicking into its thoroughly addictive groove.

Armed with a giddy falsetto, a healthy dose of soul and all the atmosphere of Studio 54 meets the music charts of the late ’70s, the song reflects everything the producer loves musically-wise:

“I’ve always had an obsession with the upbeat rhythm in Disco and Motown music and the contrast of the desperation in the lyrics. To write something positive with negative words is twisted and I prefer twisted things. It’s a plead from one to another but spoken in Disco. I write music to make people dance.” (source: Clash Music)

And dance you will, make no mistake about it – sitting down is simply not an option with a track this danceable.

 

 

“Bad Kids” by Sizzy Rocket

 

Sizzy Rocket (photo (c) Jake Freeman via official Sizzy Rocket Facebook page)
Sizzy Rocket (photo (c) Jake Freeman via official Sizzy Rocket Facebook page)

 

Sporting the pinnacle of fantastically cool, utterly memorable names, Sizzy Rocket aka Sabrina Bernstein, Las Vegas-born, New York City-based, delivers up music that Bit Candy will favourably remind you of “alt-pop artists like Charlie XCX or Marina and The Diamonds”.

And indeed it does but not in any kind of derivative been-there-done-that kind of way.

Sizzy Rocket has attitude to burn, melodies that are propelled forward by burning soulful synths that contain a heady mix of attitude and beauty, and a deep emotionality that suffuses the track from start to finish.

It’s an assuringly positive song that makes it abundantly clear that no matter what the gossip mongers may say, that if you stick with the ones you love and have their back while they have yours, that you’ll be OK.

It’s enormously catchy music with a message and it’s impossible to walk away from it uninspired and unchanged.

 

 

“Hold me Down” by Yoke Lore

 

Yoke Lore (image via official Yoke Lore Facebook page)
Yoke Lore (image via official Yoke Lore Facebook page)

 

Adrian Galvin who releases as Yoke Lore is the very definition of a creatively-inclined Renaissance man.

He paints, he photographs and dances ballet, he’s been active in music groups like Yellerkin and indulges his spiritualist side by teaching Taoist yoga and how he is making music rich in atmosphere and meaning like “Hold Me Down.”

The song is all about learning and growing and coming to grips with both failures but also the hopefulness that the flaws can be corrected or at least ameliorated and life can move on to  a better place.

And it’s this introspection and realisation comes courtesy of music that suggests “a gentle, sun-soaked morning. Not insistent, but unable to be ignored, infusing the air with halcyon sonic sunbeams.”

How could you not watch to soak yourself in that kind of optimistically melodic beauty? Trust me you won’t be able to resist.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

In exciting news for anyone who loves imaginative Irish pop, Róisín Murphy has announced she has a new album, Take Her Up to Monto, coming out 8 July.

The album was actually recorded at the same time as last year’s Hairless ToysPretty Much Amazing accurately describes it as “the Amnesiac to Toys’ Kid A” – with lead single the ever-building ethereal electronica of the cinematically-inclined “Mastermind”.

 

 

And one of the most infectiously melodic groups out there, Grouplove, has a new album Big Mess dropping 9 September which member Christian Zucconi says was birthed from “an important crossroads in our lives.”

It will be heralded by lead single “Welcome to Your Life” on 15 July but for now you can enjoy this trailer which previews four of the album’s tracks (source: Paste Magazine)

 

The Girl With All the Gifts: Welcome to your zombie future humanity (trailer)

(image via official The Girl With All the Gifts Facebook page)
(image via official The Girl With All the Gifts Facebook page)

 

SNAPSHOT
The near future; humanity has been all but destroyed by a mutated fungal disease that eradicates free will and turns its victims into flesh-eating “hungries”. Only a small group of children seem immune to its effects.

At an army base in rural England, this group of unique children are being studied, subjected to cruel experiments by biologist Dr. Caldwell. Despite having been infected with the zombie pathogen that has decimated the world, these children retain normal thoughts and emotions. And while still being subject to the craving for human flesh that marks the disease these second- generation “hungries” are able to think and feel making them a vital resource in the search for a cure.  (official synopsis via Den of Geek)

Humanity has long proven it has an endless capacity to endure and survive.

Granted you wouldn’t get that impression from the majority of apocalyptic literature out there which usually posits the end of the world as the end of everything good and worthwhile about us.

But a raft of books in the last few years have dared to ask – What is the end of all things was in fact just another beginning? Terrifying, disruptive and chaotically destructive but a beginning nonetheless.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R.Carey is one such book, a brilliantly written dissertation of what might have happen if humanity found a way to survive to survive something as nightmarishly civilisation-ending as the zombie apocalypse; not just survive in fact but ultimately flourish in a feat of evolutionary survival.

It isn’t immediate of course but the book, and now the impending movie starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine, encourage us to look beyond the immediate aftermath and to appreciate, as I said in my review of the book, “that humanity could survive the apocalypse, just not in the way we imagined.”

It’s the zombie apocalypse but not as we imagined it, a gripping tale that miraculously and with conviction and power dares to bring optimism to the dystopian table.

If the movie is even half as good as the book, and the trailer suggests it well could be, this is one film that even non-horror viewers should check out since at the heart of the narrative is the deep connection that exists between a remarkable young girl and her teacher, one which by its very depth and endurance ends up deciding the fate of humanity.

No release date has been set but release is expected later later in 2016.

 

Book review: The Trees by Ali Shaw

(image courtesy Allen & Unwin Australia)
(image courtesy Allen & Unwin Australia)

 

When we think of the apocalypse or dystopian futures, our minds usually go to scenes of the undead pursuing the living with flesh-craving resolve, giant asteroids on a collision course with Earth, or cities rife with grime and decay, poverty and despair.

They do not, however, entertain visions of giant trees of all shapes and varieties violently and without warning coursing up through the ground, ripping apart homes, roads, factories, the very fabric of civilisation itself.

But that’s what happens in The Trees by Ali Shaw when one night in the UK, and indeed worldwide, when nature reasserts itself with vengeful fury, laying waste to the hitherto permanence of all humanity hath wrought.

In an instant cities become forests, and everyone, those who live through the carnage at least, are reduced to an ancient lifestyle, one defined by living off the land, surviving on your wits, walking in steps with the rhythms and seasons of nature.

“In the blink of an eye, the world had changed. There came an elastic aftershock of creaks and groans and then, softly softly, a chinking shower of rubbled cement. Branches stilled amid the wreckage they had made. Leaves calmed and trunks  stood serene. Where, not a minute before, a suburb had lain, there was now only woodland standing amid ruins. Some of the trees were flickeringly lit by the strobe of dying electricity, others by the fires of vehicles that had burst into flames. The rest stood in darkness, their canopy a gibbet world hung with all the things they’d killed and mangled as they came.” (P. 6)

Adrien Thomas, an unemployed man whose self-loathing and ceaseless fear of living has reduced his life to a stony caricature of itself and his marriage to near-collapse, steps into this new world, fearful and afraid but convinced that perhaps it could be the making of him, a chance to finally escape the shackles of cowardice and small vision.

He meets up with Hannah, an ardent greenie who greets this new arboreal landscape with undisguised glee, convinced that it augurs well for humanity’s future, a reset of the clock that can only do us good.

Her 16 year old Seb however is not so convinced, bereft without his laptop and his website, his 24/7 connection to the wider world, one which has instantly devolved into insular, parochial worlds and territorial villages.

Together these three unlikely companions leave their town, Adrien in search of a way to reach Ireland where his wife Michelle is on a business trip with her colleague Roland (with whom she may or may not be having an affair), and Hannah & Seb to meet with the former’s forester brother, a man who chose to live as one with nature way before it became the only option.

The world they encounter is fearfully different though recognisably the same in some ways – some people are kind, hospitable and welcoming, others menacing and violent but their concerns essentially boil down to one thing – finding a way to fashion a workable life in a world wholly alien to them, shorn as they are of their iPads, cars and mobile phones.

 

Ali Shaw (photo (c) David Fisher / courtesy official Ali Shaw website)
Ali Shaw (photo (c) David Fisher / courtesy official Ali Shaw website)

 

But Adrien particularly soon comes to realise there is much more going on that any of them realise, that forces as primordial and ancient as the Earth itself are at work and that the transformation he seeks may come in a way that he was not expecting, one that will fundamentally alter in ways no one saw coming.

The world that Ali Shaw has fashioned is an audacious one, casting civilisation aside as if it has always been ruins and decay, and celebrating nature as the future; but it’s not rampantly optimistic or naive.

The Trees is not some celebration of nature as the all-conquering hero; we are no treated to endless polemic dissertations on the evils of humanity and its heedless cruel treatment of the planet.

Much of that is implied but not in a way that bogs down the narrative or leaves you rolling your eyes with a “here goes the fanatic” force; rather The Trees simply treats this lush, green new world as a fact, a mysterious, magically real fact but nonetheless one that cannot be undone and which the remaining people must find a way to deal with.

“‘Now things are back to normal, there isn’t fairness. There isn’t compromise. There is only the coming together of force against force. Stags locking antlers. Men have always been this way, but some spent a little whole fooling themselves otherwise. When push comes to shove, justice is only ever the deferral of force onto some other man’s shoulders.'” (P. 168)

There is the strong suggestion that nature, a mystical being that sits atop a throne tended  by small creatures of twigs and leaves known as “Whisperers” has simply reset the Earth back to what it was but there is no long reasoning on why; simply put, it’s happened and humanity must get on with living their lives close to nature in a manner that goes far beyond camping in a national park for the weekend.

Ali Shaw’s rich evocative world building, and the way he plants his beautifully-formed, nuanced and flawed characters into it is impressive, as is a narrative that twists and turns in sometimes predictable fashion but never in a way that leaves you feeling as if you are simply seeing the same old end of the world tropes revisited and brought to life like herbivore zombies.

The Trees is not even really a cautionary tale since there are such fantastical elements in it that you could not realistically envisage this kind of world forming in the first place.

What it does do though, as all good apocalyptic novels should do, is shine a light on humanity and ask with unflinching gaze what we would do if the end came, and whether it would transform us or simply reveal, without pity or regard, who we really are.

And it does ask the question – if all the bells and baubles of what passes for civilisation were taken away, what would that do to humanity’s soul and would we be better or worse off?

Ali Shaw is happy to let you draw your own conclusions in that regard but suffice to say you won’t finish The Trees, a masterfully engrossing pageturner that sings with lyrical language, without wondering more than once what you would do if the trees were to come, announced and with force, taking everything you knew with them.

Pack your Kickstarter bags: Vivian the Dog Moves to Brooklyn

(image via Kickstarter (c) Mitch Boyer)
(image via Kickstarter (c) Mitch Boyer)

 

SNAPSHOT
Vivian the Dog Moves to Brooklyn is a book about a big dog moving from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Brooklyn, New York. It’s 32 pages long and will be full of beautiful photo-illustrations created by Mitch and starring Vivian, with some pretty fantastic letterings and drawings by the talented, Valerie Navarro.

In the book, Vivian is a giant dog—over 6 feet tall! She loves the wide open spaces and delicious foods of New Mexico, but most of all, she loves playing with her best friend, “the human.” When Vivian learns she and the human are moving to New York City, aka the “Big City,” she gets very excited. She believes everything will be as big as she is in the “Big City,” and she can’t wait to move!

As you might guess, she’s pretty disappointed upon arriving in New York City and discovering that she is still the only giant wiener dog around. Things get worse, as she quickly learns their neighborhood in Brooklyn can be a pretty cramped place, especially for a big dog like her. She barely fits in their new living room! She decides to leave the human behind and return to Albuquerque on her own. Does she make it back, or does she get lost along the way? You’ll have to get the book to find out! (official synopsis via Kickstarter)

Vivian as you can imagine is quite a unique, amazing dog.

And in the hands of author/photo-illustrator Mitch Boyer, who has launched a Kickstarter campaign to get Vivian the Dog Moves to Brooklyn published, she’s set to go on the most incredible adventure all the way across the country and back again.

Will she make it back home? Or will Brooklyn turn out to be where she really belongs with her favourite human in the world?

To find that out you have to back Boyer’s Kickstarter campaign which comes with all the goodies we’ve come to expect from crowdfunding efforts.

It’s a passion project for Boyer who is committed to bring his dog Vivian’s adventures – FYI and yeah you probably guessed this but Vivian is in fact not a giant Dachshund – in all her lovable, literally larger-than-life.

You can back this delightful Kickstarter campaign here.

 

Movie review: Everybody Wants Some!!

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

Styled as a spiritual successor to Linklater’s 1993 ode to the dying days of high school Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! concentrates on another transitional period in many peoples’ lives – the move to college/university when everything seems possible but you wonder if you’ll be able to make the most of all the glittering possibilities lying before you.

It’s an understandable concern, and one many of the characters in the film comment on at one point or another as each of them wrestle in ways big and small with how they will handle their first steps to adulthood.

Set in two off-campus houses at an unnamed college which house the institution’s successful baseball team – all the men featured in the film, from freshmen to seniors are on scholarships and represent the best of the best from the high schools they’ve been drawn from – Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t initially present itself as a thinking person’s film.

In keeping with young men celebrating their first taste of freedom from parental oversight, there is an obsessive concentration on getting drunk, getting laid, sports and getting high, not always in that order.

So far, so typical of the average college student’s experience, many of whom set out to fit their studies around their partying and not the other way around.

Boundaries are written roughshod over with gleeful alacrity, there’s a great deal of machismo and posturing and asserting of hierarchy – the seniors naturally rule the roost and pitchers for some reason sit the lowest on the baseball team totem pole – but for all that, there’s something inherently likeable about this group of guys, all of whom are doing their best to appear like they have it all together when the reality often falls short of that.

 

 

That likability can be slated home to Linklater’s willingness to flesh out the characters to such a degree that we come to appreciate that there is more to many of the guys than meets the eye.

That’s not the case with everyone of course since in a film that runs for a shade under two hours, and features four major party sequences, there’s only so much characterisation you can do.

But Linklater’s nuanced, well-paced script, impressive given the subject matter, ensures that we’re watching reasonably fully-formed people who are far more than the sum of their often frat boy actions.

The chief protagonist is Jake (Blake Jenner), who as one of four freshmen joining an established team and living structure, a tough ask for anyone to tackle, becomes the prism through which we learn about everyone else on the team.

While he plays his part of team member and does his best to fit in with the group – he quickly establishes firm friendships with dumb jock Plummer (Temple Baker), sensitive, smooth-talking Romeo, Finnegan (Glenn Powell) and Dale (J. Quinton Johnson) – going along with the relatively innocuous hazing (which involves plenty of duct tape and ball throwing, he is a far more thoughtful beast than many of his teammates such as comically volatile Jay Niles (Juston Street) or Nesbit (Austin Amelio).

While he goes along with the parties, which move between a disco club, a country music venue and a punk concert and a very art party thrown by the theatre crowd, and the drinking, smooth talking and hooking up inherent in a debauched culture caught between the ’70s and ’80s, he is at heart the kind of guy who wants to meet someone special and stick with her.

That person turns out to be arts major Beverly (Zoey Deutch) who he meets indirectly on his first day on campus before wooing her in the sort of way that would not occur to many of his teammates.

He’s oddly positioned then between a testosterone-fueled culture that preaches teamwork but runs on the power of competition and jockeying for a sports career post-college, and an appreciation that there is more to life than the sports which consumes the baseball team, by virtue of shared passion and more importantly, its guarantee of a life freed from the humdrum of office life.

 

 

Where Everybody Wants Some!! excels is taking this transitional point in these men’s lives – the film occupies the three days leading up to the start of class when everybody is jockeying for position and a sense of place – and imbuing it, without heavy handed philosophising, with some meaning and depth.

Granted no one has extended conversations about life, the universe and everything, and they are not the type of people to dwell on the vicissitudes of uncertainty and promise of life, but through scattered comments and two key scenes involving Finn, Jake, Plummer and Dale, and then later Jake and Beverly we come to appreciate that everyone feels overwhelmed to one degree or another, and that while they are excited by bounding possibility, they are also intimidated by the prospect of getting it horribly wrong.

No one says that out loud of course – you don’t want to be seen as a wuss or the one who breaks the magic spells of bravado and bombastic self-confidence – but it’s there in ways big and small, ensuring that through the haze of weed and the blur of endless drinking, that there is substance and depth to these people.

What keeps you watching ultimately is the fact that everyone in the film, but particularly the four key friends – Jake, Dale, Plummer and Finn – are inherently real, earthy human beings.

Yes, their lives are wild, somewhat immature and ill-judged at times but that’s the nature of the beast of youth, and all of them, to some extent or another, are aware of what lies ahead, and how little time they have to prepare for it.

Everybody Wants Some!! speaks to that weird tension in your late teens and early twenties between optimism and uncertainty, the thrill of living now versus preparing for the future, and the need we all have to make connections that mean something and make us part of a greater whole.

It’s lighthearted and fun much of the time but the serious subtext is always there, giving Linklater’s latest film an alluring mix of the intoxicating fun and mindlessness of the here-and-now and the gravity of what lies ahead, which when you think about it sums up the college years well nigh perfectly.

 

 

The short and the short of it: Vestiges aka how to fight black sludge with a flamingo and plant magic

(image via Vimeo (c) NALEB)
(image via IO9/Gizmodo (c) NALEB)

 

Word to the wise people – if the grassy idyllic valley in which you live is threatened by an advancing mass of black mud, one which at times takes humanoid shape, you should make sure you have a giant flying flamingo at hand and some plant magic with which to banish it once you’re aloft.

OK maybe pretty much all of that will be out of reach to you but in the imagination of NALEB, one of the students who took part in Espoirs de l’Animation 2016 (Hopes of Animation 2016), a competition for students from six different French animation schools (The Powder in Valencia, Emile Cohl in Lyon, EMCA in Angoulême, the Ecole Estienne in Paris, ESAAT Roubaix and Rubika Supinfocom Valenciennes).

The students had a month to create a short animated work based on the theme “A Planet For All, All For the Planet” and the result, at least in the case of NALEB from EMCA is this astonishingly evocative, visually-lush and emotionally-rich work about one woman’s fight to overcome toxicity with nature.

At one minute long, it is the very essence of brevity and succinct storytelling, a joy to watch that wears its important message lightly but powerfully.

(source: IO9/Gizmodo)

 

VESTIGES from NALEB on Vimeo.