Movie review: Infinitely Polar Bear

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

 

Love is a complicated emotion.

On the one hand, it is everything the Bible says it is – patient, gentle, kind, protective, trusting, hopeful – and yet for all those unarguably positive characteristics, its outworking can also be angry, argumentative, regretful, mournful, frustrating.

You see? Not an easy thing to grapple with at all.

And pretty much every one of those aspects of love, both the deliriously good and the irritatingly bad, are on full, glorious, all too human display in Maya Forbes’ Infinitely Polar Bear, a deeply intimate, richly warm portrayal of a family in 1970s Boston who undeniably care for each other but face a significant number of hurdles in living that out.

The most significant hurdle of all is the manic depression, now known as bipolar disorder, of the father of the family Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo in potently affecting form) – the title of the movie is lifted from his youngest daughter Faith’s (Ashley Aufderheide) description of her dad’s illness as something to do with “polar bears”  – who veers between uplifting highs and dark lows, all of which naturally have an effect on his family.

So unpredictable are his swings between the two states – the movie starts with him having another of his breakdowns dressed in red Speedos and riding a bike, asserting that to be a man he must be allowed to roam free, regardless of consequences – that his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) is finally forced to separate from him, taking the girls to live in a rent-controlled apartment while he works out his issues, first in a mental hospital and then a halfway house.

Deeply in love with Cam, who she describes to her eldest daughter Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky), her decision is not an easy one nor a cleanly-executed one with Cam remaining very much of the girls’ lives, despite his often over-talkative, eccentric behaviour.

 

 

He becomes even more closely re-involved with his tight knit but often exasperated family when Maggie decides she needs to go to business school at Columbia University in New York if she’s to have any chance of creating a viable, meaningful future for her and her daughters, and asks Cam to step in and look after them while she’s away during the week.

Initially fearful of the routine – as he cites an ever-lengthening list of things he will need to attend on his own such as laundry, grocery shopping and getting the girls to and from school he goes from animatedly enthusiastic to distinctly nervous – he largely embraces the chance to remain close to his daughters and keep their family reasonably intact.

Of course there is still a degree of estrangement between he and Maggie but theirs is largely an affectionate relationship, one based on love and respect but which for now at least, doesn’t involve successfully living together.

What it does involve though is being there for their daughters who grow close to their father despite his sometimes erratic behaviour – at one point he goes on an all night alcohol-fuelled bender, leaving them sleeping alone in the family’s apartment – which leaves them alternately giddy with happiness and delight, and furiously helpless.

They are forced to grow up quickly but then so is Cam, who though he never fully recovers from his illness – one of the great strengths of Maya Forbes’ script and her expert direction is that eschews schmaltzy happy endings and neat solutions for gritty, unfinished authentic reality – grows into his role as a father, realising as he quietly tells Maggie one night that he’s a far better dad than he ever was a husband.

 

 

Infinitely Polar Bear then is a film about the trials and tribulations, the ups and the downs, the laughing and the crying, the messy, flawed outworking of love (there’s that word again) , everything that happens, good and bad, when you place four disparate human beings together and ask them to be a family.

That they want to be one is beyond dispute; whether they can be though is another thing entirely and Forbes doesn’t flinch from being starkly realistic about the chances of Cam being a good dad or reuniting in the way he wants to with Maggie.

What gives this film extra charm is that for all the dark, scary, unpredictable moments, there are plenty of times when life is just about damn well perfect, where there’s ice cream and laughter and fun, and yes, love.

Grappling with the sort of challenges that don’t confront their friends, Amelia and Faith come to appreciate that they must give as much as they take in this most unusual and yet utterly typical of families, the understanding dawning that in the midst of all the chaos and unpredictability is the certainty their father is a good man and that he loves them.

And that really is what Infinitely Polar Bear boils down to; an exploration of what it means when love isn’t some cheerful, cheesily-rhymed ditty in a greeting card or a throwaway line in a rom-com but real life in all its complexity, simple moments, heartache and happiness.

That Cam’s bipolar disorder complicates things isn’t in dispute but at the end of the day life for Cam, Maggie, Amelia and Faith is no more or less worse or better than what anyone else must contend with every day of their lives.

It’s this universality of experience that imbues Infinitely Polar Bear, which makes beautiful use of home movie footage to reinforce the normalcy of their extraordinary family life, so special and so deeply affecting, reminding you constantly that love is never a straightforward proposition and that once we understood that, we’ll be all the better for it.

 

We cannot leave the magic: Fraggle Rock is going to be a movie! With Joseph Gordon-Levitt!

(image via Muppet Wiki (c) Disney)
(image via Muppet Wiki (c) The Jim Henson Company / Disney)

 

Jim Henson is deservedly regarded as one of the towering creative talents of the 20th century, a man who, gifted with a limitless imagination, an almost magical ability for imbuing each and every one of his creations with poignant humanity, and a delightful sense of the whimsical and the absurd, gave us an impressive number of enduringly appealing characters, including Kermit the Frog, Rowlf the Dog, Ernie and Cookie Monster, who are all still standing tall in the pop culture firmament today.

So magically pronounced was his talent and so great his penchant for conjuring up characters that forever captured the public’s love and affection, that the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta rightly titled their now ongoing exhibition – it was originally intended to only run from September 2008 to September 2009 – Jim Henson: Wonders From His Workshop.

It neatly encapsulated the sense of joyous, childlike rapture that universally greeted creations as diverse as the Muppets, who have recently enjoyed a return to the zeitgeist via two very well received movies, the non-human inhabitants of the long-running Sesame Street, which celebrated 45 years on air last year, films like The Labyrinth, and of course, Fraggle Rock (1983-1987), which is about to receive the big screen treatment courtesy of the prodigiously and eclectically talented Joseph Gordon Levitt.

 

 

In news sure to gladden the heart of anyone who found themselves instantly and utterly forever drawn into the enchanting cave-dwelling world of the carefree, colourfully-attired Fraggles (principally Gobo, Mokey, Red, Wembley, and Boober), who only work a thirty minute week leaving time free for music , musing and fun, the hardworking diminutive Doozers who’s tasty constructions provide food to the Fraggles, and the intellectually-challenged Gorgs who believed themselves, by sheer dint of their gigantic size, the lords and masters of their universe, and the vortex-inhabiting Silly Creatures of Outer Space, it’s been announced that Levitt will produce and star in a Fraggle Rock movie.

A long time fan of the much-loved show, Levitt’s involvement with the project, which has been kicking around Hollywood for the better part of a decade, according to Variety which broke the news, is sure to give it the boost it needs to become a delightful, much-anticipated reality.

And there’s no doubting Levitt’s love for the Fraggles, Doozers and Gorgs, and indeed all of Henson’s canon of wonder.

“The first screen personas I ever loved were Henson creations, first on Sesame Street, and then on Fraggle Rock. Jim Henson’s characters make you laugh and sing, but they’re also layered, surprising, and wise. From Oscar the Grouch, to Yoda, to the Fraggles. I’ve never stopped loving his work, even as a young frisky man, and on into adulthood. Collaborating with Lisa Henson makes me confident we can do something that Jim would have loved. I’m grateful and excited to be working with New Regency on this project.”

 

 

As the LA Times notes though the actor, who is making a name for himself as a serious actor in upcoming films like The Walk and Snowden, will have his work cut out for him.

“For one, Fraggle Rock doesn’t have nearly the name recognition of Henson’s Muppets or Sesame Street characters. All but the most die-hard fans, for example, may need a reminder that the series ran from 1983 to 1987 and told the story of colorful creatures known as Fraggles, Doozers and Gorgs co-existing in and around a series of caves.

“Will moviegoers turn out to catch up with characters they have only a foggy recollection of, or none at all? Perhaps, but if not, it somewhat defeats the purpose of dusting off existing intellectual property rather than starting from scratch.”

While that may well be true, there’s a lot to be said for sheer lifelong enthusiasm and appreciation for a neglected but loved franchise in not only getting films like this made but in getting the word out so that more people will come to better appreciate the appeal of a less well-recognised part of Jim Henson’s everlastingly wonderful world.

No word yet on production dates much less release dates but there is now impetus to finally get the film made, and as Jason Segel, another Muppets devotee of long standing, showed when he revived the Muppets in 2011, the attachment of an enthusiastic major star to a would-be project is a big step forward in actually getting it made in the often fickle world of Hollywood.

The film’s now more than likely creation is proof that, as Gobo’s Uncle Travelling Matt always said, “The magic is always there, as long as we keep looking for it…”

 

 

 

 

An excursion into lust and love: The arresting animation of Bill Plymption’s Cheatin’ (trailer)

(image via Wild About Movies (c) Bill Plympton)
(image via Wild About Movies (c) Bill Plympton)

 

SNAPSHOT

Ella, a beautiful woman tired of unwanted attention from men, strolls through a carnival while reading a book. A barker talks her into trying the bumper cars, but the result is a perilous accident that leaves Ella trapped. A stranger, the handsome and muscular Jake, rescues her, and the two fall in love and are soon married. Various women attempt to seduce Jake, but he remains steadfastly faithful.

Enraged by this slight, one of these women stages a photo of Ella, changing in a room full of male mannequins, and gives it to Jake. Jake, distraught by what he believes to be his wife’s infidelity, contemplates suicide, but soon takes solace in a series of affairs. When Ella discovers this infidelity, she tries to hire a man to kill Jake, before finding a magician who has a machine that will allow her to temporarily transport her consciousness into the bodies of the women Jake is sleeping with. (synopsis via Wikipedia)

There is such a whimsical, dreamlike quality to the trailer for Bill Plympton‘s Cheatin’, which possesses a heart-stoppingly gorgeous visual style so richly beautiful and engaging that you fall in love with movie after about 10 seconds worth of animation, that you wonder how one man could create something quite so delightful.

The one scene alone where Ella unlocks a seemingly neverending series of faults and boxes and fortified containers to give her heart to Jake is beyond wonderful, a fast moving montage that speaks to how great their love is that she would open her deepest inner sanctum’s to this clearly very special man.

Of course, not everything stays impossibly romantic, as is sadly often the way in life but to her credit Ella fights keep this most unexpected on life gifts; the question will what she does be enough?

We can only hope.

In the meantime, we can glory in the beauty of Plympton’s extravagantly poetic artwork which has been featured in everything from The New York Times, Vanity Fair and The Village Voice to Your Face, 1987 Academy Award-nominated animated short and now the 2013-produced, Kickstarter-financed Cheatin’, his seventh animated feature overall.

The film includes over 40,000 hand-painted style drawings and speaks to the intense artistry that Plympton brings to all his work, which has found itself once again very well received at a slew of film festivals around the world including Slamdance (USA, January 2014), Cork International (Ireland, November 2014) and Napa Valley (USA, November 2014).

And it’s not surprising that the man who Scott Beggs at Film School Rejects says creates art, animated and still, that is immediately recognisable “with big-toothed, rubbery people who seem vaguely from the wholesome 1950s and foregrounds that often melt into backgrounds” is so much in demand.

His work not only looks beautiful but it says something authentic and real about the human condition too, a perfect combination that can’t help but captivate you whenever you are fortunate enough to see it.

Cheatin’ does not have a general release schedule available at this time.

 

The future is forever, live life extravagantly: Paper Towns movie trailer + poster

(image via Hypable)
(image via Hypable)

 

SNAPSHOT
Paper Towns is directed by Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank) with a script by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (both of (500) Days of Summer and The Fault in Our Stars) When Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delvingne) beckons Quentin Jacobsen (Nat Wolff) in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo’s always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she’s always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q, until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they’re for Q. (synopsis via First Showing)

It’s so very easy to play it safe in life.

We all do it all the time.

Shove that long-nurtured dream to one side because it seems too daunting to even embark on fulfilling it, don’t tell that person how much we love them because what if they don’t love us back (but what, pray tell, if they do?), keep to the same old same old because doing something new involves a whole lot of effort and may not actually pay off and we could be mightily wasting our time and …

Anyway, you get the idea.

One person who doesn’t seem to have  problem with living her life large is Margo Roth Spiegelman, described by her long-admiring neighbour across the street, the wholly reticent, stayed within the lines, don’t push the envelope Quentin Jacobsen as “inarguably the most gorgeous creature that God had ever created.”

Even when life hands her a great big bag of unfaithful lemons, she sets about making some of the sweetest revenge lemonade anyone has ever had, dragging an initially uncertain then ridiculously happy and surprised Quentin or Q along with her for what turns out to be a life-changing and exhausting ride.

 

Margo and Q enjoy their very own "E.T." moment after plastic wrapping the car of Margo's lyin', cheatin' ex (image via Hypable)
Margo and Q enjoy their very own “E.T.” moment after plastic wrapping the car of Margo’s lyin’, cheatin’ ex (image via Hypable)

 

And then with his life barely out of neutral, he finds himself on the chase of his life, trying to track down Margo, who has disappeared seemingly without a trace the very next morning after the vengeful night before, via a series of elaborate cues she has left him.

Taking along four friends, Quentin goes on a transformative journey through the “paper towns” of the title, a real term for place names put on maps by cartographers as a form of insurance against being copied, which in this case refers to the empty sprawling urban subdivisions which look real enough but have only the pretense of life, the simulation of existence, to their credit.

That’s not enough for Margo and increasingly for Quentin who finds himself coming alive in ways he never thought possible.

Paper Towns opens in Australia on June 4, 2015, and in USA on July 24, 2015.

 

 

And what are “paper towns” you might ask? Why John Green has the answer for you in his latest vlog …

 

 

Movie review: Chappie

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

 

When we first meet Chappie, one of a growing number of seemingly indestructible weaponised robots or “scouts” being rolled out to augment the flesh and blood police of crime-ridden Johannesburg, he is not leading what you might call a charmed existence.

So unlucky is the hapless droid, who has endured the indignity of having his head crushed by a car and his battery fused to his metallic body by a squarely-aimed RPG rocket impact, that he has been scheduled for destruction by the man who invented him and his pre-programmed comrades, artificial intelligence wunderkind Deon Wilson (Dev Patel).

This all changes though after an “all-nighter” of Red Bulls and ceaseless coding when Deon, who is frustrated by the limitations of working for weapons manufacturer Tetravaal – the name of the company is a nod to the 2003 short film of the same name by the film’s director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) – finally creates true artificial intelligence that can learn and grow like any person.

Enervated by his discovery, he races to work, where his rival Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman who sports an unfashionable mullet and a possibly even less desirable wardrobe) is constantly plotting to get his ungainly over-sized Pacific Rim type combat robots or Moose into poll position over Deon’s scouts, to seek permission to use Chappie as his test subject.

Thrilled at the limitless possibilities of the artificial intelligence he has created, he is crestfallen when the CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver who is wasted in the role though she acquits herself well) rejects his proposal, largely on the basis that Tetravaal manufactures weapons, not robots capable of painting or writing poetry.

Only temporarily undaunted, he decides to use Chappie or scout number 22, as his guinea pig, and spirits the inactive, and thus far unremarkable droid, out of the company’s premises to work on him at home.

He doesn’t make it that far though, kidnapped along with Chappie by a low level gang of three thugs who, in debt to violent local crime kingpin Hippo (Brandon Auret), are seeking a way to turn of all the police robots so they can embark on a limited but lucrative crime spree.

It’s here that a miraculous journey begins as Deon, forced to insert the self-awareness program into Chappie by his kidnappers, two of whom are played by Ninja and Yolandi Visser of South African rap/rave group Die Antwoord, watches in astonishment as Chappie comes alive, initially with only the self-awareness and skills of a toddler, gleefully eager for knowledge which he acquires and acts on with astonishing speed.

 

 

If this was all that Chappie was, an exploration of what it means to be human, loved and valued for who you are, a black sheep though you may be, then the film would be more Wall-E/Short Circuit/Batteries Not Included than the violent Robocop-like mess it eventually becomes.

As a study in the very essence of humanity, and the intricate web of learned experiences and intensely-personal relationships, it spawns, Chappie is a triumph.

It is genuinely touching to watch the young droid grow and see him form a close nurturing relationship with “Mummy”, Yolandi Visser, who reads him bedtime stories and intercedes against the more violent and utilitarian demands of her easily-inflamed partner Ninja and his partner in crime Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo).

Ninja, especially, sees Chappie purely as a means to a debt-reducing end, and you can can’t help but feel deeply for the newly self-aware robot when he is attacked and set on fire by a vicious band of hoodlums, reacting with fear and panic as any child in that situation would.

Even when he is styled as a bling-wearing thug by Ninja and Amerika, coached to be a one-robot crimewave – a role he is distinctly uncomfortable with after Deon, aghast at what is happening to his precious creation, makes him promise not to hurt anyone or break any laws – he is endearing in every way, so eager is his desire to please the parental figures in his life.

And the great affection that Deon holds for him, his delight at watching his “child” grow and develop in ways that surprise him, and the bond he subsequently forms with Chappie despite Ninja’s intimidating attempts to keep them apart, are a pleasure to watch.

That Chappie is such an appealing figure has everything to do with Blomkamp’s longtime collaborator Sharlto Copley who imbues Chappie, who he brings to life with pitch-perfect voice and motion capture, with childlike wonderment, whimsical joy and a smile-inducing curiosity for the world around him.

In fact, you can safely say that, Deon and Yolandi Visser apart, Chappie is the most human part of the movie, enraptured by being alive, and determined to remain that way, whatever the cost and effort, when he discovers that his fused battery cannot be replaced, meaning that at some point in the not too distant future this appealing fellow will, like all life before him, die.

 

 

Unfortunately where Chappie falls down, and falls down substantially, is in its inability to decide if it is a deeply-affecting excursion into the heart of true humanity, or a blow-‘em-up, bust-‘em-up bloodbath, crammed to the max with explosions, death, destruction and general city-leveling mayhem.

The positives of Chappie the character, of which there are many, aren’t enough to save Chappie the film from becoming a confused mess of petty, poorly-executed rivalries – the titanic struggle between Jackman’s cartoon-ish villain and Deon’s eager innocent-abroad optimist is half-baked and oddly handled – and almost pointless blockbuster violence.

It does somewhat save itself in the dying minutes of the film when something utterly moving and unprecedented happens to Chappie, Deon and Yolandi, and the intensely-intimate emotions which power much of the first half of the film briefly come back into play to emotionally-evocative effect.

But it’s not enough to grant the movie the sort of rapturous approval that Chappie himself merits and which it comes close to achieving in the scenes devoted to the fully-conscious droid’s quest to become enduringly, delightfully human.

Though Chappie boasts some impressive world-building with Johannesburg realised in all its gritty wild west glory, a stunning score by Hans Zimmer and memorable, scene-enhancing songs by Die Antwoord, and gripping cinematography by Trent Opaloch, it ultimately suffers from not knowing where its creative heart lies and hence where its narrative energy should be ultimately, and fruitfully, directed.

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: Try (S5, E15 review)

Little did Rick realise that Deanna had won her hometown's Death Stare competition five years in a row, a record that is yet to be bettered ... for obvious reasons (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
Little did Rick realise that Deanna had won her hometown’s Death Stare competition five years in a row, a record that is yet to be bettered … for obvious reasons (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

 

* SPOILERS AHEAD … AS WELL AS MUCH GRIEVING, MANY PORKY PIES AND A SUBSTANTIAL LOSS OF SELF-CONTROL*

“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and …”

Such a simple child’s ditty, one that celebrates the happy joys of heading somewhere special on a magical wonderful bus as a child where babies cry, horns toot and mum and dad tell you they love you.

All together now – “Awwwww”.

But in the endlessly dark world of The Walking Dead, where there is no such thing as an idyllically innocent anything anymore – Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) eventual heart-to-heart of sorts with Enid (Katelyn Nacon), snugly trapped in a hollow tree trunk, is loaded with reminders that even the possibility of first teenage love is coloured by harsh new adrenaline-pounding realities – buses aren’t so much for the riding in as the being thrown under.

Repeatedly, either by others, or if you’re Rick (Andrew Lincoln) or Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), by your own greatly-unhinged hands (this conjures up all manner of ghastly visual images, any and all of which would fit this dark episode).

The Alexandria Safe Zone (ASZ) may be many things but free from the body and soul-imperiling Machiavellian machinations of the flawed human soul? Not so much.

The main offender, bus-throwing-under-wise, was as you might expect, was spineless, simpering Nicholas (Michael Traynor), the man who you might recall from last week’s episode “Spend”, took each and every opportunity to demonstrate a thousand different, all unattractive, variations on rampant cowardice.

In quick order, he abandoned his best friend Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) to die after some ill-advised grenade-throwing left him pinned to a forklift, Tara (Alanna Masterson) out for the count from massive head injuries, and a herd of zombies closing in for some late afternoon chowing down on human flesh; scrambled out of a revolving door exposing Noah (Tyler James Williams) to a gruesome, bloody ripped limb-from-limb death; and tried to steal the van, sans Glenn (Steven Yeun), Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Tara.

It was a yellow stripe so big it could be seen from space, and underscored that while the ASZ may be a post-apocalyptic Shangri-La, a nirvana of high walls and endless boxes of pasta, its residents are woefully unprepared for facing, and dealing with as it needs to be dealt with, the cold, cruel new undead world that lies just outside their towering shopping mall cast off ramparts.

Shaken by the realisation that he doesn’t have what it takes to survive on the outside (not that he will admit that, of course) – Glenn makes it abundantly clear to Nicolas in “Try” that people like him are all dead by now; in other words the cowardly inept all became walkers or their meals long ago – Nicholas spun a web of lies to protect himself that would have left even grasping schemer Frank Underwood from House of Cards gasping at the audacity of it all.

Nicholas’s recounting of events to Aiden’s grieving mother Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) was all lies, damn lies and quite possibility even a few statistics, the manufactured self-serving fairytale nature of his untruths contrasted brilliantly with the truth by writer Angela Kang and director Michael Satrazemis thanks to a clever interspersing with Glenn’s barely-audible, emotionally-shaken accurate retelling of what went down in the warehouse to a naturally sympathetic Rick.

In pre-Father Gabriel ratting out the people who saved him, “Satan dressed as an angel of light”, Deanne loving her new community member days, it’s likely that Nicholas would have been exposed for the craven, cowardly liar he is.

But now? Well now, with Deanna suspicious and her previously sound judgement addled by grief, it’s an even way bet how this will all play out.

One thing you can be guaranteed is that it won’t be pretty or particularly edifying to what is left of the overall human spirit.

 

And out the window they go, Rick and Peter taking their manly physical banter a little too far (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
And out the window they go, Rick and Peter taking their manly physical banter a little too far (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

 

Of course Rick didn’t exactly help his group’s fragile cause by going all bats**t crazy at the end of the episode.

With a gun no less, which he waved about like it was a stick in search of a missing piñata (or his sanity, you know, whatevs).

Increasingly angry that Pete the drunken surgeon (Corey Brill) was beating up on the object of his would be adulterous passion Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) – his ardour for prosecuting the case, which had been fanned by Woman Most Likely to Kill For the Heck of It AGAIN and Scare More Small Children, Carol (Melissa McBride), was driven less by a hatred of domestic violence and more by runaway lust – Rick went all Rambo on Pete’s arse.

In Pete and Jessie’s house … and then not in Pete and Jessie’s house, an innocent window – good luck getting a repair callout on that one guys – bearing the brunt of their misplaced manly fury.

It was not either man’s finest moment, and while it, by many accounts, hewed close to the storyline of the comic books , it underlined a worrying trend in the ongoing narrative of The Walking Dead, which is a tendency to repeat the whole us vs. them dynamic to its repetitively bloody end.

Yes, guys, we get that it’s a zombie-eat-dog world, and things are GRIM, and humanity is not exactly displaying its finest moral wares right now but the obsession with hammering this home is resulting in storylines that look suspiciously like one another.

That’s because it is the same storyline.

Rick and the group come into contact with new people … new people do not have the virtue, godliness and cookie-making skills of Rick’s group … new people do BAD things while Rick and the gang simply do what they must to survive.

Granted, Rick has instilled a moral code of sorts in his “family”, one that has seen them take the high road more often than not (it’s just as infested with walkers through so that’s kind of useless) but their hands aren’t bloodless and yet they are increasingly banging on about their survivalist credentials in the same insufferably irritating way that vegans preach the virtue of eating very little of anything.

Yeah, yeah we get it guys – you’re badasses who have managed to stay alive on the outside when so many have become Buttons-like monster chow.

Would you like a gold star, a medal and a parade in your honour?

 

"I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! ... wait no, I'm just as mad as I always was and ... no, wait ... dang it, I HAVE A BRAIN AND I KNOW EVERYTHING!" *cue Michonne to come in and take him down, which she did most effectively* (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)
“I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore! … wait no, I’m just as mad as I always was and … no, wait … dang it, I HAVE A GUN AND I KNOW EVERYTHING! YES, E-VERY-THING!” *cue Michonne to come in and take him down, which she did most effectively* (Photo by Gene Page/AMC)

 

That aside though, the great failing here is that The Walking Dead is eschewing far more complex dramatic possibilities.

“Try” for instance could have played out with Rick staying perfectly sane – and for that matter Sasha who’s “I’M GRIEVING DAMMIT!” routine has been well and truly over-played; although trailing around behind her while she offed walkers in great numbers did give Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) something to do I guess – while he and Deanna went through a battle of wills of some kind.

Plenty of tension in that, and it would have made for some gripping viewing as Deanna tried to sort of fact from fiction, Father Gabriel’s fevered ramblings and Nicholas self-serving bleatings from the actual truth with Rick circling around her as she did so.

It would have been the sort of opposing viewpoints at twenty intellectual paces that so many other shows thrive on; but once again it looks like we’re heading down the everything-will-be-laid-to-waste so Rick and the gang can say “I f**king told you so! We’re always right” once again.

There’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes but we’ve been there already with the Governor and Terminus, and I honestly thought the storytelling gods had decided to throw a different kind of narrative pixie dust on the blighted proceedings.

The signs were promising that the good burghers of the ASZ would be decent if flawed folks – sure they were needed some educating on the harsh realities of life in the new undead world, but that’s where Rick and the gang could have so easily simply gone ahead and, um , taught them – with some like Aaron (Ross Marquand), who spent some quality with Daryl this episode getting to the bottom of the sickos who are scrawling the letter “W” on peoples’ heads before executing them by walker, more than willing to learn.

But all the promise of clever, sophisticated storytelling arising from good if naive people meeting Rick’s hardened veterans seems to be have been cast aside willy-nilly by Scott Gimple and creator Scott Kirkman, who seem to be going down a road filled with walkers that we have already been down before.

Perhaps, next week’s unprecedented 90 minute finale, “Conquer” will surprise and delight and have me eating my words but the signs aren’t good at this point to be honest, what with Rick talking about killing “them” in next week’s trailer, and Deanna and Carol going full tilt on their own driven agendas in the two sneak peeks …

 

 

 

Where are you? Thunderbirds are GO! (new trailer)

The brand new Thunderbirds Are Go are a mix of CGI and miniature sets courtesy of Peter Jackson's uber-talented Weta Workshop (image via Film Review Online (c) ITV Studios and Pakeko Pictures)
The brand new Thunderbirds Are Go are a mix of CGI and miniature sets courtesy of Peter Jackson’s uber-talented Weta Workshop (image via Film Review Online (c) ITV Studios and Pakeko Pictures)

 

I try to never be a captive of nostalgia.

Spend some time with it yes, sup some tea, eat a biscuit, remember the good old days but never, ever be lured into the false sense of security that things were better way back when.

Different certainly, special undoubtedly, but not necessarily better. Just drop those rose-tinted glasses now will ya?

My commitment to this ethos of living in the here and now, and not playing pointless comparisons between what is and what was is tested on occasion though such as when Hanna-Barbera decided that Scooby Doo would be infinitely better off with Scrappy Doo in it.

Um, NO.

And it got momentarily tested when first I viewed the new trailer for the revival version of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Thunderbirds Are Go from ITV Studios and Pakeko Pictures which looked a little too, well CGI-ish for my tastes.

And by CGI-ish I mean the sort of cheap, too much Botox and plastic surgery look common to many of the characters in mass-produced children’s cartoon programs these days.

But then I looked a little more closely – I said put down those rose-tinted glasses buster! – and realised that what Blastr had to say about the look of the new show was right back on the money:

“ITV Studios and Pakeko Pictures have preserved the colorful, retro vibe of the original series with enough rocketships, holograms, crawling submarines, supervillains, space stations and cool secret lairs to blast audiences into nostalgic oblivion.”

 

 

But things can’t stay exactly the same forever or all you are doing is re-creating museum pieces of dubious value – you could well argue too that replicating the genius of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson is well near impossible too – so upon reflection, and a good hearty shoving of nostalgia to one side, I have to admit it’s exciting to see the gang I grew up watching at 6am each morning in my grandparents’ lounge room back on the screen with, as SuperHeroHype points out, some new characters, all played by some notable names:

“… the iconic series is coming back and features a cast led by Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) as Lady Penelope and David Graham (Thunderbirds 1965) reprising his role as chauffeur and International Rescue agent Parker.

Unstoppable inventor Brains will be voiced by Kayvan Novak, while Tracy brothers Gordon and John are both played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones). Rasmus Hardiker voices both the youngest and oldest Tracy brothers, Alan and Scott. The fifth Tracy brother, Virgil, will be played by David Menkin. Tracy Island matriarch Grandma Tracy is voiced by Sandra Dickinson and master villain The Hood is played by Andres Williams.

“Thunderbirds Are Go!” will feature new characters including Kayo, the Tracy brothers’’ friend and fellow island resident, who will be played by Angel Coulby, and Colonel Casey voiced by Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who).”

So everything old is both new again and exactly as I remember it, which if you’re reviving something is exactly as it should be  (The Muppets too benefited from venerating the old while throwing in some new elements).

I’m looking forward to once again engaging the afterburners, battling the mysterious Hood, watching the Tracys’ save people near and far and uttering those iconic words “Thunderbirds are go!”

Thunderbirds Are Go! returns to our screens on April 15, 2015 on British childrens’ TV network CITV.

 

 

 

Hang on for dear life: Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation (poster + trailers)

(image via Hey U Guys)
(image via Hey U Guys)

 

I know it often feels like this is Bond, James Bond’s world and we’re all just living in it with rather less panache than he does (and nowhere near enough martinis, shaken, not stirred), but I have lately had the feeling, the Bond franchise’s renaissance under the dashing Daniel Craig notwithstanding, that there are better modern spy movies to be had in the Bourne and yes, Mission: Impossible franchises.

I grant you that Tom Cruise is not everyone’s cup of cyanide-laced tea but as Ethan Hunt, head of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), he has nothing less than resolutely impressive as a spy willing to do anything to save his team, and yes, of course, the world.

The last outing for the franchise was back in early 2012 in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which saw Ethan and the team, which included Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner, subjected to all manner of life-in-mortal-peril situations such as plunging 100m down in a carpark, dangling 113 stories from a sheer glass skyscraper over the desert of Dubai or being rather too close to the Kremlin blowing up into small teensy-weensy pieces.

It was, as I described in my review, “a classically good action movie, updated with a good heaping’ helpin’ dose of post modern sensibility, emotional gravitas, reasonably well rounded characters and a plot that actually had a modicum of consistency and believability to it.”

And the now the same indestructible team, with the addition of Rebecca Ferguson as a glamourously mysterious operative who ends up helping Ethan escape  a rather precarious, doomed-to-die situation, are back in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, directed by Christopher McQuarrie and produced by J J Abrams, Tom Cruise and David Ellison.

 

 

As is the usual case, the IMF are up against it in a big way, being pursued by a shadowy team of highly-skilled, remorseless operatives known as the Syndicate – the Rogue Nation of the title – who only job it seems is making Ethan and his team dangle not from any more skyscrapers.

Or in the case of the full and teaser trailers released in the last few days, from the side of a fast-taking off Airbus A400M plane whose door is stubbornly refusing to open with the never-say-die Ethan clinging grimly to its side.

It looks like the latest entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise has all the hallmarks of the series well and truly, and most pleasingly, in place – bombastic over the top action, an earnest mission, tongue nevertheless most firmly in cheek, some humour, elegantly-orchestrated action set pieces and the sort of camaraderie than can only come done when you’re a tight knit team facing down unstoppable, well-equipped enemies.

In short, everything I love about this gloriously over-the-top franchise.

Bring it on … but get me in the plane first please!

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens in USA and UK on 31 July 2015 and in Australia on 6 August.

 

 

Movie review: Home

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

 

It’s hard to imagine that a colourfully individualistic member of an invasive technologically highly-advanced but socially-awkward alien race, who have just picked Earth as their new home (no, humanity, as usual, was not consulted), and a small girl sheltering with her cat in an unnamed city from said extra terrestrial invaders, would have very much in common.

But in director Tim Johnson’s Home, the latest animation release from Dreamworks based on Adam Rex’s 2007 book The True Meaning of Smekday, these two highly unlikely characters come together, after a few misunderstandings naturally – one of which involves the alien Oh (Jim Parsons) being locked in a convenience store fridge by Rihanna’s Gratuity Tucci or “Tip” until he convinces to let him back in the “Out” – and discover that they are more alike than either might have ever imagined.

Both Oh – so-called because every one of his fellow aliens known collectively as the Boov greet him with a world weary, groan-heavy deeply-resigned “Oh …” when they see him; he is of course oblivious to the fact that no one really like him thanks to his most un-Boov-like joie de vivre – and Tip are outsiders, social outliers who find in each other a sense of belonging that evaded them among their own kind.

In Oh’s case, his penchant for individualism, for sucking the marrow out of life in his own uniquely exuberant way, puts him at odds with the rest of the cowardly, conformist insipid Boov who have spent eons running from planet to planet in a usually unsuccessful attempt to avoid their mortal enemy, the towering, flame-eyed Gorg who always seem to find them eventually.

Theirs is a society built on taking orders from the top, from the pompously inept but officious-sounding Captain Smek (Steve Martin in fine form), whose sole role is to think, rather poorly it must be said, for every single one of his unadventurous subjects, none of whom would dare think of questioning his often dubious decision-making (even though they really, really should).

Oh isn’t necessarily trying to set himself apart from the mood ring-like colour-changing herd; in fact much of his energy is expended trying to fit in with his fellow Boov, all of whom sadly regard his unfailingly upbeat attempts to invite them to parties and engage them in conversation as affronts to the Boov creed of social isolation (even as they, ironically, move in one unthinking herd).

 

 

Tip, an immigrant to an inner city American city from Barbados with her mother Lucy (Jennifer Lopez), who was rounded up with all the other humans during the Boov’s comically-efficient invasion and deposited in hilariously Stepford Wives-like suburban enclaves in southern Australia, is also finding it hard to fit into her new surrounds.

With her cat Pig her only real company and any friendships with her contemporaries hard won and tenuous, Tip is annoyed to find herself even more alone in this brave new Boov-infested world, taking out her frustrations, understandably enough, on Oh when she first encounters him in a convenience store where he is hiding from Boov authorities, who are furious that his latest party invite has actually gone galaxy-wide, including to their trenchant enemy, the Gorg. who will once again know exactly where their hapless quarry is hiding.

But after Oh fits out her car with the latest in Slushilicious-powered Boov flying technology and nachos-equipped weaponry – see all that faux-food is good for something – they initially form a mutually-beneficial friendship of circumstance and set off to right Oh’s latest mistake and find Tip’s mother on one of the oddest and yet most touching road trips you’re likely to see in any movie.

It’s this growing friendship between two utterly different but more alike than they know characters that forms the central beating of Home, and is responsible for lifting what is a fairly pedestrian quest narrative into something remarkably fresh, vibrant and funny.

Much of the success of the movie in fact lies with Parsons and Rihanna, who invest each of their characters with just the right of personality and social smarts – admittedly Oh is a little behind in the latter area but quickly catches up over the course of the movie  thanks to Tip’s instruction – to make their relationship seem sweet and believable, and thanks to a steady stream of winning oneliners, consistently amusing.

 

 

The artwork too is highly imaginative, with a great deal of attention paid to the undulating, colourful physiology of the Boov – they change colour depending on their emotional state or state of mind; Oh for instance turns green when he lies and yellow when he is afraid – their inventive technology and visual sight gags aplenty such as the Boov’s propensity for gathering up human technology they deem surplus to requirements such as toilets and bikes.

Many of Earth’s great monuments are also sucked loose from their terrestrial moorings and placed atop floating islands of land in the sky, with the Statue of Liberty, which is altered to resemble Captain Smek (who adopts many of earth’s technology such as vacuums and BBQs as his own in hilariously misused ways), and the Eiffel Tower being the most notable exceptions, making trips through the air a case of “driver beware” at all times.

Home, while not quite in Pixar’s league, and lacking a standout plot or character trajectory – Oh and Tip’s journey from enemies to friends is swift and largely uneventful – nevertheless is a lot of fun.

Much effort has clearly been put into giving the Boov a well-rounded, functioning, though socially-hobbled society, Oh and Tip shine as two outsiders finding not just a home with each other but a reason for moving forward in a turbulent time of life for both of them, and the humour, much of which emanates from Martin and Parsons who were clearly given some freedom to improvise their dialogue and physical characteristics, is a delight through and through.

It may not ever win any Academy Awards and may be sitting firmly in the middle tier of animated movie efforts, but Home still has more than enough charms, not to mention some important life lessons about belonging and running towards opportunity not away from it, to make it the sort of movie that you will emerge from with your heart nicely warmed, and a big fat silly grin on your face.

And quite possibly, in common with Oh, who notes at one point when Tip has introduced him to music and dancing (the soundtrack is all Rihanna all the time and it largely works) that he is reacting in phsyical ways he didn’t anticipate –  “Look at me with my hands in the air like I just do not care” – a spring in your step  and your arms flailing happily by your side.

 

 

 

First impressions: The Last Man on Earth

(image (c) Fox)
(image (c) Fox)

 

Who hasn’t wondered, at some point or another, whether life wouldn’t be a whole lot simpler if it was simply us, an empty street and all the  cheesecake we could eat? (Perhaps that last thing is just me but you get the overall point right?)

Sandwiched like sardines in our commuter train carriage, tinny EDM leaking like aural battery acid over our ears from someone’s none-too-snug MP3 player headphones, the smell of rank body odour up our noses in ways so comprehensive we may not be able to ever smell the flowers again even if we stop to do so, all we can think about is blissful, unending solitude, far from the madding crowd and it’s obsession with moving and surging like lemmings drunk on a factory vat of vodka.

But what if we got our wish? What if, like Phil Miller (Will Forte) on Fox’s new anarchically-hilarious new sitcom The Last Man on Earth, we woke up one day to find out everyone had just disappeared and left us behind to do our own thing forevermore?

What would we do then?

If you’re anything like Phil, who is the sole survivor of an robustly efficient plague that wiped out 99.9999 % of humanity, you would likely first begin by partying like it’s 2099 (which it isn’t but just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to dancing like it is.)

And party he does, but not before driving around the United States in a giant RV the size of Canada, gathering up artwork from museums that, let’s face it, are facing a precipitous decline in patronage, carpet rugs with the presidential seal from the Oval Office and Michael Jordan’s framed jersey with which to decorate his home, wherever that may end up being, and crossing off each and every state he’s checked for signs of life with a sharpie on a giant now superfluous map.

Settling back in Tucson, which, no offence to the good people of Arizona’s second largest urban conurbation looks like the perfect bleak setting for an apocalyptically quirky sitcom, he proceeds to play extreme bowls with a giant stack of full fish-less fish tanks, fill a wading pool with margarita mix which he then drinks with a giant straw while swimming in it, and populates a local bar with a clientele made up of tennis balls, footballs, gold balls, all with smile, happy faces on them.

(This is after admitting that Tom Hanks, whose relationship with Wilson the Volleyball in Castaway he initially disparages, may have been onto something after all; they look kind of like people, never talk back and don’t drink the Scotch.)

 

 

 

It sounds like everyone’s commuting fantasy come to do whatever-the-hell-you-like-f**k-the-rules life.

Phil cares not for social propriety, adopting boxers as his standard unit of clothing, using his giant pool as an outdoor toilet – amazing what judiciously cut holes in a diving board can do for ease of use in that regard – and treating his home as a giant rubbish strewn pit.

Because after all who’s going to tell you not to right? You are judge, jury and executioner of what’s OK and what’s not, and there’s no one, literally no one people, to tell you what to do.

The seething, smelly, selfish commuting rabble has been silenced and you stand victoriously alone, able to drive where you please, how you please, in whatever you please, shopping for whatever takes your fancy without a single payment and oh yeah, masturbating a lot, so much so that you feel compelled to apologise to God for its volume.

It sounds a like a lot of fun and as Will Forte admitted to Rolling Stone, it’s a lot of fun to play too:

“One of the best parts of writing the show is that I get to think of these stupid little things that I’d do if nobody else was around — and then I get to go do them. I get to run over things with a steamroller. I get to use a flamethrower. Basically, I just wrote a character who’s pretty much a version of what I would be like in that situation. If everyone on Earth was wiped out by a virus, I wouldn’t have a clue about things like electricity or plumbing. I wouldn’t know what the fuck to do!”

But a funny thing happens on the way to nirvana as Phil realises he might just miss having someone to talk to, that it’s possible other people weren’t completely a great big fat waste of time and having some company might not have sucked to high heaven with a giant straw full of three-days-in-the-sun margaritas.

Just when everything seems more than a little too bleak, and his dating efforts with a store mannequin have come to nothing – she’s the strong, silent, and um, plastic type; you know the kind – along comes prim-and-proper Carol Pilbasian (Kristen Schaal), who in marked contrast to the heavily-bearded, hygienically-challenged Phil is a very model of upholding civilisation in the midst of anarchy.

Well if there were enough people to create anarchy, she would be totally holding the line against it.

As it is, her insistence on Phil stopping at Stop signs, and not stealing things out of stores and even marrying him before they begin, ahem, re-populating the earth as is their calling (so she believes) starts to look faintly, hilariously ridiculous, providing much of the comedy of opposites that anchors the show, at least in the first couple of episodes.

 

 

 

It’s the relationship between Phil and Carol, an Odd Couple if ever there was one, that lends The Last Man on Earth much of its offbeat comedic air and its unexpected poignancy.

Phil is behaving exactly as I think many of us would act in the same situation, his disillusion at having so much unending freedom kicking in about when it would for any of us, while Carol, god bless her craft-loving neatly-darned socks, is determined that the life she once lived is still possible, albeit with a few less people left to populate it.

The true delight of the show is that it isn’t just two people, played to comedic perfection by Forte and Schaal, confronting the end of the world in their own unique, totally divergent ways; it’s a surprisingly touchy exploration of the way in which we all need each other, despite the effort and volume we put into complaining about the dumb things all of us while in close proximity to each other.

Sure Phil blows things up, steamrollers over them and sets fire to them with a flamethrower, and Carol is inordinately obsessed with decorating the church in which she and Phil marry to a degree that is utterly unnecessary; but underlying all this is a desperate crying need for someone else to share things with.

If that all sounds a tad un-sitcom-like, you might want to consider that shows like the tragi-comic Mom are redefining what is fit and proper to include in a sitcom, and even laughfests like The Big Bang Theory are willing to drop the punchlines for a second if it means a point about basic humanity is made.

The great cleverness of The Last Man on Earth, brought to us by the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The LEGO Movie) – hmm wherever did Phil’s name come from I wonder? Hmm … – is that balances the fantasy humour with the sort of genuinely authentic sense of being bereft that would settle in once the booze was all drunk, the porn all, ahem, used, and cushions bedazzled with “No scrubs”.

We would all party like Phil and then crash and burn when we realised that mannequins and sports balls with faces sharpie’d onto them do not engaging life partners or even casual friends make.

We have been promised all manner of gasp-inducing of reveals over the 13 episode serial arc of the first season, but whatever happens to Phil, Carol and the newly-arrived limo-driving Melissa Shart (January Jones), what gives The Last Man on Earth true relevancy, pathos and watchability is its very real observation that no man or woman will ever want to be forever an island, even if they are surrounded by a lake of margarita mix and have the mother of all straws with which to drink it.