Comics review: The Snagglepuss Chronicles (issues 1 & 2)

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

When news first emerged that DC Comics were going to re-interpret a sizable array of Hanna-Barbera’s most iconic stars such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo and give them a modern makeover, there some doubt expressed that this could be achieved with any sort of creative substance.

After all, delightful though they were to watch in cartoon series of old, and though they had many an entertaining quality, pretty much every single character was reasonably cardboard cutout-ish, possessed of a few key attributes but not much in the way of backstory or meaningful insight.

But as these new reinterpretations demonstrated, it is possible to bring the slapstick jokesters of old and give them a serious new sheen and even say something worthwhile and socially aware, and The Snagglepuss Chronicles are Exhibit A for how brilliantly well this has been done. (To be fair The Flintstones and Scooby Doo also have some serious Exhibit A-cred going on.)

In this brave new Snagglepuss world, there is far less camp tomfoolery and no “Exit Stage Left!” to speak of, and a whole lot of serious introspection about the way society demands everyone fit into the same narrow mold, and how if they fail to do so, all hell can break loose upon their heads.

In The Snagglepuss Chronicles, the character once voiced by the great Daws Butler to deliciously flamboyantly rambunctious effect, is a much-vaunted 1950s playwright, a southern Gothic doyen of the creative arts who dresses like a dapper Southern gentleman (he hails from rural Mississippi) whose play “My Heart Is a Kennel of Thieves”  is wrapping up a famously long-run on Broadway, is friends with Dorothy Parker, she of the Alonquin Table and who is, marriage to Lila Lion to the contrary, secretly gay and in love with the Cuban exile Pablo.

His is a life simultaneously lived in the glare of public adoration and in the shadows, a doting husband to stage actress Lila to keep the social gatekeepers happy and morally assuaged, and a caring boyfriend who meets his true partner at Stonewall in The Village in New York and wherever prying eyes aren’t lurking.

It’s a fraught existence in some respects but Snagglepuss has long ago made his peace with it; well as much peace as you can make with a dual existence that never allows you to lay down your guard.

How much of a balancing act this double-life is is brought home to Snagglepuss when his Southern novelist friend Huckleberry Hound arrives in town – against all expectations writer Mark Russell weaves in Huckleberry, Squiddly Diddly and Augie Doggie to impressive effect – recounting how he has been found to leave his marriage, child and entire life behind when his wife discovered his relationship with another man.

This revelation, which seems to do little to unsettle Snagglepuss’s cheeky, highly-literate bravado, throws the dilemma many men in 1950s America faced – be true to themselves and be ruined or flit between the light and shadows and hope notices you moving between the two.

The consequences as Huckleberry Hound demonstrates, and which Russell depicts with great sensitivity and insight, can be near cataclysmic, the end of all things as society, or that section of it that polices morality for dubious reasons, exacts its price for unacceptable transgressions.

 

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

The greater threat, and yes hard as it is to believe, there is a deadlier force at work, comes from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Senator Joe McCarthy’s oppressively virulent crusade to keep America safe from the undemocratic tyranny of the much-ballyhooed communist hordes.

Of course, the supreme irony is that a crusade designed to supposedly protect democracy actually ended up running cruel and merciless roughshod over it, with many innocent people dragged through the personal and professional mud on some sort of demented crusade.

Snagglepuss’s friend, playwright Lillian Hellman is one such person, who describes her treatment this way in a conversation post-appearance with Snagglepuss:

“Were they terribly rough on you, dear?”
“No, they were just shabby. Shabby little men in a shabby little room. They just want to make you shabby too.”

That conversation out on the terrace, cigarettes in hand, beautifully typifies Russell’s elegant style, which never comes close to being manipulatively polemic or rantingly clumsy.

Rather he allows his characters to simply live their lives, with their opponents and oppressors effectively hanging themselves on their own petards with their own actions and words.

It’s a masterful piece of storytelling that, coupled with exquisitely rich, colourful and evocative art by Mike Feehan, delivers up a stinging rebuke to the small minds and cold, judgmental hearts who position themselves as the arbiters of morality, ethics and human decency.

That they are obviously nothing of the sort becomes graphically clear in the first two sublime-good and confrontingly-nuanced issues of The Snagglepuss Chronicles with the decency and authenticity of the likes of the titular protagonist and a wide array of friends such as Huckleberry Hound, standing in stark contrast to the base shabbiness of McCarthy and his tawdry ilk.

 

(image courtesy DC Comics)

 

Snaggelpuss, of course, wants nothing to do with Gigi Allen, Special Counsel to the House Committee on Un-American Activities when she calls him, at the Alonquin Table no less, to act as a propaganda mouthpiece for McCarthy’s attempts to remake America in his blighted, small “s” style.

He nails it with his pithy, take-down of what it is Allen and her accomplices in democracy-sabotaging are attempting to do:

“I think what you want is not my help but my capitulation.

“I think you don’t give two feathers about how some playwright from Mississippi might affect the outcome of World War Three. You’re not enlisting my help against the Soviets. You’re enlisting the Soviets to help you control what we say and do.

You are asking me for my pen and that I cannot give … it’s all I have.”

With that one speech, which occurs close the end of issue #2 and as you might expects ends nothing, Russell nails his and Snagglepuss’s colours firmly to the mast, setting up some thrilling and no doubt potently incisive issues ahead.

  • Think there might be some thematic corollaries between the re-imagined Snagglepuss and our troubled modern reality? You would be right and this video does a beautiful job of explaining it …

 

Take down Mechno-Hive! Join the fight with The Axiom Chronicles

(image via Laughing Squid (c) Edison Creative)

 

SNAPSHOT
On a dystopian planet in the far reaches of the cosmos, an evil sentient mechanical entity known as the Mechno-Hive has enslaved the organic races as their labor force. By controlling an ancient and mysterious crystaline power source known as the Axiom, they exert their tyrannical will on the entire planet.

The fate and future of the planet, and it’s occupants lies in the hands of a young hero named Rake. It falls to Rake to learn to control the ultimate power of the Axiom for good, and bring peace to the world he calls home. (synopsis via Kickstarter)

It really doesn’t matter who you are, there’s something intensely appealing, almost magically inspiring about underdogs taking on dictatiorial rulers (well, unless you’re a monster tyrant occupying a position of unassailable power; then maybe not so much).

Star Wars made merry use, and still does, of the idea, as have countless other books, movies and TV shows, and now The Axiom Chronicles is joining the rebellious fray in all its transportive animated glory.

 

(image courtesy Edison Creative)

 

Theirs is an epic, against-the-odds, one its creators, Edison Creative will inspire you enough to join their Kickstarter campaign which is seeking funds to complete production on this imaginative sci-fi Western.

The Axiom Chronicles, the brainchild of Dillon Wheelock, is a passion project for the busy design studio based in Omaha, Nebraska, and so they need our help to make it a reality.

One glimpse of that trailer and you can’t help but play a part – the animation is sensational, the storyline gripping and the emotional impact off the scale.

Go join The Axiom Chronicles and keep the rebellion, and some pretty impressive creativity, alive.

The Axiom Chronicles Kickstarter closes 5am AEDT AU time, 2 March 2018.

 

First impressions: Stargate Origins (episodes 1-3)

(image via GateWorld)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE BEGINNING OF A GRAND ADVENTURE … AND NAZIS WHO ARE NOBODY’S IDEA OF A GOOD TIME …

Many a wise person has remarked that some secrets are best left buried where they lie.

Now, you might think this attitude is sadly lacking in chutzpah and a willingness to boldly confront unpalatable or uncomfortable truths, but the reality is that dredging up the past comes with all kinds of messy, unforeseen complications.

Like the reappearance of age-old enemies.

And no, I’m not referring to old Aunt Joan and a predilection for sabotaging the best-laid plans of fellow family members.

In Stargate Origins, the first franchise series since Universe finished its abortive run after two seasons in 2011, the truth of this axiom is made abundantly clear when in 1929 humanity digs up a long-buried round metal circle whose purpose is manifestly hidden.

The human in question is one Professor Paul Langford (Connor Trinneer), an archaeologist who finds this curious object in the sands of Egypt in scenes first evoked in the first Stargate movie back in 1994 and who spends 10 years, along with his feisty daughter Catherine (Ellie Gall), trying to work out what on earth you use something this big, this metal (everything else from the period is made of stone) and this richly-decorated for.

No one can discern its use or meaning and so funding runs dry, stymieing any further investigation, and unbeknownst to the Langsfords or the rest of humanity, saving us from a renewal of alien subjugation which as the movie and Stargate SG1 demonstrated, is not the kind of thing you really want to revive.

The thing is, and of course there has to be a bad guy who knows everything the good guys don’t, the Nazis, in true Indiana Jones fashion – let’s be fair and admit that so pervasive is the legacy of cinema’s most swashbuckling and adventured-loving of archaeologists that avoiding being a little derivative is damn near impossible – have kind of figured it all out, having a hieroglyph that explains everything and yes, even a dialling device tucked away back in Berlin.

Dr. Wilhelm Brücke (Aylam Orian), a high-ranking Nazi officer and occultist, accompanied by soldierly goons and his filmmaker lover Eva Reinhardt (Sarah Navratil) has it all figured out and in the matter of a few hours one night gets the Stargate up-and-running, takes everyone to Abydos – except for Catherine who must get through later with her British soldier beau Captain James Beal (Philip Alexander) and his colleague Wasif (Shvan Aladdin) – and meets, ta-dah!, the Goa’uld in the form of Aset (Salome Azizi).

 

Continuing the very much welcome recent trend of kickass female heroes, Catherine Langford is a force to be reckoned with (image via GateWorld)

 

The Goa’uld are naturally warm, accommodating and thoroughly pleased to see everyone … haha kidding; in fact, without so much as by-your-leave, Amet kills one of the Nazis and makes it clear that whatever Brücke thought he was getting from his journey through the stargate, it’s not going to be on his terms.

Not even a little bit.

So begins humanity’s first modern trip through the stargate, the first since the ancient people of Egypt rebelled against their cruel alien masters and buried the gate to stop them coming through.

The interesting part about the gate being activated in Origins is that we are given the quite distinct impression in the original Stargate movie that Langford and her father never managed to activate the gate with Catherine noting to Daniel Jackson that “this is as far as we have ever been able to get”.

Now normally fiddling with canon is a great big no-no – witness the way in which Disney did a big clearing out of Star Wars canon as part of the recent re-launch of the series – but I am guessing narrative convenience won out over canon adherence in this instance since a prequel like Origins is crying out for an activated stargate, if only to fuel the Indiana Jones look and feel of the series.

You could well argue that Langford omits the fact that she and her father, courtesy of the Nazis, managed to activate the stargate back at the start of World War Two since that may have been some sort of state secret.

Still given how top secret the stargate remains in the modern day, with presumably all the information on past endeavours to start it up, it’s a wonder they’re not aware of the 1939 activation.

I am assuming that as the ten-part series goes on that we will be provided with some sort of explanation about why noone in 1994 knows about what happened 55 years earlier, and I am betting it will come to a big old neverending embargo of some kind.

However the old and new canon come to an accommodation, Stargate Origins made merry with the stargate being turned on, with each 8-12 episode ending on a perfect cliffhanger, each mini-tale neatly segueing into the next, much like the movie shorts of old.

 

Tending a little much towards a camp, comical trope, Origins resident antagonist at least knows his stuff which for humanity’s continued wellbeing is more than a little unfortunate (image via GateWorld)

 

The only downside to these rollicking prequel episodes, which feature Langford as a woman very much able to look after herself thank you (and way braver than the men who assist but aren’t required to save her), is that the episodes are far too short.

Not in the sense that they are badly made or lacking in good, solid narrative construction- they are taut, beautifully-paced storytelling at its best – but simply far too brief when you used to luxuriating in 45 minutes episodes for SG-1, Atlantis and Universe.

It’s less an issue with the quality of the storytelling, of which there is none, and more, as a fan, that I simply want more stargate.

In 40 magical minutes it was all over, and while each episode segued damn near perfectly into the next, building tension and narrative momentum, and there are seven more episodes to look forward to, it just feel all too ephemeral and quick.

Still better 10 quick episodes than nothing at all, and we should be thankful that we are the beneficiaries of a part of the Stargate story only explored in passing in past movies and films.

On balance too what we are getting is a whole new Stargate movie and I look forward to watching as one full uninterrupted adventure when all 10 episodes have debuted.

To get the episodes beyond the initial three you do need to sign to Stargate Command (plus pay $31), the streaming service for the franchise, an annoyance given the plethora of streaming services currently on offer.

But given storytelling this good and immersively-realised, that adds to the Stargate franchise in some interesting and compelling ways, it’s worth the money especially with all the extra goodies thrown in too.

Stargate Origins is overall a gripping little narrative nugget that augurs for the return of this much-loved franchise to our screens – much smaller than they used to be! – and perhaps, if successful, and it has no reason not to be, a far more expansive addition to this galaxy-spanning, highly-imaginative and endlessly malleable series of adventures.

  • What lies ahead in the rest of the season? Why this, of course … don’t get excited it’s but a 40-second teaser; it does confirm, however, that some things are best left buried nice and deep … FOREVER …

 

 

Whimsical, charming and deliciously strange: The unique world of Satellite Girl and Milk Cow

(poster image courtesy Flickering Myth)

 

SNAPSHOT
An out of commission satellite picks up a lovelorn ballad on her radio antenna and descends to Earth to find the source of such sincere emotions. But on the way she is caught in the crossfire of a raging magical battle and is transformed into Satellite Girl, complete with Astro Boy-like rocket shoes and weapon-firing limbs. Meanwhile, the balladeer in question – a loser 20 something at a café open mic – meets the fate that befalls all broken-hearted lovers: he is turned into a farm animal. But love knows no bounds, and aided by the wise and powerful Merlin – a wizard who has been turned into a roll of toilet paper – our duo must evade the all-consuming incinerator monster, the wily pig witch, and other nefarious adversaries in an attempt to be together. From the brilliant and slightly twisted mind of writer/director Chang Hyung-yun, Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is a heartfelt and wildly entertaining commentary on the possibility for human connection in the crazy, mixed-up, post-modern world we live in. (synopsis via Flickering Myth)

In my own peculiarly offbeat world, there is nothing finer than a wholly original, off-the-charts quirky premise that looks like its been realised with just the right amount of poignancy and heart to give it the requisite amount of emotionally-resonant substance.

Hyeong-yoon Jang’s Satellite Girl and Milk Cow, quite possibly one the most sweetly absurdly love stories to ever come our way, is as fine as it gets in gorgeously bizarro land with a satellite-turned-girl and boy-turned-cow falling in love, and aided, as you would fully expect and support by a sentient roll of toilet paper.

If this all sounds too Beavis and Butthead wacky for your tastes, do yourself a favour and watch the trailer which confirms the oddity of the concept but also strongly suggest that this is one sweetly charming, heart-tugging film that you will in love with just as quickly and completely as the characters do with each other.

And we aren’t the only ones besotted with this beautiful tale.

 

 

Take David Jesteadt, the president of GKIDS’ who has won the right to distribute the film in North America (no word of an Aussie release at this time):

“It is safe to say that you are unlikely to have ever seen anything like this movie before-a truly original, fantasy anime sci-fi rom-com, just bursting with humor and heart. I’m hoping as many people as possible get the opportunity to see this remarkable film.”

Quite how much we fall head over heels remains to be seen but if this delightful trailer is any guide, it will be hard.

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow bring their idiosyncratically adorable love story will be finding its way to cinemas and home DVD release this northern Summer.

Book review: Tin Man by Sarah Winman

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

There is an exquisite beauty and loveliness to the writing of Sarah Winman.

With every artfully-chosen word – artful in the sense that it is rich and poetic, not artificial or posed – and perfectly-expressed idea you are subsumed into stories that are suffused with humanity, joy, sadness, regret and hope, everything that life serves you up examined in ways both wondrous and cutting to the marrow.

The fact that her writing is this beautiful might lead you to think that it is fey and insubstantial, all glowing ideas and burnished syllables, no real core of truth or understanding.

But you would be wrong; in anything, writing this lovely, this gorgeous, allows for the expression of all kinds of ideas, thoughts and observations that might confront so boldly the reader might switch before their full import has sunk in.

Instead, awash in language that soothes and caresses, you allow the horrible truthfulness and rawness of life to really hit you, to settle and fill you in a way you likely wouldn’t know with a less-talented, clumsy writer.

In her latest book, Tin Man, which follows the almost inexpressibly wonderful, achingly-insightful A Year of Marvellous Ways, her command of the English language is writ large in full glorious show but as before it’s not simply to be some literary show pony, because you suspect Winman would never be satisfied with so ephemeral and shallow a purpose, but to lay life’s ability to both wound and heal us out on the table for all to see.

“And Michael reached for Dora’s hand and they laughed and Ellis remembered how grateful he was that Michael’s care was instinctive and natural because he could never be that way with her. He was constantly on the lookout for the last goodbye.” (P. 47)

As with all her books, Tin Man doesn’t show all its narrative cards at once.

Little by little, in oblique and straight-ahead, full-on scenes, we come to know Ellis, a man who has worked in a local car detailing factory, almost magically removing dents from injured automobiles, since his youth, despite the fact that he is actually an enormously talented artist.

But under pressure from his emotionally-removed father in the wake of a tragic incident, he takes on this “job for life”, robotically turning up and working well, body present but soul and proclivities a million miles away.

It is clear that Ellis os mired in grief but exactly why isn’t immediately obvious not what is revealed as it’s vast extent, layered on top of a childhood that held both resignation and rampant, joyous possibility.

Ellis’s life, it emerges, is one cut off, stymied, a progression of promising events and moments that never coalesced into the rich vision of life he, and some key figures in his life clung to, a muted abrogation of his mother’s firm belief, in the face of then-prevailing truth, that “men and boys are capable of beautiful things.”

 

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

As Ellis moves through his now-fossilised life, a man known as removed and sad at work except to apprentice and coworker Billy, a much-younger man with whom he shares more than he knows.

An accident one night as he’s riding on his beloved bike sets in chain a seismic shift in both the look and feel of Ellis’s life which comes alive in ways big and small, in ways that both make sense and surprise a man who long ago left behind the one great defining friendship of his life.

His bond with Michael, who is given as much to tell his story as Ellis is, beautifully splitting Tin Man into two complementary, like-minded halves that makes a pleasing if poignant whole, is the central plank of the narrative, a connective tissue that explains so much of what Ellis is, and alas, isn’t.

As you get to know Ellis, Michael, Michael’s gran Mabel, Ellis’s mother Dora and his father Len or wife Annie (she becomes incredibly close to Michael too) and an engaging satellite of supporting characters, all of whom come vividly alive under Winman’s talented hand, you come to appreciate once again, in case you have forgotten now delightfully and horribly complicated life can be.

It is tempting for many people, particularly those of a particular religious or political persuasion to see life in purely black-and-white, easily-sketched and understood tones, but throughout Tin Man‘s all too short but spot-on perfect length, you understand all over again that neither people nor places or events are ever as straightforward as the purists would like to believe.

“Without Michael’s energy and view of the world they became the settled married couple both had feared becoming. They made little demand of one another and conversation gave way to silence, albeit comfortable and familiar. Ellis withdrew, he knew he did. His hurt turned to anger, there when he woke up and before he slept. Life was not as fun without Michael. Life was not as colourful with him. Life was not life without him. If only Ellis could have told him that then maybe he would have returned.” (P. 65)

Whether it’s lazy days by the river, of which Ellis and Michael who grow closer than most teenage boys, enjoy many, or the afterwash of death and loss, or simply a quiet dinner with close friends that comes to be more Last Supper than grand lasting reunion, Tin Man is full to bursting with the real, substantial, achingly true good and bad parts of this messy business of living.

Every single moment of it, including it’s deeply-moving yet quietly-expressed, and the more powerful for it, ending, resonates with so much insightfulness and realness, giving even more accessibility and truth than it already possesses by Winman’s luxuriously poetic but never less than honest prose.

That is the true delight of her books I think.

She is one of the few writers I’ve encountered who can marry sublimely transportive, utterly lovely prose up with a warts-and-all account of life and have the two merge to create a wholly evocative and impacting whole.

In that regard she mirrors many Scandinavian songwriters and singers who brings together the light of their upbeat, bouncy music with lyrics that cut to the quick, delivering truth and honesty in a package that belies its wrenching, touching contents.

The thing is for all her realness, and there is a great deal on offer, Tin Man bubbles and percolates with hope, with possibility, with an affirmation, rousingly-delivered in the most whispered of ways, that life may be difficult, it may cause you great sadness and pain but that wrapped around that, in the present and in memories, is the sense that life offers up more than it takes away if only you can, like Ellis, remain awake and aware enough to see it.

Weekend pop art: Trapped inside Tweety Bird and other clever pop culture icons

(image (c) Super A)

 

While peeking behind the curtain to see what lies beyond doesn’t always the hoped-for dividends – exhibit A being The Wizard of Oz who turned out to be not so wizard-y after all – we can help wondering what we might see if we go beyond initial appearances an dig a little deeper.

Artist Super A is very much in that camp, taking a brilliantly-revealing look behind pop culture icons like Snow White, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to find the person or animal within.

The big reveal is most definitely worth the wait, and the large amounts of cat-like curiosity that we all harbour, with his series of paintings and sculptures known as Trapped an enormously clever, enchanting take on what may lie beneath.

Now let’s hope he does the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man next – that would be the ultimate (very squishy) look within!

You can see the full collection at Super A’s Instagram page.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

(image (c) Super A)

 

  • If you’d like to watch one of Super A’s other creations on this theme come alive, check out this animated video of the Ronald McDonald without … and within.

 

The dystopian mash-up #AlteredCarbon is peak Anthropocene TV (curated article)

In Altered Carbon, the streetscape reflects the sodden bitumen and garbled neon of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles. Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television)

 

by Mitch Goodwin, University of Melbourne

The opening image of Altered Carbon is of a male human form. We see him from below, suspended in the shimmering blue expanse of water, beams of angelic light creating a silhouette of his splayed body. The image evokes Scottie Ferguson on the poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Dr Frank Poole adrift in the inky blackness in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the limp frame of David the humanoid boy-bot descending into the icy depths of a flooded Manhattan in A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).

The new Netflix sci-fi series, based on the 2001 novel by Richard Morgan, is a bold and ambitious statement for the streaming service’s production arm. Like the opening image, scene upon scene presents an amalgam of dystopian elements, this is post-climate, post-singularity, peak-Anthropocene TV.

The year is 2384, in which liquid blue chips, known as “stacks”, constitute the limitless potential of consciousness and the human form has been reduced to disposable “sleeves”. The stacks are inserted into the spines of such sleeves, a practice known as being “spun up”, from whatever fatal demise beset your previous self.

 

 

Of course, the quality and availability of the sleeve depends on your wealth status. Your ability to access your stack requires more than a thumb print and a four-digit pin, immortality is a moral question too, a question not just for you but for those who would facilitate your rebirth.

At its narrative heart though, this is a big, brash, ballsy cop drama set in the distant future. Takeshi Kovacs, played by Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman, is a mercenary “Envoy” who has been spun up from his 250-years “on ice” – a prison sentence for his past terrorist proclivities. Funding this pardon – and his buff new sleeve – is the supremely rich oligarch, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy), who enlists Kovacs to solve a murder.

Mercenaries are a hunted breed, and tenacious cop Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda) is never far from the havoc caused by Kovacs’s less than subtle sleuthing. Of course, this is very much a man’s world, and there is the requisite white widow spider, Miriam Bancroft (Kristin Lehman) who is more than enamoured with the new skin-job on the block. Altered Carbon readily exposes its noir-ish underbelly; however, this is tech-noir rather than neo-noir, with generous splashes of fantasy to keep things ambiguous.

 

Joel Kinnaman and Dichen Lachman in Altered Carbon: the series readily exposes its noirish underbelly / Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television

 

The series is a symbolic mash-up that boasts a familiar dystopian sci-fi aesthetic: wealth inequality, transhumanism, time-displaced characters, clunky steam punk gadgetry and most importantly, for contemporary sci-fi enthusiasts, the archive – or the “psychasec” as it is known in this universe. (The psychasec is the repository for the ultra-wealthy’s cloned sleeves and stack back-ups).

There has been a lot about the fragility of archives in sci-fi cinema since The Matrix – the Blackout web-short preceding Blade Runner 2049, the Tesseract in Interstellar and the Scarif facility in Rogue One – being the most recent examples. Each contains plot lines that involve the pursuit of an elusive data set within a closely guarded archive. In the information age, it is little wonder that such parables lie at the heart of our most ambitious narrative constructions.

The design of Altered Carbon is built on a solid pedigree: the streetscape reflects the sodden bitumen and garbled neon of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles; the glittering vertiginous glass and steel is reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell’s Niihama; while the cavernous water-ways and spiralling towers immediately struck me as evocative of Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York circa 2140. Yet, there are quirky design choices too. “The Raven”, the hotel Kovacs selects as his refuge for the show’s duration, is run by an A.I. algorithm – the whimsical concierge, Poe. This setting and its old world charm is a steam punk indulgence – and already a fan favourite – classic Bioshock meets Baltimore.

 

 

There are many beautiful lines in Altered Carbon that can slip by in all the visual haberdashery. In one scene, the missing daughter of an associate of Kovacs who is trapped in a VR “trauma loop”, whimpers: “They took mommy away because she stole stars from the sky.” I would have missed moments like this if it were not for the jump-back feature on my Sony remote. The fact that the show demands “close watching” to appreciate the narrative and philosophical beats makes it a notch above your typical sci-fi programming.

Virtuality is signposted as an omnipresent companion technology, not an escape from “the real” but a simulcast of memory and emotional truth. VR becomes a place where Kovacs witnesses both the suffering of others and endures his own abduction and consequent torture.

In many ways the blending of hallucinogenic VR with extreme A.I. and the storage of memory in flesh-like synthetic forms seems like the ultimate fulfilment of a rich vein of transhumanist storytelling we have witnessed recently: films such as The Congress (2013) and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost in the Shell and in episodes of TV series like Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” or Electric Dreams’ “Real Life” and of course, the visceral Westworld, which Altered Carbon more than matches with frequent violent bloody flourishes.

It also echoes, as Wired magazine has pointed out, the obsession that (mostly male and white) Silicon Valley tech titans have with anti-ageing treatments and their dogged quest to keep death at bay – or at the very least, spin up a cache of permanent digitised consciousness.

 

Joel Kinnaman in Altered Carbon / Mythology Entertainment, Skydance Television

 

Kinnaman in the lead role, certainly has cred. He held The Killing together over four seasons with his awkward blue-collar persona. He was pitch perfect as the menacing yet ultimately juvenile Governor Will Conway in House of Cards but he was probably at his best in a metal suit in the Robocop reboot. As Kovacs, a character who is routinely physically and mentally assaulted, we need a little more than we get here (sleeve sex and torture scenes aside).

Sure, he plays a convincing retrofitted gum-shoe cyborg: he inhales cigarettes with gusto and downs highballs of hard liquor with a regularity that would put Don Draper to shame; his facial abrasions are classic Harrison Ford, and his trench coat and statuesque gait early Eastwood. Kinnaman’s acting range, however, is as a narrow as a bike lane. This might be okay for Robocop but not a noir detective, a role that demands a little more damage, more vulnerability, a few bare wires – think Bogart, Nicholson, Mitchum, Keach.

I did wonder if Takeshi Kovacs’s name is a play on the car thief Michel Poiccard (a.k.a. László Kovács) in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless from 1960. Godard’s Kovács has a penchant for Bogart’s film noir credentials, he chain smokes, he is on the lam and doomed to either a life in prison or a bullet to the spine.

 

 

He certainly bears more than just a passing resemblance to Kinnaman. In the midst of all of this futuristic cinematic remixing I would like to think Richard Morgan is hip to French New Wave cinema. Or did I imagine that?

Mitch Goodwin, Curriculum Design Lab, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Who is Ethan Hunt? Mission: Impossible – Fallout may have the answer (trailer + poster)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
The best intentions often come back to haunt you. Mission: Impossible – Fallout finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan) in a race against time after a mission gone wrong. Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Kirby also join the dynamic cast. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

If you have perused this blog more than once, it will become palpably obvious that I have a predilection for films that verge on the quirky, the odd, the delightfully left-of-centre.

But given my omnivorous pop culture consumption habits, that is by no means the full story and I have an immense soft spot for blockbusters done well such as Wonder Woman and Kong: Skull Island.

And yes pretty much any entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise which occupies the same expansive, world-straddling genre as the James Bond and the Bourne franchises.

The next Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, released its trailer during the recent Super Bowl festivities, and it has everything we’ve come to expect from the films – epic action sequences (including another death-defying stunt from star Tom Cruise), sombre character introspection, a cavalcade of exotic locations and deftly-placed humour (mostly courtesy of Simon Pegg).

 

 

What it also possesses, according to director Christopher McQuarrie, is way more insight into Ethan Hunt, the leader of the group and a man who most definitely doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve:

“I’ve seen five of these movies and I don’t know who Ethan Hunt is. One movie sort of dealt with his personal life; the other movies are about people speculating what’s really going on in Ethan’s head. I want to know who Ethan is in this movie, I want an emotional journey for this character, and Tom really embraced it.” (Gamespot)

I highly doubt we’ll see Hunt spilling his emotional guts (actual guts yes possibly) on a therapist’s couch but expect some fairly intense emotional moments in amongst the explosions, the quips and the espionage double-crossing and dirty dealing.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout opens 27 July USA/UK and 2 August Australia.

Book review: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

 

It is safe to say that the end, and indeed the beginning of the world, have never been rendered so poetically, or daringly, as in The End We Start From by English author Megan Hunter.

A poet whose work has been shortlisted for illustrious awards such as the Bridport Prize, Hunter has taken a cataclysmic event, one usually rendered in tones purely fearful and destructive, and given it a poetic sheen, one that also talks of the possibility of life not being extinguished, but taking a bold, if trembling foot forward.

The sense of newness and possibility comes not from the protagonist herself who begins this mix of poem and novella – each paragraph is a short, sharp, deliciously-worded picture of some occurrence, feeling or dynamic, short on deep, complex narrative, rich with sense and sensation – but from the birth of her son Z (no one has full names) which takes place just as an almighty flood swamps London, sending its inhabitants fleeing up towards the relative safety of mountainous Scotland.

“[S and J] watch me from the corner of the room, as though I am an unpredictable animal, a lumbering gorilla with a low-slung belly and suspicious eyes. Occasionally they pass me a banana.

“They try to put Match of the Day on. I growl. I growl more and more, and finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes.” (P. 1)

Thanks to Hunter’s sharp eye for detail and her immersive sense of experience and authentic conjecture, we are plunged into the maelstrom of fear and doubt that assail the new mother who does her best to give her son some sense of normalcy in the middle of a world that is now anything but.

Every step of the way, we are made to feel as if civilisation has ended, with fire following flood, death following food shortages and nothing even remotely like you, if you’re new parent figuring out your life just as the old one ends, would want it to be.

The End We Start From thus talks about the intensely familiar and routine, wonderful and amazing, the birth of a child in the midst of circumstances that defy normal life to even try and its head slightly above the parapet.

The world into which baby Z is born, and grows over one year, is fractured, vicious, starved, swamped and messy, a chaotic twisting of the established order that confronts his parents, who end up separated for much of this strangely beautiful book, every step of the way.

 

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan)

 

Contrasting the iron force will of the apocalypse to put a definitive end to things with the mother’s determination that Z will be a participant in nothing so brutal and final – indeed as she meets up with other mothers in refugee camps in Scotland (where they are safe from a suggested, bloody war down in England), she hopes that life for her son will be as normal as possible; perhaps vainly but this hope sustains her – Hunter gives up a vividly stark picture of love stubbornly pushing through in a time where self-survival, deprivation and cruel self-interest rise to the top.

There are those who band together, of course, and the scenes where the mother is on an island off the Scottish coast with her friend O, her child, and the family who takes them in, all similarly lettered, not named, are exquisitely evocative and like all the book, profoundly emotionally resonant in ways that you will readily identify with.

“At the straightest edge of the world I think I can see a hulking thickness, a black mass growing. The mainland, I like to think.

It hovers over the water like a boat. It grows, I imagine, blooms rows of houses with lit windows and lives inside. If I squint, I might make out R [her husband], waving.

Carried by the waves, he is coming towards us. He is moving away.” (P. 91)

For all these rich and gorgeously-expressed emotions – it is odd to think of the descriptions of things so terrible as gorgeous but in Hunter’s deftly-insightful and expressive hands they are, a richly-rewarding tapestry of the good and the bad, the hopeful and the most definitely not, all wrapped up together in the most elegant, the most lovely conveyance of everything human, and some things not.

For all that though, and it is mesmerisingly superb, there is sense, flowing from the sparseness of exposition and prose that lends the book an emotional remoteness.

Even as you are introduced to emotions that roll with hope and oblivion, mercy and predation, new life and death, and they are beautiful in the extreme and in quiet, intimate ways too, you feel removed from the characters, able to feel what they feel, and understand and identify with it, but cut off too, the poetic expression both an entry and barrier at once.

The bluntness of the narrative is both a positive and a negative – on one hand, you realise all too quickly what is happening at various points, with one breathless paragraph enough to seal the deal; unfortunately this also means that any desire you have to find out more is snuffed out without reservation or apology, leaving you constantly wanting more, forever wondering what else took place.

It’s not a deal breaker of course, and The End We Came From, itself a creatively expressive title of beauty and meaning, remains a singularly unique sensory experience that will take on a journey where the newness of life fights ferociously and with great love, hope and compassion for supremacy with the end of everything, and you hope, just as the protagonist does, that all that hoping will not be in vain.

 

Saturday morning cartoons: Josie and the Pussycats

(image via YouTube (c) Hanna-Barbera)

 

I like to think of myself as being a fairly self-aware kid, in touch with my emotions, willing to think through the big issues, and creatively critical where needed.

But hey, at the end of the day, which by the way were sooooo much longer when I was younger, I was a kid and so there was quite a deal about the books I read, movies I saw and TV shows I watched that slipped right past me.

Such as the fact that many Hanna-Barbera cartoons were, in one way or another, partial or sometimes full carbon copies of each other, visually and narratively.

Take Josie and the Pussycats, part of a considerable wave of shows in the 1960s and early 1970s that featured travelling singers – think The Partridge Family, The Monkees, The Cattanooga Cats and The Archies – solving crimes, scaring off ghosts, helping people and just making the world a better place.

It was a well-worn template that offered endless narrative possibilities; after all when your band could go anywhere and interact with pretty much anyone, what couldn’t you do with them?

Well, being wholly original, as it turns out.

While the characters in Josie and the Pussycats were engaging and fun to spend some time with – let’s face it when you’re a kid and there’s only so much cartoon-watching time available, that’s pretty important – what they got up to wasn’t exactly out of the box different.

It wasn’t even what the characters got up to in the original comic book series by Dan DeCarlo from Archie Comics.

In fact when band members Josie (voiced by Janet Waldo/sung by Cathy Dougher), Valerie (voiced by Barbara Pariot/sung by Patrice Holloway) – the first African-American female character on a regular Saturday morning cartoon series – Melody (voiced by Jackie Joseph/sung by Cherie Moor), roadie Alan (voiced by Jerry Dexter), manager Alexander Cabot III (voiced by Casey Kasem) and his twin sister Alexandra Cabot (voiced by Sherry Alberoni) and her cat Sebastian (voiced by Don Messick) made their debut in the episode “The Nemo’s a No-No Affair”, they were a marked change from the characters in the comics.

They were almost much more different with Hanna-Barbera initially fighting the idea of Valerie, whom Alexander sometimes displays interest in, being African-American, their vision being for an all-white group it seems.

But the production company behind the recordings, La La Productions, run by Danny Janssen and Bobby Young – the idea originally was to have a live group sing a song at the end of each episode but this was dropped when the show went into production – held their ground, Hanna-Barbera acceded and we have the Josie and the Pussycats we know today.

 

 

Like many Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the run of Josie and the Pussycats was relatively short, accounting for only 14 episodes in their original iteration and then 16 episodes in their Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space incarnation.

But again, that was something I really didn’t notice as a kid, and I probably watched the same episodes over and over, illustrating once again that you tend to be a whole lot less critical in childhood than you are as an adult.

Nor did I notice the fact that the show drew really heavily on established Hanna-Barbera properties such as Scooby-Doo: Where Are You!, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and Shazzan – they shared voice actors too with Casey Kasem voicing both Alexander Cabot III and Shaggy Rogers at the same time – and in many respects hewed faithfully to the whole idea of wide-eyed kids solving mysteries, righting wrongs and making things right and annoying the hell out of the bad guys.

So, so much Scooby Doo right?

Well yes, but honestly there’s such a charm to this show that you’re willing to overlook the great similarities with other Hanna-Barbera shows.

Granted characters Alexandra are trope-heavy nasty, Sebastian laughs just like Muttley and the band have an amazing ability to put their stage and instruments together in no time flat even after the ship carrying them has sunk, and sure there are odd narrative leaps and continuity mishaps but somehow Josie and the Pussycats rose above all the visual and thematic sameness and became its own charming cartoon series.

Like many a Hanna-Barbera character, the Josie and the Pussycats gang had a chequered post-run life, with their last animated appearance taking place in a 1973 episode of the New Scooby-Doo Movies.

They were supposed to appear in the Battle of the Network Stars spoof Laff-A-Lympics but legal issues put paid that to that, leaving Josie and the Pussycats to live on in NBC re-runs in 1975-76, VHS releases in the 1980s, and even small song snippets in 2001 on The Cartoon Network and a 2016 comic book series.

But when a show has been a part of your childhood, no matter how derivative it might appear to adult ideas, it never really goes away and ceases to be appealing, at least in some form and so it is with this show which continues to be a delightful way to spend some time, with songs sung over chase scenes (of course) and a sense that no matter the evil, even a pop band with no military or espionage experience can tame them.

And in these current fraught times, that’s kind of comforting.