Let your heart be light: It’s beginning to look like A Legendary Christmas

A very festive John Legend (image courtesy official John Legend Twitter account)

 

Christmas makes me happy. Very happy.

And Christmas music makes me even happier.

There is something ineffably beautiful and wondrous about it that makes me feel like absolutely everything is going to be OK; it may not be, but oh, it feels that way and that’s enough for me.

John Legend is one of those artists who makes me feel happy indeed, so news that he is releasing a holiday album, naturally titled A Legendary Christmas, has left ridiculously happy just over two months out from the big tinsel-draped, eggnog-soaked day itself.

Due out 26 October, and announced in the very best of ways …

 

 

Is that all my festive friends from one John Legend this Christmas time? Why no, as well as the two songs released below – there will be eight classics and six brand new songs on the album – there will be a tour. Alas, not in Australia, but if you’re in the following cities, you are most definitely in luck.

 

(image courtesy official John Legend Twitter account)

 

But hey for the rest of us, there are two songs now – the classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and the all-new song “Bring me Love” – and a whole lot more in just six short days. Jingle away everyone!

 

 

Spooked! Simon’s Cat thinks something creepy over yonder lies

Boo! What’s there? Only Simon’s Cat knows for sure (image via YouTube (c) Simon’s Cat)

 

SNAPSHOT
Upon waking from a satisfying Halloween nap, a languid Simon’s Cat deliciously stretched the sleep out of his limbs while staring at a picture on the wall behind the bed. After he was fully awake, the relaxed kitty suddenly became pensive and suspicious all the while staring at that wall. Not even Simon himself could get his cat’s attention long enough to tempt him with food for the first time ever.

Eventually, Simon’s cat relented, jumped off the bed and startled his concerned human. Before leaving the room, Simon double checked the picture on the wall and headed out the door. Neither man nor cat could have expected what happened next. (synopsis (c) Laughing Squid)

I have been a cat person all my life.

After many years living with and observing there’s one thing I can, lovingly, say for sure – cats be weird.

As Spooked! the latest Halloween animated short from Simon’s Cat amply demonstrates, they can also unnerve the hell out of you when they start “seeing” things you can’t and won’t let it go, even to eat, which is frankly unheard of when you’re a cat.

There could be an explanation for it which is that cats, like dogs and other animals, can perceive ultraviolet light and picks up on pheromones and scents we simply can’t.

Or there is a scary ghost in the corner of your room and your cat can see it.

Yeah, I’m going with the first option too.

 

Oh Q! Star Trek gets a great big comic crossover and it’s all his fault

(image courtesy IDW/JK Woodward)

 

Can I be honest with you all? I have never much cared for Q.

True John de Lancie was absolutely superb in the role, and many of the episodes featuring Q turned a harsh spotlight on humanity’s foibles or brought out something illuminating in one of the main characters, and yes he was a handy narrative contrivance but dear Tribbles in a suffocating stack he was ANNOYING in the same way that Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie mysteries is annoying.

But I may need to rethink my dislike of him, or at least relax it a little, because the galaxy-striding godlike being I love to hate is going to bring Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager together in a six-part comic book series called Star Trek: The Q Conflict, written by Scott and David Tipton and announced at this year’s New York Comic Con.

 

 

It’s an inspired idea that will, in the words of Julie Muncy at Gizmodo, “put our intrepid heroes through the ringer, gathering them all together for unspecificed, but certainly nefarious, challenges.”

Tipton for one, and I guess he should be as one of the writers, is pretty excited about the whole damn thing.

“All of Starfleet’s most legendary officers join together for the first time against some of the greatest threats they’ve ever faced. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before!”

Star Trek: The Q Conflict will launch in January 2019.

Graphic novel review: Dan and Sam by Matt Watson and Oliver Harud

(cover art courtesy Pan Macmillan)

 

In amongst the joy and blissful contentment (yes, I am genuinely that happy) of my long relationship to the most wonderful man in the world, there is a niggling, barely-acknowledged thought – what if I ever lost him?

It’s not something I actively entertain, of course, preferring to think of us as always, inviolably alive and together but what if the unthinkable happened? What would it feel like? How would it cope? How many times would I journey to madness and back again in my grief?

It’s a deeply unsettling thought which is why I do my best to never let it find its way into my conscious thought (save, obviously enough, for creative purposes it seems), but it forms the central part of the narrative of this immensely-moving graphic novel from writer-comedian Mark Watson (Hotel Alpha) and illustrator-graphic novelist Oliver Harud who together tell the kind of tale none of us actually want to have transpire in our lives.

Yet for all that, there is something powerful about reading this heartbreakingly-beautiful story of a couple, Dan and Sam, who run a successful London restaurant (“best-kept secret”) with playful sass, personality and attentive flair, who love each other passionately and completely and whose employees, head chef Joey and sous-chef Anna and regular customer food critic Roland Greaves are family, and who, on one tragic night, lose each other in a terrible accident.

Dan is, as you would imagine, bereft without Sam, the depth of his grief and loss illustrated in painfully evocative authenticity by Watson’s deeply-felt prose and Harud’s elegantly-wrought artwork, the black-and-white nature of the storytelling there for a purpose, later revealed, giving you an immersively terrible sense of what a lonely world true-soul scarring grief is.

Sam’s restaurant family do their best to be there for him but no one can enter the place he occupies, and the addition of new staff member Paloma only serves to amplify, with dramatic tension, the great hole left by Sam.

It looks like nothing will ever bring Dan back from the brink but then something utterly-magical happens – on the anniversary of his wife’s death, he walks to the cemetery where he spends most of his time talking to his wife at her graveside and finds her not dead but quite, gloriously, colourfully alive, along with everyone else there.

But this is not Glitch or In the Flesh, and these are not zombies, come corporeally to life with colour, music and dancing; for one precious night Sam, and others, are back, very much alive and in the here-and-now, unable to say where they are on the other 364 days of the year (death is a foggy blackhole of memory it seems) but able to be held, to hold back, to kiss and talk and have sex and … be alive again.

It’s all impossibly wonderful and Dan, once the shock wears off, is in raptures but how is this even possible?

 

Writer-comedian Mark Watson and artist Oliver Harud (image courtesy official twitter accounts)

 

Thankfully that is, like what happens after death, not explained at all, which works in the context of a story where what takes place is far important than the why.

In fact, it’s far more preferable to simple let this gently escapist piece of magical realism unencumbered by burdensome and possible twee exposition and Watson wisely lets the story do its thing, concentrating on what it feels like for Dan to have Sam again, lose her again at the end of the night and then wait a year to see her all over again?

That one night is a wonder and a  delight yes, but is is any way to live a life? Is it wise to hang your life on the hook of one night a year, however fantastic it might be, or should you move on? Can you spend your entire life in a bubble of death and then not-death for 12 short hours?

That is the dilemma that fills Dan with much anguish and self-introspection when he’s not with the temporarily-animated Sam and which fills Dan and Sam, which has wry moments of humour sprinkled through its thoughtful and insightfully-bleak pages, with the sort of deep anguish that anyone who loses the love of their life, or anyone close to them really, would struggle with.

You can’t help but be profoundly affected by the story which doesn’t pretend that everything eventually bounces back like magic; in fact, Dan, though he does eventually find someone, does not simply “move on”, as some urge him to do, unable, or unwilling, to lose Sam all over again if he does get closer to the potential new woman in his life (and you understand how much is at stake because Watson takes the time, without slowing the story down on iota, to show us how perfect Dan and Sam were, and are, for each other).

Yet for all the existential bleakness, there is a hopefulness and joy to the story, moments that increase as the story goes on, that remind you of life’s powerful pull, and how it demands to be lived in each and every moment, not simply an isolated event here and there.

That’s not enough for anyone and as Dan reaches the fifth anniversary of Sam’s death and struggles with who he was and what his life was with what it is now, the choice becomes stark and unenviable – leave the past and Sam behind or stay living in some sort of strange, colour-filled, night-long limbo?

You might think it’s an easy decision but of course it’s not, and Dan and Sam illustrates, quite literally as it turns out with an exquisitely-well judged use of colour and black-and-white panelling, how agonisingly difficult losing someone is, and we all eventually move on in some shape or form, struggling as we do so, to balance the past and the future, and to find a way to live in a loss-cratered present.

Dan and Sam is quite simply one of the most stories I have ever read in any form; elegantly and powerfully told, with humour threading its way carefully but happily through the sadness, loss and enervation of grief, it’s one of the most powerful and real accounts of love I’ve encountered which uses a magically-real premise to explore what it is like to love and loss and love again and how you navigate, if you can, the always imprecise and messy parts in-between.

 

(artwork courtesy Pan Macmillan)

Childlike glee: How a female Doctor Who could change the portrayal of women in sci-fi

(image courtesy BBC)

 

SNAPSHOT
The Doctor has a gleeful, almost childlike personality. He’s a hero with a sense of humor – which makes the character fun and compelling to watch. But that kind of character complexity has been typically reserved for male heroes. Female superheroes are very much pressured to be taken seriously because there are so few of them, they have to do well … Women are not only vastly underrepresented in sci-fi fantasy films, they’re often restricted to generic superhero personalities. …think about the Wonder Woman film … She’s powerful she’s strong … But she’s not a funny character … That seriousness is consistent across most woman characters on-screen. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

Science fiction is one of those fantastically-malleable genres that can, by virtue of its endless possibilities, tell a multiplicity of stories about a diverse range of people and places.

And yet, while it often delivers on this promise, one area in which it has consistently failed, at least on TV and in the movies, is to give women the same representation and complexity of character as men, or even prominence. (In 2014, for instance, only 14% of the roles in mainstream sci-fi films had a female protagonist/Vox)

Take Doctor Who for instance where all the Doctors to date have been older or younger white British men; sure they’ve largely played the role very well but what’s been missing until now? Bingo! True gender diversity!

This fascinating new video from Vox does a great job in its almost 6-minute running time of making the key point that female protagonists aren’t allowed to be as funny or goofy as the men – see Hunger Games or Guardians of the Galaxy – which is why a female doctor is such a refreshing change and so important from a social perspective for girls looking for a character to emulate.

Not to mention that she is marvellously fun, smart and endlessly-entertaining, promising a whole new world of far more representative storytelling.

Doctor Who season 1 is currently screening on BBC in UK, BBC America in USA and ABC in Australia.

 

Book review: The Museum of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister

(cover image courtesy 4th Estate)

 

It’s a rare thing indeed to reference another review in your own but in this case it’s pertinent because the charmingly appreciative words of Laline Paull, author of The Bees, are what convinced me, along with a whimsically bittersweet title, to buy Seni Glaister’s remarkably lovely first novel with bite, The Museum of Things Left Behind:

“Took me on holiday to the tiny imaginary country of Vallerosa, and returned me with with the wonderful feeling of having spent time with an uplifting time.”

It’s true that you could say that of many books; each, in their way, feels like a friend of sorts when you’re with them, rich with intriguing stories, wonderful personalities and beguiling insights, often so evocatively so that saying goodbye to them is enormously hard, almost a grief-stricken process.

But in the case of Glaister’s delightful book, that’s exactly what it feels like as Lizzie Holmesworth, newly-mistaken as a visiting member of British royalty, finds herself in a country which is almost Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in its quirkiness.

“‘We like to think of it as unique. It is called The Museum of Things Left Behind. You’d be amazed at what careless people abandon, like so much unwanted baggage. Come here! Look at this!’ He beckoned her towards the table on which he was leaning and swung round to show her its curiosities. There, pinned with tiny nails at each corner, were banknotes of all denominations and currencies, each one captured, preserved and displayed with the same love and attention that a butterfly collector might apply to his rarest species.” (P. 187)

Only Glaister has rather judiciously imbued the good citizens of Vallerosa, nestled in northern Italy near Austria, its buildings and arable land clinging to the edges of a gorge through which the river Floren flows for a scant eight kilometres, with enough self-awareness, intelligence and understanding of their place in the world that they are never at any point the laughing stock of the book.

Refreshingly, although there is undoubtedly much old-fashioned comedic potential in the idea of the wise, cultured outsider helping the backward souls of a neglected kingdom to come alive and realise their true mainstream potential, the arrival of Lizzie under entirely mistaken pretenses (theirs, not hers) is the catalyst for all kinds of mutually-beneficial epiphanies.

That these epiphanies are realised with much humour and some knowing social and political commentary adds to the rich enjoyment of a book that is light as air delightful but knowingly substantial in its insights on politics, humanity and the ways in which the arrival of someone or something new can spark real change if we’re open to it.

 

(cover image courtesy Harper Collins Australia)

 

What we have in The Museum of Things Left Behind is the wonderful sense that all the things that transpire happen in the context of people simply getting to know one another.

There’s no grand denouement, no massive reveal that proves pivotal in the lives of all and sundry; simply the gentle and heartwarmingly real unspooling of all kinds of change and improvement that would likely never happened if Lizzie Holmesworth hadn’t happened to meet the good citizens of Vallerosa, from the President, Sergio Scorpioni to the Minister for Tourism Settimio Mosconi and humble but wily and insightful clockmaker Pavel, among the many appealingly idiosyncratic characters who make up the book.

They are an eccentric bunch in their own way but certainly not objects of ridicule, no more or less human and fallible than the rest of us and it’s a pleasure to read each and every page of this book precisely because everyone has worth and value and in many cases, amusing personalities.

“Lizzie pondered the question. She’d thought she had learned quite a lot, but now, put on the spot, she wasn’t sure she had. She knew that there was a complex political system that involved an unelected dictator, the sort she had been taught to fear, but since her whispered conversation with him [Sergio] in his bathroom and the many cups of tea they shared, she wasn’t sure he was that sort of dictator at all.” (P. 284)

The humour, laden with some pithy insights on all kinds of things, from the characters and they’re interactions with one another; there is a fair sense of the ridiculous yes, and there are gently hilarious scenes that unfold as a result, but at no point do you get the feeling that anyone is the butt of the joke.

The Americans possibly, with bluster and bombast that reflects palpable self-interest and an outdated paternalistic way of thinking, but even they escape as reasonably well-rounded characters who are just, in many ways, stupidly shortsighted.

The Museum of Things Left Behind is in many ways that charming book you need when the world seems to be falling apart around you – like right now perhaps?

It’s multifaceted, warm-and-fuzzy happy ending is the stuff of political and societal fantasies, an all-too-rare coming together where everyone learns a little something about life and is all the better for it.

It’s a reassuring reminder that contrary to all current indications to the contrary, and they are there in lamentably multitudinous abundance, people are capable of seeing each other’s point of view, learning from each other and growing.

If that sounds all a little too neatly tied up with a rose-coloured bow, well perhaps it is, but I adored each and every moment of a book that celebrates the very best of us as a collective species, imbuing its humorously clever tale with richly-woven tales, intelligent comedy that is happy to be as silly as it can at times, to always rewarding effect, and a wonderful sense that maybe we are closer to each other in sensibility, ambitions and hopes and dream that we realise.

The short and the short of it: Fishwitch and the surprising selfless acts of love

(poster courtesy Adrienne Dowling)

 

SNAPSHOT
A cantankerous, iceberg-dwelling witch is taken by surprise when a relentlessly cheery merman gets caught in her net and attempts to befriend her. Before long he begins to uncover a secret, long kept buried in the ice. (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

What a delightful piece of storytelling this is!

It begins as an opposites attract scenario – upbeat, endlessly-cheerful merman meets coldhearted witch who has developed a knack, to her detriment of course, of keeping the whole world as far from her as possible.

But as Adrienne Dowling unspools Fishwitch, layering nuance and humanity upon each other to beguiling, moving effect, you come to realise why the Fishwitch is the way she is and why the merman’s unconditional love and friendship means so very much to her, even if she won’t admit it, at first.

It’s an utterly charming tale, gorgeously and vividly animated, with real substance and depth and you would have to have a heart made of ice not to be moved by it.

 

 

Movie review: I Kill Giants

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

If there is one thing that life is very good at doing with its myriad unexpected twists and turns, its delights and its traumas, it’s making us feel like we have absolutely no control over anything.

Time and again, our attempts to rein in the unruly beast of life comes to nothing, our best-laid plans faltering and failing in the face of odds so overwhelming we may wonder if we will ever prevail, if we even have a chance of prevailing.

It’s hard enough to deal with these situations as an adult but even more difficult as a child or teenager when life experience and emotional nous are in their formative stages and our capacity to react in any kind of meaningful way is stymied at every turn by our lack of understanding and limited perspective.

Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) knows exactly what you’re talking about, or she would if she understood precisely what was happening to her.

When we meet her, she is what her brother rather derogatively terms a “nerd queen”, a Dungeons and Dragons-addicted girl barely into her teens who is grappling with the kind of trauma most of us don’t have to face until well into our lives.

We are not made privy to the exact nature of the trauma until well into the film, a narrative reveal that feels like it arrives at just the right moment, shedding light and truth onto many of the events preceding it, but thanks to a nuanced and skillful screenplay by Joe Kelly, who wrote the graphic novel of the same name on which the film is based, we never once feel like we’re in the dark about the forces assailing Barbara.

She is clearly someone in existential pain of the highest order, escaping into a fantasy world built upon an intense appreciation of Norse folklore in which Barabar is a giant killer, a person who triumphs over forces beyond the control of everyone else, the one person in her hometown who keeps everyone else safe.

 

(image courtesy RLJE Films)

 

It’s never suggested for one moment that the giants Barbara faces, and about which she knows a prodigious amount – it’s the one topic of conversation she is happy to talk about, telling new friend Sophia (Sydney Wade) about them in detail, the one time the taciturn social outcast ever lights up – are real.

But then, as in A Monster Calls, no one, initially at least, fully appreciates what the giants, and her ability to take them on and win, means to Barbara; it’s only when freshly-installed school therapist Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) takes a special interest in the disaffected young girl, who is the target of some vicious bullying by a mean girls clique led by Taylor (Rory Jackson) that the truth about the giants emerge and we slowly come to see why it is that Barbara has taken on the persona of all-conquering heroine.

Her devotion to her calling is near-absolute – from the well-equipped cave-shack on the beach filled with all kinds of tools and gadgets to the traps she lays through the woods where she tests various combinations of food to see which the giants favour to the hours she spends roaming the town in which lives looking for black omens such as flocks of black birds and weird oceanic disturbances, she has no time or patience for anything or anyone else.

Whether it’s her older Karen (Imogen Poots) who’s doing her best to keep the household of five siblings together, or new friend Sophia who can’t quite figure out her aloof, strange friend, or Mrs. Mollé, if you’re not part of the giant-subduing solution, you are very much part of the problem and not worth Barbara’s time or attention.

Because of this, Barbara has the potential to come across as thoroughly dislikable protagonist, but in the hearts of Wolfe, and the wise words of Kelly and careful direction of Anders Walter guiding her, she instead comes across as raw and vulnerable, someone who is lashing out and falling in on herself because she can find no other way to cope with life.

She is not inherently an awful person and I Kill Giants succeeds as well as it does, because so many layers are added to the character, layers which are carefully, thoughtfully and sensitively peeled away in a way that makes sense and which increasingly makes your heart go out to a young woman in a great deal of pain.

 

(image courtesy RLJE Films)

 

So skillfully are the reasons for Barbara’s surly disengagement with the world around her, one which doesn’t make sense to her unless it is couched in terms of giants and giant killers, revealed that by the time the great reveal takes place you have become deeply invested in her welfare.

You have also, if you have ever experienced overpowering, inexplicable trauma of any kind, the sort that defies your ability to understand, reason or successfully overcome it, readily-identified with Barbara to such an extent that watching the last half hour of I Kill Giants feels like someone has taken your heart out, stomped on and put in back in again, in the best possible way.

Is there a good way to have your heart broken? In the context of this film, most certainly, and you ache and weep and feel so deeply for Barbara in her ever-more disquieted world of monsters, traps and fires, battles and showdowns that you wonder if you’ll ever be able to breathe again.

It’s that emotionally-affecting and that viscerally, beautifully real, a film with quirky indie underpinnings and a captivatingly grim, grey stormy look that is anything but remote and distancing, bringing you ever closer with ever slow-burning, unhurried scene, to the realisation that Barbara is ever single one of us who has ever faced the worst life can throw at us and wondered if we’re strong enough to make it through.

That’s the central truth of I Kill Giants in the end – that no matter how ill-prepared we feel we are for life’s calamitous curve balls, however poorly we understand what is happening to us and however much we flail in our futile attempts to come to grips with it, that we might be stronger and more able than we think.

Getting to that point is the great challenge and it’s on this dramatically-intense but artfully and quietly-expressed ground that the film expresses itself most profoundly, an emotionally-powerful kernel of truth hiding in a whimsical world which is revealed to be far more real and far more truthful than you might first expect.

 

Onward into moody dystopia: Blade Runner 2049 continues on in comic book form

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
The comic series will continue to unravel the future-set continuity of the Blade Runner universe, picking things up after the events of the long-awaited 2017 movie sequel, director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, which followed the exploits of replicant blade runner K (Ryan Gosling), whose circuitous existential crisis leads him into the crosshairs of a radical group of replicant revolutionaries, steering him on a path that pairs him with original movie protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The events of the sequel saw a major evolution in the duality between humans and replicants, leaving things on an intriguing cliffhanger. (synopsis (c) Den of Geek)

I was relatively late to the marvellously moody world of Blade Runner – OK try really late, only watching Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece in 2017 ahead of the release of the equally-as-masterful Blade Runner 2049 – but once there, I was enraptured and enthralled by cinema that satiated the senses, satisfied the mind and went a long way to owning the heart too.

This is science fiction that is both cerebral and deeply human, that rare mix of spectacle and accessibility that says something profound without collapsing under the weight of its own self-importance.

Given the relatively poor performance of Blade Runner 2049, a criminally-sad under-appreciation of a masterful piece of cinema, my hopes for any sort of continuation of the story, and there is a rich and deep capacity for one, was pretty slight.

Read non-existent.

 

 

But as the good folks of Den of Geek have revealed, there will be a sequel and it will be in comic form:

“A Blade Runner comic book series is officially in the works, set to arrive as a written collaboration between Blade Runner 2049 screenwriter Michael Green (who earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod for Logan, having also worked on genre offerings like Alien: Covenant, and TV’s American Gods,) and comic book writer Mike Johnson (of the recent Supergirl revival, Superman/Batman and the Star Trek franchise).”

But that is not the end of it, my sci-fi dystopia loving friends, not by a long way:

“The details don’t stop there. Titan [Comics] and Alcon [Media]’s collaboration on the Blade Runner comic series will serve as the launch pad for a new line of comics and graphic novels. Interestingly, lest anyone think that these stories will be negated in pre-Disney Star Wars Expanded Universe style, the companies have confirmed that the comics will be part of the official canon of the films.”

 

Way before they were Yellow: Coldplay documentary A Head Full of Dreams

(image (c) Coldplay)

 

SNAPSHOT
A Head Full of Dreams offers an in-depth and intimate portrait of the band’s spectacular rise from the backrooms of Camden pubs to selling out stadiums across the planet.

The film is helmed by Mat Whitecross – director of Supersonic, the acclaimed 2016 Oasis documentary – who met the four friends at college in 1996, before they’d even formed the band. From the very first rehearsal in a cramped student bedroom, Mat has been there to capture the music and the relationships on tape. (synopsis (c) Coldplay via newsletter)

I have a long, passionate and enduring love affair with Coldplay.

It’s never quite reached my deep and abiding love for ABBA, but Coldplay have come close, along with Pink, musical markers along my journey from Baptist pastor’s son struggling with his sexuality to out gay man to a writer and the husband of the most wonderful man I know.

Through all the ups and downs, the steps forward and steps back, Coldplay have been there, each of their songs awash in emotion and the most exquisite melodies, and while like any affair the ardour has dimmed from time to time – I’m sorry but the album Ghost Stories still leaves me cold – it has never gone out.

So to see what led to the creation and enduring appeal of Coldplay over 20 years (that long really? Wow) will be nothing short of fascinating and a lovely intimate insight into a band who said they would be massive, and are, but who remain very much an intimate and special part of my life.

A Head Full of Dreams is available on Amazon Prime Video from 16 November in UK, US, Australia and New Zealand (local language versions to follow), with screenings in 2000 cinemas globally on Wednesday 14 November.