Stephen Byrne’s animated Firefly short: A galaxy of emotions in a scintilla of time

Zoe gasps in surprise as her long dead husband seems to magically appear before her (image via YouTube (c) Stephen Byrne)
Zoe gasps in surprise as her long dead husband seems to magically appear before her (image via YouTube (c) Stephen Byrne)

 

In our modern blockbuster age, we have been led to believe that for anything to truly affect us, it must be bigger, better, epic!

So epic in fact that cities, nay continents must fall, all but but a fraction of the characters we care for must die, and the entire order of things must be brought to its monumentally-sized knees for us to truly feel something.

But as Stephen Byrne demonstrates with his usual poetic elegance and artistic flair – I have previously featured his trailer for a wouldn’t-it-be-nice animated series of Doctor Who – it is possible to deliver what Kendall Ashley at Cinemablend most aptly describes as the “Greatest Amount of Feels in the Shortest Period of Time” in just 2.5 seconds of heartbreakingly intense animation.

In the exquisitely-rendered scene – *SPOILERS AHEAD* – you see Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), the second-in-command onboard Mal Reynolds’s (Nathan Fillion) spaceship Serenity, reach out for Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), her mischievous, quip-happy, daredevil-ish husband who very sadly died in the movie Serenity, the sequel to much-missed one-season space opera western Firefly.

The bond between these two pivotal characters, much-loved in their own right, was a strong thing of beauty and wonder, proof positive that even in an oppressed galaxy ruled by the nefarious Alliance, that love, true heartwarming love, could flourish, and its physical end – death, of course, cannot end love as we all know – was a moment of heartbreaking sadness.

Stephen Byrne, who frankly should be given all the money in the world to animate everything so deft is his mix of art and emotion, so gifted his ability to capture what we all love about a show and its characters, has managed to distill all this into 2.5 seconds of the most affecting animation I have ever seen.

It is a truly poignant piece of work, a reminder why every Browncoat (the name given to Firefly devotees) loves the show so much and why long after the show shuffled off its mortal TV coil, they continue to watch the 13 episodes and one movie over and over, read the graphic novels, and play the reasonably newly-released massive multiplayer online game.

It is that kind of show and Stephen Byrne captures its heart and soul perfectly.

 

Marvellous massing of movie trailers: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Age of Adaline, Cinderella, Strange Magic

Instagram: Brunobrunan via photopin cc
Instagram: Brunobrunan via photopin cc

 

While I am enamoured of films that deal with the real world and it’s many imperfect out-workings, my love affair with going to the movies began with films like Star Wars: A New Hope and Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom that offered a me chance to escape into a world nothing at all like my own.

And so it continues to this day with the following five movies offering five entirely different but no less magical takes on the art of crafting fantastical, big-screen entertainment that gives us a chance , just for a couple of hours, to leave the world of bills, commuting and endless commitments behind and blast off into outer space, run from dinos, dance with fairies, dream of a new life or find a re-invigoarion of the old.

Let the enchanting escapism begin …

 

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

 

(image via Indiewire)
(image via Indiewire)

 

SNAPSHOT
A continuation of the saga created by George Lucas set thirty years after Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983).
(synopsis via IMDb).

A long time ago in a beachside town far, far away, an 11 year old. who even then was possessed by an undying love of the endless adventures and excitement offered by science-fiction, went with his mother to the local small one screen movie theatre to see a movie that everyone was talking about, a film not known as Star Wars: A New Hope.

Back then it was just plain old Star Wars, everyone literally was talking about it given it was decades still until the advent of mobile digital technologies and social media and from the millisecond the giant yellow lettering seemed to pass over my head onto the screen before it was supplanted by spaceships, the size and likes of which left this young country boy in a permanent state of awe throughout the film, I was transfixed.

I have never quite captured that giddy sense of joy since although goodness knows The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi came close, so very, very close.

But this morning, as I watched the much-awaited teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – still not sold on the title but it could be worse, much worse – I felt a lick of that old excitement, closely followed by that long ago sense of awe and wonder, and it appears I was not the only one with Graeme McMillan at Hollywood Reporter exulting in that much-missed of cinematic exhilaration:

“It’s not just the sight of John Boyega popping up from the bottom of the screen that thrills; it’s seeing him do so in a Stormtrooper outfit, against a sandy landscape with both the intercom crackle of Stormtrooper discussion and a John Williams score blaring out; it feels like Star Wars, immediately. That’s something that’s true of everything that follows; everything is familiar enough that it registers as “the real thing,” but with enough novelty to get our attention: An R2 unit with a ball for a body! A carrier filled with Stormtroopers ready to deploy! Daisy Ridley on something that looks like a cross between a speeder bike and a land-speeder! X-Wing pilots shot in the same framing as the original movies! It’s Star Wars, everybody!”

It’s not a long teaser trailer, and the images are only on screen briefly before disappearing again, but my lord, it felt like I was back in that small wooden cinema way back when …

Did the Force awaken? Yes it did! And I can’t wait till next year to see that long-missed magic happen all over again.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in USA and Australia on 18 December 2015.

* Check out reactions to the trailer from Screenrant, Hypable, Hey U Guys and Mashable (who reviews all the Star Wars trailers)

 

 

JURASSIC WORLD

 

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

 

SNAPSHOT
22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. This new park is owned by the Patel Corporation. Owen, a member of Jurassic World’s on-site staff, conducts behavioural research on the Velociraptors. After many years, Jurassic World’s attendance rates begin to decline and a new attraction, created to re-spark visitor interest, gravely backfires. (official synopsis)

It may be hard to wrap your head around but it’s been 21 years since “Jurassic Park”, when the first dinosaurs came bursting onto the open, forest-fringed plains of Isla Nublar, and into our Jurassic-hungry consciousness, courtesy of Steven Spielberg.

Thanks to two sequels and an undying love for prehistoric beasties of all kinds, we remain as hungry as ever for the idea that dinosaurs could come roaring and plodding and racing back to life.

But now of course, we want them bigger, better and badder, an entertainment arms race of sorts that seems to have infected everything in contemporary society, egged along by technological advances that seem to suggest that what we wish for can be conjured up with a genetic splice there, a mixing of chromosomes there.

Ah but be careful what you wish for seems to be the moral of the story in Jurassic World – just because you can do something, and people are baying you for to do it, doesn’t mean you should, because the results may be, well, a little unpredictable, a whole lot out of control and as Britain’s Telegraph newspaper points out, quite angry and hungry for you:

“Judging by the trailer’s frequent references to “she”, the hybrid dinosaur is female. She’s also highly intelligent, liable to kill anyone who moves, and seemingly agile enough to escape from a high-fenced compound. Oh, and she appears to own a set of very, very sharp claws.”

With the perpetrator of all this ill-thought out genetic experimentation, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) standing first defiant, and them mute, uncomprehending and horror-struck, it’s up to the park’s Velociraptor handler Owen (Chris Pratt), who seems to have these fearsome creatures well under control, to handle the situation but before a well-justified rejoinder to Claire:

“You just went and made a new dinosaur? Probably not a good idea.”

There are kids in peril – it wouldn’t be a Jurassic movie without children on the dinosaur menu – references back to the original film including a statue of Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough), the use of flares and dinosaurs running in herds around the car, dinosaurs of multitudinous variety including Stegosaurus and aquatic Mosasaurus, a type of ichthyosaur, and a whole lot of peril.

Looks like director Colin Trevorrow has well and truly channelled everything we love about the franchise while updating and expanding its tension-filled universe, of which promises another visceral trip into that scary place where vaulting ambition meets biological reality.

Jurassic World opens on 12 June 2015

First the teaser trailer …

 

 

And then the BIG just-released trailer …

 

 

THE AGE OF ADALINE

 

(image via First Showing)
(image via First Showing)

 

SNAPSHOT
Following a near-fatal accident one icy night, a 29-year-old woman named Adaline (Blake Lively) stops aging. With all of her contemporaries, friends and lovers dying off, Adaline becomes a beautiful recluse — afraid of getting hurt by more love and loss. She keeps her condition a secret throughout the 20th century until she meets a man (Michiel Huisman) who may change her life. Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker also star in The Age of Adaline, directed by Lee Toland Krieger (Celese and Jesse Forever) and written by newcomer Salvador Paskowitz and J. Mills Goodloe (The Best of Me).
(synopsis via First Showing)

Oh the agony of being marooned in history.

That is watching everyone you have known and loved slowly slip off this mortal coil, while you remain behind, left with your memories, your thoughts, adrift and alone in a present day that doesn’t fully recognise the true worth of everything you have gone through in your life.

How much more poignant would it be if you didn’t physically age at all, a lifetime of hopes, dreams and disappointments trapped inside a face that looks like it has barely begun to live.

That is the situation faced by Adaline who, mysteriously ceasing to age like those around her after almost dying, watches as all of her contemporaries slip one by one in “that good night”, while she remains behind with only their ghosts and her fading memories for company.

It makes sense that she retreats into herself, hiding from a world which cares not for the life she has lived because it doesn’t recognise she has even had the chance to live one yet.

I think this type of narrative, which also found expression in slightly different form in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, affects me so deeply because I watched a great aunt go through much the same thing; granted she aged like all of us do but thanks to her very long life, she became increasingly adrift in the vestiges of the life she once had, holed up in her apartment.

Of course we would all visit but without anyone of contemporaries around, her emotional, social and cultural touchstones were gone, the shorthand she enjoyed with her friends and husband gone with the passing years.

It’s a rich and fertile vein to mine for drama and I appreciate the fact that the filmmakers have chosen to give her the possibility of a second chance, something that rarely comes along in life.

The danger is, of course, that the film could sink into maudlin emotion or cheap sentimentalism but with director Lee Toland Krieger (Celeste and Jesse Forever) at the helm, who has shown himself a dab hand at telling emotionally-loaded stories without resorting to those sorts of manipulative tricks, I have every confidence that The Age of Adaline will be the deeply-affecting film its poignant storyline would suggest.

We’ll find out when The Age of Adaline opens in USA on 24 April 2015 and in UK on 1 May 2015.

 

 

CINDERELLA

 

(image via Wikipedia (c) Disney)
(image via Wikipedia (c) Disney)

SNAPSHOT
The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James) whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) into the family home. But, when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.” She will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods.

Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit (Richard Madden). Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham-Carter) steps forward and — armed with a pumpkin and a few mice — changes Cinderella’s life forever.
(synopsis via Disney Movie Trailers channel, YouTube)

Once more to the fairytales, good storytellers of Disney, once more to the fairytales.

You could be forgiven for wondering what could possibly be gained from revisiting the tale of Cinderella once again, which has been the basis for something like 35 films, some of the most recent notable examples being Ever After (1998) and Ella Enchanted (2004), which while enjoyable in their own way were hardly groundbreaking re-interpretations of this age-old tale.

Still this version comes with the creative imprimatur of the esteemed Kenneth Branagh, who found a way to provide a fresh re-telling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Henry V (1989), and Marvel’s Thor (2011) and who looks like he has every intention of re-framing Cinderella as a feminist superhero of sorts, according to the LA Times who quotes a recent interview he did with E Online:

“We’ve given it a contemporary feel that is human and humane and strangely enough, not built around the idea that Cinderella’s life depends on finding a man or things, like clothes or a title, or just hoping this magic will come along.”

He’s aware though that overplaying her role as a woman who can save herself thank you very much by virtue of her great kindness and worthy nature needs to be handled with some finesse:

“There was talk way back about redefining goodness as a superpower and kindness in the same way. I think it can be very active and charismatic and compelling, but it needs to be lightly done.”

I have been impressed with his ability to provide a fresh take on the stories he chooses to tell and given this track record, these insightful comments and a trailer that doesn’t seem to be sinking under the weight of its own cliches, I have every confidence that this version of Cinderella will be a cut about the ordinary.

Cinderella opens in USA on 13 March 2015, Australia on 26 March and UK on 27 March.

 

 

STRANGE MAGIC

 

(image via Collider (c) Lucasfilm/Disney)
(image via Collider (c) Lucasfilm/Disney)

 

SNAPSHOT
Strange Magic, a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., will be released by Touchstone Pictures on January 23, 2015. Strange Magic is a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Popular songs from the past six decades help tell the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion. Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic, which created the CGI animation for 2011’s Academy Award-winning film Rango, bring to life the fanciful forest turned upside down with world-class animation and visual effects. Featuring a story by George Lucas. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

I love beautifully-executed animation.

And George Lucas’s latest film, Strange Magic, does contain, an impressive amount of gorgeously brought-to-life animation with magical elves, fairies and imps and even preposterously ugly goblins living out his take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And according to Bonnie Burton at c|net, there’s also a lot of madcap carrying-on, fantastical adventuring, and more music than you can poke a rather large bottle of crazy behaviour-inducing potion at:

“Like Moulin Rouge and Mamma Mia, Strange Magic tells its story with covers of familiar songs, drawn from the past sixty years, according to Lucasfilm. Some of the musical performances in the film will include Cumming singing Deep Purple’s “Mistreated”, Chenoweth taking on “Love is Strange” and Wood singing Heart’s “Straight On.” Elvis Presley’s hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love” will also be included in the film, however it’s not known yet who will be covering the beloved ballad, according to Yahoo Movies.”

While I have not always been enamoured of the way he brings his stories to life – the Star Wars sequels/prequels that began with A Phantom Menace, while not unwatchable, left a great deal to be desired – this does look to have both an engaging, over the top narrative and divinely-pretty, immersive animation, all of which promises a movie that should tap into that sense of escapist moviegoing that Lucas seems gifted with conjuring up.

Strange Magic opens in USA on 23 January 2015 and in Australia on 1 April 2015.

 

Falling in love with the romantic comedy Amira and Sam

(image via Pop Sugar)
(image via Pop Sugar)

 

SNAPSHOT
To help adjust to coming home from war, former Green Beret, Sam Seneca (Martin Starr), takes a stab at a life-long dream: stand-up comedy. He also lands a high-paying job working for a Wall Street firm, run by his cousin Charlie (Paul Wesley).

Amira (Dina Shihabi) fled Iraq after her brother was killed by U.S. soldiers. She’s an illegal immigrant, living with her uncle Bassam (Laith Nakli), who was Sam’s interpreter.

Amira has a run-in with the police and so Sam takes her under his wing. Despite their differences, Sam and Amira share a common bond as outsiders. The more time they spend together, the harder it is for them to combat their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Sam becomes entangled in Charlie’s investment scheme and Amira’s trouble with the law escalates to the brink of deportation.

As the film builds to a climax, Sam has an epiphany: even though he’s the one who went off to war, it’s his country that’s lost its mind. In order to save Amira from being deported, he’s forced to risk everything he fought so hard to defend. (via official Amira & Sam site)

As I have noted on more than one occasion before, it is a rare thing indeed to find a romantic comedy that has slipped loose from the usual tropes and cliches of the genre and established a very clear sense of its own identity.

It’s not that it’s hard to write something distinctive and different while still honouring the basic idea that a man meets a woman (or man meets man or … you get the idea), falls in love, come across seemingly intractable issues, and then after a brief, usually very brief of estrangement decide “Ah the hell with it!” and follow their heart, complications be damned!

 

(image via official Amira & Sam site)
(image via official Amira & Sam site)

 

Amira & Sam, a festival darling that has attracted some impressively positive reviews, doesn’t completely re-invent the romantic comedy wheel but that doesn’t really matter given the other winning elements it has in play, according to Tony at The SunBreak:

“When I saw Sam & Amira, Shawn Mullin’s indie comedy, I wanted to grab Michael Radford (director of the aforementioned Elsa and Fred) by the scruff of the neck and yell, “THIS is how you make a romantic comedy!” The central plot (US veteran and Iraqi expat fall in love) is pure formula, but it’s winningly acted by leads Martin Starr and Dina Shihabi and it navigates familiar waters with a welcome touch of organic ease, smarts, and unforced wit. Color me surprised…and utterly charmed.”

John DeFore from Hollywood Reporter also felt that Amira and Sam has that extra something that places it above the rom-com pack:

“Having downplayed its love story at the start, the picture swells romantically in an unexpectedly pleasing way. It may not be enough to convince audiences that Starr should be Hollywood’s next romantic lead, but for these two characters, the chemistry is just right.”

That, and the charming trailer that speaks of a balance between falling in love, and the wider, fraught issues of war, dislocation and America’s fighting of battles far from home (all of which are reportedly intelligently and beautifully addressed) fills me with hope that here is a rom-com that not only chooses to be a little different but says something worthwhile into the bargain.

I can only hope it makes it way to Australia.

Having screened at a succession of film festival this year including Seattle International Film Festival in May and Woodstock Film Festival In October, Amira & Sam will next play at St. Louis International Film Festival on 22 November; no cinema release dates appear to be available at this time.

 

 

 

Love [not as Christmas-y or romantic as you think] Actually

(image via YouTube (c) Screen Junkies)
(image via YouTube (c) Screen Junkies)

 

I love Christmas.

And I love romantic comedies.

So yes, I, along with many a fellow romantic-minded person, love Richard Curtis’ festive rom-com Love Actually, required viewing for anyone who wants to feel warm and fuzzy and glowingly positive about life at Christmas, and not just from one too many eggnogs.

But look a little closer at this festive favourite, like good folks at Screen Junkies did in their latest Honest Trailer, and you’ll discover things are a lot darker and far less romantic than they might first appear.

It is not that anyone with a functioning brain or un-concreted over heart wouldn’t have noticed these darker elements before – after all the film is intended as a bittersweet look at the highs and lows of love, as realistic a portrayal as you’re ever likely to get in a rom-com – but what Screen Junkies succeed in doing, while providing more than a few giggles, is remind us of how substantial a film Love Actually really is.

It is all too easy, ironically enough, to over-romanticise the film given the time of year in which it occurs and the true love that does blossom in the most unlikely of circumstances – the coming together of John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) on the set of a porno film is a delight, the purity of their love a marked contrast to the seedy surroundings – and ignore what it is trying to say about the way love behaves out in the real world.

While we’d like to think love conquers all, that’s not always the case, and the Honest Trailer for Love Actually does a superb job in reminding us of this and giving us some much-needed festive-stress relieving laughs in the process.

 

Now this is music: Winterbourne (band profile)

Winterbourne in full flight (Pitt Street Mall, Sydney, 15 November 2014)
Winterbourne in full flight (Pitt Street Mall, Sydney, 15 November 2014)

 

The first thing you notice when you hear Central Coast, NSW-based, alternative folk/pop duo Winterbourne play is the sheer, unstoppable energy that seems to roll off them like waves.

Its borne of what can only be described as an infectious enthusiasm for the music they make, a passion that pours out of every song they play, whether its captivating original numbers like “Cold” or “Steady My Bones” off their All But the Sun EP (released May this year) or covers of songs by artists like Vance Joy (“Riptide”) or The Kinks (“Sunny Afternoon”), which bristle with the sound of the original while adding something distinctly different and new to the song.

The energy and passion of Winterbourne, who have been playing to ever-growing and more enthusiastic audiences for the last two years, is so powerfully pronounced that it has the power to stop you in your tracks, which is exactly what happened when a friend and I were cutting through Pitt Street Mall in the centre of Sydney a couple of weeks back, intent on doing some early Christmas shopping and nothing more.

To be honest, I usually pay little attention to the revolving door of artists who call the mall home for an hour or so before making way for the next musical hopefuls to strut their stuff; it’s not that any of them are particularly bad, simply not all that noteworthy or worth stopping for.

But we’d barely crossed the street when I heard a sound so distinctive, so passionately full and glorious that with little thought and some sort of instantaneous psychic agreement between us, my friend and I stopped where we stood, behind a considerable crowd of onlookers, many of them tapping their feet, some even singing along (clearly this band were known in some form already, I reasoned), all of whom standing in rapt attention.

 

Winterbourne lost in the making of their beautiful music (Pitt Street Mall, Sydney, 15 November 2014)
Winterbourne lost in the making of their beautiful music (Pitt Street Mall, Sydney, 15 November 2014)

 

It was an amazing sight.

It takes a lot to stop the frenetic momentum of Sydneysiders, people who like the residents of most big cities always seem to be in a desperate hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, but Winterbourne, two men with guitars, an ear for an exquisitely-wrought melody and a clear love for what they do, had managed it in no time flat and with impressive numbers to their credit.

The remarkable thing was that no one, including my friend and I moved for multiple songs at a time, glue to the spot, our ears overruling our ceaseless need to keep moving, hungry for more of a band that recall the easy pastoral bliss of Boy and Bear or Bon Iver, combined with the roiling, dancing energy of Holy Holy or even at times, Bombay Bicycle Club.

Hardly derivative though, Winterbourne, currently touring Australia with Little May, have a compelling sound all their own, that roils and rolls, bounces and surges, washing over you in tides unceasing, lifting you up with music borne of the sheer love of creating something.

It’s beguiling, beautiful, invigorating stuff, the sort of music that you only hear once in a blue moon, or when you’re passing on your way to somewhere else, suddenly captivated by music so gloriously good and passionately made that doing anything else right there and then seems like a complete waste of time.

 

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: “Crossed” (S5, E7 review)

The Ricktatorship is well and truly over, ironically enough by Rick's unilateral decree, but nowhere was this clearer than in this episode where instead of using full-frontal aggression, the group opted for cunning and strategy with decidely mixed results (image by Gene Ward/AMC (c) AMC)
The Ricktatorship is well and truly over, ironically enough by Rick’s unilateral decree, but nowhere was this clearer than in this episode where instead of using full-frontal aggression, the group opted for cunning and strategy with decidely mixed results (image by Gene Page/AMC (c) AMC)

 

If Shakespeare had made it through to the zombie apocalypse, then there’s every chance he would written something along these lines to describe the tone and feel of the penultimate mid-season eight episode, “Crossed”:

Once more unto the Atlanta breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our zombiefied dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of the apocalypse blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

Rage it seems was the thing in “Crossed”, or perhaps most accurately, the unceasing need for self-preservation (and perhaps the dying of the light too although some poetic intent isn’t high on most peoples’ agendas) at all costs that it seems to engender.

The urge to live, or protect those you care about who are still living was front and centre in this episode, which danced with pleasing dramatic precision thanks to Seth Hoffman’s elegantly-plotted script, between three locations – Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Noah (Tyler James Williams) in Atlanta ready to rescue Carol (Melissa McBride) and Beth (Emily Kinney), Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) looking after Little Asskicker at the church, and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Glen (Steve Yeun), Maggie (Lauren Cohen), Rosita (Christian Seratos), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and a still unconscious Eugene (Josh McDermitt) out on the road.

Every single person in the episode demonstrated in one way or another a strong survival instinct which granted is usually on display anyway among the survivors of The Walking Dead – or well, they wouldn’t be survivors now would they? – but rarely is it on such synchronous display, with every single word, action or deed belying a desperate need to hold onto the little that is left to them in the current apocalyptic mess.

 

Maggie has to resort to pointing a gun at Abraham's head to prevent him from lashing out at Rosita, a manoeuvre which Abraham later confirms he is glad didn't follow what could its bloody outcome (image (c) Gene Wood/AMC via Crave Online)
Maggie has to resort to pointing a gun at Abraham’s head to prevent him from lashing out at Rosita, a manoeuvre which Abraham later confirms he is glad didn’t play out as it could have – with his death (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via Crave Online)

 

Of course not everyone handles this fight for life in quite the same way, a dynamic most clearly on display with the Fire Engine Crowd – Glen, Maggie and the others who spent much of their time huddled around the only safe place they have out on the open road with a herd of zombies not that far away – who reacted to the news of Eugene’s Big Fat Survival Lie in markedly different ways.

Abraham spent pretty much all of “Crossed” on his knees where he had dropped after decking Eugene, staring lifelessly into the distance, unable, or as it turned out, unwilling to respond to anyone’s attempts to snap him out of it.

The one time he did stir in any noticeable fashion, it was to come close to doing something violent to Rosita who had tried to get to drink some water and almost paid dearly for it; you could see the violence brimming in his eyes, coiling in his fists and it was only Maggie’s quick thinking decision to point her gun at him that defused an almost lethally tense situation.

Maggie: “Did you want me to shoot you?”
Abraham: “I thought I did. But I didn’t.”

He had clearly taken the loss of Eugene’s fabricated survivalist nirvana to heart, his stalled grieving over his wife and kids, which was interrupted in Dallas by Eugene’s almost clown-ish hollering for help, striking back up again as if no time had elapsed at all.

Perhaps it was some kind of dramatically-executed sulk – Maggie seemed to think so alternating between cajoling and berating him, depending on her mood – but given what the man had been through, and his lack of time or place to deal with it (something that could be said about any of the survivors really) it made sense that he simply shut down.

Maggie for her part spent her time tending to a still-sprawling, unresponsive Eugene, shading him with a fire ladder and a blanket while Tara, Rosita and Glen went off to get water, and by happenstance, fish, making use of the belongings of some walkers to advance their chances of survival while learning a little more about how Rosita came to be with Abraham and Eugene.

While Glen and Rosita were quiet and resolute of purpose, Tara tried to lift the mood with some black humour telling some zombies trapped under a telegraph pole at point to not bother getting up, there’s nothing for you in D.C., and some creative naming of the group with the acronym G.R.E.A.T.M. adopted, Band of Brothers-style, to demonstrate their still-standing (hoped for) “solidarity”.

When Glen seemed to take her task for being a little too flippant, she responded with a few words of perspective-resetting wisdom, which every needed to hear and which seemed to do the trick, lightening the mood somewhat:

“Listen, I don’t know what to do without D.C. anymore, but I’m not dealing with it, I’m over it. I just want him [Eugene] to be OK. Eugene wasn’t strong, he isn’t fast, he doesn’t know how to use a weapon. Truth hurts but he’s useless. He had one skill that kept him living and we’re supposed to be mad at him ’cause he used it?”

There was a lot of adjusting going on to new realities, as important a step towards continued self-preserbation as the water and fish (Biblical imagery anyone?) that Glen, Rosita and Tara (and her yoyo!) managed to secure.

 

Teetering, nay falling headlong into the abyss of insanity, or at the very least severe emotional distress, Father Gabriel takes at one point to scratching off the blood of Gareth's slaughtered Terminites with his fingernails (image (c) Gene Ward/AMC via Crave Online)
Teetering, nay falling headlong into the abyss of insanity, or at the very least severe emotional distress, Father Gabriel takes at one point to scratching off the blood of Gareth’s slaughtered Terminites with his fingernails (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via Crave Online)

 

Meanwhile back at the church, whose organ and pews were pulled apart with singular efficiency, while Father Gabriel looked on with barely-disguised sanity-sapping horror, his world slipping still further from his grasp, for both weapons and church-as-sanctuary bolstering capabilities, Michonne and Carl took quite different approaches to getting Gabriel more firmly onto the kicking ass to save your butt bandwagon.

In lieu of more sophisticated descriptions, Carl was the bad cop, trying to use a great bludgeoning slab o’ brutal home truth to wake Gabriel up to the realities outside the now further-depleted “four walls and a roof” of his church, to less than stellar success (with Michonne watching on with great and justifiable concern:

Carl: “You’re lucky the church has lasted this long. You can’t stay in one place anymore. Not for too long … and once you’re out there, you’re going to find trouble you can’t hide from. You need to learn how to fight … Good choice [Gabriel selected a machete as his weapon with obvious, strained reluctance]. But you’re not holding it right. You need to be able to drive it down, sometimes their skulls aren’t as soft and you need to be able to …”

At that point, Gabriel weakly holds up his hand, and indicated he needs to go lie down, Carl’s rousing speech of bitter realities not going down to well with the reverend who seemed to shedding his sanity, almost as fast as he sweated.

Michonne, realising that Gabriel was only a loosened dog collar away from howling at the moon in anguish, tried a more softly-softly good cop approach, assuring the clearly rattled minister that “the things we do are worth it” and “we’re just trying to help.”

While he nods like he understands, Gabriel responds to Michonne’s kindler, gentler, kumbayah tactics by closing the door to his office, lifting up floorboards and making a run for it, weapon-less, a sign of his rapidly deteriorating state of mind, for the woods but not before standing on a tetanus-loaded nail, another piece of boldly-declared Biblical imagery and a possible portent of his fate.

That he encountered a walker not barely a tree or two into the woods was not a good sign, his chances of surviving this ill-thought-out dash for what exactly not enhanced by his inability to deal a fatal blow with a rock, his nerve thrown by the glittering cross around his assailant’s neck.

That he got away was a miracle frankly but isn’t indicative of his odds of survival, his unwillingness to face up the realities of the brave, new world around him, writ large across his anguished face.

 

Noah is the bait in a well thought-trap but all the planning in the world can't account for the raw tenacity of peoples' desires to live at any and all cost (image via Gene Page/AMC)
Noah is the bait in a well thought-trap but all the planning in the world can’t account for the raw tenacity of peoples’ desires to live at any and all cost (image via Gene Page/AMC)

 

And lastly to Atlanta where action of a less cerebral, more violent and tactical nature was playing out.

Rather cleverly, Hoffman’s nuanced script didn’t turn this storming of the hospital to rescue Beth and a still-desperately injured Carol – who became the subject of a “is she worth the resources to save her?” discussion between Dawn (Christine Woods) and one of her restless officers O’Donnell (Ricky Wayne) – into a slam-down certainty.

While Rick and the gang certainly had the element of surprise, what they didn’t have was a consensus on what was needed to preserve their lives and that of Beth and Carol when they attacked the hospital.

Rick’s highly-tactical plan relied on everyone in the hospital behaving exactly as Noah said they would and sticking to their routines to the absolute letter, while Tyreese, who felt there was too much that could go wrong if all the sociopathic ducks didn’t line up in a row, opted for kidnapping a police officer or two, and bargaining for the release of Carol and Beth.

Neither plan was foolproof, of course, but it was the latter one that won the day, a reflection of Tyreese’s post-loss of Karen impulse to minimise death wherever it was practical to do so (another example of the continuing idea that selling your humanity down the survival-at-all-costs river isn’t a prerequisite for living in a post-apocalyptic world).

And to begin with everything seemed to go swimmingly.

The officers took the bait, following Noah down an alley where Rick and the others swooped into capture them, mission seemingly accomplished.

But wait, not so fast my slow-and-steady strategists!

For before you could say “Don’t step on the melted Napalm’d zombies stuck to the road!” – Greg Nicotero’s design brilliance triumphing yet again – in swooped a third officer, causing enough confusion for the two captured officers to hot foot it away for a moment at least.

They were quickly re-taken and Tyreese’s bargaining plan seemed happily back on track until the officer Noah described as “one of the good ones” – no, no he is not Noah; you severely underestimated the lengths people will go to survive, odd given your recent elaborate escape attempt – Bob Lamson (Maximiliano Hernandez), taking advantage of Sasha’s still raw grief, made good his escape, blowing any element of surprise out the window.

The impressive part of this whole sequence was the way the action sequences and Sasha and Tyreese’s ongoing heart-to-hearts about Bob’s death co-existed well together, an ongoing strength of season 5 which is neither hostage to blindingly violent action or bogged down in far too much conversational inertia.

 

Ah, the best-laid plans of zombie apocalypse survivors ... right up there with those of mice and men for their sheer ability to go to sh*t before you know what's happened to you (image (c) Gene Ward/AMC via Geek Legacy)
Ah, the best-laid plans of zombie apocalypse survivors … right up there with those of mice and men for their sheer ability to go to sh*t before you know what’s happened to you (image (c) Gene Page/AMC via Geek Legacy)

 

Now of course with the cat out of the bag, it’s anyone’s guess how the great storming of the hospital will go down.

Suffice to say it won’t be pretty with all manner of predictions about who will and won’t die being bandied about.

One thing is for certain in next week’s mid-season finale “Coda” – everyone will be doing whatever they have to to preserve what they have or what they want to get back,the perfect recipe for a violent, take-no-prisoners exchange in which only group can emerge triumphant.

Here’s the trailer for “Coda” in which Beth rightly remarks “You have to do whatever it takes; this is you until the end” :

 

 

Movie review: The Drop

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

 

The Drop, based on Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue” (part of his 2009 anthology Boston Noir), is less a crime drama, though that is undeniable part of its storytelling DNA, than a slow burning examination of one man’s attempts to live life on the terms he sets.

Quiet and assuming, a man who insists on multiple occasions he is “just a bartender”, Bob Saginwoski ( Tom Hardy in yet another immersively-masterful performance), finds however that choosing how you live your life, and being allowed to follow that chosen course uninterrupted by the vagaries of the world he inhabits, are two completely different things.

Avowedly determined to bookend his days with 8am mass at his neighbourhood church in Brooklyn, and slow meditative walks home late at night from the bar where he works, Cousin Marvin’s – once owned by his actual cousin Marvin (James Gandolfini, towering as always in his final movie performance) who lost it to the coolly violent Chechen mob ten years before, a loss he still resents with every fibre of his self-pitying being – Bob is a man of deeply-held religious and moral convictions, a gentle soul whose only wish is to end the loneliness which blights his existence.

He unwittingly takes steps towards achieving this elusive last goal one evening when he hears the plaintive whimpering of a bloodied and abused Pitbull puppy coming from the trash can of a home he subsequently discovers is occupied by Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a woman whose initial lack of trust and simmering hostility gives way to low-key friendship and then unspoken attraction as the two of them set about giving the dog a loving and attentive home with Bob, a man who isn’t sure at first if he is ready for this kind of responsibility.

Cousin Marvin, all glowering resentment and humourless observations – Gandolfini doesn’t crack a smile throughout the entire movie, a reflection of his one time loan shark character’s belief that he was once something and is no more; self pity incidentally which is knocked promptly on its head by no nonsense Bob who has no time for it – convinces him to take in the dog, beginning Bob’s dance with forces far beyond his simple world of bar tending, and mass-attending.

 

 

What gives The Drop the dramatic and emotional resonance it has in spades, is that Lehane and director Michaël R. Roskam are content to let the film play out in quiet understated scenes that, though they bristle with portent and possible life-ending doom, never explode into the mindless and narrative-neutering violence that characterises so many contemporary crime dramas.

Deaths for the most part occur offscreen or in suggested cutaways; robberies when they take place are handled with verbally aggressive posturing and nothing more, the violence always held menacingly in check save for one critical climactic scene which even then, is over and done with in the time it would take John McClane (Die Hard) to reach for his gun.

Violence and vengeance are not the end games here, nor is the criminal activity, which largely centres on the use of many of Brooklyn’s bars as “drops” – hence the film’s name – for mob money which is discreetly handed over the bartender on duty, placed in a concealed safe and cleared out in the early hours of the morning when no one is usually paying too much attention.

Rather they provide the context for the subtlely-expressed machinations of Bob’s life, whose quiet, unobtrusive demeanour masks a razor-sharp, well-informed mind, a past that suggests more familiarity with mob life than he is willingly to currently admit (hence his “I am just a bartender” mantra, which is repeated like some sort of catechism to ward off evil) and steely-eyed determination to keep it as faraway from his unremarkable present as possible.

 

 

Unfortunately as anyone who didn’t come down in the latest shower knows only too well, life is rarely accommodating enough to let vows like that go unchallenged, and The Drop slowly builds the tension towards the inevitable showdown between what Bob wants and what he will need to do to get it, via the unwelcome appearance of Nadia’s thuggish ex-con ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts), Marvin’s behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to reclaim his self-perceived lost glory, the pesky poking around of police detective Torres (John Ortiz) and the swaggering menace of Chechen mob leader Chovka (Michael Aronov) and his second-in-command Andre (Morgan Spector).

That this showdown is over in less time than it takes to wash out a glass at the bar – although the build-up is gloriously, meticulously thorough, well thought out and paced – does not detract from its power to shock nor the threat it poses to Bob’s burgeoning relationship with the easily-frightened Nadia, emblematic of the new life he has tried so hard to fashion for himself far the life he once knew.

The Drop‘s ending suggests that it is possible to win from life’s unexpected twists and turns but that you will need to be of firm conviction with a spine of inner steel to make it happen and that you may in the process having to risk everything you have fought for to achieve what it is you really want.

 

 

 

 

Make it hilarious! Star Trek: Next Generation blooper reel proves you can hear laughter in space

Geordi (LeVar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner) see the lighter side of "exploring strange new worlds, [seeking] out new life and new civilisations, and boldly [going] where no one has gone before." (image via YouTube (c) Paramount)
Geordi La Forge(LeVar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner) see the lighter side of “exploring strange new worlds, [seeking] out new life and new civilisations, and boldly [going] where no one has gone before.” (image via YouTube (c) Paramount)

It’s serious business going boldly where no one has gone before.

Much as Picard and his hardworking, seriously intense crew would like to spend all their time having a good chuckle in Ten Forward with their shipmates or throwing down a synthale and share some laughs with sexy Andorians on Risa, they’re usually got their hands full, as c|net notes, dealing with “both hostile and friendly aliens, dangerous warp core meltdowns, Klingon run-ins, holodeck subplots and constant struggles with the Prime Directive.”

With all that going on, finding time for a bit of a giggle can be a bit of a challenge on a scale of magnitude of trying to get rid of Q somewhere this side of the end of the universe but as this brief blooper reel, released ahead of the December 2 unveiling of Star Trek: The Next Generation season 7 on Blu-Ray, shows, that doesn’t mean to say that Picard, Riker, George, Worf, Data and Beverly Crusher (no sign of Deanna; standing off to one sign analysing all this merriment perhaps?) can’t find some silliness exploring the universe.

In fact as the blooper reel, which exclusively premiered on Uproxx, makes clear there’s quite a bit of fun to be had if you’re looking for it, even if as Captain Picard, who has his foot stood on in a rather bleeper-inducing way by a backward-walking Crusher on a mission, would attest, you may not laugh about it till well after the fact.

Whatever the cause of the mirth, watching Data and Geordi share a major attack of the giggles or Riker going dashing after a rather attractive crewmate is so funny that you begin to think even a Vulcan might find it all a bit hilarious.

Right yes, that’s taking it a bit too far probably but it is funny and a reminder that even in space they can hear you can laugh.

 

Candles and popcorn: My 3 favourite movies featuring birthdays

My 5 favourite movies about birthdays MAIN

 

I love celebrating my birthday (which is today by the way should you wonder why I am volunteering this random piece of information).

Or anyone’s birthday for that matter … yes, you, person I have never met reading my blog post, let’s celebrate your birthday!

And why not?

You get cake and presents and if you’re extrovert like me, lots and lots of welcome attention; but most importantly because it’s the one day of the year when you can pretty much do what you like, how you like, and everyone sweetly shrugs and goes “Well, it is his birthday.”

That means I can eat all the lollies I like at the movies, chow down on a burger for lunch with my boyfriend, spend the afternoon watching my favourite movie or sitcom episodes before heading out to an intimate dinner, again with my wonderful guy, and not feel the least bit of guilt in the world that I am not being wildly productive (I am from Baptist stock and in full possession of a guilt-inducing runaway work ethic) or contributing to the greater good of humanity.

It’s a day just to kick back, and have some fun, or if you’re in a movie, the day when all sorts of Great Life Moments happen because, well, it’s far more dramatic that way.

So in honour of cinema’s love of the Epic Birthday, I’ve selected three of my favourite movies that feature birthdays that Mean Something or make it clear that the celebration of the day you are born, isn’t just about cake and balloons …

 

TOY STORY

 

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

 

Woody (Tom Hanks), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and all the other toys that belong to six year old Andy Davis (John Morris) have got it good.

They’re loved and played with when Andy is around, which is the most important thing for any toy, and when he is not, they magically spring to life and have their run of Andy’s bedroom till he returns.

Only one thing overshadows this idyllic existence – Andy’s annual birthday party when new toys arrive who may or may not be a threat to the existing toys place in their owner’s affections, with the one most affected by this being Woody who finds his worst fears realised when newcomer Buzz Lightyear, who actually thinks he is a space ranger and not a toy, is suddenly the star of the show, seems to supplant as Andy’s favoured toy.

Woody’s rather jealous reaction to this clueless but amusing interloper, results in Buzz being knocked out a window into the yard below, setting in train a madcap but ultimately emotionally-affecting adventure that takes the odd couple of toydom through the depths of the Pizza Planet restaurant, accidental nightmarish ownership by Andy’s brutish neighbour Sid, and following an escape that is only possible if the two adversaries work together, a return to the safety and love of Andy’s bedroom.

It’s an hilariously, heartwarming movie that all starts with a birthday party where Important Things Happen, and frankly one of the highlights of the movie, of any animated movie, is the re-con of the party by Andy’s plastic toy soldiers while the rest of the toys look nervously on.

THE MORAL: Birthday parties are fun but watch out – there could be more at stake than just your waistline.

 

 

SIGNS

 

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

 

I will admit at the outset that Signs has flaws – why would aliens who can be poisoned by water invade a planet absolutely brimming with it? – and is not the equal of director M. Night Shyamalan’s debut The Sixth Sense.

Even so, I really like the movie thanks largely to the way it effectively personalises the naturally globally epic nature of an alien invasion by letting us witness it through the eyes of the Hess family of rural Pennsylvania – dad Graham (Mel Gibson), sons Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) and daughter Bo (Abigail  Bresslin) – who are still traumatised by the untimely death of their wife and mother at the hands of a deeply remorseful neighbour Ray Reddy (M. Night Shyamalan).

In many ways the aliens aren’t even the main event in town – that honour belongs to the multitude of issues the family is dealing with such as Bo’s obsession with leaving glasses of what she calls funny tasting water around the house and Morgan’s fear that something bad is in the offing, all of which, while they are signs pointing to and healed by the extraterrestrial’s arrival, are more to do with the loss of their mother than anything else.

For all that, Signs is still seriously creepy, never more so than when the media, whipped most firmly into a state of tabloid hysteria – admittedly this time with very good reason – features a seven year old Brazilian boy’s birthday party at which ET’s far less loveable cousin shows up and frightens the bejesus out of everyone.

The alien’s appearance is freakishly terrifying and as Emily Kellas at Reel-2-Reality correctly pointed out probably meant “that little boy will never be able to stomach another birthday party ever again because of the haunting memory of that fatefully frightening day.”

Not to mention the cinemagoers like myself who had to be peeled off the ceiling after the scene.

THE MORAL: Always set an extra place at your birthday party – you never know who’s going to turn up.

 

 

UNCLE BUCK

 

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

 

Go on admit – every family has that one misunderstood member who doesn’t quite fit in but if you took the time to get to know them might not be so bad after all.

Granted Uncle Buck, which featured the late much-lamented John Candy in one of his finest roles, is the kind of person that is very easy to misunderstand.

On the surface, he is crass, boozy, unemployed and addicted to racetrack betting, hardly the sort of person you’d want to willingly invite into your home.

But Bob (Garrett M. Brown) and Cindy (Elaine Bromka), desperate to get as quickly as possible to side of Cindy’s dad who’s just suffered a heart attack don’t have much choice and so Bob’s brother, good ol’ Uncle Buck, who seems to have few redeeming qualities, is left in charge of the couple’s three kids, resentful Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), Miles (Macaulay Culkin) and Maizy (Gaby Hoffman).

Of course, Uncle Buck is nowhere near as bad as his cursory impressions might suggest and in his own unique way he transforms the lives of all three kids, in the middle of which he stages the most hilarious birthday party, complete with drunk clown, that you’re ever likely to see anywhere.

I had some brilliant kids’ parties in my time but nothing like the one Uncle Buck manages to pull off.

He is a certifiable legend and the best relative ever.

THE MORAL: No birthday is complete without bored guests, giant pancakes and a drunk obnoxious clown.

 

 

To be a Grimm or not to be a Grimm, that is the question: 3 things I am loving about season 4 of Grimm

Nick (David Giuntoli) has a lot on his mind as season 4 opens of Grimm, not the least of  which is does he really want to be a Grimm again? (image via & and (c) NBC)
Nick (David Giuntoli) has a lot on his mind as season 4 opens of Grimm, not the least of which is does he really want to be a Grimm again? (image via and (c) NBC)

 

A protagonist with extraordinary powers or perceptive abilities is hardly a rarity in popular fiction.

Movies, TV shows, and books are full to the brim with men and women possessing superhuman strength, metamorphic talents or sensory abilities that allow them to see the dead, fight supernatural creatures and powers, fight battles beyond the understanding or capabilities of mere mortals.

What isn’t common is a protagonist being stripped of these abilities, of losing whatever made them unique, not just for a second or two, but for a sustained period of time.

It’s a brave decision, especially for weekly episodic television to do a Samson on your protagonist – the Biblical hero’s power came from his golden locks which when shorn away left him unable to slay entire armies with a jawbone of an ass or level pagan temples with a simple push of a pillar – who is usually the one around whom the narrative spins.

People turn in to see this character do their thing and when they can’t do it for reasons usually nefarious in nature, you run the risk that the show will find its usual storytelling vigour sapped.

But then Grimm isn’t just any old show, and Nick Grimm (David Giuntoli) isn’t just any old protagonist, blithely going about his business, despatching baddies left and right without any though or troubling conviction.

He, and has been, from the start, a thinking person’s protagonist, a man who didn’t ask for the mantle of responsibility thrust upon him, to police and hunt Wesen (human/animal hybrid creatures that who true nature is only visible to Grimms) and who four seasons into his reign as Portland’s ruling Grimm, struggles to reconcile his old life as a police detective with his new far more supernatural calling.

It makes Nick a complex, anti-hero of sorts who has gone against the ancient precepts of his people and forged bonds of friendship with those Wesen inclined to set aside old enmity and fear, while still doing what must be done, as much within the law as possible given his vocation, to curtail the worst excesses of Wesen who largely live among humanity unnoticed and unheralded.

Season 4 of Grimm has made good use of Nick’s conflicted relationship with his calling, stripping him off his powers via a spell cast by Adalind Schade (Claire Coffee), and leaving him and his equally conflicted fiancee Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch), police partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) and friends, husband and wife Wesen Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee (Bree Turner) to pick up the pieces.

It’s woven a whole extra level of existential complexity into an already well-written, well-made show and there are three things in particular that I am loving about the show as a result.

 

"Trubel", Juliette and Nick look rightly concerned in a season that richly and thoroughly turned the show on its head (image via official website (c) NBC)
“Trubel”, Juliette and Nick look rightly concerned in a season that richly and thoroughly turned the show on its head (image via official website (c) NBC)

 

NICK ISN’T SURE WHO HE IS ANYMORE … AND JULIETTE ISN’T SURE WHICH VERSION OF HIM SHE WANTS

From the very start Nick has struggled with being a Grimm.

The revelation by his Aunt Marie (Kate Burton) that he was a Grimm, who it turned out were not just storytellers but Wesen-fighting machines charged with keeping their enemies in check by any means required, was an unexpected and initially unwelcome addition to an already full but reasonably normal life that included a loving girlfriend and a successful career as a Portland P. D. detective.

In other words, Nick’s life was not exactly wanting and he was perfectly content with just being a good old-fashioned ordinary human being (helped along by the fact of course that he didn’t know there was an alternative).

But as time went on, and he grew accustomed to his powers, which include being able to see Wesen in their non-human or volged state, and familiar with the hidden supernatural world around him, he began to embrace his heritage, especially since it gave him an undeniable advantage on the job where it turns out, surprise surprise, a great deal of crime is committed by the less desirable Wesen elements (of which there seem to be an endless variety).

Sure it almost cost him a stable home life, his relationship with Juliette, his life, and any semblance of normality but realising he couldn’t exactly opt out of his calling – once a Grimm, always a Grimm essentially – he made his peace with it, did what he could with it, and subsumed any lingering concerns about any negative side-effects.

 

 

But in season 4, he has had to deal with the loss of these powers, thanks to Adalind, in a real, sustained way that hasn’t been truncated by one of those quick fixes beloved of writers when they want to get their protagonist back to their old self as quickly as possible.

Nick really has lost his powers, and while Monroe and Rosalee and Captain Renard’s Hexenbiest mother Elizabeth (Louise Lombard) are working feverishly hard to reverse the effects of Adalind’s spell – in quiet contravention of Juliette’s request that they go slow or even stop looking for a cure – you can hardly blame her; she has suffered greatly thanks to Nick’s Grimm calling, losing her memory among other things for a time – there is no sense that getting his powers back will be possible or even easy.

Nick’s loss is compounded by the fact that Theresa Rubel (aka “TRubel”, played by Jacqueline Toboni), a newly discovered Grimm, who has gone from possibly being the Scrappy Doo of the show – long time fans of Scooby Doo will appreciate that reference – is now his only way of seeing into a hidden supernatural world he once took for granted he would always be able to access.

It’s characteristic of Grimm’s approach to its storytelling from the start – don’t rush to set things right, let them linger, fester, wait and see what the characters do when they are forced to not only step out of their comfort zone but watch as it is flung so far away there are great doubts whether it will ever appear again.

Nick’s current existential angst is the latest brave decision by a production and writing team that understands that great drama comes from complication and uncertainty, and that the best thing you can do for a character, and the show, is to let things play out slowly and take your protagonist on what is proving, in Nick’s case, to be a very satisfying journey.

It’s likely he will get his powers back but in the meantime, watching him wrestle with the idea of who he really is, with or without the powers, and how that effects those he loves, is making for some seriously complex, clever television.

 

TRubel has proved herself to be anything but a pointless addition, becoming integral to its forward narrative momentum in no time flat (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)
TRubel has proved herself to be anything but a pointless addition, becoming integral to its forward narrative momentum in no time flat (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)

 

THINGS ARE GETTING WAY MORE COMPLICATED ON A SHOW ALREADY JAMMED WITH COMPLICATIONS

You would think that things would be plenty complicated enough in the world of Grimm, what with a multiplicity of Wesen to deal with, people such as Sergeant Wu (Reggie Lee) beginning to question the strange things they are seeing – frankly it’s a relief that people like Nick’s partner Hank and Juliette are now privy to Nick’s true, albeit temporarily lost, identity; it was all beginning to get a bit too Mr Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street-like there for a while – crimes committed by Wesen that can’t be explained in normal human terms making court cases more than a little challenging, conspiracies aplenty to deal with thanks to the Royal Wesen Houses and on, and on.

But somehow the writers of Grimm have managed to up the ante in season 4, a refreshing sign given that as shows age, the temptation to simply keep doing what you’re doing – all the more tempting when the show is as successful as Grimm is – is all too real.

Instead of business as usual though, which in Grimm terms consists of a case of the week procedural mixed in with an advancement with whatever arc is playing out at the moment, there are a whole lot of changes in play:

* the arrival of “TRubel”, who has fit in quite well with the existing characters, despite my concerns that she was a harbinger of Jumping the Shark-itis which sees new characters added in just to mix things up, often to deleterious effect.

But rather than being a cousin Oliver (The Brady Bunch) or Nick in Family Ties, Theresa so far is managing to work as a necessary addition to the cast, Nick’s essential eyes and ears into a Wesen world currently closed off to him.

She is also grappling with a whole new conspiracy, one headed by a person of dubious integrity, FBI Special Agent Chavez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who kidnapped her off the street in the aptly-named “Octopus Head”, and held her captive in restraints while she tried to convince a sceptical Theresa to become a part of a shadowy organisation fighting to rid the world of problem Wesen.

Though she was released, it was with a thinly-veiled threat that telling anyone about what had transpired would result in some fairly unpleasant consequences, a nasty piece of manipulation that Theresa naturally ignored completely, clueing Nick in on the fact that the whole Wesen fighting schtick may have some competition from unexpected quarters.

If Nick losing his powers was quite enough complication already, the idea that there are others out there muddying the Grimm vs. Wesen waters add a whole other level of delicious intrigue to the show.

 

 

* Then there is Adalind’s flight back to Europe in search of the baby she mistakenly believes is in the hands of the scheming Royals, currently headed by the ethically-challenged, though handsome and beautifully-spoken Prince Viktor Chlodwig zu Schellendorf von Konigsburg (Alexis Denisof).

Not only has everyone’s favourite Hexenbiest been locked up in a dungeon infested with rats, she has now been “rescued” by a gibbering man in the next call who is frankly more than a few Wesen short of a herd who has led up staircases where stone faces appear from the wall, begin crying, flooding the stairwell (“Dyin’ on a Prayer”).

It’s a whole other level of supernatural weirdness to add to a considerable of Adalind-associated oddities and it will be interesting how it all plays out.

* And then there is the not inconsequential matter of Captain Renard’s mother suddenly reappearing just in the nick of time (no pun intended) to save his life with a rather magical black and red two-headed snake (one at each end) when he was, medically speaking, no longer of this world.

She has proved crucial in finding a possible cure for Nick’s condition, and is an integral power player, though long dormant it turns out, in the Machiavellian political machinations of the Wesen Royals who have not exactly been warm and hospitable to the good Captain and his poor mum in the past.

I doubt she is simply there to save Nick and seeing how she is used in the still-developing Royal conspiracy will be fascinating.

* Monroe and Rosalee are getting off scott-free either with evidence, courtesy of a specially-styled brick through the Spice Shop’s window that there are Wesen out there who don’t approve of their mixed-species marriage (he is a wolf-like Wieder Blutbad while she is a rodent-like Fuchsbau).

Properly handled, and I have every confidence it will be, this particular storyline opens up a whole raft of possibilities for the examination of prejudice, discrimination and the unwillingness of certain sections of society to abandon long-entrenched beliefs.

Didn’t I say there’s a lot going on, over and above what was already going on?

Yes indeed there is but you fortunately don’t get the feeling that the writers are doing it out of desperation in a bid to flag a troubled show – Grimm is anything but of course and could have conceivably kept going on with just the season 1-3 complications happily humming along in place – but rather as a natural extension of what was already organically happening.

 

Sergeant Wu, having seen Wesen already and not handled it too well, is growing ever more suspicious of what Nick and Hank are up to (image via Grimm official site (c) NBC)
Sergeant Wu, having seen Wesen already and not handled it too well, is growing ever more suspicious of what Nick and Hank are up to (image via Grimm official site (c) NBC)

 

HERE THERE STILL BE AWESOME “MONSTERS” … AND WESEN …

To be fair, it’s not really politically correct to call Wesen monsters.

To the uninformed, that is exactly what they appear to be but then neither Nick, TRubel, or any of their non-Grimm friends and loved ones, nor the viewers who have happily followed Grimm into its fourth creatively fertile series, could be considered even remotely uninformed.

What they are, according to the Grimm Wiki, “are parahuman, exhibiting two distinct sets of DNA within the same system”; they are also described as “liminal, that is, they display two states of existence simultaneous within one physical body.”

In other words, they are simply another form of sentient life on this planet, that is only as monstrous or noble as it chooses to be, much like home sapiens themselves.

This is where Grimm has been enormously clever in its mythos-building, refusing to cheaply and all-too-easily paint Wesen as disposable monsters to terrify and frighten like two-bit sideshow alley acts, cheap narrative props and nothing more; rather they have gone to enormous trouble to present cultures within the Wesen fold that, like humanity itself, have civilisation and barbarity, higher callings and base impulses.

Its an enticingly nuanced approach that has afforded Grimm the ability to tell ever more complex, layered stories that don’t rely solely on short term scares alone, which let’s face it would have quickly run its course and exhausted its appeal within the first season of the show.

They are continuing this wise and measured strategy in season 4 with the Wesen, such as the newly-introduced Gedächtnis Esser (“Octopus Head”), Steinadler (Chavez, “Thanks for the Memories”) and Heftigauroch (“The Last Fight”) all being presented with thought, complexity and dare I say humanity.

They are not one-dimensional villains but nor are they presented as innocent babes in the woods unable to control their animal urges; as Monroe, Rosalee and other Wesen we know well have shown us, it’s possible to triumph over baser Wesen instincts if you choose.

Granted the German names given to the Wesen continue to be very loosely based on the language but you can simply shrug that off as poetic license as long as each of the races presented are treated with the thoughtfulness and nuanced depth that they have been to date.

 

 

The other pleasing aspect of Grimm in season 4 continues to be that Nick and Hank haven’t devolved into vigilantes, simply taking whatever course of action suits them without recourse to the rule of law or basic civility.

They were, are and remain policemen, upholders of the laws and regulations that govern civilised societies, a position that affords them a number of advantages but which also hems them in, unable to respond as Grimms of old would have done, simply lopping off the heads of transgressing Wesen.

Admittedly there are times when they have no choice but to despatch by means most brutal but it is always done with some regret and often not without consequence with the law often catching up to them such as Sergeant’s dogged pursuit of TRubel as a murder suspect.

Strictly speaking yes she is but in the context of the storyline which saw her terrified out of her wits by her then-unexplained Grimm powers and seemingly besieged by monstrous creatures who’s first impulse was to kill the Grimm before they could kill them, it’s not as straightforward as Wu thinks it is.

But then that is the delicious tension that sustains Grimm, which takes place not in the untrammelled Middle Ages survival of the fittest world of the past but a modern society where the rule of law is paramount, even if it often feels like all humanity has done is drop a gossamer curtain of civility over our wilder, darker natures.

I am grateful that the writers have not resorted to an anything goes mentality because it doesn’t reduce Nick and now TRubel to simply avenging angels but nuanced characters conflicted by their calling, trapped between who they actually are and what the world perceives them to be.

It’s the central conceit that underpins all of Grimm actually and has done from the start, that what we see is not necessarily what we are getting, that it pays to look more closely before rushing to judgement, and rather than diminishing in importance as the show goes on, it is growing in strength as the backbone of its storytelling, as much a part of Grimm‘s fourth season as it has ever been.

 

It would be so much easier to simply loose Nick of his rule of law bonds but then it would also rob Grimm of much of its nuance and complexity (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)
It would be so much easier to simply loose Nick of his rule of law bonds but then it would also rob Grimm of much of its nuance and complexity (image via official Grimm site (c) NBC)