Roses are red and … Aziz Ansari is narrating all of his new book Modern Romance! Swoon …

(image via The Paste (c) Penguin Press)
(image via The Paste (c) Penguin Press)

 

SNAPSHOT
For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but forModern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before. (partial synopsis via Penguin Press)

Awww love sweet love.

We all want it, we ride up with it and many of us sadly come crashing down, it compels us to buy cards, flowers and weirdly misshapen teddy bears in the middle of February, and inspires to great oratorial and written displays on fervent, undying affection which poses no real threat to Shakespeare as the greatest writer of our age or any age but is still to bursting with passion anyway.

And now, stand-up comedian, Aziz Ansari, who spent seven seasons having all sorts of fun with public service on Parks and Recreation, and spends much of his current routine deal with the affairs of the heart, is coming to the aid of everyone who has wondered why love is so hard to find, so challenging to sustain and why the love it gives rise to is so unrelenting ordinary.

OK, he may not address that specifically – but seriously someone should; those chocolates in the heart-shaped boxes tastes awful – but according to the synopsis on Penguin Press, who are publishing his tome on the perils and joys of romance in our modern digitally-connected age, one he worked on with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, he dive headfirst into this endless topic and talks about a lot of love-ly stuff …

“A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s most popular and sharpest comedic voices.

“At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

“Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”

“But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.”

If that wasn’t enough, he’s also narrating the whole book.

 

 

Yes all of it.

As Paste Magazine points out – check out their excellent review of the book – it’s a brilliant combination of “the literary structure of a book with the performance element of stand-up” capturing that sensation we all have when we’re reading a book by a very funny person that they are talking inside of our head.

But now we don’t have to even read the book – Aziz has done it for us!

Ain’t love, and Aziz’s self-sacrificial narrative act, grand?

Yes it is … now don’t disturb please  – I have a whole book to listen to and some very fine Lindt chocolates, not contained in a red heart-shaped box to eat romantically while I do so …

Modern Romance released 16 June, 2015.

 

“It’s the Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown!”: New trailer for The Peanuts Movie

(image via Collider)
(image via Collider)

 

SNAPSHOT
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved Peanuts gang make their big-screen debut, like they’ve never been seen before, in state of the art 3D animation. Charlie Brown, the world’s most beloved underdog, embarks upon an epic and heroic quest, while his best pal, the lovable beagle Snoopy, takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, the Red Baron. From the imagination of Charles M. Schulz and the creators of the Ice Age films, The Peanuts Movie will prove that every underdog has his day. (official synopsis via Trailer Addict)

Good grief Charlie Brown, The Peanuts Movie has featured on this blog a lot lately! (See here, here, and yes here).

And with good reason, people – I will be forever in love with Charles Schulz’s wonderful characters who have accompanied me on my journey through life with wit, wisdom and utterly relatable humanity ever since the day I discovered one of the paperback collections of the deservedly beloved comic strip in a local secondhand bookshop in Grafton NSW (Australia).

Not simply the best comic strip ever created, it is a bastion of insights, a guide to coping with life’s less wonderful moments – much like Charlie Brown, I spent my childhood ignored and ridiculed by my peers, always on the outside looking in socially – and a trove of delights on those days when you were aiming for Joe Cool and yet ended up flat on your back, looking up at Lucy after she once again tricked you into trying to kick the football.

It means the world to me in so many ways and so when the news broke early last year, that a brand new Peanuts movie was on its way, I immediately did the Snoopy Dance of Joy and eagerly awaited all the posters and trailers for The Peanut Movie that inevitably would come my way.

 

(image via IMDb)
(image via IMDb)

 

And without question the outpouring of Peanuts goodness has been wonderful with luminously colourful, warm and funny character posters, enticing teaser trailers and now, a full length trailer that lets us on in the plot for the film.

Centring around as always on poor hapless Charlie Brown, the everyman hero of the strip who tries so hard but almost never gets what he’s going for – his tenacity in the face of constant failure is one of the reasons I adore him as a character – the  new trailer, which underscores that 3D graphics don’t have to rob animation of warmth and emotional richness, reassures everyone who’s a longtime fan, and our numbers are legion, that the producers have captured Schulz’s magic onscreen once again.

Much like last year’s Paddington film which felt like the books sprung delightfully to life, the trailer reminds us, much like a security blanket on an insecure day, why so many people have loved Peanuts for pretty much its entire 65 year lifespan to date.

All the main characters are there – Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, Linus, Sally, Peppermint Patty, and yes, happy am I, adorably messy Pigpen – but also, as this brilliant piece in The Washington Post points out, nods to the producers and animators of countless Peanuts specials over the years, Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez, Snoopy’s hilariously self-assured antics, Charlie Brown’s romantic obsession with the Little red-Haired Girl, some of the original 2D comic strip art (rendered as Charlie Brown’s thought bubbles), and a poignant reminder that Peanuts is “always, foremost, about friendship. A boy and his dog. A director and his collaborators. A fan and his enduring embrace of Sparky Schulz’s heartfelt world.

There is so much to love in this brilliantly-paced, visually-rich, Peanuts lore-packed trailer which makes it abundantly clear that the producers of The Peanuts Movie as every bit as much in love with the comic strips and its engaging characters as the rest of us, and have distilled its enduring appeal, as only true fans can, for a whole new generation, and those who have been around a while, to enjoy all over again.

The Peanuts Movie opens in USA on 6 November 2015 and Australia on 26 December.

 

Movie review: Inside Out

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

 

Have you ever been to see a movie and felt like the filmmaker has somehow managed to peer into your very heart and soul, eerily and yet delightfully channeling everything you’ve ever seen, felt or heard into their cinematic creation?

That kind of emotional universality, of readily identifiable insight into a shared sense of the human condition is pretty rare – sure a gifted director or screenwriter might be able to create a film that speaks to a whole lot of people, a good thing since that’s how they make their money, but that’s not the same as distilling the thoughts, feelings and life experiences of the audience onto the screen before them.

Getting that right is a feat bordering on the magically miraculous and yet it’s exactly what the immensely talented Peter Docter (Monsters Inc, UP, WALL-E) has accomplished with Inside Out, easily the most touching, self-assured, and masterful work of animation from Pixar since UP.

The sheer genius of this delight of a film is the way in which Docter doesn’t simply tell us a story about one little girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), aged 11, keen hockey player, goofball and hater of broccoli and clowns, who has to handle a move from the only home she’s ever known in Minnesota to a promising but entirely unknown new world of possibilities in San Francisco with her loving and supportive parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan).

There’s enough relatable material in that sort of commonly-experienced scenario to sustain a film based on the external observations of its participants alone.

No, what Docter manages to do, and manages with the elegance of a balletically-inclined psychologist, one it should be noted with the heart of an appealingly goofy poet, is to take one girl’s emotions – joy, fear, sadness, disgust and anger – the ones guiding her reactions to the way in which the move has changed her world, initially she feels not for the better, and make them into something unwaveringly, poignantly universal.

This near-perfectly-realised accomplishment means you don’t simply watch Inside Out; you feel as you are re-living your life, in ways both happily silly, and touchingly profound, all over again.

 

 

It helps, of course, when these emotions, are played by some of the finest comic actors working at the moment.

Joy, the central emotion and gloriously peppy head cheerleader for everything Riley ever does – she’s like Tony Robbins and Pollyanna mixed into one deliriously upbeat person – is played to Leslie Knope perfection by Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), forever over-achieving and yet inherently, endlessly likeable.

She is the one who guards Riley’s most precious, defining memories, known as Core Memories, with a zealotry that ensures they remain pristine and unaffected by life; they are after all, the peak experiences that define how the young girl reacts to every event in her life and can’t be trifled with, or so Joy thinks at the time.

Her almost polar opposite, Sadness, played with glum, Eeyore-ness by Phyllis Smith (The Office), mopes around with jelly leg-like, fall-on-her-face-weeping morbidity, assuring anyone who will listen, and Joy does her best not to most of the time, that everything will likely end badly and they best prepare for that now.

She is however, for all her downcast moments, immensely intelligent and capable, the one prepared to face the harsh realities of life, knowing that they must be gone through before the good times can truly begin to roll.

Joining her on the control panel of emotions inside Riley’s head, a place of wonderment and colour filled with places like Imagination Land (the place of dreams and giant forests of french fries) and the Sub-Concious (beware of broccoli trees and stairs to the basement!), are Fear (Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live), Disgust (Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project) and Anger (Lewis Black, The Daily Show).

Each of these emotions have their distinctive parts to play and are instrumental in shaping how Riley has interacted with the world around her since the day she was born, and how she will do so as she grows into adulthood.

 

 

But it takes an accident involving Joy and Sadness, and all the core memories that make Riley, well, Riley, and a fraught, though wonder-filled, journey back to Headquarters, the central hub of the young girl’s consciousness, to make everyone realise how much they need each other.

Chief among them, by virtue of their shared road trip through the places, good and bad, in Riley’s psyche, are Joy and Sadness who come to understand that each only really make sense without the other; it’s Joy who connects the dots first as she comes to realise that Riley is growing up fast into adulthood and will need a full array of emotions to deal with everything life is going to dish out to her.

The message, in amongst the elephantine/feline/dolphin delights of meeting Riley’s now much-neglected imaginary childhood friend, Bing-Bong (Richard Kind) and his musically-fuelled pretend rocket ship, is that unpleasant though they might be to go through, the sad times are necessary if you’re going to make sense of all the good times that usually follow.

It’s a powerful call to emotional wholeness and openness wrapped up in a film that delights, nay adores, colour, movement, imagination, every emotion you can possible think of, goofiness and profundity, and yes Rainbow Unicorn from the justly-admired and loved Fairytale Dream Adventure #7.

And one, delivered with Pixar’s trademark heart on sleeve whimsy, which resonates in ways large and small throughout this immensely pleasing film that doesn’t shy away from being real about the ways we see and experience the world, and how this shapes who we will become.

Inside Out is an unqualified joy to watch, an excursion into the universal “feels” of growing up, of coming to terms who we are and our place in the world, and of never underestimating anyone or anything, because you never know, in your joy/sadness/fear/disgust/anger-fuelled journey, how large a role they might play in the weird, wonderful and complicated thrilling ride we call life.

 

 

May imagination be with you: Craig Davison’s Star Wars art reawakens the child in each of us

We are all Luke in our imaginations (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)
We are all Luke in our imaginations (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)

 

I learnt a long time ago how powerful imagination can be.

A budding writer from the moment I realised two words could come together with devastatingly brilliant effect, leaving wonderment, thrills, excitement, fear, adventure and a whole host of other authentically real human emotional reactions in their wake, I have been enthralled with the places my imagination can take me.

But even I, budding Hemingway that I have been most of my life, refused to sit at my desk all the time, and many a summer evening in the 1970s found me running around my backyard, either alone or with my sister, fighting imaginary enemies, holed in my imaginary castle (in reality a tall, low hanging bush) and surveying my kingdom, armed with little more than a stick and a cardboard box shield.

Our games were reasonably conventional – Kings and Queens, Cowboys and Indians, nameless adventurers across lands both Earthbound and in space – until one day in 1977 when my mother took me to a small one theatre wooden cinema in the main street of Ballina, NSW to see a small film called Star Wars and my world, my imagination, every game I’d ever played and wanted to play, every story I longed to write, was utterly and forever transformed.

Suddenly I wanted to be Luke or Han swashbuckling my way across the Death Star to rescue a Princess Leia, or C-3PO and R2-D2 slipping in under the nose of the evil Imperial forces and playing havoc with technology, or Obi-Wan guiding Luke to a whole new life on the hot, harsh sands of Tatooine not long after his old one had violently gone forever.

It was intoxicatingly wonderful, and now Craig Davison, who has magically combined scenes of children at play with iconic characters and images from Star Wars has taken me back to those heady, euphoric days in 1977 when everything seemed marvellously possible, and magically far far away from my small backyard where it was entirely likely Sand People and Gredo lurked in places I had yet to explore.

And yes you can buy his prints and turn your home once again into that same imagination-stoking world you once inhabited with carefree fun and imagination as a child.

(source: Nerdist)

 

Who didn't turn a boring afternoon babysitting a little brother or sister into an intergalactic adventure in which the universe, and not a plate of half-chewed food, hung in the balance? (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)
Who didn’t turn a boring afternoon babysitting a little brother or sister into an intergalactic adventure in which the universe, and not a plate of half-chewed food, hung in the balance? (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)

 

Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of 1977, all the old childlike battles gave way to utterly new ones, many featuring a corrupted helmeted lord of darkness and an earnest young lord of light (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)
Suddenly, somewhere in the middle of 1977, all the old childlike battles gave way to utterly new ones, many featuring a corrupted helmeted lord of darkness and an earnest young lord of light (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)

 

Take one cardboard box, a fecund imagination and a percolating sense of adventure and a dreary afternoon of not much going on became a race through the galaxy thwarting criminals and dictators (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)
Take one cardboard box, a fecund imagination and a percolating sense of adventure and a dreary afternoon of not much going on became a race through the galaxy thwarting criminals and dictators (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)

 

Armed with clever retorts, all the umbrage in the world and the ability to open doors on Death Stars just in the nick of time, who didn't want to be C-3PO and R2-D2? (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)
Armed with clever retorts, all the umbrage in the world and the ability to open doors on Death Stars just in the nick of time, who didn’t want to be C-3PO and R2-D2? (image via Nerdist (c) Craig Davison)

Movie review: The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (La mafia uccide solo d’estate)

(image via Palace Cinemas)
(image via Palace Cinemas)

 

Ask the average lovestruck moviegoer to suggest the ideal location for a rom-com and you’d likely be peppered with Cupid-friendly locales like Paris and New York, Koh Samui and Greek Islands, and a thousand chocolate-filled, red rose-strewn places in-between.

The odds are pretty good though they wouldn’t nominate Palermo, Sicily as the ideal sunset-drenched location for the next When Harry Met Sally, it’s reputation for brutalised violence unfortunately trumping it’s picture perfect location on the half moon bay along which sweeps its ancient waterfront.

It’s just as well then writer, director and actor, Pif aka Pierfrancesco Diliberto, didn’t run that kind of straw poll before choosing to set his whimsical exploration of love and long, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer in the oft-troubled home of the once mighty criminal syndicate, the Cosa Nostra.

As it turns out, Palermo is the only place this decidedly quirky, charming rumination on love, long-held desire, and their highly unlikely, and at times hilariously imaginative, intersection with economic activities on the wrong of the law, could possibly have taken place.

And it’s not simply because of the mafia’s presence in the city which, as the title suggests, is pretty integral to the film’s narrative.

The entire premise of the film rests on the long held societal attitudes, superstitions and head in the sand habits of a populace long used to pretending that there is nothing untoward happening in a city where judges, policemen, journalists and military officers were routinely gunned down, most notably during the mafia’s war on government and the judiciary that prevailed in the 1970s and ’80s, simply for doing their job.

In fact, so entrenched was the populace-wide self-delusion that the neverending roll call of premature deaths was routinely ascribed to the inability of these men to pick the right women with whom to consort; in other words, the crimes were simply the result of vengeful boyfriends, husbands and fathers taking their vengeance, and nothing more.

 

Arturo is in love with Flora from the moment she walks into the classroom but can seem the right time or place to express his feelings till they are unexpectedly reunited in adulthood (image via fourthreefilm)
Arturo is in love with Flora from the moment she walks into the classroom but can seem the right time or place to express his feelings till they are unexpectedly reunited in adulthood (image via fourthreefilm)

 

It’s this very self-delusional mindset, which leads The Mafia Kills Only in Summer‘s delightfully earnest young protagonist Arturo (Alex Bisconti as a child, Pif as an adult), a boy who rather idiosyncratically worships one time Italian premier Guilio Andreotti as the font of all wisdom, romantic and otherwise, to believe that falling in love with a woman could be fatally hazardous to his health.

It’s why he fails to declare his intentions, despite an obvious crush on the cute new girl in school, the delightfully beautiful and charming Flora (Ginevra Antona as a child, Cristiana Capotondi as an adult), the daughter of Arturo’s father’s boss, even as another classmate moves in for the romantic kill.

In love he may be, but is expressing that to Flora and beginning a relationship, only to lose his life down the track, really worth acting on his feelings?

Arturo decides not, although, inspired by Andreotti’s newspaper-borne advice, he secretly buys Flora pastries each morning which he leaves on her school desk, and tries to impress her by telling he lives upstairs from a mob boss (the man, it transpires, is nothing of the kind).

What makes this unrequited pre-pubescent love affair so charming, and often whimsically amusing, is the fact that Arturo, a budding journalist who believes he can spot a mafioso simply by looking at them, and who harbours a desire to be a journalist when he grows up to expose them, pours his very heart and soul into figuring out what to do.

He compiles a scrapbook of Andreotti’s sage pieces of advice, which he updates and consults religiously, even dressing up as him for a fancy dress party as the man, much to the amusement of his classmates, takes his role as a “journalist for a month” for the local paper deadly seriously, while he finds new and innovative ways to try and impress Flora without impressing her too much and, well, dying.

 

Arturo finds friendship and some sage life advice, not least about his passion for telling exploring and writing about the truth, with a journalist who lives downstairs (image via CosfordCinema)
Arturo finds friendship and some sage life advice, not least about his passion for telling exploring and writing about the truth, with a journalist who lives downstairs (image via CosfordCinema)

 

What sets this rom-com apart from just about every other one in existence is the way Pif manages to balance Keystone Cops-silliness with grave observations on the political and social malaise affecting Palermo (the murders eventually reach a point in the 1990s and 2000s where the people demand the government do something to actually fix the problem), real emotion with the goofy, tentative qualities of puppy dog love, and the manner in which the fight against the mafia and their retaliation acts as a backdrop for not just Arturo’s romantic pursuits but his life as a whole.

It’s that rare film that manages to be gleefully funny while still managing to make a point, it’s sharply-edged observations borne out in the film’s slightly slower final third when a far less captivating adult Arturo takes his son around to point various monuments to men who fell fighting the mafia, pointing out to him that justice, ethics and purity of intent count for far more than lining your pockets at others’ expense.

But for all the serious messaging, and there is a considerable amount of it deftly woven into the script, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer – the title comes from an assurance by Arturo’s father (Rosario Lisma) to his fearful son that he can’t possibly die at the mafia’s hands as its winter and everyone knows they never kill anyone then – is primarily a delightfully charming, funny film about growing up, falling in love, and figuring out who you are when you’re not yet fully armed with the tools to make a full prognosis.

Granted life in Palermo complicates matters considerably, but then the passage to adulthood is difficult no matter where you are, with every step seeming to take on a significance often far beyond their actual importance, something Arturo lives and breathes with every gently amusing overly-earnest thought and deed.

The ending is reasonably conventional but the film is not, quite possibly the one and only time love true childlike love and the mafia have ever found themselves narratively in bed together.

It’s a tribute to Pif’s sure hand as a writer and director that such an unlikely premise, and the even more comical articulation of its wider, often quite serious ideas, manages to give rise to not just a very funny film but a moving and thoughtful one too.

 

First impressions: Dark Matter

(image via Top TV Shows (c) syfy)
(image via Top TV Shows (c) syfy)

 

 

If you were to pick one place, and one place only, to wake up, devoid of all your memories and sense of self, there’s a high likelihood it wouldn’t be aboard a largely powered-down, dead-among-the-stars spaceship whose only sign of life, and the term should be used loosely, is a blaring klaxon, flashing red lights and emotionless computer voice counting down to the cessation of all life support.

Am I right? Can I get a show of hands from would-be spacefarers out there? No? No one? Moving on …

Leaving aside the whole amnesiac thing, which frankly isn’t appealing on a whole number of different levels, the idea that you would be shaken awake from what could have been months, nay years, of hibernation sleep standing up in a translucent glass tubes (yep, not even a pillow, people, not one) only to find yourself in imminent danger of death would have to have the least wonderful way to commence a career in space.

Or to meet five other strangers, all of whom are similarly clueless about who they are, where they come from, and presumably their favourite brand of toothpaste.

And yet this is exactly where six strangers – or are they? Cue portentous music and sudden life-threatening sense of mystery – find themselves, suddenly dependent on other people for survival, people whose skills aren’t consciously known to them, emerging only as necessary, such as when, say, the spaceship you’re on is threatening to literally suck the air out from every compartment and crevice.

These six people – all of whom adopt numbers from one through six in lieu of the actual names they can’t remember – run the gamut from take-charge spaceship wrangler (Melissa O’Neil as Two / Portia Lin) to gung-ho weapons dude (Anthony Lemke as Three / Marcus Boone), eerily-good swordsman (Alex Mallari Jr. as Four / Ryo Tetsuda) to sweet-natured boy next door/defender of the innocent (Marc Bendavid as One / Jace Corso) and whippet-smart, tender-hearted muscleman (Roger Cross as Six / Griffin Jones).

Throw in an enigmatic possible deposed teenage princess who knows her way around a circuit board or three hundred (Jodelle Ferland as Five / Das), and a killer onboard android with a handy neural link to the ship (Zoie Palmer), whose security routines are disabled in the nick of time before she lays waste to everyone, and you have the strangest crew ever set forth upon a cruise since Gilligan and the ill-fated passengers aboard the SS Minnow set out for their ill-fated three hour cruise.

Oh, and give them a destination that none of them recognise, an independent mining world with links to a freedom fighter of sorts called Rothgar, threatened by the autocratic, militaristic Multi Corps, and you have the mother of all Sherlock-ian mysteries tied up with a glowing nebula bow.

 

You have to hand it to syfy.
When they announced a couple of years that they were going back into space form when their programming once came, and forsaking most, if not all (Sharknado, ahem, cough) of the B-grade shlocky crap they called content, there was some scepticism whether they really meant it.
But here we are with a real honest-to-goodness TV show set in space, from the people who helped to give us the wonders, dangers, and wisecracks of the Stargate universe, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, based on a series of bestselling graphic novels, which were originally intended to be the TV series they have indeed now spawned.
And it is quite remarkably good.
Not sensationally, what-an-original-jawdropping premise good but still very, very good, a been-there-done-that kind of idea that is very well executed with well-differentiated characters, a palpable sense of mystery, and in the dying moments of the pilot episode, when the sarcasm-inclined The Android recovered a slew of recovered data files including some identity files (for everyone but person #5), some very necessary answers.
And I say necessary, not simply because we can’t call these people one through six for the rest of the show, but because while a dazzling mystery is a great way to begin things, you can’t keep it wholly intact for too long or viewers might go looking for a show where they do actually answer the occasional persistent, bugging question.
It’s the eternal dilemma of the modern, cryptic TV show of which there are many – do you give few if any answers until very late in the piece at which point loyal viewers go “What the f**k?! in agonised unison (Lost), reveal lots of stuff along the way until you suck all the life out of your story (Revolution), or do you apportion the hopefully non-red herrings out just so every episode so a delightful balance remains between What-the-f**kery and a satisfying sense that something’s been revealed (Wayward Pines, Grimm).
It appears, and granted this is based on one lone episode, that Dark Matter, possessed of a strong sense of what it is and where it is heading pretty much out of the gate, a testament one assumes of its long graphic novel-detoured TV gestation, is plumping for door #3 (as opposed to person #3), keeping us both satisfied and intrigued all at once.
If they have begun as they mean to go on then Mallozzi and Mullie look like they have a very fine show indeed on their hands, one with shades of Firefly (the eclectic crew, wild west galaxy, dictatorial bad guys), and Stargate (worlds upon worlds, full of baddies, goodies,and those who occupy the grey zone betwixt and between), and a real sense of storytelling purpose.
Again, it’s not the most original premise on the block but then most shows are in some way copies of those that have come before them; what matters is what they do with their inspirations.
On that basis, Mallozzi and Mullie are making most excellent use of that which has fired their imaginations, give us a crew of characters full of light and shade and the unraveling of true, possibly lethal identities, a conspiracy bigger than any of them, a sense of gee-whiz let’s zip around in space fun, and good, solid, engaging storytelling that should ensure the show is flying around syfy’s newly-re-star studded programming for a good while yet.

Movie review: People, Places, Things #sff2015

(image via Visit Films)
(image via Visit Films)

 

We all know life can be a messy, complicated business.

But knowing that about life, and actually having having it get all messy and complicated, with no real warning, are two completely differently things as graphic novelist and would-be published author Will Henry (Germaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) discovers in writer/director James C. Strouse’s People Places Things when, in the middle of his twin daughters’ fifth birthday party, he walks in on his girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) in far too cosy an embrace with her friend Gary (Michael Chernus).

In one, very rationally-talked through second – rather than the emotional reaction you might expect from three people caught in an unexpectedly awkward and life-changing situation, the conversation, quite hilariously, sounds like something out of a group therapy session – Will’s life becomes exceedingly messy and overly complicated in ways he never saw coming.

Though armed with a ready wit and a self-deprecatory view of the world, Will nevertheless finds it hard to accept that the life he knew has ended, that his home is no longer his own, his daughters are shared with another man, and his girlfriend, though adamant she still loves him, no longer feels happy with him.

Making the best of things in his cramped studio apartment in Astoria – in reality just across the East River from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, it is treated throughout the film as if it is a lunar outpost far from human civilisation – and the limited time he has to spend with the daughters he adores, he does his best to busy himself teaching writing and art at the School of Visual Arts.

 

Life doesn't always feel the way we'd like it to feel and that can lead to things getting very messy, very quickly (image via IMDb)
Life doesn’t always feel the way we’d like it to feel and that can lead to things getting very messy, very quickly (image via IMDb)

 

It’s clear to everyone though, including his students, chief among them Kat (Jessica Williams) that he isn’t happy or coping well with all the dislocation in his life, and so she makes it her mission to set Will up on a date with her mother Diane (Regina Hall); that is after clearing up some initial confusion that she was asking Will out on a date, something she rejects as “gross” in an exchange that humourously almost undercuts the good deed she was ostensibly trying to execute.

Armed with grave misgivings, Will consents to have dinner with Diane at her apartment that evening with Kat sitting just a few eavesdropping-facilitating metres away, and as you might expect, things don’t go all that well at first with Diane secretly seeing someone else and Will wondering the hell he is doing there at all.

It’s hardly an auspicious start to any kind of new life or romance, and Will heads home afterwards to pour his often one-liner expressed feelings – for all his hesitantly-delivered quips, he’s about the only person in the movie, apart from Kat, who actually says what’s on his mind without sounding like they’re entirely self-interested  – into his comic book art which is used effectively by Crouse to separate scenes and get us inside Will’s head without the need for intrusive narration.

But as is the way with messy periods in anyone’s life, things eventually take on a life of their own and begin to sort themselves out in ways that delight, surprise and make your skin crawl in equal measure.

Sporting a title that seems to speak to Crouse’s supposed desire to address the universality of life experiences, People Places Things is a charming film whose appeal rests largely on Clement’s gift for investing Will with an inherent, hangdog likeability and an endless assortment of disarming, smile-inducing lines.

 

New love is supposed to be exciting right? And it usually is, unless there's a whole lot of mess, complicated life things going on that might derail it before it even leaves the station (image via IMDb)
New love is supposed to be exciting right? And it usually is, unless there’s a whole lot of mess, complicated life things going on that might derail it before it even leaves the station (image via IMDb)

 

And it’s a good thing Will is so damn likeable, because many of the other characters aren’t anywhere near as appealing, such as ex-girlfriend Charlie who is so gratingly self-obsessed, a living, breathing fingernails on chalkboard sprung to life, that you wonder why Will got together with her in the first place.

A swear word-sprouting harpie with very few redeeming qualities (save for being a great, if pushy, mother) and an infinitesimally short temper, she deals with her frustrations with Will and his parenting choices – to be fair on one occasion she dumps the girls on  him with no notice whatsoever – by yelling, rating, cold-shouldering and otherwise belittling him.

And yet, somehow, he still spends much of this compact drama pining for her and the autopilot life they had together, a life he readily admits later on he should have been far more engaged with.

Their relationship, then friendship of a kind, is supposed to be funny but unless you’re a fan of people being punished for sins not their own, as Will so often is by Charlie, it’s not a lot of fun to sit through.

Similarly Diane doesn’t come off as the sort of person anyone would want to date at first until she and Will, taking a second run at dating, warm up to each other and the snobby ice queen very quickly melts.

For all those character deficits, and some very low key observations about life that are hardly as profound as the title might suggest, People Places Things is a charming indie slice of life drama that neatly addresses what it’s like to have life get way more messier than you bargained for.

Bolstered largely by Clements’ delightfully warm way with a never ending cavalcade of gloriously funny, emotionally vulnerable lines, and Jessica Williams’ sassily up front and out there turn as Kat, the film is on the whole a well-wrought, funny and gently immersive look at the way life can upend things when we least expect it, and the way we often flounder to recover when it does.

 

The world is ending AGAIN in Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid

We all know that helicopter is not long for this world in a world gone to zombies and giant killer plants (image via Vimeo (c) Alf Lovvold)
We all know that helicopter is not long for this world in a world gone to zombies and giant killer plants (image via Vimeo (c) Alf Lovvold)

 

Cancel all your plans people!

The world is ending and this time it’s at the hands of zombies and giant helicopter-felling killer plants who don’t seem inclined to share the planet with those of us still living and non-botanical in nature.

It’s all been brilliantly documented in this hilariously unnerving trailer for a fake movie – which I am must stress should totally become a real happening thing Hollywood! Anyone listening? – for Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid by Norwegian self-described “3D generalist” Alf Lovvold, one of the partners in Gimpville, a visual effects house.

The impressive thing is this gifted 3D artist managed to create this amazing mini-piece of cinema, one which postulates than there may be a lot more to fear from the end of social media than meal status updates, entirely by himself in his own time while balancing a day job and sundry other responsibilities.

It honestly is a brilliant effort, a reminder, if we actually needed one, that true creativity is an organic thing that will not be denied and will find a way to express itself no matter how great the sacrifices needed to make it happen.

You can find out more about how Lovvold, who often shortens the title, rather humourously, and appropriately for a parody film to Dawn of the..Stuff in a podcast he recorded with Allan McKay, and in the video that sits below the actual trailer that documents how this impressive piece of work came into being.

Enjoy but uh, keep an eye on your potted plant will ya? Who knows what it’s plotting behind those disarming, non-Facebook updating fronds …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

 

Zootopia teaser trailer: Like nothing you’ve seen be-fur

(image via Disney wiki (c) Disney)
(image via Disney wiki (c) Disney)

 

SNAPSHOT
The modern mammal metropolis of Zootopia is a city like no other. Comprised of habitat neighborhoods like ritzy Sahara Square and frigid Tundratown, it’s a melting pot where animals from every environment live together—a place where no matter what you are, from the biggest elephant to the smallest shrew, you can be anything. But when optimistic Officer Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) arrives, she discovers that being the first bunny on a police force of big, tough animals isn’t so easy. Determined to prove herself, she jumps at the opportunity to crack a case, even if it means partnering with a fast-talking, scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), to solve the mystery. (official synopsis via Film School Rejects)

Imagine for a moment a world in which Homo Sapiens was a little too slow getting down out of the trees, and as a result, never quite managed to get on his or her own two feet, invent tools, grow crops, and well, you know, subjugate the Earth.

There are probably some conservationists daydreaming such a scenario right now but in Disney’s upcoming 2016 animation flick Zootopia, it’s a reality and without humanity around to foul things up, the rest of class Mammalia is doing very nicely thank you very much.

In fact, everything is pretty much damn near perfect.

Well almost perfect.

As the recently-released teaser trailer for the film makes clear, not every mammal gets along in Zootopian bliss with the other, with natural enemies still prone to some argy bargy and yes, deliberate tripping.

 

Nick Wilde trips up Officer Judy Hopps in the teaser trailer for Zootopia where everything is perfect ... AND not so perfect all at once (image via Disney wiki (c) Disney)
Nick Wilde trips up Officer Judy Hopps in the teaser trailer for Zootopia where everything is perfect … AND not so perfect all at once (image via Disney wiki (c) Disney)

 

In those sorts of situations, it’s probably a good idea to have a tranquilising gun with enough sleep-inducing firepower to take down an elephant at your disposal.

You know, just in case.

Another thing we learn from this short but engagingly witty trailer is that you should let a gnu come near a tranquiliser dart, especially one that has a nicely fluffy green, grass-like ending on it.

Lesson learned there, I guess.

The most important lesson though is that Disney animation is at the top of its game, bringing all the anthropomorphic – we get some lovely, zip-pulling instruction on what actually means – charm, wit and silliness we have come to expect from their always clever, well, wrought, visually-rich films.

Zootopia opens on 4 March 2016, UK on 25 March and Australia on 7 April.

 

You can help but be touched by the story of Ricky & Doris: An Unconventional Friendship in New York City. With Puppets

Ricky and Doris documents the friendship between two quite unlikely people who find in each other an unassuming sense of belonging and purpose (image via YouTube (c) David Friedman)
Ricky and Doris documents the friendship between two quite unlikely people who find in each other an unassuming sense of belonging and purpose (image via YouTube (c) David Friedman)

 

SNAPSHOT
Ricky Syers is an off-beat 50 year old street performer who found his calling as a puppeteer after a lifetime of manual labor. While performing in New York City’s Washington Square Park, he met Doris Diether, an 86 year old community activist. They became friends and he made a marionette that looks just like her. Now she’s joined his act and the two of them can often be seen performing together. (official synopsis via Laughing Squid via YouTube)

One of the most wonderful parts about being alive, apart from the obvious like cheesecake and staying in your pajamas all day, are the friendships you form throughout your life, sometimes with the most unexpected of people.

These friendships enrich and challenge you, delight and frustrate you but mostly they make your world, and hopefully that of your friend, a much better, more rewarding place.

That very much seems to be the case with 85 year old community activist Doris Deither and 50 year old street musician and puppeteer Rick Syers who met when Deither, who often goes to a nearby park to meet and greet anyone she finds interesting, noticed Syers performing.

With a lifelong interest in marionettes, she and Syers quickly bonded with the delightfully offbeat puppeteer, who truly seems to love his life and the freedom he now has to pursue his love of music and puppetry, even making a mini-Doris puppet, all of which was documented in this article on Laughing Squid:

“It was while his marionettes were performing in the park on July 30 that Diether, who temporarily lost her voice a year ago due to an injury, first approached him. ‘One day she comes up to me and whispers, ‘I have something for you,” he recalled. Opening a scrap book she revealed old newspaper clippings and articles she had written on marionettes back in 1974. Articles more recently added to her collection were ones she had seen on Syers’ work, which she cut out and saved for him. The gesture floored him. ‘This marionette thing has bonded us,’ he said of their common interest, which inspired him to create the marionette resembling her ‘in honor of her.’ …The charming little puppet featuring Diether’s short, white hair and rosy cheeks comes complete with a handbag, cane, and floral blouse and skirt.”

 

Rick and Doris enjoying each other's company in the park they both love so much (image via YouTube (c) David Friedman)
Rick and Doris enjoying each other’s company in the park they both love so much (image via YouTube (c) David Friedman)

 

Now this remarkable friendship, one forged in the middle of New York City amidst its potentially isolating hustle and bustle and high rise living, has been documented beautifully by filmmaker David Friedman in a short film that captures the lovely bond between Ricky and Doris.

Each of them is given their chance to talk about their lives, what matters to them, and the way in which they have a sense of belonging and greater self with the other, and it’s impossible not to be moved and grateful by their friendship and the perfectly understated way in which Friedman has chosen to document these two delightfully unassuming people.

Life is an often hard and difficult thing to endure but films like Ricky and Doris remind us that it can also be a thing of transcendent connection and friendships so instant and sustaining that we wonder how we ever got by without them.