Falling Skies: “Stalag 14th Virginia” (S5, E8 review)

Hal and Anne begin to suspect that this isn't the coffee queue after all ... (image via Self Rescuing Princesses (c) AMC)
Hal and Anne begin to suspect that this isn’t the coffee queue after all … (image via Self Rescuing Princesses (c) AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD! AND LOTS OF ALIEN-CHASING CARDIO*

 

Well, catch me a giant cod, slap its head on Rage Tom (Noah Wylie) and call him an Espheni Overlord, Falling Skies finally found its gung-ho storytelling mojo in “Stalag 14th Virginia”!

Granted it was in the third last episode ever when everything is over bar the Espheni shouting, and the Volm being unable to explain why (as always), but at least Something Happened.

And behold everyone rejoiced!

Of course all this highly belated action didn’t come without some ominous signs such as Pope (Colin Cunningham), propped up on a bedraggled couch with beer in hand – where are all these apocalyptic breweries? Clearly the Espheni love a cold one after a long day of exterminating the human race and have left them well alone – watching over his sociopathic brood fighting to the death like unwashed redneck gladiators.

All of which probably means that Pope and Rage Tom will be engaging in one last big last fight to the death instead of taking on, you know, our alien enslavers, or perhaps, rather distractingly, during what you can only hope will be a big enormously huge battle in Washington D.C.

And Hal (Drew Roy), when he wasn’t about to be shot to pieces at dawn – guessing if you’re facing a firing squad the whole “darkest before the dawn” thing is kinda meaningless – was having a heart to heart with Maggie (Sarah Carter) who apparently removed her spikes because of Love True Love and all that.

I know Steven Spielberg loves his heartfelt “family” moments, and yes he’s very good at them but when you don’t have much time left to finish up a storyline, and the clock is very much ticking, then those lovely precious Hallmark moments gobble up a lot of narrative real estate that should be devoted to victory, glorious victory over the aliens.

Assuming, of course, that even happens, and frankly at this point, I am beginning to have my doubts anything dramatic is going to happen; in fact, the odds are pretty good the finale could be a down-and-dirty boxing match between Rage Tom and Pope with the 2nd Mass, the Espheni, the Volm, the Dornia, and hell even the partridge in a pear tree, laying bets on who will win.

 

Rage Tom sits in his call thinking About Things; at this stage in the game when not much is happening of any real import, who knows what really (image via TV.com (c) AMC)
Rage Tom sits in his cell thinking About Things; at this stage in the game when not much is happening of any real import, who knows about what really (image via TV.com (c) AMC)

 

But back to the action at hand, and yes, there was indeed action!

There was mutiny – against Captain Marshall (Melora Hardin) by Lt. Shleton (Bob  Frazer), who got shot and killed for his troubles, and Second Lt. Demarcus Wolf (Daren A. Herbert), who got shot in the arm and then almost shot by the firing squad – betrayal – Anne (Moon Bloodgood) was given up by her supposedly sympathetic patient Sgt. Huston (Lane Edwards) who ended up in the Pope Arena with the Redneck Lord of the Flies for company – and a last minute reprieve as Dingaan (Treva Etienne), Matt and the left behind 2nd Massers arrived just in time to stop the firing squad shooting Hal, Ben (Connor Jessup), Second Lt. Wolf and Anne.

And in the middle of all this intrigue, plotting and counter-plotting – Mike over at MikesFilmTalk alluded to the fact that the episode bore many similarities to the Caine Mutiny – Weaver (Will Patton), finally convinced his old pal Captain Marshall wasn’t quite herself – turns out she was and she wasn’t; the real Katie had died 6 weeks previously, replaced by a bio replica with all her memories – followed her out in the woods at night and found she was keeping company with an Espheni Overlord.

Letting her go back to camp unawares, Weaver killed the Overlord with some rather inventive use of his belt, took the body back to camp and did quite the memorable Show-and-Tell presentation with it, shocking everyone but Katie, and the insanely loyal – literally as it turns out – Private Grey (Harrison MacDonald) who decided to step in and do the firing squad’s dirty work when they hesitated in the most just-in-time Spielbergian of ways.

So yes, much adrenaline-pounding action … at last!

Trouble was you have to wonder what the writers of Falling Skies thought they were accomplishing.

It was a tight episode yes, and gave Rage Tom a chance to deliver a couple of inspirational speeches – apparently that’s how the Espheni will be defeated; by boredom after hearing endless sermonising, and frankly after sitting through it, I think it’s a reasonably sound strategy and might just work – but all a bit too late in the grand scheme of things, with the only two big reveals being that Ben can see into the Shadow Realm in a way no one else can, and that there’s actually a Big Bad Espheni that, once again, Cochise and the Volm, the galaxy’s Most Inept Aliens Ever, forgot to tell anyone on earth about – whoopsies!

We are still left talking about Washington D.C. and what might be there, still no closer to any kind of momentum that might lead to waging a Big Final Battle – although with Marshall and Grey gone, the 14th Virginia are at Rage Tom’s disposal if it happens and surely it will, and still with no real sense that this final season, this critically-important final season is heading anywhere.

Unless the writers pull something out of their giant big fishhead hats fairly quickly, and give us two astoundingly good last episodes in “Reunion” and “Reborn”, Falling Skies, a show I have devotedly watched for 5 seasons through thick and thin because I believed in its oft-squandered potential, could face the ignominy of a non-event finale, consigned to the graveyard of Shows That Could’ve Been Something But Weren’t.

I am praying showrunner David Eick gets his act together and Falling Skies can avoid that fate.

  • Behold the promo for next week’s episode “Reunion” where Things May Happen (don’t hold your breath though; blue doesn’t suit you) and a sneak peek …

 

 

Whoosh! The Flash season 2 teaser trailer is here then it’s gone

(image via Comic Book Movie (c) CW)
(image via Comic Book Movie (c) CW)

 

One of the unexpected delights of the last year TV-wise has been The Flash, one of the ever-expanding list of DC Comics properties on the small screen.

I say “unexpected” because I have never been a great fan of superhero comic books nor their movie or TV adaptations but there was, and is, something about The Flash that drew me in almost immediately.

Much of the appeal stems from Grant Gustin who imbues Barry Allen aka our titular hero with just enough gee-whiz, oh shucks everyday boy next door-ness to lend his unarguably special powers-imbued hero the right amount of down to earth relatability.

Watching him grapple with his newfound powers, the result of an explosion by the reactor at S.T.A.R. Labs, and struggle to work out how they relate to his day-to-day life and how to live any kind of life, normal or otherwise when you no longer even remotely normal (whatever that is anyway) made him the kind of protagonist you wanted to watch.

Sometimes he got it right, many times he got it wrong but he kept getting up and trying again, armed with family and friends, all of whom were uniformly lovely, appealingly flawed people, cheering him on every step of the way, just like in real life.

 

He finished off season 1 – SPOILER ALERT! – seeing off his one time friend/mentor then nemesis Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and basically saving the world, leaving him, you might think at a loose end come the start of season 2.
But fear not, there will a raft of new friends, and one big new baddy, says executive producer Gabrielle Stanton (TV Line):
“We didn’t want Barry to get lonely so we thought we’d bring in some more speedsters. It’s always Barry’s journey. The Flash is always about Barry, but these people who come in will show us different ways that The Flash can be.
“Zoom is just scary as all hell. Zoom is going to be very different in terms of motivation, in terms of what he wants from The Flash, in terms of why he’s doing what he’s doing. I know a lot of people are thinking, ‘[Zoom and Reverse Flash] were so similar in the comics. What’s going to make them different?’ I guarantee no one will confuse him for one second with what we did last year. It’s actually much more different than people would think.”

Thankfully the “speedsters” Stanton refers to sound like a fine old bunch according to Cinema Blend:

“One of the new speedsters being brought aboard in Season 2 is Jay Garrick, played by Teddy Sears. Hailing from Earth 2, Jay is a more experienced Flash that will serve as Barry’s new mentor. Then there’s also Wally West, played by Keiynan Lonsdale. It hasn’t been revealed whether he’ll start out as a speedster (specifically Kid Flash) or just be a civilian when he debuts. All Stanton was willing to reveal is that he will have an “a very interesting and close relationship” with Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team. Executive producer Greg Berlanti also hinted earlier in the year that we may eventually see Bart Allen, though fans may not get to see that in Season 2 given all the speedsters being introduced.”
And yes poor lovelorn Barry will find new love in the form of “kooky cop Patty Spivot (portrayed by Shantel VanSanten)” (Den of Geek) which presumably means that love true love with Iris West (Candice Patton) will have to find till sometime in the future.
Ah well, we all know TV U.R.S.T. cannot be held off forever so their time shall come.
In the meantime, there’s a whole new season of The Flash to look forward kicking off on 6 October on CW.

Movie review: Ricki and the Flash

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

 

Following your dreams is one thing.

Following your dreams, moving to California, abandoning your family in Indiana who grow to resent you (mostly), and finding your dreams aren’t quite what they’re cracked up to be; ah, well, that is quite another.

It’s a lesson Ricki Rendazzo aka one time suburban wife and mother Linda Brummel (Meryl Streep) learnt many years earlier, after her fateful decision to fly the domestic coop in favour of rock ‘n’ roll glory resulted less in partying hard with Rick Springsteen every night than working a minimum wage job during the day in a supermarket and fronting an, admittedly very good, in-bar band at night.

It’s not that her life has fallen in a miserable, leather-clad heap.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) is too good a movie scribe to simply present those sort of well-worn cliches up to us on an all too-scuffed plate; rather she presents us with a woman who is well-loved at the Sand Well, a respectable enough, cosy bar in Tarzana, California, where she is adored by the bartender Daniel (Ben Platt), and loved, though not openly, by lead guitarist in her band Greg Sandoval (Rick Springfield).

She may not be playing to stadium crowds, and her nightly playlist may consist of rock ‘n’ standards by The Rolling Stones and Springsteen (who features prominently in the finale) but she lives her new, reasonably impoverished, life with gusto and all the verve you could ask of a rock chick living the (limited) dream.

That she isn’t quite as happy as she could be is obvious through the cracks, and sometimes uncomfortably out in the open, but admitting that could mean bringing down the whole costly house of cards and Ricki simply isn’t prepared to do that even if means giving up love, true love, with Greg.

 

 

But the luxury of pretending the good but not perfect present is all there is, and was, and the past simply didn’t exist, ends when he gets a call from ex-husband Peter (Kevin Kline), who stayed behind in Indiana, raised the kids with new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) and bought an insanely big house with a kitchen large enough to house every last one of Ricki’s staunchly-loyal bar fans.

Daughter Julie (Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer) has been left by her husband Max (Gabriel Ebert), and with echoes of her mother’s earlier abandonment playing in her mind like a demented old record, has attempted to take her own life, spending her days in the wake of her failed attempt in the same clothes with personal hygiene pretty much a thing of the past.

Maureen is conveniently away in Seattle visiting her ailing father so Peter summons Ricki, who to her credit, well aware of the reception that awaits her from her kids, heads east to face an entirely different kind of music.

In the film’s low key way – director Jonathan Demme offers us up drama that is light on the soap and heavy on the “this is life in all its awkward glory; deal with it best you can” – Ricki and the Flash then serves us up a lesson, albeit one not plated with too much cliche and only a small side order of cliche and manipulative emotion, on the way dreams are only worth something if you don’t trash your life to make them happen.

The message seems to be follow those dreams sure, and give them all the effort in the world since who knows you might even realise in some small form; but don’t sacrifice those you love to get there.

It’s not delivered with anything like the stern school ma’am tut-tutting you might expect, and Ricki and Pete’s lives are presented as both equally valid entities, but it is there nonetheless even if any lingering resentment on behalf of the kids – Pete seems to have dealt with his Ricki demons years ago – who include sons Josh (Sebastian Stan), and Adam (Nick Westrate) is handled with only a few cracklingly good shouting matches and some lingering looks of resentment.

Revolutionary in intent and execution it may not be, but thanks to Cody’s emotionally-honest script which doesn’t sugar coat the realities even if it isn’t as nakedly realistic as it could be, Ricki and the Flash takes a good stab at laying bare the fact that nothing in life isn really free.

 

 

Armed with a killer soundtrack and impressive performances by Streep, Gummer and Springfield – whose chemistry with Streep gives their resultant relationship, a product of Ricki’s first eye-opening trip home – Ricki and the Flash treads the line between gut-wrenchingly real and hallmark happy quite nicely.

It will never be mistaken for one of those grim dark indie dramas where resentment is spelt with a capital “S” and every single word is spat out with the scornful bile of the long abandoned seeking to revengefully wound where they can, but it nevertheless establishes that our actions have consequences, and opportunities for do-overs are rare to non-existent.

That Ricki gets one, and does something with it, is thankfully not presented as some kind of road to Damascus moment; Ricki largely stays Ricki, WASP-alienating rocker and all, but she is a more-rounded person, her new life enriched by making peace with the old.

All this self-revelation is, quite naturally, wrapped up with a feel good finale at Josh’s wedding, but so well has the journey been plotted, and so believable the adroitly-played the relationships between all the main characters that you’re happy to go along with it, partly because Streep is just so damn convincing as a well-meaning, if misguided rock ‘n’ roller (her musical performances are brilliantly done).

Ricki and the Flash may not find itself with a slew of awards come Oscar time but you know that was never the intent; instead, Demme and Cody offer up a low key, drama-lite treatise on the pursuing of dreams and the fact that while life may never quite put all the pieces together quite the way you want, that’s OK and everything will be fine, in one way or another, somewhere down the track.

 

 

 

The Muppets Fun x3: Floyd and Animal, Kermit and Fozzy, Big Bird and Jimmy Fallon

The late much-missed Jim Henson and his Muppet family (image via Muppet Wikia (c) Disney / Sesame Workshop)
The late much-missed Jim Henson and his Muppet family (image via Muppet Wikia (c) Disney / Sesame Workshop)

 

The Muppets are beyond awesome.

We all know that right?

But sometimes clips come along that remind just how brilliantly eternally awesome every last one of the characters are, no matter whether they’re on The Muppets new ABC called, rather prosaically, The Muppets, or on Sesame Street (granted the puppet denizens of the classic kids’ education show, which has recently experienced some changes, are called Muppets but they’re all Henson creations so I’m happy to group them together)

First up, courtesy of Laughing Squid, is Animal (my second favourite Muppet after Fozzie Bear) and Floyd Pepper reciting the lyrics of the Disney song “It’s a Small World”, a video which first appeared on the Oh My Disney blog …

 

 

Next up are Fozzie and Kermit singing along to a most unexpected song as Fast Company reveals:

“Straight outta Sesame, our Muppet friends appear in a new mashup sync video from AnimalRobot, the YouTube crew who previously brought us Cookie Monster performing Busta Rhymes’ ‘Gimme Some More’. Using footage of Fozzie Bear with his ’80s comedy boom backdrop of a microphone and a brick wall, the rapping looks naturalistic. With Kermit serving as hypeman, our occasional sadsack, polka dot cravat-wearing bear-bud looks happy here, singing along to N.W.A.’s most jaunty tune—the one that samples ‘Mr. Big Stuff.'”

 

 

And lastly but never, ever leastly where Big Bird is concerned, the world’s most wonderful 6 year old found himself on the Jimmy Fallon playing a most interesting game indeed, according to Mashable:

“Kevin Spacey didn’t know that humans have 32 teeth and a Manhattan is made with sweet vermouth and Maraschino cherries and for that he paid the price on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Friday night.

“For every wrong answer, another celebrity was stuffed into a phone booth as Spacey played a trivia game. First came Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele, then 6’11” NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns, followed by Parenthood’s Mae Whitman and the jockey who rode American Pharoah to Triple Crown glory, Victor Espinoza.”

 

 

Now this is music #54: Holy Models, sjowgren, CAPPA, Galantis, TACACHO

Now this is music 54 MAIN

 

Get up and dance people!

It’s Friday, your cubicle no longer needs yo,u and your dancefloor most certainly does.

But fear not; should intense full on gyrating prove a tad too taxing, there’s some quieter but no less emotionally-ebullient music to luxuriate in as well.

There’s something for everyone here from five artists who know their way to your heart and their way around a club.

Dance on and have fun!

 

“Lessons” (Mighty Mouse remix)” by Holy Models

 

Holy Models (image via official Holy Models Facebook page)
Holy Models (image via official Holy Models Facebook page)

 

What, you’re still sitting down?! How is that even possible?

From the get go, English DJ/producer Mighty Mouse seeds this great big thumping remix of “Lessons”, the second single by Aussie duo Holy Models, who are most at home spinning some highly-attractive disco funk, with all the energy, verve and dancefloor-filling power you could want.

You can no more sit through this than refuse to put a ring on it when Beyonce tells you to; its that addictively, mesmeringly, lusciously full-on.

“Lessons (Mighty Mouse remix)” soars, pounds, dips and dives, anchored by a brilliantly-repetitive background vocals that will not be denied.

Repeat listens are well nigh mandatory for this track to fully appreciate its kaleidoscope power and melody, as is your very own dancefloor and very understanding neighbours because this must be PLAYED LOUD.

 

 

“Seventeen” by sjowgren

 

sjowgren (image via official sjowgren Facebook page)
sjowgren (image via official sjowgren Facebook page)

 

Hailing from the Bay Area, sjowgren describe themselves on Medium as “Three friends making music for fun”.

And never were truer words committed to social media.

“Seventeen” is all surfy, sunny, harmony-rich guitar-driven indie pop that will have you not just dancing but pogosticking like mad if there’s even a hint of a rhythm-seeking bone in your body.

Throughout the song sjowgren, who premiered their addictively-jaunty track with the promise that it’s “the first of many to come”, assure listeners “Don’t worry, I’m not in hurry / not going nowhere, I’m not going nowhere”.

Here’s hoping – with music this blissfully good in the offing, we can only hope they stick around for a good long time making songs as good as “Seventeen”.

 

 

“This is Love” by CAPPA

 

CAPPA (image via official CAPPA Facebook page)
CAPPA (image via official CAPPA Facebook page)

 

Philadelphia-born, Nashville-resident CAPPA has to have one of the most emotionally-evocative voices out there.

From the first hushed whispers at the start of “This is Love”, redolent with all the rapturous ecstasy of new love and the comfort and exhilaration it provides, through to the atmospherically-rich, intensity-building chorus, and the hushed harmonies of the closer, her voice sweeps in all its ethereal grandeur through every last bar and lyric of the song.

Accented by futuristic synth-drenched bleeps and whistles, and a dreamy melody that captures that sense of awestruck marvelling at finding love at all, let alone as perfect as this, “This is Love” is every perfect sensation of love wrapped up in one gorgeous pop gem.

Anyone who’s ever been in love, who’s experienced the exhilaration, the joy, and the willingness to take whatever leap into the dark is required to live it out to its fullest extent, will glory in the emotions and intent of a song every bit as beautiful as falling in love itself.

 

 

“Peanut Butter Jelly” by Galantis

 

Galantis (image via official Galantis Facebook page)
Galantis (image via official Galantis Facebook page)

 

Now this, THIS IS FUN!

How could you expect a song called “Peanut Butter Jelly” not to be?

The fourth single from the debut album Pharmacy (2015) of Swedish dance duo Galantis (Christian Karlsson and Linus Eklöw), it surges with an intense, irresistible danceability that will have you not just dancing around like an uncaring fool, but jumping up and down when simply moving your feet to the rhythm seems insufficient.

And there’s a lot going on in the track as Rolling Stone sagely notes:

“It’s a retro, funky slice of disco revival, with the kind of unforgettable, sing-along vocal hook destined for clubs, parties and spin classes near you.”

And that’s not a bad thing.

In a world where pop can often feel halfhearted, Galantis put the dance pedal to the metal and scream off into the distance with all speakers blazing; there’s an extremely good chance, nay a guarantee, that you won’t be far behind them.

 

 

“Realise (ft. Cider Sky)” by TACACHO

 

TADACHO (image via official TADACHO Facebook page)
TADACHO (image via official TADACHO Facebook page)

 

Another eminently catchy, finger snapping song about love sweet love.

Soft piano lines, breathlessly happy vocals and an almost meditatively midtempo beat give “Realise” (ft. Cider Sky)” by Sweden’s Tacacho the air of young lovers blissfully happy in each other’s company.

It’s a near perfect marriage of dreamy, heartfelt lyrics and a melody that suggests staring happily into the distance marvelling at romantic good fortune.

It’s bright, breezy, and insanely happy, as wonderful an ode to the grandeur of being safe, loved and a part of something almost too wonderful to contemplate.

For the diehard romantics out there or those who would like to be.

 

 

NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

One of the most chilling pieces of TV music out there is the one composed by Bear McCreary for AMC’s The Walking Dead.

It’s suitably creepy, portentous, and redolent with threat and epic emotion.

And now composer and pianist Sonya Belousova has performed her own thrilling, utterly engrossing version of this iconic piece of music with more than a little help from filmmaker Tom Grey of Player Piano, and with some accompanying zombies including guest undead violinist Eriko Tsuji.

It’s brilliant but probably best not to watch it alone … at night … in a warehouse …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Movie review: Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

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

 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you begin an espionage action movie.

Particularly one as gloriously over the top, in all the best possible ways, as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, the latest instalment in the classic TV show-cum -movie franchise that literally shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Showing a distinct need for speed from the very first scene where the perennial hero of the hour Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is left hanging, with grim determination off the side of a massive Russian transport plane – in defiance of the laws of physics but frankly who cares? – while tech whiz, and quipper extraordinaire Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) is frantically working through some Cyrillic-based software desperately trying to get a critically-important door open, the film puts pedal to the metal, again literally, and guns its way through 130 minutes of exhilarating near-nonstop action.

While this might suggest a film too dumb to remember its next line, and to be fair, it is in some ways the original big, loud, dumb and fun espionage action blockbuster with multiple world locations, turns and counter turns and sneering villains, there’s actually a great deal of cleverness wrapped up in its big, brash epic scenes.

For instance, the screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie has gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the four IMF agents at the core of the story – along with Hunt and Dunn, we see the return of William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) – aren’t simply pawns for the greater action good.

All four men – to be fair the main woman in the piece Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) does tend towards the, though admittedly capable, doe-eyed femme fatale end of things at times – are given plenty of opportunities to strut their character stuff, making it clear in the process why they are such close friends, and super-talented IMF agents.

The teamwork between them thus makes sense and in turn, makes much of the action spinning in ceaseless circles make sense; this isn’t just action for action’s sake – well not all the time anyway – but rather motivated by a need to be there for people you actually care about and want to see around for the next mission.

 

 

It helps, of course, that their backs are collectively up against a great big wall of power plays, political machinations and intrigue.

Not only are they fending off their enduring big bad The Syndicate, headed by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a blond-haired, sneering rogue MI6 agent – everyone is rogue pretty much; it seems to be the spy fashion du jour – but the CIA, in the form of unthinking establishment power player for hire Alec Baldwin who plays CIA Director Alan Hunley, is after them for not playing nice in the espionage sandbox.

(Apparently there are rules and etiquette and Hunley is peeved that Hunt et al have deigned to give the finger to Miss Manner’s Guide to Good Mannered Espionage.)

So there are a lot of reasons to band together and work hard to unmask The Syndicate, which the CIA believes is all in Hunt’s over-actively imaginative mind, and convince the spying powers-that-be in Washington D.C. that the IMF is one of the good guys.

To do this, of course, requires jet setting at breakneck pace across the globe, touching down but only long enough to wreak havoc and mayhem in Havana, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca and Minsk, foiling some plots but not others – apologies to the world leaders who end up as collateral damage – and generally trying to out-think, out-gun and out-exhaust Lane and his assortment of spy agency castoff goons.

Granted the plot isn’t overly convoluted but what is there works and works very well, lending some sense of gravitas and import to the operatically-epic scenes – again literally as gunmen without number it seems scramble around the Vienna Opera House either perpetrating and trying to foil nefarious deeds – which dominate the film with one impossible set piece following hot on the heels of, and almost seeking to trump, that which precedes it.

 

 

If you’re looking for a thinking man’s spy drama then Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is probably not your movie.

But then the Mission Impossible franchise has never sought to stake out that kind of storytelling ground.

In that respect, Christopher McQuarrie plays to the series’ strengths, allowing Hunt to be the fulcrum on which everything else pivots, the centrepiece of sequences so audaciously, almost ridiculously bombastic – underwater diving beneath a power plant in Morocco anyone? Without air tanks or easy escape by the way – that you wonder how anyone gets out alive.

And, of course, in the cartoony world Hunt, and his allies and adversaries inhabit, you only really die, or sustain terrible injuries, if your villain fodder.

Everyone else bounces around planes, drowns in secure underwater cyber vaults, is knocked out by heart paddles, falls into gaping holes, and emerges unscathed, ready to quip and fight another day.

And that’s exactly as it should be in a Mission Impossible film.

Throw in an unexpectedly humourous revelatory finale, one in which the British PM almost steals the show, and you have one of the strongest cinematic entries yet in Hunt’s already endlessly hyperbolic resume of larger than life espionage capers.

 

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Pilot” (S1, E1 review)

"So that's a zombie then? Can't say I much care for them really" thought everyone ... at once ... before they (hopefully) ran (image via All Geek To Me (c) AMC)
“So that’s a zombie then? Can’t say I much care for them really” thought everyone … at once … before they (hopefully) ran (image via All Geek To Me (c) AMC)

 

We are not a patient people any more.

Too many words on the page? Not gonna read that. Song goes over three minutes. Off goes the radio. TV program doesn’t have three deaths, an epidemic, alien and zombies by the gigazillion in the first two minutes … well “Hello!” one of the other 400 and something scripted dramas on TV that do offer that.

And yet in an age where attention spans have shrunk down to near infinitesimal size, one new TV show has dared to go against the tide and take things nice and slowly.

Yep, nice and slowly. Who saw that coming?

Fear the Walking Dead, whose executive producers include Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, and fellow TWD alum Gale Ann Hurd and Greg Nicotero, has always been intended as a show about family first, zombies, oops, I mean “The Infected” second.

And so it was.

Instead of the full-blown, near-ubiqiuitous threat of death by the undead in the show’s parent – Fear the Walking Dead, naturally enough, is on AMC as well, for a first season of 6 episodes and 15 in the second – what we got was the threat of something brewing.

Something ill-defined, out there, and yet to be realised in anything like its final form.

For most of the characters, reports of people rising from the dead and “acting violently” to others was the stuff of urban legend, the ravings of ‘net-obsessed conspiracy theorists; in fact at one point, high school guidance counsellor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens), one half of the couple whose family anchors the show, sagely, and as it later turns out wrongly, tells knife-carrying, highly worried (and we all know he should be) A-grade student Tobias (Lincoln A. Castellanos) that it’s all make-believe and hearsay.

Ah, wouldn’t that be nice if the zombie apocalypse was whole lot of nasty daydreams and nothing more?

 

"None of us zombies, I mean "Infected" lurking here in this peaceful, non-eventful landscape, nosirree Bob, move on, that's it, move ... until we're good and ready to eat you." (image via TWD Enthusiasts (c) AMC)
“None of us zombies, I mean “Infected” lurking here in this peaceful, non-eventful landscape, nosirree Bob, move on, that’s it, move … until we’re good and ready to eat you.” (image via TWD Enthusiasts (c) AMC)

 

Alas for people like Madison, and new live-in boyfriend, fellow teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis), who are doing their best to blend their two mutually antagonistic families together – Madison’s son and daughter, drug addict Nick and golden child with a chip on her shoulder Alicia (Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam-Carey respectively) and Travis’s son, resentful of the divorce Christ (Lorenzo James Henrie) – it’s all too real.

But to the credit of Fear the Walking Dead‘s producers, this great and gathering storm of living death, airily dismissed by the media eager to move onto the next Kardashian clip as “the flu”, is left to slowly burn somewhere out in the ether while the new thrown-together family is left to deal with their newly-complicated ordinary everyday life.

We all know “The Infected” are coming, that the end is night and civilisation is toast, but they don’t, and it’s impressive how Kirkman et al. are happy to let it all slowly unfold, devoting much of the movie-length premiere to getting to know the people with whom we are no doubt going to be spending an inordinate amount of time.

And it’s a smart move.

Not only is a lurking sense of dread established – for Nick it’s rather more than that thanks to a frightening opening scene in an addict flophouse; events he puts down, initially at least, to the aftereffects of a heroin high – but we are given the chance to really get to know Madison and Travis, Chris and Alicia, delve deeply into their world, and understand why losing all this, even the bad stuff like the arguments and sniping, is going to be a Very Big Deal.

No, there aren’t a lot of zombies – there’s that word again! – but when they are used, it’s carefully, and with great impact, especially at the end when Travis, Madison and Nick collectively realise that something utterly, unnervingly catastrophic is in the offing.

While they’re not entirely sure what it is, even after witnessing one of “The Infected” go full flesh crazy, they know it isn’t good, and it’s going to be the ruin of everything.

And that, in a master stroke of “Leave ’em wanting more” storytelling is where Fear the Walking Dead, teetering metaphorically on the edge of the end of the world as they know it, with the audience hanging on their every shocking realisation.

 

Well hello first member of LA's new community of The Infected, let's just leave you to your, um, meal and run like CRAAAZZZY! (image via Comicbook (c) AMC)
Well hello possible inaugural member of LA’s new community of The Infected, let’s just leave you to your, um, meal … yup keep chewing off that dude’s face while we, um, you know, GO (image via Comicbook (c) AMC)

 

The drip feed of unusual out of the ordinary events is what really make this slow burn strategy work.

A news report of a possibly drug-crazed man going all cannibal on paramedics and the police near a major freeway who is killed by a bullet to the brain, which naturally goes viral in no time flat – no pun intended; actually it totally was – is sandwiched inbetween events on an average school day.

Nick’s nightmarish experiences in the drug slum, which he increasingly realise actually happens, particularly after Travis and Madison go there and find everything just as Nick described, and a man dying near him who presumably goes zombie not too long after, fall in the middle of routine hospital rounds and parent visits.

Harbingers of the coming apocalypse are everywhere if you know to look for them but that’s the scary thing – no one but people like Tobias, dismissed as overly paranoid Cassandras, know that’s what they are.

For everyone else, including the blended family at the heart of this undead tale, it’s all very weird and strange and nothing more.

Until it’s too late, and then unless you’re quick on your feet, you’re zombie chow.

Fear the Walking Dead has struck a brilliant balance between what is coming and what is now, drawing us effectively to the edge of the apocalyptic abyss into which everyone is about to tumble whether they know it or not.

  • Behold the promo for the next episode “So Close, and Yet So Far” …

 

 

And a sneak peek …

 

“We are the (flying) Men in Black”: Air New Zealand’s funky new air safety video

Air New Zealand continues its awesome tradition of imaginative safety videos with a Men in Black-themed number (image courtesy Air New Zealand)
Air New Zealand continues its awesome tradition of imaginative safety videos with a Men in Black-themed number (image courtesy Air New Zealand)

 

Let’s be honest.

Not a lot of us pay attention to the necessarily ubiquitous safety videos that every airlines plays before takeoff.

I am one of the very few who actually does it, figuring knowing how survive the “unlikely event of an aircraft crash” – see I have even memorised the lingo that goes with them – might actually come in handy (and to be honest, because the male flight attendants quite often look mighty handsome in their corporate outfits; yep, totally objectifying them, moving on thank you …)

Knowing safety videos don’t usually get much passenger lovin’, Air New Zealand has invested quite a bit of time and creative effort over the years – see here and here – in making their reminders about seat belts, oxygen masks and life rafts something worth watching every time.

This time around, they have called on Sony’s Men in Black franchise, members of Air New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team and a host of international rugby greats to create a safety message you’ll find both entertaining and I daresay, useful, according to Jodi Williams, Air New Zealand’s Head of Global Brand Development:

“We’ve worked with the All Blacks on previous safety videos and thought it would be fun this time around to have them step into the shoes of the other highly trained Men in Black. The result is not only entertaining but makes people sit up and take notice of the key safety messages.”

It’s got music, a cheeky sense of humour, insanely good rhyming and “American actor Rip Torn reprises his role as Chief of the Men in Black” and there’s a very good chance you won’t ever want to look away from an airline safety video, well at least the ones made by Air New Zealand, again.

And you likely won’t forget it in a hurry either … unless you know the Men in Black flash their memory-wiping thingy at you …

Movie review: Holding the Man

(image via IMP Awards)

 

History, it has been often be observed, is written by the victors.

Or at the very least, by those who manage to outlast everyone else around them.

However, in the case of Tim Conigrave (Ryan Corr), the author of posthumously-published iconic memoir Holding the Man, now a deeply-moving film by noted Australian theatre director Neil Armfield from a script by Tommy Murphy, this truism has been profoundly upturned.

Rather than write himself in the best possible light, which could have been a temptation for a man who survived his partner, both of whom died from AIDS-related complications in the early ’90s, by a number of years, Conigrave chooses instead to tell a warts-and-all story of love in all its tender, passionate and fallible glory.

With a title drawn from a prohibitive rule in Aussie football sport AFL, a reference in part possibly to the fierce act of loving someone whom society decrees you should not, Holding the Man is Conigrave’s brave recounting of his enduring though flawed love affair with John Caleo (Craig Stott), whom he met when they were at the same Catholic college together in the mid-1970s.

The striking thing about this profoundly-meaningful memoir is that’s unafraid to admit it’s heartbreakingly possible to hurt someone deeply, almost irreparably, even when you love them with all your heart.

In that respect, and in so many other ways, Conigrave is unflinchingly honest, an honesty which carries through into Murphy’s finely-tuned script which moves back and forth between defining events in the mens’ lives with ease, willingly admitting that love is never as perfectly-realised as you envisage it will be at the outset.

In that respect, it’s a quintessential love story full of desire, adoration, lust, excitement, expectation and disappointment; in other words, the full spectrum of emotions that come into play when anyone falls in love.

 

 

And given the way the love affair meet its untimely end, heartbreak and loss, particularly for Conigrave who must watch on in anguished regret as quiet, devoted John, the love of his life succumbs to AIDS, a victim of his more avuncular, restless partner’s short-lived need to briefly sow his wild oats away for a short, later much-regretted time.

As a film documenting the love story between two men whose relationship came to fruition on the cusp of the AIDS crisis, Holding the Man is also a time capsule of the period, as much as record of social history as it is an intimate portrayal of a romance that survived more than its fair share of adversity.

Armfield and Murphy do a superb job of holding these two aspects in tension, never letting one subsume the other; in fact, while we are left in no doubt how agonisingly destructive the height of the AIDS crisis was for the gay community in general, the focus remains resolutely and rightly on Tim and John’s attempt’s to weather and navigate this most diabolical of storms.

That they don’t, at least physically, is made abundantly clear from the start of the film when a grieving Tim, sequestered in Italy after Bob’s lingering death, where he is writing his memoir, rushes to a pay phone to call high school friend Pepe Trevor (Sarah Snook), desperate to know where John sat in relation to him at the dinner party where they first kissed.

Simply and breathlessly executed, this scene, along with a number of others throughout the film, such as one towards the end where a critically-ill John comes home for and they make love for what turns out to be the last time, illustrates with minimal dialogue but an abundance of emotion, how much love, and sadly, its gnawing absence, can powerfully affect and define a person.

Tim understandably is frantic to remember every single detail of the time he and John spent together, fearing that forgetting anything will diminish it in some way, an eventuality he simply can’t countenance.

 

 

It’s a sensation that anyone who has ever loved, and then had to grieve its loss will be able to identify with, a universality that carries through to the conflicts that emerge with parents initially reluctant to accept their sons are gay – Anthony Lapaglia as John’s father Bob is a standout in this regard – the push-and-pull of monogamy vs openness, the travails of long distance relationships and a host of other relationship issues.

It’s not that Armfield and Murphy downplay the gay angle; that would be well nigh impossible and a disservice to a story that is resolutely and unapologetically about love between two passionately-devoted men; rather they seek, quite adroitly and with great sensitivity, to highlight throughout this most personal and unique of stories, that falling in love is the same for everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality.

That the same high and lows, sweet ecstasies and bitter disappointments are the same for everyone, a particularly important theme given the current debate over same sex marriage in Australia.

Holding the Man benefits from deftly used moments of offbeat Aussie humour, lighter and more flippant towards the start and darker towards the end, near-perfect, utterly believable chemistry between Corr and Scott, and judicious, evocative use of music from the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, which lend added authenticity to the faithfully-recreated scenes.

Its greatest strength though is the unabashedly honest portrayal of Tim and John’s much-cherished love story, and the way in which this is presented in the most heartfelt and sentimental of ways, without once dipping into mawkishness, reminding us, if we needed it, that love really is just love after all, no matter who you are.

 

Risking it all for love: New extended Carol trailer

(image via Filmosphere)
(image via Filmosphere)

 

SNAPSHOT
Adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novella The Price of Salt, which tells the story of a lesbian romance in the ’50s written by Highsmith under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. The rather unprecedented homosexual love story–for the time in which it was written–follows the relationship between two very different women in 1950s New York, a 20-year-old girl working at a department store and a rich wife trapped in a bad marriage trying to break free. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Love makes people do crazy things.

Crazy, life-disrupting, world-ending things.

In the case of rich socialite Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), it propels her to contemplate leaving her failing, dead end marriage in favour of life with a 19 year old department store worker Therese Belivet, convinced true happiness lies in throwing away everything she has ever known.

She could try talking herself out of it, but the heart wants what the hearts wants, and as anyone caught up in the fervour of love true love’s hold knows, mere words are usually insufficient defense against the power of virulent, headstrong emotions.

Directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Mildred Pierce), Carol is, notes Variety in its review of the film’s premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, every bit as intensely emotional as you might expect:

“Still, even high expectations don’t quite prepare you for the startling impact of Carol, an exquisitely drawn, deeply felt love story that teases out every shadow and nuance of its characters’ inner lives with supreme intelligence, breathtaking poise and filmmaking craft of the most sophisticated yet accessible order.”

This is love in its most wild, unconfined form, prowling about the strict conventions of 1950s propriety, seeking a way, any way, out.

Clearly it finds it, and arresting compelling drama of the highest order and most intense passion, results.

Carol opens in USA on 20 November 2015, and UK 27 November.