Book review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

(image courtesy Penguin Australia)
(image courtesy Penguin Australia)


Love, it is generally thought, can pretty much change everything.

Social status, geographical separation, adversarial friends or family, even death cannot compete with love’s ability to sweep all before it in a flood of hope, possibility and rose-petaled wonder.

But in Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, soon to be a major motion picture just in case you’d missed all the hype – the film stars Emilia Clarke aka Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones) and Sam Claflin aka Finnick Odair (Hunger Games) giving it a considerable buzz by dint of star power alone –  love has its work cut out for it, pitting one woman’s newly-recovered zest for life against a quadriplegic man’s desire to end it all.

As allies in the pursuit of causes romantic go, Louisa Clark is a formidable ally to have in your corner, even if she is yet to realise how powerful she can actually be.

Newly redundant after the cafe in the small English town in which she lives closes, mid-twentysomething Louisa, who retreated to the safety of family and small ambitions after a traumatic event some eight years earlier, is inclined to take the path of least resistance in all things.

Not for her the grand plans and ambitions of her sister Katrina with whom she maintains a relationship of frenemy-like proportions; rather Louise is a small “l” kind of life girl, happy to potter along with her barely-in-attendance boyfriend Patrick, who seems more devoted to fitness training than her, and grab any job that doesn’t involve sorting chicken carcasses in a factory.

“I felt myself brightening. If he liked music and films, surely we could find some common ground? I had a sudden picture of myself and this man laughing at some Hollywood comedy, me running the Hoover around the bedroom while he listened to music. Perhaps this was going to be okay. Perhaps we might end up as friends. I had never had a disabled friend before – only Treen’s friend David who was deaf, but would put you in a headlock if you suggested that meant disabled.” (P. 39)

It’s not until she reluctantly accepts at a job as a carer for the wealthy family who owns the Castle, the big tourist attraction in town, that she comes across someone in the form of quadriplegic Will, one-time highflying big “L” life corporate wunderkind who is having trouble adapting to his much diminished physical and aspirational circumstances.

Naturally, as befits a grand romantic saga, they detest each other at first, so much so that Louisa considers giving it all up and taking a job sorting chicken gizzards or pole dancing; anything but dealing with snappish, nasty Will.

But then, that is just the spark that ignites a connection between the two that, refreshingly, and thank you to JoJo Moyes for not taking the literary road most often taken, does not immediately lead to love blooming in all its resplendent wonder.


(image courtesy Penguin)
(image courtesy Penguin)


Instead, we’re given a reasonably nuanced, heartfelt look at what it is like, when two people from different classes, differing worldviews and far different physical abilities come into contact with each other and find out there’s more in common that either might have suspected.

That Will, who is determined to end his life at some point convinced his new life is hardly worthy of the name – it’s this focus on assisted suicide and what a disabled person can or cannot do that has attracted some ire from certain groups who feel it promotes euthanasia at the expense of living life; to be fair, that’s not the agenda I took away from the book which if anything gives both sides of the argument an airing – finds his life renewed will hardly come as much of surprise.

So too Louisa’s new found willingness to carpe diem the hell out of life; both are what you’d expected from a book with this sort of narrative.

What is a real joy to read is the way Moyes doesn’t simply leave it at that; rather she goes to a great deal of trouble to give Louisa and Will fully-formed three-dimensional characters and viewpoints, as well as giving full voice in chapters assigned to them to Will’s nurse Nathan, his barely-together mother and father, Camilla and Steven and Louisa’s sister Katrina.

This attention to ensuring the characters, particularly that of protagonist Louisa who is the heart and the soul of this romantically substantial tale, are giving their full due means that Me Before You bears all the hallmark of a book far richer than the one you’d imagine would embody some of its romantic tropes.

“The difference between growing up like me and growing up like Will was that he wore his sense of entitlement lightly. I think if you grew up as he had done, with wealthy parents, in a nice house, if you go to good schools and nice restaurants as a matter of course, you probably just have this sense that good things will fall into place, that your position in the world is naturally an elevated one.” (P. 316)

This is a romantic comedy of sorts full of wit and humour and an antagonistic meet-cute to be sure, but it’s also intelligent and thoughtful, presenting the outcome of Louisa and Will’s expected reunion as anything but assured or conventional.

In fact, the ending may leave you wondering whether Moyes has spent a great deal of time immersing herself in a European sensibility where a sentimentality for easy love and Hallmark-style answers is rarely entertained in favour of telling life like it is.

Granted, it’s not a literary classic that brazenly explores grand themes in difficult and obtuse ways but nor is it a brainless romantic tale, bereft of real characters and issues that matter.

It is, at the end, a wholly accessible but complex in its own way story of what happens when two people come together with big issues are at stake, love blossoms, possibilities abound but life doesn’t exactly follow the script.


Sing! New trailer shows animals living their musical dreams

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


Set in a world like ours but entirely inhabited by animals, Sing stars Buster Moon (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), a dapper Koala who presides over a once-grand theater that has fallen on hard times. Buster is an eternal optimist—okay, maybe a bit of a scoundrel—who loves his theater above all and will do anything to preserve it. Now facing the crumbling of his life’s ambition, he has one final chance to restore his fading jewel to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

Five lead contestants emerge: A mouse (Seth MacFarlane) who croons as smoothly as he cons, a timid teenage elephant (Tori Kelly) with an enormous case of stage fright, an overtaxed mother (Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon) run ragged tending a litter of 25 piglets, a young gangster gorilla (Taron Egerton) looking to break free of his family’s felonies, and a punk-rock porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) struggling to shed her arrogant boyfriend and go solo. Each animal arrives under Buster’s marquee believing that this is their shot to change the course of their life. (synopsis (c) Coming Soon)

If there’s one thing, among many, that animation has going for it, it’s the fact that it offers the possibility of such a broad range of narrative possibilities.

Thus it is that in the same year that we get animated films about prehistoric animals out for their umpteenth outing (Ice Age: Collision Course), a fish looking for its parents (Finding Dory) and the untold stories of domesticated animals (The Secret Life of Pets), we get Fame with animals.

And like all good animated films, this one comes with some emotional heft too; in this case, about a disparate group of animals all of whom have one very important things in common – they want to make something of their lives.

Specifically they want to realise their creative ambition to be a singer, to loose the bonds of turgid everyday life and make something of their hopes and dreams.

It’s a compelling idea and one that seems to give Sing some real substance; sure there are jokes aplenty but there’s also a lot of longing, need and hope on display and that’s ultimately what could make this such an intriguing movie to watch.

As films like Inside Out and Zootopia showed, if you put a meaningful, beating emotional heart at the centre of your story, the sky’s the limit in the impact your animated film can have, not just on children but on moviegoers across the demographic board.

Sing looks like it has the makings of a story that matters and that will make it worth watching and listening to when it debuts in USA on 21 December and in Australia on 26 December.


Movie review: I Smile Back

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


Try as we might to close the gap, the chasm between what we want from our life and what we actually get can be intimidatingly, and sometimes, distressingly, broad.

For Laney Brooks (Sarah Silverman in a nuanced, wholly effecting performance) this gap is now so large that the only way erase the pain, or at least disguise it somewhat, is to soak herself in a disappointment-obliterating cocktail of drugs, prescription and otherwise, alcohol and sexual promiscuity.

Struggling also with mental depression and childhood abandonment issues, Laney is on the surface at least the perfect distillation of The American Dream.

Married to her childhood sweetheart, über-successful insurance salesman Bruce (Josh Charles) who loves her passionately but is reaching breaking point coping with her narcissistically self-destructive behaviour, and mother to two children – sensitive, socially-awkward Eli (Skylar Gaertner) and adorably precocious Janey (Shayne Coleman), Laney looks to all intents and purposes to have it all.

But everything she holds in her grip is tenuously there, her fragile hold on life one less-than-successful moment away from falling apart in her hands.

And she knows it, aware that every time she does a line of cocaine in her bathroom or has sex with her best friend’s husband Donny (Thomas Sadoski) that she is risking everything.

The tragedy is she is unable to stop what she’s doing; try as she might to be the perfect mum or the perfect citizen, she eventually crumbles in some way, losing her temper, her ability to cope or both.

She wants to be happy, as she tells her therapist Dr Page (Terry Kinney) in the month-long rehab session she books herself into after she goes on a bender in her own home one night, going so far as to masturbate with her own daughter’s teddy bear (a low point if ever there was one), but it all seems too far away, too out of reach.

She has all the building blocks for the life she desires but the spirit, the substance to actually make it real, to feel like an authentic part of her and not an aspirational extension, seems so far away that every step forward to becoming the person she wants to be, is countered by four to five alcohol, sex and drug-soaked steps backward.



If that all sounds like it would make I Smile Back, written by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman on the latter’s 2008 book of the same name, a little too bleak to be relatable, it’s not.

Silverman imbues Laney with the sort of everyperson relatability that you might not initially suspect her of having; central to the portrayal is an understanding that once you strip away the drugs, alcohol, sex and destructively belligerent attitude, Laney is just like everyone else.

Certainly her problems are more trenchant and outsized that many people may have to deal with but in essence she is simply a woman trying to make the life she covets, the one she never had growing up after her father (played with regretful awkwardness by Chris Sarandon) abandoned her family when she was 9, as real as her self-imperiling tendencies.

And that to some extent is any of us, caught somewhere between hope for what could be and a nagging sense that we’re stuck somewhere we don’t really want to be.

In Laney’s case those nagging doubts are simply far more obvious, darker and damn near inescapable.

Director Adam Salky does an impressive of not only rooting Laney’s life in this all-of-us-are-in-the-same-boat understanding but taking a person who could be a wholly unlikeable character and giving her vulnerability and charm, particularly when she is at her best.

Laney is, it is stressed, over and over, not a bad person per se, nor is she a victim – it’s made clear too that, sympathetic though she is, that Laney is the architect of both her own salvation and demise, as are we all – but a fallible person burdened with the tragic knowledge that she is failing, and failing repeatedly to fix those things that ail her.



It’s this inherent everyperson quality that gives I Smile Back such an engrossing edge.

It’s impossible to dismiss Laney, even at her wildest moments, and those moments are plenty much to her eventual chagrin and Bruce’s failing patience, as some sort of nasty aberration.

Particularly during her conversations with Dr Page, when she drops the defensive swagger that is her go-to schtick in life and admits she can see but can’t touch or keep happiness, she is raw, vulnerable and real, still hurting from emotional wounds inflicted early in her life that simply can’t or won’t be healed.

At least not quickly or wholly enough to stop her losing everything she wants, everything she tenuously holds by the frailest of margins, before it is too late.

There is a metronomic sense of gains and losses throughout I Smile Back, every moment of optimism, contentment and happiness matched almost moment-by-moment by loss of control, sadness and the despair of watching life slip through uncertain fingers.

Bravely for a film that could have easily resorted to pat answers, I Smile Back never offers them up, offering possibilities but not cast-iron solutions, much as life often does.

What we want is not always what we get and Laney Brooks is proof positive that the gap between them can be so achingly large that bridging them becomes all but impossible, leaving us standing longing a million miles from where we’d like to be and may never have the wherewithal to reach.



The Simpsons build a couch IKEA-style courtesy of Michal Socha’s couch gag

(image via Laughing squid (c) Michal Socha/ FOX)
(image via Laughing squid (c) Michal Socha/ FOX)


Ah, IKEA furniture.

Looks funky and modern and lots of people own at least one of its pieces (including me) but my lord its a thousand kinds of evil clowns in a car to put together.

The devilry of putting together your latest IKEA bookcase or cupboard is something almost everyone can relate to which is why Michal Socha’s The Simpsons couch gag, which featured in the current season finale “Orange is the New Yellow” that just aired, is such a clever piece of animation.

Not only does it touch on a wholly relatable topic but it gives Homer particularly the chance to be well Homer, and The Simpsons a chance to tell almost an entire episode’s worth of its characteristic humour in one short, brilliantly-realised burst.

In a long list of The Simpson‘s couch gags, including a very Disney-esque one that aired in the same season, Socha’s one is nearly perfect.

Enjoy it with your favourite allen key!

(source: Laughing Squid)


Fear the Walking Dead: “Shiva” (S2, E7 review)

"Hey mom, I just like walking around covered in zombie guts OK? Just leave me alone will ya?" One of the weirder conversations of the apocalypse was possibly had by Nick and Madison (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC)
“Hey mom, I just like walking around covered in zombie guts OK? Just leave me alone will ya?” One of the weirder conversations of the apocalypse was possibly had by Nick and Madison (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC)



It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that zombie apocalypses – or as Celia (Marlene Forte) rather delusionally calls them “new beginnings”; yep thanks, you can keep your reinterpretations of death and life, I’ll stick with the old ways – aren’t that good for your mental health.

It stands to reason really.

With all of civilisation’s bells and whistles, its baubles and trinkets ripped away, and only the cold, unsparing hand of unfettered human nature left at your disposal, there’s really nothing left to buttress yourself against the dark winds of misfortune that seem to be blowing every which way.

Even when you think, erroneously – since being safe and happy is never an option in an apocalyptic drama – that you have found sanctuary, you find very quickly that someone or something will come along and ruin it all.

That someone, in this instance, was a whole lot of people, all of them from Madison and Victor’s party of death and chaos – again they’re like an end-of-times Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote); wherever they go, death follows – who managed to turn a perfectly good sanctuary on the Baja Peninsula into hell on earth in a matter of days.

Nick (Frank Dillane), who finished the episode covered in zombie guts, wandering along a road away from his family, nailed it when he said “We destroy everything.”

And that they did, with the end of Fear the Walking Dead mid-season 2 finale finding the hacienda in flames courtesy of a grief-stricken, mentally-unstable Daniel (Rubén Blades), Celia’s cage of zombies on the loose and the world quickly finding another handbasket in which to go to hell in.

Not the finest hour for any of the gang really and proof that you shouldn’t let Victor (Colman Domingo), Madison (Kim Dickens) or anyone else from their blighted crew anywhere near your safe place or those you want to keep sheltered within it.


The Well-Dressed Angel of Death continues to have "philosophical differences" with Madison and Victor (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC))
The Well-Dressed Angel of Death continues to have “philosophical differences” with Madison and Victor (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC)


Truth be told though they weren’t the only ones losing the plot in a rather fingers-in-ears-can’t-hear-you-lalala kind of way.

Celia, who seemed positively shipper about the way things had gone down of late, welcomed her dead zombiefied son Luis (Arturo del Puerto) back as if he’d slipped down the road for a bottle of milk, and set about haranguing Victor for not sipping the Kool-Aid and welcoming death’s transformation into slobbering eternal life.

Yep whereas most people think staying alive in the zombie apocalypse is a Good Thing, Celia begs to differ, convinced that the world has turned a new page in which zombies are the standard bearers of a new kind of life.

Not the kind of life many other people want however, and Victor buries his partner Thomas (Dougray Scott), Celia becomes ever more adamant that he is making a terrible mistake, entombing his beloved in such a way that he will suffer a great big undead case of FOMO.

What makes celia’s characters so gripping to watch is that she hasn’t been written in some sort of Bond villain-ish half-arsed way; rather her character, who has found a belief system that helps her life with a ghastly new version of life on earth, is nuanced and her arguments, twisted though they are, are given the kind of validity that less assured writing would not have afforded them.

Nick too, who can’t seem to decide if Celia or his actual mother would make a better maternal figure, spends the episode covered in zombie guts, out looking for Luis – he brings him back as a way of convincing Celia, who has wisely given Madison’s group their marching orders, right along with Victor – and then Chris, who has his own issues to deal with (where may or may not include holding kids hostage so they won’t tell his dad where he is; yep marbles all intact there; no, not really).

Always the outlier of the group, and humanity in general, Nick has found a perverse pleasure in marching to the beat of his zombie-accompanying drum, and made the decision final – well until Fear the Walking Dead returns with the rest of season 2 in August – when he leaves the compound for parts unknown, march to Madison’s horror. (All that helicopter mothering isn’t exactly working out for you now is it?.)


It was true ... Chris and his dad had a rather unorthodox way of working things out (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC)
It was true … Chris and his dad had a rather unorthodox way of working things out (photo by Richard Foreman/AMC)


Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie), who was last seen hovering over Alicia Alycia Debnam-Carey and Madison, knife in hand, decides he is too damaged to be among normal society, such as it now is, and hives off across the fields, with dad Travis (Cliff Curtis) in hot pursuit, determined to rescue his son.

After rescuing a dad and son being held hostage by Chris, and undertaking what can only be described as a very physical bout of hands-on psychotherapy, Travis decides he won’t rejoin the Crew of Death and Burning Chaos either, choosing instead to embark on some sort of Outward Bound in the apocalypse treatment plan for his son.

Which leaves us with Daniel, who ends chained in the basement after he slashes one of Celia’s workers with a knife, talking his dead wife Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola) who oddly enough helps him work through some of his issues, helping him see that he was the first victim of a life marked by death and violence.

Alas, all this talking to the dead doesn’t help Daniel much who grabs some petrol, heads to Celia’s cage of death and zombies and torches the place, with his beloved wife murmuring words of encouragement to him all the way.

And thus is sanctuary lost, along with the mental health and well being of three members of the boat gang, all of whom either scatter off in a number of different directions or possibly die in the fire they start (I wouldn’t count Daniel out just yet; there’s every chance he may pull a Glenn although frankly for the sake of the integrity of the narrative, I hope he doesn’t live).

Relying less on big action sequences, although they were there, and more on the slow build fleshing out characters, “Shiva” beautifully and fearfully paints a picture of a world in which the living lose out far more than the dead when it comes to the darker side of the apocalypse.

It is masterful, if occasionally uneven storytelling that doesn’t depict anyone as bad or good; simply as fallibly human and without any kind of compass to navigate their way out of this mess.

In fact, it looks like no one is getting out in anything approaching a sane and safe way, with even Madison, Alicia, Victor and Ofelia (Mercedes Mason), who manage to get into a truck before hell completely breaks loose, heading off to find the Abigail if she still remains at anchor, losing a great deal as they race away from many of the people they thought they could keep safe in a world that is edging ever closer to Celia’s dementedly accurate vision of the future.

  • So what lies ahead? Probably not good things if the promo below is any guide with the slide into chaos and despair accelerating despite everyone’s best efforts.


Forever Calvin and Hobbes: Kristian Williams examines the beloved comic strip’s timeless appeal

Calvin and Hobbes off on another adventure (image (c) Bill Watterson via Kristian Williams)
Calvin and Hobbes off on another adventure (image (c) Bill Watterson via Kristian Williams)


there’s no such thing as too low and high art. There are creations that either speak to people or don’t. Part of what makes the strips so timeless was that you don’t need to understand the pop culture or political context of the late eighties and early nineties in order to enjoy it. There was a focus on asking questions and exploring ideas rather than commenting on current topics as comic strips often did. Waterson challenged readers on issues of gender inequality, religious identity, education, environmentalism, philosophy and so much more. He didn’t let those 2-inch panels restrict him to cheap gags or sloppy artwork. He used it as an opportunity to get people think outside the box or at the very least rethink how they thought inside it. Reading Calvin and Hobbes makes you want to be an artist, an explorer, a philosopher. A simple four panel strip can occupy your mind for entire day. It perfectly captures the complexities of a six year old’s imagination from the infinite possibilities of cardboard box to the heroic aspirations we all had as children. (excerpt via Laughing Squid (c) Kristian Williams)

There is something indescribably wonderful about Calvin and Hobbes.

Actually there are man, many things – the fully-fleshed out characterisations, the intricately-detailed, imaginative, beautiful artwork, the commentary on important social, moral and philosophical issues, the wry humour, the laugh-out loud funniness, the sheer joie de vivre, the accurately-portrayed vexing nature of growing up … the list goes and on …

And now Kristian Williams aka KaptainKristian has distilled many of them in his usual insightful, thoughtful fashion, discussing how Calvin and Hobbes has kept its inherent appeal and purity by finishing when its creator, Bill Watterson, wanted – it published its last strip in 1995 much to everyone’s dismay; in retrospect it was absolutely the right idea – and by not giving into the merchandising that has sullied some other strips.

He also looks at the mastery Watterson had over the small spaces allocated to his art, and how he often went so far as to ignore those constraints completely to everyone’s  benefit.

It’s a wonderfully articulate video essay that celebrates the iconic comic strip and many of the things that made it so special and it’s well worth watching a few times to make sure you have everything.

And you should most definitely sponsor Kristian via Patreon so he can continue to keep providing us with the sort of videos that make you think all over again why it is you love some facet of pop culture such as Pixar … or yes, Calvin and Hobbes.


Grab some string and gum and make a nuclear reactor! MacGyver is back

Mac is back! (image via YouTube (c) CBS)
Mac is back! (image via YouTube (c) CBS)


In MacGyver, the twentysomething Mac is behind the formation of a new (but not necessarily publicized) government organization where he can showcase his amazing knack for using science and critical thinking to solve any problem that comes his way. And as you might imagine, some of those problems are extremely dangerous as he makes his way around the globe with the former CIA agent and high five-bypasser Lincoln, as played by former CSI star George Eads. (synopsis (c) Cinemablend)

One of the earliest posts I ever featured on this blog was about MacGyver, entitled “Making a nuclear plant from string and a tin can”.

It was back in January 2011, long after the final episode of the series had ended in 1992, and back when I was still trying to figure out what kind of blog this would be and what it would look like (as you can see, for reasons unknown, I favoured brightly-coloured lettering).

The fact that I featured it on the blog that long after the series, which featured Richard Dean Anderson as the eponymous, endlessly-inventive hero, had ended says a great deal not only about how often it appeared in reruns but also its enduring watchability and fun.

Clearly CBS, which is reviving the show with a whole new cast and a not surprisingly modern look, thinks the premise for the show still makes for eminently watchable viewing.



But can a show so of its time and so attached to one actor work with a revived entity? Can TV’s mania for everything-old-being-new-again grant MacGyver a charmed existence, rubber bands and chewing gums included, all over again?

Cinemablend thinks it might be in with a chance:

“I know, I know. It takes a sec to get used to seeing X-Men franchise star Lucas Till as the titular brainiac Mac, after so many years of only picturing Richard Dean Anderson in that role. And yes, there’s something about Till’s smarm and borderless self-confidence that makes one want to reach into the screen and slap something. And that last winky-winky bit in the airplane is insufferable. But this is still MacGyver, and it’s more about seeing seemingly inescapable situations getting bamboozled by whatever objects just happened to be in the vicinity.”

All of which is true and all of which could augur well for the show jumping right back into the zeitgeist which, to be honest, it never really left.

And if any show can rig up another audience out of nostalgia, fan wishes and a brave new approach it’s gotta be MacGyver right?

We will see if the show can live again when MacGyver premieres on Friday nights on CBS later in the year.

Movie review: Alice Through the Looking Glass

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


As reputations go, the one possessed by Time, who in director James Bobin’s Alice Through the Looking Glass is a piercingly-blue-eyed clock man played by Sacha Baron Cohen, is certainly one of the less enviable.

He is variously cast as a villain and a thief, a purloiner of life and memories, a taker not a giver, whose only concern is keeping the seconds and minutes ticking by with military precision.

But as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) discovers on her return trip down the rabbit hole, or in this case a permeably translucent, event horizon mirror in a cluttered room in the mansion of her spurned fiance Hamish Ascott (Leo Bill), this picture may not be an entirely fair or accurate one.

Initially at least she sees Time as an enemy, a force to be overcome and used in her ceaseless quest to resurrect the spirit of her good friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who is beset by deepening sadness and regret over the long ago loss of his family to the Jabberwocky at the unhinged behest of a revengeful Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter).

Or rather by the fact that no one, including his beloved Alice, will believe him when he says that he now believes his family are alive, the idea given a sizable boost, in his mind at least, by the discovery of the first hat he ever made in muddy ground when it couldn’t possibly be if his family has been devoured by monstrous fire as he believed.

Affected more by the fact that none of his friends – Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Bayard the Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Mallymkun the Doormouse (Barabara Windsor), and most painfully Alice herself – think he is even more mad than usual, the Mad Hatter wastes away, the colour literally draining away from his face and hair.

Spurred into action, Alice, who has her own real world problems back in London fighting to retain control of her deceased father’s ship and keeping her mother (Lindsay Duncan) engaged with life, whose entire life philosophy now revolves around doing six impossible things before breakfast, heads off to borrow (read: steal) the Chronosphere off Time in a bad to travel back and stop Hatter’s family dying in the first place.



But as you might, all of this zipping back and forth in time, pursued by Time who is neither villainous nor prone to thievery but simply a lovesick keeper of himself – the puns and jokes about time fly thick and fast – does work out in quite the way Alice initially envisages.

She learns that changing time is neither easy nor un-messy and that there are some things that simply cannot be changed, a realisation that has implications for herself, the Mad Hatter and all the idiosyncratic residents of Wonderland, or Underland as it more correctly known.

It’s these life lessons that form the backbone of the narrative of Alice Through the Looking Glass, a film that manages a far more engaging storyline than that of its live action predecessor, Alice in Wonderland (2010) while delighting with the same inventive visual sumptuous and rich characterisation that made the Tim Burton-helmed first trip to Wonderland such a joy.

At every turn, we are treated to the most imaginative takes on Lewis Carroll’s beloved creations; everything from Time’s towering palace, which sits atop a giant clock face, to the “oceans” of time that Alice sails over in his quest to fix the life of her dear friend Hatter through to the lollipop-coloured richness of hatter’s tea table are suffused with colour, life and vivacity.

And where the story takes a darker turn, such as when Alice finds herself at the mercy of Hamish’s ham-fisted business tactics in a grimy crowded 1875 London or when we relive the fiery destruction of Hatter’s hometown of Wit’s End, the visuals remain breathtakingly expansive and immersive, a sign that the filmmakers understand that every aspect of the film needed to be as boundless, expectation-defying and convention-bucking as Alice herself.

Wonderland, after all, is a deliciously over-the-top land, on which tips everything we know to be true on its head, and to leave the potential untapped, both visually and narratively, would have been a crime on par with Alice’s ill-informed and misguided thievery of the Chronosphere.

Fortunately while Alice is most definitely at fault, something she profusely apologises for later to a forgiving Time who nonetheless asks her to never return (in stark contrast to Hatter who never wants her to leave), the film is not, its every step, bright, colourful, whimsical, meaningful and rich.



With production supplied by Tim Burton, who stepped away from directing for this instalment, a sequel that betters the original, and a screenplay by Linda Woolverton that is dynamic, sweet, funny, just plain silly and emotionally resonant, often simultaneously, Alice Through the Looking Glass is faithful to Carroll’s insightful, clever tale in ways that delight, amuse and affect.

While it may suffer a little from Disney’s propensity for neat happy, emotionally well tied-up endings, this is a minor criticism given how substantial and meaty it is beneath all the pleasing visual confectionery.

It’s whimsical, funny and gorgeously over-the-top yes, which is exactly as it should be, but it is also emotionally astute and affecting, taking time to give each of the main characters at play – Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen – the kind of story arcs that aren’t just entertaining but meaningful too.

It’s no mean feat managing to be both bright and fancifully escapist, and emotionally insightful and authentic but Alice Through the Looking Glass manages it with aplomb, giving us not only another chance to spend time with Carroll’s riotously amusing characters and the wacky land they inhabit, but an emotionally-resonant, heartwarming tale that not only rings true but which will stay with you long after Alice has left the insanely world of Hatter and the others, one which has more lessons for our own than we could possibly imagine.


Don’t Think Twice: You can’t improvise the rest of your life

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


“The film revolves around best friends who are inseparable members of a well-regarded NYC improv troupe. But after two of them audition for a coveted spot on a hit TV show and only one of them lands it, the tight-knit group of friends and collaborators is thrown into disarray as they start to realize that not everyone is going to make it after all.” (official synopsis via Teaser Trailer)

Let’s be honest – even though we all do what we creatively do for the love of it, we all hope, deep down, and often not-so-deep down that someone will notice we’re doing it and love it as much as we do.

But whether we get noticed or not, and getting noticed sits at the heart of Mike Birbiglia’s rapturously-reviewed new film Don’t Think Twice, the key thing is it enough to simply keep the art alive? Is there enough sustenance in that or is something more needed?

It’s that conundrum that lies at the heart of the movie notes Indiewire:

“If comedy is tragedy plus time, improv is the purest expression of its instability, since every moment turns on the desperation of finding the way to a joke. Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia’s sharply directed follow-up to his acclaimed debut Sleepwalk With Me, captures the essence of that communal practice through a tight-nit gang of New York performers struggling together to keep their art alive. A delicately wrought ensemble piece with first-rate turns by Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, and Birbiglia himself, Don’t Think Twice scrutinizes its playful setting and finds an ideal entry point for exploring creative desperation.”

When one member of the improv troupe gets a coveted gig and increased fame on Weekend Live, a thinly-veiled take on Saturday Night Live, everyone in the group begins to wonder if all that effort and creativity is worth the meagre returns:

“Yet even he grows envious when one of his former disciples lands the plumb gig, and joins the chorus of voices hoping to land a favor from the newly minted star. Meanwhile, Miles also copes with the mounting sense that he’s outgrown the profession, and the claustrophobic apartment space that it affords him. ” (Indiewire)

It looks like a penetrating, affecting examination of the lure of creative work and the joy of undertaking that with others, and whether in the end the purity of the art itself is enough or whether we need more.

It will be interesting to where it lands on that issue.

Don’t Think Twice opens 22 July in USA.



Movie review: The Nice Guys

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


The 1970s are a ripe period for comic writers – outlandish clothes, supersized politics, society-shaking trends, the overflow of free love and liberal values from the unconstrained ’60s, and the list goes on.

Which is possibly partly why writer/director Shane Black (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anthony Bagarozzi) decided to base The Nice Guys in 1977 at the tail end of a decade where the certainties of life had been well and truly upended.

But what defines this highly amusing film isn’t so much when it happens, although that is a major part of the proceedings, but who makes it happen – thug for hire with a heart of gold Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and private detective and devoted dad Holland March (Ryan Gosling) who after an initially violent meeting come to form the most unexpected of partnerships.

A partnership that in actuality and spirit mostly closely resembles that of great comedy duos such as Abbott and Costello, and Martin and Lewis, with Healy playing the straight man to Gosling’s March, the actor displaying previously unrealised comic timing that damn near makes the movie.

Thrust into a conspiracy that reaches to the very heart of the Justice Department, and centres on a series of murders that seek to cover up nefarious goings-on in the auto industry – Detroit is rather ironically hailed throughout as the saviour of the United States, now and into the future – Healy and March, who is a devoted single dad to precocious 13 year old Holly (Angourie Rice) find themselves way in over their heads.

They know this, of course, but nevertheless dive into the gathering fray that involves porn stars (Misty Moutains played by Murielle Telio) and hitmen (Matt Bomer as the dapper John Boy) undaunted, convinced that finding the mysterious woman at the centre of it all, activist Amelia (Margaret Qualley) will be relatively straightforward and simply require the use of their existing skill sets.

This isn’t the case at all, and their flailing but miraculously successful attempts to continue their investigation, one which grows ever more perilous and yet somehow more humourous scene-by-scene, form much of the hilarity that marks this films.



And The Nice Guys is riotously, cleverly, scene-stealingly funny with pretty every joke landing perfectly, meaning the laughs come thick and fast.

Black and Bagarozzi move seamlessly between absurdist dream sequences, slapstick craziness – Gosling accidentally tumbling down a hill after trying to impress a woman at a party or swimming through a tank of naked mermaids are sights to behold – and hilarious, pinpoint-accurate witty retorts and asides, enlivening the film with jokes that don’t just land and disappear but which advance the plot and character development to boot.

That’s no mean feat.

Many buddy comedies often fail to move beyond rather basic one-joke premises or land their jokes successfully without really contributing to the advancement of their film in any meaningful way.

But The Nice Guys has you laughing at the same time as it switches on narrative lightbulb after narrative lightbulb, connecting the pieces of the investigative puzzle in ways that amuse, delight and enthrall in equal measure.

Sure it’s a frothy humorurous confection but it’s a very funny confection, one that doesn’t simply seek to come across as a series of forgetful jokes but wants to tell an engaging story at the same time.

The revelation in the midst of all the near-slapstick but still shocking murders and the chase scenes and violence is Gosling who imbues March, a man of dubious moral standards and life pragmatism who loves to drink almost as much as he devotedly loves his daughter, with likeability and the kind of comic chops that Lou Costello would instantly recognise.

There’s an amusing comic physicality to March throughout the film, never on better display that when Healy, who only a scene or so earlier has beaten March under the mistaken belief he is the real threat to Amelia, corners Gosling’s character in the restrooms at a bowling alley, surprising his quarry to the extent that March simultaneously attempts to stand up with his pants around his ankles, keep smoking, preserve his modesty with a news magazine and stop the toilet door from closing.

It’s the funniest scene in a film full of funny scenes and it demonstrates not only that Black and Bagarozzi have struck the right note with the movie but that Gosling was the right man to play the often comically-inept but miraculously successful March and that Crowe ins an inspired straight man to accompany him.



The Nice Guys ends up being a deliciously enticing mix of The Family Guy meets Naked Gun meets Hart to Hart and The Rockford Files, a film that manages to be both laugh-out-loud much of the time, touching – the scenes between March and daughter Holly are sweet if brutally honest – and gripping, constructing one of the funniest thrillers to grace the big screen in some time.

What works most profoundly for the film, which makes ample use of ’70s fashion, music and mores is that it doesn’t ever forget it is first and foremost a funny film, but that being funny doesn’t mean you have to be brain dead.

Much of the humour is character-driven, and clever, and never trivialises the story that its telling even though it would be very easy to do so.

And that is Black’s greatest achievement with The Nice Guys – it’s not some dumb comedy with no heart or substance; granted it will likely never win an Oscar for meaningful, intense drama but then that was never the intent.

Rather, Black has set out to a tell a timeless tales of two buddies who find themselves in way over their heads and yet somehow manage to come out the other side, not so much victorious – the film doesn’t pretend that their successes in the film will be life-changing or long-lasting; the world is a corrupt place after all that no happy ending can possibly erase – as unscathed and together, cautiously optimistic that maybe life doesn’t suck as much as they thought it did.

And while they’re changing things and trying to right wrongs, we’re laughing uproariously with them, thankful that there is at last a film that realises you can be funny and thoughtful into the bargain and even throw a giant smoking bee into proceedings and everything, for the audience and characters alike, will be just fine.

Once our sides stop aching from all the laughter at any rate.