Book review: Love, Lies and Linguine by Hilary Spiers

(cover image courtesy Allen & Unwin)

 

There is something inordinately comforting about rejoining the company of book characters you have grown to know and love.

If an author is doing their job properly, and Hilary Spiers mostly certainly is, it is akin to meeting up again with old friends, people you wish you could have spent more time with as you turn the last page and they disappear from your life as swiftly as they appeared 400 pages earlier.

Love, Lies and Linguine provides readers just such a reunion, a chance to rejoin the widowed sisters from the small fictional UK village of Pellington who in their first literary outing, Hester and Harriet, opened their hitherto sealed-up life at their small cottage, The Laurels, to an eclectic extended family that came to encompass their teenage nephew Ben, a Belarussian refugee brother and sister duo, Artem and Daria, and Daria’s baby son, Milo.

It was an unexpected shaking of the established order, and one neither sister saw coming but which fussy, sometimes cantankerous devoted cook Hester, and freespirited, liberal Harriet, embraced with gusto and enthusiasm since they are, at the end of the day, kindhearted souls who want the best for those around them (and in Hester’s case, compliance with some immutable behavioural expectations).

“Harriet, deep in her Kindle, does not reply. Either she is lost in her thriller or she wants Hester to believe that she is. Hester, who has long and vociferously resisted the lure of an e-reader, now throws covetous glances at the slim device, only too conscious of the weight of the paperbacks clogging her case. Too thrifty (‘mean’, says Harriet) to pay for excess baggage, she had jettisoned fourtops, a spare pair of shows and three pairs of knickers to accommodate the books.” (P. 1)

Their generosity of spirit gives figurative birth to an expansive family, which includes the learned, well-spoken homeless man about town, Finbar, one which expands even further in Love, Lies and Linguine, as love and a whole of secrets come to roost in the lives of this wonderful polyglot family.

This time around though rather than everyone being in the same place, Hester & Harriet are away in Italy for a holiday that ends up becomes a whole more stressful and complicated than either bargained for, while Daria, Ben and Artem are back in Pellington coping with extraordinarily messy private lives.

It may sound a tad soap opera-ish but only in the most benign and sweet of ways, and thanks to Spiers ability to create such vivid, rich characters who inhabit a believable universe, enhanced with rose tinted glasses though it may be, you know that any travails they experience will eventually be sorted out thanks to the strength of the bonds between them.

 

 

 

High-edged drama and action it is not, but then that is not the point, I suspect.

Rather, thanks to a delightful lilting style that immerse you like a warm hug, you get quandaries and problems, in this case some real doozies, all of which you know in your heart won’t cause unending schisms or be the death of anyone or the big messy loving made-up family we have come to know.

It would be easy to dismiss this as uneventful or undemanding writing but in truth, it’s robust and truthful in its own way, an acknowledgement that there is drama to be found in the most domestic of situations, a realm where, let’s face it, we most of spend the majority of our time.

It’s escapist certainly but who hasn’t longed for a family where all the irritations, thoughtlessness and poor decisions eventually resolve themselves back into the comforting embrace of home and hearth: maybe you have that, maybe you don’t, but the lure of Love, Lies and Linguine is that whatever trials arrive, and however much relationships are tested, normalcy will be restored and life will return to that lovely place of contentment and belonging.

The only downside to this slice of English drama-lite is that the main characters are split between Hester and Harriet in Italy, with the others dealing with, initially at least, far less compelling issues at home.

“Harriet looks across at Hester, rejoices to see the excitement in her eyes, the hunger for some hard physical work to fill her days, a shared task to bind them close once more, and surrenders. Maybe it would be cathartic — even fun, once they get started — to clear out all the rubbish (really dispose of it, not just move it somewhere else), streamline their lives and start a new chapter.” (P. 432)

It’s fine that the two sisters get the more meatier issues to deal with since they are, after all, the heart and soul of what you want to hope will be a long and enduring series, but it does mean that as the chapters alternate between Italy and the UK, you long to return to Hester and Harriet, the secondary characters not quite delivering the goods.

But then things shift a gear back in England and suddenly each chapter keeps and holds your interest; even so, the fact that everyone isn’t together until later, and then only briefly, means that some of the warm, all-together-now bonhomie of the first book is dissipated somewhat.

It’s only small drawback though for a book that delightfully reminds us that no matter how far we roam, or how badly we misjudge a situation, or however many secrets we keep to our detriment, that the bonds of friendship and family can always cover a multitude of sins.

Love, Lies and Linguine is a delightful return to the lives of Hester & Harriet and their motley accidental brood, and one can only hope that Spiers grants us another winsomely-written, emotionally-rich opportunity to spend time with these delightful souls once again.

Movie review: Loving

(image via IMP Awards)

 

In a perfect world, the union of two people in wedded bliss would simply be a celebration of love and devotion and not some devious threat to the social order.

Alas, none of us live in such an untroubled idyll, so instead marriage often comes loaded with a whole host of conflicting notions, many of which don’t make sense and reflect not so much the reality of these unions as the prejudice and bigotry of those making allegations both for and against.

Nowhere is this more vividly demonstrated than in the touching, deeply-meaningful Jeff Nichols-directed film Loving, which beautifully and without manipulation or complication takes this down to the simplest and most heartfelt of levels.

In essence, that marriage is about the union of two people who love each other; any other arguments, no matter how volubly or consistently expressed, can’t compete with this self-evident truth.

That’s not say that the holders of contrary views don’t try, as the current marriage equality debate in Australia demonstrates all too well, and up until the 1960s they had prevailed in many states of the Union, which brought in anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited marriage between people of different races.

Like many other discriminatory aspects of American law, this racist notion was put to the test during the Civil Rights era, and quite successfully too as Loving shows, but at the time of the marriage of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) in 1958 it was still very much against the law in Caroline County, Virginia, indeed the entire state, for a white man and a black woman to get married.

Realising this, Richard, a quietly-spoken construction worker who rightly believed that the fact that he loved his wife is enough (as indeed it should be), took Mildred to Washington, D.C. to tie the knot before returning home and proudly hanging his marriage license on the wall.

 

 

In a sign of just how resolutely Richard believed this was sufficient proof of his right to legally cohabit with the woman he loves, and how little regard the state of Virginia, represented by the local Sheriff (Martin Csokas), there is one scene in Loving which powerfully underscores how great that gulf was at the time.

As the Sheriff bursts into the home of Mildred’s parents in the dead of night – Richard was about to build Mildred a home only 1/2 mile from where she’d grown up – and roughly rouses Richard and Mildred from their marital bed, Richard points to the license as if this should be proof enough of his right to be with his wife.

It’s disregarded almost immediately by the sheriff and his fellow policeman who throw Richard into prison overnight and Mildred for three days until they can independently post bail – because Richard is not recognised as Mildred’s husband he is disallowed from acting on her behalf, that role falling to her father (Christopher Mann) – but it speaks with powerful eloquence to the simple but true belief held by Richard that there is nothing standing in the way of their union.

Richard and Mildred don’t win this initial battle nor a number of others that follow, but even through their exile in Washington, D.C., the punishment for the “crime” of breaking the anti-miscegenation law, Mildred especially believes they can win the war.

It’s a war that unspools over a decade, during which the American Council of Civil Liberties (ACLU), represented by well-meaning but green lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), take the case of Richard and Mildred all the way to the Supreme Court where they are successful, overturning anti-miscegenation laws throughout the U.S. and dismantling another plank in the palpably racist laws that governed the lives of many Americans.

It’s without a doubt a powerful and portentous moment but the script by Jeff Nichols, which is based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski, frames in terms of what it means to the Lovings in simple practical terms.

Unwilling to attend the Supreme Court proceedings in Washington, Richard opts to stay on the remote farm in King and Queen County, Virginia, where they have quietly and defiantly returned to raise their three children – who are cruelly described as bastards by the prosecutors from the state – and Mildred, ever the obedient wife, though she is hardly a doormat and is in fact the driver behind the court cases, complies, leaving their lawyer to convey the news down a crackly phone line.

 

 

It might seem like an underwhelming way to document such a momentous development, but it is entirely in keeping with the spirit and intent of Loving, which keeps its focus firmly on Richard and Mildred’s caring and deeply-supportive relationship.

It eschews big bombastic, overly-dramatic court scenes and grandiose pivotal moments redolent with emotionally-manipulative exchanges, for quiet, introspective moments that are not without power or import, but which don’t feel the need to shout their intentions from the dramatic rooftop.

Rather Loving sensitively opts for nuanced understatement, rightly confident in the fact that the real story here is the strength of a relationship so profoundly close that it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by it.

Communicated loud and clear, through various key scenes, is the depth of Richard’s devotion to his wife, who is adamant he will take care of her come what may – in a 2008 interview before her death, which is acknowledged in the credits, Mildred paid tribute to her husband saying “I miss him. He took care of me” – and indeed he does, backing her decision to seek justice all the way to the Supreme Court even if he is uncomfortable with the attention it brings the couple (which includes a photo spread in Life magazine by Grey Villet, played by Michael Shannon).

While the court cases are given due coverage, the film doesn’t linger on them, choosing at every turn to celebrate the reason why the legal battles were occurring in the first place.

Important thought the ramifications for civil rights were, and they were considerable, the real import of the Supreme Court’s decision was to recognise what people like Richard and Mildred Loving, and indeed anyone denied the right to marry knows in their heart already – that there is nothing illegal or deficient in their love and that it deserves the same recognition as that of anyone else, race, colour, creed or sexuality be damned.

 

 

Now this is music #83: Golden Coast, Darling James, Julie Bergan, MUNA, Maribelle

 

Life is not easy on us.

There are twists and turns all over the shop and coping with it all, whether it’s resolving what troubles us, or finding some temporary sanctuary in the midst of the hurt and madness, can be a real challenge.

None of the five artists featured today claim to be wise sages and have the answers to all the problems of being alive – who on earth would be that arrogant or just plain silly? – but they look at life square in the idea and talk about how handle they handle the difficult, the confounding and the downright hurtful.

It’s great music and it says something deeply important and you’ll be glad in a lot of ways that you took the time to listen.

 

“Comeback Kid” by Golden Coast

 

Golden Coast (image via official Golden Coast Facebook page)

 

There is a light and breezy, nay bouncy quality to Golden Coast’s music, reflecting their California locale and you can assume a fairly upbeat view of the world.

Lest you think I’m trading in Californian tropes, take a listen to “Comeback Kid” which is joyously celebratory, announcing to the world that I’m the comeback kid, you can’t shut me down.”

The song talks about being pushed down and having people take shots at you but rising back from those attacks, come what may.

It’s hard to sing along to this song and find yourself becoming enormously inspired and buoyed by its lyrical intent and its musical verve, both of which richly combine to deplete lower motivational reserves. Once you’re finished with this gloriously good song, your first response will be “Life, let me at it!”

 

 

“God’s Graffiti” by Darling James

 

Darling James (image via official Darling James Facebook page)

 

Melbourne, Australia-based Darling James aka James O’Brien is a man with a gift for clever, emotionally-intuitive pop that goes far beyond the usual run of the mill songs out there.

But don’t just take my word for it. Superlative Aussie artist, Kate Miller-Heidke, herself no stranger to music that leaps out of boxes with delightful rapidity, had this to say about Darling James’ songs:

“… his songs are consistently surprising, playful and boundary-pushing, but still with an accessible emotional core.” (source: Tone Deaf)

He is a remarkable artist, conjuring up all kinds of musical magic in his studio, and giving us songs as different as “God’s Graffitti” that in its magnificently upbeat way ponders some pretty big questions about life.

It’s all done in a 3 1/2 minute so elegantly and beautiful that you realise you have come across someone very special indeed, able to knit philosophising and innately listenable music into one very appealing, soul-nourishing package.

 

 

“Blackout” by Julie Bergan

 

Julie Bergan (image via official Julie Bergan Face book page / Photo: Stephen Butkus)

 

Life can take its toll; that’ll surprise no one, with all of, at one time or another, being the recipient of the shittier end of life’s stick.

There are many ways to handle it, and while going all out blotto may not be the most responsible way to go, sometimes losing yourself to oblivion is the only way to pursue the lingering stinking odour of reality gone wrong.

Norwegian electronic pop artist, Julie Bergan gets that a “Blackout” makes sense sometimes, and talks about in a song that is all edgy, hugely-compelling pop, with every punchy synth moment feeling like an emotional lurch one way or another.

It’s gripping, incisive stuff, all sealed up in a song dripping with avant garde pop seamlessly melded with a Top 40 sensibility and infused with a raw emotionality that elevates this song to something truly special.

 

 

“I Know a Place” by MUNA

 

MUNA (image via official MUNA Facebook page)

 

Immensely catchy though they may be, there are some pop songs whose reason for being transcends simply making a road trip a little more enjoyable or a long commute a little brighter.

“I Know a Place” by MUNA, an American three-piece band made up of Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson, all of whom identify as queer, is just such a song, birthed out of some very important circumstances as Project U TV notes:

“… the song began as an attempt at a new pride anthem after the US Supreme Court allowed marriage equality in mid 2015. But as realisations that whilst that particular battle had been won – LGBTI people were still dying (particularly trans women) – and that rates of suicide, homelessness and violence were still going to remain higher amongst those that don’t necessarily fit in, the focus shifted to making a song about a space where no one needed to feel afraid. That place is a dance club.

“After the Orlando massacre this became even more of a poignant space to discuss – and its done with taste & celebration whilst still acknowledging that every step forward we take, we’ve still got a long way to go.”

The breezily upbeat electronic pop belies a message that centres around the need for all of us to feel safe to be ourselves, with the need for those wielding the weapons of unacceptance and hurt to “lay down their weapons”.

For every step forward in LGBTQI rights, there are sadly several back and it’s compelling songs like “I Know a Place” that remind everyone of sound heart and purpose that we must never stop fighting for the right of the beautiful rainbow of humanity to be celebrated and honoured, no matter who or where they are.

 

 

“Shout” by Maribelle

 

Maribelle (image via official Maribelle Facebook page)

 

Life is a technicolour wonderland for 21 year old Melbourne, Australia Maribelle, who comes roaring to captivating musical life with “Shout”.

Complete with an insanely vivid video clip that pops off the screen, the song, which encourages anyone who will listen, and you should, you really should, that there is a deeply-releasing balm to letting it all hang out, to purge the soul with healing confession.

And frankly with music as catchy as this, which combines a decidedly upbeat danceable beat with a ’90s visual aesthetic, it’ll be hard not to want to talk your head off as you send your feet into glorious dancefloor oblivion.

It’s a dance pop spectacular that the clip’s producer, Jeremy Koren aka Grey Ghost wonderfully describes as an early-90s-astral-hyper-colour out of body experience”, and it is truly a stellar piece of fun, damn near therapeutic pop.

 

 


NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!

 

Let’s face it – The Eurovision Song Contest, peaceful though it is in its mission, isn’t always surrounded by calm and untroubled waters.

Latest case in point is news that almost the entire production for this year’s event in Eurovision has quit just three months ahead of the glitter hitting the fan. Will it stay in Ukraine? Go to Germany (which is usually the emergency back-up)? Or will it all work out in the end? Stay tuned, and while you’re waiting, read more here.

 

(image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

Simon Says: Lessons of history from a famed real-life Nazi hunter

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

It is an oft-used phrase, particularly in these perilous times when far right nationalists seem intent on trying to reshape the earth in their poisonously dark image, but one that very much deserves repeating:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

(There is some conjecture about the exact wording and who said it first, or at all and why, but the fact remains, it is a truthful axiom.)

Simon Wiesenthal, and many brave souls like him were most definitely not among the good men who did nothing, bravely going out and sacrificing their lives to bring many fugitive Nazis to justice, and it is their inspiring story that writer Andre Frattino with illustrator Jesse Lee has chosen to ensure they are not forgotten.

“We’re going to have the next generation who’s not going to have anyone who’s affected by the Holocaust,” Frattino said. “Not only are we forgetting, we’re normalizing it. We’re playing it down. ‘Oh it was so long ago, it doesn’t matter anymore, we won’t do it again.’ Those who don’t remember their mistakes are bound to repeat them.” (source: IO9)

This impressive and important comic book, which will play a vital role in reminding younger generations of the need to stay eternally vigilant against evil, is currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, which will run for another 10 days or so.

These types of ambitious and I would argue necessary projects must be supported and I’d urge you to contribute to making Simon Says: Nazi Hunter a reality and be part of inspiring a whole new generation to speak up, act and stop evil in its tracks before it has a chance to wreak the horrific, lives-destroying damage it did during the Holocaust.

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

 

(image courtesy Andre Frattino via IO9)

The Walking Dead: “Rock in the Road” (S7, E9 review)

Weighty decisions are weighty no matter how theatrical your persona (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … ABD BBQ’D ZOMBIE ROADKILL*

 

Ladies and gentlemen step right up, step right up!

It’s time to play everyone’s favourite apocalyptic game “Kill the REALLY Bad Guy!” Yes, yes we’ve played it many times before, to varying degrees of success, but the rules are essentially the same every time.

(1) Declare yourself the paragon of virtue, truth, justice and whatever the hell is left of the American Way.
(2) Assemble an avenging force to right wrongs, seeking justice (screw mercy) and vengeance and a few other fairly instinct blood-soaked motherhood statements.
(3) Venture forth with a sort of plan in mind, kill lots of people and walk confident you have rid the world of yet more Bad People.
(4) Look yourself in the mirror and say “Gosh Rick you are are virtue and truth and justice incarnate.”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

That is essentially the way Rick and the gang have done things over and over and honestly, you begin to hope at some point that they might realise that while they are relatively not as bad as the Governor or the cannibals at Terminus, that they are, in fact, still morally trouble, and ethically stained.

That’s not to say they haven’t mea culpa’s a few times along the way but the basic premise has been “We’re not as bad as you are and you must die.”

It was tempting for a while, especially early on before we met Negan and his psychopathic ways to assume he was yet another cookie cutter baddy, the slightly more evil yin to Rick’s not quite virtuous yang.

But as that torture porn of a season 7 opener demonstrated rather too graphically, this time the person’t they’re facing really is EVIL (capital letters, flashing neon, bold type).

Granted that doesn’t quite absolve The Walking Dead of its great moral conundrums nor of its lack of storytelling nuance and propensity to repeat roughly the same narrative over and over and over again, but at least this time there is somewhat of a stark divide between Us (Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom et al) and Negan’s Saviours.

 

And even though they were saved too Hilltop ain’t playing the kill Negan game either (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

Alas that’s not quite stark enough a demarcation for the leaders of Hilltop and The Kingdom – Gregory (Xander Berkeley) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payne) – both of whom demur to follow Rick (Andrew Lincoln) into ill-planned battle.

To an extent you can’t blame them – all Rick, accompanied by the likes of Darryl (Norman Reedus), who due to his fugitive status has to hide at The Kingdom, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Maggie (Lauren Cohen), Tara (Alanna Masterson), Jesus (Tom Payne) and others have to offer up is a rousing cry to take it to the evil Saviours.

Because they’re evil, and they’re enslaving us and … you know, EVIL!

Kinda empowering yes but short on details, and whatever you might think of Ezekiel and Gregory, and the appeasing decisions they make – as Neville Chamberlain demonstrated in 1938, appeasement never really gets you very much; psychotic evil still comes for you anyway – their decisions not to join Rick’s Caravan of Avenging Murderous Joy (he may or may not call it that; OK he doesn’t, but he should) are borne at least of being well acquainted with the devil they know.

Like any endemic bully, Negan’s demands are simply escalating over time and it can’t be too long before he enters The Kingdom (currently a bucolic idyll that makes other bucolic idylls look like war zones), wipes Hilltop completely from the map (he’s tried already; that he didn’t succeeds owes little to Gregory’s dubious leadership and everything to Sasha and Maggie’s bravery) and takes everything but the kitchen sink (OK he’ll probably want that too) from Alexandria.

But right now things are “peaceful”, and while a number of grateful Hilltopians and some sympathetic Kingdomites such as Richard (Karl Makinen) are ready to side with Team Rick, the official word from Gregory and Ezekiel is to stick with the status quo.

It doesn’t go down well with Rick et all but to be fair, and granted Hilltop and The Kingdom don’t know this, but Rick isn’t exactly the king of un-problematic outcomes; in fact his involvement, which never involves anywhere near as much planning as it should, almost always guarantees vanquishing of the enemy but with a shitload of consequential problems in their wake.

Quite whether Hilltop and The Kingdom will step up remains to be seen – that they didn’t at least saved The Walking Dead from being reduced to some happy-clappy everything will turnout roses show which, whatever it may be now, isn’t that – and whether the new group that surrounds Rick, Tara, Aaron (Ross Marquand), Michonne (Dania Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos), who may be The Whisperers and are great in number (that’s why Rick smiles at the end – look at all these people he thinks!) joins the fight remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure though – the times they are a-changing and one way or another, that applecart of security, tenuous thought it is that Ezekiel and Gregory value so much, is about to topple.

 

Nothing rounds off a hard day of not making alliances like a walk through a zombie herd (image courtesy AMC / Gene Page)

 

The most spectacular part of the episode though wasn’t all that realpolitik wheeling and dealing and ultimately near-useless finagling.

No, what really set the episode alive, and to a fiery zombie-exploding extent, was the discovery by the Alexandrians of a string of explosives across the road, carefully rigged by the Saviours to stop a herd of walkers in their shambling tracks.

Too good an advantage to pass up, Rick instructs everyone, under Rosita’s oversight, to strip the heavy metal cord string between two cars of its explosive gifts but mindful of not wanting to tip the Saviours off – at least he is thinking ahead of the next pithy invocation to war and valour – he and Michonne engage in what is quite possibly the most fun destruction of hundreds of zombies ever when they gun the cars on either side of the freeway, floor it and use the metal rope to slice and dice the herd who are all helpfully walking on the grassy median strip.

It’s a whole lot of fun, that let’s be fair owes a whole lot to Z Nation‘s comically freewheeling ways, and it signals the fact that maybe the Saviour’s days are numbered (as well as adding some full bore action to a nicely-rounded, well-modulated episode that gave us narrative, character moments and forward momentum; more of that please!).

Admittedly, hilariously over the top spectacular as it is, it doesn’t mean much beyond they now have some explosives – but no food and few weapons thanks to Gabriel, played by Seth Gilliam, absconding with them and a car after the end of his shift for reasons unknown – and are taking it carefully but it’s a nice little “f**k you!” to Negan, disguised as just another day in the apocalypse and it goes down a treat.

Quite where they go from here isn’t certain although, smiles aside, the first thing Rick and his companions have to do is convince the people surrounding them in the junkyard to play nice.

Yeah that’ll be easy …

  • Next up is “New Best Friends” which may signal brighter days are ahead or that Rick got a long of work before he can legitimately say he’s ready to take on and beat Negan … or let’s be fair, BOTH …

 

 

 

The pain and laughter of Youth in Oregon

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
When 79-year-old curmudgeon Raymond (Frank Langella) makes arrangements to be euthanized in Oregon, his family refuses to accept his decision. But when another family emergency arises, Raymond’s daughter Kate (Christina Applegate) turns to her husband Brian (Billy Crudup) for a little help. So Brian reluctantly volunteers to drive the cantankerous Raymond and his wine-loving wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) three thousand miles to Oregon. Determined to change the old man’s mind before they reach the Beaver State, it becomes quickly apparent to Brian that convincing your father-in-law to keep living when he’s ready to check out is no simple task. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

You know how decisions can be hard to make but once you’ve made them and know what you’ve decided is right beyond a shadow of a doubt that sticking to it becomes ridiculously easy?

It’s a great feeling, liberating almost.

And you’ll find pretty much everyone will support you if you’re decided to opt for waffles over cereal for breakfast, or to book your annual holiday in Paris, hang the cost. Great decision, go for it, you’ll love it.

But kill yourself? Ah, that is a whole different Pandora’s Box of issues and emotions and you can be sure that if you are completely at peace with your decision, that no one else will be.

Especially if you have a family like Raymond’s who care dammit! And they’re not about to let go and do away with yourself just like that.

Sounds like a fertile ground for a funny yet moving indie drama doesn’t it? Yes it actually kinda does …

Youth in Oregon opened 3 February in limited release and VOD.

 

First Impressions: Legion

(image via IMP Awards)

 

At one key point in this utterly remarkable, highly-original and deliriously imaginative show, the protagonist, David Haller (Dan Stevens), an Omega-level mutant on the run from as yet-unnamed Bad Guys stops and asks his girlfriend/rescuer from certain death, Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), “Is this real?”

Granted they’re fleeing for their lives at the time and there are probably better times for such a direct, existentially-loaded question, but in the context of his life, and the show as a whole, it’s a question that bears asking.

Repeatedly.

In fact, as you are immersed ever deeper in Marvel’s latest attempt to translate its cinematic success to the small screen – and immersed is most definitely the word; there is no way you can simply watch this most extraordinary of shows which demands, on every level, to be experienced – it’s a question you will find yourself asking again and again, partly in puzzlement, partly in delight, and always with an every growing sense of wondrous curiosity.

Legion is, after all, a wholly original televisual beast, dressed in a rich, bright comics-intense aesthetic that is any one of Wes Anderson’s films meets the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine meets Blake’s Seven and yet wholly its own thing, that owes few allegiances to anything that has gone before it.

But to understand why it is so off-the-wall different, you first need to understand the story it is trying to tell; well, as much as you can figure out in the first episode which to be honest, is less about narrative directness and more about plunging into a disorienting sense of time and place, of self and otherness, one that mirrors and matches the palpable confusion that David Haller has known all his life.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, and in and out of trouble and mental hospitals thereafter, David is convinced there is something very wrong with him.

While he is aware at the dim reaches of his mind that he has powers he can’t explain, he bow to the prevailing narrative that has pervaded his life to this point, and created more than a few literally explosive moments, and accepts that he needs to be fixed, to be repaired and made whole.

But what if, asks Legion, if he’s not broken at all and his perception of reality, weird, spiky, dreamy and off-the-charts crazy though it seems at times, is actually right on the money?

 

 

What if indeed? What makes Legion such an unusual, distinctive, and no doubt to some, bizarre, viewing experience – there’s that word again but it’s the only one that fits; you simply do not just watch Legion – is that never comes out and hands you the answers on a platter.

In fact, by the end of the first dynamic episode which variously features some One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Clockwork Orange moments – the mental hospital where David meets the literally untouchable Sydney aka Syd is called Clock Works Mental Hospital – a choreographed dance number by mental patients and staff, and some lavishly comic book-like sequences that dazzle the eyes and confound the senses – it’s fair to say that your grasp, anyone’s grasp of what’s actually going on, is tenuous at best.

All you can really say beyond the fact that David isn’t crazy – rather he’s a mutant with significant telepathic and telekinetic powers – is that there are Bad Guys and Good Guys, or at least people who may be members of both camps, and that something rather big is in the offing.

But then the purpose of Legion you suspect, isn’t so much to tell a straightforward story, even though it somewhat does that in gloriously dreamlike stops and starts, but to take you deep into the mind, the reality of David, of a world shaped by misinformation, misunderstanding and a tragic sense that something is irreparably, irredeemably broken.

If this sounds all a little too intense, and at times it can be because after all, we’re diving deep into someone’s life and mind here with no guarantees of what is real and what is not, and even when we are with the visual palette suggesting a retro ’60s look and feel, Dan Stevens’ performance as David gives the show a grounded humanity that stops it drifting off into arty weirdness.

 

 

For starters, David comes across as a genuinely befuddled, bewildered and times, angry young man.

He has all this strange stuff happening to him, he’s told repeatedly it’s a figment of his imagination even when, in one utterly spectacular scene, every single item in a kitchen becomes airborne, creating an kaleidoscopic tornado that comes close to killing him when an errant knife whizzes too close for comfort, and he has no explanation for it bar the one that mental health professionals and his mother hand him.

But he knows deep down that what he is told isn’t real, actually is in some ways and Chapter 1 as it the pilot episode is prosaically titled – trust me when I say it is the only prosaic thing about this wholly magical show – spends a great deal of time separating fact from fiction, truth from lies, reality from dreams, or at least as much as it can given what is happening to David is so fantastical and so outside the norm.

Noah Hawley, who created the show and directed its spellbindingly arresting first episode, has a gift for marrying the immensely odd, strange and different with the mundane and the natural in such a way that working out which way is up, and exactly what David’s reality is, becomes a puzzle of epic proportions.

Thrown in actors of the calibre of Aubrey Plaza, who has a gift for playing the other and the strange and yet likeable into the bargain, and Legion becomes a delightfully warped excursion into David’s world which it turns out by episode’s end, is whole lot more sane than he, or anyone else for that matter ever gave it credit for.

Legion has a real chance of being that one of a kind show that beguiles with its originality and strong sense of self, both narrative and aesthetic while telling a down to earth, deeply human, emotionally authentic story that straight out dares to challenge everything we thought we knew about the world around us.

 

Simon’s Cat is Looking For Love #ValentinesDay

Love sweet feline love (image via YouTube (c) Simon Tofield)

 

Can cats fall in love? Well, why not?

After all, as Cole Porter wrote in his 1928 classic song “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” …

“Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it …”

So it stands to reason that even cats can feel the sweet impact of Cupid’s arrow, even good old Simon’s Cat who, in this animated Valentine’s Day special, manages to feel the allure of felines of the feminine persuasion.

Why so besotted is he that he presents a rather compliant mouse to his intended lady love as a sign of his affections.

It’s humourously, hilariously romantic, a sign that everyone deserves that special someone.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

Book review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

(image courtesy Penguin Random House)

 

When we’re growing up, time and and distance can seem like the greatest of tyrannies.

Neither seems particularly predisposed to granting us any favours, and any sense that they might eventually give us perspective or understanding can feel as fanciful as the idea that there are problems in life far bigger than our nascent, limited appreciation.

In David Arnold’s remarkable book, Mosquitoland, which is ostensibly a Young Adult novel but is really a book anyone could benefit from reading since emotional growth doesn’t stop at arbitrary genre borders, time and distance move from being the bullies of teenagerhood to allies in a search for a deeper, more pronounced understanding of life.

Of course, when she sets out from her greatly-unwelcome new home in Mississippi where she lives under protest with her dad and stepmom Kathy, to find her mum Eve in Cleveland, Ohio (her hometown and source of many happy memories), Mim aka Mary Iris Malone, is thinking in terms quite so existentially grand.

“Once done, I stare at myself in the fluorescent light and finally feel like the girl I am. The girl who gets called to the principal’s office but hops a bus to Cleveland instead. The girl who survived a catastrophic accident. The girl who took matters into her own hands, figuratively, literally, fucking finally … I feel more Mim than ever before.” (P. 71)

All she wants to do is get to mum, who she believes in is dire trouble, and be there for her in a way that her mother often was for her when they were would enjoy what Mim calls “Young Fun”, or in other words, abandoning yourself to watching your favourite movie or listening to an Elvis album all the way through, without a care in the world.

All that happened before the big split, one precipitated Mim believes by her father’s dalliance with a Denny’s waitress, a flirtation which became an affair which became a marriage-ending relationship.

It’s actually not that simple and in keeping with anyone who’s 16 and trying to figure the hell out of life, nowhere as straightforward or understandable but Mim is convinced she has it all figured out and will get to Cleveland and life will once again make sense.

That’s not to say Mim isn’t self-aware; in many ways, as her letters to the mysterious Isabel that sprinkle the book make clear – Isabel’s identity is only made clear near the end of the book – she gets a lot of things about life that many other adults spend a life missing.

But clever and EQ-rich though she is, Mim is still young and on her road trip to Cleveland, part of which takes places on a series of Greyhound buses, the rest in a pickup truck named Phil that buys with money stolen from Kathy’s secret stash with new friends Beck and Walt, she discovers that there’s quite a bit about life that she’s hasn’t quite understood or fully appreciated.

 

 

What is remarkable about Mosquitoland, a pejorative terms for Mississippi and the suffocating feel of her new home state and life, is the way in which Arnold deftly and sensitively portrays Mim’s epiphany-laden awakening.

Sure, she’s clever, witty and possessed of devastating oneliners and humourously-barbed quips, but she’s also lonely, walled-off and alone, a young woman who has yet to appreciate how important it is to connect deeply and without compromise to those around you who love you the most.

Even more importantly, she comes to learn that it’s often the people you least suspect of richly rewarding your life, the ones you might otherwise have ignored, who often end up being pivotal and utterly essential to your wellbeing.

Mim’s near 1000 mile long road to Damascus aka Cleveland epiphany is told with wit, some tension, near-misses and new or revived connections, with every step she takes making sense on some level.

“Around us, the congregation of fans cheer, laugh, point, each of them gleefully oblivious to all but the fireworks. Beck and I are with them, but now with them. It reminds me of Thanksgivings growing up, sitting at the “kids’ table”. The grown-ups are right there, talking about important matters at work, upgrades around the house, goings-on in the neighbourhood. What they don’t realize is that none of that matters. But the kids knows it. God, do they ever. (P. 218)

Primarily the idea that life is never fully knowable and that we often think we have a handle on something, only to find we don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on or what we should do (or that sometimes we do; we just don’t know it yet).

That might seem scary but the way Arnold tells it, alternately laugh out funny and soberingly close to the bone, it’s actually liberating, if like Mim you’re open to the fact that there’s still a lot you don’t know (or that unencumbered by the blinkers of adulthood that there are somethings you understand perfectly well).

Granted Mim is only 16 so it makes sense that she has a lot of learning to do about the mysterious ways in which life twists and turns, but the truths in this cleverly-written, funny, insightful book are universal and lifelong, and something we can all pretty much learn from.

If there’s one thing you walk away from Mosquitoland appreciating, apart from the fact that Mim is a smart, astute young lady who’s going to be just fine all her issues aside, it’s that we often fail to fully grasp the full import of situations and may not always respond in the best way to them.

But hopefully, that doesn’t really matter since even wrong turns or rash ones have a funny way of working out if we’re open to that, and while life won’t suddenly end up perfectly formed and emotionally-satisfying in every way, it may end up being a whole lot better than you first gave it credit for.

 

Weekend pop art: Apple’s T & Cs re-done in the style of famous cartoons and comic strips

Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Who actually reads Terms and Conditions (T & Cs) documents? Anyone? anyone? Bueller? Just as I thought – NO ONE.

Yeah, yeah we totally should so we know if the vendor we’re signing up with is going to require our firstborn in the event of a missed bill or demand we recreate the Mona Lisa in coloured pasta as punishment for not downloading something correctly … BUT WE DON’T.

Why? Because they’re fantastically boring.

But no longer if insanely clever New York-based cartoonist R Sikoroyak has his way.

This talented guy has recreated all 96 pages of Apples T & Cs in the style of various famous cartoons and comic strips, and the results are nothing short of “hell to the yeah I’d read that!”

Seriously I would and I would love it, and be fully aware of the fact that at midnight on the 4th July 2018 Apple will repossess my home, car and collection of antique poodle statuettes because I accidentally didn’t tick some box somewhere.

Ah the power of good pop culture art!

(source: Indy100

 

Dilbert by Scott Adams (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Adventure Time by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)

 

Tintin by Hergé (image via Indy100 (c) R Sikoroyak)