All the undead: #SDCC2017 trailers for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead

(image via IMP Awards (c) AMC)

 

After a very rocky season 7 in which I (a) seriously questioned my sanity and tolerance for torture-porn violence (damn near negligible) and (b) wondered if The Walking Dead had surrendered what was left of its once-philosophical soul to empty, ever-more murderous narratives, season 8’s trailer arrives with an emphasis on war, war, war.

Now as movies like Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan have shown in all their exemplary glory, it is possible to tell compelling stories of war that move you profoundly as long as there is some kind of beautifully-expressed moral underpinning that makes it more than just a gorefest.

After season 7’s unevenness I am not completely convinced The Walking Dead can do this, saddled as it is too by characters like Rick (Andrew Lincoln) that are so morally-compromised and relativistic that you wonder if there is any difference at all between them and big baddies like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

That’s a problem since we like our good guys, hate our bad guys and therein likes the sort of drama that draws you back, again and again.

Still this Comic-Con 2017 trailer is pretty damn atmospheric and gripping in its own way, switching between meditative and then all-out rock-soundtrack action, and finishing with a very interesting flash-forward.

So yeah I may watch it and see … fingers crossed this is a war with a reason for being and one that Rick, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Hilltop, effectively led by Paul Rovia aka “Jesus”, actually deserve to win.

The Walking Dead season 8 explodes onto our screens 22 October.

 

 

It wasn’t just The Walking Dead that got all the Comic-Con loving. Fear the Walking Dead, which I now regard as the better of the two shows when it comes to nuanced, clever storytelling and interesting characters, got its own #SDCC2017 trailer and, as expected, it’s an exciting piece of undead television in the offing.

 

Book review: Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

(cover image courtesy Penguin Random House Australia)

 

Childhood is, on a whole lot of levels, a time when we figure a whole lot of stuff out.

It’s messy, it’s fun, it’s complicated, it’s not; what it is above all though is a training ground for the rest of life, figuring out who we are, what we like, who likes us, and how to respond to life’s ups and downs in a way that makes sense to us.

For most of us, this all happens out of the glare of a prying world; but if you’re a child star like Mara Wilson (Matilda, Mrs Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street), it takes place with the whole world watching, a dynamic that gets internalised so that the Greek chorus of fans and disapproving gossipy onlookers stay with you long after the director has called “Cut!”

In her disarmingly, refreshingly honest book Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, Mara lays it all out – what it felt like to be a movie star by happenstance, her neuroses and anxieties, her fears of death, sex and societal disapproval, and how she’s worked hard to make peace with it all as an adult.

Written in a self-deprecating, funny but above all, unflinchingly honest style that you can’t help but be entranced by and admire mightily – who of us with lives lived far less in the spotlight would be this authentic? – Where Am I Now? not only gives us insight into the nuts and bolts of Mara’s extraordinary life, but what it all meant and how it shaped who she is now.

“All through the last few months of Miracle and our publicity tour, she smiled whenever people told her I was cute, but I could sense she was forcing it. Her disapproval was contagious: it never occurred to me that I didn’t have to share her opinions. Japan was the last place I felt comfortable being called ‘cute’. After that, anytime someone said it, I would wince. Something about it made me feel smaller.” (P. 53)

In essence, it’s a coming of age story but one that few of us would have come close to experiencing; after all, who but Mara could claim to have been friends with Robin Williams as a child (her chapter on his death is heartbreaking but real), hung out at Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman’s home and spent much of her time growing up on a multiplicity of film sets?

It all sounds very glamorous to the uninformed person but as Mara admits, for all the great benefits it bestowed and the great memories it gave her, there were quite a few negatives, compounded by her struggles with anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and the death of her mother when Mara was just eight.

At no point, do you get the feeling that Mara is waging some sort of giant pity party for herself; she gives credit where credit is due for the good times but is also quite candid about the dark times that came with it, and the way it complicated the already-tricky business of growing up.

 

 

Mara writes throughout the book with a self-awareness that allows to frame her past, the events that shaped and made her, into some sort of meaningful context.

These are not simply memories thrown out into the ether with no reason or rhyme; every admission, every recounting of a pivotal moment comes with context and meaning attached, enriching what is far more than your run-of-the-mill celebrity biography. (Mara is clear that she sees herself not as a celebrity at all, that whatever clings to her in that form comes from the nostalgia of fans who grew up watching her movies and not any choices made by her.)

This means that for every story of hanging on a film set with Robin Williams or publicity tours for Miracle on 34th Street, there are awkward stories of kissing a boy for the first time, being socially excluded from the choir she had given everything to get into, or breaking up in college with her first serious boyfriend, Sam.

In other words, real life, something that Mara admits, with great candour, is true for anyone in Hollywood, not that you would know it from the endless cloud of PR splendour that enshrouds most movie stars.

“My greatest fear was that someone, part of the amorphous public who’d never met me, would discover I had any kind of sexuality. I had been a part of many people’s childhoods, and therefore felt like I had to at least pretend to be a Good Girl for the rest of my life if I wanted to stay in their good graces.” (P. 200)

Where Am I Now? is primarily a story of growing up in a world far different from that of most people, but by pulling back the celebrity curtain to reveal what really happens behind the scenes, Mara also humanises people that, for most of us, exist in a rarefied world of red carpet appearances, Oscar after-parties and glamorous photo shoots.

Only they don’t most of the time, and by talking about her experience in a way that is delightfully real and circumspect but also tinged with deep emotional resonance – Mara talks for instance about more relieved than sad than her career didn’t transition into childhood, happy that she had a chance to pursue her writing and stagecraft instead – we come to understand something we should have really guessed all along; that life is messy and complicated and bruising and richly-rewarding, no matter who’s living it and the circumstances in which they find themselves.

In other words, we’re all human, plagued by uncertainty, dreams, desires and grappling with flaws and pitfalls, and by writing Where Am I Now?, a brilliantly titular play on the usual tabloid line of has-been celebrity exhumations, with real honesty and intelligent introspection (including a willingness to discuss mental health issues and the dysfunction of Hollywood among other things), Mara has engagingly closed that divide in a way that reassures us that we’re all in the same, maddeningly odd and weird existential boat and that that’s OK.

 

 

Droughtlander no more! Outlander debuts its achingly touching S3 trailer

(image via IMP Awards)


SNAPSHOT

The third season of Outlander picks up right after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) travels through the stones to return to her life in 1948. Now pregnant with Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) child, she struggles with the fallout of her sudden reappearance and its effect on her marriage to her first husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Meanwhile, in the 18th century, Jamie suffers from the aftermath of his doomed last stand at the historic battle of Culloden, as well as the loss of Claire. As the years pass, Jamie and Claire attempt to make a life apart from one another, each haunted by the memory of their lost love. The budding possibility that Claire can return to Jamie in the past breathes new hope into Claire’s heart… as well as new doubt. Separated by continents and centuries, Claire and Jamie must find their way back to each other. As always, adversity, mystery, and adventure await them on the path to reunion. And the question remains: When they find each other, will they be the same people who parted at the standing stones, all those years ago? (synopsis via Coming Soon)

 

 

Oh how Outlander, the series based on Diana Gabaldon’s story of a woman caught between two men in two vastly different time periods, keep us hanging on!

Season 2 left us all the way back in July last year, and unless you have read the books of which there are many (though as Paste points out, that may not mean much narrative familiarity-wise), you will have remained in the dark about where Jamie and Claire, and yes poor old Frank, go next.

That is about to change following ten months of filming in Scotland and South Africa – the better to make use of the former sets of the now-defunct Black Sails, another Starz property – when we rejoin Claire who is clearly homesick for her life way back when.

It may seem impossibly dramatic and a little sudsy, but it works, anchored by forensically-accurate historical detail, richly-realised characters and a compelling emotional resonance that makes some pretty outlandish ideas matter and feel appealingly authentic.

Now all I have to do is avoid touching the giant standing stones at Craigh na Dun so I remain in the 21st century to watch the long-awaited new season.

Outlander season three premieres on Starz Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. EDT

Parallel worlds: The commonality of Harry Potter and the deaf community by Nyle DiMarco

(image via YouTube (c) Nyle DiMarco)

 

Being an outsider comes with a wealth of positives and a whole lot of negatives; pretty much like anything in life really.

But as model, actor and Deaf activist Nyle DiMarco explains in this charmingly informative video, sometimes the latter can heavily outweigh the former, and you long for somewhere you can call home.

The home many Deaf people of a certain age have found, at least in their imaginations, is in the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, which have as one of their main themes what it is like to be an outsider, and what a tremendous gift it is when you encounter people just like you and truly belong, sometimes for the first time in your life.

The video, which lists five main correlations between the wizard children in Harry Potter and people in the Deaf community, is beautifully insightful, heartfelt and DiMarco’s grin is damn near infectious as he describes how much these books mean to the Deaf community and how important belonging is in a world that too often excludes you.

 

Fight the unimaginable darkness: Stargate Origins #SDCC2017

(image courtesy MGM)

 

It’s a good time to be a Stargate fan.

Actually it’s always been a good time to be a Stargate fan but right now, it’s more wonderful than usual.

Fresh from immersing ourselves in the series-completing comic book brilliance of Stargate Universe: Back to Destiny issue #1, there’s now word that Stargate will be back on TV.

Well, after a fashion.

A new series Stargate: Origins will launch on a brand-new subscription-based digital platform, Stargate Command which, as an added incentive, will have a host of goodies from the franchise’s 25-year run.

Timed to the 20th anniversary of the premier of Stargate SG-1 in 1997, the new series will take us back to where it all began, according to EW:

Origins … will focus on a younger version of Catherine Langford, played on SG-1 by Elizabeth Hoffman and in Roland Emmerich’s original film by Viveca Lindfors. This next chapter will introduce the early history of the character and the Stargate portal. The younger Catherine will embark on ‘an unexpected adventure to unlock the mystery of what lies beyond the Stargate in order to save Earth from unimaginable darkness,’ according to the official logline.”

No word yet on how this will be carried outside the US – Star Trek Discovery, which will be available on CBS All-Access is being broadcast here via Netflix, making it the likely conduit for Origins too – but come hell or high water or reborn Goa’uld, the on-screen return of the franchise will be greeted with all the fervour of a major discovery at an archeological dig in Egypt in 1928.

 

Game of Thrones: “Dragonstone” (S7, E1 review)

Cersei and the Kingslayer enjoy many a fun moment in court simply staring at the people before them until they creep them the hell out (image courtesy HBO)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND DRAGONS, WEIRD MARRIAGE PROPOSALS, AND A REALLY POOR (OR GREAT, DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE) VINTAGE 

Game of Thrones has always been a BIG show.

A big, epic, grand, expansive show that took in the entirety of the lands of Westeros and then some, a multitude of characters, death on a cataclysmic scale, and more vaulting ambition that you could poke an Iron Throne at.

And while “Dragonstone”, the geographic arrival point for Queen Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) along with entourage of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Varys (Conleth Hill), Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) in Westeros, kept things big and sprawling, it also began to draw things tighter and tighter together.

In turn, we were reintroduced to the remaining contenders for the throne over which much blood has been spilt, evil unleashed, good done, ambitions foundered and soared, and which, with the White Walkers led by the icily-cold Night King (Vladimir Furdik) on a relentless march towards the living, is beginning to look ever more like a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Let’s start with good old Cersei (Lena Headey) and her brother/lover/chief military consort Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who stand in what’s left of King’s Landing – OK there’s quite a bit left in fact; it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way with the likes of the Red Keep a pile of smouldering rubble – plotting how “the last of the Lannisters who count” will dispatch their enemies to the north, south, west … and well, let’s just say there’s a shit ton of them and none of them are looking to play nice.

To even the odds somewhat, Cersei, who ever the pragmatist, seems to be coping with the loss of all her children just a little too well – being semi-drunk on power will do that to ya I guess; still not a Mother of the Year look really though – has invited the usurper of the Iron Islands throne, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) to put his case forward for marrying her.

It’s such a romantic proposal – I’ll give you 1000 ships and a mysterious present which the cheeky court interloper who seems unfazed by the power and might of the Iron Throne is intent on delivering with no spoilers, if you let me share the power of the Iron Throne.

Of course, by the time Euron makes it back to King’s Landing, there may be no Cersei on the throne, but given her survivability so far, which has surpassed cockroaches living beyond a nuclear apocalypse and beyond, I would put some serious money on the woman who has had a map painted of Westeros in the courtyard for fun, real-life strategy planning, to still be there and kicking.

 

“Stand still everyone!” said Daenerys. “First one to move gets singed by the dragons!” image courtesy HBO)

 

But in power? Ah, there’s the rub.

For while Cersei is determined to hang onto power – Jaime looks rather more ambivalent but then in lots of ways he always has – there are plenty of people looking to take it off her.

Apart from Daenerys who did little more than arrive grandly into abandoned Dragonstone before declaring in grand episode-ending fashion “Let’s get to work!”, the King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are readying their forces to defend Winterfell, the Wall and all the lands around them, knowing full well that this is where the first battles with the Night King will be fought.

There’s tension of course but not fatally so, with Jon and Sansa working reasonably well together, protected by Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and the leader of the Wildlings Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), who continue to URST their way through things – lovestruck Tormund more than Brienne naturally – with “Little Finger” Lord Petry Baelish (Aidan Gillen) doing his best to worm his way back into Sansa’s affection (actually, he was never there so count that as a fool’s errand).

With the Night King on the march – one lone sequence sees him leading an unnervingly large column of the rotting undead, including three soulless Giants, across the icy wastes – there’s much to do including mine the hell out of any Dragonglass mines, manning the forts along the Wall and ensuring that Jon Snow’s reign isn’t the most shortlived of all the Starks.

Rather cleverly, and this speaks to how intelligent a man, both emotionally and intellectually, Jon Snow is, he pardons his former enemies including the Carstarks, all too aware that what’s needed now is some good old-fashioned unity, sealed shut with some fear of God (or the Night King, same same).

While he’s plotting all this, Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arrives back at the Wall with Meera (Ellie Kendrick) looking exhausted on just about every possible level, almost reuniting what’s left of the rulers of Winterfell.

But where you ask, and frankly it’s a damn good, question, is Arya (Maisie Williams)? Why killing off all of Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) family with poisoned wine in the same hall that witnessed the bloody betrayal of the infamous Red Wedding.

As vengeance goes, this was gold standard best-served-cold, with the Frey’s gone, baby, gone, and the Riverlands given notice; job done, and these days Arya is cool as a freaking cucumber, not to mention a dab hand at playing dress-ups, the young woman who mostly does have a name sits down for dinner with Ed Sheeran.

OK not actual Ed Sheeran as Ed Sheeran, thought he does sing a bit, and unsurprisingly rather nicely too, but as a Lannister soldier come to keep the peace.

As is the way of modern social media, his appearance in the show has been ripped apart as badly-acted tokenism, but frankly, as always, this is nothing more than online bullying, and Sheeran, given his small but limited role, acquits himself well.

Haters might be gonna hate, but really it gets them nowhere and achieves nothing, and while his appearance doesn’t set the episode alight, it doesn’t diminish it either, and people should frankly worry more about the intractable conflict in Syria or Trump’s cancerous presidency than whether a pop star gets a cameo in the world’s biggest show right now.

 

Meera was beginning to seriously doubt whether pulling Bran through the snow was actually optimum cardio as her PT had advised (image courtesy HBO)

 

Far away from all the jockeying for power but rather integral to it all the same is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) who is spending his time at the Citadel studying to become a Maester, under the tutelage of the Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent) himself.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it was more about emptying bedpans – Bradley does a fine job of acting retching that should be given an award of some kind – and cooking food and putting away books than studying but that is the price of climbing the rungs of learning right?

Maybe, but Samwell, still adorably in love with Gilly (Hannah Murray), is a determined young man, and turns out to be rather adept at some below-the-radar educational skullduggery, going into the maester-only books section and doing some research on the White Walkers, whom most of the people in the Citadel believe to be figments of Sam’s yet to be maestered imagination.

Success! He finds out that’s there a mountain, yes a mountain, of dragonglass underneath Dragonstone – could be a bit of an issue getting to it what with Daenerys now smugly ensconced there – and sets off a note to Jon Snow to skedaddle and go get it.

It’s refreshing to see Sam again, given he is one of the few characters in the snow who is genuinely pure and kind and of noble intent; even better, it looks like he will play a pivotal role in saving Westeros, if indeed it can be saved, or more importantly, should be saved, from the frozen menace to come.

“Dragonstone” is, on the whole, a jigsaw puzzle set-up, readying Westeros and the titanic battle to come, but it does it damn well, even giving us a look at Sandor “The Hound” Clegane who’s still somewhere in the mix, with that one harrowing shot of the Night King and his undead kin framing all the other power struggles being set into play.

It’s a reminder that, in the end, all the jockeying for position may amount to nought, and that everyone should be doing what Jon Snow is doing and getting ready for a messy battle for sheer survival now that winter has well and truly come.

  • There’s more drama, intrigue and bloody Machiavellian posturing in the next episode “Stormborn” but then you’d expect nothing less than that right?

 

Special bonds live on: Big Hero 6 The Series set to launch

(image courtesy Disney)

 

SNAPSHOT
“The series picks up immediately following the events in the movie, and continues the adventures of 14-year-old tech genius Hiro and his robot Baymax. Joining the pair on their journey is control freak Wasabi, scientist Honey Lemon, fanboy Fred and no-nonsense Go Go, who together form the Big Hero 6 superhero team.

“As the new prodigy at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro faces daunting academic challenges, not to mention the social trials of being the little man on campus. The stakes are also raised for the high-tech heroes when they must protect their city from an array of scientifically enhanced villains.” (synopsis via Den of Geek!)

One of the most delightful perks of being an uncle is going to see childrens movies with my nieces and nephews. (In all honesty, I’d go anyway since they’re so much fun but having the kids along for the ride amps up the enjoyment factor by a considerable degree.)

Among the many films I’ve seen with them, usually at Christmas when I’m home for a while, is Big Hero 6, a beautiful film about love, loss and belonging and a gorgeous robot call Baymax.

Emotionally resonant, vibrantly and imaginatively-drawn and populated by well-rounded characters you give a passionate damn about, it’s one of the highlights of Disney’s recent long list of animated triumphs.

 

 

While rewatching the film is always an option, fans such as myself can now watch a while series of new adventures by Baymax, his human friend Hiro (younger brother of Baymax’s creator Tadashi) and their quirky but passionate superhero gang.

Big Hero 6 The Series, which picks up the movie’s fantastically and colourfully over the top but emotionally-rich finale – the film has all the feels and then some, a cut above the plasticky emotionalising of many other films in the genre – the show will give us many more chances I’m sure to fall in love with the bravest and most endearingly idiosyncratic of San Fransokyo.

Big Hero 6 The Series launches on Disney XD in 2018.

 

Saturday morning cartoons: Rocko’s Modern Life

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

I have always liked my cartoons larger-than-life, super-absurd, colourful, silly and full of clever ideas and witty oversized characters.

In other words, just like Nickolodeon’s ’90s classic Rocko’s Modern Life.

Created by Joe Murray, who originally invented the character of Rocko the wallaby for a comic book series that never saw the light of day, the series rang for 4 season (1993-1996) and 52 episodes, sporting a theme song by none other than the B-52s.

Every single one of those 52 episodes was an exercise in imaginative insanity, taking a basic idea such as O-Town residents  Rocko (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) and his best pal, super excitable steer Heffer (Tom Kenny), joining a gym or going shopping with a credit card they couldn’t afford and … RUNNING WITH IT.

It didn’t matter how outlandish, madcap or downright nuts, the idea was, it often made it in which is how you end up with episodes such as “Jet Stream” which has just about every outlandish, weird thing that can happen in airline travel such as misplaced bags (off in space being with by aliens), annoying kids (off to the overhead luggage compartment with you) and dubious maintenance standards (plane held together by tape anyone?) parodied like there is no tomorrow.

It’s that element of deliciously-realised parody of the beige-mundanities of life that makes Rocko’s Modern Life such an effervescent, technicolour delight.

Lampooning was not simply done for the sake of a great visual gag, although there were many of those, but with a clear intent in mind to expose the absurdity of consumer culture (“Who Gives a Buck?”) or lack of understanding of where our food really comes from (“The Good, the Bad and the Wallaby”).

In other words, all that screwball, hyper-real absurdity had a point and damn good, finely-realised one that meant you were laughing, and laughing often, but always with your brain engaged too which made all the pleasure of Rocko’s company all the more rewarding.

It was silliness with brains, and it worked an absolute treat.

 

 

But all that inventive parodying, and imaginative artwork – everything resembled a warped Salvador Dali-creation from the doors and furniture to the buildings and car; O-Town was not a town in love with symmetry – wouldn’t have meant nearly as much without characters you gave a damn about.

In that respect, Rocko’s Modern Life excelled too.

Central to the absurdist theatre was the enduring friendship of thoughtful, cautious Rocko and garrulous, impetuous Heffer.

Like many BBFs, they annoyed the heck out of each other at times – to be fair it was mostly Heffer annoying Rocko who ended up in all kinds of weird scrapes and situations thanks to his ill-thinking “woohoo let’s do it!” friend – but they always had each other’s backs, were solid company for each other and got through the oddities of life in O-Town, one fuelled by its owner Conglom-O Corporation which had as its not entirely reassuring slogan “We Own You”.

Their relationship gave the show, which was known for its racy humour – it once has a chicken outlet called Chokey Chicken, changed to Chewy Chicken when its connection to a particularly pleasurable solo act was made a thing of – and Looney Tunes-esque scenes, a great deal of its emotional resonance.

With that anchoring of real, solid, true friendship, Rocko’s Modern Life would not have had anywhere near as much appeal.

After all, all the great over the top parodies have always had a central emotional core underpinning their adventures in the out-there and the extreme, and Murray’s creation was no different, giving something to care about as we clutched ourselves laughing.

Throw in a neurotic turtle named Filburt (Mr. Lawrence), Rocko’s adorably faithful dog Spunky (Alazraqui) and the toad couple next door Ed and Bev  Bighead (Charlie Adler) and you had an impressive cast of characters that made watching the show as nourishing for the soul as it was a treat for the eyes and the mind.

This was cartooning writ large, with bold ideas, a willingness to push the envelope until everything crazy and colourful burst through, brilliantly-outsized characters and narratives that went there and back and then all way back there again, an underrated cartoon series that showed us clever the artform can be if you have a bunch of people brave enough to play around with it and see what happens.

For more detail on Rocko’s Modern Life, check out Wikipedia and Mental Floss.

 

 

 

 


* For lots more fantastic Rocko’s Modern Life clips, go to NickSplat on YouTube.

But wait! There’s more …

 

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

Putting the “modern” back into Rocko’s Modern Life is a brand new reboot movie from the original creators and with the original voice cast that sees the gang grappling with an altogether different decade to their beloved ’90s as EW details:

“After having been blasted into outer space with Heffer and Filburt in 1996, Rocko returns to Earth and struggles to fit into the world that the 21st century has long since accepted. Food trucks, iPhones, energy drinks, 3-D printers, and social media are all ripe for skewering by the gang.”

Rocko, heffer and Filburt with iPhones, superhero blockbusters and food gone mega-sized and postmodern? This will be a hoot of a parody!

For more on the reboot, slated to debut in 2018, go to Entertainment Weekly.

 

Film review: Dunkirk

(image via IMP Awards)

 

War is, by any estimation, a harrowing and horrifying experience.

There is nothing edifying or life-affirming about it in any way, but as Christopher Nolan’s latest, and you could well argue, greatest masterpiece Dunkirk demonstrates with engrossing intensity, the actions of people within that macabre theatre of human misery can be both of these things.

Set in May-June 1940, when 400,000 British, French, Belgian and Canadian troops were massed in the titular French coastal town, pinned down by overwhelming numbers of German soldiers who had encircled them from every side and were, quite literally, moving in for the kill, the film is testament to the fact that even when the worst of humanity’s traits are in full, voluble sway that it is possible for hope and faithfulness and life to find a way through.

Using Churchill’s inspiring speeches as narrative inspiration, which reference fighting the enemy on the beaches, in the air and on the sea, Nolan, who wrote the screenplay, gives us a story split three, highly-dramatic and never-uninvolving ways.

Throughout the film’s 106 minutes, an admirably slim running time for such an impressive blockbuster that sees the film not once overstay its welcome or overplay its hand, we are introduced to a number of airmen, soldiers and navy personnel, none of whom we get to know particularly well, but all of whom have stories so compelling that it is near to impossible to lose interest or turn away.

Dunkirk is intense, drawing on everything from Hans Zimmer’s beautiful, pounding score that builds and builds tension and mood almost from the get-go to adroit switches from one story arc to another (all of which play out over different time periods). Through all this it is never once manipulative, happy, if you can use that word in a film so emotionally taxing on multiple levels, to let this dramatically true story do its own talking.

 

(image via official Dunkirk Facebook page)

 

The secret to bringing what is, by any count, a mammoth recounting of events, which saw almost 340,000 servicemen rescued from near certain death or capture (far in excess of British military command’s initial goal of saving 30,000 personnel), is narrowing the narrative’s focus down to a number of highly-concentrated, very personal tales.

Hardly an innovative strategy, and one employed by many films dealing with so large an historical canvas, but where Nolan, succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly, is by making these stories count, drawing out key elements of bravery and fortitude of the many people who transformed, by their bravery and perseverance, what could have been an utter catastrophe into a triumph, one that is often popularly referred to as the Miracle of Dunkirk.

On the sea, we are introduced to Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), and their teenage employee George (Barry Keoghan), whose small boat has been requisitioned by the navy to rescue trapped personnel from the beaches at Dunkirk (where they rather stoically line up in very neat lines, despite the constant threat of strafing by the Luftwaffe).

Setting out bravely but knowing full well the risks involved – the channel crossing is strewn with the carcasses of large naval ships who run afoul of German U-Boats and bombers – they first encounter a deeply-traumatised sinking survivor played by Cillian Murphy, who’s huddled atop the floating wreck of the ship that should have been his salvation.

While they try to reassure him that he will be OK, despite his understandable and quite aggressive concern that going back to Dunkirk will be the death of them all, a gambit which comes with tragic circumstances, they come across a huge number of survivors of another sinking, coated in oil and close to be being burnt alive if their oily, watery prison catches fire.

Their actions in saving so many men typifies those of so many small boat owners who came from ports up and down the British east coast, responding to a call to save their country’s brightest and finest fighting men.

Nolan admirably demonstrates how important these boats were to the eventual success of the evacuation officially known as Operation Dynamo, with their arrival en masse a heroic and tear-inducing moment that, thanks to the carnage already displayed onscreen with relentless and emotionally-resonant precision, preparing us for how remarkable an occurrence this was given the circumstances.

The tears in the eyes of Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and his sincere utterance that these boats represent hope don’t come across as twee for even a nanosecond, proof that Nolan’s pitch-perfect nuanced screenplay and his expert direction have communicated profoundly well just how miraculous, and moving, a moment this was.

 

(image via official Dunkirk Facebook page)

 

Heroic escapes and actions aside, and there are many of them despite the death toll that was all but inevitable with so many men packed so tightly on one beach, the most compelling part of Dunkirk, even if you know your history, is will these men survive?

No matter how you crunch the numbers of survivors, Nolan makes it plainly clear that the fact that anyone survived at all is as close to a miracle as we get in this world, particularly when it is ripping itself apart in war; in fact, as we see characters like the lead, British army private Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and his compatriots Alex (Harry Styles, who acquits himself well in his first major role) and an unnamed French soldier played by Damien Bonnard, have survival pulled from their hands over and over and over again, you marvel at the fact that anyone made it out alive.

As Nolan explained to The Wrap, this was precisely his intent for the film:

“The empathy for the characters has nothing to do with their story. I did not want to go through the dialogue, tell the story of my characters … The problem is not who they are, who they pretend to be or where they come from. The only question I was interested in was: Will they get out of it? Will they be killed by the next bomb while trying to join the mole? Or will they be crushed by a boat while crossing?”

It is this goal for the film that informs its sparse dialogue, reliance on mood and intensity over indepth character-setting – though a sense of the people involved and what survival meant to them most certainly emerges and with powerful conviction – and which ultimately renders it such an immeasurably remarkable and intensely-affecting piece of cinema.

Whether we’re out on the boats or witnessing aerial dogfights between the Luftwaffe and British airmen such as Collins (Jack Lowden) or Farrier (Tom Hardy), or on the crowded wharf and beaches of Dunkirk, we bear witness in ways all too heroic and often supremely heroic and selfless, to the great, tenacious capacity of the human spirit to fight for survival, no matter how horrifically overwhelming the odds.

Dunkirk is a magnificent, utterly immersive experience that never trivialises its gripping events as some cheesy, half-baked cliche of war story tropes, choosing instead at every turn to double down on its humanity – it never shirks from the idea that some people simply want to survive, no matter what but it never demonises them, casting an understanding eye on what drove them – and the realness of war, and the capacity of men to be noble and achieve great things despite the nightmare unfolding around them, and the great costs that inevitably come with heroic sacrifice.

 

 

 

The short and the short of it: The dystopian desperation of Helio

(image via YouTube (c) DUST)

 

SNAPSHOT
It’s been almost 200 years since “the final war”, and the masses dwell in a grimy underground metropolis, controlled by their totalitarian government’s cruel police force. It’s a grim future indeed… until one desperate man lucky enough to own a very special pair of shoes accidentally inspires an uprising. (synopsis via Gizmodo)

Next to life, which as Jeff Goldbum reminded us is Jurassic Park “will always out”, freedom is the next great universal constant (next to perhaps love) which will always rise to the top.

No matter how brutal and diabolical a regime may be, history has shown again and again that sooner or later, people will rise up and tyrannical governments will fall.

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”, an historical constant that finds rich expression in Helio, another of the uniformly excellent short films from DUST, which describes itself as “the first multi-platform destination for binge watchable sci-fi”.

Given how compellingly well-written and realised, each of their short films like Helio, I can personally attest to their bingeable nature.

Helio is right up there with the best of their output, a brilliant testament to humanity’s irrepressible willingness to do what it takes to be free, that pulls no punches when it comes to what the cost is, but affirms again and again that it is always worth paying.