The hero DCEU doesn’t deserve: Wonder Woman Honest Trailer

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Wonder Woman, this year’s superhero smash hit, was a breath of cinematic fresh air.

Featuring a kickass female hero who was capable and strong and yet demonstrably human (while, yes, still being a literal god), the film, directed by Patty Jenkins, who now has the gig for Wonder Woman 2, put a woman front and centre and was all the stronger for it.

As the latest Honest Trailer, humourously and yet quite insightfully points out, Wonder Woman may be flawed but it still stands head and shoulders above many of the films starring male superheroes, proof that Hollywood needs to make films that reflect all of society, not just one narrow subsection of it.

The brilliance of these Honest Trailers, from the humourously incisive minds of Screen Junkies, is that they make the kind of points that they need to be made in a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down kind of way.

Watch it, laugh and find yourself nodding your head in agreement pretty much all the way through.

 

Finally watched: Schitt’s Creek

(image courtesy CBC)

 

If you were to look at Schitt’s Creek‘s premise in isolation, you might be tempted to wonder if we haven’t been down this folksy, poorly-bitumenised road before.

That’s hardly a crime of course since most TV shows owes some debt of gratitude, large or small, to their broadcast antecedents, and to be fair, if it’s done well, the idea of pampered rich folks ending up living considerably down on their luck in a middle of nowhere, unadorned small town (which they own; it’s their sole remaining asset), can actually prove quite entertaining.

But it hardly screams originality as a lovely little narrative proposition on paper which is why its taken me three years, and a Netflix-subscription to give it the time of day.

The upshot of all this much-delayed viewing, with 39 episodes over three seasons tucked away in the binge-worthy bank, is that the hackneyed premise has been a whole new, uproariously funny lease on life by Eugene and Dan Levy, the father & son team who star in the show as fallen video store magnate Johnny Rose and his pampered son David respectively.

Joined by the inimical Catherine O’Hara as Sunset Boulevard-ish daytime soap actress Moira and Annie Murphy as daughter Alexis who has a thing for rich heirs named Stavros, the Levys, who are joined on the show by Sarah Levy as Twyla Sands, have come up with a fish-out-of-water sitcom that actually generates more than a few laughs per 20 minute running time.

Much of that has to do with the trouble they’ve obviously taken to craft characters who actually make sense; sure they’re trope-heavy to some extent, an almost inevitable outcome given the history of the genre and the needs for oddball personalities to serve the great machine of idiosyncratic comedy; but they’re also real, sweet, genuine people who have a life beyond the next punchline.

 

(image courtesy CBC)

 

Take the Roses themselves.

Johnny is actually a decent, in-touch kinda guy; yes, he’s taken aback by his change in fortune, precipitated by his business manager failing to pay taxes and absconding with all their money to a tax haven somewhere, and wishes things were different, but he’s also grounded enough to realise that he and his family have little choice but to knuckle down and make the most of things.

The rest of the family are not quite so together with Moira convinced that her acting as a spokeswoman for a local fruit wine company may presage a theatrical comeback, one that might derailed by her descents into weirdly disconnected of melancholy and professional regret, David, given to wearing designer clothes and a pansexual, glamorous lifestyle, not quite understanding he may need to work for a living, and Alexis struggling with the idea that her pool of status-climbing would-be husbands has dwindled to the depth of a small pool during the African dry season.

It’s their sense of dislocation and unwillingness to accept their new fate – made all the funnier by Moira constantly riffing on the idea of being in an internment camp or wishing that they all die before they wake up, patent overreactions that reflect how horrified the whole family by their new status in life – that drives much of the humour in the show.

But the Levys, backed by a crack team of writers, have gone to enormous trouble to move the family way beyond the realm of one-trick, oneliner ponies.

As time goes on, it turns Moira, who is not exactly mother of the year, does have a heart and a capacity for adapting, David finds out that perhaps there is a place for him in the most unexpected of places and Alexis discovers that not all her romantic prospects have to own expensive yachts and attend Diddy’s White Parties (in fact, frankly, it’s better if they don’t).

In other words, they’re fleshed out as fully-formed people who have inestimable quirks yes and a burning desire to get back to their old lifestyle but also authentically, realistically human, meaning the humour is less about the same old obvious jokes all the time and more about where the characters take it.

The same applies to almost every other character including mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott; his name delights my inner five year old no end), his high school teacher wife Jocelyn (Jennifer Robertson), motel clerk-then-owner Stevie (Emily Hampshire), the unrequited object of Alexis’s affection Mutt (Tim Rozen) and girlfriend Twyla, and honestly just about everybody of nay note in the show.

 

(image courtesy CBC)

 

This comedy-boosting attention to detailed characterisation pays off bigtime, as does the willingness of Schitt’s Creek to treat everyone with the requisite amount of respect.

So committed to the cause is the show that at one point, when Moira, fresh from getting the same hairstyle of every other woman in town at the local salon, laments once again being in Schitt’s Creek at all.

She’s immediately picked up by Jocelyn who acknowledges that there is a lot the town doesn’t have but that it has a great deal to offer even so and it’s her defense of the show that forces Moira to reconsider her constant carping and explain to Jocelyn why she puts things down so often.

It grounds and humanises both characters, affirms that Schitt’s Creek may be quirky and less-than-ideal in certain ways but that’s still somewhere worth living; neither party is maligned, there’s enough left in the premise to fuel the comedy (which is largely character-driven anyway) and the show moves beyond cheap-and-cheerful set-ups to something far more sophisticated.

And, it must be said, very, very , VERY funny.

If you’ve reached the point with many sitcoms, such as The Big Bang Theory (I love it but it is well past its prime) where your reactions are measured less in uncontrolled guffawing and persistent ringing laughter than the occasional titter and half-baked smile, you’ll delight in the ability of Schitt’s Creek to make you laugh, and laugh hard.

Constantly. Persistently. Episode to exquisitely well-wrought episode.

It rarely drops the comedic baton, takes well-worn narrative and character tropes and spins them in a whole new light, engrossingly hilarious light, gives a damn about the longevity of its characters and understands that good comedy must have some humanity and substances to it if it’s going to have kind of longevity (three seasons and counting).

It’s not always absolutely perfect but what show is, and it gets it rights, and hilariously so, far more than many other sitcoms on air at the moment, proof that you can indeed teach an old genre new tricks and make it funny into the bargain,.

 

 

 

Radius: Don’t come near me or you’ll die (trailer)

(poster courtesy official Radius Facebook page)

 

SNAPSHOT
Co-directed by filmmakers Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard, Radius is about a guy who wakes up from an accident with no memory and an unfortunate power: if anyone ventures too close to him, they die instantly. (synopsis (c) Gizmodo)

With the current deluge of superhero films showing no signs of abating, audiences have become well used to people from diverse walks of life being gifted with all kinds of extraordinary power.

Spiderman? Once good old Pete Parker, now web-slinger extraordinaire. The Atom (Ray Palmer) inherited the ability to change his size after some experiments with matter compression. And The Fantastic Four? One trip to space and they’re nothing like the people they once were.

 

 

But the protagonist in Radius, played with trademark taciturn vulnerability by Diego Klattenhoff (Homeland, The Blacklist, Pacific Rim), has no such luck – though to be fair, none of the aforementioned superheroes were quite sure what to do with their powers at first either; still at least they were mortally wounding to anyone around them so there’s that – ending up with a shellshocked memory and a field around him that kills anyone who gets too close.

It’s frightening, horrifically disorienting, and comes with all manner of nightmarish implications.

According to Gizmodo, “the buzz from festival screenings hasn’t been great” but it’s such a clever, out there premise with kinds of existentially angsty implications, that you really hope everyone who saw it was just having a really bad day.

Not as bad as the Radius guy, of course but then honestly, who is?

Radius has so far screened at Fantasia Film Festival (Canada), Horror Channel FrightFest (UK) and Fantastic Fest (USA); no mainstream release details are currently available.

Movie review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Society has some weirdly orthodox ideas about love.

It should occur between people of roughly the same age, an older man with a younger woman (or man) is fine but the reverse, oddly and misogynistically, is not, and marriage is lauded while living together, though commonly practised, is not.

It’s all very neat and tidy, and you could argue highly unrealistic, and not, as Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a self-described jobbing actor from Liverpool, even remotely amenable to the unpredictable delightful vagaries of love.

In 1978, Turner, the youngest of nine children who had grown up on a council estate before falling in love with acting thanks to his mother’s cleaning job at the local variety theatre, the Pivvy, found himself meeting, becoming friends and falling in love, all in quick succession, with Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening in superlative form), a veteran Hollywood actress who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in MGM’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

Married four times, in the waning twilight of her career, and 29 years older than him (he was 26), Gloria was not the sort of person Turner might have expected he would fall in love with, and yet love blossomed and developed into a serious affair that lasted until 1981 when the actress, diagnosed with end-stage stomach cancer and unwilling to share the news with him or her family, pushed him out of her life.

By Turner’s account, the years inbetween their meeting at a theatrical boarding house in London – Grahame was often in the UK for theatre work – and the end of their relationship were happy ones, a down-to-earth existence made up of dinners in pubs, kebabs on the streets and for a time life in the Big Apple where Grahame had an apartment.

While Turner’s mother Bella (Julie Walters) and Joe (Kenneth Cranham) were supportive of the relationship, not everyone was, not simply because it breached societal norms but because the idea of a glamorous Hollywood actress, who called Bogart and Bacall friends and neighbours, falling in love with an actor from the Liverpool stage was simply inconceivable.

As the Pivvy’s stage manager once said to Turner as he rushed in to perform in a plat one night, distracted by Grahame’s impending death – she was holed up in the spare bedroom at the family home, calling on her one time paramour one last, critically-important time – “Film stars don’t die in Liverpool.”

 

 

So much for what should happen then.

Turner, to his credit, never cared for what people thought, and Grahame, a classic free spirit with some highly idiosyncratic ideas about love, beauty and societal expectations, was very much of the same mind, which accounts for how their relationship happened at all, and how it sustained itself at all.

What is also obvious from Matt Greenhalgh’s marvellously understated screenplay, which moves between the past and present with a sinuous theatrical ease, taking right into the marrow of Turner and Grahame’s memories, is now devoted the two unlikely lovers were to each other.

So devoted in fact that Turner didn’t hesitate for a second when Grahame called him out of the blue, months after the end of their relationship, to ask for palliative sanctuary at the end of her life.

Under Paul McGuigan’s confidently nuanced direction, this devotion is treated as naturally as any other relationship, given equal footing with anyone’s else love, a perfectly natural response but one that didn’t square with society’s expectations of love in any way, shape or form.

Yet as you watch the tenderness on Turner’s face every time he is with Grahame, the sheer rapturous delight that dances across it when they kiss, when he sees L.A. or New York with Gloria by his side, or when they’re simply spending a lazy morning in bed making love, you come to understand this was no mere fling.

In fact, the depth and potency of their love is on full display in the final acts when Turner, riven with deep anguish by Graham’s looming passing, goes to inordinate trouble to fulfill his love’s wish to perform the role of Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) on stage before she dies.

Though they’re seated and largely reading from the play itself, there is a tender poignancy to the whole scene, as Turner helps Grahame realise a lifelong dream, one that Turner inadvertently ridicules when Grahame first suggests it at the start of their relationship, but which becomes a final powerful statement of their love.

 

 

It’s a beautiful, intensely moving though never overplayed or manipulated for cheap sentiment; rather McGuigan allows it to play itself out with a breathtakingly touching quietude that says nothing more or nothing less than this is a love that matters, opinions be damned.

As a love letter to love itself, in all its myriad unconventional beauty, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, is exceptionally good.

It never once resorts to cheap gimmick or melodramatically cloying sentiment, instead letting this wholly remarkable, beautifully tender story play out.

The love between Turner and Grahame was not fairytale perfect, but it was real, it did matter to both of them, despite intense scepticism from the actress’s sister who couldn’t understand how someone as young as one of Grahame’s children, couldn’t possibly be really in love or want a relationship with her sister.

There is no happy ever after since Grahame died a few hours after returning home to New York with her son – against her wishes Turner contacted her children and gave them the news – except in so far as these two unexpected lovers were given that rare thing in life, a chance to make amends and go out on a note of sweet reconciliation.

That, and the idea that romantic orthodoxy be damned (not that this was ever the intent of Grahame and Turner; they simply fell in love), lend this quietly moving, exquisitely well-wrought film a sustained, profoundly-affecting emotional resonance that lasts long after the final goodbyes of this most enchanting and unlikely of couples.

 

The John Lewis Christmas ad 2017 is here! And so the festive season begins …

Moz the Monster (image via YouTube (c) John Lewis)

 

Year after gloriously festive year, the Christmas ads of UK department store John Lewis are that one rare exception to featuring commercial ads on this blog.

That’s largely because the ads, while obviously selling something, are far more creative than your usual “Hey we have Christmas stuff! Come and buy it!”

The ads are usually exquisitely well-written, full of rich-emotionally resonant humanity and have that magical sense of otherworldliness that is inextricably linked to the festive season.

This year’s ad, directed by Michael Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) has just dropped after a great deal of feverish anticipation, and while it’s not as immediately affecting as past efforts such as 2015’s delightful The Man on the Moon which was one of the most beautiful short films I’ve ever seen, there is a real joy to Moz the Monster and his antics under the bed of one little boy.

 

 

At first scared, then intrigued and finally beguiled, Joe finally delights in the company of Moz, who shows a heartwarming willingness to keep his young friend company all through the night, no matter the activity.

The downside to all this frivolity and fun? It takes place at night which creates all kind of havoc for Joe who must decide whether it’s sleep or Moz he needs more.

There’s some genuinely sweet, moving moments in the ad, and while some people have complained it’s not Christmas-sy enough, there’s a huge amount of heart and you can’t help but fall in love with Moz who, it won’t surprise you to learn, has an impressive range of merch at John Lewis to his name. (10% of the proceeds are going to children’s charity Barnardo’s.

Granted some people have issues with the ad, but it has a gorgeous air of magical realism about it, a lovely theme of belonging and caring, and Elbow singing a pitch-perfect cover of The Beatles’ song “Golden Slumber”.

Yeah think I’m in love already …

Want to spend some quality time with Moz? You can! Go here and create your own monster.

 

 

Let’s be honest, the John Lewis ad is the main festive advertising game in town. But Marks & Spencer have made a major play for the delightful warm-and-fuzzies with their recently-released advert featuring a gorgeously oblivious Paddington Bear who mistakes a thief for Santa, in the process making things profoundly better for everyone concerned …

(source: Digital Spy)

Star Trek Discovery: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” (S1, E8 review)

It’s peace, love and mung beans at 40 paves as Tyler, Burnham and Saru discover they may not be on the same existentialist page (image courtesy CBS)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ALIENS TOO DAMN PEACE-LOVING FOR THEIR OWN GOOD … AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE ELSE’S 

Grab your tie dyed T-shirts! Get used to eating tofu and mung beans! Make love not war and slap a peace sign and some rainbows on a Volkswagen Beetle – it’s time to get your Star Trek: Discovery hippy on!

Well, at least it is for Lt. Saru (Doug Jones) who, on an away mission to the planet Pahvo, which owes a debt of gratitude to Avatar, down to the colour scheme, with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), found himself rather caught up in the peace, love and harmony (and maybe tofu? Hard to say but let’s say yes) of the ethereal blue-energy inhabitants of the planet who were the planet.

While not a note of “Kumbayah” was heard, it was fairly evident that Saru, a Kelpien (the first in Starflee, no less) whose species evolved on a planet with apex predators that hunted them, leaving them perpetually fearful and able to sense death (what a cheery combo!), had drunk the peaceful Kool-Aid and was hellbent on getting Burnham and Tyler to stay with him in his New Age commune.

Trouble was, and doesn’t real life always get in the way dammit, they were there to analyse the planet’s unending harmonic frequencies in the hope that it would give them some insight into detecting the Klingons’ invisibility cloaks that was giving their spaceships a rather sizeable tactical advantage.

Burnham and Tyler weren’t buying the new chilled Saru and did their best to carry out the mission, with Burnham getting as far as integrating their computer into the planet’s crystalline transmitting structure – handily it came with a USB port thus making the process all that much faster – but they kept getting violently waylaid by Saru who wanted PEACE NOW DAMMIT!

Yep, ain’t nothing worse than a fervent new believer is there? Doesn’t matter if its religion, washing detergent or a blue shimmering alien consciousness, recent converts are determined that you will join them come what may and Saru was definitely living out the cliche, doing everything he could to make Burnham and Tyler chillingly vibe along with him.

 

“So you’re acting really weird.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You thought I was the Captain.”
“Then yes I am.” (image courtesy CBS)

 

And frankly who could blame him?

After a lifetime of fear personally, and millennia upon millennia for his people, here was a chance to kick back, walk mindfully among the trees, commune with an alien race who simply want everyone to get along.

It’s an appealing idea, and one that, in a time of war where hundreds can die in an instant – “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”, which means “If you want peace, prepare for war”, began with a dogfight with the USS Gargarin, Discovery and some cloaked Klingon ships with the former Starfleet vessel losing out in the exchange – becomes even so.

The story, which combined good old-fashioned Star Trek story-within-a-story with the ongoing arc that has sustained Star Trek Discovery rather magnificently over the last eight episodes, gave us some touching insight into Saru who, later back on the ship was aghast at the lengths he had gone to in order to keep the peace, love and mung beans vibe kicking on for eternity.

Beyond that though, it spoke to the existential exhaustion of war – once begun it has to be fought especially if you want to preserve your way of life which the Federation won’t certainly wants to do but it is nightmarishly tiring on just about plane of existence.

The pressure, the tension, the loss, the death – it all goes on and on and on and it makes sense that Saru, run down by a lifetime of fearfulness, wouldn’t want to kick back and let the Pahvoans take charge.

Which, even once they’d all got to Discovery, they did, naively sending out an invitation to the Klingons to come and join them and the aghast people of Starfleet – what what? Yes we know they’re curious and love peace and we told we were at war and they want to fix it? WHAT?! – for some lovely, warm-and-fuzzy peace talks.

All very nice and life-affirming but when you are squaring off against a race whose highest honour is dying valiantly in war, and who live for a good old bit of biffo (Aussie slang – physical or verbal conflict; your new word for the day!), it can only end in near-disaster, likely that of the Pahvoans who have no idea what they have unleashed on themselves.

Burnham does however and urges Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who stick around save Saru’s tofu-loving friends; whether he will or not is another matter entirely since he has proven himself pragmatically ruthless in almost every situation, even sending his good friend, Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) into harm’s way where she was captured by the Klingons.

 

Love is in the air … and weird energy beings, strange vibrations, insanity … so lots of stuff really (image courtesy CBS)

 

Speaking of whom, are still not entirely unified and Pahvo-ing the hell out of life.

Clear evidence was provided by a clearly disgruntled L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) who decided, under the guise of interrogating Cornwell in a bid to please Kol (Kenneth Mitchell), sprung the Admiral from her cage, in return for some asylum in the Federation.

A thoroughly wonderful plan that almost came a cropper when Kol, ruthlesslsy uniting the Klingon houses with the promise of invisibility cloaks for their ships, saw him escaping down a passage way with Cornwell.

L’Rell naturally did what anyone would in that situation – she beat the crap of Cornwell, something Kol quite approved of (although oddly he left her to it, indicating he’s either way too trusting for his own good or late for dinner) – and dragged to a waiting shuttle which was, rather delightfully, full of the bodies of her slain friends and fellow T’Kuvma devotees.

But while things were looking decidedly south-ish for L’Rell, and it has to be said for Cornwell who has no doubt had way better days, Tyler and Burnham were going in for their first kiss, all while fending off a peaced-up Saru.

Of course, Burnham had to break the spell by pointing out that when the war ends, she’s back to a penal colony but that didn’t stop Tyler who suggested they keep the war going for years if it keeps them together.

Awwww that’s not the least bit selfish at all now is it? OK, WAAAAY selfish but also really sweet and romantic, as was Stamets’ (Anthony Rapp) decision, after being challenged by a concerned Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) who saw him wig out after a Spore Drive jump, not to tell his hubby, and the ship’s doctor, Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), that powering the ship’s super fast drive was doing weird things to him.

Yes, just as Saru was lost in vistas of brotherhood, love and peace, Stamets was going back to being angry and loopy, a sign that maybe being a human engine – let’s hear for power by genetic manipulation! – was not really working for him in the long term.

Alas though it’s working for the Discovery, Lorca and the Federation and so you get the feeling that regardless of what he, Saru or Tyler or Burnham wants that the fight will go on at god knows what cost to everyone. (It was nice to have a little peace for a moment though wasn’t it?)

  • So what’s up next, Doc? Well, a mid-season finale in the form of “Into the Forest I Go” where Klingons and humans get up close and hostile and everything could go to crap  or … c’mon it’s cliffhanger so what do you think?

 

Jane Goodall and her love affair with Africa (documentary)

(image via Pinterest (c) National Geographic Society)

 

I have long had a fascination with the natural world.

It’s hard to say where it started exactly – the books of Gerald Durrell? The documentaries of David Attenborough? – but one thing is for sure, the magazines of the National Geographic Society, which my parents subscribed to for years, and specifically stories about conservationist and scientist, Dr. Jane Goodall, who went to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, Africa to study chimpanzees at the age of 26 in 1960 and never really left.

I can remember poring over the issue above over and over (published mere days after my birth), obsessed with the wonder and diversity of life on this planet and impressed with anyone who would work so hard to study it and promote its preservation.

So it thrills me that National Geographic, who got the Goodall wagon rolling for me all those years ago, have commissioned a documentary, Jane, on the great woman’s life, which draws on an impressive amount of footage and research:

“Now, at 83, she’s the subject of a beautiful new documentary, Jane, from Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture; Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck) — complete with an original score from Philip Glass. It’s made up of 140 hours of silent footage from Goodall’s earliest days in Gombe that were found in a National Geographic storage locker in 2014. And in addition to all the cute, and sometimes scary, footage of chimps, also reveals the swoon-worthy love story of how Goodall met her first husband, Baron Hugo van Lawick, in the wilds of Africa. He was a handsome and single Dutch photographer and filmmaker — widely regarded as one of the greatest wildlife cinematographers of all time — whom Nat Geo had sent out to chronicle Goodall’s journey, and it’s his footage that was found in that storage locker.” (source: Vulture)

 

 

Through the interview with Goodall and Morgen about Jane, featured on Vulture, you get the impression of Goodall’s down to earth nature, her curiosity for the natural world and her willingness to do what it takes to pursue her passion, a quality, she notes, that likely landed her the job with the revered paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey:

“Well, I’d read every book about animals. And then he let me go on an expedition searching for fossils in Kenya, and I think there he saw that I was really fitted for living in the wild, because we had one cup of water a day for washing, and I never complained. We were only allowed to wash our hair when the water truck came back and that was every two weeks.

“But I think even more important was there was one day when we came upon a young male lion, fully grown, and very curious. [The other young woman on the expedition] wanted to go into the thick vegetation to hide. And I said, “That’s silly. He’ll know exactly where we are, but we won’t have a clue where he is.” So I said, “No. We have to climb up onto the open plain.” I think that was the evening that Leakey agreed I was the right person.”

In just the short space of this engrossing interview you get a delightful sense of Goodall is and why she committed so much time and energy, indeed her whole life, to studying and publicising the diverse wildlife of Africa.

That alone should make Jane engrossing, must-see viewing.

Jane will screen in selected theatres across the USA in November and December; no word on international screenings at this time.

 

 

Weekend pop art: To every letter of the alphabet, a pop culture icon

Walter washing his Winnebago (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

 

Now if you’re anything like me (way older than school age), it’s highly likely you haven’t been asked to recite your ABCs or sing the Alphabet Song for quite some time.

Which is a pity because two artists, Tom Whalen and Dave Perillo, who recently exhibited their work at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, CA, have gone to town with each of them giving all the letters their own personal pop culture makeover.

The results, as Gizmodo nicely observed, are “are always random, always cool, and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious.”

Want to teach the letter W with a Breaking Bad twist? You can! Feel like indulging in all things “J” by going to a galaxy far, far away a long time ago? Then you should!

In 52 distinctive pieces of art Whalen and Perillo have made the alphabet funky, fun and zeitgeisty, prompting all of us who have recited their ABCs in years to get back in the alphabetical groove all over again.

Admiral Ackbar playing an accordion with an antelope (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Dracula driving Miss Daisy in a Dodge (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Mr T taming a triceratops near a tent (image via Gizmodo (c) Tom Whalen)

 

Pokemon playing poker (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

 

Jawa, Jaxxon and Jar Jar jumping rope on Jakku (image via Gizmodo (c) Dave Perillo)

Godless: “‘Tis a fearful thing, to love what death can touch”

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Set in the 1880s American West, Godless follows notorious criminal Frank Griffin (Daniels) and his gang of outlaws on a mission of revenge against Roy Goode (O’Connell), a prodigal son type who betrayed his former brotherhood. While on the run, Roy seeks refuge at the ranch of hardened, outcast widower Alice Fletcher (Dockery) in the isolated and run-down mining town of La Belle, N.M., which is mysteriously made up entirely of women—an interesting wrinkle to an otherwise standard-issue set-up. When the residents of La Belle catch wind that Griffin is headed their way, they’re forced to band together for a showdown with the outlaw’s murderous gang. (synopsis (c) Paste Magazine)

Westerns are one of those genres with (in some cases, literal) well-worn tracks.

Good against bad. Weathered souls and hopeful newcomers. Overwhelmed law enforcement (such as it is) against staggeringly powerful criminal elements.

Godless, from the master hand of Steven Soderbergh, seems to have all these and more, and yet for all the wild western tropes present and accounted for, you get the very real sense that there is something utterly remarkable and wholly original in the offing.

There is a real poetry (thanks in part to the sampling of actual poetry by Spanish-Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi) to this gorgeously-rendered teaser trailer, a sense of being taken deep into something, which augurs well for a TV show with a premise as immersive as this one sounds.

Godless premieres on Netflix 22 November.

 

 

Book review: The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

(cover art courtesy Penguin Books Australia)

 

There is an immersive sense of otherworldliness that must be present in any fantasy tale worth it’s magical salt, if we are to truly buy into its escapist narrative.

A sense that you are in a world completely and utterly not your own, and yet, and here lies the tricky balancing act, still very human and relatable.

Mark Tompkins manages to propel us far from the drab confines of the everyday with ease in The Last Days of Magic, which tells the story of the near-death of magic in Ireland in the 14th century at the hands of the combined forces of the English crown and the avaricious twisted forces of the Vatican instead on seeing itself as the One True Church.

Ireland at this time, or at least in Tompkins retelling of it (there’s a great deal of historical elasticity at play here to pleasing effect), is a place overflowing with Ardor, as magical energy is rather magically known, populated by mystical Celts, witches, liberal Christians in the form of the Irish Free Church, a democratic monarchy that elects its kings and queens, and a host of Nephilim such as faeries (Sidhe), mermaids (Fomorians), the product of “unholy” unions between humanity and angels or demons.

“As the black mass passed overhead, Liam knew he had been called, an enchanted call that told him he would soon be needed elsewhere. It may have come in the cry of the birds, or in the wind they rode upon, or in the leaves that rustled in their wake. Or perhaps from something else entirely. It was a moment of knowing for those like Liam who could still perceive. Even in Ireland many were forgetting how to–forgetting itself a force as powerful as any spell–but not those who carried the blood of the Sidhe.” (P. 29)

In contrast to the rest of Europe, which has long had since the Ardor squeezed out of it – although a powerful witches coven in the French Court and the Vatican’s heretic-hunting VRS League seem happy to use it for their own nefarious ends – Ireland is running amuck with it, with battles fought and won based on the magical power that each power can access and manifest.

The greatest power of them all is the Goddess Morrígna who, much like the Christian God who shares Irish belief systems with her,is a three part entity, one anchored in the Annan or Otherworld, the other two taking the form of red-headed female twins called Anya and Aisling, one a learned scholar, the other a warrior, but both, especially after they unite at age 14, as the protector of Ireland and her magical independence.

Together all these mystical beings and the people who treat them with due reverence make up a sprawling tapestry of life and belief in the Emerald Isle, a rich, powerful and varied panoply of belief that Tompkins brings to life with vivacious intensity, in the process reminding us how much we have lost in our rush to the perceived safety of monotheism, modernity and materialism.

 

Mark Tompkins (image courtesy official author website)

 

One thing that strikes you almost immediately as you tear into The Last Days of Magic – it makes for compulsive reading; perhaps the result of a spell, or more likely, Tompkins beautifully balanced writing which moves between momentous narrative, historical truth and emotional resonance with exquisite ease – is the way the book flows so easily between the epic grandeur of power and the endless battles for it, and intimate moments between characters.

Far more than epics like Game of Thrones, where most everyone is hellbent on the others’ destruction, The Last Days of Magic gives us all too-human characters and otherworldly beings who laugh, take joy in quiet moments and who fight, not for power necessarily, than the right to remain able to determine their own destinies.

It is this innate humanity, which suffuses every page of this marvellously engaging, endlessly escapist book – even when hideously naked realpolitik is at play, you feel somehow removed from our world, perhaps because magic is accorded a reality and truth rarely present in our blandly materialistic modern world – which gives this brilliantly-detailed book such a burning, engrossing readability.

“The blackness drew back across the mouth of the cave, boiled there. Semjâzâ spat out curses understood only by those present in the first days of the world, words that formed into black serpents, only to dissolve into fireflies as they crawled towards Aisling. In the same language, Aisling began to repeat Gabriel’s order to Uriel. Her index finger left a luminescent trail as she draw a complex symbol in the air.” (P. 166)

This is magic and fantasy sprung vividly to life, mixed with the the best and the worst of humanity, a tale that spins together the factual and the imagined, the mystical and the material to devastating narrative effect, that is also deeply real and human and immensely fascinating and alive.

That is Tompkins great gift with The Last Days of Magic.

He explores how intricate and richly-layered our world once was, presenting us with a tale of life lost, Ardor squandered and big, bold, expansive thinking and belief systems sacrificed to the small minds and hearts of people who like to play it safe above all things.

This sense of a great many things lost finds expression in the lives of a compelling cast of characters, many of whom act with noble intent, with some still at work even now, as the bookending chapters at the start and finish of this most enlivening of reads makes clear.

In fact, the more modern sections of the narrative, which are lamentably all too brief but impressively effective for their brevity, are salutary call to consider whether myth and magic, evoked in all their wonder, cruelty and variety by Tompkins’ superlative tale, are not so much lost to the world as just out of sight, simply awaiting enquiring minds to come along and find them anew.

Who knows what might happen then? One thing that is certain is that if magic finds its way overwhelming back into the world, and we can’t be present to see it all happen, you will want Tompkins capturing and chronicling it all, weaving together the fantastical and the tangible to beguiling effect.