Stargate Origins: Episodes 4 & 5 (review)

The Goa’uld are known for their warm and effusive greetings and all-around love for everyone (image via Gateworld (c) Stargate Command)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THREE MOONS! COUNT ‘EM – THREE!

Ever had those moments when you’re in way over your head, when everything you thought you knew is of little-to-no-use and there are three moons overhead and not one?

OK perhaps that last one is a little outside the experience of mere non-Stargate travelling mortals – well completely outside, let’s be fair – but in Stargate Origins, which just released episodes four and five for streaming, pretty much everyone, and I mean everyone is having that moment.

Katherine Langford (Ellie Gall), all chutzpah and sometimes flummoxed bravery – which is kinda endearing; it’s refreshing to have a protagonist that is willing to boldly sally forth but doesn’t have all the answers – her new beau and reluctant galactic traveller Captain James Beal (Philip Alexander) and Egyptian solder/ comic relief Wasif Shvan Aladdin) burst through the stargate in the opening moments of episode 4 to find the gate room empty.

Well, only just.

Local inhabitant and gate cleaner – what a job that’d be! Get me a really tall ladder please – Kasuf (Daniel Rashid) just got out of the way in time and watches warily as strangers wander into the room, unsure where they are, but fairly certain that it must be Mars.

Because of course it must be.

Or not … turns out the planet on which local Goa’uld Aset (Salome Azizi) is camping out in arrogantly royal splendour has three moons which everyone is forced to admit is not something Mars possesses.

Cue a soul-shaking sense that we’re most definitely not in Kansas anymore … or Mars … or, well then, where the hell are we?

 

Toto I don’t think we’re in kansas anymore … or on Mars for that matter (image via Bleeding Cool (c) Stargate Command)

 

No one’s quite sure but when the gate closes up and Katherine can’t find the final seventh symbol – the dial-home address is, quite naturally, different to that which takes you to Aset’s desert planet, something Katherine doesn’t quite think of in her understandable “what the hell is going on?” panic – it’s Kasuf to the rescue, spiriting the gang off to the relative safety of the peoples’ tents far away from the temple.

Well, he eventually gets them out of Aset’s way.

Turns out neither Katherine nor the Captain nor Wasif have seen a single episode of Lassie on TV – I will give them a pass on this since it’s 1939 and TV is only 10 years old and not in wide use, and yep, Lassie didn’t made until the 1950s – and fail to heed Kasuf’s “get the hell out of here!” looks.

Fair enough since who knows who they can really trust but the arrival of the transport rings and a battle with Aset’s bodyguard Serqet (Michelle Jubilee Gonzalez) proves that maybe, just maybe, it’s time to heed Kasuf and head off into the hot desert sands.

It makes for some nice tense TV but also exposes one minor flaw of having each episode be just 10 minutes long – things that would normally be settled in a reasonable amount of time, are truncated into a minute or two.

Great for big, instant-gratification TV but not so good for in-depth, layered storytelling.

Still, it’s a minor issue, and really when  you consider Stargate Origins seems to be gunning for a 1950s featurette vibe, and hence it’s all gung-ho, full speed ahead action and not slowly-unfolding, nuanced narratives, it’s entirely forgivable.

It’s certainly only a small niggling thing, as is the way Katherine seems to conquer communicating with Kasuf pretty damn quickly but it’s no deal breaker and the episode kept rocketing on with no real harm on.

What is a little odd is the way Wasif is treated as expendable.

Yes, the Egyptian is the comic relief, the one who almost dies at one point – yay for magic healing sticks what ho! – but he’s the one who figures out they’re not on Mars, who bravely stands in the gap when they’re attacked, and who picks up that Kasuf is speaking ancient Egyptian, which makes sense since that’s where the Goa’uld harvested the planet’s inhabitants from.

Thing is neither Katherine nor the Captain pay much heed to him, which may fit with the colonial mindsets of the time, but comes across a little too blinkered when it comes to today’s more enlightened sensibilities.

 

Well thank goodness my daughter isn’t mixed up in all this mess … hmmm you sure about that professor? (image via syfy (c) Stargate Command)

 

Still, they manage to survive to fight another day, well after Kasuf’s tie them up which, again rather fairly, would be the sensible option when new humans are either a threat or more Goa’uld come to torture you.

Speaking of the snake-filled humans, the latest two episodes introduce an intriguing idea into the mix.

Aset make reference to their system lord being Ra and while we don’t see him, it’s clear that he’s no more pleasant to be around in 1939 than in Stargate SG-1‘s days, making it clear to Serjet that they need to contain the interlopers lest Ra hear about it and judge them all.

Turns out that Aset is planning a rebellion of some kind, and while it’s not clear if this is just your regular Goa’uld powerplay or perhaps, and this is intriguing, the beginnings of the Tok’ra (odd if so since that happened millennia before but maybe a new tilt at dislodging the System Lords?) – Goa’uld rebels whose name means literally opponents of Ra – there looks to be drama-worthy argy-bargy in the offing which could add some power-playing layers to Stargate Origins swashbuckling tale.

Whatever lies behind Aset’s oblique references, it adds to the idea that while the series is channelling its inner retro-movie featurette, it’s not averse to adding in some storytelling complexity which is pleasing to see.

Oh and the Nazis and Professor Langord (Connor Trinnear)?

Locked away with some power posturing courtesy of Dr. Wilhelm Brücke (Aylam Orian), not much happens, suffice for the professor happily noting that at least Katherine is safe and not involved in this mess.

Haha … no … oh yes she is and with the lovely cliffhanger that has become the hallmark of each of Stargate Origins thus far, it’s all going to get a whole lot more messy before it, well, doesn’t …

Lost in created worlds: The most beautiful animation scenes in movie history

(image via YouTube (c) Pixar / Disney)

 

One of the most appealing aspects of animation is the ability it gives storytellers to take us to a breathtakingly diverse range of worlds, times and places that might otherwise elude us.

While CGI has not caught up to animation’s imaginative possibilities in many ways, there is still something beguilingly wonderful about the immersive journeys an animaetd tale can take us on.

YouTube creator video editor James Casey of The Solomon Society have brought together some of the evocative scenes in animation history in this exquisitely-lovely supercut, The Most Beautiful Animation Shots in Movie History (with sublimely good musical accompaniment courtesy of “Moon River (ukulele cover)” by Reneé Dominique), that will entrance, delight and make you fall in love with animation all over again.

Just press play and lose yourself in all that gorgeous animated beauty …

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Movie review: Evening Shadows

(image courtesy official Evening Shadows Facebook page)

 

There is something deeply and liberatingly powerful about finally owning who you are.

Finally being your “authentic self”, to dip into Oprah’s pool of reassuring words of New Age-tinged wisdom, not only quell those internal battles that come from living a double life, but free you to accomplish all those things you were held back from attempting because of fear of exposure.

Unfortunately, all of these self-realisation epiphanies don’t happen on a warm-and-fuzzy Oprah-esque talk show but in the real world where the very people who forced you to hide your true self in the first place remain ever-vigilant to ensure that the consensual ideas of what is societally right and wrong are upheld come what may.

None of this is news to anyone who has ever had to come out of the closet, and certainly not an unknown dynamic to Kartik (Devansh Joshi), the only child and kanna or son of warmly supportive Vasudha (Mona Ambegaonkar) and sternly, almost cruelly patriarchal Damodar (Ananth Narayan Mahadevan) who is forced to live far away from his conservative hometown in southern India to live the life he wants with his boyfriend Aman (Arpit Chaudhary).

Returning home for a much-delayed family visit, Kartik is confronted by a puja ceremony, a series of Hindu prayers designed as the first step in the process of arranged marriage, in this case to his childhood friend Neela (Disha Thakur), which triggers a cascading series of family revelations culminating in Kartik impulsively coming out to his mother and accidentally to his father.

Authenticity wins out but not without a great deal of trauma, tension and intense self-seeking, most particularly on the part of Vasudha who finds her expectations for the future, expressly a daughter-in-law who will take over the relentlessly oppressive mantel of household duties, thus freeing her to paint again, dashed completely.

Quite how she responds to Kartik’s bombshell and how this affects her relationship with her son and husband, who is far less a loving spouse than a misogynistic disciplinarian, is best left to a viewing of this finely-nuanced, emotionally powerful film, but suffice to say, writer/director Sridhar Rangayan (he co-wrote the screenplay with Saagar Gupta) succeeds in his goal of raising awareness of the largely hidden LGBTQI population in India but also in the stultifying hold of patriarchy on many women.

 

(image courtesy official Evening Shadows Facebook page)

 

Made on a near-to-negligible budget, the result of an Indiegogo campaign, and with everyone involved working at near-cost or no cost, Evening Shadows belies its spartan production.

The cinematography is beautiful in every single respect, from the sweeping shots of the countryside to the more intimate moments of family life, with everything from major religious events to the comforting banality of everyday life given full authentic, lushly beautiful rendering.

Even the most tense moments, and they are there in great abundance given the fraught but ultimately somewhat resolved narrative, are presented beautifully and with exquisite insight and understanding of the dynamics at play.

Despite some fairly diabolically conservative positions, mostly expressed by Damodar who refuses to even remotely meet modern India’s changing social mores in any way, shape or form – his word is law, a government job is security, marriage and children is the only reasonably lifestyle option are just a few of his intractable beliefs – Rangayan takes great care not to demonise any of the participants.

That’s primarily because this drama is intended not simply to entertain and genially provoke, but to start a discussion among the wider population on homosexuality, how you should treat a family member who comes out to you and the place of old traditions where they fly in the face of fundamentally inalienable rights.

However confronting Demodar’s brutalist positioning might be, or volatilely uncertain Vasudha, who has been extremely close to Kartik all his life, is in her initial processing of her son’s wholly unexpected revelation, they are the face of traditional, often rural India and to speak to them, Rangayan wisely ensures that the film challenges but doesn’t condemn them outright.

What it does do, and does beautifully to such an impressive extent that Evening Shadows has been granted a general release classification in India rather than the adult one normally reserved for films dealing with homosexuality, is allow not simply the honest loving truth of Kartik and Aman’s relationship to shine forth but also the close bond between mother and son which proves pivotal to the trajectory of the tautly-engrossing storyline. (This desire to reach the mums and dads of India is evident too in the film’s engaging use of melodrama, a traditional mainstay of some elements of Indian filmmaking.)

 

(image courtesy official Evening Shadows Facebook page)

 

It is the bond between Kartik and Vasudha, brought to stunning life by Ambegaonkar whose performance is superlative in every respect, acting as the emotional linchpin for the entire film, that carries the film to its powerful final act.

At its heart, Evening Shadows is the story of how real change only comes when people place personal relationships above social dogma, when we think through why we believe something and change as necessary, including any changes to the law that flow from this. (This remains a pertinent issue for LGBTQI people in India which, though slowly changing socially, is shackled to a British colonial-era law, Section 377, criminalising homosexual acts.)

It is the strength of mother and son bonds like Kartik and Vasudha’s that Rangayan argues, and argues with immensely powerful effect, are the key to freeing India from the straitjacket of an outmoded law but also to freeing women from millennia of enduring second-hand status in their marriages and lives.

Evening Shadows then is a strong social statement, written with clear society-changing intent, that never once feels ham-fisted or clumsily polemic, preferring to let the reality of its story speak for itself.

It’s quiet strength lies in simply presenting Kartik and Aman’s life together as one that’s as rich and mutually-supportive as any other, a position made all the more persuasive the relative paucity of Vasudha and Damodar’s strained bonds.

Suffused with delightful humour, mainly courtesy of Kartik’s gorgeously whimsical aunt, and Damodar’s sister, Sarita (Yamini Singh), some beautiful mother-son moments and some brutally shocking father-son ones (not to mention a complicated nephew-uncle dynamic), and a heart for change, and an emotionally intelligent approach to bringing it about, Evening Shadows is an impressive achievement, a film that is destined to make a substantial contribution to the dialogue for change, not only in India, but throughout the world.

 

Cluck cluck cluck zoom! Blast off with Space Chickens in Space!

(image courtesy CAKE)

 

Why should pigs have all the fun in space, right?

Back in the ’70s, and yes, I remember when it was all on TV, The Muppet Show gave us Pigs in Space! and behold the world was a wondrous, wacky and very funny, over-the-top place.

Now lo all these years later, and after what I can only assume has been some strenuous fowl lobbying (I apologise for nothing) by fellow farmyward animals, chickens are finally heading into the great starry beyond with Space Chickens in Space, a joint production of British production company CAKE, Australia’s Studio Moshi, Mexico’s Ánima and Ireland’s Gingerbread Animation.

Designed and directed by Norwegian animators Tommy and Markus Vad Flaaten, the 52 11-minute episodes which tell the story of some quite remarkable chickens according to Bleeding Cool:

Space Chickens in Space (which though while redundant, does an excellent job of clearing up any confusion there might be that the Space Chickens are in a Trader Joe’s or something) tells the story of three chickens who are mistakenly taken from their homes and enrolled in an elite intergalactic former military academy. The siblings need all their wits and each other to survive in this world full of aliens and tricky homework challenges.”

Sure the series might be aimed at 6 to 11 year-olds but as Ben and Holly Little Kingdom and countless other shows have gloriously demonstrated, you’re never too old to let your inner kid run free or, it must be noted, blast off into space with a bunch of kidnapped and militarily-trained chickens … in SPAAAAACE!

 

(image courtesy CAKE)

Farewell to my favourite Interrupting Rabbit: Emma Chamber dies aged 53 #RIP

The lovely, irrepressibly fabulous Emma Chambers (courtesy BBC)

 

One of the purest, most lovely memories of my childhood, is watching some of the classic BBC sitcoms of the time such as The Good Life, Dad’s Army and To the Manor Born with my family.

Brilliantly-written and supremely well-acted, these sitcoms were also warm, silly and comforting, an entrée into the world of characters that had their fair share of trials and troubles but who wrapped them mostly neatly in half-an-hour and whose lives were far removed from the sometimes fraught environs of my bullied existence.

They made me feel and happy.

So when The Vicar of Dibley debuted in 1994 – its three series ran until 22 January 1998 (with three sets of specials in the winters of 1999/2000, 2004/2005 and 2006/2007) – I fell in love with it immediately because, along with it being its own marvellously unique creation, it embodied the same spirit and sense of family that I loved about those classic ’70s sitcoms.

While the immeasurably-talented Dawn French was clearly front and centre as the titular vicar, the show would have been nowhere near as charming and quirky without the witty presence of Emma Chambers, who played the dim-witted but kindhearted verger of the church Alice Horton nee Tinker.

 

 

Sadly Emma Chambers, who gave us not just Alice, but Honey Thacker (Notting Hill) and a slew of other memorable comedic roles died on 24 February of “natural causes”, according to her agent John Grant.

Alice Tinker: Vicar?
Geraldine Granger: Mm-hm?
Alice Tinker: What you looking forward to more than anything else at Christmas this year?
Geraldine Granger: Well, my highlights are going to be Jurassic Park and the Queen’s speech, written this year by Ruby Wax, I believe. And what about you?
Alice Tinker: I’m totally excited about your first Christmas sermon; it, it’s just going to be an experience I’ll never forget.
Geraldine Granger: Alice, my *first* Christmas sermon was last Christmas.
Alice Tinker: Oh, yeah, I forgot.

The joy of Chambers as an actress, who won a British Comedy Award in 1998 for her performance as the much put-upon Alice who knew very little of how the world actually worked but muddled through anyway, was how real and earthy she made her roles.

Yes, she was often the naive, quirky girl who was just that little bit of “normal”, who never quite got the Vicar’s jokes, and who thought she gave birth to the son of God as Alice because her name rhymed with “chalice”, but she was also very real, very down-to-earth and intensely relatable in all the roles.

In characters like Alice and Honey, you often saw yourself, all the things you don’t know, all the social situations you didn’t handle as masterfully as you wanted, all the awkward moments you failed to escape, but it was comforting to see someone in those positions and have it all work out for them anyway.

 

 

That was Chambers real gift as an actress – she could be idiosyncratically loopy, and what a joy that was to watch, but also she could be so beautifully down-to-earth and heartfelt, and there were some truly touching moments in The Vicar of Dibley where it was Alice who was the emotional lynchpin of the show, providing comfort to Dawn French’s Geraldine when no one else could.

Chambers was able to invest all her characters with this vulnerability, the kind we all have but choose to ignore or don’t talk about it.

It was this mix of goofy charm and emotional realism that made her truly stand out, and by all accounts, she was as lovely as a person as she was in character as these tweets from Dawn French, Emma Freud and Hugh Grant touchingly attest.

 

 

 

 

The loss of someone this young and close in age to you is always confronting, but what strikes me most stridently right now, far beyond the loss of Chambers’ comic brilliance to come, is how awful it must be to lose someone this lovely and precious to you.

We actors of course purely through the prism of their roles, and that’s all well and good because, stalking aside (not an advisable pursuit) there’s no other way to know them; but for her husband of 27 years Ian Dunn, her family and her friends, today much be one of the most terrible of their lives.

When my dad died I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to exist in a world without him, and so while I grieve the loss of this singular talent, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who love Emma Chambers, who knew the woman behind Alice and Honey, and who no doubt they had a great many more years to spend with her.

#RIP Emma Chambers – you provide so much joy to so many and you will be deeply, sorely, profoundly missed.

 

Movie review: Dating My Mother

(image courtesy DatingMyMother.com)

 

It would be nice to think that navigating your way through the twists and turns of life, with all its contrary elements, would get easier as you get older.

But as mother and son, widow Joan (Kathryn Erbe) and Danny (Patrick Reilly), discover in Mike Roma’s feature debut, Dating My Mother, that idea is so much wishful thinking, a product of believing that age begets wisdom and insight while banishing the quicksand-like inertia of youth where hopes and dreams are many but a sense of how to successfully execute them proves all too frustratingly elusive.

Granted Joan, still grieving the loss her husband some years earlier and taking the first tentative steps back into serious dating, is handling things better than her son who, recently graduated from college, is trying unsuccessfully to get a job as a writer on a TV show, try his hand at filmmaking and hopefully land the man of his dreams.

But for all her outward success – nice house, career as a hairstylist and the nascent interest of “nice” (the word is bandied around a lot, both pejoratively and positively) man Chester (James Le Gros) – actual happiness and a sense of completion elude her, making her and her often acerbic son two somewhat adrift peas in an existential pod.

Still, for all their sameness in certain respects, it’s Danny, perpetually unhappy with life and not afraid to say so, who is flailing the most, his refusal to actively the situation he finds himself in, meeting with understanding and annoyance at the hands of Joan, depending on how well she is travelling along.

Dating My Mother obviously is aiming to explore the closeness and chasms in mother-son relationships, and Joan and Danny’s one in particular, and while it somewhat succeeds in its endeavour, it is fails badly to prosecute on its premise, a mainstay of gay cinema where gay guys are often joined at the hip with their mums.

 

(image via IndieWire)

 

The problem lies mainly with Mike Roma’s inert script and fairly pedestrian directing.

While there are some cute elements to the film – having the various dysfunctional elements and personalities of online dating play out in real life for Danny to react to is a nice touch – and Reilly and Erbe prosecute their roles well, Dating My Mother never really gains any momentum nor emotional accessability.

A great deal of the film’s failings in the latter respect stem from Danny’s almost total unlikeability as a protagonisy.

Yes, we get that he’s adrift, lost and uncertain, and that can play havoc with anyone’s emotional groundedness and stability, but it manifests itself more often than not as acidic, condescending, too-cool-for-school dismissiveness, an unyielding, unrelenting tide of negativity that achieves its aim of establishing as a lost soul before massively overshooting and turning him into the sort of person you would countries to avoid.

As the film progresses, there are some moments that successfully peer below his abrasive persona – when he meets the lovely Richard (Paul Iacono), a number of sweet heartfelt chats with his mum and vulnerability when he is rejected by vapid would-be suitor after vapid would-be suitor – but these are no enough to elevate his character to the point where we care enough about what happens to him.

Partner this with a script that never really raises the stakes to anything approaching meaningful and an ending that is happily trite and a little bit too late in reaching an epiphany for both of its main characters, and you’re left with a strangely lifeless story that ticks all the boxes in paper but never really does much else with them.

So too Kathy Najimy who as Joan’s sassy best friend Lisa, who is both the wild reckless soul of the trio and its sage insightful voice, is criminally wasted, never really given the chance to let loose and inject some much-needed verve into the flat narrative.

 

(image via IMDb)

 

It’s easy to see where Mike Roma wanted to take the film, all too easy in fact with the storyline a little too beholding to many gay and indie movie tropes, and if it had gone there then Dating My Mother might have been an altogether different undertaking all together.

Acknowledging how difficult life is to get right at all, or at least for a sufficiently pleasing amount of time, isn’t enough although at least in that sense, audiences do have some point of connectivity with these characters.

There needs to be some sense that things aren’t just pottering along to a predictable end, but Dating My Mother never moves beyond this, less a slice-of-life dramedy than an insipid stringing in scenes that often in and of themselves have some impact and meaning but which collectively never end up as some of meaningful collective whole.

It’s a pity really because there are some fine performances begging for meatier realisation, hampered by a script that knows what it wants to say but doesn’t really over-exert itself saying them.

It’s by no means a disaster of a film, the kind of cinematic experience that you rue over and over again with the cold hard certainty you will never get that time back, but it’s never really engaging, leaving you curiously unmoved by the end of what should have been some fairly serious, and are again on paper, life moments.

Joan and Danny are far too close for comfort in many respects, and Danny is just plain unlikeable for much of the running time, and coupled with undeveloped secondary characters such as Danny’s straight crush Khris (Michael Rosen) and his clubbing friend with the voice only dogs can hear Tanya (Sideara St. Claire), and a sense that there’s much to say but no real sense of how to say it, and you have a film that could have been so much more, but which never really realises its potential, much like much of Danny’s post-college life.

 

Disney characters get their Avengers on and my, if it isn’t fun to behold!

(image via YouTube (c) SJPLAY)

 

Sorry superhero fanatics out there but I am not one of you, much as I like much of the storytelling that happens in that space.

I often enjoy many of the movies but I am not, by any stretch, any kind of super fan.

What I do love, and with a passion, are Pixar films which have delighted with their wit, wisdom and superlative visual wonder since Toy Story hit screens back in 1995.

So the fact that YouTube creator SJPLAY have seen fit, and what a stroke of inspiration it was, to combine Pixar and Marvel fills me with great delight, as well investing the Avengers: Infinity War trailer with all kinds of animated goodness.

It’s a beautiful piece of work, the perfect combination of blockbuster and cinematic intimacy, with added Mr and Mrs Potatohead.

For more go to Digital Spy.

 

Book review: Everfair by Nisi Shawl

(image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

 

Alternate histories are an interesting fiction genre.

Emboldened by the endless openendedness of “What if?”, they surge forward along an entirely new part of the time/space continuum, merrily playing Sliding Doors with history, asking us to imagine how different the world would be if one crucial aspect at one pivotal moment had been just a little bit different.

It’s a fascinating exercise, one that shines a revealing light on history, humanity and society at a particular point in time, and Nisi Shawl, known for her fantasy and sci-fi short stories, has taken the genre with all its endless possibilities and run with it, giving us in the process the mostly sublime delights of Everfair.

Running from the late nineteenth century into the twentieth century just past the cessation of World War One, Everfair wonders, in its all steampunk glory, what the history of colonialism in Africa might have been if someone, or more precisely, a dedicated group of someones, had dared to stand up to the ceaseless tide of repression, death and exploitation that marked the age.

Particularly what might have happened to Congo, the fecund lush centre of Africa that at the time of the novel’s opening is in the grip of the brutal greed and madness of King Leopold II who perpetrated what came to be known by contemporaries of the time as the “Congo Horrors”, massacring millions in pursuit of purely financial gain.

This was no project of the Belgian state; rather Leopold’s stake in the Congo was private, a manifestly capital undertaking that primarily sought to exploit the regions richness in resources such as rubber which was harvested wild at the expense of countless millions of lives.

“The reverend lieutenant explained his program and the fire flickered, died to embers. Letter-writing and petitions to Parliament was what he asked of them. A movement along the lines of Abolitionism. Which had been well and good in its time.
But Jackie had a better idea.” (P.30)

As you might expect with a project with no judicial oversight and little to no accountability, abuses were rife, with entire villages razed to the ground by a paramilitary army, the Force Publique, should anyone so much as stand in the way of Leopold II’s rapacious exploitation of land that had, for all intents and purposes been stolen from its people, regardless of the legal niceties employed to paper over the wholly unpalatable reality.

Everfair steps into the chamber of horrors, musing with robust historical accuracy and a penetrating on the colonial politics and culture of the time, what might have happened if a group of somewhat more enlightened people – Shawl is careful not to turn these people into saints, who are riven with their own shortcomings and failings – including adherents of the Fabian Society in England (it gave rise to the Labour Party) and African-American missionaries had taken control of much of this land and stood against the evil of Leopold II’s ugly hold on the region.

 

Nisi Shawl (image courtesy UAH)

 

As an exploration of a “What if?” scenario, Everfair is peerless, taking a deep dive into what the setting up of a state dedicated to equality, fair labour laws, democracy and freedom might have looked like.

With steampunk sensibilities fully engaged, the novel documents the growth and then decline of Everfair over a period spanning 30 years (1889-1919), eschewing the genre’s usual predilection for wrapping this period in a cosy glow of hagiography-tinged nostalgia and challenging assumptions of what noble and enlightened actually looks like on the ground, especially to the indigenous people led by King Mwenda and Queen Josina, who initially cooperate with the well-meaning interlopers before demanding, quite rightly, that their sovereignty be heeded for once.

It’s this clash of idealism and reality that proves most fascinating.

As people like Fabian Society founders Jackie Owen and Daisy Albin, playwright Matty Jamison, French nurse Lisette Toutournier, Macao escaper labourer Tink and American missionary Martha Hunter surge into the region, determined from entirely different vantage points, to stop Leopold’s craven brutality in its track and establish a just and free society, we witness just how hard it is to create something perfect when the people seeking to do the creating are as flawed as the rest of us.

Well-meaning and idealistic yes, but flawed and as each time-stamped chapter races forward, we are taken on a wholly unique look at the history of colonialism where its excesses are blunted, its abuses stymied and progress, both technological and societal, is allowed a free hand.

“The king hadn’t anticipated that. Who was there to oppose him?
The Europeans and Americans were distracted by their plague … Everfair’s whites and Christians would have fought in protest of their exile, but lacking foreign support, they shouldn’t have any choice in the matter–if General Wilson hadn’t so surprisingly taken up the Christians’ cause.” (P. 348)

It’s impressive stuff, and Shawl does a masterful job of worldbuilding, of conjuring up what-ifs, and maybes from the imaginative ether and given them richness and vitality and truth.

The only flaw in this wholly unique perspective is the fact that so much time and effort is given to exploring what might have happened, both good and bad, flawed and not, and the consequences of these actions, that the characters get a little lost in the mix.

It’s a pity that we don’t spend more time with them because they are a fascinatingly diverse bunch (sexually, religiously, idealistically), people who aim for the stars and land far closer to earth but who at least give the idea of putting flesh on their noble conjecturing a worthwhile shot.

Everfair is very much an ideas-driven narrative rather than character-driven, although we are given some insight into the private lives of these people, with a result that while the journey we are taken is engrossing, thought-provoking and alive with alternate possibilities, it often fails to connect emotionally.

On balance though, Everfair is gorgeously rich in ideas, history, humanity and the delicious prospect of what might happen if only the better angels of our nature were given a more prominent seat at the table, a luxuriously in-depth, compelling, enlightened and beautifully written take on a dark chapter in colonial history that could have played out so much differently.

 

 

Firefly takes to the galactic skies again! In book form at least …

(image courtesy 20th Television)

 

Ah Firefly, I still mourn your prematurely-ended run, your brief 13-episode run of intra-galactic adventure and derringdo flickering out and foundering far before any of us were ready for it.

Thankfully while TV may be done, with you, the rest of the pop culture-o-sphere is not, with a movie (Serenity), countless comic books, and an online game with the original cast reprising their roles, ensuring that they won’t take the sky from you, or the sense of this wonderful show being alive and very much with us.

Adding to this list of ghosts of Firefly past and present, there are now plans afoot for series of books, which as Bleeding Cool points out, may underwhelm some fans who want a TV show revival and nothing else …

“Okay, look, yes, a series of books isn’t as good as good as purchasing the TV rights with a crowdfunding campaign, gifting them to Nathan Fillion, and getting the cast back together for a long-awaited second season …”

 

An earlier Firefly book incarnation (image (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

But, and yes Bleeding Cool also threw in a helpful “but” before sentence end, it’s much better than nothing and gives us a chance, particularly those of us for whom books are living, breathing entities unto themselves, to subsume ourselves in imaginative adventures of the mind, full of narrative splendour and possibility.

It’s an especially enticing prospect when Firefly creator, Joss Whedon, is overseeing the books which will all be part of official franchise canon.

And indeed, the book synopses, published on Entertainment Weekly show we’re in for some great adventuring …

Firefly: Big Damn Hero by Nancy Holder (Oct. 2018)
Captain Malcolm Reynolds finds himself in a dangerous situation after being kidnapped by a bunch of embittered veteran Browncoats.

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (March 2019)
Jayne receives a distress call from his ex Temperance McCloud that leads the Serenity crew to danger on a desert moon.

Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon (Oct. 2019)
The discovery of the location of one of the legendary Ark ships that brought humans from Earth to the ’Verse promises staggering salvage potential, but at what cost? River Tam thinks she might know …

Now all we have to do is be patient and wait … hmmm, are they published yet? … *waiting* … now? Sigh …

Movie review: Lady Bird

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Figuring out life is challenging for the best of us, and if we’re really honest with ourselves, we can often find ourselves defeated in the attempt.

But that comes much later (or if you’re lucky not at all), and when you’re young like Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), there is still an expectation that you will be successful in crafting exactly the kind of life you envisage.

It’s certainly how the earnestly optimistic student approaches her life in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, the title taken from the name Christine has chosen for herself and which she insists everyone use, including her mum and dad, Marion and Larry (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts respectively) and the staff and students at the Catholic school she attends on a scholarship.

At first glance, this act of defiant self-defining seems like a small gesture and is often dismissed as such by the adults around her; but for Lady Bird, it’s a powerful statement of her individuality and sense of self, part of her aspirational attempts to move beyond the small world, as she sees it, of her life in Sacramento, California.

These aspirations are hampered to a considerable degree by the parlous financial state of Lady Bird’s family who have failed, despite endless hard work and tenacity, to seize their small slice of the American Dream.

Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) are living at home and working in a supermarket, despite degrees from UC Berkeley, her father stands to lose his job at any time, and and her mother is working double shifts as a nurse.

They’re not even close to living the dream, and to some extent, Lady Bird internally blames that on lack of effort, believing that you can do what you like, such as get into East Coast Ivy Colleges, if you simply try hard enough.

It’s not that simple of course, as her mum makes it clear in one particularly fractious scene where she pointedly outlines to her daughter just how far she is where she thought she’d be in life.

 

 

But despite the darker, rain-less side of the American Dream being lived out around her all day every day, save for when she is at school in a tonier part of town which is talked about in hushed tones of envy and longing by Lady Bird and best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, who is absolutely superb in the role), she holds fast to the idea that anything is possible.

Her expression of her optimistic tenacity often comes across as hard-nosed arrogance and rudeness, especially in the midst of her love/hate/love relationship with her equally-determined mother – they clash, notes her father, precisely because they are so similar – but Gerwig, who wrote the script and set it in her hometown, and Ronan’s sparkling performance, invest the titular character with thoroughly relatable every-personness that makes the film inherently affecting and deeply accessible.

Lady Bird is as bullish and pushy as she is because she knows how much opposes her dreams of getting to somewhere “more cultured” like the East Coast and yet she is also gloriously naive about how hard it is to realise your “best self” – yes she uses this term at one point, during one of the many passive-aggressive mother-daughter scenes in the film – and in fact, the best version of her life.

Watching her grapple with this as she joins a theatre group at school with Julie, meets Danny (Lucas Hedges), with whom she falls in love ’til some uncomfortable secrets emerge, and then moves onto precocious rich kid Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) and befriends popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush), is illuminating because you see in Lady Bird the same journey we all go on.

That trip from thinking everything is ours to grab when we want it on our terms to realising there are multiple variables at work that will make that hard, though not impossible to achieve, is laid in quiet, nuanced glory, with Lady Bird learning that people are not always who you assume them to be.

 

 

Lady Bird is replete with a great many life lessons but refreshingly, despite the film taking place in her last year in high school, they do not take place through the usual high school movie narrative prism.

Nor are they great melodramatic road to Damascus moments that reek of manipulative grandstanding that telegraphs great epiphanies and messages from a great height or distance.

Lady Bird, which is not as quirky as the trailer suggests but is very real and grounded and contemplatively thoughtful, not to mention witty with delicious comic timing punctuating the tenser, darker moments, is content to quietly tell its story, to let its protagonist stumble, rise and fall back again and have her moments of life-defining realisations occur in small, out of the way scenes that nevertheless carry great import.

Take the scene towards the end of the film when Lady Bird realises her new cool friends, all affected ennui and faux philosophical earnestness, are everything she is not, rather than everything she think she wants, and she goes back to Julie, begs for her forgiveness and off to the prom where the two best friends reestablish a bond that is never really broken.

The scene, which is funny, sad and just a little defiant, is emblematic of the film as a whole which does an expansively rich and insightfully-touching job of communicating how knowing what you want and getting it, especially at the start of your life where you’re still appropriating the social awareness building blocks needed to make it happen, can feel like they’re separated by an unbridgeable chasm.

It is, of course, navigable as Lady Bird begins to discover post-high school, a little chastened but still hopeful, but comes with all kinds of compromises good and bad, and a growing sense that things can be a very good thing indeed, just not what you expect them to be when you first set out on this grand adventure called life.

 

 

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’ is a Smart, Sensitive Coming-Of-Age Story