SPOILERS AHEAD … AND FRIENDS AND ENEMIES AND FRENEMIES, AND OF COURSE, ZOMBIES …
AMC, it turns out, isn’t all that well practised at heeding proverbs.
Fair enough in one sense – what was in vogue a couple of millennia ago, so much so that the Bible decided a whole book of the instructional words of life made a fitting addition to canon, is not really in the running in the age of self-actualisation and digital homilies.
And yet, you can’t helping feeling that someone at AMC HQ, in fact the whole damn production team, might not have benefited from heeding the words of that age-old proverb, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, especially when it comes to one of its key shows, Fear the Walking Dead.
The progeny of once-might rating juggernaut, The Walking Dead, which has just limped into the muted sunset of a lacklustre season 8 finale which was neither vacuously violent nor intelligently or emotionally meaningful, Fear hummed along quite nicely for three meditatively-immersive seasons.
It might not have got everything right, but in its mix of raw, honestly-expressed humanity, slowly-unfolding civilisational collapse and visceral storytelling, where real people reacted in ways that we could identify with and understand (as opposed to becoming self-righteous serial killers – et tu Rick?), it stood starkly apart from its dithering, narratively-lost parent in ways that really hit home episode after episode.
In sassy matriarch Madison (Kim Dickens), kids Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Nick (Frank Dillane), and even self-interested Victor (Colman Domingo) we saw people whose decisions, although far from perfect, made sense to viewers who, brave words aside, have, if they are honest with themselves, seriously no sense about what they’d really do should the zombie apocalypse ever really come a-calling.
Would you be cunningly self-preservational? Humane and inclusive? Bitter and depressed? Violently aggressive and angry? Impossible to tell until it happened, and here’s to such imaginative end-of-the-world-ness never being made decayed flesh, but in the main cast, and many of its passing characters, we saw people who moved from the early days of the fall of humanity into its darkest annals, simply doing the best they could.
And behold, it was very , very good.
Funny thing though, and let’s be honest here, it was not even remotely worth a titter or a giggle, let alone a guffaw, AMC didn’t really see it that way.
What they seemed to see, and quite a number of rusted-on The Walking Dead were more than happy to trollingly join their addled Greek chorus, was a broken show, a spin-off that limped in the ratings, eschewing sensational plot arcs and wantonly manipulative character deaths, though it did succumb to both a little at times, in favour of slowly and carefully documenting the downfall of once great and mighty Homo Sapiens.
In terrifying real time we witnessed each death, each loss of comfort, of security, of inner morality and ethical outlook, all of them chipping away a little more at the civilisational sheen we all like to wear to feel better about ourselves.
Little by little, Fear the Walking Dead peeled that away, exposing hitherto unknown (if fleeting) humanity in self-preservational people like Victor while driving others like Madison, who managed to bring down an entire survivalist cult in her wake, to commit once completely unthinkable acts.
It was gloriously, slow-burningly authentic, striking at the heart of our grand delusions and self-justifications about pretty much everything, a morality tale writ large that, because it kicked off at the very start of the zombie apocalypse, felt far closer to home than even The Walking Dead.
Somewhere somehow the parent show lost its way, drained of meaning and purpose in favour of schlock narrative sleights of hand and repetitive good vs evil where the lines blurred so badly that everyone ended up rank and unlikable.
But Fear the Walking Dead kept its soul, refusing to sign it over to the ratings devil – no one’s saying at this point that ratings don’t matter but if keeping them means gutting everything you’ve created, then something is clearly very wrong, a case of the ratings tail wagging the creative dog – and benefited from balancing the imperiling of everyone in the show at their own hands and that of the undead with careful, nuanced storytelling that hit you in the heart because it felt like it could happen.
No one wanted it to, of course, since (a) running for your life is nowhere near as much fun as Netflix-and-chill-ing and (b) its far better to live out your disaster porn fantasies in a fictional setting than for real, but if it does come to pass, then Fear felt like it gave us a fairly good idea of how it might all go down.
Not gilded, not overdone, not stupidly videogame violent or sensationally vacuous; just real people in fantastical situations doing their best to muddle their way through.
Yet, for all that, for all its relative non-brokenness, its mainly whole narrative slow-burns and revelatory character studies, Fear the Walking Dead has been “fixed”, given an overhaul when one was not even remotely needed.
This episode is literally just an audience grab for FTWD. They’re taking a liked character from TWD and dedicating a whole episode to him just to try to get TWD fans to watch 🙄 Meanwhile I’m over here bored to death and waiting for the Clarks and Strand to show up #FearTWD
Season 4’s return wasn’t completely botched, of course, with new characters, likeable loner John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and journalist Althea (Maggie Grace) coming across as real people who had somehow found a way to keep their humanity largely intact.
In this fast-forwarded, time-jump-heavy iteration of Fear the Walking Dead, quick-marched to the present day of the apocalypse, the better to pointlessly shoehorn Morgan into its unbroken narrative, the new characters worked well, making sense with their mix of accommodation to the darkness and unwillingness to let it swallow them whole.
But for all the time on spent on these people, and the seemingly unending (and occasionally poetic) introduction of Morgan to the now-unrecognisable world of Fear in a slow, moody montage that feel a The Walking Dead-lite sequel to the that show’s largely inert, directionless and faux-meaningful eighth season, you were left wondering what the hell had happened to Madison, Alicia, Nick and Victor and why Fear the Walking Dead no longer looked like the show we had once loved.
Sure we saw our favourite zombie survivors at the very end, playing a con’s game of done-over survivor who tricks Morgan, John and Althea with her whispered trauma of “There are bad people out here”, but they made no sense, raw, dark and twisted in ways that made no sense and felt alienating.
Perhaps it will all work itself out in next week’s “Another Day in the Diamond”, and we’ll begin to pivot back to the show we know and love – just for the record, I am not averse to shows growing and developing; in fact it’s something I crave but this week’s episode was less evolution than wholesale butchering of a once-vital and engaging premise – but right now, it feels like the zombies, of which there were plenty this episode, weren’t the only dead things shuffling across our screen.
Melissa McCarthy stars in the adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats) Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant).
The film is directed by The Diary of a Teenage Girl‘s Marielle Heller from a script written by Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said) and Jeff Whitty (Avenue Q), based on the memoir of the same name by Lee Israel. The Can You Ever Forgive Me? cast also includes Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin, Ben Falcone, Anna Deavere Smith, and Stephen Spinella. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
Biopics are tricky things to get right … or at least they seem that way much of the time.
Make them too chronological and detail-filled and you don’t get so much of an insight as to the person was or is, so much as their diary and Wikipedia entry sprung, somewhat dully, to life.
Go to far to the other extreme and you end with so narrow a look at them that their full complexity as a person is lost.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? gives the impression, from its first trailer at least, that it has managed to land somewhere impressively inbetween, which fits the aims of the production team, of which Marielle Heller is the director:
“There are pitfalls to biopics that are hard to get away from. There’s an expectation that you’re doing a certain amount of journalistic storytelling that’s going to give an exact play-by-play showing someone’s entire life from cradle to grave. This does none of that.”
Instead, Heller and her largely female band of collaborators (Anne Carey and Amy Nauiokas co-produce, while Nicole Holofcener penned the script with Jeff Whitty) sought to peel back Lee’s layers in a ‘character piece’ that deals with an atypical woman mainstream audiences are used to seeing, but not knowing. In part, Heller thinks that’s also why Israel was able to get away with her forgeries for so long. “People didn’t really give her much thought,” she observes. “[She was] a middle-aged woman who you’d probably pass on the street and not really give a second thought.” (EW)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? opens in USA on 29 October (no international dates available at this time).
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.
Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.
Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.
The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.
Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.
Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.
This year’s contest will be held in Lisbon, Portugal.
THE ARTIST The accepted wisdom, oft-uttered at marriage ceremonies, is that two is better than one (unless you have chocolate in which being alone rules).
But if you’re DoReDos, Moldova’s folk/pop-inclined entry for Eurovision 2018, then you would be inclined to turn that wisdom on its head, and celebrate the power of three; in this case, three talented music artists from Rybnitsa in the northeast of the country who found each other very early on and decided they could make sweet music together.
Marina Djundiet, Eugeniu Andrianov and Sergiu Mîța, all with extensive musical backgrounds despite their young age, have taken this kernel of an idea and run with it, winning the New Wave contest in Sochi, Russia where they were noticed by the 1995 Russian contestant for Eurovision, Philipp Kirkorov, who, just like that, took a liking to them and composed them a song, “My Lucky Day”.
So much luck and happenstance and being in the right place, quite literally, at the right time – could something big, bright and Eurovision-y being on their collective horizon then?
THE SONG You know, it just might.
“My Lucky Day” is an incredibly jaunty, fun and lighthearted slice of ethnopop that zhoushes, dives and dances with the kind of energy that makes it all but impossible to stay seated while you’re listening to it.
I can guarantee that the audience in Lisbon’s Altice Arena will be on their feet and dancing in the aisles, assuming security will let them, when Moldova do their jaunty thing, singing, as best as I can tell, about a wholesome, boy and girl next door love triangle (there’s bound to be a Hallmark card any day now for just a situation).
Whatever the true lyrical intent, the song is an absolutely high-spirited gem that while it can’t be guaranteed to get Moldova into the grand final (although I remain quietly and hopefully confident it will), it should turn semi final into a joie de vivre-filled dancefest … and at Eurovision, or indeed in life generally, that is never a bad thing.
THE ARTIST As a music artist, if you can write and perform your own songs, you’re in a unique position to directly control and influence your own career.
That’s not to say you’re a better performer than people interpreting other peoples’ songs – Israel’s Netta Barzalai is an instructive case in point – but you are your own creative world and can inhabit it and play with it as you so desire.
And so Vanja Radovanović has, winning Best Debut at the 2004 Budva Music Festival with the song “Dripac”, releasing a single, “Pričaj dodirom”, and an album of the same name in 2007 (which happily sold like the proverbial), the first of many singles in his name, and writing countless songs for others when he’s not performing as the lead singer of the band VIII2.
So boxseat of life, thy occupant is called Vanja Radovanović with Eurovision glory potentially awaiting him … or is it?
Well, if you’re a fan of breathy, intensely-earnest ballads, then sure.
“Inje” is not exactly a kick up your heels dance song, in keeping with a trend this year to lo-tempo songs sung in national languages (the latter development is particularly heartening to see) and as far as it goes, it works nicely enough.
But its great failing, which doesn’t extend to either Vanja Radovanović’s vocal prowess or that of his delightfully-harmonised backing singers, is that it doesn’t really stand out in any meaningful fashion.
Touching and intense, majestic and epic absolutely but in a been there, done that, got the sparkly Eurovision T-shirt (in muted colours, natch), not bringing anything new to the table kind of way.
Look for this one to be nothing more than a blip, however, pleasant, on the semi final 2 radar.
THE ARTIST Behold, he has returned! (No, not Jesus!)
First bestriding the glory that is the Eurovision stage way back in 2009 when he won the contest with “Fairytale”, amassing the highest tally ever under the old voting system, Alexander Rybak is back, older, wiser and determined to teach us the art of songwriting (as an allegory for life, of course).
Well, possibly not, but the cherubic-looking artist who doesn’t appear to have aged a day, is back with a catchy number called “That’s How You Write a Song”, his violin-playing skills in tip-top shape, and that boy next door grin working overtime.
And yes, while they say lightning can’t strike, surely that doesn’t apply to the magical world of Eurovision and the winning thereof?
Hopefully not, but let’s be honest, it’s a long shot and if anyone’s knows that it’s Rybak who’s stayed closely connected to Eurovision, even performing for the interval acts in 2012 and 2016, and composing entries for finalists in Norway’s national selection trials in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
So assuming hope is springing eternal, and remember he’s older and wiser that he was in 2009, does history have a hope of repeating for Norway?
Likely not, but not for want of trying.
“That’s How You Write a Song” is an absolute delight, bouyant, exhilarating pop from the get-go that kicks off with some Michael Jackson-esque flourishes before gleefully sauntering into a loping ball of feel-good energy.
You can’t help but love the raw sense of fun that percolates all through the song but it’s not quite as special as “Fairytale” and while it’ll definitely get Norway to the grand final, it’s doubtful we’ll see history repeat itself.
A pity because lord god almighty, that smile of Rybak’s needs to be seen as much as humanly possible throughout this year’s contest …
THE ARTIST Who doesn’t love to see two friends getting together to make sweet, sweet music?
No, that’s not a euphemism, thank you; in the case of Poland’s entry for this year, DJ Gromee who is the king of audio and video streams in the country and sharer of concert stages with the likes of NERVO and Steve Aoki, is joining forces with his friend, Swedish singer Lukas Meijer who, the Eurovision bio notes, is known for “being able to adjust the right feeling to every song he sings without losing his own character on the voice.”
Bringing together a DJ who has founded his own radio station and record label and a singer who has worked with the likes of Stevie Aiello (30 Seconds To Mars), Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper, Hollywood Vampires) and Grammy nominee Mark Holman (Daughtry, Three Days Grace) would seem to be a no-brainer, a marriage of musical talents that can’t help but be a raging success.
After all, isn’t the whole always greater than the sum of its parts?
THE SONG Hard to say in one sense since I haven’t had any previous exposure to the work of either artist, both of whom, as noted, have done quite nicely on their own thank you very much.
But as songs go, “Light Me Up”, while catchy enough, and possessed of an of-the-moment beat and danceable sensibility that should make for a captivating live performance, isn’t distinctive enough to make for a truly memorable entry.
It’s like one of those songs you hear on the radio, assuming you still listen to it, and enjoy enough to keep it on for the duration, but not enough to go and add it to one of your many Spotify playlists.
A bundle of pop fun that should kick Poland into the grand final because chart-topping songs like this (it’s done very well in Poland) are always attractive but does it have the kind of stuck-in-your-brain longevity it’ll nice to win?
Likely not but we should some ephemeral fun dancing to it in the interim.
THE ARTIST Hailing from Bucharest, The Humans, a prosaical name that leaves no doubt about what kind of beings you’ll see on stage, is a band of six people (of course), who, we are assured, have “their own mix of musical backgrounds”.
Four of the members, Alin Neagoe (bass), Alex Matei (piano), Cristina Caramarcu (vocals) and Adi Tetrade, were in a band called Jukebox, but seeking greener musical pastures, decamped, joining forces with Alex Cismaru (guitar) and Adi Tanase (vocals) to form a brand new band.
As new projects go, The Humans are off to a pretty promising start you would think, what with being selected to present the country and all.
But being selected is one thing, a rather fetching shade of green you would have to say, but winning another, or at the very least escaping semi final 2.
Do The Humans have what it takes?
THE SONG Written by three of the band members (Cristina Caramarcu, Alexandru Matei and Alin Neagoe), “Goodbye” kicks some serious rock butt.
It starts off slowly true, but builds and builds thanks to Caramarcu’s impressive, emotionally-resonant vocals, drawing off some fine musicianship and live performance chops, ending up redolent with passion, longing and a whole lotta humanity.
What it doesn’t have enough of, and this will hurt its chances in the contest, is true originality; it sounds far too much like a thousand other songs, which may not be a problem on radio or streaming, but matters a great deal in a live contest like Eurovision where memorability is everything.
It’s hardly going to bring shame to Romania, but beyond providing a heartfelt interlude to semi final 2, won’t really make much of a lasting impression.
To be fair to Julia Samoylova, she never got the chance to make a first impression with Russia with the superpower withdrawing from last year’s contest when Ukraine refused to let their entrant enter the country due to her appearance on a list of banned singers who had performed in the disputed territory of Crimea.
Whatever your view of that particular stoush, it means that Samoylova is coming to Lisbon to make a second first impression, bringing the talent that won her X-Factor, got her a gig singing at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi in 2014, and won her Alla’s Golden Star, an award named after Russia’s 1997 Eurovision participant Alla Pugachova.
So she has the talent to make all kinds of impressions, of whatever numerical and chronological value you care to assign, but will all that impressing get her, and by extension, Russia anywhere?
THE SONG If you like reasonably unadventurous songs sure.
“I Won’t Break” is decidedly anthemic, redolent with healthy defiance and tenacity, the sorts of themes that Eurovision was purpose built for back in the day as a way of healing the rifts in postwar Europe (which, you may have noticed, are rather gaping at present).
The song has power and undoubted balladic energy, and should make for a great live performance, particularly given Samoylova’s vocal emotiveness.
But advancing to the grand final and a top 10 finish will hinge entirely on her live performance which will need to be damn good to make up for a song that is nowhere near as impressive as the singer herself.
EUROVISION EXTRA EXTRA!
We know Eurovision is, among many other things, about love sweet love.
But love sweet Love Boat?
According to website Descubriendo ESC that’s exactly what it is and the results of bringing together the classic ’70s TV show and this year’s Eurovision contestants is retro kitsch wonderful.
The seven-and-a-half-minute short is a culinary fable about a Chinese-Canadian woman suffering from the depression of an empty nest, who gets a second shot at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings comes alive. (via EW)
Pixar has oft proven itself in the past as not simply the creator of emotionally resonant, complex but accessible and character-rich animated films but of delightfully immersive short films too.
In some ways, these shorter efforts, which usually precede their longer-form creations (with the exception of 2017’s Coco which was introduced by a Frozen cartoon featuring Olaf) are even more impressive since they have to do what their feature counterparts in a considerably reduced amount of time.
While we have yet to see any footage of Incredibles 2 opener Bao (which refers to steamed, filled-buns common to Chinese cuisine), this first image premiered exclusively via Entertainment Weekly, it looks like another superlative entry to Pixar’s line of opening short films, all heart, rich characterisation and humanity.
Domee Shi, whose directed the film, had this to say about the Bao:
“Often times it felt like my mom would treat me like a precious little dumpling, wanting to make sure I was safe, that I didn’t go out late, all that stuff. I just wanted to create this magical, modern-day fairy tale, kind of like a Chinese Gingerbread Man story. The word ‘bao’ actually means two things in Chinese: Said one way, it means steamed bun. Said another, it means something precious. A treasure.” (via EW)
I suspect that with the all expected effort that has gone into Bao, that we are indeed looking at another treasure from the animation powerhouse which makes the wait for Incredibles 2, which opens 14 June in Australia and 15 June in USA.
There is an exceptional beauty and gentleness to the extravagantly beautiful work of Alina Chau, an animator with many years experience in the industry who has worked on the likes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Beautiful and gentle it maybe, embodying the loveliest aspects of watercolour work, but it is also vibrantly playful and alive, reflecting the zesty pop culture properties from which this talented artist draws her inspiration.
As someone who adores and is attracted to the use of bright, rich colour, Chau’s artwork entrances because she uses her pallette perfectly, never too much in either direction, giving us renditions of characters we know and love that sing and dance just as you imagine them, but with the addition of lovely extra hours to the visual mix too.
You can find more of Chau’s watercolors, which make use of papercutting to add extra layers of depth and wonder to her work, at her website alinachau.comwhere you can even buy a print if you desire.
Nostalgia is a pretty unreliable lens to look at anything through, prone to rose-coloured distortions, warm-and-fuzzy childhood memories, and a willingness to forgive all kinds of deficiencies in the service of venerating something you love.
All of which complicates reviewing a series that came out in the year I was born (1965) but which, happily, doesn’t make such a task impossible.
On the surface at least, reverence for Lost in Space, Irwin Allen’s take on Johann David Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, one of multiple attempts to send a lost family into the far reaches of the galaxy in comic or TV form in the 1960s, would seem to be a prime candidate for nostalgia-distortion.
A staple of my childhood in the 1970s when the colour episodes were everywhere but rarely the black-and-white ones – explained no doubt by the local TV station’s willingness (yes just the one commercial channel, kids; you may “Gasp! Horror! now if you like) to demonstrate their bright and shiny new-fangled non-black and white broadcasting – Lost in Space is one of those shows I remember fondly.
It tapped into many things that have become enduring loves of my life – science fiction, outlandish storytelling, imaginative melodrama, quirkiness and the sense that life can be much bigger than humdrum reality might give the impression it’s capable of.
And it unashamedly ran with those elements, serving up adventure after adventure that relied not so much on logic and good sense as an entrenched willingness to suspend belief, even before you’d have a chance to bring it into existence at all, and a desire to take the trippiness of the ’60s and the fast-and-loose sensibilities of the ’70s and marry them together into one mesmerisingly over the top futuristic whole.
Looking back, many years later, on the first three episodes that ushered in the mayhem and often downright silliness of the later seasons, which ended rather unceremoniously and on a cliffhanger to boot, in March 1968 after 68 episodes, it’s tempting to dismiss it all as overwrought, pot-boiled television, storytelling on acid that has more logic holes than Swiss Cheese, frippery that doesn’t deserve all that nostalgia piled upon it with boyhood reverence.
And honestly when I was re-watching the three episodes one Saturday morning, my analytical adulthood brain, which still marches in service to my rampant imagination and willingness to put aside the more barbed of critical observations if I am truly moved by something, or at the very least, swept up into it in a way that makes me forget I’m all grown-up, if just for a little while, went to freaking town pointing all kinds of weird inconsistencies:
Why was it that only Major Don West (Mark Goddard) seemed to have any real skills at all? Things gowrong, as they are wont to do but mostly at the hand of camp saboteur/villain/cybernetics expert Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) whose extra weight on the ship sends them off course in the first place, but only West seems able to fix them at all.
It’s he who figures out how to get the ship out of the meteor storm that sends the saucer-shaped Jupiter 2 (known as Gemini 12 in an un-aired pilot that included neither Smith nor the “Danger, Will Robinson!” robot, voiced by Dick Tufeld, the show’s narrator) way off course, he who manages to rescue a clueless John Robinson (Guy Williams) from not one but two spacewalks, he who comforts June Robinson (June Lockhart), who shows a propensity for collapsing that surely should have disqualified her from space travel, and the one who gets them to the surface of their first alien planet and into the Chariot to rescue John Robinson whose tangled in some energy-laced branches under a cliff.
Yes, John and Maureen Robinson are eminently qualified in their respective fields – he an astrophysicist, she a biochemist, and nine-year-old son Will (Billy Mumy) is an aspiring specialist in electronics and computers, but beyond they appeared to have received no training at all in anything to do with space travel. It’s no wonder they ended up lost and stayed lost really with that level of non-expertise between them.
There is misogyny aplenty. True, this was made in the 1960s and is a product of its age, and yes it’s a family show where mum Maureen and daughters 19-year-old Judy (Marta Kristen), a one time musical theater talent, and 11-year-old Penny, who adopts an alien creature called Debbie with nary an afterthought, are looked after by the men of the family as they keep the Jupiter 2 homestead fires burning, but it’s weird how Will goes everywhere while Judy (who flirts endlessly with Don West) and Penny are stuck with B-storylines pretty much all the time.
The launch sequence where everyone, and I mean everyone is standing around the Jupiter 2 three minutes before launch. How the entire support team at mission control doesn’t end crammed into the ship I have no idea with people tinkering with things, LIFE-SAVING THINGS thank you, mere minutes before liftoff where one family, one terribly ill-trained family, is about to jet off into the stars to save humanity by settling a planet near Alpha Centauri.
So yes, my nitpicking adult brain, the one that serves me so well when it comes to writing reviews of books, TV shows, comic books and movies on this blog, had a field day picking apart the glorious inanity of parts of Lost in Space.
Yet for all that, and ever-mindful of the corrosive effects of nostalgia on reviewing anything from your youth, there was enough gee-whiz, isn’t-this-fun adventuring to keep me engaged.
Much of that comes down to the very impossible situations that make my adult brain cringe more often than that – every moment of the show is a cliffhanger, all the characters make questionable decisions, no one seems to be in control of a situation that demands control in spaces, and yet for all that, my inner 10-year-old is cheering the whole thing on, gleeful about the idea of heading to space, wondering what it would be like to face strange planets, imperilled spacewalks and odd aliens which send EMP surges through the Chariot, leaving everyone stranded (well, until they decide to walk home, anyway).
Lost in Space sits then in that much-hallowed space where adventure takes precedence over logicality, where getting into peril, and escaping it naturally, forces all kinds of reasonable assumptions to play second fiddle, and where the way we feel is in the driver’s seat, forcing pretty much everything else to sit in the back, uttering not a word of reproach.
In that sense, it’s an air to the cinema shorts of the golden age of Hollywood, rampantly and breathlessly over-the-top storytelling that concentrated on creating tension, hackneyed though it might be, in the service of keeping patrons on the edge of their seats and certainly in these first three episodes, there are cliffhanger moments galore where a giant spaceship swallows the Jupiter 2 whole, where John Robinson is floating off into space with no one to help him and where Will awakens an alien being who gives chase.
All nervewracking, heart in your mouth stuff that, if examined too closely is inherently silly and overdone, but which in the service of escapist television, and that is what Irwin Allen was the schlocky king of for many triumphal years, works perfectly.
Is it perfect television? Not really does it divert, entrance, entertain and delight, taking us away from the everyday each episode with gloriously absurdist intent?
That it does, and that it does very well indeed, and so even with the myriad reasons to poke hole in these three introductory episodes (more than the meteor storm had done anyway), I am happy to let, if not nostalgia then a sense of childlike fun and adventure, carry the day, confident that there are plenty of very adult things to consume once the escapism of life lost in outer space has run its course once more.
Often times, pulling back the curtain and seeing what lies behind the glittering facade, the alluring mystique can be a disappointment.
But sometimes, and this is most definitely the case with this delightful behind-the-scenes video courtesy of ScreenSlam, taking a peek at the building blocks of a beloved pop culture icon such as 1995’s Toy Story, which kicked off Pixar’s enviable run of success, simply adds another wonderful level of magic.
In this short but sweet compilation that features Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and a host of other actors such as Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, we are given a lovely look at how these characters first came to be, seemingly vibrantly alive from the get-go.
It’s worth watching this and then going back to watch Toy Story all over again; and then watching it again and again because really you can never too much of Andy and his wonderfully alive toys.
There is a beautifully immersive, almost fairytale whimsy that accompanies every film that idiosyncratic auteur Wes Anderson brings to the screen.
You know walking into a film like Isle of Dogs, his second stop-motion animation feature film after the Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), that you will encounter a world of his own blissfully eccentric creation where every detail is lovingly thought-out with an originality that delights at every turn.
It’s not for everyone, of course, but if you’re one of those people, and his fans are legion so there are a great many of us out there, who appreciates a wholly different view of the world that is both substantially intelligent and gleefully playful, not to mention cartoonishly-visual, there is a great deal to enjoy in one of Anderson’s child-like outings.
At his best, and he’s rarely not right on the creative money, his films are fables for our time, impishly-cheeky morality tales that look fey and cute but have a depth and cleverness behind them, entrancing the eyes and pleasing the soul while giving the mind a great deal to chew on too.
Isle of Dogs, a story of belonging, in guises good and bad, flawed and flawless, fits very much in this mold, taking us on a journey to a Japan we might recognise and yet which clearly sits just outside our experience just enough to challenge everything we know about the country.
In Anderson’s Japan,or at least the megalopolis of Megasaki, a few steps into the multiverse from our own, dogs are suddenly, by order of six-time incumbent Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), canine non grata, banished to Trash Island, just across the river from the city, condemned as the carriers of terrible diseases just waiting to cross the species barrier and infect humanity.
The heir to a long tradition of pro-cat, anti-dog sentiment, the story of which is told at the beginning of the film in an animated piece of exposition, worth the price of admission alone, senses this is his chance to take on his canine adversaries and rid Japan of man’s best friend once and for all.
Presented by Anderson with all kinds of fascistic imagery – there is the Rising Sun emblem of Imperial Japan and shades of Nazi rallies; not overdone but most definitely there – Kobayashi is a man determined to get his own way and manipulate the populace, who seem oddly and disturbingly willing to go along with everything he announces at his rallies, into not only sending the dogs far from their comfortable homes but perhaps killing them off for good too.
It’s dark, very dark, and Isle of Dogs doesn’t shy from being honest about the more dictatorial inclinations of the mayor, but the story has a lighter side too of course that emerges when we reach Trash Island, where Kobayashi’s nephew and ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin) has travelled to in a small prop plane to find and rescue his beloved bodyguard dog Spots (Liev Schreiber).
Crashing into the artfully-constructed surrounds of Trash Island, which though toxic and fetid looks magical in its own twisted way thanks to Anderson’s distinctive aesthetic, Atari, who is a little worse for wear with a small part of the plane sticking into his head, by a pack of alpha dogs who become the living, beating heart of the film.
Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and Chief (Bryan Cranston) come to Atari’s rescue – although Chief, a stray without the human attachment issues of his pack mates, continually questions if they should be expending so much time on a boy, especially that boy – and commit, against Chief’s wishes to find and reunite Atari and Spots.
It’s at this point that the film, all loss and abandonment, getting outcast and being rejected, finds its feet as a film about what it means to belong and the lengths any of us, man or beast, will go to get there, and pertinently for dogs who have lost the only homes they have ever known, stay there.
Atari immediately finds a temporary home with the pack, who are hilarious, warmhearted and all-inclusive with even Chief finally coming around but only well down the track when he realises that he either needs to step up or Atari loses everything, and together they not only find Spots but attempts to reverse the hateful decree of Mayor Kobayashi.
No prizes for guessing where this all leads – Anderson might be offbeat and sublimely, pleasingly odd but he’s not a heartless monster – but before we get there, we get to get experience what true belonging feels like, beyond the treats and creature comforts that Rex, King, Duke and Boss discuss, again rather comically (the dialogue is heartfelt and hilarious in equal measure) and where the need for connection really becomes real and palpable.
In many ways, the journey to find Spots is a series of engagingly funny set pieces that excell both verbally and visually, but while Anderson is not setting out to make a serious movie with a capital “S”, he does have a few mildly weighty things to say.
Like the fact that really belonging to someone is a two way street – you should give as much to them as they give to you, and how when this breaks down as it does when all the owners bar Atari go along with Kobayashi’s decree of exile for their pampered pooches and don’t come to the rescue of their pets, or when Spots, when he’s finally located, tells Atari that he’s rethinking being his pet (at this point, Chief, who’s undergone a road to Damascus moment about being a human’s pet, admonishes him in a way that is moving and endearing).
On the other end of the belonging spectrum, we see how willing people are to relinquish things they love, in this cases dogs, but let’s say freedom and civil rights in a modern, real-world context, to go along with the status quo.
They could fight back, they could resist but they don’t, and even when two scientists Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) and Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono (voice by, yes, thank you casting gods, Yoko Ono) come up with a cure for the canine diseases that Kobayashi uses as the pretext for banishment, only one person, an Ohio exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), who fancies Atari more than a little bit, dares to fight for what’s right.
Others join her from her school’s newspaper but that’s about it and so a struggle ensure between those who choose to belong by inert omission (the vast, troubling majority) and those who belong for all the right reasons, in this case the dogs of Trash Island who go all out to help Atari, and right all the possible wrongs going, even when they have been unjustly treated.
It’s heartwarming and uplifting, and those you can accuse Anderson’s films of being a little emotional distancing with more quirky style than moving substance, that’s not the case for at least the canine members of the cast who beautifully communicate the delights and rewards of true, selfless belonging where you sacrifice for others rather than waiting for them to come to you.
Again, Anderson hasn’t set out to create some deeply meaningful polemic in Isle of Dogs which is typically light, fey, funny and quirky as they come, but he’s too intelligent and insightful a filmmaker to make everything look beguiling and not have something behind all the appealingly creative artifice which is a treat for the eyes, and in a world where selfishness seems to be in ascendancy, a balm for the soul.
The new season begins six months after the Bowmans’ escape from the Los Angeles bloc as Will (Holloway) and Katie (Callies) struggle to rebuild their family in the world beyond the walls. When their peaceful existence is shattered, they are sent on an odyssey that will finally reveal the horrifying truth behind Earth’s mysterious occupiers and once again force our heroes to choose sides. (synopsis (c) IGN)
The battle is not over yet.
That was apparent at the end of season 2 of Colony when our involuntary alien overlords – to be fair, the collaborators among humanity have gone along quite merrily, and voluntarily, with the new largely-hidden regime in town – were still very much in control, the clock was counting down ominously to humanity’s extinction (with most people blissfully unaware) and the Bowmans?
Well, the Bowmans had left the LA Bloc, and as this season 3 featurette makes clear, have settled into as close a bucolic life as you can manage in the midst of a genocidal alien apocalypse.
But good things cannot last when humanity’s neck is on the chopping block nor can the Bowmans, well some of them at least, quell their inner resistors (and thank god for that) and simply lie low while the world comes to even more of an end than it has already.
So it looks very much the battle will be rejoined, and once again, this superbly well-executed show will do a brilliant job of showing just what it takes, and what it costs, to stand up to the horrifically dead hand of dictatorship.
Colony season 3 premieres on USA Network on 2 May.