Colony: “Hospitium” (S3, E4 review)

“It’s a trap!” The words of Admiral Ackbar came back to haunt Broussard in a junk yard and he did not get nostalgic (image via SpoilerTv (c) USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND DICTATORS ALIEN AND TERRESTRIAL …

If the oft-blighted annals of human history have taught us anything, it’s that humanity is often its own worst enemy.

Quite the cliche you might think but as Colony demonstrated with its usual incisive aplomb this week, it’s a cliche for a very good reason.

Exhibit A in the Who’s the Bigger Threat competition is Andrew McGregor (Graham McTavish), leader of the Seattle resistance camp who has shown a marked proclivity for the kind of no-questions-asked, no-opposition-allowed authoritarian leadership style of Earth’s new alien overlords.

Given the threat posed by the RAPs or Clicks or the Weird Robotic Creatures Who May or May Not be Telling the Truth – let’s go with “may” since spaceships that don’t belong to them keep crashing in fields and paddocks, rather bolstering their claim that a bigger, badder enemy is on the way … or at least an enemy – you could maybe forgive that.

Bram: Who are we fighting?
Katie: Same enemy we’ve always been fighting. The real war isn’t against the RAPs or whatever was in that capsule. It’s against ourselves.

But if history has shown us anything else, and I think we can all agree the history lessons are innumerable, it’s that unity imposed from above never really sticks – not only do people resent being told what to think but there’s no real ownership of the fight being waged.

Granted, some leadership isn’t necessary but there is leadership and then there’s Stalin/Hitler/Kim Jong Un, and generally it’s the former, where people are brought on the journey rather than being told what to pack and where to go, that goes nicely.

McGregor, who see in flashback getting intel from a government agent (Hiro Kanagawa) on the movement of huge packets of data on the dark web – further proof of how well planned the duplicity of humanity’s alien collaborative cohort was and how far and long it extended.

This is one conspiracy that’s actually right on the money, and McGregor, a typical issues blogger with passion and one-eyed zealotry – great for awareness-building, really bad for sustained, productive leadership – has got all his galactic invader ducks well and truly in a row (hey Pop Funko, great product line idea – yeah, you can think me later).

 

Lordy those aliens fight dirty, thought the wronged man, who still managed to be dirtier still once he got a taste of power (image via SpoilerTv (c) USA Network)

 

Just how well arranged they are is brought scarily home when the FBI, clearly part of the alien club, brings him in for “questioning”, discrediting him by the devilishly simply technique of seeding his online profile with all kind of child pornographic material.

It’s a low nasty blow that in one fell swoop takes away any credence he had as an alien invasion whistleblower and which leaves the poor unsuspecting masses of Earth oblivious to the doom about to descend upon them.

It’s a scary demonstration of power being wielded by a duplicitous elite, and whatever you view of conspiracy theory bloggers/whistle blowers etc, it brings home that, aliens or not, we are once mouse click away these days from being destroyed by anyone.

As a commentary on the way in which our online activities can be both friend and foe, blessing and curse, its devastatingly revelatory, but as way of explaining why McGregor is the way he is now, dictatorial inclinations and all, its a damn fine piece of narrative momentum.

In the here and now, where Will and Katie Bowman (Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies) and possibly Vincent (Waleed Zuaiter) are squaring up against a now-willful demagogic McGregor, who is no longer interested in the truth, but controlling the narrative and burnishing his now zealously-guarded credibility, its a key piece of insight.

Clearly coming up against the might of the alien Vichy elite, which cost him not just his megaphone role as informer of humanity but his wife and kids and job, has understandably shaken him mightily, and all that matters now is shoring up his position as a leader whatever the cost to effectively battling the aliens.

The great tragedy of his circling of credibility wagons, aided and abetted by a stalwart group of supporters who want to believe that a huge bomb sent into the Seattle colony (where, Katie points out, innocent people live) is all that’s needed to see of the aliens, is that McGregor has forsaken his previous quest for the truth, even in the face of the Bowman’s mountainous pile of incontrovertible evidence.

Sure, we don’t know if the RAP or Click is telling the whole truth but we do know there are other aliens hot on their tale, thanks to both the Bowmans and a brief scene at the Global Authority in a recent episode, and that The Factory, built by the “human resources” (gives a whole sickening twist on that piece of corporate jargon now doesn’t it?) the aliens came to Earth for, was constructed for defensive purposes.

Insightful stuff, and you’d think kinda important in the grand scheme of alien-fighting things.

Alas, McGregor, having convinced Vincent the Bowmans are double agents – Snyder (Peter Jacobson) fleeing the camp to alert his Global Authority pals really didn’t help disabuse anyone of this spurious, trumped-up charge – is back in the hot seat again and the fight against humanity is looking a lot less substantial and strong that it did just one episode ago.

Aliens 140,000, humanity -60 billion.

 

Katie Bowman is not impressed … aliens and tinpot human dictators everywhere should quake in their boots (image via SpoilerTv (c) USA Network)

 

One man who hasn’t given up the fight is Broussard (Tory Kittles) who is continuing his way up the west coast from the L.A. Bloc with Amy (Peyton List).

Now first things first – those of you planning an alien apocalyptic holiday to San Francisco, abandon hope of great shots of The Golden Gate Bridge now; the aliens have thrown one of their goddamned big thick silver walls, now with added drones, right through the centre of it.

Yup, photo opportunity gone.

That great touristing travesty aside, nothing, not even being almost shot to bits in an automotive junkyard hiding a resistance cell of one, or having to cross a freezing cold lake (although full cheers for that shirtless of Kittles, Colony producers; those pecs alone would convince me to follow him into battle), or doubting each other’s rebellious credentials, is enough to stop them heading north to McGregor’s Stalin-esque “idyll” in the forest.

All that tenacity and steps – can you imagine their Fitbits? Off the chart step counts people! – gets them to the camp eventually only to find the place deserted.

Does that mean there’s a time difference between what happened with Will and Kate, and what’s been happening to Broussard and Amy? Is it like Dunkirk where seemingly simultaneous events were actually taking place hours or days apart?

Whatever the reason, the camp is empty, and brutalised, and no one, certainly not camp outcasts Will and Katie and Snyder, nor commandant McGregor, are to be seen, leaving a great big question mark hanging over a group of people who are way more in peril from each other than they’ve ever been from the RAPs, proving once again that when history repeats, and it does with a vengeance, it goes full pedal to the metal with no apologies to anyone.

  • Up ahead in Colony … “End of the Road” and proof once again that humanity’s worst enemy lies a lot closer than we think …

Retro movie review: Finding Nemo (15th anniversary)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

We all want to belong to someone somewhere.

It’s a natural part of the human condition, a damn near unassailable imperative, but figuring out how to make that belonging work isn’t as simple as it looks.

Take Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould) and his over-protective dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) – years after the death of his wife Coral (Elizabeth Perkins) and most of his first brood of youngsters of which Nemo is the sole survivor, Marlin continues to shield his son from everything, including the good things in life.

Heading off with bubbling excitement to his first day of school, where all kinds of learning, with Mr. Ray (John Peterson) his manta ray teacher, and friendship awaits, Nemo finds himself shepherded in the worst helicopter parent kind of way by his dad who figures that if he can keep his son safe from threats, real but mostly imagined, that life will work out fine for both of them.

But Nemo, like any young kid who doesn’t understand the full scope of his parent’s grief or loss – and how could he? He’s a child for crying out loud – is chafing under the restrictions imposed by Marlin, desperate to be one of the gang which is made of butterfly fish fingerling Tad (Jordy Ranft), flapjack octopus Pearl (Erica Beck) and seahorse Sheldon (Erik Per Sullivan), and subsequently going to great lengths to prove his father’s fears are unfounded.

By, of course, and there would be no narrative without this, absolutely confirming that all his father’s fears were well-founded.

Well, not really, because Marlin had become so fearful of life itself that much of his paranoia came from places within than without, but certainly Nemo’s decision to swim out and touch the boat (the kids amusingly call it a “butt”) with divers who abduct him, underscoring that there is much to be afraid of in the great wide world that awaits beyond the safe little places we all carve for ourselves in life.

But Nemo’s abduction, while terrifying for Marlin, and understandably so since his son is all he has left, sets in train a whole series of events, some serious, most thigh-slappingly funny that cumulatively reinforce the idea that while life can be scary, it’s only by confronting those fears, by leaping headfirst from our safety zones, that we really come alive.

 

 

Great life lesson sure, but as he desperately barrels after the boat in which his son is being carried away, his anguish palpable and devastatingly real, it’s the last thing Marlin is worrying about.

All he wants to do is get his son, and when that fails, to do whatever it takes to track him down by whatever means possible.

On his ceaseless quest to get to find “P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney NSW”, which is written on a mask that happily, and rather handily, falls out of the boat, Marlin has to not only confront a whole host of fears, but trust other creatures he doesn’t know, let alone trust, to bring his son back to him.

Chief among them is lovable, goody Regal blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who suffers from extreme short-term memory loss, resulting in frustration for Marlin but endless amounts of amusement for everyone else.

What stops Dory, who is so oblivious to so many of the dynamics unfolding around him, from coming to grief on so many occasions is her willingness to just dive on into any situation; sure, it’s driven by an inability to fully comprehend what awaits her, whether it’s joining 12 Step Program sharks led by Bruce (Barry Humphries) who have sworn off fish or playing in the East Australian Current with the turtles, led by Crush (Andrew Stanton) who rescue her and Marlin after a jellyfish swarm near-miss but it teaches Marlin a lesson – that sometimes you have to take a great big leap of out that tightly-circumscribed comfort zone of yours if anything, anything at all, good or bad, is going to happen in life.

It’s not a foolproof approach to life and it almost ends up costing them all kinds of life-ending grief, but by and large it works for them, and after all kinds of threats and solutions have played their part and the duo have reached Sydney and found Nemo, Marlin realises that a certain amount of risk is integral to a well-lived life.

That’s a lot of deeply thought-out life philosophy in one Pixar film, but the animation house has proven time and again, in films released both before and after Finding NemoUp and Toy Story (all of them) spring to mind most readily – that it be astoundingly introspective and serious, and yet make a brilliantly-entertaining movie.

 

 

Much of that comes to the artfully-constructed characters who all come with a particular kind of emotional resonance.

Even the inhabitants of the tank in the dental surgery in which Nemo finds himself – Moorish idol fish Gill (Willem Dafoe), starfish Peach (Allison Janney), Yellow tang fish Bubbles (Stephen Root), Royal Gamma fish Gurgle (Austin Pendleton), Striped Damselfish Deb/Flo (Vicki Lewis) and Cleaner Shrimp Jacques (Joe Ranft) – who are all kinds of daffy silliness (Jacques’ line “I am ashamed” when he un-self consciously begins to clean off the algae build-up that could save them, and is caught out, all is a gem) are also deeply touching in their own way.

They embrace Nemo as one of their own, with Peach especially taking on the mothering role of which Nemo has no real experience, and help him reunite with Marlin, even at the risk of continuing to be trapped in the tank themselves.

Each of them are damaged in their own way by their captivity – you’ll notice that Pixar rarely leaves anyone behind, with salvation of some kind coming to everyone unjustly imprisoned, even the unlovable ones – but nevertheless, together with Nigel the pelican (Geoffrey Rush), they nurture Nemo and help get back to the one person with whom he belongs, his dad Marlin.

It’s a thousand kind of affecting, and deeply real in a way that many non-animated films fail to be, and it grabs at your heart even as each and every character gets their moment to be goofy, whimsical or just plain hilarious.

The humour, which is liberally sprinkled through Finding Nemo works brilliantly precisely so much of it is embedded into affectingly-true emotional groundedness, a reminder that any humour worth its quip-laden punchline must come out of a real place, lived in by characters who matter to us.

Pixar understands this at a creative bedrock level, and it’s rare for the animators there to forget that their films only connect with people because we can see, even in a story about a father and son clownfish, and their new friend Dory, something of our own lives, of our intrinsic need to belong and the unsettling, near-frightening disquiet when we don’t.

Comically inspired and gorgeously animated in all the colours of the rainbow and with a visual realism that is never less than breathtakingly stunning, Finding Nemo is a timeless gem that reaffirms every step of the way that our need to belong is paramount but that it only makes sense when we’re allowed to be ourselves, when we’re willing to take risks and when life, scary and messily uncertain though it is, can be lived on its own terms (without eating any fish, naturally).

 

 

The short and the short of it: The mistaken identity of Elderflower

Emily is looking for love in Elderflower … while (almost) everyone else is looking for, ah, something else entirely (image via Vimeo Short of the Week)

 

SNAPSHOT
Emily has opened a florist, she’s living her dream, but she soon learns her new venture used to be a front for an entirely different business all together. (official synopsis via Vimeo)

One of my favourite scenes in Richard Curtis’s Christmas classic, Love Actually, is when John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) fall for each other, little by awkward little as stand-ins on a film set simulating partners in various sex scenes.

It’s sweet, adorably ill-at-ease and yet full of the promise of more wonderful things to come.

 

Elderflower from Ben Mallaby on Vimeo.

 

Elderflower, a beautifully-realised short film with its heart on its sleeve, flowers in vase and something else entirely stuck to the wall, feels very much the same, all inviting innocence and heartfelt possibility wrapped in a delightfully, happily raunch-lite scenario.

You will adore Lou Sanders as florist Emily, Tom Ronsethal as her desperately adorable would-be suitor and Sheila Reid as the mischievous Maureen who isn’t about to give up on life despite being in her late 70s.

And trust me, you will never look at flower shops the same way every again …

With a little help from his Hundred Acre friends: New trailer and poster for Christopher Robin

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
In the heartwarming live-action adventure Christopher Robin, the young boy who loved embarking on adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood with a band of spirited and lovable stuff animals, has grown up and lost his way. Now it is up to his childhood friends to venture into our world and help Christopher Robin remember the loving and playful boy who is still inside. (Coming Soon)

When we’re younger, it’s impossible impossible to conceive of losing our way in life.

Everything seems so clearcut and certain, and insulated by the coundless optimism of youth from life’s vagaries and contrariness, it’s almost impossible to imagine not following through on each and every aspirational decision we make.

But life goes, gets in the way, trips over hazards and falls down a hole, and suddenly we find ourselves miles from home and unable to get back.

 

 

That’s when you need friends, well, if you’re a grown-up Christopher Robin at least, like Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit and Kanga to return the many favours given to them and come and help you find your way back to who you were and what matters most to you now.

The trailer to Christopher Robin is loaded with poignancy, joy and melancholic regret … and quite happily, and heartwarmingly, the possibility that it’s possible to retrace your steps and get back to what it was that made life such a sweet and lovely place way back when.

Christopher Robin opens 3 August. UK 17 August and Australia 20 September.

Let’s be honest! More telling-it-like-it-is movie posters from College Humor

(image courtesy College Humor)

 

Even though the marketing departments of the various movie studios would never admit to such a thing, there’s all kinds of hyped-up porkies being told in every movie campaign.

Trailers are edited, posters designed and and in-person interviews stacked to the rafters with pertinent talking points, all with the aim of ensuring we go and see the movie in question.

Fair enough too I guess – they’ve made it and now they want us to see it!

College Humor, however, dares to push the hype envelope, releasing a series of posters every month that gleefully and pithily call out the emperor’s wearing of his new cinematic marketing clothes, to the delight of us all.

 

(image courtesy College Humor)

 

(image courtesy College Humor)

 

(image courtesy College Humor)

Book review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

Just like life itself, Caraval is equal parts enchanting magic, and devious darkness, a journey into the very heart of humanity wrapped in a thousand colours of the rainbow.

Colour features strongly indeed in Stephanie Garber’s debut novel, which pivots on the idea that magic abounds around us if we look for it, and most particularly, if you are invited by a Machiavellian magician with extraordinary powers named Legend who holds a near-week long game called Caraval to which a select group of people from around the various empires and continents – this is very much a colonial-era setting with the hierarchies and attitudes that entails – to compete for a grand and rare prize.

It’s an event to which Scarlett Dragna, the daughter of a two-bit island governor with delusions of grandeur, and graphic cruelty to match, has long aspired to go with Caraval opening with a series of letters she has written over the years to the enigmatic, mysterious Legend begging to participate in the wonder and hedonism of a carnival that is equal parts Survivor meets The Amazing Race.

Enraptured by the bewitching escapism and the gilded sorcery, Scarlett has more reason than most to want the one wish prize (think a one-shot genie) that comes with winning the latest incarnation of Legend’s festival of lavish spectacle and gutter humanity – the setting is stunning; the people increasingly not – with the pressing need to escape her violently abusive father, with her younger sister in tow, growing more urgent by the day.

“‘Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle … So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up.'” (P. 75)

But when an invitation actually arrives for Scarlett and her more fiery, impetuous sister to go to Legend’s maquis extravaganza, the elder sister demurs, made low and small by years of abuse, her desire for escape and a new life, dwarfed by the simple crushing need to stay “safe”.

Through events that won’t be detailed here, she and her sister and a man who takes them to the island in his boat – adding to the ever-pervasive air of mystery, he just happens along when they need a ride and have a third ticket to the game – end up in the technicolour wonder and magic of a game which takes places only at night, with the day a wasteland of nothingness and loss.

One of the joys of this book is its extravagant use of colourfully-evocative language to describe the otherworldly, damn near paranormal delights of a world fundamentally removed from real life, one which comes with dazzling, sensory-overloading sights but which has, as you might expect, a rather dark underbelly.

That underbelly, seething with deception, death, loss, subterfuge and cruel cunning, is nowhere to be seen at first when passages like this one envelop you with gloriously-suffocating imagery that bursts alive in your mind as you read it:

“The canals were circular, like a long apple peel spread out around curving lantern-lit streets, full of pubs piping russet smoke, bakeries shaped like cupcakes and shops wrapped in colours like birthday presents> Cerulean blue. Apricot orange. Saffron yellow. Primrose pink.” (PP 137-138)

 

 

But, of course, deliriously delicious as all this language is, and it is cinematically transportive in the loveliest of ways, it is primarily used to build up the escapist nature of Caraval so that the narrative, in which Scarlett must find her sister while surmounting all kinds of near-devilish odds and obstacles, can tear down its diversionary magicality.

This is, as you might suspect a place of fairy floss, candy-coated artifice that hides the very rottenness of a corrupted soul – long-traded rumours tell of Legend essentially making a deal with the devil to gain his powers, an exchange that gifted him immense wealth, influence and power but which has left him cut off from his humanity, which is increasingly frayed and lost in the detritus of the lives he both builds and ruins with his carnival of competitively-lost souls.

Garber somehow manages to (mostly) hold the magic and raw nastiness of people like Legend and Dragna, who comes hunting for his daughter in Caraval to her understandable horror, in a tense balanace that has the novel feeling so much like life that you begin to feel as your own existence might be great staged event, its exact nature escaping you, just as it does Scarlett.

“Scarlett’s legs were boneless, thin skin wrapped around useless muscles. Her lungs ached with the pressure of unshed tears. Even her gown looked tired and dead. The black fabric had dulled to gray, as if it no longer had the strength to hold colour. She didn’t remember ripping the lace, but the hem of her bizarre mourning-nightdress hung in tatters around her calves. She didn’t know if its magic had stopped working or if it just reflected how exhausted and unraveled she felt.” (P. 250)

It doesn’t completely work with Scarlett making some rather questionable decisions in the service of the plot, and the finale as cruel to her in some ways as her life leading up to it – her acceptance of what is done to her in the service of the game leaves a little to be desired even if it is the product of someone who has the weary acceptance of the long-manipulated, but for the most part, Caraval is a brilliantly-realised, escapist tale that may be about illusion and artfully-curated imagination come to life, but which is, at its heart about abuse, and its harrowing effect on a person’s life.

Scarlett’s journey through the book is that of someone coming alive, belatedly realising, once free from her father’s brutally pernicious influence, that she can expect more from life than simply getting by, that her world can be as expansive and endlessly, colourfully beguiling as Caraval itself, if she’ll just let it.

In the end, any flaws aside, Caraval is a studied journey through not one but two hearts of darkness, a fabrication that seems magnificent and wondrous, and on the surface often is, with Garber’s extravagant descriptions well and truly doing it justice, but which, like humanity itself, can be as bitingly-nightmarish as it is whimsically fairytale-ish and magical.

Possessed of a steel spine and a balanced willingness to hold the dark and the light, the redemptive and the damning like some existential lady justice holding her scales aloft, and decorated in the many, vibrantly-hued colours of the rainbow, Caraval is a richly-written, immersive read that is as fey as it is substantial, an escape from the everyday that helps you realise that the power to change your life, whatever shape it takes, comes not from without, no matter how prettily-attired and promising it might be, but from within, which is where the real magic lies.

 

(image courtesy Stephanie Garber)

Eight boys … one crazy family … new sitcom The Kids Are Alright

(image via YouTube (c) ABC)

 

SNAPSHOT
Set in the 1970s, the ensemble, single-camera comedy follows a traditional Irish-Catholic family, the Clearys, as they navigate big and small changes during one of America’s most turbulent decades. In a working-class neighborhood outside Los Angeles, Mike and Peggy raise eight boisterous boys who live out their days with little supervision. The household is turned upside down when oldest son Lawrence returns home and announces he’s quitting the seminary to go off and “save the world.” Times are changing and this family will never be the same. The series is inspired by the childhood of writer and executive producer Tim Doyle.

It stars Michael Cudlitz as Mike Cleary, Mary McCormack as Peggy Cleary, Sam Straley as Lawrence, Caleb Martin Foote as Eddie, Sawyer Barth as Frank, Christopher Paul Richards as Joey, Jack Gore as Timmy, Andy Walken as William and Santino Barnard as Pat. (synopsis via Variety)

You only have to be on Facebook for about five minutes to see a quiz, a meme or a well-worn, all-knowing comment about the differences between growing up in the early ’70s, which sits squarely in the middle of the formative years of yours truly, and growing up now.

The biggest difference cited, often with copious amount of “Dad joke” guffawing and wink-wink-nudge-nudge “Am I right? Am I right? You know I’m right?” hilarity, is that the freewheeling decade of almost 50 years ago (oh lordy I suddenly feel old) had very few of the helicopter-parenting rules that keep present-day kids well and truly penned in, for better or worse. (To be fair, not being a modern parent or a kid, I can’t comment of which side of the good/bad equation this sits.)

 

 

 

Whether it was good to have such hands-off parenting is a matter for nostalgic child psychologists and would-be PhD aspirants to discuss, but I remember biking all day all over town and only heading back for lunch and the end of the day, playing outside endlessly with my sister and the occasional friend, and having very few structured activities to fill in time.

It was a pretty idyllic existence – the rampant school bullying aside – but it wasn’t without complications as ABC’s new fall show The Kids Are Alright, unveiled at their recent upfronts presentation, makes gloriously and hilariously clear.

The trailer promises a witty, wisely-observant and heartfelt show – a partcular highlight is Mary McCormack as Peggy Cleary who gets a slew of sensationally-good lines – that reveals the good and the bad of growing up in the ’70s where life wasn’t always as much carefree fun as our nostalgic rose-tinted glasses might have us believe.

The Kids Are Alright premieres during the 2018/19 season on ABC.

Weekend pop art: Deadpool takes over Blu-ray covers of iconic films

(image via The MoviePass Pod Twitter account)

 

All hail the marketing team for Deadpool 2!

On the back of a plethora of very clever movie posters, inspired TV show appearances by Ryan Reynolds – singing in a unicorn head on Korean TV anyone? – and some ridiculously clever TV spots, comes Blu-ray sleeves that were slipped over the number of a slew of classic films at Walmart.

According to some reports there werre only about 2-3 of the covers for each film, making them both collectors’ items and the coolest piece of marketing for some time.

It’s also triggered, according to Mashable, one very interesting flow-on effect:

“That hasn’t stop fans from clamoring for entire remakes of these movies starring Deadpool. Get on it, Ryan Reynolds, chop chop. It is the era of reboots after all, why not give them the twist they deserve?”

No doubt they’ve all been snapped up by now but you can at least glory in these images, and imagine what might be if Ryan Reynolds ever gets the money to remark all 16 films caught up in this marketing masterpiece.

(source: The MoviePass Pod twitter account)

 

(image via The MoviePass Pod Twitter account)

 

(image via The MoviePass Pod Twitter account)

 

(image via The MoviePass Pod Twitter account)

Movie review: Solo – A Star Wars Story

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Trying to recapture that effervescent sense of wonder you felt as a child can often feel like a fool’s errand; it’s magical if you succeed but so often elusive that you end up musing on whether all the effort was worth it.

So the wise among us don’t end up trying; if that transcendant sense of possibility and endless adventure ensnares us in its rose-tinted grip then all the good; should it not, we are none the worse off, and can simply enough something for its present-day merits alone.

The inherent gift of Solo: A Star Wars Story is that manages to evoke both that child-like glee and adult appreciation of a movie well made, with sheer adventure running like candy-fuelled adrenaline through its 135 minute running time, so pure and free and unselfconscious in its storytelling that it’s the closest any of the more recent Star Wars instalments have come to the swashbuckling fun of the film that has come to be known, for better or worse, as Star Wars: A New Hope.

In stark contrast to the now-ordained first three films in the franchise which seem too forced and constructed by committee, and the more recent films which are enjoyable but beholding to expectations of adherence to now well-established canon, Solo is a hoot, a return to the gleeful , gung-ho sensibilities that made A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi such exquisite excursions into old-fashioned battles between galactic good and evil.

Even better, the backstory of Han Solo, who is captured in all his cocky charisma and loveable arrogance by Alden Ehrenreich, a worthy successor and precursor all at once to the justly-revered Harrison Ford, is packed full of heart and meaning, redolent with ideas of love lost, life seized and a thousand other things lost and found in ways big and small.

There is, of course humour threaded throughout, mostly courtesy of feisty equal rights-campaigning droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), co-pilot to Donald Glover’s preeningly confident Lando Calrissian (who, though, a joy to watch is not the scene-stealer early hype may have led you to believe), who injects levity into situations where there is little to no at hand.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Solo is a heady winning mix of romping adventure and earnest life lessons, emotional evocation sitting cheek by jowl with the wit and cheekiness that we have to expect from dear old Han – pronounce, of course, as “Haan”, a distinction which fuels one joke where our titular protagonist corrects Lando when he goes in with a hard “HAN” – backstory exposition that never feels stodgy or overworked but a brilliant fill-in of missing, or barely articulated details, that seamlessly connects and amplifies the story of later films.

For instance, the much referred-to claim, mostly by Han himself in A New Hope on, that he “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” is given real, vivid substance, moving from oft-repeated swaggeringly-delivered tale to a real, substantial thing that unfolds in a major action sequence in the film, replete with revolution, derring-do, grief, chutzpah and some deft black humour.

If you have been doubting the need for any kind of backstory for the iconic mainstays in the Star Wars universe – standalone films are on the way for Boba Fett and possible, though not confirmed, forObi-Wan Kenobi and you can bet your Disney-fied dollar they won’t be the last – then this sequence of gripping, edge-of-your-seat, heartfelt scenes alone should erase any of your lingering concerns.

Or take the moment when Han first meets Lando over a game of Sabacc, similar in spirit and execution to poker, and comes close to winning ownership of the Millenium Falcon – the, again, oft-referred to moment from The Empire Strikes Back when Han and Lando refer to a fateful game when Han does get ownership of one of the most iconic ships in sci-fi comes later on in the film – or when we first see Han and Chewbacca (played in the modern iteration by Joonas Suotamo) in the cockpit together as the well-oiled machine they so often are in the middle third films.

These, or a multitude of other quips, oneliners and significant moments will give any longtime Star Wars fan a thrill, the most pleasing part being that these nostalgic touchpoints never subsume or overwhelm the spirit of this fresh, vibrantly told new story, but instead are woven in with judicious cleverness and an inspired understanding of the need to offer freshness and vivacity and not simply a connected series of well-worn references.

If it were just a matter of ticking a series of Solo mannerisms, character traits and well-loved catchphrases, the producers of this film, which saw more than its fair share of chaotic dislocation while being made, then Lucasfilm could have issued a checklist and been done with it; it certainly would’ve cheaper and less stressful all round.

Thankfully they didn’t – I like lists as much as the next person but it would’ve made for a less than stellar backstory – and what we get instead is a film that wisely, and imaginatively connects all the things we know and love about Han while still offering us the kind of fresh insights and giddily adventurous storytelling that mean the film more than ably stands on its own merits, with or without inclusion in the Star Wars franchise.

 

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Take, for instance, Han’s childhood on the shipbuilding hellhole of Corellia, where our loveable rogue is indentured, along with his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) to a local criminal overlord, Lady Proxima (Linda Hunt) who manages to be more evil and dismissive than any Dickens’ Fagin-like abusers.

In an riveting opening sequence we first see the way Solo responds to his enslavement with the emotional distancing (not clearly not to Qi’ra), grinning quips and hands-off approach to pretty much everything that characterise him in the first half or so of A New Hope.

It’s all there, but naturally so, and as the story unfolds further and we come to understand how hard Han had to work to flee his roots and build a life on his own terms, much of the later scenes in the middle three films take on an extra, richer resonance that, again, bolster the worth of telling any number of characters’ backstories.

Or at least, in this instance, that of Mr Solo himself (how he gets his surname is a moving treat in itself) who ends up in precarious position after tenuous scenario with criminals like Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who complicate his life just as he thinks he has, at long last, caught his much-needed break.

At heart, and A New Hope and its two successive fellow films champion this idea to the heartwarming hilt, Solo is a “good guy” while many around him are not, and yes, while he is very much a self-preservationist, this doesn’t come at the expense of people around him that he cares about, unlike a number of key characters in the film who are considerably more mercenary in their approach to survival.

We see some lovely examples where Solo’s innate goodness disadvantages him more than it benefits him, a character “flaw” (not really because we love him for it) that seems always behind the eight-ball, even as others make it, and make it big, or least appear to (karma, even in a galaxy far, far away and a long time ago is pretty merciless), leading to his first brushes with a number of key elements that come to dominate his life for the better later on.

Ultimately Solo, for all its larger-than-life bravura and sense of grin-inducing fun, and it’s there in massive soul-pleasing quantities, and Ehrenreich’s pitch-perfect capturing of a character we know and love, is a heartfelt testament to being true to your own goddamn self-confident self, even when life conspires to beat you down again and again, and as you watch Han rise again and again to trial after tribulation after setback, you can’t help but love and understand him more, which when you think about the role of a backstory, is job well and truly, and resoundingly, well done.

 

 

 

Reading in public places: Why I love libraries #LIW2018

Libraries were, and are, magical places for me where everything felt possible (image via Shutterstock)

 

SNAPSHOT
Library and Information Week, held from 21-27 May 2018 with the theme “Find yourself in a Library” aims to raise the profile of libraries and information service professionals in Australia. It gives libraries and information services the opportunity to showcase their resources, facilities, events, contacts and services through different programs and events to the community. (ALIA)

Childhood was not a wholly magical time for me.

Oh, I had loving parents and a warm, supportive family, and all my material needs taken care of, but that, alas, was not the end of the story.

I was one of those people who, for reasons known only to my tormentors, which to greater or lesser degrees was a near-universal selection of my male peer group, was bullied from pillar to post, my birthday party invitations ignored, play dates scorned and any sense of inclusion put the torch before the ashes were stomped into the ground and then stomped on some more.

One of my great escapes from all that torment, school holidays and weekends aside, were books – they gave me, as they have given so many people, an escape from a less than perfect reality – and as the son of a Baptist minister and a part-time pharmacist who were not poor but not exactly flush with cash, the place to get them was my local council-funded library.

Now most small town libraries while good, aren’t always supplied with a wide and luxuriant assortment of titles, but somehow Alstonville Public Library, set up in the middle of a non-purpose built large hall in the community centre and sitting in a town of not quite 5000 people, had an endless assortment of wonderful, brilliant, enticing books.

I honestly cannot recall ever reaching the library, which was staffed by lovely people who loved books like I did and were only too happy to encourage my voracious love of reading – between this library and my school ones, I averaged well in excess of 100 books a year; yep, being friendless and bullying affords you lots of reading time – and not finding something to read.

True, birthdays and Christmas and pocket money afforded me books of my own to keep (I have the vast majority to this day), but the bulk of the books I discovered with delight and rapturous expectation (Yes I am an extrovert!) came from the library and gave me the chance to read far more titles and experience far more literary adventures than I could have otherwise afforded.

 

 

One of my most favourite finds, and honestly I still don’t understand how a small library on the far north coast of NSW came to have such a Scandinavian focus, were the Agaton Sax books by Nils-Olof Franzén which centred on a pleasantly-plump Swedish detective and newspaper proprietor who, with the help of his dachshund Tikkie and his Aunt Matilda tracked all kinds of criminals such as Octopus Scott and Julius Mosca.

I never saw the books in stores but thanks to my precious, wonderful library, all 10 English-translated volumes were mine, temporarily anyway, and I delighted in Franzén’s deliciously clever, offbeat prose, his inventive characters and his love of the mischievously absurd.

So greatly did these books impact me, and so much a part of my childhood were they, along with hundreds and hundreds of other books, that to this day I associate going to the library with them.

But the truth is, the library, this beautifully-run temple to books and learning that I adored wandering around in for as long as mum or dad would wait for me, granted me rare and privileged access to a host of amazing, escapist books which I would have otherwise missed out on.

I like to think that my gift for writing – I am a blogger, creative writer and content writer as an adult – was given a huge hurry-along in its skill level and expansiveness by the sheer variety of books my library exposed me to, and which I devoured in a volume that would have exhausted my budget long before I was ever sated (which, to this day, has never happened; there is always so much more to read!.

So thank you libraries of my youth and my present for opening doors, plunging me into marvels worlds and taking me on endlessly-immersive adventures, and for giving me the gifts of words, knowledge and a love of writing that continues to satisfy in ways I cannot even describe or imagine to this day.