Retro movie review: The Incredibles

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Being a superhero is, for the most part, a grimly singular endeavour.

Sure, Marvel’s crop of cinematically-popular fighters of evil and catastrophe such as Thor, Black Widow, Iron Man and the like come together when needed as The Avengers, and even Batman, Superman and a cameo-like Wonder Woman have joined forces (to box office dismay alas), but generally speaking it’s one for one and all for one.

Not so, in Pixar’s 2004 affectionate homage/benign parody The Incredibles where the entire family has the powers, the costumes and the chutzpah to take down the bad guys.

Well, eventually anyway.

At the start, it’s very much everyone doing their own thing – with the exception of the children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Spencer Fox) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews) who can be forgiven for not participating on account on not yet being born – with Mr. Incredible / Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl / Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) confronting the evils that insist on invading the ’60s-retro-flavoured urban idyll in which they live.

When we meet them, of course, Mr. Incredible is, unbeknownst to us at the same time racing off, dapper in his tux, racing off to his wedding with Elastigirl; it’s a big deal for the man is smitten beyond hope but even so he can’t help stopping to help multiple people in trouble.

All very noble of him and superhero-like but it delays him, earning him a rebuke from Elastigirl who is feisty, independent and not afraid to speak her mind, but more concerning in the long run, a number of lawsuits from people who don’t appreciate how good they have it with “Supers in town. (One, in particular, that is insightfully amusing is the man who was suiciding off a building and sues because Mr Incredible stopped him dying; it’s funny sure, but also makes a sage point about the USA’s current litigious society.)

Those lawsuits, and countless others lodged by ungrateful citizens force superheroes like The Incredibles, and their friend Frozone aka Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) into hiding, something they can do with relative ease since their masks, which are laughably small and hide nothing (just like their Marvel and DC counterparts), have protected their anonymity.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

The anti-Supers movement consigns Bob and Helen to a suburban existence which is no worse or better than anyone else’s 9-to-5 existence.

Bob has a tedious job working for an HMO, one he continually subverts by helping denied claimants find some justice in an inherently un-just system, and he spends his nights out with Lucius fighting crime rather than bowling (with some messy results), effectively making his superhero-dom a closeted activity, but he has a loving relationship with his wife (mostly), three kids who have their issues thanks to denied use of their powers, and just general kid stuff, and a family life a thousand times better than the likes of Batman who goes home to brood in his manor when his crimefighting shenanigans are over.

But Bob can’t see how good he’s got it, and while you can well understand why he’s frustrated and upset with his status as part of a collective public enemy #1, The Incredibles is all about affirming how good a life Bob has and why he should be valuing the best thing about it instead of sullenly carping and complaining.

Not that this deeply-clever, parody-rich film comes out and says that in so many ways of course.

It’s far too sophisticated a piece of storytelling for that, instead letting Bob, Helen and the entire family, who end up fighting Syndrome aka Incrediboy aka Buddy Pine (Jason Lee), a spurned would-be sidekick of Mr Incredible’s – in reality an over-zealous teenage fan in the old pre-banned days who grows up, after MR Incredible rather brusquely declines his services, as an aggrieved tech-augmented super bad guy adult – on a Bond villain-esque island (complete with volcano, monorail and a plan to sort of take over a city) and back home.

It’s got everything we’ve come to expect from modern superhero films – an over-explaining bad guy (they call it “monologuing”, a shared joke between superheroes about how their opponents have to explain everything), an offshore lair, a rocket speeding towards innocent civilians, a skyscraper-bashing battle downtown and a robot!

What makes it really impressive is that it predates the current crop of MCU and DCU films by some four years, drawing on old comic strip constants and Bond movies (everything from the music to the clothes to the urban landscape), honouring them and making merry with them in equal measure.

Apart from the core cast of the Parr family, The Incredibles soars on the back of its secondary characters who, let’s be honest, come damn close to stealing the proceedings out from under Bob and Helen.

The standout is Edna Mode (Brad Bird, who wrote and directed the film) as the fashion designer to the Supers who is incurably cool, stylish, witty and the very epitome of calm, measured, self-assurance; she also has some of the best lines in the film, an amusing foil to the seriousness of other parts of the film.

 

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

Still, even when it is being super-serious, and it don’t come more serious than saving your family and the city in which you live, The Incredibles has huge amounts of fun.

The kids, with the eldest two grappling with the usual teenage issues albeit with a distinctly secret superhero twist, act just like you’d expect teenagers too; yes, they rise to the occasion and together as a family save the say, but there’s some hilarious recalcitrance, some understandable crises of confidence and some ill-advised, immature dashing into the fray that causes more trouble than might otherwise have been engendered.

The scenes between Bob and Helen – the latter, you won’t be surprised, is the real hero of the piece, her husband’s extracurricular superhero-dom aside, and is justly celebrated as such in a story that is feminist without making a big deal about it; in truth, it simply gives Helen every bit, if not more, ability and nouse as her husband which is exactly as it should be, and in reality, is – are gems too, alternating between love, exasperation and zingers that speak to the intimacy between the two partners in fighting crime.

The parodic elements are spot-on, making merry with the dangers of superheroes wearing capes, the easy to mock pomposity of baddies and the whole superhero milieu even as it honours it with great affection, but what really sets this film apart, which is even better than I remember it 14 years after the first viewing, is the is its great big, red spandex-clad heart.

Like many Pixar films, it is epically and effortlessly emotionally-resonant without making a big city-flattening issue of it, giving us some beautifully articulated instead into the gender divide, the oft-fraught career vs. home balance, internal family dynamics and the ease with which society can blame the Other, in this case superheroes like our titular family, for their own self-generated ills.

The Incredibles is, in short, the total package – witty, clever, visually lush, character-rich and dialogue savvy that manages to both celebrate and lampoon the genre it gloriously inhabits, all while reminding us, and yes, we do need reminding since familiarity can breed ill-deserved contempt, that we actually have it pretty good.

That, and we don’t have past nemeses and giant AI robots crashing up our home which, when you think about it, is a pretty big win too.

 

 

Weekend pop art: Reading books made quick and easy with abridged illustrations

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

I love reading books.

Losing myself in books, long and short, big and small, has been a passion of time since I can remember but even I have to admit it’s well near impossible to read everything (not that I don’t give it a red hot go!).

Riding to the rescue for those with not enough time, and for those addicted to the viral bits-and-pieces of today’s read-and-run culture (of which I am a participant as much as anyone), is Ottawa-based graphic designer John Atkinson who has come up with a really fast, and fun, way to get a handle on a book in record time – abridged illustrations which humourously take a book down to its core elements.

It’s all driven by a simple recognition that our reading and information absorption habits have changed in the digital age, as he told Buzzfeed:

“I did the original three abridged classics cartoons a while back. I was thinking about how, in an online world, we consume information. In the past, we would spend hours/days/weeks reading great literature, but now we have a need to digest everything in small viral bits.”

Fun though they are though, and they are nothing short of wonderfully inspired, he hopes they will lead people to go further and explore the actual books:

“I would hope that people find these funny — or at least pithy. I’d also hope they might encourage some to revisit, re-read, or discover for the first time some of these great works of literature.”

If you love these illustrations, and why would you not, you can find more in Atkinson’s book, Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn’t – which, as yet, has not been abridged itself – or enjoy the wider body of his work at Wrong Hands.

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

 

(artwork (c) Johnn Atrkinson)

Book review: The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club by David M. Barnett

(cover art courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

Jenny Ebert is not even remotely comfortable in her own skin.

That much is apparent from the get-go in The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club, the latest book from David M. Barnett (Calling Major Tom) in which the film nerd who won’t accept she’s a film nerd – she loves film noir, and can talk at length about it but rejects being tagged as a nerd with a vehemence reserved solely for the existentially ill-at-ease – gussies herself up in Lauren Bacall-esque retro clothes and a coiffed do to die for and sets out for her imagined new life at university in Morecambe,  north Lancashire, as far away from her boring life and boring parents as she can get.

Barely nineteen and with attitude to burn, she arrives at Sunset Promenade, a rest home for the elderly, which is the only place she can find a place to live until the uni finishes building their seriously-delayed new residential accommodation, determined to tough out the intervening few months until her new glorious life as a tertiary bon vivant can begin.

The way Jenny, who is actually at heart a decent, caring, loving person who’s so alienated from herself she doesn’t know it yet, imagines it she will be the belle of the uni ball, accosted by people without number wanting to talk with her, laugh and socialise with her, the star of the show in a way she never was back home where social misery seemed to her only companion.

“Which of these will be her new friends, she wonders? She looks around the gathered tribes, the goths and the emos, the loners and the geeks. Mentally she puts a cross by each of them, looking around for people like her. People she is now. The cool people, the night people, the ones for whom style and class are effortless.” (PP 1-2)

Of course what we imagine will happen and what does actually take place are two utterly different things in most instances, since reality is not all the beholden to daydreams, even fervently-conjured up ones, and so Jenny, caught in a steady downpour that leaves her Bacall-esque persona nothing but a soggy memory, arrives to her new life wet-through, unsure of herself and totally unready for the new life that awaits her.

A life that will turn out to be rather lovely thank you very much, but which at first is confronting is its complete lack of semblance to what she envisaged.

She’s aware, of course, that where she’s chosen to live is full of old people, well five of them anyway; what she isn’t prepared for is that racist Mr Robinson, faded party boy Ibiza Joe, nasty Mrs Slaithwaite, mysterious but beautiful Edna Grey and daffy Mrs Cantle, and the Grange brothers who run the place, and Florin who tends to the lot of them, will become the community, the friends she’s been longing for, despite not knowing it.

And that in the midst of this seismic shift in expectations, driven by a wholly-unexpected reality, she will find the possibility of love with the loveable Ringo – yes he is a Beatles fan, particularly the song “Eleanor Rigby”, a young man still reeling from the relatively recent death of his mum and dad – rapprochement with her mum and dad, and more than a modicum of peace with herself.

It’s a journey full of endearingly quirky characters, high stakes and more than a little mystery, replete with a slew of well-used stock-standard British storytelling tropes that invest The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club with a Cinderella-like sense that change is possible, but more importantly, that what you think you want is not always what you need at all.

 

David M. Barnett (image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

It is, as are most journeys, a rather convoluted one.

Gratifyingly for a book that doesn’t delve as deeply as it might into the human condition, The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club, takes its time reaching its destination, revelling in the way human beings don’t always change with the profundity, depth or certainty that they do in fairytales or morality plays.

In fact, where you might expect Jenny to have some sort of epiphany or the various residents of the home, their innermost secrets, or some of them at least, revealed to Ringo as part of his uni project on peoples’ cinematic memories rather playfully titled Ringo’s Stars, to turned into better, more well-sculpted versions of themselves, they zig where they might otherwise have zagged.

In a book which ends up pretty much where you expect it to with a delightfully happy ending where everyone gets a second chance, the path to this ending is pleasingly murky and not straight forward with people, even trope-heavy as they are, allowed to act like people.

In other words, get it wrong, monumentally wrong at times, Jenny most particularly who is damn well near unlikeable at first, and yet somehow stumble somewhere, good, uplifting and redemptive after all.

“Has there even been a Jenny Ebert before now? Or just a chaotic mass of static, a confusion, a random scattering of stories? It feels like Jenny Ebert has only existed properly since she came to Sunset Promenade; seems as though it’s now only her experiences and stories are stacking up properly, making a real pattern.
She only started feeling like Jenny Ebert since she stopped trying to decide what Jenny Ebert should be.” (P. 181)

It adds meat to the bones of what is at heart a slight narrative but a wonderfully conjured-up and good for the spirit one at that.

Barnett has a pleasing way of telling tales that seem lighthearted and fey on the surface but which delve down, past the cliches, the Britishness of it all and the slightness of tone and style, to somewhere deep and meaningful.

In this case, to the idea, and it’s a profoundly important one in an age riven by disconnect and polarisation, that community, a sense of family can grow in the most unlikeliest of people and between the most unlikely of people.

The residents of Sunset Promenade, a grand old house that is home to people with nowhere else to go run by brothers Barry (the garrulous, earnestly sincere one) and Barry (the hardheaded realist with a hidden heart of gold) contains a very unlikely assortment of idiosyncratic people, who are separated by age true but also by experience of life, or an obvious lack of it.

Somehow, through a series of events, none of which are all that consequential in and of themselves but fun to read about anyway, they come to appreciate how connectedness is something not to be feared or foregone but embraced, and embraced against your isolationist better instincts because there’s no tell the wonderful places it may lead.

You could damn The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club as light and insubstantial, and in some stylistic ways it is, but it is also emotionally-resonant and true, a testament to the power of togetherness, belonging and friendship, or is that family, and its power to transform in ways previously unimaginable and wholly, happily, transformative.

It takes an arachnid to crush a village: Lucas the Spider in “Giant Spider”

(image via YouTube (c) Joshua Slice)

 

Lucas the Spider is a sweetheart.

True in the latest adventure from creator/animator Joshua Slice, Lucas, who is voiced by Slice’s nephew, he upends the lives of some fair wooden folk who he charmingly calls in on in the kind of sing-songy way people in musicals are wont to do, but he means no harm.

In fact, his visit is the various antithesis of mean-spirited and nasty and even when things don’t go quite as joyously as he expects, he is enormously regretful and sweet in a way that most destructive giants don’t tend to be. (Think the oafish giant from Jack and the Beanstalk and know that darling, lovely, inquisitive Lucas is nothing like that.

In this typically whimsical adventure into the material minutiae of our lives, that are, it should be noted, as magical to Lucas as they are to most children, we see him at his accidental worst and intentional best, confirming yet again why he is loveable and a joy to hang out with, no matter the havoc he wreaks.

 

Book review: Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

(cover art courtesy Allen and Unwin)

 

When the cover of a book proclaims it’s Romeo & Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men with a little bit of Blade Runner cheering from the headlines” it’s either got a healthy sense of what makes it work so well or its hopelessly derivative and is hoping that bringing up all its influences at the get-go will distract you from the messy mishmash to come.

Thankfully, Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff, is very much the former, undeniably influenced by the various plays and movies that it draws from but very much it’s own rabidly steampunky apocalyptic creation that swaggers and sways across the literary landscape with some gut punchingly good stops to smell the emotionally-resonant flowers along the way.

This my friends is how you write a superbly gripping futuristic techno-thriller with all the dystopian rusted bells-and-whistles in a postmodern, info-rich world where it’s damn near impossible not to be exposed to a myriad of other peoples’ already thought-out and expressed ideas.

Trying to be original in the midst of this been-there-done-there narrative glut is a challenge of epic proportions that has defeated many an author seeking to rise above the tumult and make a genre their own, but Jay Kristoff manages it with impressively gritty aplomb, and luxuriously rich and extrovertly-resonant writing, serving up an utterly-engrossing story that slams you in the face every bit as much as it tugs at your heartstrings.

“My mother send teams across the Glass, bringing back all they can find in the old world’s ruins and collecting them in Babel’s great library. Most of them already exist in our computer archives, but there’s nothing quite the same as sitting with a real book in your hands. Breathing in the ink and feeling all those wonderful lives beneath your fingertips. In between the pages, I’m an emperor. An adventurer. A warrior and a wanderer. In between the pages I’m not myself –and more myself than in any other place on earth.’ (PP. 123-124)

The story of Eve, a grubby 17-year-old robotics genius with a fauxhawk who lives in the Dregs, a down-at-heel lawless community on the now-island of Kalifornya, which itself sits across Zona Bay from the nuclear-glassed deserts that are all that remain of Arizona and New Mexico.

Her life is one of hardscrabble and loss, a constant quest to find the meds she needs to keep her cancer-stricken grandfather Silas alive, a stripped-back, the basics and nothing but the basics existence leavened and enriched by her can-do attitude, the undying friendship of her bestest Lemon Fresh (she was abandoned in a box of laundry detergent as a baby) and the protection of a small robot known as Logika called Cricket who has a snappy way with witty, put-you-in-your-place comebacks.

In the dog-eat-dog world that has eventuated from War 4.0 – yes, even conflict has gone digital in a future that is both more advanced and more feudally backward than our own – you need all the friends and allies you can get, especially when you’re pursued by the likes of the puritanical ranks of the Brotherhood who rather futilely, and hatefully, disseminate a gospel of genetic purity in an age when the atmosphere is tissue-thin and people are regularly baked to mutational breaking-point by the unrelenting UV rays it now admits, and bounty hunters such as the cyborg relentlessness than is the Preacher.

Kristoff’s grimly-imagined apocalyptic landscape, brought alive with glorious ferocity by an author with a gift for rapid and expansively-pleasing worldbuilding, is one festering with humanity vs. robot agitation, environmental collapse – animals are largely a thing of the past and plants exist in very small, threatened populations – enmity for your fellow human, and a prevailing sense that life is worth very little.

 

(cover art courtesy Harper Collins)

 

And yet, for all this woe, and the ever-present sensation that you could tumble off the existential abyss at any time, Eve is oddly happy.

Not giddily so since that’s well near impossible state of being in this blighted age, but as happy as you can be when your grandfather could die at any time, local street gangs are racing you to get to valuable salvage, your massive fighting robots is trounced in Roman-esque gladiatorial combat, someone wants your head for a bounty and you may just have the psychic ability to blow machines apart.

Right, so not so much happy as not dead, but until one terrible day, the worst day she’s ever had in fact, Eve is as content as anyone dangling off the edge of this mortal coil can be.

That one day though throws everything Eve ever knew into freefall, and as memories begin to seep in that suggest there is more to her past than she can remember, including the presence of a “Lifelike” (robots so close to being human that, perfect looks aside, they almost are) called Ezekiel, she is forced on the run with her ragtag family, unsure of who she really is, which of her memories are real (all of them? some? none?) and exactly where it is she’ll end up when all the madness is over.

If, of course, it is ever over.

As she and her beloved friends fight their way through rusted cities made of ships and cobbled-together, and twisting towers of steel and glass, and across nuclear wastelands of crystallised nothingness, Eve finds herself awash in a plethora of existential dilemmas, titanic battles for her soul and physical body and a gnawing sense that whoever she is, it’s a long, nightmarishly-exhausting way from who she once was.

“She thought of Ezekiel. Of Lemon. She wished she’d had a chance to try to make it right between her and them. Beneath the fury and the hurt, a part of her still loved them both. But it was like she’d told Raph that day in the library, she realized. It was only in fairy tales that everything turned out for the best.
Most people didn’t get a happy ending in real life.” (P. 363)

The brilliance and joy of Lifel1k3 is that Kristoff serves up a novel that is both bombastically action-oriented by deeply soulful and considered; it’s as if Michael Bay and George Miller met an earnest thoughtful indie film begetting a masterfully-engaging mix of full-speed ahead, bone-jarringly battles for survival with a stop-and-smell-the-flowers-and-wonder-why-they’re-there-at-all knowingness that works incredibly well every freaking step of the way.

This is the apocalypse with everything you’ve come to expect but with substance, thoughtfulness and a great big red heart on its sleeve that is, rather ironically, hidden in many ways until twist piles revelation, curtain-pullback alongside dazzling uncovering, in a messy game of life reveals that tests Eve’s sanity, sense of self and emotional cohesiveness.

If you want an apocalyptic novel that is accessible and heartfelt, possessed of wit, insight and an exhilaratingly, joyously affecting way with words, that creates a sense of visceral place both physically and emotionally, that puts the pedal to the metal (at one time literally) while asking a host of necessary questions that get you thinking even as you are ducking for cover from all kinds of narrative volleys, Lifel1k3 is your book, the best thing you’ll read now, or maybe in a messy, nasty but hopefully redemptive future.

 

The creativity of mental playfulness: Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson speaks to what really matters

(image via Nerd Reactor (c) Bill Watterson / GoComics)

 

Brain Pickings, a fascinating website run by the supremely-dedicated Maria Popova which she describes as “an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more”, and Bill Watterson’s masterfully-clever, exuberantly funny and visually imaginative comic strip Calvin and Hobbes are a perfect match.

Even more so is Brain Pickings featuring excerpts from the commencement speech that Watterson, a man of deeply-held principles who eschewed the trappings of fame associated with most modern creative endeavours, delivered at Kenyon College on may 20, 1990 when he dispensed wisdom that both touched on and went far beyond the usual sentiment of these addresses which are meant to sour the graduating classes onto lives closely-examined and well-lived.

One of the things he remarks upon him, among the many amazingly insightful things he says, is that playfulness should be at the centre of creativity, particularly when you’re a one-man band as Watterson was when Calvin and Hobbes, which rang from 1985 to 1995 and everything depends on your capacity for new ideas …

“If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.

[…]

“At school, new ideas are thrust at you every day. Out in the world, you’ll have to find the inner motivation to search for new ideas on your own. With any luck at all, you’ll never need to take an idea and squeeze a punchline out of it, but as bright, creative people, you’ll be called upon to generate ideas and solutions all your lives. Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.”

There’s a great deal more in this excellent piece, May 20, 1990: Advice on Life and Creative Integrity from Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson, and honestly Popova does a far better job of recapping this inspiring speech so make sure you read the whole thing, and if you feel so inclined, financially support her amazing work.

 

(cartoon (c) Universal Press Syndicate)

Colony: “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” (S3, E7 review)

Life on the inside may not be all it’s cracked up to be for Will (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE UNEASY SENSE A MONSTER IS LURKING BENEATH THE HAPPY FACADE OF THE 

Sometimes the darkest shadows lurk in the most well-lit of places.

Dazzled by the light, you don’t notice them at first but take a look around – the darkness creeps in on the edges, flirting with the tendrils of light, subduing them and mixing with them in murky pools of half-light.

Katie Bowman aka Laura Dalton (Sarah Wayne Callies) knows just how unsettling that feels by the end of a “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, an episode which adds meat to the bone of the idea that if something is too good to be true, it often is.

Not that the now mother of two, mired in grief after the death of her son Charlie but channeling it into a fierce mother lion determination to make things as normal as possible – school for Gracie (Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) and a job and social life for Bram (Alex Neustaedter) – in a world where normal has long ceased to have any real meaning.

On one level, her work as an Advocate in the new model Colony of Seattle, where she takes a real interest in the people she’s helping – this is not Collaborator Katie at work but Got to Make Things Right Somehow Somewhere (even if it means effectively sleeping with the enemy) Katie – is going swimmingly well.

She’s helping families like the Winslows, who are about to depart the Colony in frustration after being stuck in Tier 2 hell for months (and figure it’s about better “out there” than in the limbo hell of a refugee camp), to get into the fabled glory that is the Seattle Colony, a place set apart from other Colonies by Everett Kynes (Wayne Brady), the man who came up, rather insidiously, with the algorithm used by the Global Authority to sort people into their respective roles.

Yes, to no one’s surprise, the robotic aliens decided that a cold, impersonal algorithm would be the perfect way to subjugate humanity (like the sorting hat in Harry Potter but with WAAAY less whimsy); Kynes doesn’t see it that way, possessed of a love for stats that is frightening in its calmly rabid devotion, a man committed to the idea that he can run the perfect Colony on maths alone.

 

Awww love sweet love in the alien apocalypse (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

Don’t mistake his apparent idealism for some kind of soft touch.

This is a man, so we see in a flashback, that took on the might of the Global Authority when Seattle was another rebellion-strewn, fiery Colony in trouble, and won, leveraging effective Kim Jong-Un type control of his own personal alien apocalypse fiefdom.

His Colony is a model for all the Colonies that are being renditioned and repopulated, largely because it is Stepford Wives-level peaceful, with everyone buying into the idea that they have lucked upon heaven here on earth.

Katie, largely driven by the need to believe this or her entire post-Charlie’s death veneer crumbles in an instant, buys into it wholesale, hosting obligatory neighbourhood parties where the latest Stasi-like additions to the local police force are warmly welcomed.

There’s a distinct feeling that behind all this bonhomie are a bunch of very scared people, who know things aren’t quite right, but can’t prove it and so keep buying into Kynes’ Occupational idyll.

But you know, you just know, that someone as arrogant and sure of himself as Kynes, who has staked a lot on Seattle working, isn’t going to settle for everything being left to chance, and the revelation by Will (Josh Holloway), who most definitely does not buy into the Seattle is paradise bullshit, that people keep disappearing (perhaps into pods?) would suggest that Seattle’s beneficent ruler has a lot more going on below the surface and behind the scenes than many people realise, and more to the point, want to admit.

That becomes more than a little obvious when Katie pushes to find out what happened to her clients the Winslows – her friendly supervisor and “friend” Michelle (Nicki Micheaux) seems to a tad reluctant to show her where they’ve ended up but eventually relents … sort of – and she goes to the housing block they now supposedly call own only to find it empty.

Worse still, as the camera pans back to reveal the entire front of an old 1960s apartment block, with Katie silhouetted, housewarming pot plant in hand, it becomes painfully and nightmarishly clear that all the people who are supposedly resident are nowhere to be found.

The look on Katie’s face says it all – she believed the lie because it suited her grief-stricken state but it no longer seems tenable to believe in the lies … unless of course you want to keep living, in Seattle or anywhere else for that matter.

Times the discomfort Michelle felt revealing where the Winslows were supposed to be, let alone where they actually are (nowhere good, I’m betting) and you get some idea of how well Kynes would react to someone like Katie poking around.

 

“Hello yes this is Existential Hell, my name is Katie … how may I direct your call of the damned? (image via SpoilerTV (c) USA Network)

 

Will, of course, has long been a disbeliever, a source of tension, mounting all the time between he and Katie who remain locked in the grief of months before, each papering over in their own way and failing to talk or find any common ground.

Trying his best to bring some justice to proceedings, and unable to see Katie is doing that in her own way, Will is acting as a private eye of sorts, trying to track down the missing husband of a recent intake family who may be one of the missing abductees.

That he isn’t is revealed as Will, ever the law enforcement officer, tracks him down and finds he’s abandoned his family; nothing evil  of an alien nature at least, but definitely evil in the douchebag vein which explains why Will, feeling he’s witnessing the falling apart of his own family, doesn’t handle this man’s subterfuge at all well.

The irony of Will and Katie being on seemingly different pages is that they are actually on the same one – lost in grief’s destructive aftermath, trying to craft order and meaning where there is none, and both aware, Will openly, Katie not so much, that something is desperately wrong in pretty, perfect Seattle.

There are telltale signs everywhere – Gracie is learning physics already, Bram is delivering groceries that are apportioned out as “allocations”, everyone is friendly at the neighbourhood parties but not really friendly at all – much as I imagined East Germans must have been when you didn’t know if your neighbour was Stasi or not and if one stray word could doom you – and there’s an overwhelming sense of being watched.

It’s so palpable that you can almost reach and touch it but while Will seems happy to, Katie is not, well not until the end when she realises there’s no playing pretend, and making nice and normal in a world that long ago sold its soul to the alien devil, taking all semblance of real humanity along with it.

  • Ahead in Colony in “Lazarus” … something bad is happening … you know it, I know it, and now the Bowmans, and yes Snyder, know it …

 

“And that’s why I always say, ‘Shumshumschilpiddydah!'” Deep dives into Rick and Morty

(image (c) Adult Swim)

 

Dan Harmon’s fantastically off-the-wall, clever animation creation, Rick and Morty, is a very clever beast indeed. (And on its way to be pleasingly prolific with another 70 episodes on their way … eventually.)

Possessed not only of beautifully-detailed characters, highly-imaginative plots and lush visuals that take worldbuilding to an endlessly-inventive level which continually surprises and delights, it is also highly-intelligent, full of all kinds of very clever elements.

Take the “meta-modernism” identified by the authors of the video below (Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker), which is essentially, according to Laughing Squid, an oscillation “between the sincere sentimentality of modernism and the cynical nihilism of post-modernism.” In other words, sometimes it’s deeply, heartfelt sincere and at other times, throws in the towel, saying all hope is lost.

Their articulation of this dynamic, which also found a place in Harmon’s other memorable creation, Community, is a delight, dissecting just how inspired this animation series is and how it goes beyond just being entertaining.

All the way to the other end of the galaxy in fact.

 

 

But wait, that’s not all!

In this brilliant video, Dan Harmon himself  while “dressed as Whistler’s Mother, [talks] about some of the most hilariously absurd storylines, fan theories and memes along with the unstoppable genius of Justin Roiland.” (Laughing Squid)

It’s great insight from the man himself and well worth your schwifty time …

 

Sword at the ready: The fantastical destiny of The Outpost

(image via YouTube (c) CW)

 

SNAPSHOT
“Years after her entire village is destroyed by a gang of brutal mercenaries, Talon travels to a lawless fortress on the edge of the civilised world, as she tracks the killers of her family. On her journey to this outpost, Talon discovers she possesses a mysterious supernatural power that she must learn to control in order to save herself and defend the world against a fanatical religious dictator.” (synopsis via Den of Geek)

As Den of Geek rather insightfully notes, the CW has had a multi-season, multi-show love affair with DC Comics superheroes with the Greg Berlanti-produced The Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow gobbling up timeslots faster than Barry Allen trying to save  a person falling off a skyscraper.

I’m not necessarily complaining – I watch all but one of those shows and enjoy the escapist fun (plus bouts of existential angst) that they provide.

But viewers cannot live on superhero fare alone – rabid fanboys and girls may disagree of course – and so the CW is throwing us some fantasy, in The Outpost, courtesy of Dean Devlin (The Librarians, Geostorm, Independence Day, Stargate) and Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits, Freddy’s Nightmares) who you’ll note know a thing or two about fun, diversionary TV.

Aussie actress Jessica Green stars as Talon who, you guessed it, has all kinds of mysterious things going on.

Must admit the trailer does look a little under-produced and hokey but I’m in the mood for some new fantastical Chosen One adventures and The Outpost looks like it’ll fit the bill perfectly.

The Outpost premieres on The CW on 10 July.

 

Movie review: Puzzle #SydFilmFest

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is lost.

Not physically necessarily; in fact, as you watch her walk, automata-like, through her daily routine of housework, church meetings, religious observance, and even waking up where the sameness of waiting for the alarm to go off is a thing of exquisite drudgery in and of itself, everything seems as found as it can get, too found really.

But deep down where the soul resides, and the heart and mind keep their secrets safe, Agnes is as lost as you can get, lost in others, lost in expectations, lost in assumptions of what she should and shouldn’t do.

The great pleasure of Puzzle, directed by Marc Turtletaub to a screenplay by Oren Moverman, is watching Agnes find herself, often surprisingly, against her own resistance, shedding her ideas of what is proper and right and not always sure if she knows where she’s going or if she wants to head there.

This extraordinary timidity-rupturing journey is triggered by a jigsaw puzzle, an artefact of childhood, or so people like Agnes’ benignly-neglectful and oft-times outright selfish husband of at least 20 years, Louie (David Denman) says, that Agnes is given as a present by her Aunt Emily.

It almost goes unnoticed in the hurly-burly of Agnes’ birthday party, an event that she cleans for, prepares for, decorates and caters for, and yes, ultimately cleans up, a pattern for her life where Louis is a 1950s macho-relic bystander, expecting his every whim to be catered for even as he proclaims his undying love for his wife (it’s a love that real, no doubt, but it exists in words only with deeds noticeably absent of his supposed passion).

In the aftermath of an event she almost sleepwalks through, in common with the rest of her life, she picks up the puzzle and opens it up, exposing 1000 pieces that tumble onto the table, ripe with pictorial possibility, and as it turns out, impossible-to-imagine life changes.

 

(image (c)Sony Pictures Classics)

 

While it’s not immediately obvious in that moment of a physical and emotional solitude Agnes is all too accustomed to, opening that puzzle is like pushing into a whole new chapter of her life, as she discovers that not only does she love doing jigsaw puzzles but she’s damn good at them.

And most importantly for Robert (Irrfan Khan), she’s fast. Really, really fast.

Fast enough in fact that Robert, a wealthy divorced entrepreneur with time on his hands, and an emotional vacuum that needs filling, straight away asks her to be his puzzle partner for the national championships when Agnes, curious about this new world, comes to see exactly what it is he’s after.

She’s taken aback by the speed of his decision-making and his boundless enthusiasm and openness, but then hers is a world repressed, sealed down so tight that every move seems considered, every thought an agony, every steps outside the carefully-circumscribed parameters of her life almost a sin.

Sin, real or imagined and there is both in Puzzle, at least as devoutly-Catholic Agnes interprets it, is a constant theme in this beautifully-wrought and deeply-thoughtful film that asks whether challenging the established precepts of our life is ever a bad thing.

As Agnes opens up to the possibilities of a life on her own terms, one where she is able to make decisions – Louie rather cavalierly makes decisions left, right and centre, a dynamic Agnes has long acquiesced to but one which begins to rankle as she grapples with the seditious idea that she is allowed to make decisions too – and do her own thing, other long-hidden, or ignored, emotions bubble forth.

Soon Agnes, a listless mainstay of her conservative community, where missing a church meeting of all things is a scandalous act worthy of note, shocks Louie and her similarly-repressed eldest son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and self-obsessed younger son Gabe (Austin Abrams) with her new-found willingness to speak her mind.

It’s a glorious upsetting of the established apple cart, and Agnes is both enlivened and horrified by it, a conflict that grows still stronger when it becomes clear Robert sees her as more than just a puzzle partner and that she may feel the same way back.

 

(image (c)Sony Pictures Classics)

 

That’s quite a lot of change engineered by one jigsaw puzzle but as it unfolds in quiet, nuanced ways big and small, and Agnes expands her world, not just beyond her hometown but regularly into New York City itself (her great dream is to go to Montreal) where Robert lives and they train, but within herself, it becomes clear that that birthday present is the catalyst a for long-needed, far-too-delayed personal revolution.

The delicious joy of this remarkable film, which almost never puts a foot wrong, is that all these great seismic shifts take place in the quietest of ways.

Puzzle is not a film that shouts its narrative shifts, intentions or existential twists-and-turns loudly from the rooftops; in fact, many of the great shifts that take place from Agnes embracing mobile phone technology to travelling regularly on the train to her ever-closer relationship with Robert and enmeshing in the world of competitive puzzle-making, are done in enervating bubble of timidity and hesitation that is Agnes life, a place so withdrawn into itself and others that this amazingly intelligent woman, long suppressed, seems all-too-often afraid of her own shadow.

At no point does Agnes dash forth into the fray, torch held high, voice aloud, awash with the thrill and excitement of the new and the just-discovered; much of the time she is afraid through thrilled of what she is finding out about herself, and Puzzle comes into its own as Agnes finally leaves the fear behind and comes to embrace, in her own restrained way, what it means find yourself after many years lost in everyone else.

Anchored by stellar performances by Macdonald who is superb as woman both thrilled about and fearful of the future, and Khan as a man who’s wants to re-discover his love of leaping into the welcoming abyss, Puzzle is a gem, a deliciously-wrought layered film full of insight, raw emotion and understandable restraint that never once pretends that life is easy to navigate or to make decisions about – in fact it’s welcomingly free of easily-delineated road to Damascus moments, mirroring the half-realised nature of much of life – but offers up the idea that it can surprise you, and that when it does, like Agnes, you may have a whole new world to discover, and perhaps, embrace.