Netta Barzali was a gloriously animated winner of Eurovision this year, bring spark, fun and quirky vivacity to a contest already rich in all three.
So it makes perfect sense that YouTube user, known simply as reviewer, would marry up the songs from this year’s crop of artists with clips from all kinds of animated films such as Toy Story, Tom & Jerry, Tangles, Frozen, Hercules and lots more. (The full list is available below each video on YouTube.)
It’s clever, cute and each clip matches the spirit of its respective song to a tee.
Honestly this is such a perfect match for Eurovision that it should become an official part of the contest.
After all, what with lighting shows, flamboyant vocals, pyrotechnics and stage props. you don’t get more animated than the biggest and best music contest on the planet.
The cultural environment in which we watch a film inevitably shapes our response to it. Engaging with the Yuletide ecology by watching Christmas films offers a genuine cinephilic pleasure, be it kitsch, ironic, or sincere.
The following taxonomy is by no means exhaustive – there are far too many Christmas films to mention – but should present a sufficient overview to keep one’s viewing-December occupied, should one so wish it, with cinematic and televisual fare ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Ho, ho, ho.
Classic Christmas Films
This is not (necessarily) because they used to make better films in the old days, but simply because old popular cultural products that are still being commercially tapped tend to be (comparatively) pretty good. We don’t read Dickens because people were better writers in the 19th century, but because Dickens was one of the great ones of the period, even if for every Dickens there were hundreds of duds, rightfully now out of print.Classical Hollywood cinema offers the most refined, and in many ways the most aesthetically pleasurable, Christmas films.
Likewise, we don’t watch the 1938 version of Dickens’s A Christmas Carolbecause films were better in the 1930s, but because this particular film is excellent.
Black and white film, furthermore, evokes a nostalgic ambience that enhances the sentimentality that makes Christmas movies such prolific producers of warm and fuzzy gut-reactions.
Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is the most canonised of the classic Christmas movies, appearing as the Christmas movie of choice in several films and TV specials – including a memorable episode of Beverly Hills 90210 – and it certainly warrants multiple Yuletide viewings.
Gloria Grahame is excellent in a minor role as Violet, and James Stewart as George Bailey does his usual wholesome act perfectly. Capra’s approach, as in most of his films, avoids pure schmaltz, and there is a critical edge in It’s a Wonderful Life’s depiction of the relationship between capitalism and small town America, challenging the role of finance and commerce as it perverts and invades social life.
There are a few other classic Christmas films, that, though less well known, are as good as (or better than) It’s a Wonderful Life – and are certainly worth including on one’s December list.
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) is a hilarious farce involving returned GIs squatting in a New York City mansion. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is a delightful battle of the sexes film starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.
George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street (1947), following the public trial of a man who claims to be Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), is a sweet, gentle film offering a nice counterpoint to the sharper-edged Christmas in Connecticut and It Happened on 5th Avenue.
Big budget, mainstream Hollywood Christmas films usually fall into one of three categories.
The first category includes the snide and sarcastic comedies (often featuring shallowly sentimental endings) that have dominated the genre in its large-scale incarnations since the 1980s.
The essential 1980s Christmas comedy, perhaps, is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – and no self-respecting Christmas film lover’s December can pass without a visit to the Griswolds. Chevy Chase offers a pitch-perfect comedic performance as the quintessential frustrated American suburban dad, and Christmas Vacation is, arguably, the funniest of the Vacation series.
The other key 1980s comedy for cynics is Scrooged (1988), starring Bill Murray as a dissolute TV executive, and featuring cameos by players as diverse as Robert Mitchum and David Johansen, lead singer of the New York Dolls. Scrooged offers a wry revision of Dickens’ classic, though the cheerful ending does seem forced in the context of this film.
More recently, highlights include A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) – a return to form for the pair of lovable stoners after the shambolic Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) – and Surviving Christmas (2004), a low-key comedy in which a depressed advertising hot shot, played by Ben Affleck, pays an “ordinary” suburban family, led by patriarch James Gandolfini, to host him for the holidays. As Gandolfini and his family increasingly regret the arrangement, Affleck continues to throw more and more money at them in his attempt to fabricate the kind of Norman Rockwellesque Christmas he never had as a child.
Deck the Halls (2006), following Danny DeVito as he tries, to the chagrin of pedantic neighbour Matthew Broderick, to bedeck his house in so many Christmas lights it can be seen from space, and Christmas with the Kranks (2004) are also worth mentioning, as is Ted Demme’s painfully funnyThe Ref (1994).
Many people swear by Bad Santa (2003) – though (like many of Terry Zwigoff’s films) it leaves a bad taste in the mouth – and probably the only Christmas films worth avoiding altogether are the extremely irritating Four Holidays (2008), starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan, and Nora Ephron’s heavy-handed Mixed Nuts (1994).
The second, related, category features Christmas films about the waning of belief in a modern consumerist society, and the subsequent re-invigoration and reproduction of Christmas spirit and jubilation.
The best known in this category are the Home Alone films, but other highlights include Elf (2003), starring Will Ferrell, James Caan and Zooey Deschanel, following the shenanigans of an elf-raised human visiting New York City for the first time, and Jingle All the Way (1996), the best of Schwarzenegger’s comedies, in which he battles, on Christmas eve, to secure a popular toy for his son.
Jingle All the Way contains one of the brilliant scenes of Christmas cinema – a critique of the relationship between the consumer society and the Christmas legend in which zealous parents in search of Turboman, the El Dorado of Christmas toys, attack and maim each other in slow motion, accompanied by Andy Williams’ song It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
It’s also notable for a hilarious performance by the late Phil Hartman in a supporting role as Ted, Schwarzenegger’s cheese-ball neighbour.
Fred Claus (2007), starring Vince Vaughan, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates and Kevin Spacey, is one of the best recent Christmas comedies, following the path of Fred Claus, Santa’s brother, as he struggles to emerge from the shadow of his legendary brother. It contains a brilliant spoof of AA-style groups, and is worth watching for this scene alone.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998) likewise contains some hilarious scenes, as college student Jake (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, from Home Improvement) has to make it from the West Coast to the East Coast of the US by 6pm on Christmas Eve if he is to inherit his father’s Porsche.
Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday (2006) and Love Actually (2003) are both well-made romances set during the Christmas period, although Love Actually has demonstrated superior cultural staying power.
This type of Christmas film often follows a structure akin to A Christmas Carol – including, of course, numerous versions of that story. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is a particularly strong rendition of Dickens.
The “Christmas Miracle” film is problematic, like so much Hollywood fantasy fare, in that it often offers miraculous solutions to prevalent social problems – even if it acts, in any case, as an eminently satisfying narcotic.
Films about Christmas would be few and far between if it weren’t for the small screen. By far the most prolific of the Christmas film categories is the telemovie.
These films are mostly of the hardcore-schmaltz, Hallmark-channel variety. This kind of super-schmaltz becomes much more palatable when viewed through the green and red lenses of Christmas cheer.
There are far too many Christmas telemovies to mention, but some are worth noting. The excellent Hallmark film, Trading Christmas (2011) is a low-brow version of The Holiday starring solid TV actors Tom Cavanagh (Ed), Gil Bellows (Ally McBeal), and Faith Ford (Hope & Faith).
Two others, unconnected despite the similar titles, are A Mom for Christmas(1990), starring Olivia Newton-John, and A Grandpa for Christmas (2007), starring Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine in one of his twilight roles.
Perhaps the strangest – and, arguably, most wonderful – Christmas telemovie is the unbeatable Santa With Muscles (1996), which follows Hulk Hogan (the Santa with muscles) as he tries to save an orphanage (!) from an evil property-developer-cum-scientist-cum-megalomaniac.
If you are fortunate enough to source a copy of this tongue in cheek melodrama, look out for a young Mila Kunis as one of the orphans.
The other wonderful Christmas telemovie is the remake of Christmas in Connecticut (1992), a gentler and, in many ways, funnier, film than the original. Directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, this version makes a surprisingly insightful criticism of false representation in televisual culture, whilst still offering the requisite amount of sentimentality.
Other telemovies worth having on in the background as you decorate the tree, include The Dog who Saved Christmas (2009), sweet nonsense featuring tele-legend Dean Cain, and The Man who Saved Christmas (2002), a more sober biographical account of A.C. Gilbert, a toy manufacturer who refused to cancel Christmas in response to World War One, effectively played by Jason Alexander.
Genre films set during Christmas
There are also a considerable number of films that are straight forward genre pieces with Christmas thrown into the mix. These are mostly action and horror films.
There are two obvious examples of 1980s action films set during December that incorporate Christmas into their narratives in a way that is more than incidental.
John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988), one of the most striking action films of the 1980s, is set during a corporate Christmas party, and John McClane’s subtle and not so subtle tirades (and raids) against the corporatisation of America resonate thematically with several of the more explicitly anti-consumerist Christmas films.
Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987) is likewise set in Los Angeles during Christmas, and perhaps the most memorable scene in the film is the introduction of cop on the edge Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) as he breaks up a drug deal in a Christmas tree lot.
Something about the Santa myth lends itself to the horror genre, with its combination of magic and maniacs, and there have been several horror films set during Christmas.
Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974, poorly remade in 2006), an unnerving “slasher” film avant la lettre, is the best of the Christmas horror films. The recent Rare Exports(2010), from Finland, effectively plays on the supernatural elements of the Santa myth.
Horror aficionados will insist on watching the five films of the Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) series – crude and unpleasant exercises in mayhem, without the style or suspense of Black Christmas.
Unless one has always imagined Santa as an axe murderer, one should probably avoid these.
Joe Dante’s monster-comedy Gremlins (1984), too, is set during, and reflects on, the Christmas spirit in small-town America, though it wears thin pretty quickly after the dazzling opening forty minutes or so.
The rest: incidental Christmas films, cartoons, TV Specials
There are, in addition to the aforementioned films, several films set partially or entirely during the Christmas period, even as this doesn’t figure at all thematically or in terms of plot.
Richard Kelly’s nasty The Box (2009), comes to mind, as does Joseph Zito’s Reaganite masterpiece of American xenophobia, Invasion USA (1985). Chuck Norris evidently doesn’t get a break when it comes to defending the US from its imagined enemies.
It goes without saying, but hey-ho I’m going to say it anyway, is that there are differences between the gay and straight worlds.
Not unbridgeable ones of course, and one of the loveliest most heartwarming things of the modern era (hateful trolls aside) has been to watch the straight world come to a deeper, more profound understanding of what it means to be LGBTQI+, but they’re there and one does not always completely get the other.
It makes sense – you can rarely truly know what you don’t experience. (It’s why LGBTQI+ people often have a sharper appreciation of the straight world than vice versa because it’s all around us.)
That’s why watching the gay-in-real-life co-star of the relatively new film Alex Strangelove (about one young man’s coming out in high school), Antonio Marziale (Elliott), test his straight fellow lead, Daniel Doheny (Alex Truelove), on his knowledge of all things LGBTQI+; as Them warmly notes, watch this delightful video and “you’ll gain a new appreciation for queer allies like Doheny in your life (and probably wind up with a little crush on Marziale, to boot).”
If you think the countryside is calm and peaceful, then you might want to think again. France’s most unconventional farm plays home to a number of mixed-up animal folk. We are introduced to a fox that thinks he is a chicken, a rabbit that acts like a stork and a duck that wants to replace Father Christmas. Not surprisingly, their shenanigans are as hilarious as their identity confusion.
Featuring the voices of Céline Ronté and Boris Rehlinger, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Le Grand Méchant Renard et Autres Contes) is a charming, heart warmingand very, very funny film, as confirmed by the way in which it was embraced at the 2017 Annecy Animation Festival. Drawing inspiration from Looney Tunes, Renner and Imbert’s styling and knack for creating exuberantly irreverent characters is guaranteed to delight children, as well as the child within us all. (synopsis via Alliance Franςaise French Film Festival)
Directed by Benjamin Renner and Patrick Imbert, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales is from the French production house that would the world the luminously whimsical animated film, Ernest and Celestine.
Premiering at the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the story is split into three segments, all based on Renner’s comic books Le grand méchant renard and Un bébé à livrer.
The just-released English language trailer is packed full of visual and verbal slapstick with some delightful upending of the usual tropes and cliches, promising a family film that will please the kiddies but leave the adults equally entertained.
The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales opens UK 3 August with Australian dates TBA.
Like most brilliantly-executed pop songs, the songs of ABBA have always possessed a beguilingly lyrical storytelling quality.
There is the angst of remembered lost love in “Our Last Summer”, the exuberant romantic victory of “Waterloo” and the warning about players in love in “Angeleyes”, and a thousand other tales of love found, lost and mired somewhere distressingly in the anxiety-plague middle (“Should I Laugh or Cry”).
So it made perfect sense in 2008 that the sublimely-infectious songs of Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, sung with exquisitely-beautiful harmonic and emotional resonance by the immeasurably talented Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad found their way into a musical, aptly named Mamma Mia! after one of ABBA’s most joyously upbeat, and well-known songs.
Unless you have been living under a rock constructed on Volvo spare parts and IKEA castoffs, you would no doubt be aware that this musical, sporting a screenplay by Catherine Johnson, has gone on to great success around the world, a fixture on stages everywhere and a deserved candidate for a sequel.
Which it now has in the luminously catchy form of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – Exhibit A of where a lyric penned 40 plus years ago has made a damn fine title – that rare case of a sequel going on to eclipse its parent.
This is not to say that the first film wasn’t highly enjoyable; it arguably is, or millions of people around the world would not have flocked to it, or continue to do so.
But where Mamma Mia! felt a little too forced, in movie form at least – the stage versions seem to be more limbre and artistically athletic in a way the first film never quite managed – its follow-up is a quintessential musical to its very song-filled marrow, all frothy ups and downs, comedic quips and introspective musings, set to some of ABBA’s biggest hits (“Waterloo”, “Dancing Queen”, “Fernando” and “I Have a Dream” and many of their lesser lights (“Name of the Game”, “One of Us” and “Kisses of Fire”), which are by no means poorer songs (far from it) but rather not as well-known, if at all, by those outside the still-enthusiastic, ardently-supportive ABBA fan base.
As with all musicals, of course, the storyline is brief and insubstantial, a servant to the songs which is as it should be; the genius is that Ol Parker’s screenplay, to a story by Catherine Johnson, Richard Curtis and yes, Ol Parker – he also expertly directed the film with a winsomely light touch but keen understanding of epic, meaningful set pieces – never feels slight and underserved.
This is because the songs and the spoken scenes between feel like they’re part of a vibrant, heartfelt organic whole, a sensation aided and abetted by the willingness of Andersson and Ulvaeus, who both make enjoyable cameos, to tweak the lyrics, or wholesale change them in parts to serve the narrative.
It means that there’s no sense, as there was with the first film, that the narrative has been built up around the songs, an artifice where the songs tale is very much wagging the dog; in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again by contrast, it feels like the songs and the screenplay were written at the same time, two parts of a simultanously whole creation that were always meant to go together.
Fans rusted-on and recent know this is not the case, of course, with the songs having been recorded and released during ABBA’s first active phase in 1972 to 1982, but if you were oblivious of this fact, and treated the sequel on its merits as a musical alone, it feels like Andersson and Ulvaeus sat down with Ol Parker for a few months in 2017 and collectively wove their considerable magic.
That’s how joyously rich and warmly transportive the film feels; you can’t help but walk out of the cinema, ears ringing with the most finely-crafted of pop candy, heart buoyed by love remembered, mourned and re-established and your soul renewed by the sense that life might be a contrary nasty beast at times but it can be tamed, or at least mollified somewhat by music, love and a profound sense of belonging.
And honestly, isn’t that what we all want from a musical? To feel renewed, bouyant and affirmed in our sometimes futile-feeling sense that life has so much more possibility than the doomsayers and lost souls of the world would care to admit?
There are particular scenes in the film, which splits its time between the modern day where Donna (Meryl Streep)’s daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is working to turn her mother’s villa on the Greek island of Kalokairi into a high-end boutique getaway, and 25 years earlier when a wanderlust-filled, life-expectant Donna (played by Lily James with blissful abandon) meets the three men who could be Sophie’s dad (Harry, played by Colin Firth now, Hugh Skinner then, and Bill, played by Stellan Skarsgård now and Josh Dyland then, and Sam, played by Pierce Brosnan now and Jeremy Irvine then), which are prime contributors to this delicious sense of post-cinematic bliss.
The opening where a young Donna turns her college valedictory speech into a epically-choreographed celebration of tertiary romance (“When I Kissed the Teacher”) is the perfect kick-off to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the closing credits with everyone, old and young, joining in a rousingly infectious rendition of “Super Trouper”, and the arrival of the boats, and much needed guests and partygoers to Kalokairi, to the quintessential pop perfection of “Dancing Queen” (if you’re going to arrive anywhere in style, this is the song to do it too) are all examples of how far the sequel has come from its still very-good predecessor.
So too is the scene involving the use of “My Love My Life”, the details of which shall go unremarked upon in the interests of spoiler avoidance, which is a exquisitely-beautiful song by any measure but is given even more affecting fragility and life truth by its just-so placing in the film’s final act.
Not only does the storyline and choreography seem more fluid and expressive, but the film balances the old and the new to maximum effect, enriching what we already know about the characters including Donna’s besties, Tanya (Christine Baranski now, Jessica Keena Wynn then) and Rosie (Julie Walters now, Alexa Davies then) while adding more layers including the appearance of Sophie’s once-negligent grandmother Ruby (Cher, who knocks it out of the park with “Fernando” and “Super Trouper”) and the return of Sky (Dominic Cooper) to his wife’s side.
It may sound like there’s a lot going on and yet there is and there isn’t; pleasingly the story never feels too over or underdone with each time period, each couple and each circle of friends given their time breathe and express themselves and contribute to the energising feelgood spirit of one of the best musicals to emerge in recent times.
The triumph of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again from its giddily-possible start to its happily-ever-after finish, and through its mix of zippy oneliners, insightfully introspective observations and heartachingly moving and bouyantly-lighthearted scenes, is that takes the innate storytelling prowess and singability of ABBA’s superlatively-good catalogue of pop classics and makes them feel part of an even greater whole, as if they were always meant to be there, and maybe they were if you follow young Donna’s optimism to its fulfilling possible end point, in the process gifting us an affirmation of the importance of life, music, love and belonging in everyone’s life, no matter who they are, where they’ve come from or where they finally call home.
I was bullied ceaselessly and mercilessly as a child.
Every day at school was hell and I spent my time trying to maintain as small as profile as possible, a necessary strategy which robbed me of all kinds of academic and sporting activities I would’ve been damn good at.
Years, and lots of therapy later, I have largely left the pain of all that bullying behind – who wants their life to be defied by that kind of small-minded cruelty? Not me, thank you – but this deeply-affecting and insightful comic series from Canadian artist Meghan Lands encapsulates in a ways that I can’t even articulate how it feels when you discover the monsters of your childhood are now seemingly normal human beings.
In your mind they’re anything but; still as Lands beautifully describes it, you have to grapple with the fact that these people actually had happy childhoods unlike large slabs of your own.
In my case, it’s watching all the time on Facebook as people who made my childhood a miserable living hell talk to each other about the wonderful times they had at school, like they’ve forgotten how exclusionary and hateful they were.
It leaves me gasping and amazed that they could forget that I was never invited to any of their BBQs, their outings, their big nights out – NONE OF THEM. It’s startling and shocking and dismaying and man, if Lands doesn’t capture it perfectly.
There’s something innately compelling about people with a strong sense of self.
I’m not talking about arrogant souls who think they’re god’s gift to the universe, but rather people who are comfortable in themselves and at ease with expressing it.
The five duos and artists in this post’s selection are most certainly in the latter camp, fearlessly and with great beauty and honesty, and yes danceability too at times, talking about the world as they see it.
There is a universality to their songs, as there is for all good music, and don’t be surprised if you feel a little more sure about yourself after listening to them.
Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, the New York-based members of musical duo Sofi Tukker (no prizes for guessing the derivation of the band’s name!) have got gloriously-imaginative attitude to burn.
Everything from the bristlingly exuberant chutzpah of their songs to their vibrantly colourful, fun-filled videos radiate the kind of strong sense of artistic self that makes certain artists utterly unmissable.
How strong their identity is immediately obvious in the danceably-upbeat in “Baby, I’m a Queen” which Hawley-Weld describes this way:
“It’s sending a message that I’m ready to say, ‘I’m not being belittled by default in relationships.’ It’s embracing the crazy, chaotic nature of ourselves and emotions, which is really important right now.” (Variety)
The song is in-your-face fast-moving synth-dance heaven and the clip – well, if you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if a beauty pageant ended in a full-on paint fight, you now have your answer.
Forrest LeMaire, based in Austin, Texas, and known to fans as Mr. Kitty, is a man who knows his way around propulsive melodies that pick you up, hold you tight and push you forward with the kind of giddy, all-encompassing momentum that you don’t ever want to push back on.
I mean, why would you? The punchy-synth (which he describes rather creatively as “self destructive synth pop”) and Mr Kitty’s hauntingly removed vocals which still harbour a sizable amount of emotional resonance – it’s both hard, cold electronica and warmly accessible all at once – make “The Glass Inside Your Skill” one of those epically euphoric track with carries both blissfulness and profound substance.
It’s like everything you’ve heard before, say a few decades back in the ’80s, and yet nothing like it with We Are: The Guard, coming up with a description of the man and his music that’s almost as unique as the artist himself:
“Mr. Kitty’s positivity pop goth is so throwback, it’s futurist. With chiptune trance melding with casio-tone riffs that feel so of the past that they’re more or less timeless. Like someone threw these songs up into space thirty years ago and a couple aliens named Mister and Kitty got ahold of them and transformed them into what we’re listening to today. Look at that mustache! You’re telling me that’s human?”
Getting one on the other hand isn’t always possible which is why tracks like “Wasted Time” from 20-year-old Californian electronic music producer Max Styler and Perth-based TWERL (Jayden Healey) with spine-tinglingly ethereal vocals by New Yorker EVAN GIAA is such a gift.
The song is laid back and epic all at once, possessing what Vents Magazine calls “creeping, cinematic buildup” which then “blooms with reverberating basslines and warbling synths, all complemented by EVAN GIIA‘s glimmering vocal performance.”
It’s a mightily impressive performance which lulls you into a gentle reverie but never really lets you rest, percolating with a compulsive dynamism that is startling arresting from start to finish.
You could forgive Sarah Grace McLaughlin aka Bishop Briggs for having a confused sense of self.
After all the UK-born, US-resident musician and singer/songwriter was born to Scottish parents, lived with her family in Tokyo and Hong Kong growing up before pulling up stakes and heading to Lalaland to find her artistic good fortune.
Find it she has with songs like “White Flag” making it clear that this is one artist with a well-defined of who she is and what she wants to say with her music.
Possessed of an epically anthemic melody and spirit, “White Flag” is a song that encapsulates every last drop, melodically and lyrically, of refusing to go silently in that good night with the artist having this to say about this fiery, empowering slice of power pop:
“White Flag is about pushing till there is sweat stinging your eyes, blood under your nails, and never giving up, no matter what the circumstances are.” (Indie Obsessive)
Anna Lunoe is a busy, multi-talented singer/songwriter/DJ/producer who now calls Los Angeles home.
The first woman to mix for Ministery of Sound Australia, Lunoe has made quite a splash at music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, a run that’s likely to continue with catchy songs like “Blaze of Glory”.
Infectiously beat-driven with a hook as big as the Nullarbor powering it, the song is one of those loping pieces of electronic pop that takes you along on a chillingly jaunty (yep, the two concepts can coexist in the one song) that demands repeated listens.
There’s an attractive confidence and brio to it, that’s given even more chutzpah by Lunoe’s pitch-perfect playful vocals.
NOW THIS IS MUSIC EXTRA EXTRA!
ABBA news! We have ABBA news! Well, not the revelatory kind but Björn and Benny chatting about the group’s two new songs, the upcoming ABBAtars hologram tour, and a third song?! Did someone say a third new song?!
Carpool Karaoke is a lot of fun – we get some singing, James Corden chatting amiably with his musical guest, and in this case, impromptu ice hockey.
Gaudy, colourful, pastel-hued fun – hypwercolour T-shirts, shoulder pads, Duran Duran … and the rise and rise of the mall.
How big a deal were malls in the 1980s? They were BIG and just how big can be seen in the new teaser trailer for Stranger Things season 3, which according to Den of Geek is still filming in Atlanta, which celebrates the arrival of “one of the finest shopping facilities in America and beyond” to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.
As Variety notes, there’s a whole lot going in the glossy, cheesily-gushy piece of time-specific promo liveliness:
“The promo video is full of 1980s mall-culture references, from the vintage logo for retailer to Gap to a shoutout to the now-departed bookstore chain Waldenbooks and music retailer Sam Goody. The teaser depicts the character of Steve Harrington, played by Joe Keery, as working in the Scoops Ahoy ice cream shop in the mall’s “state of the art food court.”
Given the otherworldly terrors unleashed on the poor unsuspecting citizens of the town throughout seasons 1 and 2, you could forgive the likes of Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Will (Noah Scnapp) and their various friends and family members including good old fraught Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) for needing to indulge in a little, or a lot, retail therapy.
But I fear they won’t get much of that, nor some downtime in the state of the art foodcourt, if past season are any indication.
The care taken to single out Starcourt Industries as the great retail-enabling benefactor would seem to suggest that some more underhand corporate shenanigans, and the monsters, both metaphorical and literal they let loose, are on their way to blight good old Hawkins once again.
You have to admire any author who plunges into the well-travelled waters of genre literature, particularly when it concerns mutants, often held aloft as humanity’s possible evolutionary future and the subject of many a graphic novel or film series.
But Australian author Lynette Noni, who is best known for The Medoran Chronicles, has not only taken this challenge but bested it in Whisper, successfully imbuing this particular wing of genre lit with a fresh perspective and vitality similar to that bestowed by M. R. Carey on the world of the zombie apocalypse with The Girl with All the Gifts and The Boy on the Bridge.
Of course, the genius in her approach is that you’re not even aware at first that she’s waded into these murky waters at all.
Our protagonist, Jane Doe aka Chip, is presented as s a mysterious figure trapped in an underground complex where her heavily-circumscribed day consists of visits to a personal trainer, Enzo, who is the Good Cop of the equation, a psychologist, Dr Manning, who is the Ineffectual Cop and Dr Vanik, a Mengele-like madman who performs all kinds of disorienting experiments of her brain.
He is most certainly the Bad Cop of the piece, but while we are present to the repetitiveness of Jane’s uniformly and suffocating bland and yet painful days, and come to understand how she feels about her life, such as it is, through some fearsomely well-written inner monologues, we emerge none the wiser for a while exactly why Jane is where she is and what all these people, good, bad and indifferent want with her and what they hope to achieve.
“I suddenly realize I need to get out of here. These people are too normal. They’re too real. They’re too … colorful. I’m used to bland. U’m used to whitewashed. I’m used to pillowcase uniforms, regulated meals and unchanging schedules. I don ‘t know what to do with fluffy beds, warm clothes, steaming soup, reflective mirrors, chocolate chips, and laughing angels. That’s not my life — not anymore. And it never will be again.” (P. 63)
When Jane’s true nature emerges, and it’s done in spectacular way in the midst of an ordinary day-to-day situation, it sets in train a cavalcade of well-executed revelations that give not just a fresh slant on mutantkind but an Australian flavour to a preciously almost wholly-American narrative.
For Jane and all the other residents of Lengard as the facility is known are based in Sydney, hidden away deep under the city’s premier shopping strip, Pitt Street Mall, close enough to the normal people of the world to join them above ground in carefully-supervised excursions but a million miles from them in both their innate physical humanity and lifestyle.
Rather than placing them out in the far reaches of the desert-like Outback, which is always the go-to location if you want to give a people or place an added mystery or intrigue, Noni has plonked them fairly and squarely under the heart of Australia’s biggest city, illustrating in the process that they are us and yet no us all at the same time.
Initially though as we try to understand where Jane is – because she has no idea, neither do we for the longest time – we are in the dark along with her, aware there is a great deal unknown but unaware of what it is and whether it presents a threat or a promise.
That Noni sustains this aura of uncertainty, and sustains it grippingly well, for as long as she does is testament to how supremely well she establishes Jane as a character from the get-go.
Without her singularly focused and strong inner narrative, through which we get a handle, or the suggestion of what might be going on at least, on her tightly-drawn world, Whisper would not succeed anywhere near as it does.
That’s not say other elements of the world don’t work well – everything from the storyline to the many revelations to the other characters such as Landon Ward who proves pivotal to her coming to grips with who is and much more besides are beautifully well done (save for the lengthy slabs of exposition in the middle and end sections which, while fascinating and eagerly-devoured, do slow down proceedings down a little) – but it’s Jane who is the star of the show, a mightily strong older teenager who might often be cowed but is never truly beaten.
While you sometimes get the sense she is maybe a little inert in the face of the many blindingly revelatory things that come to bear on her, she is for the most part able to rise to the challenge, not just externally but internally, her inner self bolstered and nurtured by the 2 1/2 years she spends walled-off within herself, unable to speak for reasons that are revealed as the novel progresses.
“The ground is dissolving under my feet. Surely I must be sinking into an alternate dimension. One where silent girls are befriended by armored knights and bouncing children and swallowed up in dreams so real they bleed life into the very walls, turning the blandness of whites, grays and beiges into rainbows so dazzling that the air itself comes alive with their colors.” (P. 87)
To delve too deep into the many revelations would be to walk straight into spoiler alert land, but suffice to say that Jane’s journey, the revelation of her real identity, gifts and destiny are artfully and satisfyingly-handled, delivering on the promise of the opening chapters.
Melodrama creeps in a little here and there, but by and large, Whisper is a compelling tale well-told that never falters or staggers drunkenly under the ever-growing weight of its mythology, but gathers strength chapter-to-chapter, reinventing the genre it occupies with an imaginative flair and emotional resonance that takes an almost otherworldly concept and makes it accessibly, wondrously human.
That is, of course, the secret to really good genre writing; while it’s fun to throw in a host of supernatural bells and whistles, to delve into realms far beyond the ordinary, suburban everyday, the story of any of these denizens of genre lit is that of us all.
They may have amazing abilities, extraordinary insights and be engaged in titanic battles hidden from the eyes of mere mortals, but they are still undeniably, fallibly human, and Whisper is such a captivating, immersive read because it remembers this, giving us a protagonist in Jane who is compelling, sympathetic and real, even as she finds, like we do, that she is part of a world far greater and more expansively-thrilling and dangerous than our own.
Who is the mysterious Ax-Man and what is doing that’s traumatising the non-opposable thumb possessing and capacity for abstract thought-lacking birds that inhabit the cowgirl’s isolated cacti farm?
Hint it’s not good and what starts out as three hysterical birds frantically trying to call attention to a serious, ever-growing problem, soon becomes epically catastrophic and the basis, so says writer, director and animator Sam Lane, for a possible series that frankly has all kinds of great Adventure Time vibes about it.
Seamlessly blending some great storytelling, otherworldliness, great music by Diego Gaeta and gloriously irreverent humour that works beautifully to cement a sense of the characters, Spell of the West has some enticing mystery, a delicious sense of removal from our everyday and yet some real heartfelt resonance.
It’s exactly the kind of animated show I would watch, and you can only hope that Sam Lane’s third-year film – he’s a “BFA student studying experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts”, according to his Vimeo bio – catches someone’s attention and Spell of the West gets the full storytelling treatment it so richly deserves.