Fear the Walking Dead: “Laura” (S4, E5 review)

No longer alone … (image courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS AHEAD … AND LOVE IN A TIME OF APOCALYPSE …

Forget your rom-coms with their “meet cutes”, their getting-to-know-you montages and their misunderstandings resolved at the airport. Or your romantic poets like Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Your songs of fidelity, enrapturement and eternal devotion. Or your Harlequin romances piled high on the bedside table …

Real love, of the most unexpected kind – who actually falls in love in the apocalypse? I mean, really (OK Glenn and Maggie but … okay, and Sasha & Bob Stookey/Abraham Ford and Nick and Luciana … and … and …) – made an appearance on Fear the Walking Dead, and we are all the better for it.

Hasn’t there ever been a more sweet and caring man than John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt)? A more unwilling object of affection and desire than “Laura” aka Naomi (Jenna Elfman)? Or a weirder “meet cute” than John dragging her near lifeless body from atop a canoe in a sedately-flowing river more commonly full of fish and the undead?

His rescue of a near-dying law Naomi – he starts calling her Laura when she’s unwilling to divulge much of anything, including her name and the fake moniker rather endearingly sticks – from a location where walkers normally wash up after falling through a gap in a bridge upstream is the sort of normal, decent thing that a man like Dorie does without thinking.

An ex-policeman with some work-related trauma in his past, he is sweet, kind and caring in a way that revives your hope in the basic goodness of humanity; despite his profession, he is avowedly anti-guns and anti-violence – something he confides to both Laura/Naomi, and Morgan (Lennie James) at the end of the episode – the kind of guy who writes his name on the video rental sheet at the local general store, even though there’s nobody left alive to care.

It’s hard not to fall in love with a character as genuine, real and down-to-earth as Dorie – yes, as Laura/Naomi amusingly points out, it is the name of a fish species and that Disney character (John rather nicely points out that its name is spelt differently) – since he is a rare person indeed in the apocalypse who has kept pretty much all his humanity.

Not only does he save Laura/Naomi from the river in which he later, quite patiently, teaches her to fish – it starts as the simple acquisition of an additional survival technique for his new companion but soon becomes a way for them to connect and time in which to talk – but he tends to her wound (not a bite, people, NOT A BITE! Phew), makes a privacy curtain for the bed which he gives up for her exclusive use and even cooks her up bouillabaise because he’s that kind of guy!

 

Lovely day for a canoe on the river … watch out for the zombies (image courtesy AMC)

 

Laura/Naomi’s arrival, shrouded as it is by a million protective mechanisms that means it takes a good long while, even with John’s TLC techniques on 10 with a bullet, for her to even acknowledge he’s a done a good thing, let alone smile at him, saves John just as much as the woman he ends up caring a great deal for.

The first of the episode showcases a lifestyle that would be bucolically peaceful, a rural idyll (now with added random zombies!) were it not for the fact that John is completely inherently alone.

He makes beautiful dinners, watches his videos, cleans his guns (yes, the ones he uses only under extreme duress; this turns out to be when Laura/Naomi is in a ditch under a pack of zombies and in danger of dying), plays Scrabble for one – the only time he talks is when he’s working through good words to use in his solo games – and sleeps very little.

This is a man who’s safe yes, but withdrawn and desperately alone, and one of the joys of “Laura”, one of the many joys it should be emphasised in a sublimely good, exquisitely well-wrought episode without peer in Fear the Walking Dead, and it’s had some damn good ones, is the way he gradually opens to the presence of Laura/Naomi.

His humanity is innate so looking after her in the way he does is second-nature; but it’s the way he gradually, and rather profoundly opens up to her that is so beautifully touching.

It’s even more remarkable when you consider how much is stacked up against this happening at all – not only are people reluctant to form bonds because someone you love could be snatched away with little to no warning, but that reluctance is layered thickly upon all the hurts and reservations that preceded the end of the world.

We all have these emotional obstacles to overcome, but their effect is amplified in a world where grief and loss are a near-constant feature of existence and surmounting them is a tall, near-impossible order; all of which makes John’s opening up to the possibility of Laura/Naomi as more than a person he’s rescued and her return of those same feelings as a stirring feature of the deeply-immersive narrative of “Laura”.

 

“And that, dear Morgan, is how you make a great bouillabaise …” (image courtesy AMC)

 

The episode is gloriously exemplary TV writing in just about every way.

It near-silently explores what happens to two people effectively end up rescuing each other, their two quite separate worlds intertwining in a way that most people avoid like the literal plague that has infected the dead.

Fear the Walking Dead has always told these kinds of character-centric stories with admirable elegance and emotional-resonance, part of the charm of a show which, while it doesn’t eschew action-oriented sequences – the hordes of river-borne zombies who infest John’s front yard and must be fought in the middle of the night is a case in point – doesn’t use them to bludgeon the storyline into shape or keep it moving at some sort of frantic pace, nor does it allow to subsume the stories of the characters themselves, which has happened all too often in The Walking Dead of late.

“Laura”, though studded with zombie killing, keeps its priorities impressively clear – tell the story of John and Laura/Naomi, use it to show how something as surplus to survival (if you’re being brutalist about it) as love can happen in a time of death and destruction, and sadly underscore that even when something that wonderful happens, that its shelf life, at least for one of the party (guess who) is agonisingly, sadly short.

When Laura/Naomi does depart, even after the “I love yous” have been said and John delivers one of the loveliest tributes to anyone that – “If you’re alive, this whole world feels alive” – it’s not surprising but still wrenching, as a decent good man, who is that way simply because it’s the right thing to do has to say goodbye, in absentia, to a woman who, due to the loss of a child and the innumerable apocalyptic damage to her soul that has followed, is outwardly out for herself.

It’s a study in contrasts and similarities of heart so heartbreakingly and inspiringly well-executed that “Laura” is not only a standout episode for Fear the Walking Dead in particular but television generally, ending with John affirming to his apocalyptic soulmate Morgan that for all the loss and damage he has endured, both before and after the end of the world, that he still believes in peace, non-violence and the better angels of our nature.

In a world so broken that many people assume vengeance, death and war are the only way forward, it’s a refreshing, optimism-reinforcing stance that is far from weak or naive; on the contrary, given what people like John and Morgan have endured, it is one of the most powerful, knowingly insightful and muscular statements ever made, one, I suspect, that will play a key role in the onward narrative of Fear the Walking Dead, especially with Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), Victor (Colman Domingo), Luciana (Danay García) and Althea (Maggie Grace) on an unsettling The Walking Dead-like path of vengeance, from which very little good can come.

  • Next on Fear the Walking Dead … the end of the end of the beginning in “Just in Case” …

 

 

 

All Aboard! Eurovision 2018 – who won, who lost and who’s sweeping up the glitter?

(artwork courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

Hard to believe after all the build-up, the song reviews, the minute breakdown of national selection results, and the general buzz of excitement but the Eurovision Song Contest is over for another year.

But is it really ever over?

We’ll be listening to the songs from this year’s contest for months to come, especially the winner, the #metoo movement-inspired “Toy” by Israel’s Netta Barzilai which came complete with an engagingly and bright and vivacious performance that only improved between semi-final 1 and the grand final four days later.

The song, in common with pretty much every winner of Eurovision has come in for more than its fair share of criticism, with everything from charges of “cultural appropriation” to being a gimmicky “freak show” song leveled at it, but at the end of the day, the people of Europe placed it in the top position after the jury votes had it sitting in third place. (The voting reveal, which was agonisingly stretched out for maximum impact, was tenser than usual this year with Israel only leaping to first place when it was down to them and Cyprus and the second-to-last votes were handed to Eleni Foureira’s “Fuego” handing Israel the win).

That’s not much of a difference in placing there, and while I will leave the minute dissection of voting stats to the maths nerds who do it so much better, suffice to say, this narrow difference between jury and popular vote adds a lot of legitimacy to the result.

As articles in both The Guardian and Metro were at pains to point out, politics no longer lays a substantial role in who gets the nod, and while many people have expressed their disappointment at the result, this is a yearly dynamic that happens regardless of who wins.

 

 

So what were the highlights (beside Netta’s exhuberantly-happy win)?

There were quite a number and you can watch a quick summary of them below, but the five that really struck me were:

    • The UK’s entrant SuRie, who made quite an impression with her song “Storm” had her performance temporarily interrupted by a protester who rushed onto the stage and grabbed her mike before being taken off by security. Terrifying as it must have been for her, she kept her composure, and finished the song like a trouper, the adrenaline fueling a fiery end to her already-impassioned delivery. (ABC Online)
    • Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva struck a dramatic pose in her enormous gown which added some very pretty, strikingly-colourful visuals to her dramatically operative song “Forza” (which makes me want swirly ice cream) …

 

 

    • Ukraine kicked off the semi-final in fine form with MELOVIN, he of the singular, disconcertingly intense contact lense, arising from a piano coffin which later burst into dramatic flames. Attention-grabbing? TICK!

 

 

    • The 1500th Eurovision song was performed during semi final 2 when Norway’s Alexander Rybak, who previously won, and won convincingly in 2009, lit up the stage with “That’s How You Write a Song” …

 

 

    • Moldova might have been labeled “The Wiggles on acid” but frankly I loved the song – fun, upbeat, with a clever stage presentation to match. This video gives you a fantastic look behind-the-scenes at one of the most inventive performance …

 

** For a full list of the notable moments from Eurovision 2018, see RadioTimes
So ladies and gentlemen, that is the Eurovision Song Contest for another year!
Until next time, remember to be open and adventurous with your song choices, don’t listen to the haters, and bathe yourself in glitter at every available opportunity!
See you in 2019 in Israel!

Final vote tally (Image courtesy Eurovision.tv)

Fast and fun short story review – The Adventures of Harry Marples: Harry Goes to Work by Sharon Livingstone

(cover image courtesy Sharon Livingstone)

 

We’ve all done it – dashed out the door of a morning, the clock ticking, trains threatening to depart the station before we make it to the platform, a foggy sense that we’ve missed something in all that chaotic freneticism.

But I can guarantee that you have not been as entertaining as Harry Marples, a new everyperson hero for our times who manages, in one morning to forget to feed his cat, leave his phone in the bathroom, his keys on the coffee table, and his confidence in his consummate ability to adult somewhere messily in-between.

It gets worse of course with all kinds of hilarious – for us as voyeurs silently, or not so silently, thinking “There but the grace of the commuter god go I” – things happening to poor harried Mr Marples one after the other; our protagonist, though, isn’t laughing as he stumbles, despite his best efforts from one bumpy calendar blip to another.

The joy of Sharon Livingstone’s thoroughly entertaining short story is how perfectly she captures both the frustration and absurdity of days held aloft by gremlins, all of whom possess healthy subscriptions to Murphy’s Law.

With a cheeky sensibility and light buoyant, often funny prose, Livingstone encapsulates the nightmarish hilarity of days when not one thing goes well, and where our attempts at damage control simply lead ever more spectacular knock-on effects, and an ever-declining sense that we can handle the heady demands of adulthood.

 

(inside image courtesy Sharon Livingstone)

 

One of the things that’s so delightful and likeable about Harry is that he’s not some airheaded klutz (although he doubtless feels like that by the end his existentially-exhausting morning); rather he’s a competent, in-control professional having the kind of bad day any of us could have, a kind man who chases down thieves who steal womens’ purses (well, in a manner of speaking; gleefully all is not as it seems even with this altruistic deed) and consummately-talented guy who handles meetings with clients with ease.

Assuming he can make it to the office, of course.

Livingstone excels in not only quickly and fulsomely setting up the world that Harry inhabits, but also in bringing him to life in his everydayness almost instantaneously.

By the end of the first page (see above), you feel like you know Harry, and know him very well, so adroitly does the author let us into Harry’s all-too-readily-relateable thoughts, emotions and ever-more-messed-up actions.

He is all of us, a sweet, adorable guy who’d like to have everything together but doesn’t, and while you will laugh at his unintended antics, you will also feel for Harry since he’s not some idiotic clown – he is you, he is me and he is all winningly human.

Want to feel better about your day? Harry is your man, his story the archetype for all those days that end with red wine and comfort food, and of which, we hope and pray, we have as little experience as possible.

To read Livingstone’s wonderful tale for yourself, go to Smashwords.

First impressions: The Rain (episodes 1-4)

(image via HorrorHR)

 

There is a point as an avid watcher of apocalyptic dramas, and lordy there are so many in our increasingly despairingly cynical world which seems to be practically begging for the end to come, where you begin to wander if there is anything fresh to say about the great depths and occasional heights humanity will fall and rise to when its collective back is against the breakdown of civilisation wall.

Certainly if given the option to make some kind of statement, however well-worn, most producers will opt for the “humanity stinks like weeks-old fish hidden behind the wall of your worst enemy and will find its just desserts in vicious infighting and mutually-assured destruction” rather than “this is bad, REAL BAD, but maybe, just maybe, humanity can pull an evolutionary ace out of its sleeve and make it through.”

The second option is possibly seen as less dramatically challenging and enticing, and given the current mood of our world-weary populace who see zombies and alien invaders as kindred spirits of putting us out of  our misery the more accurate reflection of a likely trajectory, but as Danish series The Rain beautifully illustrates in some quietly-important, emotionally-resonant ways, hanging onto hope and an innate sense of decency need not be a complete fool’s errand, narratively-speaking.

Siblings Simon (Alba August) and younger brother Rasmus (Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) have more reason than most to go down the rotten fish route but surprisingly for a teenager and young boy locked in an underground bunker with very little warning, they seem more willing than most to cling to the better angels of our apocalyptic times.

With their father, the possible creator and/or nullifier of a virus that has fallen in the rain, and continues to fall at the worst possible times, and wiped the vast majority of Scandinavians off the face of the earth, Dr. Frederik Andersen (Lare Simonsen) M.I.A., and their mother dead, killed while battling a desperate interloper who wanted in on the protector, Simone and Rasmus have the seen the very worst of outcomes.

Granted they have waited out the worst of the initial slide into degradation and chaos in a bunker full of food, energy and clean water, a far cry from just about everyone else out there, but like many people, they have lost those nearest and dearest, spending six years with all that grief, loss and deprivation, all with little to no chance to farewell the life they once knew.

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

For all of that, and perhaps because of that, and their hermetically-sealed time alone, they not only have an innate sense of closeness with each other but a strong sense that holding onto their humanity is an arguable part of surviving out in the world, regardless of how bad it is.

Sure it could be considered naive, and likely is in many ways, and certainly Martin (Mikkel Følsgaard), the leader of a group of young survivors who flush the siblings out the bunker by closing off the oxygen vents, thinks so, but it marks themselves as fascinating outliers in a world where most people have resorted to animalistic fighting to stay alive in between fatal, and what seem to be near-constant showers (you are given the impression it never stops raining in Denmark and all points north).

The other members of the group – Patrick (Lukas Løkken), Beatrice (Angela Bundalovic), Jean (Sonny Lindberg) and Lea (Jessica Dinnage) all seem to fall somewhere on the spectrum of the siblings are naively odd in the extreme, although only Patrick is as hard core as Martin and remains so even after the group’s leader takes a liking to Simone and softens his position, ameliorating his previous tough, take-no-prisoners approach to such an extent that close friend Patrick is aghast more often than he’s not.

Therein lies the central tension of The Rain, which doesn’t so much reinvent the apocalyptic genre (it’s reasonably standard in many respects) as asking some really interesting questions through it, such as whether hanging onto humanity is a foolhardy thing to do and emotional attachment an unaffordable luxury when one downpour could kill the ones you love, and likely you with it.

Refreshingly, it doesn’t belabour these points; in certain key scenes it’s clear enough that there is battle between the “everything’s screwed, give up now” camp and “the wait, it could get better, let’s not turn into monsters” group – Patrick (and to ever-lessening degrees Martin) and Simon being the standard bearers respectively – but unlike some other more clumsily-executed members of the genre (I’m looking at you The Walking Dead), the points are made sparingly and insightfully with minimum fuss and fanfare.

Another point in the show’s favour is the lengths it goes to to demonstrate how strong bonds can prevail even in the most extreme of situations.

Even as they make their way into the world for the first time, their eyes wider than saucers as they glimpse a world-destroyed – unlike other survivors who acclimated, they have to catch up fast – Simone and Rasmus refuse to let their sobering new reality tear them apart.

They want to find their dad, who may still be out there – the number of bunkers are multitudinous and a garbled saved phone message from their dad’s boss Sten (Johannes Kuhnke) would suggest he may be at the headquarters of Appollon, the company behind it all, in Sweden – and that drives the narrative, but in the meantime, Simone’s maternalistic care for Rasmus, and his continued willingness to look out for her, stand as beacons of relational hope in a world well and truly scorched of it.

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

We also get to see the backstory of Jean who is taken in by a family after collapsing near a farm one day, quickly becoming a big brother to the deaf daughter and friend and helper to the married couple who by virtue of their remoteness have remained aloof from the troubles around them.

Of course, that kind of sanctuary rarely endures in a world gone mad, and Jean finds himself cast aside out of the bosom of the farm, only finding some semblance of belonging when he meets Beatrice (who has a penchant for emotionally-manipulative fantasising) and Lea.

The Rain happily wears its heart on its sleeve in a number of key scenes featuring Simone and Rasmus, and Jean, and even Martin, who’s clearly looking for excuses to let down his guard, begins to re-appropriate some of his lost humanity, much again to Patrick’s chagrin.

Don’t get me wrong – The Rain doesn’t suddenly turn into a heartwarming mix of Hallmark movie and uplifting musical because of its focus on hope, however sliver-like and the endurance of human connection, but it does have a humanistic spine to it, an authentic, relatable one, that elevates the usual grim everyone dies-few survivors go feral-humanity knocked back to the dark ages schtick.

That’s all there, of course, so no massive points for singular originality, but they use all the tropes well, bolstered by this aforementioned focus on hope and humanity and richly-wrought characters, led by Simone who is brought to impressively nuanced life by August, and a driving sense of mystery that propels the storyline forward in well-measured degrees.

At eight episodes too, it’s hardly going to outstay its welcome, and while the finale will likely play out much as you’d expect – episodes five to eight remain still unwatched – getting there looks like it will be a rewarding experience, if only because you get the feeling that humanity might be in with a chance after all, even in an age where umbrellas have become all but useless, and civilisation has collapsed, take most of what makes us us down with it.

 

Notes on a scene: Actor/director John Krasinski breaks down the lantern scene from A Quiet Place

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

 

There’s no escaping the fact that A Quiet Place is one hell of a tense, absolutely brilliant movie-going experience.

Premised on the idea that humanity has been driven to near-extinction by vicious, possibly alien, creatures who are blind but possessed of a razor sharp, pindrop accurate hearing, it exists in a world where you cannot make a sound … or you die.

It’s as simply and terrifying as that, and it is realised perfectly in ways that will leave you gasping in wonderment and awe, and gripping your armrest like your life depends on it.

 

 

In the latest Notes on a Scene from Vanity Fair, actor/director John Krasinki talks about a particular pivotal scene in the film that, possibly more than any other, goes to the heart of what makes A Quiet Place, such a compelling, meaningful and affecting experience.

“To me the theme of family and what would you really do for your kids is the reason why I did the movie. …this is one of my favorite scenes because it’s a movie about a family that needs to remain quiet. This is such a perfect atmosphere and one of the best scenes to tell the rules of how to remain quiet and what happens if you don’t.”

(source: Laughing Squid)

The short and the short of it: The disquietening strangeness of Hyperlight

(image via Vimeo (c) Nguyen-Anh Nguyen)

 

SNAPSHOT
Jeananne Goossen (Michelle on The Walking Dead) stars as Emiliana Newton, an astronaut dealing with strange circumstances when her and her partner’s (Peter Shinkoda, aka Nobu of the Hand on Netflix’s Daredevil) cryopods are ejected from the main ship. In the tense opening minutes that bring to mind the nail-biting nature of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, she manages to get back onboard where things only get stranger.

No one, I repeat NO ONE, save for some ghost hunters on repetitive reality TV shows, like things that go bump in the night.

Especially when those things and their menacing bumping make all that unsettling commotion out in the far reaches of space, far from home, solid earth and the reassurance that the sun will eventually rise and banish the quiet-challenged phantoms.

 


Hyperlight [4K] from Nguyen-Anh Nguyen on Vimeo.

 

It’s proved to be fertile ground for many filmmakers, the latest of which is indie filmmaker/futurist Nguyen-Anh Nguyen who’s taken some fascinating developments in the field of nuclear fusion and fashioned a very cool, distinctly-creepy and highly intellgent of all manner of inexplicable things going on, with shades of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Sunshine.

You will be deeply-unnerved and horrifically-ill-at-ease but my lord you will absolutely entranced and emotionally-engaged by this superlative piece of tension-filled storytelling that is worth every second of the 17 minutes you will happily give to it (with or without hands over your eyes and blanket atop you).

(source: SYFYWire)

 

Hyperlight – Behind the Scenes [Post-Production] from Nguyen-Anh Nguyen on Vimeo.

#Eurovision movie review: Love.com (Amor.com)

(image courtesy Ingresso.com)

 

  • While this is not strictly-speaking a Portuguese movie, it is a Portuguese-language one (made in Brazil) and so fit the criteria to be crowned this year’s #Eurovision film.

Love, they say, is a many-splendoured thing; it is, and here the romantics of the mysterious “they” are studiously silent, also complicated as hell.

As the mother of the two lovebirds at the centre of this relatively-formulaic but nonetheless delightfully-entertaining film sagely observes, it’s one thing to find the right person, another thing entirely to make it work,  a truism to which the couple in question, Katrina (Isis Valverde) and Fernando (Gil Coelho), would no doubt heartily subscribe.

You know that they are going to encounter troubles down the track, that their meet-cute will devolve as some point into meet-no more, or meet-not-until-the-finale, almost immediately since Amor.com (Love.com), for all its many charms, is not exactly a hot bed of rom-com originality.

From the moment we meet fashion & beauty vlogger Isis, who is showered with the latest clothes and products, all of which find their way into her insanely-popular videos on everything from haircare to dressing right for particular events, and nerdy, computer genius and tech vlogger Fernando, you know it is they, and not the many other beautiful or dorky people populating this film, who will find love true love.

Meeting one night when the fashion store chain with which Isis is affiliated as their party starter, and after a technical glitch, their party saviour, chief promoter and glamour frontwoman, and Fernando their go-to tech guy, they immediately hit it off.

But only after Isis finds out that her boyfriend of the moment – a model who is gorgeous and hence, in the appealingly simple morality of Amor.com, EVIL – has sent his friends a semi-naked picture of her sleeping in bed, and enlists Fernando to hack into phones, servers and pretty much everything else to delete the involuntarily-provided incriminating evidence, do love bells truly begin to ring.

 

(image courtesy Cine com Pipoca)

 

Courtesy of a lovey-dovey montage which sees the twosome grow closer and closer, their two highly-disparate worlds seemingly meshing perfectly together, we see true love take what it is its natural, untroubled course in the opening act of rom-com.

In this stage of our tale of Cupid’s handiwork, the sun is shining, birds are singing and not a moment can go by when there is kissing, holding, staring dreamily into eyes and draping of bodies on couches.

It’s Hallmark love with a capital “L” and an aura of romantic invincibility and certainty so robust and pronounced that they look for all intents and purposes like they will never be apart.

But, of course, being a cookie-cookie rom-com, albeit a damn good one that knows its strengths and plays consistently well to them, that can never be allowed to happen and so we find, through narratives twists and turns, contrived and patently obvious, the happy popcorn eaters du jour coming a-cropper on the rocks of mutual philosophical incompatibility.

Well, perceived philosophical incompatibility anyway.

Fernando begins to think that Isis’s lifestyle, one tightly-bound by sponsors’ agreements, product placement and an air of impenetrable selfie-led beautiful perfection is vapid and shallow while Isis can’t stand her beloved’s constant gaming nights and unwillingness to put as much into the relationship as she is.

Both have a point, but life is never as clear cut as the flawed reasoning of heated arguments and when you dig down – not too much mind; Amor.com only goes down so far – you begin to understand that Isis is not as enamoured of the way she makes a living as she might first appear, and Fernando may not be averse to a sponsor deal or significantly-increased follower numbers as he first indicates.

 

(image courtesy Blog Maktub)

 

This is all, sort of, resolved in the film’s third act where they inevitably fall into each other’s arms – not a chance of spoiler here; if you’ve ever seen a rom-com, you can predict where it’s going with eyes closed and an army of typewriter-using chimps at the ready – but Amor.com has a great deal of fun getting to that point, ushering into an upper middle class Brazilian milieu that is replete with opportunity, glamour and the ability to make all the choices and mistakes you want.

Formulaic it may be, but the same could be said for just about any rom-com, and Amor.com fares far better than most in its pursuit of fairy-floss supported, candy-coloured romantic perfection.

It takes two gorgeous leads – Fernando’s physical geekiness really extends to glasses and sloppy clothes; you can see a smouldering boy-next-door lies waiting just a beard trim and a designer clothes-change away – puts them into all kinds of fun situations, some designed to draw together, others to pull apart as the plot demands, and it does just when it’s required to do so, and let the sparks, good and bad, fly and romantic cosiness and Siberia-ness ensue.

Much of the charm can be sheeted home to a buoyant script that never lingers in a scene longer than its needs to, some fearsomely-good world-building into which Isis’s sister Roberta (Carol Portes) and Fernando’s nerdy buds Panda (João Côrtes) and Lante (César Cardadeiro) fit seamlessly and with bravura supporting character perfection, and two leads who share chemistry and a winning sense of wholesome down-to-earthiness that will triumph over all the mixed signals and differing life choices and philosophies that their shared existence throws at them.

In the end, that’s really all you want from a rom-com – a willingness to successful play with the formula just enough for it to be differently entertaining while hewing close to the tenets of the genre, the most critically-important of the lot being that love, in all its many-splendoured glory, shall triumph in rose-petal strewn loveliness, by film’s end.

Amor.com manages that with sighing elan, giving us a happy ending, a confectedly perfect world that is a joy to spend time in even when the happy couple are not so happy anymore, and a little spicy villainy and intrigue to make them the good guys come what may, all wrapped up in the kind of starry-eyed wonderfulness that real life should give us more of but never quite manages.

 

Jabberjaw and Aquaman together fighting dystopian nightmares? You better believe it!

Aquaman/Jabberjaw and The Flash/Speed Buggy. (image: Paul Pelletier and Andrew Hennessey (DC Comics), Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund (DC Comics)

 

You have to hand to DC Comics – they may not have had much success with their foray into moviedom, save for the stellar success of Wonder Woman, but they sure know they’re away around comic book adaptations of old, beloved Hanna-Barbera characters.

Following hot on the heels of the likes Adam Strange/Future Quest, Booster Gold/The Flintstones, Green Lantern/Space Ghost and Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits, comes all-new fantastic cross-fertilisations between the likes of Jabberjaw and Aquaman (my favourite combo to be honest), Black Lightning with Hong Kong Phooey, Dynomutt with Super Sons, and The Flash with another one of my enduring favourites, Speed Buggy.

What makes these updates of classic characters work so well is that the various creators – the full details of writers, artists and bios can be found at DC Comics – keep enough of the classic characters to make the update accessible and familiar while adding all kinds of new, highly-compatible facets.

It’s a highly-imaginative gambit but it works and works beautifully, and I can’t help but agree with IO9 when they say “These books are always a damn hoot.”

That they are, and we’ll find out how hoot-a-licious they are on 30 May when the one-shot issues are released.

 

Black Lightning/Hong Kong Phooey and Dynomutt/Super Sons. (image: Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jeromy Cox (DC Comics), Fernando Pasarin and Oclair Albert (DC Comics)

Book review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

(cover image courtesy Pac MacMillan Australia)

 

Once again the worlds have come to an end.

No, that is not a typo – I do indeed mean multiple worlds; for in Anne Corlett’s impressive debut novel The Space Between the Stars – the title is a reference to hearing the voice of “god”, however you interpret him/her/it, in the quiet moments and slivers between the busyness of the galaxy – humanity, spread across a plethora of colonised planets, has meet its match in a lethal virus that has decimated 99.9999% of the population.

That leaves, of course, a scarily small 0.0001 of the human race to sally forth and carry on with what little is left of civilisation. (These cold, stark numbers are used to dizzyingly poetic effect by Corlett throughout this quite remarkable work of apocalyptic fiction.)

The major complicating factor there – the virus has potentially, and no one is entirely sure in the confused messy aftermath of this life-altering epidemic, affected peoples’ fertility meaning that survival, which comes for survivors after three days of terrifyingly disorienting nightmares, fevers and headaches (the dead simply turn to dust; which means, unsettlingly, that any covered surfaces thick with the stuff are not the result of sloppily inattentive housework) might be a Pyrrhic one indeed.

“Her thoughts were twisting tighter and tighter until there was nowhere to go but to the place she’d been trying to avoid. She shouldn’t be alive. Somehow the little world had got lucky. Was there any realistic chance that its luck had held more than once? And if not …
No.
There were other worlds. There’d be other survivors.” (P. 15)

The story focuses on Jamie, a vet who, fleeing a disintegrating life on the capital world of Alegria, has taken a job on an isolated farm on a far-flung world called Soltaire, running from the demons of her childhood, and her parents’ broken marriage, and a relationship with Daniel, a man high in the planet’s administration who loves her but with whom, she belatedly realises, she is not in love.

The virus’s destructive path however changes everything, and so Jamie sets out to see if Daniel or anything else survives, making her way to Soltaire’s diminutive capital where she meets the religiously-crazed Rena, and sage, disillusioned minister Lowry, before the three are rescued by a passing ship captained by emotionally shutdown Callan and staffed by icy engineer Gracie (the sole survivors of the crew) who takes them on to Alegria.

None of them know what they’re heading towards and if the much-bandied about percentage is accurate or merely the doomsday mutterings of a dying man Jamie once worked with, but they have little choice but to plow on and see what awaits, a curious mix of loss and hope propelling them on.

Corlett does a particularly effective job of representing Jamie as a flawed, broken human being who wants to believe in the fairytale of life, even in the midst of apocalyptic carnage and death, but who remains mired in the closed-down emotionality of her youth which shut its doors to real intimacy and connection and isn’t about to re-open, especially in the wake of such a devastating event.

Not even as she grows close to fellow picked-up passengers Finn (who appears to be on the autism spectrum but is warm and curious in his own way) and prostitute Mila who can’t believe she’s worth more than being the child of a brothel, and they reach Alegria where surprises await, does Jamie really put her faith in a future that may not be as 0.0001% bad as everyone’s expecting.

 

(cover image courtesy Pac MacMillan)

 

That’s the beauty of Corlett’s portrayal of life in the aftermath of this terrible pan-galactic disease.

Neither darkly pessimistic nor melodramatically optimistic, The Space Between the Stars gives us a beautifully-written examination of how real people would respond to a lifechanging event of this magnitude.

Bedecked with some truly gorgeous phrasing and grounded insights into the human condition, we meet people who want to expect things to be better, and really have no choice to but to proceed on that basis – the alternative? Falling in a lonely small heap on whichever giant empty planet they now find themselves on – but who are beset by doubt, uncertainty and fear, much as anyone of us would be.

Jamie particularly is our window into that mindset, her anger, irritation, fury and quiet acceptance mirroring how many of us would react to losing everyone and everything and having to recreate our life in an entirely new form with brand new people, all in a matter of days and weeks.

“Jamie couldn’t move. There was a bloodless chill in her hands and feet. She felt strung out, like a wire, stretched between the struggling crowd, and the insistent, oh-so-logical voice of the man at her side, slightly chiding and full of the promise of quiet, normal corridors beyond those doors.” (P. 191)

For all the disruption and chaos of thought and emotion that accompanies Jamie’s literal and figurative flight from Soltaire via Pangea to Alegria and then Earth, and specifically her home town of Belsley Beach in northern England where she once lived with her caring stepmother (who couldn’t break through Jamie’s thick facade), there is a richness and a tenderness there as we grapple, as Jamie does, with that cruelly odd mixing of hope and resignation to the worst.

Corlett’s gift, apart from superlatively poetic writing that sings more often than it doesn’t, is her ability to meld these penetrating descriptions of souls in free fall with some page-turning action which always feels richer and more involving for the raw, exquisitely well-articulated humanity that informs and percolates through them.

This is readily accessible but intelligent, emotionally-resonant science fiction that excels in what the genre is more inclined to – hold a mirror up to humanity as its best and worst and see what reflects back.

That it isn’t horribly damning, for all the flaws and foibles on display, says a great deal about Corlett’s outlook, but also about the fact that humanity, for all of our capacity to destroy and disable, for hopelessness and cynicism, is also capable of moving forward in ways that onlookers might find surprising.

Life is a messy, complicated business, whether we’re paying bills or running for our lives, and Corlett captures all this, and so much more in The Space Between the Stars, helping us to understand ourselves just that little better, lessons that you can only hope won’t find their true reward in a situation as apocalyptically dire as this one anytime soon (but if they do, rest assured we might emerge at the other end, if not fine, then not as badly off as we imagined).

 

Awakening a sleeping moose: Deadpool takes on the musical might of Eurovision

(image courtesy Ryan Reynolds Twitter account)

 

There are a number of great abiding loves in my life – my gorgeous partner Steve, Christmas, my birthday, caramel cheesecakes, and the Eurovision Song Contest, for which I stage a big, fun party with friends every year.

We are in the thick of all things Eurovision right now with the grand final, at which 26 countries will sing to win (and contribute to European peace, love and shared humanity, of course), barely 48 hours away and you can have to wonder if life could get any better than this.

Well, courtesy of Deadpool and Ryan Reynolds, it just has, with the inordinately cheeky shit-stirrer extraordinaire doubling down via this playful promo video, on the august singing contest for neglecting to invite Canada to its yearly gala.

The tone is mostly tongue-in-cheek, Australia comes in for some hilarious teasing – “barely on the planet”? Yeah, pretty much the case – and some fairly potent traffic-based threats are made.

You’ve been warned Europe.

 

 

Oh yeah, and Deadpool 2, the most-awaited sequel, is due for release any moment moment too!

  • In entirely unrelated Eurovision 2018 news, but hey when has dubious tangentality ever stopped me before, Twitter user, “illustrator and professional goof” @thiefoworld has gifted us this adorable poster of all the Eurovision 2018 contestants in cartoon mode.