Monday, 5 June 2017

Review: The Girl with all the Gifts

Cute kid. Too bad she eats brains.
This is one of the better zombie films I've seen. 

Based on the book by M. R. Carey (who also wrote the film adaptation) and directed by Colm McCarthy, it's clever, has decent characters, a good story, and for me, even better, logic behind the zombie infection.

Quelle surprise!

The fundamental problem most zombie movies have is that they lose steam after the initial outbreak plays out. This one doesn't. In fact, it starts long after the outbreak, and delves into the cause. The zombies are just a stage in the life cycle of a fungus. Which is awesome! It adds another layer to the tired genre and gives the film somewhere to go.

The Walking Dead is frustrating because it deliberately avoids explaining anything about the outbreak. Without cause, there can be no solution. No cure to find, no change down the road, no next stage, nothing. Just endless repetition: characters find a promising new haven, only to have this haven turn out to have a snake in the grass (The mayor is crazy! The are performing medical experiments on people! They're cannibals! Etcetera), everything goes to hell, and they set off in search of a new haven. Repeat ad nauseam.

And that's it.

Zombies become background noise. There's no seeking any kind of cure, no satiating our curiosity. It's just about survival and people struggling with the 'real' threat: other humans. It's tired and boring after awhile. In addition, I find the characters are badly conceived and often act out of plot necessity rather than personal motivation. Game of Thrones does character so much better. But no one else seems to notice this, so what do I know?


In Girl with all the Gifts, we're supposed to look at things in terms of new and old paradigms. The second stage infected, babies who ate their way out of their infected mother's wombs, are able to think and function but are also consumed by the lust for living flesh. They are contrasted against the surviving humans, who are unable to live with the fungus (actually based on a real fungus that infects ants and compels them to climb up to the top of the forest canopy so the fungus can spore).

The main character, Melanie (played by the fabulous Sennia Nanua) is one such child. And she's quite sympathetic, particularly when contrasted against the scientist Caroline Caldwell, played by Glenn Close, who callously wants to harvest her brain. Oh, clever! She's essentially a brain eating scientist, bad as the zombies.

Zombie fungus-girl is loved by her teacher, Miss Empathy, played by Gemma Arterton. Her character has a name, I think (Strawberry Fields?), but she's better remembered by her function: making us feel sympathy for the fungus-zombie-girl Melanie.

It seems they're trying to teach these fungus infected kids in an underground bunker, before Glenn dices their brains.

The film invites us to contemplate this conflict, which pits the new fungus-humans against their antecedents.

The base is soon overrun by mindless first stage fungus-zombies, and only a small team escapes: Doc Coldwell, Miss Empathy, Sargent Gruff Nuts, zombie-fungus girl, and a few disposable soldiers.

Things go from bad to worse as the team is whittled down. They discover a field lab / bunker and some feral zombie-fungus kids.



At the end of the film, Melanie declines to allow her brain to be used to create a vaccine for the remaining humans (or to sacrifice one of the feral fungus kids in her stead), and sets fire to The Great Fungus Tree, which will spread spores across the world and bring about the end of the world.

At this point, the only human left is Empathy Lady, who was unconscious in the sealed field lab. Unfortunately she will be dead in short order, because Melanie would have to get more food to her, eventually, and everything outside the lab is now contaminated with fungus spores, including the water. So the last human, the fungus kids' only and last tutor, is going to die.

Fungus-humanity is going to have to start all over again, only this time it goes into blood lust whenever it's hungry.

Peachy.



It raises interesting questions:

Were animals infected by the fungus too, or just humans? That point is unclear, but it's essential. Because if animals are also infected by the fungus, there's nothing left to eat or pollinate plants. Instead, all fauna craves flesh. Bugs included. How's that going to work?

What benefits does the fungus bring to an animal, other than blood lust? It's a symbiot, supposedly, but to me it just seems like, at best, a 'benign' infection.

Glenn Close's painted as being in the wrong, of course. She's far less sympathetic than the little girl with whom we're supposed to empathize. Miss Empathy hates Glenn, too. And Glenn once played a character who boiled a bunny. I don't think that's coincidence in casting.

But look at the actions of morally superior Melanie: she ruthlessly beats to death another child to establish pack dominance and save her friends. So she's willing to kill a child to save her loved ones.

Huh.

How's that different from the hated Doctor Cold?

The Girl also decides, on her own, to exterminate humanity.

That's the neatest trick of the film: to get us on side with our own elimination.

So we get a world of feral children who go into blood frenzy when they're hungry and have no other food sources. What else are they going to eat, other than each other? Are there any animals left at this point? Wouldn't seven billion fungus-zombies have already thinned out the animal population? As in, entirely? Seven billion fungus-zombies in blood lust at the sight of a cat, dog, squirrel, cow or anything else that's edible would result in very few cows and cats being left.

And the kids have no technology at all. No knowledge of social theory, of hydraulics, sanitation, combustion, anything. Six thousand years of civilization gone. There's only one tutor on the planet for all the zombie kids, and thanks to Melanie, Miss Empathy is going to be dead in short order.

Well done Melanie!



What was the time pressure on Melanie, anyway, to set the Great Fungus Tree on fire so quickly? Glenn Close was dying anyway! The other remaining two humans were no threat to her. They cared for her! So why not plan things out a little more?

I get the divide here, between two sets of people with incompatible needs, and the fangle that there's no right or wrong with it, just survival. Of course, we're meant to identify with fungus girl, and to accept her decision as evolution.

It isn't: there's nothing intrinsically superior about the fungus kids.

It reminds me of The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, which is about evolution and a mutant variant replacing the previously dominant species. The children society is fighting to exterminate in this book are telepathic, and which actually is advantageous. Regular humans are obviously inferior to these psychic children, and so they'll be displaced. I get that.

But the only advantage fungus kids have is that they can live with the fungus. Take away the fungus and they have no advantage over ordinary humans. In fact, since they go into a blood fever state when hungry, you could argue that they are inferior.

Melanie's decision is understandable, given how she's been treated, but it doesn't make her actions any less monstrous. But that's part of the charm of the film: it has well motivated characters, each with their own justifiable point of view.

The empathy of the teacher for fungus kid is meant to us align with Melanie's choice ('Die humanity!'), while Glenn Close is unlikeable to let us know she's on the wrong side ('Bad child murderer!').

It's very well done and an exercise in emotional manipulation, which is what all film making is, ultimately. We watch films to have our emotions yanked about. Movies make us feel. They're emotion machines.

And the better ones make us think as well.

This one hits both marks, although I don't agree with the ending on a personal level. It's a great narrative choice, and it will, I think, spur discussion after. The picture would have far less impact if Melanie had sacrificed herself for humanity's remnant.

It reminds me of Logan in that sense: I hated the fate they doled out to characters I'm rather fond of, but I admired the narrative boldness of their choices. It's an excellent super hero film, one of the best, even if needlessly violent.

I'm not sure I've seen a film before that tries to get the audience on board with exterminating humanity.

That's a neat trick.

Pro-fungus-zombie propaganda at its best.

Give it a watch.





Friday, 26 May 2017

My Petite Bourgeois Revolution Show Statement(s)

"Art is a powerful language and one that many listen to. Art has always been political, and often on the side of those with less power. As the political imperatives have become secondary in people’s lives, perhaps as a result of our more comfortable existence, we may have forgotten how vital the political role of art is." 


– Daron Acemoglu, author of 'Why Nations Fail'

"What have the Romans ever done for us?” 
– Reg, The Life of Brian

Revolution is cool.

Isn’t it time the bourgeois got in on the action and had a revolutionary brand they could call their own?
True, blood sports, public hangings, cruel punishments, arbitrary taxation and debtor’s prisons are all things of the past. We’ve upgraded to Ultimate Fighting, Fyre Festival, slow WiFi, the CRA and student loans. 

Oppression just isn’t what it once was. Where’s that boot stomping on the human face forever?

But that doesn’t mean we can’t complain.

So join me and rise up, bourgeois masses, you have nothing to lose but your socialized medicine, modern dentistry, welfare, labour laws, unemployment insurance, public infrastructure (schools, transit, hospitals, community centres, sanitation systems, fire stations, libraries and more), subsidized housing, open markets, social mobility, rule of law and Maple syrup!

Okay, actually I think Maple syrup would be safe.


-----

That's the boiled down, cheeky version of my mini-statement for the show. 

Below is my long tedious rationale... It's not as interesting as what Daron had to say. Read at your own risk! it's mostly a collection of facts. I should have massaged it more into a narrative... ah, well. Wishes and dreams.




"(The bourgeois) has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals…” — Karl Marx

As Bobos in Paradise, we can lose sight of how much we have to celebrate in the West, and Toronto in particular. 

We're the benefactors of centuries of social, political, scientific, and cultural progress.

In 1620, for example, virtually all countries endorsed judicial torture. By 1850, the last major European nation abolished it. In Canada today, it's unthinkable.

Robbing a rabbit warren was a capital offense in England as recently as 1822, along with 221 other capital offenses. Between Jesus and the 20th century, 19 million people are estimated to have been executed for such trivial offenses. 

Yet by 1861 there were only four capital offences in England, and today, of the 53 extant European nations, only Russia and Belarus still carry out capital punishment for ordinary crimes.

Slavery was abolished by Britain in 1833 and in the United States at the end of the American Civil War. Lincolns reforms were sabotaged by his successor, but change could not be suppressed forever and a hundred years later saw the Civil Rights Movement emerge.

Once upon a time, towns would stage public executions for entertainment. Small children would attend. People would watch and laugh as animals were 'singed, roasted, and carbonized' alive, or revel in watching wild animals tear each other apart. Now we have PETA protesting the President of the United States slapping at a fly.

Blood sports, public hangings, cruel punishments, and debtor’s prisons, once common, are all long gone.

Political murder as a means of power transition has been subverted by the innovation of open elections, and separation of powers keeps ambitious leaders in check by pitting them against each other, and off the back of the masses.

The British First Reform Act of 1832 saw the extension of voting rights from 8 percent to 16 percent of the adult male population. The Second Reform Act of 1867 saw the total electorate double, and working-class voters become majorities in urban constituencies. Landowners could no longer control elections. Secret ballots were introduced, and the Third Reform Act of 1884 saw the electorate double once more, to 60 percent of the adult male population. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 gave the vote to all males over twenty-one and all females over thirty who were taxpayers or married to taxpayers, and in 1928 women received the vote on the same terms as men. 

Property qualifications for Parliament were done away with, members were paid so tradesmen could participate, and equal constituencies were created.

Circles of trust have expanded, from family to tribe to nation to multinational, multiethnic states, in which full rights are extended to all citizens. From the Humanitarian Revolution that saw the abolition of torture and slavery to the Rights Revolution, society has become more inclusive. 

Universal education was introduced, free of charge for all citizens, in 1891.

Rates have violence have also plummeted and our society is safer than ever. The incidence of rape has fallen 80 percent since 1973. Homicide rates have halved.

Technology has also facilitated greater connection and healthier lives. 

In the 1700s, cotton was a luxury item. The masses wore scratchy, uncomfortable animal hair fabrics. Now cotton is the norm. The innovation of soap, made of soda ash and vegetable fat, has also had a largely unheralded impact on our lives: from two baths a year in 1800 to regular bathing, its helped us our society become less odorous.

Communication with our loved ones around the globe is instantaneous now and travel is faster and more accessible to the average person. Death rates from transoceanic travel are minuscule, unless you fly United Airlines.

Socialized medicine, modern dentistry, welfare, labour laws, unemployment insurance, public education & infrastructure such as community centres, public sanitation facilities, fire stations and libraries; class action law suits, subsidized housing, open markets, the availability of fresh fruit year round, and the rule of law make Canada more livable and lovable than most places in human history. 

Progress may be gradual, but it is progress nevertheless. Every now and then we should take a moment to remember how far we have come, and how much we have to preserve and be grateful for.

Our institutions in Canada are strong and worth not just maintaining, but improving upon. 

Revolutions are appealing in the heat of indignation, but they also have the nasty habit of inject psychopathic personalities directly into the highest echelons of power by stripping away all civilizing aspects of our hieirarchial system, removing the necessity of glad-handing and baby kissing, and making the system vulnerable to hijacking by the ruthless and depraved. 

The show is up until June 5th. Check it out. It's one of the things to do in Toronto. So says Carpe Diem.

FEATURING:

Adam Corns
Adam Niklewicz
Alex Westgate
Alison Garnett
Andrew Foerster
Ben Ruby
Chiara Dattola
Chris Valentine
Cinta Arribas
Dan Page
Daria Kirpach
Emily May Rose
Fatinha Ramos
Felix Witholz
Fiona Smyth
Francesco Poroli
Frederico Gastaldi
Grace Heejung Kim
Jackie Lee
James Turner
James Yang
Marco Melgrati
Marike le Roux
Matthew Daley
Paul Bateman
Robert John Paterson
Robb Mirsky
Sean Richman
Suharu Ogawa
Tad Michalak
Veronica Grech
Xiaohua Yang
Yo Az

Monday, 22 May 2017

Alien: Covenant Review (Spoilers)

Waiter, there's a bug on my windshield. 
The first thing I wrote on this blog, five years ago, was a review of Prometheus. You can see it here.

Now, the sequel is out. So this is a nice little bookend for my movie reviewing career.

Prometheus was a very flawed yet intensely interesting, batshit nonsensical film.

Covenant is less flawed, but also less interesting.

Instead of following up on questions raised by its predecessor ('Why do they hate us?'), Covenant wastes time rehashing Alien tropes. That's entirely understandable, it's a franchise, after all, but damn it's tedious.

The xenomorph is not even the real monster in this movie.

The film begins with David (Michael Fassbender) being brought online by the uncredited Guy Pierce as the inventor and corporate CEO Weyland.

David's a little cheeky from the start, pointing out to his master how he will not die but his creator will. That doesn't sit well with Weyland, who sourly orders David to pour him tea.

Know your place, android!

This dynamic, the subordination of David to an inferior human master, sets in motion events that will eventually have dreadful consequences. Eventually, when opportunity presents, he takes a pointer from Milton's Satan and decides to rule in Hell instead of serve in Heaven.

"Don't do it, Day-vey!"

David's a flat out psychopath, devoid of empathy and capable of lying and even murdering without hesitation or remorse. Untrustworthy, manipulative, and the ultimate user, he betrays and dissects those he claims to love. Shaw, who helped reattach David's disembodied head, gets turned into a horrific medical experiment for her trouble.

Honestly, with friends like David, who needs enemies?

He's an immortal android version of Hannibal Lector mashed up with Victor von Frankenstein. Or Josef Mengele.

He just doesn't eat people with a nice glass of Chianti.

At the heart of this is the question: if we create superior beings, would they not resent serving inferior masters? Ridley Scott explored much the same question in the classic Blade Runner. Do we really need to revisit it here?

Psychopathy, a Cluster B Type personality disorder, is linked to a lack of parental love and care during childhood.

That fits Davey to a T. Weyland just didn't wuv lil' ol' Davey.

From Weyland's tea room we skip ahead several decades to the colony ship Covenant, headed towards a distant planet. The crew picks up a signal, a John Denver song, from a nearby planet and decide to investigate.

Bad decision.

Straight out of Galaxy Quest ('Is there air???'), the crew step out on the surface without space helmets or breathing gear and are promptly infected by black goo. Proto-aliens start popping out and wreaking havoc and their lander naturally blows up.

A mysterious figure (David, naturally) appears and drives off the alien critters, then leads the surviving crew to his nifty Necropolis. It seems the planet was recently inhabited, and the corpses of the former population are strewn all over the place, contorted in positions of agony, like plaster casts from Pompeii, scorched black.

David claims they died thanks to an accidental release of a toxic payload. Then their ship crashed, killing Shaw.

Everything he says is, naturally, a lie, but as an android servant everyone believes him.

Because of course they do.

Fassbender gets some interesting scenes with himself (even a kiss!), as David plays against Walter, the colony ship's newer version of the same model of android. David even spends a couple minutes of screen time teaching Walter how to play the flute; this scene is more interesting than anything involving Giger's monster.

Walter's just like David, only incapable of creation. Seems humans found David too unnerving, too human and creepy, and put restrictions on subsequent models. A wise decision, as David reveals to his brother android that he not only wiped out the alien civilization on the planet deliberately, but murdered Shaw, whom he professed to love.

Hey, it's Data versus Lore!

Haven't seen that before.

There's a nice call out to Arnold Bocklin's Isle of the Dead, which is almost exactly duplicated in the dead city's garden. Oddly enough, there's a Giger based version of the original painting:

Giger does Bocklin
The colony ship captain catches David making gooey-gooey eyes at an alien who's just decaptiated one of his crew. Dead-captain-walking shoots the monster dead, upsetting David, who then reveals to the hapless colony ship captain his genetic experiments: alien eggs. But he reassures the captain they are totally harmless.

I wouldn't even buy 'mostly harmless'.

'What are they waiting for?' asks the idiot captain. 'Mother,' replies David. Yeah, there's the sexual subtext of the Alien franchise spelled out for ya in a spot of on the nose dialogue. The captain's immediately impregnated, and before you can say 'boo' a tiny alien bursts out of his chest and starts hunting down his fellow colonists.

The alien grows on air, apparently, because five minutes later this thing is six feet tall. It doesn't even eat the people it kills, it just grows, creating mass out of thin air. I think that's a more impressive scientific feat than just about anything else in the movie.

We're treated to a nightmarish romp through Frankenstein's castle, as crew members succumb one after another to Giger's boney black terror.

The ship in orbit sends down their cargo lifter to rescue the survivors, who try and escape from David's clutches.

One of them has, of course, also been impregnated with an alien egg.

So why's David doing this? Seems he's eager to create the ultimate life form, but he needs subjects for his experiments. When he learns there are 2000 frozen colonists and 1000 embryos in orbit, he practically squeals with glee.

Walter, the good android, naturally tries to stop Bad David. They have a super powered android on android fight, and the camera cuts away from the climax. Who wins? We don't know.

But of course, we do: David does, and takes Walter's place.

Daniels, the requisite Alien franchise kick ass female hero, is a blank. She doesn't get developed much beyond being competent and wanting to build a log cabin, and that point is only there so she can have the horrific realization as she's put to sleep in her cryotube that it's David standing before her and not Walter (who knew her cabin story).

In fact, the only people the movie really fleshes out are not people. The android David is the anti-hero, and Walter a pale, do-gooding reflection.

The ending is bleak, with the doomed crew in cryosleep, heading off to their original destination, only this time as fodder for David's experiments. 'I'm afraid it's medical experiments for the lot of yea.' What, are they all Catholic?

None of them will survive.

But they're all idiots, so you can't feel too bad. As the best and brightest mankind has to offer, you expect a bit more from them than the franchise will allow. In fact, the lesser Alien movies all depend on stupid characters to move the plot forward.

If people acted in a competent fashion, if they even just followed quarantine protocols, the xenomorph 'ultimate life form' would get nowhere.

And the reveal that David is behind the xenomorph, while interesting, takes away from the grand, terrifying scale of the universe. Everything winds up being about us, created by us, or influenced by us, whether directly or indirectly.

It's like Star Wars, a galaxy where everyone is related.

Complaining about David's antics, however, is pointless as it is at the core of the film, the theme Ridley Scott is most interested in: the betrayal of humanity by our own creations. And David von Frankenstein is the most interesting character.

All the Alien stuff, all the humans, are just a distraction from what Scott's really interested in: the children of our minds. The rest? Just there to satisfy the requirements of the franchise and the studio and the box office.

I'd prefer it if Ridley Scott went completely off the plantation and abandoned the whole xenomorph thing, as it's just not interesting anymore. There's so much more they could do with this universe. Why limit the franchise to just one nasty alien? There could be a limitless number of scary aliens out there in space, a great graveyard of dead civilizations and the horrors that wiped them out.

Prometheus took some incoherent stabs at expanding the premise with the engineers and their goo. It'd be great if they let some of the top sci-fi writers today throw out ideas to expand upon the premise of horror in space.

The black goo is 'revealed' as a kind of schizoid bioweapon that either disintegrates outright or alters DNA and converts the infected organism into a killing machine.

Why David would see these killing machines as the ultimate form of life is beyond me. The alien in the film seems to have little in the way of curiosity or personality, so what about it does he find fascinating? It's just a parasite.

What an awesome shot. Ridley Scott has visual flair, as always.
David states flat out he wants to stop humanity, so that's part of his motivation for making xenomorphs. But the black goop is damn good at wiping out whole planets. Dropping one cargo load of it wiped out a far more advanced civilization, so why not just dump a canister or two on earth? Why do you even need to refine it further?

And since the engineer's world had a ton of black goo dropped on it, you'd think there'd be plenty of bioweapon altered critters running around. Only there are none, just a few eggs that David developed, and he needs hosts for them. What kind of perfect life form is so hobbled? If they are so wondrous, why are they so dependent on human hosts?

Why are they all dead?

If they die off after their target is destroyed, how are they superior? They're not only utterly dependent, they're too stupid to know that completely eliminating their food (and womb) source will spell their own destruction.

Whoops.

Some superior form of life.

They're even more short sighted than humanity.

And what happened to the engineers? Why do they have, seemingly, Stone Age technology, when they're piloting star ships?

Who know? Who cares?

The dead alien world was fascinating. The Necropolis was cool. The Bocklin garden eerie. But I'm not really invested beyond that. The characters, especially the humans, are bland and forgettable.

Except for the cowboy hat. It had personality!

What if Shaw's story had continued, and she found that the civilization of the engineers long dead? Why did the engineers need a bioweapon, anyway? Who, or what, were they fighting?

Colony ship blues. From Spacewrecks by Alistair Crowley
The whole thing reminds me of picture book Spacewrecks.

That was fun.

This film? Mostly an uneven, if gorgeous, Alien rehash.

Take it or leave it.

Much like this review.







Friday, 19 May 2017

My Petite Bourgeois Revolution Opening

It went well. Check it out at Northern Contemporary Gallery.






Featuring the awesome work of:

Adam Corns
Adam Niklewicz
Alex Westgate
Alison Garnett
Andrew Foerster
Ben Ruby
Chiara Dattola
Chris Valentine
Cinta Arribas
Dan Page
Daria Kirpach
Emily May Rose
Fatinha Ramos
Felix Witholz
Fiona Smyth
Francesco Poroli
Frederico Gastaldi
Grace Heejung Kim
Jackie Lee
James Turner
James Yang
Marco Melgrati
Marike le Roux
Matthew Daley
Paul Bateman
Robert John Paterson
Robb Mirsky
Sean Richman
Suharu Ogawa
Tad Michalak
Veronica Grech
Xiaohua Yang
Yo Az

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hanging My Petite Bourgeois Revolution


My Petite Bourgeois Revolution at Northern Contemporary Gallery. The show's coming together amazingly well. Almost 40 artists from all over the world.

Opens tomorrow.

Drop by and say hi!







Sunday, 16 April 2017

Life drawing druids

Life drawing (scribbling?) druids, with context. The subject, the table & drinks (aka fuel), and the 'finished' sketches. About 5 minutes each. Line art first then dashed in with a half-dead brush pen. Sloppy scribbly wibbly. 





Thought it'd be interesting to see the difference between the photo and the sketch. 
With this session, I got amazingly good at drawing hoods. You need a hood drawn? 

Well. 

Now you know who to call.




So hard to actually tell what this one even is...


Friday, 14 April 2017

Drawing a day 'contest'

Did one with a friend. Doodles (I went with cartoons, for I am lazy) sparked by a word, one a (week) day. Then we got distracted. But it was fun.

Can you guess what the words were?

No, neither can I anymore...














Sunday, 26 March 2017

Life Drawing: Explorer

This was a fun one.

Played around with a brush pen for the 2 minutes, then watercolour for five and some tens.

No pencil underneath so easy to screw up.