Episode 32: The masks we wear

(21 July 2020)

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Perry: Hello and welcome to Episode 32 of this little podcast we call Two Chairs Talking. My name is Perry Middlemiss and I’m joined by my co-host as always David Grigg. Hello David.

David: Hi Perry, how’s things with you?

Perry: Not too bad. Although things have changed a little since our last episode, David, as you’ll be aware.

David: Yes, I went for a walk this morning wearing a mask for the first time. A mask my daughter had sewed up and given to me and so it wasn’t, you know, it was a nice mask but it’s a bit more effort to walk up a hill while you’re wearing a mask.

Perry: For those that are across this or are going to be listening to this some time down the track, since our last episode we have been moved back into stage three lock down in the Melbourne Metropolitan area and as of Wednesday this week and only two days after we are recording this, we have to go for mandatory mask wearing outside the house. So getting into it and learning how to use masks...

David: I’m going around [inaudible], yeah.

Perry: Yeah, that’s basically what I’ve been doing this well. I’ve been wearing one for about the last week or so and I’ve got some cloth ones on order, so I’m just going to get used to wearing them and you could see it was going to happen.

David: I’m pleased they’ve done it to be honest.

Perry: I think they had to. I really think it was just going to be a matter of time and we’ve got there now and so that can only be a good thing, so that’s good. But I guess this extra lockdown gives us lots more time sitting around the house, David, wondering what we gonna do?

David: That’s the theory, but so that’s...

Ad Astra

Perry: The theory, so maybe what’s the best thing to do is to talk about, as we gave a bit of a hint at last week about what we’ve been watching, film and television indeed. So let me start off David, I watched a film from 2019 just recently called Ad Astra. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but this is a sort of...

David: I’m aware of it, but I haven’t seen it.

Perry: It’s basically a Brad Pitt vehicle. So this comes from the last year directed by James Gray, written by James Gray, and Ethan Gross. I think he was story editor and writer for The Fringe TV series. I’m not sure if you remember that when it ran for seven or eight seasons, sometime about 10 years ago. Now, this particular film stars Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. I’ll give you a brief rundown of it, and then give you my feelings about what I thought of it. So basically, Brad Pitt’s the son of a scientist, and astronaut who’s Tommy Lee Jones, Tommy Lee Jones is the father. Brad Pitt’s the son, sorry...

Sometime 20 to 30 years ago Tommy Lee Jones took off on a expedition to Neptune to try and run an experiment out by Neptune to see whether it was possible to contact intelligent life somewhere else in the Galaxy. He goes missing right and at the time that he goes missing Brad Pitt is 10 or something like that doesn’t really matter. He grows up to be an astronaut in his own right, and when the movie starts, the inner solar system is being bombarded by these very large clouds of ionized gas which are causing major blackouts in electrical systems and communication systems all around the inner solar system. As you could imagine, most of the authorities are not terribly happy about that and have tracked it back and realized that it is actually coming from somewhere around Neptune. They realized then that the experiment or the ship that was used for the experiment is orbiting Neptune. And so they decide that probably the best thing to do is to get Brad Pitt, son of the leader of this expedition, to actually send him a message and see whether this guy will respond to them.

So anyway, Brad Pitt gets taken off to the moon. He basically has to go through the Luna settlement and work his way through over to where they gotta take him off and go off to Mars and a number of things happened on the moon, which I think are a bit silly, but anyway... So then he flies off to Mars. He goes off to Mars and he lands at Mars and he then sends a message off to the ship, and lo and behold, for whatever... it just seems like the film seems to imply that there’s almost an instantaneous response from the particular ship, even though their flight they’re sending their message from Mars out to Neptune.

David: Forget about the speed of light, yeah.

Perry: Don’t worry about that, just hand-wavy stuff. Don’t worry about that, but they won’t tell Brad Pitt what the answer to the message is. Now they tell him that there actually... because the guys that actually took him from the moon over to Mars are actually going to take the ship from Mars out to Neptune, but Brad Pitt’s not supposed to be on it, but he smuggles his way on anyway. With a bit of help from the leader of the Mars Station. So he gets on the ship. And of course there’s a little bit of an altercation, and all the rest of the guys die. Isn’t that amazing? And then he goes off and they get to Neptune and he finds out that his father is—yes—still alive.

Now I won’t go into too much detail about whatever else happens in this particular film, because basically I think it’s a complete nonsense.

Yeah, I think the major problem with this particular film is that it is completely uninteresting. There’s nothing here that’s new. According to the director, the director came out and said before the film was made that he wanted to depict how space travel would actually happen. Well, if you wanted to depict how space travel is going to happen, I don’t want to watch it because it’s going to be deathly boring. Because it’s doing exactly what I’m currently doing: sitting in a small environment trying to keep yourself occupied for days and days and days on end. It is inherently boring. Now, if you like the idea of a film where you have two hours of Brad Pitt looking stoic and basically not emoting at all, this is probably the film for you.

Now, I think that the reason why he doesn’t emote at all is that they’re making a point of the fact that in all the time that he’s been in the astronaut program, his heart rate’s never gone above 80 beats per minute. So as you can see, the guy’s deathly boring, doesn’t want to do it.. No, it’s, it’s just terrible. This film is really... Look, there’s nothing you can look at it and sort of say well that doesn’t work and that doesn’t work and that doesn’t work, but it’s just uninteresting and it’s completely anti-science as well. Do you remember the film from the mid to late 90s called Event Horizon with Sam Neill?

David: I remember seeing promos for it, but I never saw the film.

Perry: This is very much like it. It’s very much. It’s almost like a remake of that particular thing. The same sort of thing goes on, and what it comes down to is that this is an anti-science film. One particular thing.. there’s two things. There’s two things that happen in this, where there is an outcome of a scientific experiment, the one is out at the station and everything goes wrong there. Because, of course, if you go out and you try to undertake a scientific experiment, it’s going to send you mad, which is which is the premise of Event Horizon And secondly, there’s one particular instance between the moon and Mars, the ship’s traveling along and they intercept a mayday signal. Now Brad Pitt goes up to the captain says, “Well, look, I’m sorry but you can’t stop. This is a top secret mission that we’re on here and I’m a very, very important person [who] has to get to Mars by this particular time, you can’t stop.” But the captain says, “No, no, no. This is a mayday we actually have to stop,” OK, so they stop now. Firstly, this question of what the bloody hell is this Norwegian space station doing out somewhere between the moon and Mars just out in the middle of nowhere? I mean, I would have thought that if you’re going to put a space station out to do research, you either put it orbiting something or you put it at one of the Lagrangian points so it doesn’t go anywhere. You just stick it there and leave it there, not way that the middle of nowhere.

So of course they decide they’re going to send off an away team to go off from their particular vessel to go off to the research station to find out what’s going on and why they sent out a mayday call. So who do they send? The captain and Brad Pitt, so they send the two most important people in the whole bloody ship and they send them over there, right? OK, fair enough. So they go. And when they get into the, get into the research station, they go all the way right through. And of course, what’s happened? This virus research experiment that’s gone wrong and there’s this primate of some description that looks very, very nasty that has basically killed all the crew and then decides to go chomping on the captain as well when they get in there. This is just... as soon as I got to that point I think...

David: That sounds like a mess.

Perry: Oh, it’s a mess. And then, of course, when they go they fly between... he’s the only one left because because all the rest of them have died after he gets on the on the ship going between Mars and Neptune. He gets onto the [ship], he gets there and he’s going off and of course you know, it’s like when you’re driving between say Melbourne and Sydney, David, you absolutely have to go through Albury-Wodonga and pass Canberra and they stay exactly in the same place? So of course when you go between Mars and Neptune, you have to go past Jupiter and there it is in the background and then you have to go past Saturn and there it is in the background. Now I know that when the...

David: Fortunate, very fortunate planetary lineup there.

Perry: I know that when the Voyager spacecraft went out, that was done, specifically because there was that planetary alignment and ever since then all film makers seem to think that when you go out that everything stays in exactly the same place relative to every other planet, and I’m looking at this and I’m just shaking my head and going, sorry, this has got to get better, and guess what, it just doesn’t so I can not recommend this film at all. It’s boring, it’s a waste of time. As I said, if you like watching Brad Pitt being stoic for two hours, this is the film for you. Otherwise, totally forget it.

David: All right, I’ll take it off my TV watch list. Then I would do that for sure.


David: All right, I don’t watch a lot of movies for various reasons, and so it’s quite often a while before we catch up with a movie. I think I’ve said before that both my wife and I are a little bit hard of hearing and we often find it hard to work out what’s going on in dialogue if we go to the cinema. So we then we tend to watch stuff at home, use the closed captions which make life easy for us, so it can be well before I get to see a particular movie.

The movie I’m going to talk about is Yesterday, which came out in 2019. I think. Last year. It’s directed by Danny Boyle. The screenplay is by Richard Curtis, so immediately you say that you know it’s going to be some sort of romantic comedy type-ish thing. So Richard Curtis wrote Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and yes, Love Actually, but you can’t win ‘em all.

This is a nice lighthearted film. My wife and I watched this a while ago and really enjoyed it. It features this young man, Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel who is trying to make a name for himself as a singer-songwriter, but he’s going nowhere. He performs at a local music festival to an audience of about five people, all of whom he’s known since high school. So This is why they’ve come, to support him. They cheer him on and his friend Eli, who’s played by Lily James, who’s a girl he’s known since school. She’s acting like an unofficial agent, trying to trying to get him going. But it’s pretty clear that Jack doesn’t have much of a future in the music industry.

Until one night, there’s a strange shift in the world. So this particular night electricity suddenly stops all over the world for a matter of a few minutes. No explanation for why, of course, but you take that as part of the essence of the film. Electricity stops everywhere, including on vehicles like buses and cars and things. And Jacks who’s cycling along, is hit by a bus, because the headlights of the bus have gone out and his lights on his bike have gone out and so he’s knocked off his bike and he has facial injuries and loses several teeth.

But once he’s back on the road to recovery, after this he’s sort of coming back to normal and he’s sitting with his friends and he starts playing some music for them on his guitar. He plays some of his own songs and they say, Oh yeah, don’t you have anything new? So no but, I’ll play you a classic and he plays Yesterday by Paul McCartney. And his friends are blown away by this and they say “What a great song, why didn’t you play it before, why haven’t we heard it before?” and he says, “Oh well, you know, you know, you know this song by The Beatles... You know, Paul McCartney of The Beatles.”—“Who?”—“The Beatles”—“Never heard of them”. And he thinks they are just pulling his leg and so he gets really pissed off and storms off because he’s sure that they just having a go at him.

But when he talks to other people around, nobody else seems to remember The Beatles. And so he Googles it. He goes and Googles things as you do. Google’s “The Beatles”. He gets pictures of insects with feelers and things, and he Googles, “John, Paul, Ringo, George” and all he sees is information about Pope John Paul II. He finally realizes that he’s somehow gone into a timeline where The Beatles never existed. But Jack remembers all their songs and because he’s a guitar player, he can reproduce them pretty well, even if he has... Sometimes he has trouble remembering all the lyrics For example, “Eleanor Rigby darning the holes in... No, no!” So he has a bit of trouble remembering all the lyrics.

Jack has some success playing some of these songs he knows, he remembers from The Beatles in pubs and things. And Ed Sheeran the British musician who’s playing himself in the film hears Jack playing this music in a pub, and so he picks Jack up as a support act. Ed Sheeran’s going on a tour to Russia, and he hires Jack as a support act. And while he’s in Russia of course Jack plays Back in the USSR, which goes down a real treat with the young Russian audience.

And so it doesn’t take long before success descends on Jack and he gets picked up by, you know, sort of the serious music industry, but it comes with a lot of downsides because he’s now being managed by the industry professionals, and so he’s trying to play, for example, Hey Jude—“Who’s this Jude guy? No, look, it’s gotta be dude, Hey Dude, Yeah, that’s what it’s got to be Hey Dude.” So you know so he gives in some places.

Along the way he encounters a couple of older people who do remember The Beatles and he realizes that they, they’ve sussed him. They know that he’s playing this stuff that other people have written and he thinks they’re going to expose him and he finally gets to meet up with them. But they are absolutely incredibly grateful because they too have remembered The Beatles, but it doesn’t exist in their world anymore. And he’s bringing back the music that they’re so grateful to be able to listen to and so that’s kind of this kind of nice.

Anyway, so it’s a clever movie with some nice touches, very lighthearted, sort of stuff, and there’s some very funny bits with Jack’s family who really don’t quite get it. He’s trying to for the first time play, Let It Be. You know this sort of really soulful sort of thing on the home piano and his family keep going: “Oh, you know, uncle Jack, uncle Bob’s coming in to listen to you just wait for him to come.”—“But Aunt Mary is coming too”, you know, “Just wait on”, you know... It’s a lot of fun and there’s a there’s a really, really touching scene further down the track where Jack, with the help of these two people who remember The Beatles manages to track down one of tthe band members, the original band members of The Beatles, I won’t tell you which one, whose life has taken a very different turn in this new timeline. And of course there’s lots of Beatles music, which makes it terrific so, uh, I enjoyed this. It’s not a serious movie. It’s science fiction in the sense that there’s this time shift. This split in the timeline. But yeah, a lot of fun. So if you haven’t seen it before I would recommend it.

Perry: Yeah. I have seen this and I really enjoyed it as well. I can heartily agree that it is a good fun film, I really liked it. I really like some nice little touches there where when he’s basically Googling The Beatles to be able to see whether they are there and Googles John, Paul, George and Ringo and only gets the Pope. Then he decides to Google Oasis, and he gets nothing other than Justin Waters he goes “Oh yeah” and then he just moves on. He doesn’t take another step because yeah, that makes sense so off he goes. The Gallaghers basically said that they based all their music on The Beatles and without The Beatles, there was nothing.

There was a bit of controversy about this particular film or has come out since in that the original screenplay seems to have been written by somebody else, and I’m not sure of the full details, but what it sounds like was that the script was put up, basically was bought, decided that they were going to change it, and the new scriptwriter just thought that they would change a few things, but there’s a large amount that’s still the same as the original screenplay. But the poor guy that did the original screenplay hasn’t really received the recognition that he should have, which is a bit of a pity. Now I know I read somewhere recently an article about this where he was saying about what had happened and he was still trying to get, well, not so much recompense, but just basically recognition. Because of course, once you’ve got a good credit on a film that’s done very well you’ve got a lot better chance of being able to get further scripts down the track because people look at your track record to see what you’ve actually produced, so hopefully things will work out in that way. I don’t know the full details. I’m not going to cast aspersions on anybody in terms of what was done, how it was done, because I just don’t know the story, but there is a bit in the background there so that’s interesting, you know?

And yeah, but it’s a good film and I would recommend it. It’s a light film, slightly genre adjacent purely on the basis that you know, sort of like an alternate timeline is very well. That’s right, things don’t quite work out for one thing...

David: There’s another trouser leg of time.

Perry: Yeah, that’s right, there’s another couple a little differences further down the track as well, which are quite worthwhile hanging around and waiting to the end for and it’s good stuff. I enjoyed it.

The Mandalorian

Perry: So I moved onto TV a bit as well, which I have been watching a bit of television as you do when you’re stuck in at home and don’t know really what to do and one that I watched recently was The Mandalorian this is from the end of last year: my kids watched it all at the end of last year and I go “yeah I don’t always get to that” or you know. And then I thought “Well, let’s have a little bit of a look at it”. Now this is on the Disney+ streaming system. It’s eight episodes of 30 minutes each, so it’s quite short. It’s set in the Star Wars universe. Now I don’t know how well you remember your original trilogy of Star Wars films.

David: I remember the original trilogy but I don’t think I ever... I saw one of the prequels.

Perry: Yeah, go back to the original go to the second one [The Empire Strikes Back], which a lot of people actually think is probably the best written, written by Leigh Brackett. Well aas you know Han Solo throughout the whole of the first two films is basically he’s a bit of a renegade and a bit of an outlaw and there’s a bounty on his head and he gets captured near the end of the second film and stuck in this big sort of frozen carbon cage and dragged off in the third film to Jabba the Hutt, who has paid for his bounty.

Now the race of the Bounty Hunter is a Mandalorian. He’s one of the race of the Mandalorians. Well, race is probably not quite right because there’s sort of like a sect more than anything else because they don’t actually have a race, they basically find members of the sect from foundling children who they bring into the sect and then raise up. Now these are kids that they teach to be high level warriors who can go out and undertake bounty hunting missions for people on commission. they are taught that they have to wear a particular uniform the whole time, and they have to wear a helmet from about the age of 10 which completely encloses their face and head to the extent that no human being ever sees their face after the age of 10. That’s quite interesting. But anyway, so this is the first of the Star Wars Universe TV series that’s been produced, it’s set about five years after the third film. That’s The Return of the Jedi and about 20 years prior to The Force Awakens, which is the next one in the series if you want to get to that particular level.

Now, Mando, as he’s called by a lot of them, is tasked with acquiring what’s referred to as The Asset now this is now no longer a spoiler to say that The Asset here is a baby Yoda. It’s all referred to as a baby Yoda, remember Yoda from the first set of films. Well, he was of this same race. This particular asset that the client wants to retrieve is a baby of that particular race, so he’s a tiny little thing, but looks exactly like old Yoda. Now. The interesting thing about this is that the client who hires the Mandalorian to retrieve baby Yoda is played by the German director Werner Hertzog. Odd that he’s basically turns up, he does a very good menacing character in this particular film series, and so he appears two or three times at the beginning and down at the end again.

Anyway, so the creator of this particular series is Jon Favreau, who a lot of people might know from the Marvel Comics universe. But if you’re not into that particular run of things his name probably means nothing to you at all. The main actors in it, Pedro Pascal, who was in Game of Thrones, played Oberyn Mantel, who people will remember, had his head crushed by the Mountain. Lots of fun that one that episode. Carl Weathers who was in Rocky and of course Werner Hertzog.

So basically this is really a western more than anything else right? It’s basically a bounty hunter goes off, gets baby Yoda, captures the baby brings it back to the client. Then gets an attack of the guilts, really thinking what the hell do they want this baby for? You’re not supposed to ask that question. You’re supposed to basically get the job, do the job, finish the job, bring them, bring the asset back, get paid and then forget all about it. But he can’t forget all about it and decides he wants to go and check out to find out what they’re going to do with it. He believes they’re going to conduct a number of experiments on it, so he rescues the baby and takes off. The rest of the particular series is about all the other bounty hunters around the place, not the Mandalorians, but everybody else that was out there trying to get the asset, trying to get the asset back.

The best of the episodes was the last one, number 8, which is called “Redemption”. This is directed by the New Zealand director Taika Waititi who directed JoJo Rabbit and Thor Ragnarok. Now this particular episode number 8 is the best of the ones that are there. It’s probably the longest. It’s probably about 45 minutes. That’s the one that’s been nominated for the 2020 Hugo Dramatic Presentation Short Feature So that’s basically one of the reasons why I kicked it off. Once it gets onto the ballot, I thought that was probably a good idea to watch it. This is the first season there’s going to be another season out in October 2020. I thought this is pretty good. I enjoyed it. Very light, very much a shoot-em-up Western and there’s not a lot to think about here at all, but worthwhile if you, especially if you’re a Star Wars aficionado and you have to see the whole lot if you want to get to episode 8 because the rest of it is not going to make any sense. The episode on its own is not going to make any sense. If you want to see it before the Hugos, which you better get onto because they’re going to be...

David: Closing in two days and...

Perry: I think the voting closes in about two days. Yeah, so you better get a move on, and certainly worthwhile having to look at if you’ve got nothing else to do in the lockdowns.

David: Well, I must confess I’m not really much of a Star Wars aficionado. I did see the original movies when I was young and callow, a long time ago. And they were were a lot of fun...

Perry: Long time ago now, it’s what? 42, 43 years, right?

David: Sounds about right. Yeah, probably more.

Perry: 1978 was it?

David: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, that’s right. So a heck of a long time ago, but anyway, so I saw those and enjoyed them. And then George Lucas came out with these ill fated prequels. And I saw one of those, and I thought, no, this is it. Don’t matter. I’m outta here and I’ve never really gone back and so that’s where I stand. As far as I know I did have a look at the first episode of The Mandalorian, no, this is not my kind of thing, but it’s fine if you’re into the Star Wars mode, that’s true.

Tales from the Loop

David: Right now I’m gonna have a bit of a rave and I hope I didn’t bore you with it, but I’m really, really impressed by a TV series called Tales From the Loop. I mentioned it before on the podcast, and it’s from Amazon Prime, an Amazon Original. It’s written by someone called Nathaniel Halpern and it was inspired by the book and paintings by Swedish artist. If his name was English, it would be Simon Stalenhag, but I think in Swedish it would be Simon Stolenhug, something like that. Apologies to all our Swedish listeners.

Perry: Do we have any? Sorry, never mind.

David: This is one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen I think in a long time and I can’t praise it highly enough. Now it’s science fiction, but it probably won’t appeal to you if you’re interest in science fiction is far flung Galactic Empires and civilizations set millions of years in the future. This is not that kind of science fiction at all.

So there are eight episodes. It would be nice to see a second season, but I’m not sure it’s actually going to be possible to have a second season. But anyway, the first season anyway is eight episodes. Each of the episodes is a very distinct story, but it’s linked to the others by the setting and the characters. A lot of the characters move from one episode to the next, and so it’s science fiction that I like a lot. It’s done in a way I really like. It’s got a very light touch with the technology and the scientific stuff, it concentrates very heavily on the characters and really the lives of ordinary people who are impacted in various ways by some kind of weirdness or strangeness. So everything is very subtle, and it’s a little understated. Little melancholy. Much of the background music is by Philip Glass, which I think is perfectly suited to the mood of this thing.

So what’s it about? Well, the setting is this small American town set in a rural, pretty much rural sort of environment, there are farms around and what seems to be a large forest or a wood nearby, but almost everyone in the town works for an institution called simply The Loop. Now this facility is underground beneath the town and in the first episode, we see a large number of people who are arriving for work and they’re walking down this ramp to get in. So for quite a while we don’t know what The Loop is, what goes on there, and we never fully understand it, which I think is fine. It’s nice to have things left up in the air and a bit uncertain.

The environment above the ground around the town and particularly the rural areas in the forest, this is scattered with discarded bits of old rusting machinery and technology. There’s even a few discarded robots, big chunky robots which are all controlled by hydraulics, and there are three huge towers which sort of stand there and sort of got a bit of a neon light on them. These three huge towers dominate the landscape, but we never find out what they’re for, which is fine. It’s all very subtle and all these things are quite often you see these bits of technology just in the background while people are walking and so it’s very subtle, but always this sort of feeling of strangeness in this otherwise very ordinary sort of place.

So I’m going to talk in quite a bit of detail about the first episode in particular. I won’t give real spoilers away, but I don’t think spoilers actually matter. It turns out, because I watched the whole first season by myself, which is kind of what we quite often do. I watch something and then I say to my wife, “you know you would probably like to watch this”. And then I sit and watch it with her. We did this with For All Mankind, and to my great surprise, when on that second viewing of For All Mankind I discovered there was an episode I had never seen, which was very strange. Anyway. But because I’d seen this, I was enthusing about it. My wife decided she would like to watch it too, and so we watched the first episode a couple of nights ago. But she was so intrigued by the first episode that she wanted to watch it again. So I’ve now watched the first episode three times and I have to tell you, I enjoyed it every time, I had new insights into what was going on in every watching.

So I’ll describe this first episode, and I want to give you a bit of a feel of what the show is like. So the first episode is entitled simply “Loop” and we start off with this young girl who’s maybe 10 or 11 years old and her name is Loretta. It’s winter. It’s been snowing there. Icicles hanging from the eaves of the house. So she arrives at home one day from school and she’s just in time to witness a furious argument between her mother, who Loretta calls Alma and a man who is from The Loop. And it’s something to do with something that her mother has taken from The Loop without authority. She’s taken it home. Her mother says that it’s for an experiment. Anyway, one night Loretta is in her room and she’s dancing to some music and the power goes out and so she creeps downstairs and she finds her mother in her study. She’s being lit up by this kind of unearthly glow. Suddenly all the windows shatter, and frightened, the young girl runs back to bed.

Now the next day at school, there’s been a test, a math test I think, and the teacher hands back all the results to the kids and Loretta’s done really well and the teacher says that her mother will be very proud of her. So proudly holding this piece of paper with the test, to show her mother, Loretta waits outside the entrance to The Loop for her mother to come out. But she never arrives, never comes out of the place. So Loretta sighs and walks home. But when she gets home, the house is completely gone. There’s absolutely nothing left, just a bare field of snow. And she stares at this for a while and in the very center of this field of snow is a small oddly shaped black object which the girl picks up. And obviously she’s... you know, her mother is not there, she is distressed, she’s bewildered, very upset and so she goes wandering, calling out for her mother Alma in the forest.

Loretta meets a young boy about her own age. His name is Cole, who wants to help her and he takes her home to meet, to see if his parents can help her find out where her mother’s gone, to know where the house is gone too for that matter. But Cole’s mother, who works at The Loop, is very busy. She’s actually in the middle of a meeting and Cole can’t get her attention to address the problems of the young girl has. So the mother goes on with the meeting and the kids leave. And a bit later on there’s a call at home and the mother answers the phone and she’s being rung by the guard at the entrance to The Loop and he tells her that her son Cole and a little girl came looking for someone called Alma. And Cole’s mother is staggered by this. She is really obviously emotionally rocked by this fact and her legs wobbling she sits on the floor.

So eventually—I can’t go much further without spoiling the whole thing, but there is an eventual revelation and you understand at that point what’s been going on. It’s pretty strange indeed, and we also discover in that episode that the heart—she calls it the beating heart—of The Loop is this huge spherical object Called the Eclipse and it’s a piece of this strange perhaps alien object which Loretta’s mother Alma had stolen and experimented on and which seems to have caused this strange thing to happen, and which her young daughter eventually returns back to back to the body of the Eclipse. So this is a bare outline of it, but it’s just full of really moving scenes. Many tears and emotional insights and it’s beautifully done.

One thing I must say is that the child actors throughout the whole series are really extremely good. There are three of them about this sort of age of 10, or 11 or 12. Just to name them: the young girl Loretta is played by Abby Ryder Fortson, Cole is played by Duncan Joiner, and (in a later episode) Danny’s deaf sister Beth, of a similar age, is played by Alexandra de Sa Pereira. The teenage actors are also all very good.

So I’ll just briefly go over the other episodes so you know what they’re about. In the second episode, which is called “Transpose”, Cole’s brother Jakob, and his best friend Danny discover a strange hollow spherical object, one of these pieces of discarded equipment. And like all the other discarded gear is rusting, it’s got flaking paint, looks very industrial, and it looks like it’s been there quite some time. Jakob climbs in this thing to investigate what it is and while he’s in it experiences this weird sensation and suddenly we discover that he’s actually swapped minds with his friend Danny who’s standing outside. And they kind of panic about this, but then they experiment and they find that they can reverse it, switch their minds back again. Seems quite reversible with this device doing this thing to them. And so just for a lark, they decide to go home in their swapped bodies. So Danny goes to Jakob’s House and Jakob to Danny’s house, each in others body just for a day. That’s the idea. This is just for fun. See what it’s like.

But then after a while Danny in Jakob’s body decides that he doesn’t want to swap back. I won’t give way too many spoilers. But it’s worthwhile saying that Danny’s family end up with their son in hospital in a permanent coma.

The third episode—I won’t go into huge detail into every everything, but I just want to cover the ground. So in the third episode, which is called “Stasis”, a teenage girl discovers a device which lets her freeze time, freeze everybody’s motion, the motion of everything except the people who are wearing one of these two strange bracelets. Yeah, she has this bracelet on and she can see everything freeze and there’s another bracelet so she gives this other bracelet after she’s experimented with this for a while, she gives this other bracelet to a boy that she’s fallen for and they spent quite some time together in this state of stasis while the rest of the world is frozen. But alas, the course of true love doesn’t run smooth

And the fourth episode is barely science fiction at all. It’s just... It’s really just a story about aging, loss and grieving. Because Cole’s grandfather, Russ, who it turns out is the creator of The Loop. He was played by Jonathan Pryce, who you might remember from Game of Thrones. He was the High Sparrow in Game of Thrones. He was also the protagonist in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. If you remember way back. He tells his family that he’s dying, but young Cole has been very close to his grandfather and he just can’t bear the thought of this loss and there’s this really nice interplay about, you know this poor boy who’s grieving at the thought of his grandfather dying. And then when his grandfather does die. So the science fiction element in that is barely there at all.

Probably enough, I don’t think I want to go into the last few episodes, but it’s worth saying, I think, that each of these episodes, these eight episodes, each has a different director, I think this is by design and there’s a very slightly different feel to all them because each one has a different director, one of whom I might add is Jodie Foster, the actor. She directs the final episode.

So I just think this is terrific. This is just really human stories, interesting science fictional ideas and themes, but it’s just really how these strange things impact on the lives of these very ordinary people and how it all works out. So I highly recommend this. I really think if you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth going through. It may not appeal to you. I mean you may be the kind of person who likes your science fiction with rocket ships and alien creatures with tentacles, but to me this is the best of science fiction where it’s just a slight bit of strangeness and human beings in pretty much the circumstances that we can easily empathize with them, recognize. So anyway there we are. I’ve talked more than enough about this particular series, but I definitely recommend it.

Perry: Did you say originally that they it’s based on a series of paintings by a Swedish artist.

David: Yes, Simon Stålenhag.

Perry: So they’ve really transported it from Sweden, its original setting into the Midwest or that middle part of the US. Has that worked?

David: I think it has, yeah. I originally thought it was meant to be set in Canada because in the credits there’s casting credits for Toronto and Winnipeg, but there’s a little bit of an intro by Jonathan Pryce, which is interesting, because having seen the first episode three times now, I don’t remember this little intro the first time I saw it, and I’m actually almost wondering whether they added it after I saw the first episode. Or maybe I just ignored it the first time through. But it’s a little bit of an intro where he explains how he set up this Institute called The Loop. I think, like a lot of these kind of explanatory episodes, I think of the other one with the cinematic release of Dark City where you have this explanation that the producers have kind of forced the director to put in so that people understand what’s going on. You know. And I actually think that this season would have been... The series would be better without this little intro, but anyway he explains that he set up this Mercer Center in the town of Mercer in Ohio. That’s where he says it is set, but I originally thought it was all Canadian, but no, apparently not.

Perry: Sounds like something we should look for.

David: I think you should keep an eye out for.

Perry: You know you have mentioned it before and it’s one of those ones that I’m absolutely going to have to try and catch up on. Look at a bit of time so this should be able to do that there too much trouble, so that’s good.

The Old Guard

Perry: Well, staying on streaming services I have just recently watched a Netflix original movie called The Old Guard. This was actually only released a touch over a week ago, I think, so it’s pretty fresh. It’s probably about as fresh as we’ve ever been, David, I think.

Now, this particular film is based on a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka. I looked him up, he’s done a lot of work over the last 10 to 15 years in the DC universe with Batman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl, but he’s also done some work with Marvel as well. Now, this graphic novel series is from 2017 from Image Comics, not a publisher I know much about, but I haven’t really been reading a lot of comics over the last 20 years, so things have moved on since I was into it. Now he’s written the screenplay for this as well. And by the way, there’s a second graphic novel series that was released in 2019, so that would lead you to believe that if this one is popular, chances are they’ll do a follow up.

Now it’s directed by a woman called Gina Prince-Bythewood, who I know nothing about at all. The film stars Charlize Theron, who I don’t think really needs any introduction, and also includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in The Martian, Doctor Strange, 12 Years a Slave and so on. He’s done a lot of work and he plays a character that comes in at the beginning and is one of the drivers of the plot throughout most of this, but let me give you a bit of a background about what it is.

First off, I should say right at the very beginning, this is a fairly violent film. There’s a lot of people that are shot and cut and stabbed, and everything else and get killed in a lot of ways, but basically it’s not one of those films that glorifies in the violence. So I had a bit of a look at it again this morning just to remind myself for the first 10 or 15 minutes. And they do say that it’s got strong violent themes and gore. Well, there wasn’t much in the way of gore, but there’s no lingering shots on dead bodies. If you remember, it’s sort of like a slightly more updated version of the Westerns again, where people get shot, they fall over, that’s it. I don’t know if people have seen John Wick, for example, which this reminded me of in a number of ways which we’ll probably get to; again, you get a number of people there that are shot and killed, and there’s a massive number of people that get shot. But they get shot they fall down in the dirt. That’s it, so there’s no lingering. There’s no gore. There’s no heads exploding. All that sort of stuff. Which is a good thing.

So anyway, first off, what happens is that when it first starts, the film starts when there’s a shot of obviously somebody standing in some army boots and some army uniform with a whole lot of bullet shells landing on the ground, and then it pans back and moves around and you see these four dead bodies on the ground shot up all to heck, all over the place and there’s lots of shells around everywhere and there’s a voice over which is in the voice of Charlize Theron, who says, “oh, it’s happened again” or something like “this happened again I’m just so sick of this. I’m just so tired of it all.” And then it cuts and then it goes through to Morocco.

So you’ve got Charlize Theron walking through the back streets of Morocco in Marrakech and meet up with three other men. And it comes out that she is the leader and the oldest, the leader of this group of mercenaries and they are the ones that are on the floor in the very first part of the of the film. So you think on what’s going on here and you will soon find out that basically they haven’t done any work for 12 months and they have been contacted by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who’s playing a ex-CIA operative. He left the CIA, but has decided to get back into the intelligence business once again, and she’s got in contact with him because he’s got an urgent mission that he needs to have undertaken. Somewhere in South Sudan, a school for girls has been attacked and all the girls have been kidnapped and they’ll be taken to a particular fortress out in the middle of the desert.

Now it’s quite obvious that the girls are going to be dispersed and moved out, and basically I don’t know, turned into sex slaves or something of that sort. The CIA operative has asked this group of four people if they will, through Charlize Thereon, whether they will go in and rescue all the girls. First off, she doesn’t want to do it, but then when she finds out that they are the girls there and there’s this article in the New York Times about the UN condemning the attack on this particular school. She decides like out we’d best go in there and find out. And so they turn up. They break into the camp. There’s all these girls’ shoes outside this particular store room where they’re being kept. They go into the storeroom and go down and suddenly all the lights come on and they realize it’s a trap. And they’re all shot, complete, about 20 guys come out and just absolutely blast them with submachine guns. And so they just get blasted all to hell with this submachine guns and they all die and land up on the floor. So all the guys that have shot them all up sort of go around, “Yep OK we’ve done a good job. We’ve got ‘em all there.” And then all four of them gradually wake up and stand up. And then fight back, and kill them all.

And what you find out is that this group of four are a group of four immortals, who for all intents and purposes are immortals. They have lived for vast numbers of years. The youngest one was discovered during the Napoleonic Wars, so he’s only been around for 200 years. The two other ones, the two other males, who are in a gay relationship, which is just completely accepted. It is in there in the background, which is really quite good. It’s just it’s just there all the time. Nothing’s explained about it well, just that’s what happens. They actually explain at one point that they met during the first crusade and they were on opposite sides and they kept on killing each other over a number of years until they got to the point where they decided this is ridiculous. I keep killing you and you keep coming back.

And the other one, the character played by Charlize Theron is Andromeda of Cytheria. That’s her name. But she gets called Andy, but it’s just easier to say than Andromeda of Cytheria, I guess. Now, if you have a little bit of research, ever look back into this, you find out that she is somewhere in the vicinity of 3,000 to 5,000 years old.

So they basically get away from this first set up and they realized that somebody is trying to capture them. This guy, the CIA operative has set them up and they’re trying to be captured by somebody, but they don’t know what’s going on. While they’re escaping they basically hitch a ride on a freight train, are sitting there discussing what happened and work out what’s going on and then they realize that, yeah, this is what must be going on. Somebody’s trying to set them up to capture them. But they don’t know why. They fall asleep and they all wake up after having had a very vivid, vivid dream of a woman. And they’ve seen whole scenes of this particular woman. She’s basically a US Marine in Afghanistan, who undertakes a raid on a particular village goes in and gets killed and her throat gets cut. She gets killed and she goes back to the hospital. And wakes up. And the four that are in the main group, which this is The Old Guard, the four of them all dream of it. And they realize that there’s another one, and it seems that this is the way that they identify that there’s an immortal being born or come into existence because of the fact that they have these dreams when they first die.

Now I’m sitting and watching this and I was thinking Yeah, there’s always a problem about these immortal ones. They’re always good looking when they’re immortals, and I sort of thought how is it that they all seem to be of a sort of similar age, even though... or the new younger one, she’s only around about 24 or 25, but the rest of them are in their 30s or late 30s. Now theoretically these immortals are not getting any older year on year But what about this younger one? Why is she so young and they are this little bit older? And I sort of got to the point where I realized that probably what happens is there they stopped aging at their first death, which sort of makes a bit of sense, except if you are immortal and then suddenly just get hit by a truck when you’re 95, that wouldn’t be so good. You think there’s been the next 5,000 years being 95 years old, which wouldn’t be too good. Anyway, that was one of those things that I thought about because I watched it a week ago and my brain just works that way.

Anyway, this is this is a pretty good film. It’s obviously set up for there to be a follow on either to go into a TV series or to do another feature film based on the next graphic novel series. And you can understand why these television companies decide they want to make films based on graphic novels because all the storyboards are done for them, it’s an easy sell to go to a producer, and say I want to make a film of this. “Oh OK, let me see the storyboard. Well just read the graphic novels. They read them and say This is great. This is fantastic. It’s got a good story. Lots of good action? Really good stuff. Easy to do.”

So what is it about this particular thing that I enjoyed? Well, I don’t know whether I spoken to you terribly much about this, but I’m a bit of a fan of the John Wick films, you know. So I mentioned earlier, yeah, well, there’s a lot of it’s completely ridiculous. There’s a huge amount of killing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to actually get through all this. But who cares? It’s a piece of entertainment and let’s just move on from that. I never got, never get the feeling with John Wick that it’s glorifying the violence. It’s just there and the way the choreography is done in order for him to be able to go through all these fights is absolutely fantastic, and they’ve sort of done fairly similar good work in this particular film. It’s actually the choreographing of the fight scenes is excellent, they don’t overdo the glorification of the violence. But it is there.

It comes out that what is happening here is that one of the large big pharmacy companies has decided that these particular immortals must have something in their genetic nature which could be harvested, and that’s why somebody is trying to get to them, so there’s a lot of questions here about personal identity, your own genetic background and makeup. Is it yours or does it belong to the world and there are some issues here that not they go into a great deal of depth, but they are touched on and they are talked about. You know, should you sacrifice your own personal well being and identity for the greater good of mankind? They’re already trying to do that by trying to stop fights or rescue people and try to do good in the world. But Big Pharma is just basically trying to come in and just rip them off and take everything they can. There’s also some touches of Wolverine in this. You’re familiar with The Wolverine from the X-Men?

David: Yeah, absolutely, I’ve seen all those movies.

Perry: Yeah, same thing where he basically... There’s one instance in one particular early X-Men film where he gets shot and his lying down on the ground and you get a shot of him while he’s lying down with the bullet hole right in the middle of his forehead and we slowly see this bullet just slowly oozing out of his head. It drops down and then the wound heals up and he wakes up. Well in this particular instance, one of the guys wakes up and sits up and spits out the bullet because... and says “Well, that was good.” That was excellent, but it reminded me a bit of that. [inaudible]. I enjoyed this quite a lot. It’s a good time waster. It’s worth having a bit of a look at. I will certainly be interested in watching any follow ups that come out, I liked the way that a number of things were done in this, particularly their interaction between the four of them. Charlize Theron is the oldest, and she’s had it. She just doesn’t want to be doing this any more. She knows that she is an immortal because she tells a story of somebody that she was fighting with three or four thousand years ago, who actually died in a battle and he actually said, “Oh it’s finally my time. Thank God!” and just dies after he’s been wounded once, so there’s a certain... she knows that at some point in the future she’s going to die and she’s just waiting for it. In fact, she’s almost longing for it, she’s pushing towards it and pushing herself into points of danger, where this will actually happen to her so that it will get out of there. It’ll all be over. Good stuff, worthwhile, worthwhile having a look at. I gave it 3.8.

David: Sounds good, I mean it’s interesting how many pretty good movies have been made from the source of a graphic novel or comic book, as you might call it and I’m thinking, and also TV series as well as movies and thinking of things like The Boys, which is a series on Amazon, Amazon Prime. And of course, things like Watchmen and even aside from all the absolute, you know, bog standard sort of big comic book brands like Marvel and DC, the kind of more quirky ones. Probably the more interesting ones that are turned into movies. Even if the comic book writer or creator doesn’t always like the end result, and I know that Alan Moore was never very happy with the movie version of Watchmen or V for Vendetta and there’s other things. But nevertheless, it seems like a good creative source of material for Hollywood I suppose. Yeah, that’s good.

Perry: But there’s also a lot of other stuff floating around at the moment. David, that we’re not going to get to. And as you mentioned, Watchmen is one that I watched a couple of episodes, just never finished it. I’ve got to get to that and remember a couple weeks ago I was talking about The Plot Against America, the Phillip Roth novel that was an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh becomes President in 1940 and America doesn’t enter the Second World War. That’s also been made into a television series.

David: That’s good. I’ve also been watching, the first 2½ episodes, anyway, of a modern take on The War of the Worlds which is a production by Canal Plus which is a French production company. It’s quite a lot of dialogue in both English and in French. With subtitles, which makes it easy, but it’s interesting, it’s the basic concept of H. G. Wells’ one, of an alien race who’s been observing the Earth and then comes in to take over. And at the moment humanity, as far as I’ve gotten 2½ episodes, in humanity is not doing very well at all. I don’t know how they’re gonna get back out of this, but the majority of people have been killed by a sort of electromagnetic impulse. There are survivors, but unfortunately survivors are also getting hunted down, so it’s interesting. It’s just seems pretty well done, but I’m not sure [if I’ll keep watching]...

Perry: I saw on one of the episodes where somebody said that we’re halfway through the series and it was about four and a half billion to nil, aliens [advantage].

David: Yes, that’s about right. Yeah, so yeah, pretty well done, so well, we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes, yeah.

Perry: Well, we just keep an eye on a few of the other new ones that are coming up and maybe both of us will get a chance to look at War of the Worlds before the next time we do a film and TV episode and we can talk about it then, sure, but I think we’ve probably done for this week or this episode, David, looking forward to next episode. We will be back in on the Hugo Time Machine looking at the 1963 Hugo Awards and we’ll also have the results from the 2020 Hugo Awards as well. They are going to be announced probably in just under two weeks time.

David: So we should have them both.

Perry: Yeah, we should have them by then. Probably be the Saturday or the Sunday night New Zealand time. Just before we do our recording, so we should be able to have all those. I will try and watch the live Hugo Award ceremony, which will be online and the details will be out and will basically announce those then and I can give you a bit of a run through about how badly I did again this year, David.

David: More choices, so you might get all the hits.

Perry: I’m thinking that if I do better than one out of four in the major fiction awards I’ve done very, very well.

David: Indeed.

Perry: All right. Thanks David. All right till then OK see you in a couple of weeks.

David: Catch you then OK bye.

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