Five Things #23

Gut Feelings by Peter Watts imagines scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. It is, as the author notes, about as heartwarming as a Peter Watts fantasy can be.

Looking at how people keep on voting, Chris Dillow draws the obvious conclusion that the public does not want economic growth.

A possible third wolf has been sighted up at the Hoge Kempen National Park and its surroundings in Flanders, according to Landschap vzw, the nonprofit association behind Welcome Wolf.

In other Belgian rewilding news, the De Logt brewery will be introducing a ‘Naya’ beer, named after the ‘Belgian’ wolf that was killed last year, on 1st February. Part of the proceeds will be contributed to Welcome Wolf.

Tom Jolliffe takes a jaunt back to the 80’s to see how some of the decade’s biggest fantasy films have aged. Confession: I like Krull. And Time Bandits, for that matter.

Blue Monday

Like probably everyone else with an internet connection, we have seen the trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 and one thing that really leapt out at me was the sound track.

If you are going to set a film in 1984, you can’t go wrong with a bit of New Order.

I thought I had a version of this song somewhere, but it turns out that I don’t and this discovery led to my wandering the dusty highways of Last.fm and YouTube and the discovery that there is a cover of Blue Monday recorded by Health for Atomic Blonde. This is one of the many films on my “must get around to watching” list.

But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to mention Orkestra Obsolete, a group of masked musicians who have rather stunningly managed to perform the song using only instruments available in the 1930s. It really is incredible.

Five Things #22

Domesticated by Timothy Bastek is a zombie story that reminds me of the fact that I never got around to seeing Fido.

Denzil delves into the strange history of Neutral Moresnet.

Tremors recently turned 30. Jennifer Ouellette celebrates the most perfect B movie creature feature ever made.

First it was wolves, now it is otters. Thirty years after they were declared extinct in Flanders, the animals have started to make a comeback. There’s still a long way to go, but things are looking positive.

Jamie Foster and Christopher H. Hendon explain how to make the perfect cup of coffee – with a little help from science.

He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy

Terry Jones died yesterday at the age of 77.

I remember, many years ago, reading Starship Titaninic, a spin-off from The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy which Jones agreed to write on condition that he could do so in the nude. Or so Douglas Adams claims in the introduction to the novel.

Terry Jones is, of course, best remembered for being part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and as the director of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, in which he also played Brian’s mum.

This, for my money, is one of the funniest films ever made — if not the funniest. So here is the highlight of a film full of highlights.

Five Things #21

KT Bryski provides a very different take on the story of Red Riding Hood in The Path of Pins, the Path of Needles.

In 2008 Rian Dundon spent 9 months on the road with Fan Bingbing, China’s biggest movie star, and gained a firsthand look at the country’s celebrity-industrial complex.

There are exactly two wolves in the wild in Flanders at present. Pups could be on the way.

Nick Tyrone discusses three things the left gets wrong. Repeatedly.

Ben Orlin presents The Game of Snakes. All you need is a pen and a bit of paper.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I have grown up with Star Wars. I was nine when I saw the first film (then a self-contained film called Star Wars in which Han shot first) and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was hooked and rushed to the cinema when the Empire struck back and was thrilled when the Jedi returned. I sat through the (best forgotten) prequel trilogy more out of nostalgia than anything else and felt that sinking feeling when you see a franchise grinding to a miserable end.

Then Disney took control and, it has to be said, the House of Mouse really do know how to make a film. For me, The Force Awakens was an excellent reworking of the original film and The Last Jedi turned the franchise towards a new direction, leaving me both optimistic about where the next film could go, and slightly concerned about where it would go.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was everything I hoped for and then some.

Right from the start, the film delivers edge of your seat action scenes that leave you wanting to high-five whichever random person is sitting next to you. The dialogue is just as snappy as ever and the characters are all suitably engaging and keep you rooting for them throughout.

This being the end of the final trilogy, there are plenty of nods to what has gone before. None of this is overdone and, instead, it brings a sense of closure to this ending of the trilogy of trilogies and this makes The Rise of Skywalker a very fitting end to the nine film saga.

It is also a truly spectacular film.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a cinematic spectacle that raises the bar for whatever comes next. As such, it really does deserve to be seen on the largest screen you can find with the loudest sound system available.

And, if you haven’t already seen it, prepare to be blown away.

Five Things #18

In Dislocation Space by Garth Nix a Soviet political prisoner is ordered to use her unique talents to explore a strange scientific phenomenon. It could be a trap…or a way out.

With this second decade of the 21st Century coming to a close, Den of Geek has compiled a list of the top 20 movies of the decade. I’ve seen exactly half of them.

J Oliver Conroy claims to have found the seven most terrifying Christmas traditions around the world.

Carsten Welsch stretches his definitions a bit in order to talk about whether the science of Star Wars holds up. Short answer: it doesn’t, but look at this slightly similar stuff that is much more interesting.

Tom Jolliffe looks at the weirder wonders of cinema.

Jumanji: The Next Level

When Jumanji was rebooted, a couple of years ago, we were treated to something of a rarity these days: A family friendly adventure film. That film was deservedly well-received so it was only a matter of time before the sequel came along.

It’s nice to be able to say that Jumanji: The Next Level is every bit as much fun as its predecessor.

The set-up is much the same, with a group of people being sucked into the magical video game in which they have to Save Jumanji to escape. Once again, a lot of the comedy derives from the players finding themselves inhabiting in-game avatars that are completely at odds with their actual looks and personalities. This time around, though, the filmmakers switch things up a bit with some in-game body-swapping and, more significantly, the addition of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover as an elderly pair who struggle with the concept of being in a game.

A couple of the jokes fall a bit flat, but the film moves along at such a pace that they are soon forgotten. And the action set-pieces are all suitably spectacular.

It is, however, the characters that really make this film so much fun to watch. Highlights include Jack Black’s Shelly Oberon, successfully channeling multiple characters, and Dwayne Johnson’s utterly over the top impersonation of Danny Devito but all of the cast are both superb and do a great job of keeping you up to speed as to who exactly is who.

Jumanji: The Next Level does a great job of reworking the tropes of the earlier film while still feeling fresh and fun. Given the number of sequels that feel far too much like lazy cash-ins, this makes this one a film to be treasured.

Five Things #16

The Hidden Girl by Ken Liu is a tale of magic and morality set in eighth century China, a time when rivalry among military governors —- the jiedushi —- was often violent and bloody.

“By studying rats in a smarter way, scientists are finally learning something useful about why some drinkers become addicted and others don’t.” Ed Yong on a landmark study on the origins of alcoholism.

George Nash looks back at Gremlins, and the timely return of Joe Dante’s controversial creatures.

Nick Tyrone rediscovers football after a ten year absence and wonders if the gentrification of the sport has gone too far.

Simon Brew salutes 2019’s most underrated –- and finest -– blockbuster movie villain