THE BIFF IS BACK – BIFF 2019 PART II – ‘MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN’ AND ‘LITTLE MONSTERS’ REVIEW AVAILABLE ON WEEKEND NOTES

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I went into the final weekend of the Brisbane International Film Festival 2019 having seen the excellent documentary Midnight Family about a Mexico City ambulance crew.

MEMORY: THE ORIGIN OF ALIENS: Then on Friday night I went to Reading Cinemas at Newmarket to see a 6:15pm session of Memory: The Origins of Alien. I film A found interesting for the stories of the film I was unfamiliar with like the involvement of screenwriter of Dan O’Bannon.

 

It was an interesting film even if it seemed a little underfunded and dwelled on some points too long. I’ve been lucky to have a review published over at Weekend Notes that you can check out here https://www.weekendnotes.com/memory-the-origins-of-alien-film-review/

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Exiting Reading, I hopped in the car and drove over to New Farm cinemas who long term readers will recognise is an establishment I have some affection for. Catching a mocha with a mate over at the nearby 24 hour café Death by Decaf frequented by emergency personnel, hipsters, shift workers and young people out on the town. They make a damn fine mocha.

 

LITTLE MONSTERS: Then it was time to take in the late night 9:30pm screening of Aussie zombie comedy Little Monsters starring Lupita Nyongo’o. It was the kind of screening great for a film like this, close to full and with a Friday night crowd who wanted to be there and enjoy themselves. At a point when Neil Diamond’s classic Sweet Caroline featured somebody in the crowd voiced the bassline much to the delight of everyone else.

You can my review that was published on Weekend Notes as well here https://www.weekendnotes.com/little-monsters-film-review/

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Weekend Notes are a growing online magazine with a wealth of contributors based out of several cities across the United Kingdom, Australia and New York. Articles are leisure related and can include a wide variety of subjects from rainforest hikes to cultural festivals, from what hot new play is on at your underground theatre to a ultra trendy eatery. Writers are paid for their work based partly on how many views their articles get so please feel free to stop by and show some love.

-Lloyd Marken

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ

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You’re in your apartment, it has been a rough day. Outside everybody seems to hate you, just metres away on the other side of the door. There’s no family to call, no friends you’re sure really care. You’ve been alone a long time, no partner, no prospects at that shitty job you go to every day past all those people who hate you on the other side of that door. So you switch on a hologram who looks like a movie star who tells you you’re great. Nobody in the family says that, no friend, no one at work but this perfect looking creature does. She suggests you dance but you don’t want to dance. So she immediately changes her mind and tells you she wants to watch TV. She looks perfect and she says whatever you want to hear knowing it before you do. At the back of your mind something tells you this is too perfect. It’s not real and you want her to be real. So they’ll make another model and another one and pretty soon one day she might be real because she’ll have a complete consciousness. When that happens though, when she can really form all her own thoughts, dreams and curiousities how she is going to feel about your apartment? Is she going to still say all those perfect responses you didn’t even know you wanted to hear? At one point are you going to be keeping her a prisoner unable to live her own life? At one point is she going to be a slave and what do slaves do? They revolt. You see you wanted her to be real and now she is but your capacity to deal with that is most likely limited because real relationships are difficult for you which is why all those years before you got her but a real relationship is what you wanted. So are going to set her free to maybe still live with you? What waits for her outside and you?

I saw Blade Runner: 2049 not long after ploughing through the first season of Westworld which very  much is about slaves revolting. I also watched for the first time A.I. so these thoughts were with me when I wrote the above. The ability to communicate and form long lasting relationships is a core concern of our times. In this sense the themes of Blade Runner: 2049 are a natural progression from the questions of the original film but also fitting to 2017. I thought the film was brilliant, one of the year’s best and I am lucky to be able to say that I have had my review of it published on Buzz Magazine. It is such a shame it wasn’t more successful at the box officer but that at least means they won’t flog a dead horse and I believe in time people will discover this film. It is sad though that such a cinematic film was not seen more in cinemas. The editor of Buzz Magazine has had a rough year and I’m very grateful that Buzz is sticking around. Feel free to stop by and like, share or comment on the review and let the editor know if you enjoy Buzz. I certainly love writing for it. You can read my review here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/blade-runner-2049/

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

-Lloyd Marken

 

BRINGING BACK BIFF – BIFF 2005 PART III

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Here we are back again to look at the history of the Brisbane International Film Festival. By the way just look at that poster above, one of my favourite BIFF posters although as some of my fellow BIFF vollys pointed out what was happening in the picture? Was the poor girl drowning, was that the symbol of our film festival?! Never the less I think it’s gorgeous and a print of it appeared on all our Volly T-shirts of which I still have mine. The 17th BIFF, the third I attended and second I volunteered at had a strong line-up of road movies of which I took full advantage of and shifted a lot of screenings to South Bank Cinemas. At it I saw 18 films apparently, from India, Israel Austria, the U.S.A., Australia, and kicked off a deep affection for Canadian cinema with The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess and Phil The Alien.

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BACKROADS: Saturday the 6th of August I was back in Regent Cinema 1 to see the Australian classic Backroads in Regent Cinema 1 at 5:50pm. There was short film called Yella Fella which I saw at least bits of beforehand. It was about the life of mixed race actor Tommy Lewis (star of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) who grew up not feeling part of either community at times. Backroads itself only runs 60minutes and was shot in 16mm back in 1977 featuring the debut of director Phillip Noyce who had some great movies during his career effortlessly gliding between Hollywood blockbusters and films of substance. A first rate storyteller. Backroads starred the great Bill Hunter and Gary Foley who drive around NSW on a bit of a crime spree. These men are not friends, they’re brought together by circumstances, by today’s standards Bill Hunter’s Jack is racist and even by the standards is openly confrontational with Gary Foley’s Gary. Yet through these lack of political correctness and open disrespect comes direct dialogue where opinions are put forward and explained why by the character’s own experiences. Both men begin to view the other in a different light and Jack’s confused feelings about race and beliefs begin to be challenged. I found the film excellent and revealed Noyce’s talent at making exciting action but thoughtful ideas existed right from the beginning of his career.

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HOTEL: I can’t tell if I saw Backroads as Volly or a paying customer but I assure you I saw Hotel a horror film from Austria/Germany in Regent Cinema 1 at 9:40pm with the privileges of being a Volly. A slow burn of horror film, there’s no gore and no threat really every sighted. We’re left to wonder what happens, directed by Jessica Hausner, this is all about mood and atmosphere. I really enjoyed it but barely remember much all this time later including whether I snoozed a little near the end.

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UP AND DOWN: There was a screening of this film (a co-production of the Czech Republic and Australia), at 03AUG2005 at 7:25pm in Regent Cinema 3 but I believe I saw it Sunday the 7th of August, 2005 at 2pm in South Bank Cinema 4. Wow time really does fade the memory, I barely remember much about Up and Down except that it was a really good movie. Reading through my BIFF booklet somethings come back, a couple who adopt a child sold to them by people traffickers, a son returning to Europe from his utopian Australia. The last bit was particularly ironic. You see the child is ‘brown’ and the husband does not want to keep it as a result but his wife who can’t have children feels very differently. There’s various races represented by the characters and the racial tensions that were already smouldering in Europe at the time. Of course while the film doesn’t present this, these are similar issues facing Australia as well. The film caps off a trilogy started with Divided We Fall and Pupendo from writer/director Jan Hrebejk and co-writer Petr Jarchovsky. Of course I don’t have answers for these complex questions. Up and Down doesn’t really either but its a timely reminder that we’re all human, we’re all looking for a better life for our families and there will be predators exploiting that need. Since Up and Down the growing threat of domestic terrorism has only expanded. If we close our borders and our hearts the monsters who drive cars into people, behead British soldiers and set off bombs in Paris will win. On the other hand we can’t idly by and not react. Up and Down is a reminder that most immigrants only make a nation richer, to recognise our common humanity, to remain hopeful for the future and to never let racism thrive no matter the circumstances. In that way Up and Down only gets more timely.

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WALL: Screening on Sunday 07AUG2005 in Regent Cinema 3 at 7:30pm was Wall from Israel and France directed by Simone Bitton. Pretty sure I came over from South Bank to the Regent to catch this. May have snoozed but this followed on from the previous film in terms of how we shut ourselves out to be safe but that doesn’t necessarily make it so. An interesting film I may have been guilty of snoozing a tad through this, it seems to happen more in the sessions I get into as a Volly rather than a paying customer, coincidence? Images of Israel and Palestine have haunted me from this film ever since. The question of how we can hate ourselves so much and how can we come to peace with each other is at the heart of similar war torn territories from the Sudan to Northern Ireland to the former Yugoslav to the Middle East. I hope we find the answers one day.

ROADGAMES: Was the last film I saw at BIFF 2005 and the last film I saw from the Blacktop Dreams program. An Australian film made in 1981 it screened Sunday 07AUG2005 at South Bank Cinema 4 at 9:20pm. The landscape of the time was fascinating, Road Games was the most expensive Australian film ever made at the time and the Australian film industry was at the height of its powers. A mish mash of tributes to the style of Alfred Hitchcock and 1970s Australian road movies and starring the Scream Queen herself Jaimie Lee Curtis it had dated very badly by 2005. Stacy Keach’s humour didn’t stand up and while he was a likeable enough lead I can’t help but wonder what could have been if original choice Sean Connery hadn’t been so expensive. Still the visuals are great and there’s some neat stuff. Quentin Tarantino says its one of his favourite movies, that’s great Quentin…I’m happy for you. I remember leaving late after the screening with one of the front house staff. I never really saw myself as very useful so I always tried to make up for it with an enthusiasm to help where I could. I hope I did.

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THELMA AND LOUISE: There is one more film to cover that I saw at BIFF 2005. I can’t tell you when I saw it, it was part of the free screenings at the Suncorp Piazza but obviously not CineSparks. These included the Max Max trilogy and many others so as you can see there were many road movies at BIFF 2005 that weren’t part of the Blacktop Dreams program which makes sense. Most of the films in that program were rare hard to find titles whereas the free screenings at the Suncorp Piazzi mostly included titles people had seen several times and possibly owned in their home collection. I chose to see Thelma and Louise for two simple reasons. It is my favourite film and I wanted to see it with a live audience and see how they reacted. So on a cold evening I think during the week I sat on the aluminium seats and watched up on a relatively big screen Thelma and Louise. I can’t say enough things about this film, once somebody seemed surprised that it was my favourite film as a man. I don’t identify as a feminist and but I think it is certainly a great feminist film. It rails against all the hypocrisies of our society and the way it treats women. It takes a classic male story of rebellion and freedom and gives it to these women. If you ever had the special edition of the DVDs I highly recommend for the commentaries from stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, write Callie Khouri and director Ridley Scott. Scott who hails from Great Britain and is a master visualist captured what was so beguiling about the idea of the American open road. Most of the film was shot outside LA in regional California with some in Utah. When a helicopter flies through smoke swirling everything in its rotor wash everybody understands how Scott makes things look better. Yet  take for example a diner scene with Sarandon and Michael Madsen. The next scene is the same diner table with Davis walking in as Madsen leaves. One is shot closer with more intimate lighting. You won’t notice the difference until its pointed out to you and yet it evokes different moods. Its these subtleties that I don’t think Scott gets recognised enough for. Sarandon and Davis start out as two women wearing make-up and sunglasses. As the film goes on they get wilder, more boyish in their clothing, more natural and yes more beautiful. We’ve talked about car chases a bit with BIFF 2005, Thelma and Louise has one of the best car chases of all time that I don’t think gets celebrated enough.

That’s Davis sitting next to the stunt driver as they plough through the fence. But to get back to why it appeals to me? Because its about hitting the open road, its about not taking shit from anybody anymore, its about empowerment. I spoke to author and BIFF 2005 guest Jack Sargeant who had written quite a lot about road movies at the break-up party. I asked him what he thought of Thelma and Louise and he said he liked it but he didn’t think it was fair that Thelma and Louise paid for it in the end. I knew Ridley Scott’s intention was to make them mythic legends but I think Sargeant has a point. I’d be interested to know what Callie Khouri’s intention was with the ending. Hopefully one day soon I’ll write more about my favourite movie.

The next day was the last day at BIFF and true to tradition I did not work as a Volly but did attend the Volly party. The closing night film was The Jacket starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.  We had the break-up at some pub at South Bank reflecting our move away from the Regent. I had spent some hours up in the foyer outside South Bank Cinema 3 and 4. I got out a mop and bucket and wiped the floor in between sessions because I could feel the stickiness of dried soft drink on the bottom of my shoes. I had gotten to hand with more of the front of house staff. One of the twins went to a café with me and got me to drink chinoto for the first time with coffee. Having a sweet tooth I was not a convert but I was surprised to find he didn’t care for Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and was fascinated by his reasons. I hung out with Andre again and met his wife. There was a Volly from Norway who’s name I can’t remember but who was just the nicest guy who everybody fell in love with. Maybe I did work, I remember carrying an amplifier up to the top of that pub in preparation for the party. I asked the Executive Manager again if he felt BIFF had been successful and why. I had applied for a job with BIFF that year and so now knew the likelihood of that happening was minimal. I started to think of going back to uni to become a teacher rather that save up and travel to Canada. Looking back I really wish I had gone to Canada you make choices and these our the paths we take. BIFF 2005 was the best year I had at BIFF, BIFF 2004 will always hold a special place in my heart but this was it and I’m very grateful for these memories.

Today is Remembrance Day here in Australia, I would like to acknowledge all those who have sacrificed so much in war including those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest We Forget.

-Lloyd Marken

ALIEN CONVENANT SURE WON’T BE MISTAKEN FOR ALIEN: COVETED

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Alien: Convenant has opened to mixed reviews and solid if not exciting box office. Such a reaction may spell the end of Ridley Scott’s plan to close out a new trilogy of Alien films for this decade but will this film grow in prestige with time. Setting out to serve two audiences it may fail to completely satisfy either but there’s no denying there’s good stuff here. Is it enough?

GenXers growing up in the shadow of the first two films were always keen for more go arounds when rumours would arise of James Cameron or Ridley Scott returning to the franchise. At one point long before Avatar took up his time there were even rumours Scott would direct a film written and produced by Cameron but alas that was not to be.

in 2012 though Scott returned to science fiction for the first time since 1982 with Blade Runner to make a Prometheus that would deal with origins of the Aliens and answer finally who was that infamous space jockey. The infamous space jockey turned out to be a giant, bald grey humanoid who took a shot of tequila and made human kind. Or at least one of his ilk did a million years ago. Beyond that we didn’t learn much about them but the ending of Prometheus promised us we would find out in the next film. We don’t.

Prometheus saw the Hollywood debut of Noomi Rapace who did a solid turn as Elizabeth Shaw and before heading off on a new adventure at the end setting up a compulsory sequel. Don’t expect to see much of her in this sequel.

Prometheus sported some incredible visuals but its weak point were fucking moronic characters who played cute with space cobras and took off space helmets for no good reason so they could propel the narrative forward, felt ill and possibly contaminated but still had sex with their girlfriends and in a panic ran in straight lines ahead of rolling giant objects bearing down on them.

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Thankfully there were bright spots and not just some neat sexual tension between naked push-ups champ Charlize Theron and handsome Idris Elba. There was Michael Fassbender as peroxided android David. A character you definitely couldn’t trust but was endlessly fascinating whom with a mix of intelligence and naivety engaged me.

I had time for some of the human characters in Prometheus, but I wanted to find out what happened next to David. To this end Alien: Convenant is more of the same. Michael Fassbender returning as David and also starring as Walter a newer model android is easily the most engaging performance/s of the film. Nothing against Katherine Waterston or Danny McBride who acquit themselves well but they’re types and also lambs for the slaughter. Nobody is still wearing a space helmet again but at least the word quarantine comes up in conversation and it just seems like the momentum is always against the human characters here that you understand why mistakes are made even if they are still clearly mistakes.

I guess you want to hear the plot right? Okay people on a ship in cyrosleep going to a planet. Fire on ship, people wake up. Get signal from other planet. Decide to go there because it is habitable and just had people die on fire on ship. Get there and….aliens. Sort of.

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There-done. I can’t state this enough Fassbender and Guy Pearce having a conversation in a white room at the beginning of the film was far more thrilling for me than an Alien tearing down spaceship corridors in the third act. Everything with David and Walter was far more fascinating to me than the alien scares and I suspect the same for Ridley Scott. Despite this though I do think the venerable director has had a red hot go at making the xenomorph scary again and giving us fantastically gross deaths to try and top the chest-bursting scene of the original. Creatures in long grass leaping out at dusk illuminated by nearby burning wreckage. Bursting open backs rather than stomachs. Neomorphs braying quietly an inch from you like a horse. The classic cliché of a shower sex coupling interrupted by other appendages moving in are memorable images as are pathogens moving through ear canals. If there is any complaint it is that it would have been nice to up the creep factor a bit with some of these sequences. Sadly the creatures themselves often move too fast and with little weight obviously rendered by computer their movements are now too sleek compared to the haunting creature in the earlier films. However the scene much touted in the marketing where a belayed Waterston does battle with the classic xenomorph on top of a careening space vehicle while packing a modified Steyr assault rifle is the kind of sequence that couldn’t have been done 20 years ago the same way and makes great use of modern technology.

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The film itself is less pretty than Prometheus sporting harsher colours, the planet in this film replaces the bare black volcanic rock with forests and medieval like structures but the sky is darker, the colours even more muted adding up to convey a nightmarish quality of a ruined world. Positively gothic. Which is kind of the point and maybe why this may struggle to find a huge audience. This is a dour film offering no real easy answers. There’s plenty of horror and action in it but its more interested in bigger themes. Yet saying that big themes and moodiness is why this film won’t click with some is just an excuse. Plenty of dour films can still entertain you with their effectiveness. There are interesting ideas in Alien: Convenant, some neat deaths and two compelling performances from Michael Fassbender. I was angry about the idea of having already waited five years for answers when Convenant was only going to leave me hanging for more but I am now intrigued to see where Scott takes this. Yet that does not a satisfying film make and Alien: Convenant is far from satisfying. Wait for it to come out on Disc or streaming. While Alien: Convenant seeks to address some of the criticisms of Prometheus I would argue the latter is still the better film. I’m also putting it out there in this corner of the internet, Sir Ridley I’d like to see Alien 5 with Ripley, Newt and Hicks more than I ever wanted to see this.

-Lloyd Marken

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THE MARTIAN BRINGS MATT DAMON HOME TO BLOCKBUSTER STARDOM

 

A man wakes up marooned on a desert planet with his chest punctured. He gets up and staggers back to his lab, slow in his pace in pain and fatigued. Wounded and alone in the lab he must administer first aid to himself. There is no one to talk to and no time to think. He must either treat himself or he will die. There is no question in that moment about the futility of his survival and the challenges he will face if he is successful. There is only an immediate and inevitable task to complete to survive. No life flashing before his eyes. No admonishments of a crew that have abandoned him or questioning of his own decisions that put him in such a dire situation.

The whole scene is a microcosm of the film at large which is always first and foremost focussed on the survival of Mark Watney, the astronaut stranded on Mars after an emergency take off, played by Matt Damon. In earlier decades the role may have gone to Harrison Ford or Jimmy Stewart, movie stars that audiences easily relate to as one of them and actors whose greatest strength are underplaying the scene the more extraordinary the circumstances. If one is not a fan of Damon you can move on, I highly recommend for example checking out Mad Max on DVD this week but for the majority of the population this may be the best sci-fi film in years. Speaking of, Matt Damon and Ridley Scott need to buy screen writer Drew Goddard a drink and make it a double because he has made their best film each respectively in over a decade. Matchstick Men was the last time Sir Ridley scored this high and not counting the numerous Matt Damon supporting roles in films and indie hits this is his best blockbuster since The Bourne Supremacy, sorry people The Bourne Ultimatum is just a remake of Supremacy with diminishing returns.

Where Goddard has gone right adapting from an original novel is where so much other recent output has gone wrong. In short the film’s greatest strength is its lack of ambition. No navel gazing here. Mark does not have a family waiting for him at home that he desperately misses, he just wants to live. There are no political allegories about rich and poor, ideologies, immigration, etc. No great questions about what Mars exploration could mean for our society and our place in the universe. At times Watney lies under his Rover in the Red Dirt and we may ponder how extraordinary it would be to live on another planet but while the camera takes in the locations it does not dwell on them. The film looks great but there is a businesslike approach to the shots of orientation not infatuation which coming from such a great visual stylist as Sir Ridley is a surprise but not a disappointment.

Beneath the surface are a few points being made? The reaction of some at NASA to find him alive is to begin a dialogue about how this should be handled in the media but these seem like inevitable conversations that would take place between people who’s priorities are complex.

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At first the scenes on Mars are far more interesting. Watney’s plight is dire and daunting and yet the film has a cheeky sense of humour about it. See Damon deadpan about a failed experiment to camera after he blows himself up. As Watney finds a way to communicate with NASA his rescue and the film grow momentum. The people at NASA become warmer and their story more humorous by interacting with Watney. As Watney comes up with an ingenious way to grow potatoes so too do engineers back home have to problem solve a way to rescue him and their numbers grow with more offbeat characters. A sole human stranded and isolated on Mars humanises a group of bureaucrats sitting comfortably back home on Earth via increased contact with him. I don’t think this is unplanned by the filmmakers.

Sound also plays an important part in the film, I can’t guarantee it 100% but I don’t recall any military drums building in the background as people declare they will bring ‘our’ boy home. It is not only Damon underplaying here. Silence is used a lot to reflect the vacuum of space and moments of tension. We are as focussed for example on air escaping through broken visors and alarms sounding as Watney is, sometimes more. The score is non-demonstrative and the music that makes itself far more known is the 70s hits that Watney is forced to listen to for comfort as it is the only music on the planet. That cheeky humour comes through in the song choices here too. As Watney prepares for his rescue ABBA’s Waterloo comes on reflecting both Watney’s attitude towards the plan but also playing against audience expectations

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A film about a stranded astronaut rife with 70s tracks demands a track from Bowie to be used and The Martian answers the call better than I could have hoped. The choice of Major Tom would have been welcome if too on the nose. Instead Starman begins right where it needs to in arguably the best moments of the film. The crew who left Watney behind circle around Earth to pick up supplies and sling shot back towards him. This enables the crew to communicate with families hundreds of miles away from them but as close as they have been in months before returning to rescue their stranded crew member. It is a heroic gesture full of sacrifice but the film plays the scene as one of unbridled joy. “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

This is one of the year’s best.