Film Review – Zootropolis – Disney’s first conspiracy thriller

Warning: this review contains spoilers the size of elephants.

2016’s Zootropolis is the first animated conspiracy thriller to come out of the Mouse House. It’s been called a “conspiracy thriller for children”, but as we all know, most Disney films hold just as much appeal for adults as they do little’uns, if not more.

What makes this film a conspiracy thriller? The most obvious element is the fact that, unusually for a Disney movie, the villain is a “them”, not a “him” or “her”. And the story itself is a conspiracy trope—the old ‘minor crime reveals major plot’ number, where an insignificant incident leads to the discovery of something much larger going on behind it.

To say that the trope receives a bold, fresh and genuinely inspired coat of paint in Zootropolis is an understatement. The setting and characters are the first indication of that.

Zootropolis is a fully functioning city designed by and made for animals, where predators and prey have advanced beyond their instincts and live in harmony. Viewers are treated to some ingeniously designed places, such as the 21-inches-tall Little Rodentia and the icy Tundratown, and there are some fantastic moments of animal-related humour, most notably the sloths at the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). Judy Hopps arrives in Zootropolis, full of drive and enthusiasm and ready to start busting criminals as the ZPD’s first bunny cop. She’s tasked with investigating a seemingly unimportant missing persons case—the disappearance of Mr Otterton—and soon stumbles onto a much bigger and higher-stakes mystery.

Teaming up with con artist fox Nick Wilde, Judy discovers that Mr Otterton went “savage” right before his disappearance. He also yelled something about “night howlers” before attacking the chauffeur of fearsome crime boss Mr Big (revealed in a clever and funny scene to be a tiny Arctic shrew). Then the chauffeur himself, Manchas, turns “savage” and goes missing. Judy and Nick learn that Manchas was abducted by wolves, who Judy surmises are the “night howlers”. They end up at Cliffside Asylum, finding Manchas, Mr Otterton, and thirteen other missing predators—all of whom have returned to a feral state.

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Oswald and the KGB — shock revelations in the JFK files

Kennedy’s limousine, seconds after he was shot

The truth is out. The long-awaited JFK files are here and reveal that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. There really was a second shooter, firing from the grassy knoll. And as many of us have thought for decades, we finally know that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

Just kidding.

October 26th 2017 was the day scores of conspiracy theorists had been dreaming of for years. The day thousands of secret documents related to President Kennedy’s death would be released, as stipulated by the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992.

The Act came into being because of the 1991 Oliver Stone movie JFK, starring Kevin Costner, which popularised the notion that agents inside the FBI, the CIA and the US military were all involved in a conspiracy to assassinate the president. The records were originally supposed to be sealed until 2029—as stated at the end of the movie—but because the US government was so concerned by the conclusions presented in the film, they pushed through the 1992 Act to release them early.

Of all the documents released, one in particular got tongues wagging: the previously classified 1975 deposition of former CIA director Richard Helms. Helms was asked about Lee Harvey Oswald, but the testimony suspiciously cut off right before the juiciest part, when Helms was being asked whether Oswald was working for the CIA. Naturally, UK newspaper The Sun got a serious stiffy over this and plastered “COVER UP!” across its front page.

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My short story “The Bisley Boy” has been shortlisted by Artificium

A nice email dropped in my inbox today. It was from Artificium, an independent publisher that runs short story competitions every spring and summer, and publish an anthology of short fiction, flash fiction and poetry two to three times a year.

The email contained the shortlist for their summer competition and my name was among them! The full title of the story that has been shortlisted is “The Bisley Boy” (Extracts from Margery Ingleby’s journals — Modern English translation).

If anyone’s heard of the ‘Bisley Boy’, you’ll have an idea as to what this story’s about. It’s another Million Eyes short story and is inspired by a famous English conspiracy theory that dates back to Tudor times. I won’t tell you what it is (as it’s technically a big-ass spoiler) but I’ve written an article about it if you want to know!

At the moment it’s just been shortlisted and I believe it gets published in Artificium only if it makes it to the top four. The results are announced at the end of this month — eeek!

This week: Are we any closer to knowing who really killed JFK?

Is “Stranger Things” based on a true story?

Eleven in ‘Stranger Things’

The world’s talking Stranger Things now that Season 2 has hit Netflix. But did you know that there might actually be some truth to the story of Eleven, the Demogorgon and the portal to the Upside Down?

Stranger Things was originally known as Montauk and Montauk is a name that’s pretty familiar to conspiracy theorists. It’s believed that between 1943 and 1983, the US government conducted secret experiments on children at Camp Hero in Montauk, Long Island, that have long been dubbed the ‘Montauk Project’.

The experiments were said to have involved time travel, teleportation, mind control, and contact with extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional creatures. They were allegedly a continuation or extension of developments of the Philadelphia Experiment that took place in 1943. And some of the experiments, as you’ll read, bear a striking resemblance to the happenings in Stranger Things.

The story of the Philadelphia Experiment goes like this. On a quest to find new ways of foiling Nazi radar during World War II, the US military conducted secret experiments at the naval shipyard in Philadelphia involving a destroyer escort called the USS Eldridge. According to the letters of an eyewitness, Carlos Miguel Allende, which surfaced in the 1950s, the US military were successful in teleporting the USS Eldridge to New York, another dimension where it encountered aliens, and forwards in time. These teleportations resulted in the deaths of several sailors, some of whom ended up fused to the ship’s hull.

Stories about the Montauk Project popped up much later. In the early 1980s, a man named Preston Nichols claimed to have recovered a series of repressed memories about working on secret experiments at Camp Hero in Montauk. He said that during the 1970s, he worked on something called the ‘Montauk Chair’, a piece of furniture that used electromagnetism to amplify the psychic powers of certain ‘special’ children.

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“Million Eyes” updates and the soul-destroying search for a literary agent

I wonder if I write about time travel because of a deep-seated longing to skip the utterly soul-destroying process of trying to pummel into the publishing industry and travel to a point in the future when I’m already there. Dunno. Maybe.

It. Will. Happen. That’s what I have to keep telling myself. It’s what all writers who want to be successful have to keep telling themselves.

Anyway, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, my search for a literary agent for Million Eyes has been—so far—fruitless. I’ve submitted to 40 or so agents, nothing positive yet. I could still hear from a few of them because their estimated time for responding isn’t up (and I have the patience of a small child).

I’ve been through a few weeks of tearing my hair out, thinking the book is crap, and doubting that it’s ever going to happen. But then, we all go through that. Even the biggest, most successful authors have gone through that.

Nevertheless, I stopped submitting Million Eyes and took stock. I sought advice from my fellow scribblers at Rushmoor Writers, read them my query letter and opening pages and asked if there was any way I could improve them. Perhaps they’re just not catching agents’ eyes?

The advice I got was great. Mostly they recommended small tweaks to up the intrigue and grab the reader earlier in those opening lines and early pages. They also offered some much-needed words of encouragement: the book is good, and there’s a market for it.

So here I am, confidence resurged, ready to start submitting again. Will this next round of submissions yield any success? Heaven knows, but I’m keeping my chin up and everything crossed.

In other news…

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I’ve joined the team at ‘Time Travel Nexus’ as a contributor!

I’m super-excited to have been chosen to become one of three new contributors to Time Travel Nexus, a website for time travel enthusiasts.

It covers movies, books and TV series in the time travel genre, as well as discussion about real world research into the possibilities of travelling in time.

Apart from my own writing in the genre (my forthcoming novel, Million Eyes, and its accompanying series of short stories), one of the reasons I was chosen is because of my research into real-life time travel conspiracy theories and urban legends. Stories like Rudolph Fentz, Andrew Carlssin, the Rendlesham Forest Incident, and the Vanishing Hotel. I’ll be helping Time Travel Nexus to explore these stories and debate the evidence for whether time travel is already happening all around us. Cue some lively discussions!

I’m also scheduled to be doing some serious geeking out over my favourite time travel episodes of Star Trek and Doctor Who, as well as movies like Looper, The Butterfly Effect and Back to the Future.

Looks like my life’s about to get a lot more wibbly wobbly. Can’t wait.

A 3,200-year-old stone unmasks the mysterious Sea Peoples

Between 1250 and 1000 BC, all of the major civilisations of the Bronze Age suddenly collapsed. No one knows why. Climate change? Volcanoes? Drought? Or was it because of an invasion by the shadowy and unidentified Sea Peoples? Archaeologists claim that a 3,200-year-old stone slab has the answer.

The Late Bronze Age collapse brought a violent end to all the major urban centres and governing systems of the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and most of Southwest Asia. The Hittite Empire fell and the New Kingdom of Egypt fragmented and lost a bunch of its colonies. Almost every city between Pylos and Gaza was destroyed, with scores of others abandoned. The collapse sparked a period of turmoil, famine and mass migration, and left behind the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages.

Nobody knows what or who caused the Late Bronze Age collapse. Scholars have long suspected that a mysterious seafaring confederation known only as the ‘Sea Peoples’ may have had something to do with it. Now archaeologists have managed to decipher the ancient symbols on a 3,200-year-old, 29-metre-long limestone frieze, shedding new light on these maritime conquerors.

The stone was found in the 19th century in what is now modern Turkey. Its inscription is the longest known hieroglyphic inscription from the Bronze Age and written in an ancient language called Luwian, which only about 20 scholars on the planet can actually read.

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Wake up, folks. The Moon is fake.

The Moon, it’s said, is an anomaly with so many freakish coincidences surrounding its existence that it must be a big, fat fake…

Even to the world’s best scientific minds, the Moon is a mystery of gargantuan proportions. Nobody knows how it was formed, and the most popular hypothesis—that a planet-sized rock called Theia smashed into Earth, ejecting a lump of rock into space that later became the Moon—has recently been thrown into doubt.

Even Irwin Shapiro, an astrophysicist and former director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said:

“The Moon is bigger than it should be, apparently older than it should be and much lighter in mass than it should be. It occupies an unlikely orbit and is so extraordinary that all existing explanations for its presence are fraught with difficulties and none of them could be considered remotely watertight.”

There’s no escaping the fact that the Moon is damned odd. Here are some examples of its weirdness:

  • It’s too big. The Moon is bloody huge compared to all the other moons in the Solar System. Author and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov argues that the Moon ought to be tiny, only about 30 miles in diameter, yet it’s actually 2,160 miles.
  • The Moon is responsible for 80% of the Earth’s constant rotation. In relation to all the other planets and moons in our Solar System, the value’s less than 1%.
  • Every planet and moon in the Solar System has different, unique isotopic ratios, and yet the Moon’s are the same as Earth’s. You might think that the ‘giant impact’ hypothesis or ‘whack theory’ explains this—because the Moon is a bit of Earth that broke off. But, in laymen’s terms, whack theory says that the impact would’ve caused the Earth and Theia to melt. The molten debris that eventually became the Moon would’ve mixed with Theia and re-formed in a completely different way to the Earth. This should’ve resulted in different isotopic ratios, but didn’t. Because, well, the Moon’s weird.
  • The mother of all coincidences is the very nature of a total eclipse. The Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun and 400 times closer to the Earth, which is why it completely obscures the Sun during an eclipse. Its size and orbit are just right. What are the chances?

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