Tag Archives: Time Travel

CAPSULE: THE LONG WALK (2019)

Bor Mi Vanh Chark

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DIRECTED BY: Mattie Do

FEATURING: Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy, Por Silatsa, Noutnapha Soydara, Vilouna Phetmany, Chanthamone Inoudome

PLOT: In the remote Laotian countryside, an old hermit and a young boy are united by the fact that only they can see the mute woman wandering the long dusty road to the nearest village.

Still from The Long Walk (2019)

COMMENTS: We recommend not reading the official synopsis for The Long Walk posted on the IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, or the distributor’s own website, as it seems to carelessly give away major plot points. Perhaps the promoters thought there was no other way to get American viewers interested in a Laotian movie, most of which takes place on a barren dirt road, than by giving away the main twist. Regardless, this is a movie you will likely enjoy more the less you know going in.

The movie opens on an older man (a haunted Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) stripping motorbike parts in the jungle, just off the path. He leaves an orange at a roadside shrine, then checks the time on his wrist—not on his wristwatch, on his actual flesh, in one of the few indications that this movie takes place in the future. Selling his scrap in town, he learns that the local noodle shop owner is sick and demented and on her last legs. He lives alone in an elevated hut where he vapes, brews strange teas, and ritualistically tends items in a cabinet shrine, including a female figurine. The locals believe he can talk to the spirits of the dead.

The action then shifts to follow a young boy living on a farm. He prefers exploring the jungle to hoeing the fields; his mildly abusive father thinks he’s lazy and good for nothing, but he’s devoted to his mother, who sells the family’s vegetables at a roadside stand. The family is barely getting by, the mother is ill, and there is no money for medicine. The boy makes a macabre discovery in the woods, and soon after he begins seeing a pretty but mute woman standing in the road. The old hermit from the previous paragraph sees her, too; and soon she brings them together, as the nature of the old man’s shamanic practice comes clear.

The Long Walk is set in a world where government-issued microchips coexist with ghosts; a world like our own but with a touch of sci-fi shamanism. The movie slips into its liminal spaces—life and afterlife, past and present, and through genres like drama and horror—gracefully, but also sometimes perplexingly. As with all time travel tales, it traffics in paradox; the movie’s morality, too, is far from black and white. It takes some patience to tease out basic plot elements, but clues and new developments are laid out at regular enough intervals that my attention rarely wandered off the dusty path that winds its way through the decades. The third act takes a potentially controversial turn towards horror; it provides a resolution to a subplot about the daughter of the noodle shop owner, which was otherwise a welcome digression from the main plotline, but has the disadvantage of forcing our protagonist into a heel turn that feels a bit too arbitrary and severe. Still, this decision adds to the mystery and complexity of the story and feeds into its theme about the unpredictable effects of good intentions, as it leads us to an inflammatory ironic conclusion.

The background Buddhism, and the presence of the mundane and the mystical in the same frame, will put viewers in mind of Thailand’s , although Do’s work is a more plot-driven and less audaciously poetic. I found the ambiguously emotional payoff to be well worth the effort, but the impatient should beware: the title does not lie, it is indeed a long walk.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ghost stories — and especially those aimed at art house audiences — might benefit from a little ambiguity and a certain poetic strangeness. But it’s a problem when the story becomes nearly impossible to follow for long stretches of time.”–Boyd van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

CHANNEL 366: “UNDONE, SEASON 2” (2022)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , , Carlos Santos, Holley Fain

PLOT: Picking up where Season 1 left off, Alma continues to investigate the past, uncovering more family secrets as she travels through time.

Still from UNDONE, Season 2

COMMENTS: When we last saw Alma, she was sitting in front of an Aztec ruin in Mexico, waiting to see if her dead father was going to walk out of a cave. If he doesn’t emerge at dawn, it likely means she’s schizophrenic.

We can’t tell you if Jacob walks out of that cave, but we can say that in Season 2 Alma will go on more adventures through time, exploring other family secrets, and that this season forefronts a couple of characters—sister Becca and mother Camila—who played supporting roles in the previous series. We’ll also meet other members of the extended clan, both ancestors and newcomers, as Alma and Becca travel back further into the family’s past to uncover generational scandals and traumas.

Season 1 relied, to a large extent, on the ambiguity of whether Alma was going insane, hallucinating from a coma, or whether her dead father really was teaching her to harness the mystical powers hiding in her ancient Aztec blood in order to travel through time and create a new timeline where he survived his car crash. With that arc completed and that ambiguity no longer sustainable, it’s inevitable that some tension drains out of the series. Furthermore, Alma shares the spotlight this go-around, and the confused bursts of anger and sarcasm that made her character so endearing are greatly missed. (Here, she is too often relegated to playing the role of motivational speaker, trying to convince others to go along with her bold schemes.) Season 2 largely replaces that reality-or-insanity dynamic with a traditional mystery structure—with the twist that the investigation requires slippery, loosely defined time travel powers and confrontations with metaphors (an “unopenable” door is a key symbol). The demands of the narrative make a refocus necessary, but although Season 2 is less mysterious than the original, returning writers/creators Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg keep us invested as the saga takes a slight shift into melodrama and ancestral mystery. Returning animator/director Hisko Hulsing assures that the visuals keep up the high and distinctive standard set by Season 1, with the rotoscoped actors remaining oh-so-slightly uncanny even when washing dishes or plinking out a tune on the piano. And he conjures up more than a few trippy landscapes, with lots of fog-shrouded temporal voids and one impressive M.C. Escher inspired psychescape.

“Undone, Season 2” successfully solves its central problem of revisiting a scenario that, frankly, seemed perfectly whole in its original eight episode run. This story could easily have been refashioned into an independent project, but it is richer for continuing with the characters we’ve grown attached to (even if the most popular ones sometimes get shuffled to the background here). It’s not the revelation Season 1 was, but it does have more than enough magic, old and new, to make it worth a visit. It helps that the efficient eight episodes, barely exceeding 20 minutes each, make for a highly bingeable package. And fans need not fear: the second season’s ending leaves no doubt as to the creators’ intent to continue the story. The final episode is one long setup for a new plotline, one that has the bonus of returning star Rosa Salazar front and center.

“Undone,” Seasons 1 and 2, screen exclusively on Amazon Prime (Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With some new help, this time around, the show’s metaphysical trips examine the festering wounds in Alma’s family tree as well as within Alma herself, doubling down on its surreal premise on a new non-linear journey that creates puzzle pieces of their personal histories.”–Kambole Campbell, IGN (contemporaneous)

 

FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL 2021: BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES (2021)

Droste no hate de bokura

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DIRECTED BY: Junta Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Aki Asakura, Kazunori Tosa

PLOT: Kato receives a warning from his future self over the closed circuit TV link between his café and his apartment and things cascade—from innocent hijinks to run-ins with dangerous thugs—much more quickly than he would prefer.

COMMENTSBeyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a meditation on pre-determinism and with it, the concept of history as an immutable foundation for future events and actions. It’s a tightly scripted exercise in reiterative story-telling, exploring (among other things) the Droste Effect as it pertains to temporal progression and regression. With this film’s ironclad approach to time travel, Junta Yamaguchi creates a cinematic sleight-of-hand on par with Primer. Except this time, the story is told for laughs: in addition to everything else, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is a rollicking, fun-time comedy.

The shenanigans begin simply enough, with Kato closing up his café and shuffling upstairs to his apartment. Entering his room, he picks up his guitar and begins searching for something. Suddenly he sees himself appear on the computer monitor connected to the CCTV feed from his café below. His future self—two minutes ahead, it is explained—tells him that his guitar pick is underneath the carpet. He finds the missing plectrum and heads back downstairs to fulfill his present-future self’s duty to his past self, and so the cycle begins.

Beyond is a sci-fi temporal sitcom, with a romantic interest (the barber’s daughter we first see, briefly, in the opening shot; which I will remark on in a future paragraph). It’s peopled by a bunch of affable twenty-somethings who are first confounded by the anomaly, then scheme about its possibilities (horse-racing outcomes, anyone?), and then are forced to plot out Kato’s survival when a pair of gangsters crash the time party. The entire thing is shot in four rooms and a stairwell, using an iPhone, so everything hinges on the script. The two-minute gap is adhered to with commendable strictness, and the whole thing is littered with spoof-level platitudes found in countless time-travel movies gone by. (“The future keeps going!”, one exclaims; then, lamenting their earlier escapades, “There’s gotta be a better use.”)

The “opening shot” I mentioned a few minutes ago was a bit of a misnomer, because not being content with just the time-travel constraint, Beyond also gives the impression of being shot in one take. Characters cart the linked monitors up and down stairways, then linger outside the view of the “time tunnel” when they square the screens to face one another, but there is never an obvious cut to the action.

The whole shebang is one uninterrupted hour, which is impressive on account of both the running camera trick and the filmmaker’s restraint; it never overstays its welcome. Fantasia’s earlier stylistic reboot One Cut of the Dead gave the zombie genre a much-needed shot in the arm; Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes has renewed my faith in erstwhile time-worn time-traveling.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a remarkable feat that in a film with this many brain-bending moments, the only part that really strains credulity is the length of the power cords of the two screens that drive the plot.” -Thomas O’Connor, Tilt (festival screening)

CAPSULE: USED AND BORROWED TIME (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Sophia Romma

FEATURING: Cam Kornman, Emily Seibert, Clas Duncan, Alice Bahlke, Grant Morenz, Gavin Roher, Maureen O’Connor

PLOT: A blind old Jewish woman eats a mystic pie served up by a racist at an Alabama fair and goes back in time to relive her experiences in an interracial romance during the civil rights struggle.

Still from Used and Borrowed Time (2020)

COMMENTS: According to the protagonist’s own words, time is not the commodity that’s been used and borrowed in Used and Borrowed Time. That conundrum is far from the strangest thing in this avant-garde1  production, though. The time-travel plot alone is a little bit strange, since the core story about a doomed interracial love affair in the Deep South in the early Sixties would normally be treated with “respectful” realism. It’s even odder, though, that the impetus for the journey is supplied via psychedelic pies sold at an Alabama fair by rabid anti-Semites who drawl their way though a series of MAGA taking points that would make Richard Spencer complain “geez, these guys sound a little bit racist.” Add to the mix the fact that the dialogue inconsistently adopts a loose, rap-inspired rhyme scheme (“You are so uptight. And you look afright. How’s a lost soul like you supposed to make it home alright?”), is decorated with cheap out-of-the-box CGI effects, and is enacted with the passion and talent of a community theater troupe, and you have an oddity ready made for raising eyebrows. And, it’s nearly four hours long! (Thankfully, it’s split into two parts on Amazon Prime).

Now, I can’t say that Used and Borrowed Time is actually worth your time, all the time. The project desperately needed a good editor to salvage a halfway decent, very weird 90-minute feature out of this well-intentioned but epically overlong jumble of platitudes. There are a few good things to highlight: the musical interludes from a soulful R&B chanteuse, for example. The effects occasionally work, like when a pair of glowing red cats eyes fade in and out like glowing embers from a wire crate in the background as the young couple prepare to make surreptitious love in a barn. And there are a lot of funny moments and bits of dialogue, some of which may be intentional. When the old lady steals a piece of apple pie which makes her all green and sparkly and throws her into a void, she laments “I should never have indulged in that voodoo pie bliss.” When a romantic liaison is interrupted by the withered old green-glowing time traveler replacing Steadroy’s nubile sweetheart in his arms, his reaction is a deadpan, “What’s going on? I was just about to shag Eva in the shed!” It takes a family of hicks five minutes to recite grace on Christmas Eve dinner, because they keep interrupting the prayer with digressions, blasphemies, and threats to murder each other. And you have to give some bonus points to any script that attempts to rhyme “cracker” with “pecker.”

Having said that, the negatives here far outweigh the positives; and if the negatives weren’t frequently softened by being so darn strange, the movie would be unwatchable. Apart from the distracting cheapness of the production (amateurish acting, threadbare sets, a Halloween wig used as a major costuming choice), Used and Borrowed Time is far too infatuated with it’s own nobility and cleverness. More devastatingly, it’s far too long. The family of white villains is composed of a timid young adult, a bitter and vindictive matron, a weak-willed sister who was educated in righteousness when she married a senator from above the Mason-Dixon line, along with one interesting character, a heretical gay uncle who’s just as hateful and bigoted as the others, but whose constant perverse and sacrilegious utterances everyone accepts with a shrug. Their endless dialogues go over and over the same territory time and time again, establishing that they are, indeed, irredeemable racists and all-around awful specimens of humanity. The young lovers’ attempts to get it on are repetitively interrupted by the sparkly time-traveling woman (whose charming Southern accent, by the way, has changed over entirely to a grating New York Jewish one over the decades). When the couple are captured by the redneck family, they are, once again, locked up and threatened in various ways over and over, and despite the time-traveler constantly undoing the ropes that bind them, they always get caught again, sometimes without explanation. Quite simply, the script keeps repeating itself like its caught in a time loop, until the drama of the situation yields to cries from the audience to “get on with it!”

It’s difficult to criticize a film whose heart—both ethically and aesthetically—is generally in the right place (although residents of Alabama might disagree), but the result here leaves much to be desired. Used and Borrowed Time will find probably draw most of its audience from a woke anti-racism crowd looking to feel smart and self-congratulatory while looking down their noses at some admittedly despicable racist strawmen. But I think it’s more of a find for for those of us who seek out the oddest ideas committed to celluloid—whether they be executed well or badly.

Used and Borrowed Time is currently streaming free for Amazon Prime members.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This film manages to beautifully deliver an important message while remaining artistic and unique.”–Adva Reichman, Cult Critic (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: “WORLD OF TOMORROW, EPISODE 3: THE ABSENT DESTINATIONS OF DAVID PRIME” (2020)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: A time-traveling clone appears to David Prime to warn him of future danger.

Still from "World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime"

COMMENTS: There’s probably no one coming into “The Absent Destinations of David Prime” without having seen “World of Tomorrow” or its sequel first—but just in case, know that this short does stand alone, and knowledge of previous episodes isn’t absolutely necessary, though such knowledge will obviously inform and expand your enjoyment.

The rest of us will find the new World of Tomorrow familiar, yet different. The thing that’s most obviously missing is Winona Mae, the child star of the first two episodes. Her imaginative chattering  provided both a ground for Hertzefeldt to bounce his speculative ideas off of, and a comic foil for Julia Potts (who voices Winona’s adult clones). The emotional and thematic core of the first two episodes was the tension between adult realities (represented by Potts’ hilariously flawed and damaged clones) and the innocent potentialities of Winona Mae’s candidly captured childhood. Now, at about age 9, the child has aged out of the role, and with her exit, Hertzfeldt has been forced to adapt the series. Potts still voices an Emily clone (Emily 9, to be precise), but the protagonist is now David, Emily’s love interest, introduced in the original through his brain-dead clone on display at a museum. David doesn’t speak (although his infant self babbles, courtesy of newborn voiceover from one Jack Parrett). The wistful melancholy for childhood lost no longer forms the emotional backbone of tomorrow’s world; instead, it’s the wistful melancholy of lost love—a romance that is complicated by the fact that it happens between various permutations of clones, each of whom share incomplete and faulty memories with their originals. This patchwork reflects the uncertainty (and fatalism) of romantic love. The theoretical construct of “shared memories” both drives the plot and serves as the chief metaphor.

“Episode 3” is less specifically philosophical and melancholy than previous installments, driven instead by its intricate time-travel narrative. What remains the same across all the entries is Hertzfeld’s incisive satire, Emily’s quotable non-sequitur dialogue (“I feel like I should like avocados more”), and the animation, which, although continuing to advance into ever more elaborate organic alien landscapes, remains stick-figure-based. The satire, in particular, hits a high note in this episode: the World of Tomorrow is a cybernetic nightmare of data overload chillingly reminiscent of our own fast-moving times. Tomorrow, humans will have neural chips—the equivalent of iPhones implanted directly inside our brains—that allow us to install and delete various functions as needed. Apps like Chinese fluency or basic ambulation can be removed at will to free up space for new content, such as Emily’s old bundled memories. Advertising is omnipresent; Emily’s memory cache is partly funded by pop-up ads, including one for “holograms that yell at you!”

“Episode 3” also continues the series’ trippy visual style, which has always featured simplistic stick figures marching against colorfully-envisioned digital backgrounds. Hertzfeldt throws in some new tricks, blurring some of the action to depict Emily’s faltering attempts to materialize herself—time-travel creates backwards-compatibility issues—and adding bewildering layers of content and chryons fighting for our attention. David’s hallucinatory journey to a distant moon to collect a trove of memories stored inside a robot could be Hertzfeld’s compressed stick figure tribute to 2001‘s Star Gate. With less dialogue this time around, the director pays greater attention to the sound design, which is stronger and stranger than in previous outings; there are ambient space noises, Emily’s messages are often glitchy and buried in layers of static. The soundtrack is classical and original music, sometimes used ironically (as when “relaxing music” meant to calm an agitated David is overlaid with an insistent electronic alarm directing him to his next destination).

“The Absent Destinations of David Prime” is the most ambitious “World of Tomorrow” yet, clocking it at over thirty minutes long, about double the previous two episodes lengths. The knotty time-travel plot will generates discussion and exegesis (charts may be helpful), without unduly sidelining the series’ main asset: its tragicomic empathy for the human condition. Each episode now is like a clone of the original “World of Tomorrow,” deteriorating in some aspects, but developing their own quirks or mutations, all the while maintaining a basic identity. Having survived the maturation of Winona Mae, it appears that Hertzfeldt’s imagination is capable of spinning out the series indefinitely into the ever expanding World of Tomorrow—and perhaps even to the day after that.

“World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime” is currently available exclusively for purchase or rental on Vimeo. I predict that someday all three episodes (and maybe even a future episode) will be available bundled together on physical media. No time traveler has yet appeared to me to divulge the release date, however.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…. there was no way [Hertzfeldt] was just going to pack up his toys and call it a day after mashing ‘The Jetsons’ and ‘Brazil’ into the kind of digital sandbox that someone could play in until the Earth blew up without ever growing bored of the existential crises it allowed them to imagineer along the way… ‘Time is a prison of living things,’ David tells us, and like any prison, we are always looking for a way out. The impulse to escape will never change, it will only grow weirder.”–David Ehrlich, Indiewire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: SYNCHRONIC (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides

PLOT: New Orleans paramedics discover that a series of bizarre deaths are linked to a new designer drug called “synchronic.”

Still from Synchronic (2019)

COMMENTS: The designer drug “Synchronic” is not “red marijuana,” as some (including us) had speculated, but comes in pill form and is passingly described as “bath salts.” The “chronic” in the drug’s name doesn’t reference weed at all, but has a different derivation, and the movie doesn’t have any relation to the story shared in Moorhead and Benson’s Resolution and The Endless. Synchronic is, instead, a slightly bigger-budgeted turn towards the mainstream for the pair, with two moderate movie star leads in Anthony Mackie (Marvel universe’s “Falcon”) and Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray).

Unusually, I found Synchronic‘s dramatic setup more entertaining than its sci-fi twist. Steve (Mackie) drinks a lot and pops codeine pills. Is he turning into a “junkie paramedic cliche,” as his partner fears, or is there a deeper reason? While Steve is an aging bachelor still playing the field, Dennis (Dornan) long ago settled down with a wife and kid. Each partner envies the other’s lifestyle just a little.  Dennis’ daughter, Tara, is a good kid but, like a lot of 18-year-olds, unsure what she wants to do with her life; right now, her passion is for staying out all night partying. Meanwhile, the two paramedics are called into scenes where they find zonked-out druggies with strange, sometimes inexplicable injuries—like the skull-faced voodoo practitioner who won’t stop laughing despite his compound fracture—all linked to a new designer drug that’s plaguing the city.

So the characters are likable, their situations dramatic and relatable, and they’re all set up for a speculative blast that will blow the hinges off. The problem is that when the sci-fi twist arrives, it’s basic and contrived, and not weird enough to compensate for its unbelievability. The drug’s mechanism is revealed in explicit detail less than halfway through the movie, taking away a potential source of mystery. If you accept the silly premise, what follows is logical—too logical. Even the characters’ emotional arcs are predictable. The trippy promise of the opener, with reality dissolving and reassembling as the synchronic kicks in on an elevator ride, never materializes. All in all, it’s like a run-of-the-mill episode of the “X-Files”; watchable, but nothing special. Synchronic would have been a promising debut film from a new director, but it’s a bit of a letdown from a duo who looked like they were pushing boundaries and getting weirder and weirder.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“With believability being pushed too far, and the film’s direction needing a tighter pace, even the surreal visual effects and trippy weirdness aren’t quite enough to make it work.”–Zoe Margolis, CineVue (festival screening)

CAPSULE: 12 MONKEYS (THE COMPLETE SERIES) (2015-2018)

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DEVELOPED BY: Travis Fickett, Terry Matalas

FEATURING: Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, , Emily Hampshire, Todd Stashwick,

PLOT: In 2043, the world is decimated by a viral pandemic that occurred in the late 2010’s. Scavenger James Cole (Stanford) is recruited by Katarina Jones (Sukowa), a scientist heading Project Splinter, which can send a person back in time. Cole is sent back to 2015 in the hope that he can prevent the outbreak. He encounters virologist Cassandra “Cassie” Railly (Schull) and enlists her help. They discover that things are not easy, as their attempts to prevent the outbreak are repeatedly foiled by the “Army of The 12 Monkeys” and their leader, “The Witness,” who has a grander plan in mind.

COMMENTS: “The best adaptations of IP aren’t in slavish service to their source material but are inspired by that material to say something new — something personal, something genuine. I’ve come to learn that adapting doesn’t have to be an act of re-creation. Just gratitude. We wanted to take our love of Gilliam’s film and with the advantage of a longer form narrative, more deeply explore what it made us hope and believe about the nature of time.”–series co-creator Terry Matalas.

The “12 Monkeys” series was inspired by the feature film Twelve Monkeys (1995). Generally, no one looks forward to television series based on popular films, although it’s a long established TV subgenre. It’s hard enough making a GOOD film that can hold an audience’s interest; with a television series, one has to repeat that success on a weekly basis, AND maintain quality for several years—if things go well for everyone. Some get lucky & hit gold (“M*A*S*H,” “Friday Night Lights”) while most others crash and burn and end up in the cultural dustbin.

So when it was announced that there would be a series based on Twelve Monkeys on SyFy, the initial reaction wasn’t favorable. After all, the movie was directed by , who puts his distinctive visual style even on what would be considered “work for hire” projects—which Twelve Monkeys technically was (David and Janet Peoples’ based their script on ‘s 1932 short La Jetee). With Gilliam having no involvement whatsoever in the new show, it makes perfect sense that most fans would consider it a dubious enterprise.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to watch the first episode in January 2015 and not find it inept and horrible; in fact, it was interesting enough to wonder how long it could sustain itself before collapsing into The Suck. Fortunately, it never did. Over four seasons, “12 Monkeys” kept its promise to its audience to provide quality storytelling. They knew to leave at the top of their game, as opposed to Continue reading CAPSULE: 12 MONKEYS (THE COMPLETE SERIES) (2015-2018)