Saturday morning cartoons: The Addams Family

(image via All Cartoon Characters (c) Hanna Barbera / Warner Bros)
(image via All Cartoon Characters (c) Hanna Barbera / Warner Bros)

 

Way back in the dim, dark days of my childhood, I somehow missed how often episodes of my favourite TV cartoons were repeated.

Not surprising in one way since (a) I was a child and the immediacy and fun of something was the preoccupation, not a statistical repeating pattern – unless I’d been a maths prodigy in which case that might have been all I thought about – and (b) cartoons were usually screened during school days, spaced just far enough apart that any remembrance of episodes was dim and foggy at best.

So it was in the mid-’70s that I missed the fact that The Addams Family animated series, made in conjunction with Charles Addams upon whose The New Yorker cartoons the show was based, had but a scant 16 instalments to its spooky name.

It mattered not, as did the essential repeat of each episode’s narrative – the Family would roll into town, have a delightfully creepy time according to their delightfully twists whims and desires, spending money hand-over-fist at which someone, who would not triumph in the end, would try to take advantage of their Otherness.

It was a well-worn groove but so perfectly executed, with the vivacity and joy of people unaware, and likely uncaring even if they were cognisant, of their inherent weirdness, their complete and utter departure from societal norms, that you couldn’t help but get swept up in it.

That I think was the key to this shortlived series which nevertheless left quite an impression on me.

For a young boy struggling for being teased for being Other – I was gay, something I didn’t fully acknowledge ’til many years later but which my fellow students seized upon with malicious glee almost instantaneously – and not really fitting in no matter how I tried, finding, subconsciously at least, that there was an entire family who were wholly different and didn’t fit in, was reassuringly comforting.

Admittedly I didn’t exactly sit there and psychoanalyse their appeal – I was always self-aware true but at the end of the day I was kid first and foremost – but deep down I knew that Gomez (Lennie Weinrib) and Morticia (Janet Waldo), Pugsley (Jodie Foster, yes the very same) and Wednesday (Cindy Henderson), Lurch (Ted Cassidy), Uncle Fester (Jackei Coogan) and Grandmama (Janet Waldo again); only Coogan and Cassidy reprised their roles from the 1964-66 TV series – but I knew, I KNEW, that what The Addams Family faced I faced.

And that made them, in a way, my kind of animated people in a way that Scooby Doo or Wacky Races, fun though they were, never quite were.

 

What was appealing about The Addams Family, which got its start in animated form at least in an episode of The New Scooby Doo Movies, “Scooby-Doo Meets the Addams Family” (a.k.a. “Wednesday is Missing”) which aired 23 September 1972, was how self-contained and happy they were.
It didn’t matter if they were camped out in New York’s Central Park, being sold the Museum of Natural History or the green space in which they resided itself by opportunistic shysters, or out in the creepy swamp Everglades or the bright lights of Nashville, they were content to dig a moat around their spooky camper van, which came complete with bats in the belfry, fill it with Insta Swamp Monsters and sit back and take the world in.
And if it was raining? Then all the better, an enhanced day not blighted by sunshine or roses or any of the things most people consider the marks of a well-built society or time fruitfully-spent.
Grandmama would make a freakishly nasty brew of some kind, Uncle Fester would try to construct a dinosauric monster out of bones – a totally original kind of model kit – and Wednesday would pursue ownership of the legendary Boola Boola with the sweet “I MUST have this!” intensity of childhood, and all would be right with the world.
The thing is they all loved and accepted one another, Gomez and Morticia most especially whose grand French-accented love affair was the stuff of late night legend, and whether they were sleeping out under the stars or occupying themselves in their alligator and octopus – the series introduced us to Ali the Alligator, a trusted steed who took them everywhere, and Ocho the Octopus – they were totally and utterly comfortable in their own skins.
Each episode came with the requisite number of visual gags of people almost jumping out of their less-comfortable skin when they realised that the toll for entry to the park was being paid by Thing, or reacting with ill-disguised, or not-disguised-at-all horror, when they found themselves in the unusual camper van and found that the ornaments, animals and damn near everything else was alive, hungry and fiercely-protective of The Addams Family.
And no matter who tried to take advantage of their Otherness, or thought they were an easy mark, the naively-trusting Family always came on top, proof that being different and being happy about it – swamps the perfect holiday location? Naturally! The supernatural an ordinary part of life? But, of course! – didn’t have to be something that cost you – in my case any semblance of a peer-supportive childhood – but could be the very thing that happily defined you, irrespective of whether the world around you, and really what do they know, accepted you or not.

 

Movie review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

The inherent ability of the ordinary to turn, without warning, into the extraordinary and take everything else along with it in a status quo-unsettling melee, sits at the centre of a great many stories, especially those in the fantasy and young adult genres.

Inherent in these sorts of narratives is the idea that just beyond our rather limited perception sits a world or worlds that defy everything we have known about reality up to that point.

Though a well-used trope of storytelling, it makes for gripping, compelling drama when in the right hands, and hands do not come more adroit than those of Tim Burton who has shown a real gift for combining the bizarre & the unusual with the comfortingly heartwarming and meaningful.

He is at his exemplary best in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, based on the 2011 book by Ransom Briggs, which offers a wholly original take on a great many well-worn, close-to-expiry date tropes of fantasy storytelling.

In no particular order we have the young hero Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) who journeys to a remote island off the coast of Wales after a family tragedy to find some answers and hopefully closure, his detached dad (Chris O’Dowd), his devoted grandfather (Terence Stamp in fine form) who knows things, many of which he has imparted to Jake through stories in his childhood, and a bombed-out manor house that seems to be way more populated than it should be.

Sensing that there is more to the house than meets the eye, Jake finds himself meeting the residents of the home, who exist not in 2016 but in a time loop that runs the course of 3 September 1943 over and over again, providing a supposedly safe haven for the “peculiar” children who live there, and their guardian, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who possesses the ability to turn into a bird at whim.

Somewhat like the mutants of the X-Men universe, but also a world apart, the Peculiars run the gamut of sweetly odd with a boy internally made of bees (Hugh – Milo Parker), Emma (Ella Purnell), an aerokinetic teenager who controls air to spectacular effect, a super strong young girl (Bronwyn – Pixie Davies), Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) who can raise the dead and the inanimate who act only on his command and even an invisible boy Millard (Cameron King), who has a penchant for going nude much of the time, something of which Miss Peregrine, a loving but stern disciplinarian most certainly does not approve.

 

 

Like any innocent young man drawn into a strange world he never thought existed, Jake is first frightened, then bewildered then intrigued, assured by an increasing sense that he has found a home where he least expected it.

Of course, no idyll is ever truly safe in a fantasy story of this kind and Jake soon finds himself challenged in a thousand different ways to realise his destiny and save the Peculiars and their guardians from the Hollows, Peculiars gone monstrously wrong who sort immortality but lost their humanity instead.

Led by Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), in sparkling, quip-dropping form who steals pretty much every scene he’s in – if you’re going to be the bad guy, at least make it memorable seems to be the attitude – they spend their lives hunting down Peculiars and stealing their eyes in an attempt to regain some semblance of forfeited humanity.

But while the form returns, the soul remains poisoned and so Jake finds himself in a world he has never conceived of fighting for the oddest people he has ever met, and yet in Burton’s hands, the most human of any of the people in the film, against a foe with cold bloodthirsty intent.

On paper at least, it reads like the sort of story you have seen (or read) many times over.

But there is something engagingly original about Riggs’ storyline and Burton’s evocative cinematic retelling that elevates it far above many of its genre compatriots.

Much of this can be slated home to Burton’s keen visual eye which drops you into a fully-formed, luxuriously-expansive world which feels every bit as natural and normal as our own on its own terms, with people who though different – Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a jaw full of large serated teeth at the back of her head for instance – simply want to be loved, accepted and left in peace, like anyone else.

It’s this combination of the fantastical and the all-too-human that provides Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children with much of its appeal, investing Jake’s titanic, and only-occasionally-horrific but still tense battle with the required emotional gravitas to make it matter.

 

 

There is a lush connectivity to the whole film, with every single moment making absolute sense on its own, but beautifully and seamlessly leading to the next, lending the film a gorgeous feeling of being a world wholly unto itself.

It is inextricably linked to our own of course, and the fight scene at Blackpool Pier more than underlines that as the Peculiars’ reality and our own come together, but as is true of so much of the world inhabited by Miss Peregrine’s charges, it also stands alone, prompting a quandary for Jake about which reality he is most fully a part.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children may look dark and forbidding in the trailer, and in certain aspects it most certainly is, but at its heart, it is about belonging, of being accepted without qualifications for who you are, themes which run through much of Burton’s work.

He has long championed the unusual, the strange and the downright bizarre as something not to be feared but valued as another facet of the reality we all inhabit, and this is never more on display than in this enchanting, richly imaginative, visually and narratively immersive film which champions the underdog and the outcast and argues, quite successfully, that they are every bit as worthy of love, care and a trouble-free life as everyone else.

It proves this point emphatically over and over, rewarding us with one of the most complete, exquisitely-well rendered, emotionally evocative films of its type to come along in some time, so beautifully and flawlessly put together with characters you can’t help but become invested in, that you might be tempted, like Jake, to reconsider whether the ordinary reality you inhabit is really the one you want, and need, to call home.

 

 

Just dance! TV show characters get their groove on in Timberlake mashup

Ross and Monica Geller (Friends) get on down to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" (image via YouTube)
Ross and Monica Geller (Friends) get on down to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (image via YouTube)

 

A deftly executed mashup is a viral thing of great joy and so it is with the latest superlative effort from What’s the Mashup? which blends dance footage from 75 television shows ranging from Friends to Sponge Bob Square Pants, Mr. Bean to Happy Days and The Simpsons to Glee with the gloriously danceable sounds of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the Trolls soundtrack.

It’s energetically, wonderfully catchy and will not only have you up dancing – go on your feet are tapping like mad! You know you want to, you really, really want to – but will make you wish you jump through the fourth wall and groove along with The Fonz, Ross Geller and yes, even Doctor Who.

What? You didn’t realise they dance on Gallifrey? Of course they do?

The marvellous thing about the mashup, which merits repeated watches over and over, is that it so seamlessly bring dance scenes from such disparate TV shows together in such a joyous fashion.

You will marvel, you will sing along and you will dance! Oh yes, YOU WILL DANCE.

(source: Laughing Squid)

 

Book review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

(image courtesy Pan MacMillan Australia)
(image courtesy Pan MacMillan Australia)

 

Jason Dessen has it all. Well, almost everything.

He hasn’t even come closing to realising the impressive potential he showed at university as one of the most promising astro-physicists to come along in years, a man destined for great things.

But while that nags at him, and he wonders if, in another life, he might have risen to others’ pre-conceived notions of greatness, he takes great comfort in the love of his artist wife Daniela and his 14 year old son Charlie and his career teaching at Lakemont College.

His life then is one of reasonably blissful domesticity, hardly shocking or surprising or frenetically burbling along on the path to Nobel Prize-awarded greatness – or in the case of Blake Crouch’s latest engrossing read Dark Matter, the Pavia Prize, named in honour of his editor Julian Pavia – but inordinately satisfying achievement even if high-achievers like his former college roommate Ryan don’t see it that way.

The central idea underpinning Crouch’s remarkably accessible treatise on choice and the many paths different choices can take you, is the multiverse, an intriguing theory that posits that every choice we make creates it own reality, resulting over a lifetime, or even part of a lifetime in Jason’s choice, in a multiplicity of equally valid timelines, each of them following their own fateful paths.

“What if all the pieces of belief and memory that comprise who I am  – my profession, Daniela, my son – are nothing but a tragic misfiring in that gray matter between my ears? Will I keep fighting to be the man I think I am? Or will I disown him and everything he loves, and step into the skin of the person  this world would like for me to be?” (P. 75)

In some, for instance, Jason is a brilliant physicist, a man who gives the multiverse accessibility through a remarkable black cube-like structure sitting in a state of quantum substantiation, that can take you, if you are of the right mind, to all manner of realities, each of which literally waits behind a door in a maddeningly endless black corridor of possibilities.

In others, he is dead, or destitute, or the world he inhabits is poisoned, riven by war or close to being his reality but off by crucial, all-too-easily noticeable degrees.

It’s Sliding Doors on acid, a free-ranging, fast-barrelling trip through the infinite chances life gives us, a thousand moments of opportunity that we give little though to us we rush from train to errand, work to social engagement but all of which matter a great deal and can be the beginning and end of all things.

 

 

But matter these decisions both large and small most certainly do and Crouch does an admirable of breaking down mind-boggling physics so that it makes enough sense to enjoy this afternoon-consuming book.

Moving at a brisk pace as the author ratchets up the pace from a slow-burning start where Jason has his cosy, happy world spectacularly ripped asunder and altered to the point where his wife no longer recognises and his son doesn’t exist, to thriller-like speed where Jason is on the run from those who would steal his reality and from a multitude of Chicagos, all of whom are intriguing but none of which are home.

Barely pausing for breath but always deeply intelligent, emotionally-resonant and utterly-captivating, Dark Matter is above all an intensely personal love story, of one man’s driving need to get back what was taken from him.

“Amanda once said that her old world has begun to feel like a ghost, and I think I know what she means. We associate reality with the tangible – everything we can experience with our senses. And though I keep telling myself there’s a box on the South Side of Chicago that can take me to a world where I have everything I want and need, I no longer believe that place exists.” (P. 240)

As the novel progresses, with time ticking down with relentless speed and little mercy, and the windows of choice narrowing to suffocating degrees, Jason is forced to come to terms with what matters to him, who he is once all the trappings of career, social engagements and the minutiae of modern life are stripped away, and it is he ultimately wants.

Is it a glittering, achievement-filled career and the admiration and veneration of others or is it the love of his wife and son and a life defined by connection, emotional resonance and glasses of wine and pasta on a Friday with those he loves.

These decisions, so seemingly simple on the surface but utterly powerful in the context of Crouch’s tale, drive this compelling story, one that on the surface comes dressed in thriller-like simplicity but which is profoundly intelligent and emotionally transformative as you grappled with the idea of choices not made, decisions not taken, and the way in which they have changed your life for the worse or the better.

While Dark Matter does suffer from a lack of substantial world building – each of the various realities that Jason lands in are explored to a limited degree but are then left behind with tantalising in-filling still beckoning – and the characters aren’t really given much time to ponder the lessons they are learning or the wacked-out realities they are confronting (Daniela and Charlie handle the news of the multiverse with an all-too narratively-convenient swiftness), it more than makes up for that with an emotional understanding of what it is that underpins our lives.

Yes we all want to feel like we matter, like we have done something significant and worth remembering over the eons, but in the end what defines us, without a hint of maudlin sentimentality or corniness, is the connections we make with others and the love that permeates everything we do, and it’s this, says Crouch in Dark Matter, that is the ultimate arbiter of success in anyone’s life, whatever path it may take.

 

The short and the short of it: The animated sweetness of The Wishgranter

Love has a way of delightfully unsettling the most entrenched of lives (Image via YouTube (c) Chalkdust)
Love has a way of delightfully unsettling the most entrenched of lives (Image via YouTube (c) Chalkdust)

 

Even the best of us get jaded.

It doesn’t matter how exciting our jobs are, or how emotionally-fulfilling our relationships might be, or whether we are engaged in the most altruistic of earthly pursuits, at one point or another ennui will dejectedly raise its seen-it-all head and wonder at the point of it all.

Most likely sighing like the ages as it does so.

One guy who knows all about this unfortunate crinkle in the wonder of life is the titular Wishgranter of this charming short film directed by Echo Wu, Kal Athannassov, John Mcdonald – collectively known as Team Chalkdust – and produced at Ringling College of Art + Design in Orlando.

Even though he is tasked with granting the wishes of the people of the town in which his wishing fountain sits, a magical undertaking in anyone’s book, he has grown, tired, disenchanted, bored with the sheer joy and wonder of it all.

That is until one young man and one young woman arrive at the fountain separately, thrown their coins in simultaneously and well … let’s just say that love has a way of enlivening even the most hidebound of days.

The Wishgranter, the subject of a successful 2015 Kickstarter, is pure delight, a gorgeous reminder that even in the most same old, same old of circumstances, that unexpected magic can occur.

Keep wishing, people!

 

Fear the Walking Dead: “Date of Death” (S2, E13 review)

Even in the midst of the frantic busyness of the zombie apocalypse, Madison and Alicia know that contemplative mother-daughter time out on the pier is essential (image courtesy AMC)
Even in the midst of the frantic busyness of the zombie apocalypse, Madison and Alicia know that contemplative mother-daughter time out on the pier is essential (image courtesy AMC)

 

*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF FOOLISH ACTIONS, GOOD AND BAD … AND FRAT BOYS WITHOUT CONSCIENCE*

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to  Mr. Amorality 2017! In a contest which is sure to create a talking point within the apocalyptic Twitterati – now confined to using actual birds – we’re looking for the male survivor of the zombie apocalypse who best typifies the twisted values we hold dear – survival at all costs, shoot first and then eat all the chickens (not the eggs) and kill anyone who slows you down or hinders you, even if you’ve known them since they were 6 years old!

“Parents will hate it! Unattached young men will love it! And trust us, it’s a big hit in San Diego – well what’s left of it anyway! Haha! Bit of topical black humour there folks. Now moving on …

“Having seen how our contestants, particularly Chris (Lorenzo Henrie) performed in the Killing of the Kindly Mexican Farmer Only Defending His Farm (and His Family’s Last Resting Place) section of the contest, let’s go and see how our judges will be voting. First up, Brandon Luke (Kelly Blatz), what say you?”

Brandon is gunning his enormously-oversized truck and doesn’t hear the question at first.

“United States, man!”

“Yes Brandon, we know – it’s north of here and as dead as everywhere else. Your vote please.”

“He should die, man! Totally die! In fact I’ll shoot him!”

“Interesting reaction Brandon.”

“It’s the way of things now, man. It’s the only way! Even though he’s my friend! Well you know ’til he’s dead, infirm or otherwise incapable of meeting my apocalyptic needs. So, um, you know, he’s totally my pick for the prize! … and by the way, I’m not crazy! I’m totally sane OK? And so is Chris. Really.”

The compere nods with eyes widened and turns to judge #2, Derek (Kenny Wormald) who’s less sure of himself and tends to hover behind Brandon, saying “Yeah” and “What he said dude!”

“Your vote please.”

“What he said dude! United States! *Fist pumps*”

The compere rolls his eyes so hard he looks like he’s turning – Brandon instinctively reaches for his gun and a nearby chicken drumstick.

 

Life isn't easy as a member of the ever-moving undead so precious chilled moments on the beach are always an important part of the day (image courtesy AMC)
Life isn’t easy as a member of the ever-moving undead so precious chilled moments on the beach are always an important part of the day (image courtesy AMC)

 

Compere takes a step back or two and looks at the last judge, Travis Manawa, a man haunted by parental failures and the realisation that his once big-hearted “good kid” is now a morality-free bad seed. Travis sighs and implores Chris, who’s thrilled he is almost Mr Amorality, to think again about whether he really wants the crown.

“Dad, these are my people! As Mr Amorality, I’m free to kill, maim and steal without conscience, I am finally home. Let me go Dad, let me go!”

Travis shakes his head, murmurs something about “damn you” and refuses to cast a vote in favour. Chaos erupts, Brandon shoots the comperes, guns the truck and takes off with Chris and Derek in the back, leaving the dead body of the fourth judge James McAllister (Israel Broussard) lying in the barn behind him, a bullet through his never-to-be-turned brain.

Travis, devastated by Chris’ betrayal, not once but twice, wanders off into the farm, staggering in grief and loss, determined to be so incommunicative that everyone will assume he killed everyone.

… And so ends another episode of Mr Amorality, every sociopath’s favourite apocalyptic game show!

So it is that Travis, bearded, unkempt, and possessed of vision so keen he sees Madison’s (Kim Dickens) ill-advised illuminated hotel scene from far off – see last week’s episode “Pillar of Salt” – and arrives to be reunited, sans Chris at the lovely but increasingly crowded, more on that later, Rosarito Beach Hotel.

The scenes involving Chris, Travis and the frat boy morons, who were determined to head home despite assurances it no longer existed, typified what makes Fear The Walking Dead such an impressive feat of nuanced, muscular storytelling week after week.

Eschewing the ethos of The Walking Dead, exemplified even by Rick and his band of survivors, that might always equals right – a belief system that only a few such as Dale and Hershel veered away from and then not always completely – the overwhelming philosophy in Fear the Walking Dead is the decency, humanity and community should still prevail even in these more Darwinian times.

Not everybody buys into that of course but it’s interesting to see the show consistently stake vastly different philosophical ground to its compatriot series and to wonder if the apocalypse might not bring out the best in people, a shared sense of collective responsibility to find a way forward, rather than the worst?

Chris aside, who Travis had to let go, with massive regret of course, as he chose the darker side of the equation.

 

Chris hasn't got the best track record when it comes to people - he's either trying to kill them or becoming sociopathic friends with them (image courtesy AMC)
Chris hasn’t got the best track record when it comes to people – he’s either trying to kill them or becoming sociopathic friends with them (image courtesy AMC)

 

Meanwhile back at the Rosarito Resort Hotel Madison was reaping the whirlwind of her decision to switch on the lights to attract her errant son back home.

While Nick (Frank Dillane) was a no-show, still shacked in the weird pharmacist cult over in Tijuana, Travis did turn up as mentioned, along with 43 refugees, all of whom begged to be let in.

Faced with being decent humanitarians or keeping their enormous redoubt to themselves, they initially chose to keep the gates well and truly locked. Way to kick your humanity to the curb guys.

There’s Travis preaching the gospel of loving and caring for your fellow person, especially important when the majority of them have died, reanimated and want to eat you to Chris while Madison won’t do the same back at the hotel.

She and the others relent eventually – well the others do while Madison tries to tease out of Travis what the hell happened to him and Chris – and open the doors to their sanctuary firmly closed, a policy they might to come to regret when Brandon and Derek turn up at the gates to be let in, sans the poster boy for the sociopathic apocalypse Chris right at the end of the episode.

The big scene at the hotel is Madison telling Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) that her dear daddy, the block from which Nick’s flawed chip was broken, actually killed himself. Wow, bummer of a way to make the apocalypse even worse there mum – great going! Why don’t you tell her pet rabbit was eaten by a coyote and isn’t at that nice farm in Ohio like you told her?

The saving grace of this seemingly ill-timed confession was that she had the chance to tell Alicia that she’d never been the second-best child and that she’d always been loved and only been neglected by dear old mum because she thought she could handle it. It might sound like a deleted scene from a sappy Hallmark movie-of-the-week but it actually worked rather well as an nuanced character moment, reaffirming once again that family, blood or created, is what powers this latest iteration of The Walking Dead universe.

  • We all know though that heartfelt conversations in idyllic, supposedly safe locations always presage everything going to undead hell in a handbasket and so it is that events come to a head in next week’s doublebanger finale “North” and “Wrath” where all the best laid plans of mice, men and zombies come undone …

 

Hidden Figures: The amazing women who helped make space flight happen

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

One particularly famous and near-ubiquitous phrase, “History is written by the victors” (attributed to Winston Churchill but origin unknown) is used to explain the fact that so often through history we are given access to one group or person’s view of proceedings.

It has some pertinence in Hidden Figures, a film which pays long-overdue homage to a group of remarkable people who were pivotal to American involvement in the Space Race, but who, being both black and female in a society where the ruling elite were white and male, were pushed to one side, their stories subsumed into the approved prevailing narrative.

But as Taraji P Henson, a self-confessed “girl from the hood”, who plays mathematics genius Katherine Johnson, noted at a recent screening of part of the film at the Toronto Film Festival, that did many people a disservice not least young black women like herself looking for compelling role models.

“All I had was dreams and hope and that’s the reason why this is so overwhelming. If I had known about these women when I was growing up then maybe I would have aspired to be a rocket scientist. Kids of colour just look up at sports and rap and acting and there is so much more important work to be done.”

But while that is a vitally important point, Janelle Monáe who plays Mary Jackson, says she feels the lesson of Hidden Figures goes even further.

“When I see them, I just see heroes. I’m proud as a woman and I’m proud as a minority but I’m also proud as an American. They’re superheroes but they’re real.”

And that’s why it’s so important in a world still defined by very narrow parameters of achievement that the stories of women such as Johnson, Jackson and Vaughan are celebrated far and wide so that everyone everywhere is given the chance to make their mark in this world and broaden the membership of the victors category once and for all.

Hidden Figures premieres USA on 13 January 2017.

 

 

Want Nick Offerman to read Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” to you? Of course you do

(image via Hypable (c) Audible.com)
(image via Hypable (c) Audible.com)

 

Nick Offerman is one of the most talented actors working today.

Adept at deadpan comic delivery – a talent enhanced all the more when he’s acting opposite his immensely-funny life partner-in-crime Megan Mullally (they played ex-husband and wife Ron and Tammy in Parks and Recreation) – and deft written raconteur whose books Paddle Your Own Canoe, Gumption and Good Clean Fun are a delight to read, he is seemingly able to lend himself to a whole host of things and excel at every one of them.

So it makes perfect sense that Audible.com tapped to read a new audio version of Mark Twain’s immortal classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), a book that along with its companion piece Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), would, as Hypable rightly observes, “ultimately shape the course of American literature.”

Given the iconic nature of these beloved novels and particularly the character of Tom Sawyer, you can well understand why Offerman is thrilled to be reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer out loud for the world to hear.

“Being paid to perform such a gratifying activity as reading Mark Twain aloud felt powerfully akin to Tom Sawyer hoodwinking other boys into paying him for the privilege of whitewashing a fence. Let’s keep that between us.” (Parade)

He more than does it justice, if this clip is anything at all to go by, with Hypable keenly noting that he “brings his distinctive baritone and a fine-tuned comic versatility to Twain’s writing. In a knockout performance, he doesn’t so much as read Twain’s words as he does rejoice in them, delighting in the hijinks of Tom — whom he lovingly refers to as a ‘great scam artist’ and ‘true American hero’ — while deftly delivering the tenderness and care Twain gave to his own characters.”

He is the perfect choice to take you back to St. Petersburg, Missouri, a million all-too-pleasant and life-shaping worlds away from your daily commute which if it’s anything like mine is nowhere near as carefree or fun as you’d like it to be.

You can get Offerman’s fine rendition of an American classic at Audible.com

 

Comics review: The Flintstones (issues 1 & 2)

It's Fred and Wilma ... though not exactly as you know them (cover artwork courtesy DC Comics)
It’s Fred and Wilma … though not exactly as you know them (cover artwork courtesy DC Comics)

 

No matter how well-educated we might be, all of us have a tendency, to  a greater or lesser degree, to interpret other cultures, peoples’ situations or even ancient civilisations through the lens of our modern worldview.

We might have all the facts or evidence we need at hand but the interpretation will still be that they can’t be as advanced or have lives as progressively fulfilling as we do.

So it is in the first few panels of DC Comics’ more muscular – literally when you check out Fred, Barney and some of their Neanderthal coworkers – interpretation of Hanna-Barbera’s iconic The Flintstones, where a visitor to a museum remarks that, all evidence of complex civilisation to the contrary, that life in a Stone Age civilisation must have been “awful”.

It speaks to the intelligence of this quite modern take on The Flintstones, which crams motions of existential angst, consumer regret, veterans issues and the debilitating after-effects of war, frustrated career and artistic ambitions, teenage angst – Pebbles is as sullen as any teenager and reads book with titles like Cannibalism: The Unknown Ideal – and the stresses, strains but ultimately love of a modern marriage.

It’s way more thoughtful and introspective than its animated forebear which ran from 20 September, 1960 to 1 April 1966 and promised to bring us the “Modern Stone Age family,” a riff on popular sitcom The Honeymooners – to be fair though the animated series contained quite a number of pithy observations about society and the way modernity was changing it, not always for the better, making it way more clever that appearances might suggest – but as a result also lacks much of the sitcom-y fun that was, and is, a central part of the appeal of Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbours Barney and Betty Rubble.

Even so, it’s a really clever read overall, retaining all the pun-laden verve of the original – dinosaurs are still the backbone of the workforce at Slate’s Quarry and shops come with names like “Tarpit”, “Starbrick’s Coffee” and “Outback Snakehouse” – and it’s central conceit that there life couldn’t possibly be advanced when it’s back in the Stone Age.

Ah but that’s the thing it is and quite demonstrably so.

The Flintstones even have TV – though Fred initially goes to throw a rock through Barney’s new purchase, calling it a  “demon in the wall”; there is religion too but it’s a revolving door of pointless deities that provides a deliciously withering commentary on religion and the church – abstract art (one of Wilma’s great loves, both appreciating it and creating it), and modern appliances which yes, are still animals which have attitude just as in the original.

The thing is, and why shouldn’t a cartoon or a comic be able to make this point, is that relative to the people of the day, their civilisation is advanced and certainly as far as Fred and Wilma, Barney and Betty are concerned, they are astride the very pinnacle of humanity’s achievements to date.

 

 

In the animated series, this idea of modern viewpoints skewering our idea of what was advanced was implicit; in the comic book series, which is exquisitely drawn, keeping the visual gag of the Stone Age being modern going – again to the people of the era, it is – it’s said upfront with the narrative making it clear again and again that The Flintstones aren’t lacking in anything.

The visitor to the museum might think so but the residents of Bedrock Valley at the time don’t, with their feet-powered cars, giant sloth couches – yes, that is how they went extinct I believe – their goat-powered lawn mowers and octopus-dishwashers proof that life is good and very good indeed.

To illustrate just how good everyone has it and how recent a development this is, the former lives of Fred and Wilma are illustrated to brilliant storytelling effect.

Wilma makes constant reference to her childhood as a nomadic hunter-gatherer, something she has in common with pretty much everyone in Bedrock, remarking on how much better their lives are now but acknowledging some nostalgia for the past.

Fred too is appreciative of where he is, though he carries some anxiety about being a good provider to Wilma when the demands of modern life, there’s that word again, mean it’s no longer enough to drag a mammoth to the door for dinner and be done with it.

Now you must have all the accoutrements of life in the modern Stone Age but as The Flintstones discover over and over, all that stuff doesn’t necessarily bring you happiness and that it’s who you’re with that makes the difference ultimately.

A nice touch in the comic series is that Fred is a little more in touch with his feelings that he was in the animated series; sure he expressed love and affection for Wilma but it was limited for the most part, but in the comic series he is a modern husband who’s wife is as much a friend as a domestic companion.

While re-imaginings of any pop culture property are always fraught with risk and don’t necessarily work perfectly, The Flintstones is a pretty clever updating of the original.

It retains the quirky premise of a Stone Age civilisation that looks much like our own, rock puns, visual dinosaur gags and all, but makes some very clever observations too about the inherent contradictions of civilised life in the 21st century, giving the series by Mark Russell, Steve Pugh and Chris Chuckry, and how very much like us they actually are.

But also reminding us, and trust us we need constant reminding, that the more things change, the more they stay the same; it’s true for humanity and for The Flintstones, which keeps its goofy edge while sharpening its blade of social observation in such a way that it’s impossible not to wonder just how far we’ve really come after all these eons.

 

(artwork courtesy DC Comics)
(artwork courtesy DC Comics)

 

(artwork courtesy DC Comics)
(artwork courtesy DC Comics)

 

(artwork courtesy DC Comics)
(artwork courtesy DC Comics)

The Best of Adam Sharp: The new book by Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project)

(cover courtesy Text Publishing)
(cover courtesy Text Publishing)

 

SNAPSHOT

On the cusp of fifty, Adam Sharp has a loyal partner, earns a good income as an IT contractor and is the music-trivia expert at quiz nights. It’s the lifestyle he wanted, but something’s missing.

Two decades ago, on the other side of the world, his part-time piano playing led him into a passionate relationship with Angelina Brown, who’d abandoned law studies to pursue her acting dream. She gave Adam a chance to make it something more than an affair—but he didn’t take it. And now he can’t shake off his nostalgia for what might have been.

Then, out of nowhere, Angelina gets in touch. What does she want? Does Adam dare to live dangerously? How far will he go for a second chance? (synopsis via Text Publishing)

Life doesn’t give us a lot of shots at second chances.

Quite apart from the fact that it moves along too fast to pause long enough for a do-over, the odds of the same people and the same circumstances aligning in just such a way that another crack at something is even possible is remote indeed.

But wonders author, Graeme Simsion, who has a tremendous gift for crafting quirky love stories full of wit, charm and profound meaning, what if you did get another chance, in this case with your very first love?

Would you take it and see where it leads? Or would you subscribe to the school of thought that says you can never go back – the idea being that in the intervening years you and that person have changed and so things can’t possibly be exactly the same anyway – and leave it to the “what-ifs” and “might-have-beens” of late.

For everyone who doesn’t want to see where that other Sliding Door might take you, The Best of Adam Sharp gives you the opportunity to live vicariously, to see what a second chance looks like and whether you will gain enough to justify everything you will inevitably lose in the process.

Big decision and one that doesn’t come along all that often. Let the major, no doubt amusing yet touching, existential life crisis begin.

The Best of Adam Sharp released 19 September.