Book review: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)


We are captives of our calendars.

How else to explain the way looming dates, particularly those for major life events, send us into a flurry of activity and anxiety, a maelstrom of hoping and wishing, planning and organising that in the end, Shakespeare be paraphrased, amount to nothing? Or at least, not what we expected them to?

Arthur Less is a man painfully aware of the machinations of its time and its cruel, unrelenting march to places hoped for but not quite realised; or as he sees it, dreamt of in the heady days of optimistic youth.

A mid-tier writer, as he seems himself, he lives in San Francisco in a home gifted to him by his much older, ex-lover Robert, a man who loved him fiercely but who received nowhere near the same amount of love in return.

This relationship is, in many ways, emblematic of Arthur’s life; an easy cavalcade of moments, one tumbling into the other, neither particular bad not especially remarkable, the dynamic of a person who has had life fall easily and cosily into his lap to such an extent that he hasn’t had to strive or self-examine how it’s all coming together.

It hasn’t troubled Arthur until now, but as he approaches his 50th birthday, and the wedding of Freddy Pelu, the man who got away, to someone definitely not him, Arthur finally faces an existential reckoning, one which causes him to accept an eclectic array of events from around the world simply to get away/

“The Garden of Bad Gays. Who knew there was such a thing? Here, all this time, Less thought he was merely a bad writer. A bad lover, a bad friend, a bad son. Apparently the condition is worse; he is bad at being himself. At least, he thinks, looking across the room to where Finely is amusing the hostess, I’m not short.” (P. 145)

It is not, as you might expect, an attempt to elude the weighty banalities of everyday life, an idyll of time free from the flipping of calendar pages in which he can reason through where his life has got to, and why.

That is how it turns out, in effect, but when Arthur leaves his home for events as diverse as teaching at a German university and reviewing restaurants in Japan, and mismatched program of all kinds of quirky oddities in-between, he simply wants to forgot about letting Freddy go.

Dear lovely, caring Freddy, the adopted son of his frenemy Carlos – he stepped into adopt his nephew Freddy when the young boy’s parents died – who acted as casual as Arthur demanded but who, almost too late, realises he loved the author far more than as a sexual plaything.

Arthur, of course, didn’t help, so used to things simply happening to him, with little to no active effort, that he ended not value things and people as highly as he should.


Andrew Sean Greer (image courtesy official Andrew Sean Greer Twitter account)


When he finally does start coming around to evaluating the dips, rises and contours of easily-begotten life, somewhere between Germany and Japan, and other points in-between, he comes to appreciate that this negligently chilled attitude of his has cost him a great deal.

Of course, like all of us, he is far harder on himself than he should be, sinking into despondency and vicious recrimination when the simple acknowledgement of benign wrongs committed and understanding of necessary restitution is all that’s needed.

Greer writes Arthur, as he does the entire Pulitzer-prize winning masterpiece that is Less with a lyrical poeticism that is as insightful as it is beautiful.

He avoids that messy, emotionally arms-length place that some writers of exquisitely-lovely prose fall into where the words are a thing of breathtaking beauty but the humanity is lost somewhere in the lustrous prose.

Less never once falls into sounding wonderful but meaning little, or feeling like it means little, netherworld where characters pontificate at length about life and its many vagaries but end up sounding weirdly removed from the harsh realities of life real or imagined.

“But could she also have discovered his other crimes and inadequacies? How he made up ceremonies for a fifth-grade report on the religions of Iceland? How he shoplifted acne cream in high school? How he cheated on Robert so terribly? How he is a “bad gay”? And a bad writer? How he let Freddy Pelu walk out of his life? Shriek, shriek, shriek; it is almost Greek in its fury. A harpy sent down to punish Less at last.” (P. 249).

At every point, no matter how poetically Greer dispense with the narrative or Arthur’s great and small, actual or perceived agonies, does the book ever feel anything less than absolutely real.

Everything about the crisis into which Arthur plunges unexpectedly – he think he’s escaping the wedding of his one great love but in reality he’s walking straight into an accidentally self-appointed review of his entire life and the reasons for living it – feels like it come happen to anyone of us.

Granted, it likely wouldn’t sound anywhere near as poetically-pleasing since though we wish we could speak like characters in a well-written book like Less, we really do; instead we are left floundering in a sea of half-realised epiphanies and poorly-articulated insights, aware we are on the road to Damascus but not entirely sure what we should be doing while we’re on it or when we will know we have arrived.

If we ever arrive, since life is rarely that clean-cut or definitive.

Less is a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize winner, speaking to the human condition – one in this case suffused with a gay sensibility since Arthur and many of the characters either are, or are comfortable inhabiting that world but which never feels less than universal every step of the way – in a way that feels intrinsically, deeply relatable, beyond gorgeous in its articulation but never losing the sense that here is something we should be heeding, whatever it is we might be running from.


Mass of movie trailers – Stan & Ollie, Captain Marvel, Prospect, Ralph Breaks the Internet


So many films, so little fun and yet these three films, all utterly different in their own ways, make you want to find all the time in the world to see them.

And so, of course, I will.

Granted I am trying to stick to just one movie a week so I have actual time at home to watch TV and read books and graphic novels, but it’s so hard to stick to that with cinematic gems like these in the offing.

So maybe just two a week … or three .., hell, maybe I’ll just move into my local cinema and be done with it.




(image via IMP Awards)


The true story of Hollywood’s greatest comedy double act, Laurel and Hardy, is brought to the big screen for the first time. Starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as the legendary movie icons, Stan & Ollie is the heart-warming story of what would become the pair’s triumphant farewell tour.

With their golden era long behind them, the pair embark on a variety hall tour of Britain and Ireland. Despite the pressures of a hectic schedule, and with the support of their wives Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) – a formidable double act in their own right – the pair’s love of performing, as well as for each other, endures as they secure their place in the hearts of their adoring public. (synopsis via Comic Buzz)

One of my fondest childhood memories involves watching Laurel and Hardy shorts that Australia’s national broadcaster ABC used to screen at about 1 pm weekdays.

Whenever I was home sick or on holidays, I would sit there delighted watching these comedic gems which were made between 1921 and 1943 along with a slew of feature films, utterly enraptured by the joyous rapport between the two performers.

But as with anything in life, and especially entertainment, what you see upfront isn’t necessarily what what’s happening behind-the-scenes and so it was with Stan Laurel (1890–1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892–1957) who, though close friends throughout their mostly joint careers, also had their differences.

Name me any friends, especially those working so close together, that don’t and as Paste Magazine notes, those moments of discord are good dramedy fodder:

“[The film] is set toward the end of the duo’s long association. Unsurprisingly, the film milks some of the infighting between the two for dramatic effect, as it does also with Hardy’s deteriorating health, brought on no doubt by the large man’s famous girth. The whole thing is set to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien'”

Stan & Ollie opens 11 January in UK and 21 February 2019 Australia.





(image via IMP Awards)


The story follows Carol Danvers as she becomes one of the universe’s most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races. Set in the 1990s, Captain Marvel is an all-new adventure from a previously unseen period in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

What a riveting trailer!

It suggests rather than outright tells, leaving plenty for us to discover in the film rather having all handed to us on an overstuffed promotional plate, and even better, Marvel’s first female superhero lead, a refreshing and long overdue change of pace from the testosterone-laden, hyper-masculine films they have released to date.

For the record, I have enjoyed many of those films, but there is something captivating about seeing a superhero who’s isn’t initially sure who she is, who is willing to take to grapple with the uncertainty but who is more than able to stand up for herself without the aid of any man when the need arises.

There are very few superhero films I get truly excited about – I am not a comic book fan boy of longstanding so my exposure to many of these characters is minimal – but Captain Marvel looks like it has captured both intimacy and expansive and I can’t to catch it, and a rather magical cat who is not a cat at all, in cinemas

Captain Marvel opens in Australia on 7 March 2019 and 8 March in UK/USA.





(image via IMP Awards)


A teenage girl and her father, Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and Cee (Sophie Thatcher), travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants, but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape. (synopsis via official Prospect site)

Greed is bad; we know that.

What Prospect tells us is that it is every bit as bad in outer space as it here on good old planet Earth.

In fact, this adaptation of the 2014 short film by directors/writers Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl does it so well, and with such immersively fraught energy that Variety was led to say that Prospect is what a “standalone Star Wars movies should feel like”.

That is some high praise there with Den of Geek! further observing that the film “a sci-fi twist on gold rush classics like The Treasure Of Sierra Madre.”

It looks and sounds utterly brilliant, a sci-fi film with something to say and an impressive way of saying it.

Prospect premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2018 with international release dates TBA; following its cinematic release, notes Den of Geek!, the film will be a “major movie carrot for a new US sci-fi-centric streaming service from SingularDTV, called DUST.”





(image via IMP Awards)


Ralph Breaks the Internet leaves Litwak’s video arcade behind, venturing into the uncharted expansive and thrilling world of the internet – which may or may not survive Ralph’s wrecking. Video game bad guy Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) and fellow misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (voice of Sarah Silverman) must risk it all by traveling to the world wide web in search of a replacement part to save Vanellope’s video game, Sugar Rush. In way over their heads, Ralph and Vanellope rely on the citizens of the internet – the netizens – to help navigate the way, including a website entrepreneur named Yesss (voice of Taraji P. Henson), who is the head of algorithm and the heart and soul of trend-making site “BuzzzTube.” (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Oh what a glorious thing!

A new Ralph Breaks the Internet trailer!

In this second promotional piece of animational eye candy for Disney’s next cartoon blockbuster (trust me on this), we have Rick Astley singing, Disney Princesses, spam ads walking and talking and Buzz Lightyear! (And lots of exclamation marks! Yes, I’m excited!)

But it’s not all sweetness and light and emotional journeys of discovery – we also go to the Dark Web and – gasp – to the comments section where the seedier, trollier side of the internet emerges. Points for not glossing over harsh realities Disney.

Overall though this looks like a fantastic romp through the internet that reminds of Inside Out and Zootopia for sheer world-building inventiveness. I think we’re all going to love it.

Ralph Breaks the Internet opens USA on 21 November, UK on 30 November and Australia on 26 December.


Rip’d from the pages of my childhood: Miffy by Dick Bruna

(image (c) Dick Bruna estate)


Dick Bruna, creator of Miffy, died at the age of 89 in February 2017.

That might seem like a brutal way to begin an homage to one of the children’s books series, and characters, I treasured most as a child, but the truth is his death rattled me far more than that of many other great writers and actors of the years in which I grew up.

Partly because my dad had just died eight months before, his death still very raw and present, a marker of my passing years that sat painfully atop, and almost obliterated, every other aspect of my life at the time; but also because his passing reminded not so much of the time rushing by, although it did, but the fact that so much of what I loved of my childhood had been created by people who would soon no longer share the planet with the very characters they had created.

There is something confronting about that, especially when you’re talking about a cute cartoon rabbit that debuted in 1955, 10 years before my birth, inspired, so says Bruna’s obituary in The Guardian, by the need “to entertain his infant son after they saw a rabbit in the dunes while on a seaside holiday.”

That largely explains why this post has been kicking around this blog for almost 18 months, something I desperately wanted to write because I adored Miffy’s sweet, colourful innocence, but almost next to impossible to put pen to paper because of what she now represented.

Quite a lot to sit on one small rabbit’s shoulders.


(image courtesy Simon and Schuster)


Oddly, despite being enraptured from almost the word go by Miffy’s bright, vivacity countenance, Bruna’s “little rabbit” (from Nijntje which is what Miffy was called in Dutch, the author’s native tongue) was not universally loved by parents:

“But Miffy was not an overnight success; parents weren’t impressed with Bruna’s iconic simplicity: “They said, ‘Oh, that’s too simple. The colours are too bright and I don’t like blue and green together,'” he told the Guardian in 2006. “But I thought it was nice to make everything as simple as possible to give children lots of room for their own imagination.”” (The Guardian)

That surely was the very essence of her appeal, along with her adorably lovely disposition and Bruna worked hard to make sure she was as appealing and emotionally-rich as possible:

“Bruna, who also worked as a graphic designer, spent years finding the specific red, blue, green and yellow that would become known as the Bruna colours. He would later expand his palette for Miffy’s friends Snuffy Dog, Boris Bear and Poppy Pig, but again agonised over the right shade of grey, brown or pink. Despite all of the books, he said that he found drawing Miffy’s eyes and famous ‘x’ shaped mouth hard: “That’s all you have. With two dots and a little cross I have to make her happy, or just a little bit happy, a little bit cross or a little bit sad – and I do it over and over again. There is a moment when I think, ‘Yes, now she is really sad. I must keep her like that.'” (The Guardian)

You could see all that love and care in every last one of Miffy’s almost 30 adventures, which began in 1955 with Miffy and Miffy at the Zoo (the title most indelibly imprinted on my mind and which I still own) and finished in 2017 with posthumous title Miffy is Naughty.

Each of the stories were just 12 pages long, printed in a small, easy to hold size for a child, a reflection, says Wikipedia, of Bruna’s belief that “that his audience [feel] that his books are there for them, not for their parents”.


(image courtesy Simon and Schuster)


Honestly I’m not sure any of that ever crossed my five-year-old mind although I did love the fact that the books were easily able to be held by me, that they were astonishingly bright, suffused with Bruna’s primary colour palette – and I was, likely always will be, enraptured by everything vividly colourful so my love of Miffy’s distinctive look makes perfect sense – and that Miffy was as inquisitive and eager to learn about and experience the world as me.

That makes sense; books for kids of the age I was when my mother first introduced to Bruna’s enduring creation are supposed to engender and cultivate the kind of curiosity that was Miffy’s trademark.

But there was something captivating about the way Bruna made something so profound and wonderful look so easy, simple and effortless.

It wasn’t of course with Bruna, again according to The Guardian, working “seven days a week and rose at five every morning” despite “his huge financial success” but then truly great, affecting creations rarely are, as anyone who has ever lived to one of ABBA’s pop gems can attest.

Bruna saw what he did as nothing much it seems, telling The Guardian in 2006 that “I just see it as a very ordinary job. There is nothing else I can do, apart from make little drawings and stories.”

I am not alone is saying that was it was anything but ordinary.

Miffy, sweet, vivid, adorable Miffy, earned a place forever in my heart by being utterly extraordinary, a small rabbit that along with her parents, her fraternal grandparents, Aunt Alice Alice and Uncle Brian, sibling and friends like Boris and Barbara Bear and Poppy Pig, came to be a huge part of my early life in such a way that I am still writing about her almost 53 years after my birth.

That’s some kind of legacy, and I am forever grateful that I have finally reached the point, almost 2 1/2 years after the loss of my beloved dad where I can finally pay tribute to the “little rabbit” who made such a big impression on my life.


Solo: A Star Wars Story – off to hyperspace (and digital + Blu-ray release) we go!

(image via IMP Awards)


When it comes to Star Wars, and more specifically, Solo: A Star Wars Story, I am more than happy to nail my galactics colours to the mast.

I loved this film; as in really, immensely, absolutely enjoyed it.

Many didn’t, and I respect it even if I don’t understand it; I mean, the film had everything – engaging characters, a fun-filled, heartfelt backstory for a person we have known and loved since 1977 when A New Hope blew our collective sci-fi loving minds, and an epic story that tied in neatly with what is to follow in the films that follow it (even if they technically came before it; it’s timey-wimey cinematic stuff OK?).

Soon we can experience it all over again when the film comes out digitally on 24 September and on Blu-Ray and on-demand on 25 September. (Australian release date for DVD and Blu-Ray is 3 October.)

Until then we have all the many extras that will come with the physical release including this gorgeous clip which shows that even Han Solo gets a kick out of going to hyperspace.

It’s a joy to watch, as is this film; trust me, you’ll love it.


Movie review: Nonnas on the Run (Niente di Serio) #LIFF18

(image via Film Affinity)


In an age when everyone is being encouraged to celebrate and own who they are without apology – unless you are a rightwing reactionary in which case stay just as you are, thank you; or better yet, don’t be that person at all in the first place – it is odd how we continue to treat old people.

Tucked away in retirement homes and sequestered in villages of identical dwellings, they are expected to stay quiet, out of the way and for all that is good and holy, not even think about living.

Franca (Nunzia Schiano), a sweetly-innocent but gutsy when needed retired restaurateur from Naples, and Angela (Claudia Cardinale), a Duchess who has lost her fortune through gambling, are having none of that sort of life-limiting philosophy.

Bored out of their ever-aspirant brains in their retirement home in Rome, they concoct a mischievously-elaborate plan, with the aid of Franca’s disaffected granddaughter Matilde (Daphne Scoccia), to hit the road, like septuagenerian Thelma and Louises, or ageing Ferris Buellers, for Venezia where Angela’s famous conductor son will be performing.

It’s all wildly silly and gloriously over-the-top but you don’t begrudge Laszlo Barbo’s often surprisingly heartfelt confection one iota of its fun as it goes from improbable set-up to brilliantly-hilarious execution, all the while celebrating the fact that bodies may age but the human spirit has a marvellous way of defying those degrading odds.

The trick, of course, in the middle of all the shenanigans, and there are shenanigans aplenty in what is essentially a caper film where yes there is fittingly stealing (for the best of causes naturally in which case — thieve away) is keeping the film rooted and centred on some fairly-affecting humanity which Barbo does superbly, his script with Raffaele Napoli never once forgetting that Franca and Angela are not simply pot devices but real, living, breathing human beings who simply want one last grand, defying-expectations adventure.


(image via Filmitalia)


Which is precisely what they, and we by extension, get in hilarity-laced buckets.

It all begins, as every adventurous romp must, with an inspired getaway which sees Angela and Franca setting up the two youngest, and thus ready to fall in love (so they rightly assume), attendants at the home Giuditta (Ilenia Pastorelli) and Guido (Edoardo Pesce).

With these lovebirds otherwise diverted into romantic and, ahem, carnal pleasures – they provide some delightful visual hijinks as the two road trippers make their break – Franca and Angela proceed to hit the town only to find their would-be jaunt to Venezia almost-foiled by thieves.

To the rescue come outrageously-fun gay couple Lulù (Jordi Mollà) and Carmen (Josafat Vagni), dolled up in their cross-dressing finery, who soon, as is the way of film this fun, become an integral part of the women’s lives and thus of the lighthearted though often powerfully introspective plot.

Throw in Franca’s disaffected daughter Giovanna (Lidia Vitale), who is second-guessing every decision she has ever made including remarrying and consigning her mother to a retirement home, and you have the perfect recipe for a tale of dreams-retaken, redemption-found and lives forever altered.

There are, naturally enough, more than a few setbacks along the way but where would a grand adventure be if things didn’t go wrong and you didn’t have to use your considerable nous, and Franca & Angela have it in spades, to figure a way forward.

The ways forward are many and highly-amusing, involving purloined police cars, stolen toilet breaks in a farmer’s field – where the farmer invites everyone to an unforgettable drunken dinner – wall-to-wall news coverage where erroneous assumptions are made and a remembrance of things lost and others newly-found or discovered for the first time.


(image courtesy Film Italia)


For all the madcap fun, though and Niente di Serio (literally “nothing too serious”) is resolutely madcap all the way along, Barbo is unafraid to take things to some fairly dark, confronting places.

One morning, for instance, shacked up in their lavish hotel in Pisa courtesy of Angela’s occasional gambling prowess, Angela comes back from shopping for adventure-fabulous outfits only to find Franca, who is a joy from start to finish, able to lie like a fiend when necessary but charming to small children into the bargain, regressed to a grieving widow, desperately begging her beloved Gaspare to return to and rescue her.

It is a deeply-moving scene which once again grounds the two women – Angela is awash in regret for the way her financially-profligate ways have estranged her beloved son from her – as two very real people for whom the romp is more than a piece of cinematic hilarityl it is, in fact, their very last roll of the dice, their one last chance to Carpe Diem the hell out of life.

In every measured, introspective scene, and they sit unexpectedly easily along the most outrageous moments such as shopping trolley ride past the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we bear witness not simply to the very heart of who Franca and Angela are beyond grandmothers and retirement home escapees with the polizia on their tail, but to the salient fact that no one ever stops wants to live, really live.

Age and circumstance may conspire to make the realisation of that driving need to go all out and make the most of life increasingly difficult, if not all but impossible, but that doesn’t mean the person within ceases to dream.

In our misplaced zeal to easily-categorise everyone, we often forget that real people exist behind the archetypes and old people are perhaps the most poorly-serviced by their demographic categorisation, leached of all their individuality, their drive, verve and sense of wicked, fuck-the-consequences fun.

Niente di Serio gives Franca and Angela, who you will fall in love wholly and completely without reservation because their dreams are, in the end, yours too, a voice and sense of self that along with the redemptively uplifting flavour of the rest of the narrative where a disparate group of people become family, invests the film with a beguiling sense that anything is still possible even when you’re at an age where everyone says you should pack the dreams away and slide into banal obscurity.

Not ready to even consider that? Niente di Serio is your film, your inspiration, your soundtrack to silver-edged defiance, a delightfully substantial rebuttal to the idea that age condemns us to nothing but a shadow of our former selves.



Everything is possible … even the impossible: Mary Poppins Returns (new trailer)

(image via IMP Awards)


The cast of Mary Poppins Returns includes Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train, Into the Woods), Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana), Ben Whishaw (SPECTRE), Emily Mortimer (Hugo) and Julie Walters (Harry Potter films), with Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins). In addition, Dick Van Dyke plays Mr. Dawes Jr., the chairman of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, which is now run by William Weatherall Wilkins (Firth), and Angela Lansbury will play the Balloon Lady, a character from PL Travers’ original children’s books. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

It goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway because the blog post demands it, that there is something utterly magical about Mary Poppins.

The way she appears from nowhere, knows exactly what needs to be done and wastes no time doing in the most imaganative ways possible is nothing short of fabulously wonderful, and the first full trailer for the upcmoming sequel to 1964’s Mary Poppins reveals all kinds of magic, animated and otherwise, at play when mary returns once again.

There is, of course, music, worlds within worlds and some tough love, reflecting the books of P. L. Travers which were always a lot darker than Disney ever allowed for, and it’s good to see, even though I am ardent fan of Julie Andrews’ performance in the original film, how the talented Emily Blunt gives Mary a sharper edge.

The tale though is ultimately redemptive and there is no doubt that by the end of the film everyone will be better for Mary Poppins being there, but oh what fun we shall have arriving at that magical place!

Mary Poppins Returns premieres USA on 19 December, UK on 21 December and Australia on 1 January 2019.


Fear the Walking Dead: “MM54” (S4, E14 review)

Ah, the lure of the open road … freedom, fun and serial killers on your tail (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)



“Bad shit happens when you try to help people.”

Not exactly the sort of sentiment you’re likely to see splashed across a Hallmark card any time soon, but one voiced in the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead titled “MM 54” which opened wide the great divide between those who see merit in helping others in the midst of the zombie apocalypse and those who see no worth or value in at all.

In fact, the latter viewpoint, largely represented by Martha (Tonya Pinkins), who is mad, quite mad, and who has been aggressively proselytising the gospel of Being a Zombie Makes You Stronger.

Leaving aside the rather hypocritical stance that sees her thus far not committing to zombiefying herself (so a “do as I say, not as I do” approach), hers is a stance that has seen many echoes through both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, both of which have been committed to asking how much of our collective humanity can last through the Darwinian survival race to the bottom.

In Martha’s case, not much; but in a piece of brilliantly-nuanced writing, a hallmark of Fear the Walking Dead from the start, we were given insight into what happened to the Avenging Zombie Angel of Death to make her such a gung-ho advocate for the strength of the undead.

Put simply, in a very moving scene, we saw Martha sitting in a crashed car next to her husband who is dying, impaled on a street sign, the victim of the haste shared by many other motorists, not of whom stop to help Martha by the way, to out-drive the impending end of the world. (Newsflash everyone – it’s EVERYWHERE.)

Wrapped in pleasing disbelief and grief, Martha watches her husband die and turn, forcing her to do what so many others have had to do and “kill” the one she loved, in her case with a fetchingly-jagged piece of glass.


Nothing like being the member of the Zombies Make Us Better cult doing the pursuing (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)


Her grief feels so real and agonisingly authentic that it’s as if you can reach and touch it, and you can well understand how, left alone and ill-prepared out in the middle of the Texan countryside, she goes completely and utterly mad.

It’s a reaction to not just the grief of losing the man she loves, but her inability and powerlessness to help him, and her anger at everyone who failed to stop and help her when they could, and you can feel for her in her isolation, both physical, metal and emotional.

Yes, for the same Martha who we see kill Good Samaritan after Good Samaritan – all part of Clayton’s (Stephen Henderson) network of “Take what you need, leave what you don’t” truckers – in her near-messianic fervour to stop people helping other people, a criminal weakness she can no longer abide.

It’s shocking seeing one person after another, good to the last one, turned into zombies by Martha and used by her to turn the next person she comes across, but it’s a piece of extraordinarily well-written powerful storytelling that establishes Martha as a layered, all-too-human Big Bad and not some one trick, half-drawn caricature like Negan whose shtick grew very tired, very quickly.

Her actions are nothing but horrific and utterly inexcusable, but they are the product of a broken and shattered mind, one so lost to the darkness of grief and loss that there is no reasoning with it.

Lord knows Mo-mo (Morgan, played by Lennie James) tried but she was having none of it, driving off and leaving everyone on the highway as their truck exploded, and they were left to wander down the highway, slowly and with no protection against the gathering horde.

So much for lending a helping hand huh?

After all, Mo-mo, Laura/Naomi/June (LNJ, played by Jenna Elfman), Sarah (Mo Collins), Wendell (Daryl Mitchell) – who by the way lost his wheelchair and thus ability to transport himself in the truck fire – Jim (Aaron Stanford), knee deep in yelling and whinging, Al (Maggie Grace) and Luciana (Danay García) are all in this position because Mo-mo wanted to help people.


“Leave the safety of the brewery, they said.”
“It’ll be fun, they said.” (image via Spoiler TV (c) AMC)


Of course, only Jim is gauchely churlish enough to publicly start laying into Mo-mo, accusing him of ruining things for them all – conveniently forgetting that Mo-mo saved his life in the first place – before apologising and then laying in all over again when the hospital in which they’re sheltering is overrun by zombies. (It’s an apocalyptic tantrum that helps no one, least of all Jim.)

You get the feeling that Jim, who pays for his lack of gratitude with a bite to the back from a stray zombie (the episode ends with him yet to turn), is alone in his regret with LNJ saying to Mo-Mo, as they shelter on the roof of the hospital thanks to generator-assisted lifts, that she knows he can get them out of this mess.

Quite how is another question entirely since they don’t have wings, the hospital is full to brimming with the undead and they’re surrounded on the ground too, but her faith and willingness to keep living the Gospel o’ Mo-mo (catchy isn’t it? Just send $99.99 in monthly instalments to the address on your screen and you too can be marooned far above the ground) is admirable and you get the feeling, flaky though Mo-mo has been at times, that it’s a sentiment shared by the others.

And also by Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Charlie (Alexa Nisenson) who after failing to find everyone but finding the burnt-out truck wreck – pssst! They’re on the hospital roof surrounded by tons and tons of … oh, never mind), and setting off half-heartedly for Galveston to see the sea so Alicia could feel like she’d done something “good”, stumble across John Dorie (Garret Dillahunt) and Victor (Colman Domingo) whom we don’t see but know are the people Alicia is looking across the alligator-infested water at.

Despite everything they’ve been through, they (except for Jim who shall brew beer no more) still believe in the value of helping others, an amazing mindset to cling to when you take into consideration everything they’ve been through.

By rights they should’ve given up the Good Samartian-ism, just like Martha, but they haven’t, making their faith in doing “good”, as Alicia termed it, real, muscular and transformative, the kind of thing that cant survive pretty much everything thrown at it, including hordes of ever-present zombies.

  • Next week on Fear the Walking Dead in “I Lose People …” (aren’t they always in the last place you looked?) …




“Aww c’mon guys, I’ll play nice”: Murphy Brown is back right when we need her

(image courtesy Google)


In this somewhat blighted Trump-ian age of “fake news”, opinion as fact and fact as opinion, we have become ever more dependent on and in need of people, particularly journalists and decision-makers who will stand up and tell it like it is even in the face of a barrage of often brazen illogically-relenting messaging.

People like CNN’s Jim Acosta and Dan Rather, and of course, Murphy Brown, were she real … what am I saying? She is real, or at least feels that way, a fearless journalist played by the incomparable Candice Bergen for 10 years between 1988 and 1998 who knew the rich and powerful but never hesitated to hold them to account.

If ever a time needed someone like that it is now and thankfully, as part of a wave of often damn good Nostalgia TV which includes the newly-reanimated Will & Grace, Murphy is indeed back, along with Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) and Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), and thankfully creator/writer Diane English and, oh happy days, six of the original writers.



The TV landscape, along with society generally, has changed dramatically and it’s not just all those MAGA devotees muddying the collectively-factual waters as this synopsis reveals rather beautifully:

“Back in the game after a brief retirement, and faced with a world of 24-hour cable, social media, “fake news” and a vastly different political climate, Murphy is determined to draw the line between good television and honest reporting, proving that the world needs Murphy Brown now more than ever.

“Amid a divided nation, chaotic national discourse and rampant attacks on the press, Murphy decides to return to the airwaves with her biting take on current events on the CNC cable network’s morning news program, “Murphy in the Morning,” for which she recruits her “FYI” team: lifestyle reporter Corky Sherwood, investigative journalist Frank Fontana, and her former wunderkind news producer Miles Silverberg.” (Spoiler TV)



But not only is the program different, but so are some of the people, familiar faces nowithstanding:

“Joining them is social media director Pat Patel, who is tasked with bringing Murphy and the team into the 21st century. Murphy’s millennial son, Avery, shares his mother’s competitive spirit and quick wit and is following in her journalistic footsteps with his own new show as the liberal voice on the competing, conservative-leaning Wolf Network. The team still lets off steam at Phil’s Bar, now run by his sister, Phyllis.” (Spoiler TV)


It’s Murphy in the Morning and suddenly the world feels pretty much all right again (image via Spoiler TV (c) CBS)


Swimming in a volubly fluid sea of Twitter and Facebook pontificating, a fractured public consciousness and shrunken attention spans, and tackling the current Trump malaise on a range of issues, Murphy has her work cut out for her but you know what? I have a feeling someone of Murphy’s tenacity and strength of opinion is going to do just fine. (Just for the record, I am a huge fan, considering the show one of the best sitcoms ever.)

It’s the other people (including perhaps some unwitting assistants?) you should be worried about when Murphy Brown returns, to my great excitement, for a much-delayed 11th season, on Thursday 27 September at 9.30 pm on the CBS (international distributors TBA).


Movie review: Christopher Robin

(image via IMP Awards)


“There’s more to life than balloons and honey, Pooh.”

“Are you sure?”

This small but important exchange between an exasperated adult Christopher Robin and a gloriously-innocent Winnie the Pooh captures the very heart and soul of Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster to a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy and Allison Schroeder.

The latest in Disney’s increasingly long line of live action iterations of classic characters, Christopher Robin unashamedly takes us to a place with which we are no doubt all familiar – no, not the Hundred Acre Wood although it does feature and it is lovely to go back there any time you can, but a place we all inhabit as adults where, after roaring into adulthood with blinkers on and hope & excitement rising high, we realise we may have left too much of what really matters to us back in our all-too-easily discarded childhood.

What to do, what to do, what to do?

For realising we have lost a great deal is one thing, but working out to recapture it is another thing entirely.

Christopher Robin, played with joyous vulnerability by Ewan McGregor, discovers this one Saturday in a London park near his home where, fresh from an unexpected Saturday stuck in the offices at Winslow Luggages crunching numbers to save the company, and lamentably not with his wife Evelyn (Hayley Attwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael) at the Milne country cottage where he had promised to be (the latest in a series of broken promises), he realises he is quite lost indeed.

For pretty much all of us, that is where this one-way conversation would end; but for Christopher Robin, who we meet as a child at the start of the film in a gloriously-evocative mix of E. H. Shepard’s classic Winnie the Pooh artwork and live action scenes where Pooh and the gang farewell Christopher Robin before his reluctant departure to boarding school, this is where his recreation as a playful adult begins when his beloved Winnie the Pooh answers him from the park bench directly behind him.


(image via IMP Awards)


(image via IMP Awards)


Like any of us, Christopher Robin, shell-shocked from service in World War Two and shorn of the magical escapism of his childhood in the Hundred Acre Wood, reacts initially with shock and dismay, wondering if he has in fact gone completely bonkers mad.

But no, Pooh is indeed there, as beguilingly intuitive as ever, a “bear of little brain” who, Christopher Robin later reminds him, happens to have “a very big heart”, and unwittingly, for everything Pooh does is inspired in its lack of guile, points his old friend back to the path he long ago lost.

Of course, the transformation is not immediate not willing at first, with Christopher Robin holding obstinately fast to his joyless adult persona, one which sees him ready to sacrifice family for work (though with some trepidation; he is not a heartless monster, just overly-responsible) and send Madeline off to a boarding school to get equipped for life.

But what of life, exactly?

That’s the big question that Winnie the Pooh, voiced with whimsical warmth by Jim Cummings, poses again and again to Christopher Robin who takes his friend back to the Hundred Acre Wood – his arrival in London is facilitated by the most magical of arboreal means which Pooh, as always, takes at sweetly innocent face value – on a quick Sunday morning trip which is meant to be an in-and-out affair with minimal interruption caused to his weekend workload.

But this is Pooh we’re talking about who, armed with a giant red balloon, one of the many tropes woven into the film along with “hunny”, “Pooh sticks” and a slew of heartwarmingly lovely catchphrases and songs, approaches the reappearance of his much-missed friend with the equanimity with which he approaches everything.

Caught rather wonderfully in what amounts to a perpetual childhood, Pooh, Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), who gets many of the best lines in the film after Pooh, Tigger (Jim Cummings with bouncy zeal), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo) & Roo (Sara Sheen) and Owl (Toby Jones) know nothing of the ways of “adulting”, especially that of postwar Britain, and can’t understand why Christopher Robin, after he saves them all from imagined Heffalumps and Woozles, can’t just stay and play with him.


(image via IMP Awards)


(image via IMP Awards)


To Pooh especially, who loves nothing more than going nowhere because it’s one of his favourite things and doing nothing because it often leads to the very best of somethings, there is nothing more important than being close to the ones you love.

He doesn’t say it that profoundly but then he doesn’t have to; as Christopher Robin comes to realise how much he lost and how much he has to regain if he’ll just embrace Pooh’s simply but profoundly heartfelt wisdom, Pooh’s simple act of devotion, of waiting for Christopher Robin again and again, do all the talking for him.

In fact, the scenes between Pooh and Christopher Robin are as deeply-moving as they come, offering a reassurance in the dark valley of existential uncertainty from which Christopher Robin draws most effectively – the film may seem down and grim at times but then that is essential to the narrative which, like Toy Story and The Neverending Story, understands that remembering and loving give life while forgetting takes it all away – that the answer to all the loss and pain may be as simple as finding that long-suppressed inner child and letting him loose to play again.

No doubt there are those that will think this is too simplistic as response to the wearying complexities of adult life, but in Christopher Robin, there is robust joy in this simplicity, made full-to-bursting by devastatingly beautiful cinematography (the Hundred Acre Wood scenes are especially captivating), dialogue that sparkles with joyful recognition as we encounter old friends again who have changed little, and happily so, and script that is never heavy-handed or cloying but emotionally-resonant in all the right ways.

It is all too easy to feel lost as an adult, and wonder how on earth we got from happy there to whatever the hell this is, and while Christopher Robin doesn’t discount the here-and-now since the titular character has great riches in hand if he’ll just look up and notice, it makes a strongly heartwarming case for why going back isn’t just possible but necessary.

And if your “back” involves friends like Winnie the Pooh, who is adorably, endearingly perfect in every day in this film, as are Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger, then going there once again makes perfect sense, with your return setting in motion a reinvention of a life long surrendered to everything that is pernicious about adulthood with few of the benefits.

Christopher Robin is thus a supremely charming joy, a beautifully-imagined and gorgeously-expressed film that understands nostalgia exists because we have misplaced something in the present, and suggests, with garrulous sincerity, that maybe all we need to do is bring our past and present together and wait to see what happens.

Oh, and make sure there is plenty of honey because as one very wise bear constantly reminds all through the film, it is the key to satisfactory enjoyment of everything.




A trio of TV trailers! The Flash S5 + Outlander S4 + The First




THE FLASH (season 5)


(image via Comic Book (c) CW)


I’ll be honest – season 4 of The Flash felt a whole lot like treading water, with a plot that could have been done in half the allotted number of episodes.

The Thinker (Neil Sandilands) was annoyingly evil if that makes sense; more prone to posturing than actually doing, glacial in the execution of his plan (one that revolved around taking over the bodies of countless other Meta Humans) and Negan-like in his one-note, one trick pony persona.

Colour me bored and disinterested and honestly relieved when everything finally got resolved.

What kept me hanging in there was the fact that the writing of the main characters from Barry Allen aka The Flash (Grant Gustin) to Iris West (Candice Patton) and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) has been so universally relatable, bizarrely odd though their lives may be and narratively-convenient their arcs, that I have come to really like them.

I mean, really like them – they actually feel like the family they’re meant to be and I like spending time with them. Sure they can’t be insufferable, or irritating or make really bad decisions, but just like your real family (well, mine anyway), you forgive, forget, move on and keep loving them come what may.

So I’m excited about season 5, and hope that they have a whole lotta fun with the sudden appearance of Barry and Iris’s daughter … from the future! Oh, and there’s a man “hiding in the shadows” – here’s hoping he’s more exciting to watch than The Thinker … AND a new variant of Wells — what will we get this time?



So here’s the cast talking all about what we can expect from season 5, which kicks off its 22 episode-run on 9 October on CW.




OUTLANDER (season 4)


(image via IMP Awards)


I have always loved grand sweeping epics, no matter the genre, and I am sucker for “wuv, twu wuv” of any stripe, so it makes perfect sense that I’d fall, and fall hard, for Outlander, a Starz series based on the books of Diana Gabaldon.

What helps keep me glued to each season, which typically arrive after an inter-season gap charmingly called a “Droughtlander”, is how well-written the show, how they take an outlandish, potentially mawkish premise, and make it feel real and relatable.

That’s quite a feat when the heroine of the piece, Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), is dashing between the 20th and 18th centuries via stone circles in the Scottish countryside, falling in love with the ruggedly handsome and muscular, swoon-worthy 18th century Highlander lord James “Jamie” MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and bearing him a child who she raises … back in the 20th century.

It’s an over-the-top concept but it works, and works brilliantly well, thanks to the strength of Gabaldon’s writing, rich, well-wrought characters and some real emotional stakes that make sense no matter the time period or situation.

Season 4 sees our intrepid couple in the Americas, in the early days of the colonial period where, no doubt, things will go wrongs, things will go right, and there will be high stakes, drama and surprises!

What are they? Find out at Hollywood Reporter, he says, carefully dodging spoilers, and eager to see how Claire and Jamie dodge temporal issues aplenty in amongst the grim realities of 18th century life and love.





(image courtesy Hulu)


Any time people venture into the unknown, there is a cost. The First tells the stories of those that would venture there. Set in the near future (2030), this groundbreaking story explores the challenges of taking the first steps towards Mars. Viewers will get an intimate look at the dedicated characters trying to reach the unknown while dealing with the psychological and physical toll it takes to achieve the impossible. (synopsis (c) Coming Soon)

You have to hand it to those adventurous souls who are the very first to do anything.

While there is, of course, preparation leading up to their first bold steps for humanity, there’s still a huge amount of faith and a sizable sum of self-belief powering them along paths that no one has gone down before.

It’s gusty, it’s brave and comes with as many risks as rewards … and yet still they go, an admirable step into a great beyond that should be saluted.

The First, about the initial colonisation of Mars is, as you might expect, fit to bursting with these types of people, and while reviewers like EW feel they don’t always get the tone right, it sounds like it’ll be worth watching just to get a glimpse of the kind of spirit that leaves everything known and loved behind and sets off to fields anew and unexplored.

The First is currently streaming all eight episodes on Hulu.