Book review: The Emily Dilemma by Guy Sigley

(book cover courtesy Guy Sigley)

 

Barney Conroy is the literary Frank Spencer of our time.

For those too young to remember the classic British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Frank Spencer was the hapless but well-meaning protagonist who despite his best intentions, and there was no doubting the goodness of his heart, always ended up in one excruciatingly cringe-inducing predicament after another.

He meant well but never quite managed to do well; well, not immediately anyway, with the obvious, most trouble-free option never the one he opted to pursue.

While Barney Conroy doesn’t leave quite the same physical devastation in his wake, the net effect for those nearest and dearest, most especially the long-suffering love of his life and former PR colleague, Gloria, is the same, with emotional messiness and misunderstandings the order of the day.

Much of his inability to get things right the first time, or to be honest the fourth or fifth time, stems from a chronic lack of self belief, the origin of which is thoughtfully examined in the heartfelt and humorous The Emily Dilemma by Guy Sigley, who first introduced the amusingly hapless Barney in the appropriately-titled Barney: A Novel.

The thing about Barney is he’s actually a sweet, talented, intelligent and EQ-savvy young man in his thirties, and in this sequel, which actually works brilliantly, folding in old characters and haunts without once feeling even remotely like a retread, that is pretty obvious from the word go.

Everyone but Barney, and that includes us dear readers, his famous TV actor mother Audrey, girlfriend Gloria, and friends Achal and Mike, can see it; scrape away the Frank Spencer-esque blunders and Barney is a decent, caring guy trying to do his best.

He may not think so, and to be fair all the self-sabotaging negativity does go a considerable way to undercutting his many sterling qualities far more often than they should, but he is a good guy, something that comes to the fore when he unexpectedly ends up the temporary carer for 4 year old Emily.

Initially Barney wants nothing to do at first with the adorably charming, breakfast-obsessed, TV-watching tyke who has a propensity for renaming herself as often as Barney has moments of crippling, hilariously-articulated self doubt, but as you might suspect, all the cuteness can’t just hang in the ether, and soon Barney finds himself falling for the young girl in need of a good, stable, loving home (which she has after a fashion but not quite).

 

Author Guy Sigley signing his previous book Barney (image courtesy Many Books)

 

But while a normal person would immediately confess to the love of their life why they are suddenly in possession of a schedule-upsetting, potential job-derailing, bundle of cuteness – it involves a long-lost ex-girlfriend named Alice, a sudden disappearance and a hygiene-challenging visit to the park (it’s possible Barney is a teeny-tiny germaphobe; OK way more than that) – Barney spins an ever more elaborate web of lies which come close to costing him the engagement he never thought would happen.

In an attempt to ensure Gloria doesn’t have an excuse to leave him – he is convinced this almost-certain outcome will happen sooner or later; see, not a lot of self-confidence there! – he ends up concocting a fantastical tale of half-truths, outright lies and chili-laden faked scenarios.

On one level you’re cringing like an audience member at a particularly bad night of stand up comedy – pertinent since Barney sees himself as a Seinfeld or Louis C. K. in the making – but on another level, and this is testament to how well-wrought Barney is as a character under Sigley’s nuanced and talented hands, you can kind of see yourself making some of the decisions if enough panic-fuelled adrenaline was coursing through your veins.

And that is what makes Barney, for all his poor decision-making and wretchedly punishing inner monologue-ing (much of which is absolutely freaking hilarious), such a lovable guy to spend time with; we may not necessarily get ourselves into the messes that Barney does, but we can see our potential to do so, making him an entirely relatable and delightful character.

Throw in the fact that he is thoroughly good and decent man, who just needs to know that he is a thoroughly good and decent man, and you have one of the most engaging, sweet, and funny (did we mention he has a brilliantly hilarious turn of phrase pretty much all the time?) protagonists to ever grace a book.

Sigley once again gives us a crackingly-fast plot that moves reasonably quickly without once sacrificing decent character interactions or a fairly health dose of self-reflection (pretty much all Barney’s since the novel is told in the first person), all while making room for a neverending stream of  firecracker hilarious bon mots that always merge seamlessly with the book’s more serious moments.

The Emily Dilemma is not just proof positive that sequels can be every bit as engaging as their predecessor, but that in the right hands, and Sigley’s are as adroit as they come, they can make us fall in love with a character all over again, leaving us hoping that there are many more books to come in the series.

Tease me with trailers! Grace & Frankie, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debut new season promos

Ah, the magnetic lure of new seasons of our favourite TV shows!

Is there anything better than being given a view, however fleeting, of what lies in store for characters we have to come to know and love? Sure we want all the episodes at once, yesterday even, but that’s not always possible since even Netflix has its release dates and nothing, not even the fervency of fans, can sway them.

So for now, we must make do with teaser trailers for three stellar shows – Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Grace and Frankie, and HBO’s Silicon Valley, all of which will titillate and amuse but only briefly, leaving us longing for the full trailers to come …

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

Is there anyone more beguiling, more joyously unstoppable and more deserving of everything coming her way than Kimmy Schmidt (played with comedic perfection by Ellie Kemper)?

Of course not, and given her ability to continue to triumph over life when everything says she shouldn’t (but we all know she should, 15 years in a cult bunker be damned!), it makes perfect sense that the irrepressibly wonderful Kimmy should get a third season.

It will however be a season not without complications given season 2 ended with Kimmy receiving a call from the Reverend (Jon Hamm) to say they’re still married (gasp!), all while Titus (Tituss Burgess) heads off to hopefully find fame and fortune on a cruise, Lillian (Carol Kane) protests the growing hipster invasion of her much-loved bedraggled neighbourgood, and Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) re-embraces her Native American heritage and sets out to take down the Washington Redskins.

That’s a whole lot of potential crazy, silly fun going on and you can guarantee that Tina Fey and the team will go to town when Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returns for season 3 on May 19th.

(source: We Got This Covered)

 

 

GRACE AND FRANKIE

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

What do you do when life hands you lemons, very gay lemons at that?

Why if you’re Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) you get angry, try to get even and after a whole lots of emotional ups and downs and twists and turns, you resign yourself, reluctantly at first but then ever more enthusiasm and vigour to forging a new post-married life for yourselves.

Which includes becoming friends with each other, a friendship neither of you saw coming but which ends becoming the defining and best part of your new life, and one that lends a great deal of humour, life, fun and heartfelt humanity to utterly original series.

Throw in stellar performances from Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston as their onetime husbands and now out gay partners, and you have a show that tackles with a very current issue with all the hilarity and heart you could ask for.

And a business venture involving vibrators which is where we left them at the end of season 2, a narrative step forward the should provide a huge amount of storyline fodder come season 3 of Grace and Frankie on March 24.

(source: Indiewire)

 

 

SILICON VALLEY

 

(image courtesy HBO)

 

As far as expressing how difficult it can be to really make your presence felt in our dog-eat-dog world, it was probably Cheers who said it best:

“Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got.”

But in terms of actually demonstrating how badly things can go right, then wrong, then right, then exasperatingly wrong again in the pursuit of your dream, then you probably can’t go past Richard (Thomas Middleditch) who frustrated from his lack of stellar success so far, has now decided he’s going to quit Pied Piper and build a whole new internet.

Ah-huh, yeah, that’ll go well.

C’,mon we all know it will be an epic disaster, bred of good intentions meaning fantastically flawed execution, and we will, of course, be laughing all the way to the venture capitalist’s office when Silicon Valley returns April 23 on HBO.

(source: Vulture)

 

Movie review: Family Commitments #MGFF17

(image courtesy Jewish Film festival)

 

“Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice To Deceive”

Those immortal words by Sir Walter Scott in his poem “Marmion” are full of portentous implications if your neck deep in a drama of Shakespearian proportions; but if you’re in a high farce Germany comedy about the changing landscape of modern relationships? Ah then then they become grist for the comedy mill.

Familie Verpflichtet or Family Commitments, directed by Hanno Olderdissen, draws richly from all those pent-up comedic possibilities, dishing up a highly-amusing, often laugh out loud funny take on the perils of secrets, cover-ups, and the hilarity when truth is inserted, with nervous clumsiness, into this deceptive mix.

It does this by mixing together some very modern sensibilities with some ancient, long-calcified attitudes, providing proof once again that the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same isn’t just sage wisdom but ripe with humorous observations.

David Silbermann (Maximilian von Pufendorf), an aspirationally-wealthy, out young Jewish art gallery owner is deeply in love his closeted Muslim partner, Khaled Aledrissi (Omar El-Saidi), a Phys. Ed teacher who is close to passing his teaching exams.

It’s all romantically idyllic and thus emboldened and inspired, and caring not that his Islamophobic mother Lea (Maren Kroymann) does not like Khaled not the prospect of a union between the charming young man and her son, David attempts to propose marriage.

A simple enough idea, and a deeply romantic idea, that founders when Khaled’s father, a single dad, Faisal (Ramin Yazdani) who has raised him and his sister Ajna (Kristin Hunold), comes to visit, interrupting not only the proposal but any smooth transition to a life of wedded bliss.

While there was little prospect of an interrupted journey to the altar for David and Khaled, the truncated proposal becomes emblematic of deeper problems within the relationship which is assailed on all sides by a host of complicating factors.

 

(image via jiff.com.au)

 

Chief among them and the progenitor of a number of other issues, which are, in the hands of the adept screenplay by Felix Mennen, Michael Comtesse and Sebastian Weyland, as hilarious as they are exasperating for the characters caught in their web, is Khaled’s well-understandable timidity about coming out.

His reticence makes sense when you see his large, extended family in action.

While Khaled’s father is warmly loving and supportive, he maintains some strict ideas, in common with people like his hardline pretty much everything-phobic sister Alba (Lilay Huser), about what is and isn’t appropriate for a young Muslim man. (His position, you suspect, as an arbiter of old-fashioned morality is driven by familial pressure than deep-seated belief; against all advice he married a Sunni woman, Hayat, shocking his Shiite family.)

One of which is that being a luti or gay man is an affront to traditional values and not to be tolerated; there is one scene where much merriment ensues when he and his friends and family members discuss an acquaintance whose third son was found with a German man.

In the face of those kinds of attitudes Khaled recoils, but when a young Jewish woman, Sarah Finkelstein (Franziska Brandmeier) turns up at the door of the happy not-yet-engaged couple with news that she is pregnant with David’s child, the product of a drunken, MDMA-fuelled one night stand at a conference in Berlin the year before, the cat is well and truly set among the pigeons and a whole host of decisions have to be made.

Will they keep the child or adopt it out? If they keep the child, what does mean for their relationship, one that is teetering on the brink in some senses as Khaled grapples with David’s accidental heterosexual infidelity, and David tries to work out how to keep his gallery solvent, one dependent on a creatively-stymied, sex-mad gay painter Nils (Hendrik von Bültzingslöwen) who is mooching off him … and will Lea even allow her grandson to be sent away from the family?

 

(image via jiff.com.au)

 

If all that’s not complicated enough, Family Commitments, which raises some fairly serious, topical issues without much substantial commentary – not a great sin since that is not always the nature of the farcical beast, with this film in particular happy to play for laughs rather than contemplative chortles – throws in a myriad other complications including the good old mixed messages idea, with Faisal, art buyer Mr Maier (Corny Littman) and Khaled’s employers including the sexually predatory and highly-camp headmistress, Frau Löffler (Nicole Marischka), all getting the complete wrong end of the stick.

While the film does occasionally go a little too far over the top, it mostly succeeds, to highly-voluble audience amusement, in hitting its marks, buoyed by the chemistry between von Pufendorf and El-Saidi, and winning performances from secondary characters such as art gallery employee, Petra (Nikola Kastner), and a sense, clearly expressed, that life can be ridiculously, inherently messy.

Not so amusing for the people in the midst of all the shenanigans, upon which rests the future of a relationship, careers, a child’s attachment to his biological family and the rapprochement, should it even be possible, between archly-opposed Jewish and  Muslim families, but for those of us looking on?

Richly hilarious, the power of its comedic observation bolstered by finely-wrought characters who are tropes yes but beautifully-developed ones, and a narrative that doesn’t forget to include a decent helping of emotional resonance with its farcical moments, of which there are many, ever-escalating, examples, Family Commitments leaves you with a lot to think about as gently bickering grandparents, Faisal and Lea, provide one final comedic gem in a credits scene.

It’s proof once again that if you want to not so much examine as raise some weighty, socially-important issues without putting peoples’ backs up before the discussion has even begun, that comedy is the way to do it, pretty much every time.

 

My Life as a Zucchini – the imaginatively bittersweet world of one captivating boy

(image via IMP Awards)

 

“There’s nobody left to love us.”

That haunting phrase, uttered by one of the young children at the orphanage which acts as the sitting for My Life as a Zucchini, which is up for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award at this year’s Oscars along with Zootopia and Moana, reveals a very bleak outlook for the kids who, for various reasons (the first question for every new kid is “Why are you here?”), have been cast aside by their families.

And while it’s true that there is a touchingly melancholic aspect to this film, which echoes the tell-it-like-it-is French/Swiss sensibilities of director of Claude Barras, whose work has been compared to the great François Truffaut, and it will cut to the heart by all reports, there is also an assurance that it’s not necessarily the end of the road for these gorgeously-animated orphans such as the protagonist Icare (French for Icarus).

As The New York Times notes in its review, the story is, thanks to its animation, “is more charming than it is grim … with its bigheaded, asymmetrical modeling-clay figures and off-kilter picture-book backdrops [allowing the film to explore] a harsh situation with gentle whimsy.”

As the review goes on to observe, the point of the film “is not horror but healing” with Zucchini aka Icare befriending a bully and possibly falling in love, all the while finally a shot at moving beyond a life hitherto defined by the loss of his mother and father to various unpalatable fates.

It’s unlikely to win an Oscar against some big Hollywood heavyweights, but it will win your heart over, granting you in a process a whole new appreciation for the healing powers of love and belonging.

My Life as a Zucchini releases in USA on 24 February with staggered worldwide release to follow.

 

 

 

Colony: “Company Man” / “Fallout” (S2, E5 & E6 review)

So that’s a “NO” to Bombing the Hell Out of the Alien Hosts after-drinks then is it? (image courtesy USA network)

 

No one ever said having aliens surreptitiously invade Earth under the guise of a secretive coterie of powerful collaborating human overseers would be easy.

Actually to be fair no one said that at all, but in “Company Man” and “Fallout” we witness the complexities of life under the Raps, the colloquial name for the more-euphemistically termed The Hosts – kinda cheeky since it was our planet to begin with, ahem – not just for the Resistance, who let’s be honest are not ever going to get Christmas cards or invitations to dinner in The Green Zone from the alien overlords but also for those who have thrown their lot in with the new regime in town.

There are varying degrees of accommodation of course, with everything from outright obsequious and scarily ambitious (Snyder played by Peter Jacobson, and deputy L.A. proxy Nolan Burgess and Maddie Kenner, played by Adrian Pasdar and Amanda Righetti respectively) to no-choice-but-to-comply types like Jennifer McMahon (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and to a lesser extent Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) to the outright resistors like Broussard (Tory Kittles) and his crew and Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) who is technically retired from outright opposition.

See not easy or simple at all, and as we begin to explore the dog-eat-dog merciless nature of life in the occupation, for that is exactly what it is despite all the warm and fuzzy motherhood statements and promises of The Greatest Day – for proof check out the near-starvation level doling out of food and the omnipresent surveillance by the drones – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that what we have is an inherently zero sum game.

No one, despite appearances, is really winning, and you can help but suspect that everyone who has thrown their lot in with the aliens is going to get right royally galactically screwed along with the rest of humanity.

Exhibit A is Jennifer, who came to a enormously sad, self-inflicted end in “Panopticon” when she realised that for all her efforts, she would not succeed in winning over the brutal powers-that-be, represented by Will’s new boss, Dan Bennett (Christian Clemenson) and the snide Bob Burke (Toby Huss) who becomes Will’s new partner post-Jennifer.

But her demise, and the ongoing labour camp internment of Bram Bowman (Alex Neustaedter), are simply the most obvious falls from grace.

In ways large and small, every single character in Colony is beginning to realise or will soon realise – hello Burgess getting ratted out by Snyder to L.A. Proxy Governor Helena Goldwin (Ally Walker) after the former pays an authorised visit to look at Super Secret Alien Stuff at the labour camp – that no one is really pulling ahead in the musical chairs death dodgem that is life under the global government, the VGA (Vorlaufige Globale Autoritat).

In fact, everything looks like it is about to deliciously, dangerously and precipitously fall apart on an epic scale for a number of people, someone of whom are well aware of their possible fate, others blissfully not.

 

Sacrifice family for our own selfish interests? Why the hello not! The Raps LOVE us! (image courtesy USA Network)

 

These two episodes brought into sharp relief something that has been evident from the word go with Colony – that Carlton Cuse and Ryan J Condal have gifted with a deeply-nuanced, thoughtful reflection not so much on authoritarian rule – in that respect the Raps are following the Dictatorship 1001 rulebook to the letter – but on how people react to its imposition.

While the more idealistic among us would wish fervently that humanity would rise to the occasion and defy the removal of liberty and human rights in exchange for some vague promises of salvation on the Greatest Day.

Unfortunately reality is way more complicated than that and humanity significantly more flawed, and Colony is doing a sublimely good job of giving us the various gradations all the way through from absolute, blind faith servitude and compliance to bitter, sweat-soaked rebellion

Granted you have the obvious true believers on one side such as Maddie, who shocked sister Katie with the fervency of her new set of beliefs, and Lindsey (Erin Way), the tutor to Will and Katie’s daughter Gracie (Isabella Crovetti- Cramp) who have happily drunk the Kool-Aid and accepted a spurious promise of goodness to come.

And yes there are the obvious resisters such as Broussard and his followers such as BB (Victor Rasuk) who paid with his life in a touching scene with Will in the ruins of his home, and Simon Eckhart (Charlie Bewley) who finds someone he loves is in mortal danger, and to an extent Katie, whose heart remains with the Resistance even if self-survival demands she keep her distance (something she does very poorly, as does Will, in “Fallout”).

But truth lies in the grey areas and it’s there that people like Will and Bram exist, playing both sides of the equation, through circumstance more than ideology or choice, and it is they who represent the true heart of humanity’s reaction to the occupation of Earth.

Sure most people want to take it to the Raps and then some, with deathly bells on, but the grim truth is that life is never that simply, choices never so easy, and reality never so bending to our hope springs eternal will.

There’s no doubt that Will and Bram and countless others want the Raps gone, and everything they had before restored, but that is wishful thinking, for now at least; it doesn’t mean they won’t try and they are, but Colony is wise enough to acknowledge that there is a land mine field of potential hazards between where they are and the promised land, and no one can predict what this great sometimes Quixotic tilt at the alien windmill will cost them.

All that can be guaranteed is the dealing with evil and authoritarianism will expose a great many faultlines in the the collective soul of humanity, with each and every one of them getting a brilliantly nuanced airing on Colony, a show which understands how mercurial and messy life can be, even when it is poised on the edge of an existential precipice.

  • Life ain’t getting anymore complicated in the next episode “Free Radicals” with time ticking away and the options narrowing at every turn …

 

 

 

Haven’t had a chance to watch all the Oscar-nominated films? No problem

(image courtesy the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

 

It’s almost time for the 89th Academy Awards!

Now while many people are merrily making well-considered predictions about who will be clutching a golden statue on the big night and which movie will arise triumphant, I am choosing to once again Switzerland myself out of all the whole process.

Mainly because, despite my best efforts, I appear unable to discern the unfathomable will of Academy members and work out who should win and why. All I will venture to say is that of the Best Picture nominees, I would like either Lion or La La Land to win. May the cinema gods be kind!

If you’re curious about who’s nominated and who should win and who will likely win, check out this post.

But whether you’re playing cinematic Nostradamus or not, you’ll likely want to watch the Academy Awards, so just in case you’ve run out of time to acquaint yourself with all the nominees, Cineplex has kindly put all 47 nominated feature films into one short, easily-watchable supercut so you can look as knowledgeable as everyone else come Oscars night. (source: Indiewire)

 

 

But maybe, just maybe, you’re not so much the looking forward as the looking back type, in which this supercut from Burger Fiction of every best cinematography Oscar winner will be perfect for you … (source: Indiewire)

 

 

Or perhaps you want to see La La Land rendered in gloriously retro 8-bit. Your very musical wish then is granted, courtesy of Cinefix (source: EW)

 

 

Happy Oscars everyone! May your crystal ball gazing pay off and you win your office pool. Or at least get to bask in the adulation of close, movie-living friends, the kind, who like me, adore Oscar Bait movies …

 

Book review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

(image courtesy Hachette Australia)

 

Depending on which side of the aging fence you stand, there is one of two axioms that will guide your approach to life.

The first, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” presupposes that you reach a certain point in life after which all new experiences and skills slide off you like existential teflon; the second by C. S. Lewis “You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream” invokes instead the idea that the boundaries for learning and growing are joyously inexhaustible.

Very early on in Fredrik Backman’s book Britt-Marie Was Here, it becomes patently obvious which camp the eponymous protagonist falls into, and it’s not the one where change and growth is accepted, welcomed and revered.

In fact, when the woman who first made her unyielding presence felt in Backman’s previous novel, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises, first arrives in the decaying, blighted town of Borg, Sweden, she is wholly expecting everyone to bow to her accepted way of doing things.

With a confidence borne of years of acquiescence by everyone around her, fuelled by an indomitable will and uncrushable belief that the universe will always bend to her superior will, Britt-Marie takes up a temporary job at the recreation centre which doubles as an auto repair centre/pizzeria and grocery store – commerce is not exactly thriving in the road of which the best feature is the road going in and out – and expects, nay demands, that everyone will eat their dinner at 6pm, organise their cutlery draw in the right order and won’t drive at night.

She is almost immediately disappointed when people like Somebody who runs the polyglot recreation centre store, brother and sister Omar and Vega, part of the town’s obsessed football team, and Bank, her blind, irascible landlady, not only don’t bow to her superior knowledge and will but do their utmost to change the way she approaches life on just about every level.

Only Sven the local policeman, who takes an immediate shine to Britt-Marie, brittle and huffy-puffy though she may be, seems inclined to heed her advice, but no sooner has he gone along with her more inflexible pieces of advice, than he is side-swiped by another missive from Britt-Marie.

Not even her separation from her husband of decades, Kent, a man more obsessed with his career than her, cam dim her limpet-like hold on the right way to do things and even when events large and small, barely-worrying and traumatic come her way, she is, for the most part, a woman who shall not be moved.

 

(image courtesy Simon & Schuster)

 

Or so she thinks.

As Backman delightfully makes clear over the course of a novel when Britt-Marie goes from annoying to  brusquely amusing to vulnerably charming, Britt-Marie is being influenced more than she knows by the idiosyncratic, football-mad people of Borg, many of whom come to mean a great deal more to her than she had ever intended.

As we watch the slow, much-resisted flowering of Britt-Marie, and her grudging then enthusiastic acceptance of not her new station in life, but a new, damned uncomfortable life philosophy, we bear witness to what can happen when someone finally lets go of long-held assumptions and perceptions about life and  let’s the world do what it will.

It’s a big shift of course and Backman, despite the novel’s often playful, hilariously observant tone, never pretends otherwise, giving us a fairytale change of sorts but not one laden by cheesy road-to-Damascus (or is that Borg?) epiphanies, with one eye always on the fact that admitting you may not have lived life to the fullest is never easy.

“… Britt-Marie is already standing between the pistol barrel and the children. She stretches her arms out behind her to make sure she’s covering the girl and the boy with her body, but she doesn’t move an inch. She’s frozen to the spot, held in place by a whole lifetime of thwarted ambitions. ” (P. 200)

Rather, while Britt-Marie does mellow and yield, and begins to accept there may be a place in her life for a great many things that aren’t on her sacred lists – on which pencil only is acceptable; pen is far too permanent – she is does welcome her gradual transformation with open arms, fighting it all way until it becomes clear that there is no way back to the life she once led.

Even then, she remains rather dubious of the subtle shifts in attitude and feeling taking place, convinced that a woman her age can never change in any kind of meaningful way, a philosophy which also rules out Paris as a destination choice, despite the captivating hold it has on her.

Backman gives us a delightful, emotionally-affecting, oft-funny look at the reawakening that can happen when long-held idea on life are challenged, and challenged profoundly, and a choice has to be made about whether to accept them.

If you have ever felt that change was beyond you, that life has inflicted too much pain, and that you’ve made too many decisions, and that you are a captive of a lifetime spent being everyone but who you actually are, you’ll have much to like about Britt-Marie and her soul-changing journey in the nothing town of Borg, while you grow ever more appreciative of Backman’s unique gift for combining the quirky and the meaningful in a surprisingly moving way.

 

Little girls everywhere she turns: Miranda Hart to play Miss Harrigan in Annie

Miranda Hart will tread the boards as Miss Hannigan in a production of the evergreen musical Annie from May (image courtesy Official London Theatre)

 

Is there anything that Miranda Hart, star of her eponymous sitcom, budding Hollywood star (Spy), author extraordinaire and lover of the word “moist”, cannot do?

I say no – she is simply too much “such fun” to not be absolutely brilliantly, fabulously, hilariously jolly good and far too versatile.

She has once again demonstrated her what I like to call versatility by landing the role of the orphan-hating Miss Hannigan in a Nikolai Foster’s production of Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End from May this year.

Miranda is, as you can imagine, even more excited than we are (which is hard to imagine since all we can think is “This is FABILOSIBISIBOS!”), according to a statement carried by Digital Spy:

“Miss Hannigan is a dream role, and certainly has been for me, but I never thought it would be a reality.

“But here we are and I have a newly found musical theatre-esque spring in my step! I hope people will leave the theatre feeling life is a little better and dreamier and jollier after watching it, as much as we feel that performing it.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some leg-warmers to put on…”

And we are off to book tickets to London! Act normal … act normal.

You’ll be able to buy tickets from Monday 27 February for performances right through to 6 January, 2018.

 

 

 

And of course here’s the great Carol Burnett singing her ode to her hatred of “Little Girls” in the 1982 movie Annie

 

Movie review: Moonlight

(image via IMP awards)

 

There is a point towards the end of Moonlight, an achingly poignant examination of identity, loss and love, that you realise how much damage can be done to one person’s sense of self by the thoughtless words and ill-thought-out deeds of those closest to them.

Chiron (Travant Rhodes as an adult / Ashton Sanders as a teenager / Alex Hibbert as a child), the film’s protagonist, has finally returned home to Miami after 10 years away, ostensibly to see his mother but more especially, to reconcile with his childhood best friend Kevin (André Holland as an adult / Jharrel Jerome as a teenager / Jaden Piner as a child) with whom he enjoyed an all-too brief relationship in his teens.

When Kevin expresses surprise that the slim, cowering teenage Chiron has morphed into a hardened, muscled-up drug dealer named “Black” (Kevin’s old nickname for him), Chiron snaps back that Kevin couldn’t possibly know who he really is, which elicits a soft assurance that he does know who his friend is and the person before him is not him.

It’s a touching riff on a theme that percolates throughout the film, triggered by a simple “Who is you?” question to Chiron when he is a boy, and goes to the heart of the film’s insightful exploration of how deeply identity can be shaped by the words and actions of others.

In Chiron’s case, the influences have been profound, and rarely for the better with his crack-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) about as far from a loving maternal figure as you could ask for, and more prone to belittle and attack her son than nurture and encourage him to be himself.

Her actions, which create an incredibly unsafe environment for Chiron, who is known as Little as a child – the film is divided into three parts, charting the character’s childhood, teenage life and adult life – are made all the worse by a chaotic school situation where the sensitive young man is bullied repeatedly and with violent vigour by a gang led by Terrell (Patrick Decile).

 

 

With no safe place to retreat to, save for occasional nights at the home of Theresa (Janelle Monáe), the girlfriend of a drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who for a time acts a surrograte father figure for Chiron, the young man is constantly under siege, never able to let his guard, and certainly never able to be himself.

This, as you might expect, has a corrosive effect on him, with the suppression of his true identity – he is at heart, a quiet, thoughtful, introspective soul) – eventually leading to the sealed-off drug dealer that Kevin challenges in the gentlest of ways in that pivotal final scene.

Sensitively and thoughtfully handled, thank to expert direction by Barry Jenkins, who also wrote the screenplay based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney (the two men grew up close to one another in the same Miami neighbourhood), it becomes apparent over the three stages of this nuanced film, which is almost as quietly-articulated as its protagonist, that the loss of identity can have a profoundly negative impact on a person.

This rings true for anyone who has been beaten down, either at home or school growing up, and has had to retreat into themselves, afraid to open up or vulnerable lest it grant their enemies an opportunity to inflict yet more damage.

When your identity is broken away bit by bit, piece by piece, and you are only ever able to present the small possible target to the world, your sense of self shrinks along with any expression of who you truly are.

This is painfully, and desperately movingly true of Chiron whose adult self shelters the sensitive young man he once has, someone who has been locked away for many years until Kevin finally gives him a safe place to exhale for the first time in years.

It is damn near impossible not to be moved by Chiron’s quiet, slow-moving self-destruction, a process so dark and unstoppable that not even Theresa or Kevin – who at one point, becomes part of the problem and not the solution – are able to stop it.

Chiron’s is a life lived in an existential war zone and you can help but ache for him as you see him transformed from a tender, of embattled young boy and to an angry, resentful, barely-holding-it-together teenager and finally a hardened adult who’s pretty much given up on life as he once dreamed it could be.

 

 

The isolation and loss that Chiron experiences is vividly brought to life by fine performances by all three actors who play the character, most particularly Trevante Rhodes, a sparsely melodic, emotionally-resonant by soundtrack Nicholas Brittel and cinematography by James Laxton which lingers on Chiron’s face as a thousand contradictory, mostly negative emotions, flash across his face.

It’s the particular decision by Jenkins to use dialogue only when it’s absolutely necessary that accents how intense, and ultimately debilitatingly damaging, the business of growing up for Chiron, who is barely able to salvage anything of himself under the sustained attacks, both emotional and physical he sustains.

His is a life in perpetual triage, and Jenkins excels in bringing this unpalatable reality to the fore time and again, reminding us that no amount of willpower and self-survival skills, and Chiron does have them in spades; they’re simply not equal to the task at hand alas, can save someone when their very sense of self, and the security that brings, is constantly under assault.

While this may seem bleak and unyielding, there are moments of hope and inspiration throughout, particularly in the final, profoundly quiet and romantic scene when Chiron realises under Kevin’s tender ministrations that life may not be done with him yet.

You can also see Chiron relax as years of holding it all in, of pretending to be someone he’s not simply to survive, come away, if only a little at first, and he begins to see that perhaps there is a way forward that will allow him to finally and definitively be himself.

It’s all anyone who has been under constant emotional assault all their lives wants – the chance to rest, relax, put away the existential boxing gloves and simply be,  and watching Chiron endure the damage but then rediscover the hope that he can still reclaim who he is, makes Moonlight one of the most powerful, important and deeply films, not just of sexuality but of humanity itself, to come along in years.

 

 

 

Daffy Duck finds his Gangsta’s Paradise in this marvellous mashup

(image via YouTube (c) Warner Bros.)

 

In the unexpected cartoon/musical marriages made in mash-up heaven, may we introduce you to the joining together of Daffy Duck in all his gloriously hilarious cantankerousness with Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise”, which you’ll recall was the standout song on the soundtrack for 1995’s Dangerous Minds film.

This impressive mash-up is the work of YouTube user isthishowyougoviral aka Adam Schleichkorn, who as EW points out, has been rather busy merging all kinds of cool songs with equally interesting visual inspirations.

“… Schleichkorn has been making mashups for Cartoon Network’s AdultSwim. He previously spliced together Rick and Morty with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank),’ Arthur with Eminem’s ‘Not Afraid,’ and The Muppets with Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing).'”

Joyously capturing Daffy Duck’s kinetic grumpiness and plain ol’ loopiness with a song that is, quite honestly, custom made for him, the mash-up is intended as momentary escape from the current troubles of the world as Schleichkorn explains in the video’s description:

“No matter which side you’re on, there’s a lot of craziness going on in the world today, so hopefully this video is a nice 1 minute break from the chaos …”