Movie review: Monsieur Chocolat

(image (c) Mandarin Films)


Biopics are, in many ways, as reviled as they are loved.

Done well, with inventiveness and a willingness to showcase creatively some core period in that person’s life that speaks best to who they were throughout, biopics are an illumination, a artistic snapshot grants compelling insight to figures often defined by public persona and not much else.

Done poorly, however, and you end up with a muddled mess of haphazard chronology and muted insight that does nothing to add substance to the skeleton of popular perception.

Monsieur Chocolat, from director and co-screenplay writer Roschdy Zem, falls somewhere in-between, existing as much as a harsh spotlight on race relations in France at the turn of the twentieth century as a biographical exploration of the life of Rafael/Chocolat (Omar Sy), an Afro-Cuban who found fame in late nineteenth fame as an “Auguste” (fool) clown, both solo and in partnership with the likes of Englishman Georges Foottit (James Thiérrée) who is featured in the film.

His life was a tragic one in many respects with Rafael sold from poverty in Cuba where he had no memory of his birth parents to what amounted to slavery (though it was technically illegal after an 1862 law change in Spain) with the wealthy Castaño family who treated him so poorly that he ran away at the age of 15 or so, working in a series of oddjobs to make ends meet.

His date with circus destiny came courtesy not of Foottit – although the central conceit of Monsieur Chocolat is that the English crown was the driver and originator of Rafael’s fame and fortune – but another Englishman Tony Grice who took the ambitious Rafael to Paris where he grew so successful he was wealthy enough to wear expensive suits, own car and be the toast of Parisian society.



However, all that fame and fortune came with an onerous caveat, with people applauding Rafael’s role playing in the circus ring, laughing both at the way Grice and then Foottit ridiculed but also Chocolat’s small moment of exquisitely well-timed comedic rebellion, but treating altogether differently once he walked out onto the street.

Moroccan-born Zem, who has focused on the nature of race relations in France in two of his three films (Bad Faith, Omar Killed Me), in unstinting in his portrayal of the cruelly dual nature of Rafael’s life in Paris – feted at the circus where is hailed as a supremely talented comedic actor but often reviled outside of that, especially when, seeking greater challenges and credibility, he becomes the first black man to play Othello in French theatre.

It is gripping and brutal at times, poignant and immensely affecting at others, illustrating how difficult life was for people of colour in Europe at the time – to be honest while things have improved, there is still a considerable way to go – who, like Othello, could have all the trappings of success but never truly be seen as included in the inner sopcietal bastion.

Condemned to be perpetual outsiders, no matter how well acclimated they were to the reigning mores of the day, they were always on the outside looking in, cautioned in ways big and small not to cross certain lines (such as marry a white woman which Rafael did, a French nurse Marie played by Clotilde Hesme) or get ideas above their station.

But as Zem beautifully conveys, Rafael was as much a victim of his own demons as he was institional racism, falling prey to the twin vices of gambling and alcohol addiction, which precipitated his downfall every bit as much as the bigoted society around him, particularly when he began to push beyond the unspoken barriers erected around any success beyond that deemed appropriate.

In this respect then, Monsieur Chocolat sit between the biopic and a searing indictment of racial inequality, a reasonably well-justified tack given Rafael’s life that does far more than the standard biographical storytelling in giving us a fully fleshed out, or as fully fleshed as a storyline with which some liberties have been taken – the insertion of the provincial Delvaux circus, for instance, as the starting point for Rafael’s rags-to-riches climb; he, in fact began his circus career in Paris – overview of Rafael’s gloriously-troubled life.



There it is supremely successful, giving us by necessity of a broad brushstroke sense of who Rafael was, a man buffeted both within and without, and brought to thoroughly affecting, and often likable life by Omar Sy.

His performance is as nuanced as you could ask for given the reasonably high level sense we are given of Rafael’s life, at times funny, exuberant and childlike carefree – in marked contrast to Foottit whose buttoned-down closeted persona left overly-serious and intense – and at others, troubled and driven as the full weight of the forces bearing down upon him came to bear.

While the origin of his relationship with Foottit is almost entirely fabricated, it anchors the film by giving it a central, pivotal emotional conduit to channel much of the narrative through; the rise, the fall and the in-between of Rafael’s life is given moving potency by virtue of Foottit’s presence in many key, defining scenes.

It is this relationship, which did exist, professionally and personally and which was captured by the Lumiere brothers (see above; the scene in which it is filmed has a delightful meta commentary about whether cinema would succeed as an art form or not), that played a major role in defining Rafael’s life, both as the “Auguste” clown that gave him his big break and after when life was once again profoundly cruel to him, and while it is no doubt twisted to fit the narrative, it remains the affecting filter through which all other events are portrayed.

From the big, brash, fun circus scenes, where Chocolat is on full garrulous display, and the more sober behind the scenes moments when Rafael discover to his great regret and mounting anger and sadness that there are limits to how much society will accept him, Monsieur Chocolat is a richly-told, evocative film that manages to straddle two genres, in the process giving us an impressively compelling, emotionally-involving tale of a remarkable, groundbreaking though sadly-troubled man.


Raise your marmalade sandwiches high: Farewell Michael Bond, creator of Paddington #RIP

Like all of us,, Paddington knows life won’t be quite the same without Michael Bond here among us (image courtesy official Paddington Facebook page)


Back on one warm Friday morning in late 2014, I walked into a darkened cinema in Sydney, beyond eager (but also a little trepidatious) to watch Paddington, the big screen adaptation of Michael Bond’s much-loved bear.

I needn’t have worried because the people who brought this film to life, Paul King, David Heyman and Hamish McColl, were, so like so many people around the world, great and enduring fans of the diminutive bear from “darkest Peru” who was found at Paddington Station (hence the name) by the Brown family and never looked back, and captured the spirit of this most delightful of British creations to the absolute, marmalade-splattered letter.

While you can’t necessarily ascribe all the characteristics of the created to the creator, you can’t help but feel that Paddington, a sweet, well-intentioned, thoroughly lovable bear must have had quite a bit of Michael Bond, who gave us the first of the Peruvian bear’s adventures in 1958, inspired by a lone bear he saw on a shelf and bought as a present for his wife on Christmas eve 1956, in him.

By all accounts Michael Bond, who died Wednesday after a short illness at the age of 91, was a gracious, warm and funny man, and as you might expect, a wonderful father as his daughter Karen Jenkel said in a statement (via The Guardian):

“It’s a shock to everybody. For me, he was the most wonderful father you can imagine, so obviously our loss is personal. But it’s wonderful that he’s left the legacy of his books and Paddington that will live on for ever, which is really very special.

“The whole world is lucky to have had him … Paddington himself is so real to all of us. He’s still a part of our family and we’re very lucky.”



Michael Bond with his much-loved creation (image courtesy Get Reading UK)


Honestly we were all very lucky.

Through Paddington, and other less known creations such as Olga da Polga and A Mouse Called Thursday, we were given a glimpse into a world where concern for your fellow man, or bear, was a given, where every mistake was forgivable, every moment special and love was a constant.

It wasn’t mawkish or sentimental; it just was, and through his many adventures with the Browns, who took on quite a bit more than they bargained for when they took the bear with the “Please look after this bear. Thank you” sign around his neck, we all came to love Paddington, and by extension, the beautiful, heartfelt, whimsical soul of Michael Bond.

He enriched  my childhood, and that of countless others, in ways innumerable, assuring in the midst of bullying (my reality), emotionally-deficient family life (not my experience thankfully but all too sadly real for many) and a host of other childhood issues, that it was possible to find a place to belong, to be loved and to be valued and yourself, klutzy moments and all.

That perhaps is Michael Bond’s greatest gift; and as we mark his much-lamented passing, we can rest secure in the knowledge that this most gracious, imaginative and lovely of men, has given us a gift in Paddington and the many other books he wrote that will repeat on down through the ages.

#RIP Michael Bond – thank you for the whimsy, acceptance, warm-and fuzzy feels, and for the many delights of marmalade sandwiches and the Peruvian bear who loves them.

For full obituaries of Michael Bond, please go to The Guardian and ABC News.



Comic book review: Animal Noir (issues 1-4)

(cover image courtesy IDW Publishing)


It is oft said that you should never discuss politics, religion or social issues.

As truisms go, this is one that still carries a great deal of cautionary weight, especially in today’s world where people have retreated to hermetically-sealed belief towers into which no other line of thought should be allowed to pass, with all attempts to do so met with brusque, resilient, and sometimes, sadly, violent force.

But it’s the very existence of these polarised camps, that necessitates comic book series like Animal Noir by writer Izar Lunacek and illustrator Jernej “Nejc” Juren (IDW Publishing) which brazenly, and with good humour and piercing honesty, discuss a great many things rotten in the state of man.

They do this very cleverly with a deliciously-twisted version of a Zootopia-like society where animals rule the boost – in the case of the birds quite literally – with giraffes as the judges and detectives, hippos as crime bosses (with a penchant for water-filled homes) and zebra as the much-maligned underclass, to whom every crime and societal ill is almost instinctually-ascribed.

As much a crime procedure as a window into our society, Animal Noir doesn’t flinch from exposing the underbelly of a world where older women on the prowl are quite literally cougars, where lions have assumed positions of power, and the weak and the powerless, or the plain strategically-blind can quite literally fall prey to animals stronger than themselves.

It’s not so much dog-eat-dog as hippo bashes hippo (and let’s be honest anyone else who infringes on their criminal dealings), a duplicitous universe where Manny Diamond, the protagonist and a giraffe detective, has to track down a literal truckload of animal porn, all predicated on predator/prey fantasies, one of which features a judge’s wife who would much rather her youthful indiscretions not find the light of day.

His investigations lead him to a very seedy underworld, one with which he appears to have a great deal of familiarity, as the mystery unfolds; but the series also takes a look at his personal life, as we meet his wife Cassy, depressed and still in mourning from the loss of their first child a year ago.

Quite how is never explained but then that is almost irrelevant as Animal Noir quite movingly examines loss, grief and mental health, as well as domestic violence issues when it becomes clear that Shasha, the hippo crime boss does not treat his wives at all well.


(image via Flickering Myth (c) IDW Publishing)


It’s this skillful, nuanced deep-dive into the malignancies and flaws of the human condition that gives Animal Noir, which is beautifully illustrated with great detail throughout, so much of it storytelling power and emotional resonance.

Whether it is examining the great unspoken taboo crimes that happen behind closed doors, or the rampant crime and corruption of wider society, the series is searingly honest with light touches of humour to leaven things out just a little.

A cute and sweet Disney take on animal society this is not; what it is though is a highly-imaginative, warts-and-all examination of the way society really works, willing at every stop to be brutally honest if that serves the wider interests of the story and the examination of the issue at hand.

Each issue, which is full of inventively-realised pages like the above where the action and illustrations bleed down through every panel of the page, giving you a feeling that you have fallen, tumbling down Alice in Wonderland-like, deep into this alternate world.

Much of the artwork looks cast in shadows too, a wholly appropriate palette given how much of the storyline takes places in seedy theatres and back alleys, behind the scenes and away from prying eyes (those still looking anyway; many are conveniently turned away for one reason or another).

Each issue ends too with a lovely additional piece of world building; for instance issue #1 gives you a penetrating glimpse into a society as riven by conflict and inequality as our own (because of course, in ways too uncomfortable to mention, it is our own) as CBR explains:

Animal Noir wraps up with an excerpt from the The Modern Gazette, an in universe publication focusing on the rise and fall of “equality” schools, the last of which was under the guidance of Harry Loveman, a lion. This backmatter deepens the hierarchy of the animal kingdom and gives us a peek at the blood tax and issues with the food supply without being heavy handed in its political nature. It’s a juicy piece of prose, and altogether garnishes this issue with one last layer of intrigue.”

It is a clever touch, one repeated throughout each issue, not only giving us further insight into Animal Noir society but continuing to build and flesh out issues that will come to play an increasing role in the narrative going forward.

The series may not quite live up to its IDW publicity billing as “Animal Farm meets Chinatown” – it is neither as clever nor as pithy or incisive as those two properties – but it shows real promise, both artistically and narratively, a comic book series that is willing to give down in the gutter and make it damn entertaining but also deeply-thought provoking, to be there.

  • I love this video review from TorAthena. Right on point and enthusiastically delivered … enjoy …


A fascinating journey: Adam Driver talks about finding his true vocation as an actor

Adam Driver


Before he fought in the galactic battles of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Adam Driver was a United States Marine with 1/1 Weapons Company. He tells the story of how and why he became a Marine, the complex transition from soldier to civilian — and Arts in the Armed Forces, his nonprofit that brings theater to the military. Because, as he says: “Self-expression is just as valuable a tool as a rifle on your shoulder.” (synopsis via TED Talks)

When we see actors up on the big screen or on the television, we don’t necessarily ask ourselves how they came to be in that line of work.

And gossip mags tend to spend their time on prurient, often made-up aspects of actors’ lives, which in the end give us little to no insight on why that particular person does what they do.

But in this funny, illuminating TED Talk by Adam Driver who quickly rose from Girls to a major Hollywood movie career, we gain valuable insights into his life, including why it is he eventually felt the gravitational pull of acting, and how that even with that epiphany, it took him some time to turn his dreams into reality.

Throughout this talk Driver comes across as warm, down to earth and self-deprecating, someone who very much appreciates what they do but who wants to keep it all in perspective and give back to the people who got him to this place.

So rather than watch the plethora of TV-based and online entertainment shows and be subject to meaningless drivel that adds nothing to your appreciation of a particular actor, watch this TED Talk and understand in ways both funny and poignant what it meant for one actor to find his dream and live it.


Fear the Walking Dead: “Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame” (S3, E5 review)

Thank goodness that home renovation shows survived the apocalypse – this week: fixing up a burnt out, death-by-zombie-and-gun wreck (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)



One of the great existential dilemmas of The Walking Dead franchise as a whole has been whether it is possible to stay human (be tender, merciful, cultured, artistic) in the face of an unrelenting threat that, on the face of it, demands that everything non-essential be shelved.

It’s worthy issue to ponder and contrary to what many characters have alleged over many episodes, where the eternal battle between humanity and sheer animalistic survival waged long and hard, it could just be possible to keep your life and your soul, the two not necessarily being mutually exclusive.

That’s at least what Jake (Sam Underwood), the good and sane, nay cultured and thoughtful son of survivalist supremo Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) – oh the irony that the son of a doomsdayer would be the one arguing for retention of everything good and elevated that makes us human – told Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey) right after they had fallen into and out of the sheets.

(Alicia is finally getting her teenager on, staying up all night for drugs-and-alcohol “Bible study and now hot sex with the head honcho’s studly son.)

Alicia, who’s seen rather too much of the new gritty, brutalist realism of the world outside, was inherently dubious and why wouldn’t she be? While Jake has been outside, it’s for quick sorties, out-and-in missions to get fuel, stop his wacko brother Troy (Daniel Sharman) from going full metal Mengele on everyone around him, while Alicia has done the hard yards, hauling herself from L.A. to Mexico and back into Texas, blood and loss all around her.

In a world like that, is there really time for art and literature? Time to be human? To stop just surviving and … LIVE?

Jake says “YES”, handing her a copy of Charles Bukowski’s Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems 1955-1973, part of his youthful explorations of writing before his father “steered him” (hello euphemistic wording!) to law, a skill “more useful” to the cause, which to be fair, did turn out to be a cause after all, and not just deluded ravings of a conspiracy theorist.

You got the feeling Alicia wasn’t buying the whole arts and humanities as a real deal in the apocalypse but by the end of the episode, she was leaping into the dam (no book obvs), smiling and beginning to realise that maybe, yes you can keep your eye on the finer cultured things in life and still keep breathing.

This naturally is a prelude to everything going completely to crap, but for now, Fear the Walking Dead has come down firmly, and without dramatic philosophising, on the side of being a well-rounded member of the human race, even when non-poetry reading zombies are your neighbours.


Love sweet Bukowski love (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)


Or has it?

Not so quick my better angels of human nature peeps.

While Jake and Alicia were getting their Bukowski on – both metaphorically and literally, ahem – Madison (Kim Dickens) was out on safari with Troy and four other camo-clad men in search of the people who took down the chopper out of which tumbled a gunshot Travis (Curtis Manawa).

It was a very personal mission, with both Troy and Madison gunning, again literally and otherwise, for whoever took down the helicopter, but it showed that you can read all the Bukowski you want and there will still need to be some hard ass payback taking place.

Of course, the kind of payback that Troy, always a few magnetic points short of the full compass, morality and compassion-wise – we found out from Jeremiah that this might have had a little, OK a LOT to do with being locked in dark basements overnight by alcoholic parents – has in mind is way beyond what most other people, at this early stage of the apocalypse, would deem to be acceptable.

However, still grieving for Travis and pissed off at whoever ended his life early, Madison was all ready to go full bore vengeful lover on the asses of her enemies … that is until they turned the table on the ranch group, stealing their boots, their cars, their guns, and yup, a huge amount of their dignity.

Oh, and led by a First Nations warrior, Qaletqa Walker (Michael Greyeyes), who was in no mood to play nice, a demand that they give up the ranch too.

So all in all, not a great day out revenge-adventuring, not a single bit of Bukowski read – you get the feeling Jake and the gang are not the book-reading, humanity-preserving kind – proof that while it’s nice to keep your humanity intact, you have to keep your wits about you too.

Hence, it was a pity that Victor (Colman Domingo) didn’t heed that piece of advice, forced on a road trip by Daniel (Rubén Blades) who knew full well that Ofelia (Mercedes Mason) is not at the hotel but insisted they go together to find her anyway.

Of course, Victor knows that Daniel knows etc etc but he really has no choice in the matter, and it all ends rather badly with Victor left back at a zombie-infested ruined hotel, Daniel hightailing it back to the dam, and the world back in the grip of whatever-it-takes apocalypse business-as-usual.



Pride comes before a fall … and the loss of boots, cars, dignity, you name it (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)


One bright spot in their blighted battle between the two apocalyptic dynamics of Bukowski Hell Yeah and Blood Dammit! was the nascent friendship between Nick (Frank Dillane) and Jeremiah, who bonded over cleaning up the burnt out home of one the first founding couple of the ranch.

The elderly couple died after the wife died of natural causes and turned, leaving her husband no choice but to end their lives together with a single gunshot through the head (her attempts to gnaw his neck open, so romantic, were thwarted by her false teeth not being in her mouth; let’s hear it for poor dental care earlier in life!), leaving a community grieving and an almighty mess to clean up.

Hoping he could convince Luciano (Danay Garcia) to stay if he prettied up the house, Nick set to scrubbing and cleaning and get it shipshape ready for the love nest he would would change the mind of his beloved who, probably rightly, think the monsters within are more dangerous than the ones without.

Despite an inordinately “awww gee, that’s sweet” picnic to win her over, Luciano heads off in the middle of the night – so clearly not overly committed to the relationship then yeah? – and Nick is left with a dirty singlet, some crushed hope and a friendship with a fellow recovering addict that may, or may not, hold him in good stead.

Not the best of all outcomes but then no one died; well yet, I honestly don’t know if Luciano has much of a plan beyond beyond Not Here.

All in all, it was a taut, solid, nuanced episode which beautifully articulated the now eternal struggle between the idealists and the pragmatists, a push-and-shove dynamic that is likely to remain alive and kicking as long as there are people alive to debate it.


Road trip! You bring the lollies and sandwiches and I’ll bring the big ass gun and murderous, revengeful attitude (photo by Richard Foreman Jr/AMC)


  • Ahead on Fear the Walking Dead … yep things are going to crap as predicted. The idyll looks like splitting apart both within and without. Possibly not the best time to break open your Bukowski paperback …



Rollin’ France: An hilarious animated look at a world where animals are round

(image (c) Rollin Wild)


You’ve seen Rollin’ Safari – and if you have not, why not, here’s the link, remedy this immediately if not sooner – and now the people who brought this imaginative and damn funny animated conjecturing on what a world of round animals would look like, Kyra Buschor and Constantin Päplow from Rollin’ Wild, are back with Rollin’ France.

Like it’s hilarious predecessors, it relies on a healthy heapin’ dose of slapstick, some deliciously on-point observational humour and a willingness to affectionately parody the sort of nature documentaries that made Sir David Attenborough so well-loved and respected.

It’s genius, blissfully, wonderfully drawn and possessed of a singular willingness to be brilliantly, cleverly silly.

Now get off with you – I think I see your dog bouncing by …

(source: Laughing Squid)


Weekend poster art: The Little Hours get medievally saucy

(image via Entertainment Weekly)


The film stars Franco as a servant in the Middle Ages who flees the clutches of his oppressive master (Nick Offerman), ultimately taking up residence with a convent of wild nuns (Plaza, Shannon, Brie, Micucci) in the campy interpretation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century work The Decameron  (synopsis via Entertainment Weekly)

The Catholic League may have described The Little Hours as “pure trash” but a lot of other people seem to like a lot.

Take Variety for instance.

“What for American satirist Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, Joshy) must have felt like a radically innovative idea — take a medieval piece of literature, such as Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and recreate it with an irreverent modern sensibility — is in fact a strategy that Euro auteurs have been doing for decades. Not that a somewhat overinflated sense of novelty makes Baena’s twisted nuns-gone-wild comedy The Little Hours any less entertaining …

The Little Hours is, then, a medieval convent comedy for the megaplex crowd, one that dispenses with the notion of nuns as prim-and-proper old maids who spend their days praying, and instead treats them as rude-and-repressed young women with raging hormones and a curiosity about all things forbidden.”



Or The Hollywood Reporter.

“Relieved of the burden of creating a fully convincing Middle Ages, the pic can focus on laughs. Franco makes a sympathetically bewildered sex object here, eagerly accepting some of the unexpected action coming his way while panicking at other, weirder advances. (Some of these nuns dabble in love drugs and witchcraft; one is even secretly — gasp — a Jew.) A comedy in both the current and the original senses of the word, Little Hours earns its laughs before ensuring a happy end. Sure, the increasingly agitated plot eventually exposes all sins and gets nearly everyone condemned by a visiting bishop (Fred Armisen). But a bit of cloister-inspired ingenuity fixes that, leading to an end in which all but the vengeful and the judgmental find happiness, or at least a new shot at it.”



Yes it may be irreverent and more than a little silly but that’s not such a bad thing and can be a powerful antidote to take ourselves way too seriously.

The Little Hours opens in USA on 30 June.


(image via Entertainment Weekly)


(image via Entertainment Weekly)


(image via Entertainment Weekly)


(image via Entertainment Weekly)


(image via Entertainment Weekly)

Sesame Street: Whoopi Goldberg and Elmo Draw Picture for Pen Pal in Syria

(image via YouTube (c) Sesame Workshop)


Elmo wants to cheer up his friend Laila from Syria—so he decides to draw her a picture. Millions of children like Laila are missing out on education and need our help. (synopsis via YouTube)

Though it is justifiably known and lauded for its brilliant work as a worldwide educator of young children, and the source of great amusement through the parodies and many other creative means it uses to achieve that purpose, Sesame Street also plays a key role in creating social awareness about the many challenges kids form around the world face in going to school and getting the life-changing early education they need.

In their latest awareness-raising video, Whoopi Goldberg joins Elmo to talk about their special friend Laila in Syria, who like tens of thousands of Syrian children has been displaced from her home by war and sectarian conflict and can’t go to school.

Concerned for his special friend far away, for whom he draws a touching representation of their friendship, he talks with Miss Whoopi, as he very sweetly calls her, about his concern for his friend and what they can do to help.

This video, released for World Refugee Day on Tuesday 20 June, does a beautiful job of helping kids understand, in a way that make sense to them, why it would be awful not to be able to go to school, to see your friends and to learn.

More importantly, it gives an impetus to everyone that extends far beyond the day itself, to keep working to make sure that every refugee can firstly return home if that is possible, but if not or until that happens, be given every chance at a new life, whether that is in a new country or in their refugee camps far from home.

One thing’s for sure – education is key to giving refugee kids particularly the best shot possible at a new life, and it’s heartwarming and deeply motivating to see Sesame Street and Whoopi Goldberg (in concert with International Rescue Committee) play a vitally key role in making this happen.


The Librarians: Saving the world, one comic book at a time

(image via Bleeding Cool (c) Dynamite Entertainment)


Way back in the swinging ‘70s, movie producer Sol Schick was the guy behind such cheesy classics as Quarry: Bigfoot!, Noah’s Ark: Found at Last! and Heavenly Visitors from the Hell Above. But when he’s murdered – at a film festival! – with a piece of Noah’s Ark! – The Librarians are drawn into the mystery. Can their combination of special skills, obsessive curiosity, and knowledge of forgotten lore figure out who – or what – spelled doom for Schick? And as they delve deeper into his past, is it possible that things are not as they seem and that all his crazy, wild movies…were actually telling the truth? (official synopsis via Bleeding Cool)

When two of my favourite quirky TV shows of the last decade, Eureka (2006-2012) and Warehouse 13 (2009-2014) came to an end, I wondered if there’d ever be another show that would provide me with such fun-filled, idiosyncratic, mythos-rich storytelling.

My fear that I would be cast adrift on a sea of just straight dramas and hilarious sitcoms – both of which I love but you don’t want to live on them alone; I am nothing if not pop culturally omnivorous – was assuaged fairly quickly when I came across The Librarians (2014 – present), a series about a group of oddball people from a range of backgrounds who are charged with acquiring all kinds of knowledge and stopping it from falling into the hands of evildoers and the ne’er-do-well.

Based on a series of movies that ran from 2004 to 2008 and starring Noah Wylie as the impetuous though learned veteran Librarian, Flynn Carsen – he is a recurring character in the resulting TV series, The Librarians has just been signed to a fourth series, and now its own comic book series from Dynamite.


The main cast of The Librarians (L-R): Lindy Booth, Christian Kane, Rebecca Romijn, John Larroquette, John Harlan Kim (image via Bleeding Cool (c) Dynamite Entertainment)


According to Bleeding Cool, Writer Will Pfeifer (Aquaman) and artist Rodney Buchemi (Uncanny X-Men) have been tapped to bring our quirky knowledge seekers and protectors to graphic life, with Pfeiffer excited about the possibilities that the broad narrative canvas of The Librarians allows for.

“The thing that really attracted me to The Librarians as a concept is that they’re not just another group out to save the world. I mean, sure, they end up saving the world and seeing that mankind lives to see another day and all that, but their real focus is knowledge – getting it, keeping it and seeing that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. In this day and age, a group of smart folks trying to get smarter is the sort of role model we need, and the fact that this knowledge always seems to be of the forbidden, arcane variety is what keeps things interesting. I had a great time coming up with some bizarre mysteries for them to uncover, and the combination of curiosity, humor and good ol’ adventure made writing the series a real pleasure!”

The Librarians #1 will fall into the eager hands of fans in September this year.

Book review: Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

(image courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia)


However you choose to play it, life has a way of constantly mixing it up, turning the tables when you least expect it, reversing roles, and exposing the richness or paucity of your character when you least expect it.

We all know this on some level, and yet whenever one of life’s many twists-and-turns sideswipes, often in stealthy slow-motion so we don’t notice it’s happening until it’s upon us, makes its presence felt, we’re often left feeling like someone has slapped a great big learner’s “L” on our backs and we’re back to klutzy, flailing Life 101.

It’s a dynamic with which San Francisco-based Ruth, newly dumped by fiance Joel, who has found himself new love, marriage-to-be status and nascent fatherhood with Kristin, is all too familiar as she juggles a broken heart, regrets about the past, uncertainty about the future, and winding its way through it all, her father’s creeping, thieving Alzheimer’s.

Moving home at her mother’s request to look after her father for a year, Ruth is initially not certain what to make of life’s latest curve ball.

“A long time ago I stopped wondering why there were so many crazy people. What surprises me now is that there are so many sane ones.” (P. 79)

She knows she’s selfish, that she should have stayed at college and not left for true love with Joel, which turned out to be not so true and not so long-lasting after all, and that being skilled at “all kinds” of fetal positions is not necessarily a life skill that will stand her in good stead over the long-term.

And she is all too well aware that her father Howard, who seems “normal” as she terms it but lets slip here and there that things are not continuing on their hitherto-well established course – he has been stood down from his job as a college history professor for one – and her mother Annie do not have the picture perfect relationship and family life that she has projected on them.

It’s why she’s avoided coming home very much to her hometown near L.A. and why even as she settles in as her father’s carer, with a special focus on senile-inhibiting cruciferous vegetables (her dad terms them “crucified veges) and guerrilla college classes taught by her dad, she knows she’s caught between what she’s imagined her family to be, and what it is.

Frankly, while she knows she has to make her peace with it, she’s not entirely sure how to go about that, coming to understand as she does so in spluttering fits and starts why younger brother Linus, who saw the true extent of her father’s infidelity and drinking, avoids home like the proverbial.


(image courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia)


The sublime joy of Goodbye, Vitamin is the way it marries the day to day with the inexorable push of time, the perfect synchronicity of Ruth’s wry observations of life (which she finds are an attraction to one of her father’s ex-students Theo) and the more brutal reminders of life’s harsh edges, and the sheer exuberant joy of being alive coming up cheek-by-jowl against the less picture perfect postcard moments.

This is a highly-accessible book that reads quickly, easily and lightly and yet carries with it some fairly sage, sobering insights about the way life presents one way and then another, changing while we weren’t fully paying attention.

Before she knows it Ruth is more parent than child, but even more impactfully, she grows closer to her parents in the messy way that adult kids and parents do when they have to navigate the baggage of their past, the awkwardness pf present disappointments and life choices, and a murky reality not yet fully formed.

There is a richness, a joy and even some outright humour that wrap themselves in and around all the sobering realisations and unsettling insights, mirroring perfectly and real empathy how life is not a series of cut-and-dried separated moments but rather a messy intertwining of the good and the bad, the silly and the serious.

“What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it only has to do with who we were around that person–what we felt about that person. (P. 131)

It’s this mix of profundity and silliness that gives Goodbye, Vitamin such appeal, but more than that, Ruth is an extremely likable protagonist and highly-engaged narrator.

This is largely because she is pleasingly authentic, neither terribly bad or virtuously good; rather, like most of us, mired in the best and the worst of her humanity, and unable to fully capitalise on the former and shed the latter.

You can help but really like her, warts and all, and it’s easy to see why she has kept close friends Bonnie and Grooms, and why Theo comes to really like her, and why in the end, misfires, false steps and winning goals all, she reconnects with her parents and Linus in their changed family landscape in way she might never have envisaged back in her old San Francisco days.

She’s human, trying hard to do her best, and it’s this good intention matched with sometimes questionable execution that makes her so delightfully endearing and makes Goodbye, Vitamin, one of the most enjoyable, funny, moving and heartfelt books of the year.


(image courtesy Simon & Schuster Australia)