If Kids Can’t See Batman V Superman, Superhero Movies Have Lost the Plot

Is Batman V Superman suitable for kids? Don’t be silly.

This is a golden time for the comicbook nerd. As a superhero loving child, I never dreamed that my beloved comicbook heroes would be dominating both the box office and the cultural conversation in the way that they currently are.

As I was growing up, it used to drive me nuts that people could only see superheroes in terms of the sixties Adam West TV show. Superheroes were primarily silly as far as the general population was concerned. I knew better.

That slowly began to change in the 1980s, with the likes of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen and breakthrough Batman: The Killing Joke. Finally, the idea was getting into people’s heads that superheroes weren’t just for kids.

Except now, things have gone too far. Way too far.

These great superhero movies that are filling up screens on an almost weekly basis? They’re all rated 12/PG-13 as standard. So despite having toys, clothes, and other merchandise marketed to them with these characters – the films that are driving this superhero resurgence are being deliberately produced to be unsuitable for young children.

In terms of movies, I’ve barely had the chance to share my love of Marvel superheroes with my 4-year-old daughter as yet. They are all pitched to an early teen audience. We have watched a couple. The plots are fine, even when they include death they are useful ways of discussing mortality. But the tone of violence is just too visceral to really be considered suitable.

It gets even worse. Warner Bros. have released an R-Rated version of Batman V Superman, so is not recommended for anyone under 17.

This is absolutely insane. Perverse even. The idea of having a mainstream movie with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman that children are not supposed to see is mind-blowingly ridiculous.

Should Batman V Superman be ok for children?

These characters are first and foremost for kids. Yes, the revisionist takes by Miller and Moore I mentioned were useful pop culture reference texts. But instead of informing our fundamental understanding of these characters and genres, they have become go-to texts in themselves.

I (mostly) love what Chis Nolan did with Batman. But he took it as far as it should go, and even then he gave the character a real heart at the centre of his darkness. Conversely, I almost totally hate what Zach Snyder has done with Superman. Disaster-porn was a correctly used phrase to describe Man of Steel. It was a travesty of what Superman represents.

Currently, Deadpool is rightly rated R, and Jessica Jones on Netflix is also correctly pitched as adults only too. That network’s Daredevil I’m on the fence about, but doing justice (again) to Frank Miller’s interpretation is the right way to go.

But looking ahead we have DC adult movie Suicide Squad, and even the promise from Hugh Jackman of an R-Rated Wolverine.

So in all of this, where are the superhero movies for kids? In the past it seems.

DC had some great animated series, beginning with the Batman Animated Series in the nineties. Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) are amazing (I would like someone to lock Zach Snyder in a darkened room to watch them repeatedly one day).

And that silly Batman TV show that used to bug me so much? I love it. It’s awesome. It is visually inventive, has great actors terrific playing characters, and is great family viewing – working brilliantly for children and adults. It has one of the best title sequences in TV history. And it gave us Batgirl!

Saying something is ‘for kids’ has been seen (including by me in the past) as saying something is dumb, simplistic, stupid. A bit rubbish.

Well, that’s rubbish. It doesn’t mean that. Making a superhero movie work as a great story with compelling characters, without resorting to ‘gritty’ violence, is a real challenge that takes great skill, effort, and ability.

It is interesting that the best superhero movie ever made is still Superman: The Movie (1978), an epic movie that spans galaxies, has a cast of legends, and gave the source material – comic books for children – the reverence it deserves.

Perhaps things weren’t so bad for onscreen superheroes in my childhood after all.

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‘Batman v Superman’ images courtesy of Warner Bros. The Ultimate Edition has been rated 12 in the UK.

Best of Netflix: NZ Films and TV shows

My wife is from there, I lived there with her for 4 years, and our daughter was born there – New Zealand is a big part of our lives.

This month we head back for our first trip to Wellington, NZ since we left in 2013.

Netflix have some great NZ films and TV shows on offer, and I thought now was as good a time as any to share some of our favourites.

Best New Zealand movies and TV shows on Netflix

  1. What We Do In The Shadows

This is top of the list. I probably can’t convey enough just how much I love this movie. The latest in the long comedic line of the mockcumentary (also see Spinal Tap), this stars Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Concords) and his lesser known collaborator (outside New Zealand at least) Taika Waititi.

The premise is fairly simple – European vampires of varying ages (from decades to centuries) share a house in NZ’s capital of Wellington. Also in the mix are a recently turned Kiwi vampire, a suburban mother who want’s to be turned, and a rival group of supernatural beings – a gang of Werewolves, led by Rhys Darby (another Concords alumni – he played their manager Murray).

What did I love about this movie? Firstly, the setting. Having lived in Wellington for 4 years, while I’m glad to be settled back home in the UK it is a terrific city that I will always have fond memories of. This movie captures a little of what makes it such a fun and distinctive place – from the immense talents of the creative community to the perils of a night out on the main drag of Courtney Place.

But it’s also very funny in its own right, with a wonderfully judged tone of comedy and horror that is so difficult to get right.

Wellington is such a small city (about 200,000) it is practically impossible to avoid anyone for long. This captures that scenario (Vampires and Werewolves have trouble avoiding each other), and in reality I certainly saw all the main cast members of this on the streets of the city a number of times while I lived there.

And true to NZ form, my Wellingtonian wife recognised many people from her days at school and university (including Jermaine Clement).

If you only watch one film from this list, make it this one. And if you don’t like it then we clearly have nothing in common.

2. Short Poppies

In little ol’ NZ fashion, this features a lot connections with What We Do In The Shadows – not least its star Rhys Darby, who created this as a vehicle for himself.

It is also made in the mockcumentary style, but more overtly about New Zealand than ‘Shadows’. Each episode sees Rhys as one (or more) Kiwi character who lives in the fictional ‘bay’, in a series presented by real life journalist David Farrier.

As well as Darby, Conchord Jermaine Clement is one of the directors, and a number of other well-known guest stars appear, including Karl Urban, Sam Neill, and Stephen Merchant.

While I was unsure about it after the first episode, it quickly became binge watch material and we finished the show in a few days. The title of this show is a reference to New Zealand’s Tall Poppy syndrome, whereby anyone who becomes too successful is soon cut down to size by the media and/or public opinion. While we are largely invited to mock the characters Rhys portrays here, there is also a clearly a great love for them too.

3. Top of the Lake

While categorised on Netflix as a British TV show, this is a New Zealand made and set show, from Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion, famed for The Piano among others.

Originally set to reunite Campion with Anna Paquin – the now adult star of The Piano (who pulled out due to her pregnancy), this instead features another US TV star, Elizabeth Moss – famous for playing Peggy Olsen in Mad Men.

Set in New Zealand’s sparsely populated South Island, this (a little unbelievably) sees Moss as an Aussie police officer who returns to her small NZ town from overseas, and is immersed in a dark tale involving local gangsters, child suicide, and a women’s refuge commune.

The show also stars another actor from The Piano, Holly Hunter, who here plays the enigmatic (in look as well as manner) leader of Paradise, the commune at the heart of the mystery.

This is Campion’s first work for TV since her breakthrough drama Angel at my Table (which many don’t even realise began life as an NZ TV drama).

There is a sequel to this coming later this year, that is being shot entirely in Australia. That seems a real shame as the starkness of the New Zealand location is one of the big drawing points for this engaging drama.

4. Beyond the Edge

Hands up who thought that Edmund Hillary – who along with Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest – was British? Hopefully not just me…

Like many UK children, I was taught (correctly) that it was a British expedition that finally conquered the summit of Everest in 1953. What was less – if at all – covered at my school was the nationality of the climbers. While the fact that ‘Sherpa Tenzing’ was from Nepal was fairly well stated, I had no idea that Edmund Hillary was in fact a New Zealander until I met my Kiwi wife.

Hillary is in fact a national hero in New Zealand, and the lack of knowledge about his nationality in the wider UK populace would likely horrify their rather easily offended national character on these matters.

Anyway, this film puts that ignorance to bed once and for all. A docudrama of sorts, this lays out the narrative of the expedition, and the way that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay earned their place in history ahead of the British mountaineers who were also part of the group.

The film does a great job of conveying the pioneering nature of the expedition, and the other worldly quality of humans walking atop the highest point on Earth. Highly recommended – especially if you’re as ignorant as me about this piece of history.

And finally…

5. Spartacus

I have not seen this infamous TV series, but I am including it as it is an example of the international TV productions created in New Zealand by the US producer Robert Tapert. A childhood friend of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, they first made series such as Hercules and Xena in New Zealand in the nineties. Tapert fell in love with the country – as well as the Kiwi who played Xena, Lucy Lawless – and has endeavoured to make TV shows in New Zealand ever since. Spartacus is one of the most recent examples.

The Roman era show is renowned for the explicit depiction of sex and violence, rather than the quality of the drama.

The first series starred Andy Whitfield in the title role, who died in 2011 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After he was diagnosed, a prequel series, sans the character of Spartacus was made, and then following Andy Whitfield’s passing, the role of Spartacus was taken over by Liam McIntyre.

Not in the UK or Ireland? Check what Netflix NZ movies are available in your territory here.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

 

You Baby Me Mummy

Some Dads DO Babysit. It’s All That’s Expected of Us

This time last year, there were a flurry of stories about my daughter and I published around the world. A US writer spotted an angle for a “sweet article about (my) daughter’s outfits”, and that got noticed by the likes of The Independent & Metro in UK, Buzzfeed and ABC News in US, and then various outlets across the globe. Radio and TV appearances followed. Perhaps you are reading this because you started following my blog after coming across one of those.

The premise was basically I was an at-home parent letting my (then) 3-year-old daughter choose what she wears every morning. And the outfits were kinda cool and not traditionally ‘girly’.

When I asked, the writers of those articles told me the same thing – what made this story ‘a story’ was the fact that I was a dad of a daughter.

While it was nice to bask in the mostly supportive comments (US conservatives aside – yikes), the fact people were reacting strongly to it highlighted an issue we have with parenting.

Is dad all there is?

Continue reading Some Dads DO Babysit. It’s All That’s Expected of Us

Mother’s Day Family Feast: Sweet Spiced Slow Cooked Pulled Pork

Cooking up a Mother’s Day family feast for the mum in your life is easy with this delicious slow cooked pulled pork recipe.

I don’t cook pork that often. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of cooked pig in my diet – it’s just usually in ham, bacon, or sausage form. And I don’t know why I don’t as I quite like pork. So I was glad when I was asked to make a special roast pork Mother’s Day feast.

We were sent a lovely hamper of ingredients – amusingly presented to me as a ‘Mums Day Off’ pack. My wife is the breadwinner of the house, and is more likely to spend a day off in the kitchen, while I – a stay-at-home parent – am the one who wouldn’t mind a ‘day off’ from normal cooking and other domestic/family duties.

But engaging with the spirit of the task, I happily set about creating a Pulled Pork Mother’s Day family feast. If you’re hipster parents (or children) this dish is perfect – slow cooked pulled pork is seemingly the only way trendy youngsters eat pork these days. So given I don’t know how to cook pulled pork, I was glad of the challenge.

I was pretty happy with my first attempt at making slow cooked pulled pork. The prep was pretty minimal, the cooking a suitably laid back affair, and while the final timings took a little mental arithmetic to get right, it was no big deal to do so.

While my wife liked it, my daughter was the biggest fan. As well as the spicy pulled pork, my daughter loved the griddled plums, couldn’t get enough of the fruit compote (with everything), and most miraculously of all these potatoes broke her lifelong disgust of them (at age 4).

We’ve come back for leftovers on subsequent days, and I also found myself picking at the pork (and the crackling) throughout the next few days. We also made pulled pork sandwiches, refried with rice, and even with beans on toast!

The joint really went a long way, so it is great for a family meal.

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Sweet Spiced Slow Cooked Pulled Pork, with Plum Compote

Mother’s Day Meal Idea, Sweet Spiced Perfect Pulled Pork, Plum Compote, griddled plums
Don’t know how to cook pulled pork? Read on…

Serves 6, with leftovers

Cooking time: 6+ hours

Ingredients

1.6kg (3lb 4oz) shoulder of pork (remove the rind and set aside)

2 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp each ground cinnamon and ginger

11/2 tbsp dark brown sugar

 

For the compote:

175g plums, stoned and chopped

175g cooking apples, cored, peeled and chopped

25g (1oz) butter

25g (1oz) light brown sugar

 

To serve:

1kg (2lb 4oz) new potatoes

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

12 plums, halved

500g (1lb 2 oz) purple sprouting broccoli

A knob of butter

 

1. Preheat your oven to 220°C (fan 200°C), Gas Mark 7. Line a roasting tin with foil, large enough to cover the pork later. Remove the string from the pork, and carefully trim the rind from the joint (*see crackling tip, below). Set aside. Unroll the pork joint and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in the roasting tin.

2. Mix the salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger and sugar together in a bowl. Rub all over the pork and put it in the oven for 30 minutes so the pork brown beautifully. Reduce the oven to 150°C (fan 130°C), Gas Mark 2. Pour 300ml (1/2 pint) hot water into the foil, then wrap the foil around the joint and seal tightly.

NB: Instead of wrapping in foil, I used a cast iron dish with a lid – I covered the pork with foil, then more foil on the top of the pan placing the lid on top of that to seal it in.

Cook for at least 5 hours or until tender. (Your cooked pork joint will eventually be sitting in a vat of liquid – mostly fat!)

3. Increase the oven to 220°C (fan 200°C), Gas Mark 7. Uncover the pork then put it back in the oven to crisp for 10 minutes. Take it out of the oven, cover with foil and rest for 30 minutes. Then shred with two forks.

NB: There are a lot of timings to get right for serving the finished meal. Read through the below, and work back from your intended serving time.

4. At least 40 minutes before the pork is ready, parboil the potatoes. Drain well. Drizzle the olive oil into a roasting tin, then add the potatoes and season well. Roast for the remaining time the pork is in the oven, first on the low temperature then on the high temperature until they’re golden.

5. For the compote, put all the ingredients into a pan with 25ml (1oz) water, cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down low and cook for around 5 minutes until the fruit has cooked down and softened. Season with a pinch of salt and give everything a good stir.

6. Brush the plum halves with oil and griddle the cut-side only.

7. Steam the broccoli until just tender, drain then toss with butter and season.

8. Serve the pork, potatoes, griddled plums, buttered broccoli with the compote.

*For the crackling

Place the rind in a shallow roasting tin and pour over boiling water. Leave for a few minutes, then pour off the water and pat dry with kitchen paper. Rub with a little oil and salt. Cook in a hot oven for 30 or so minutes until crackled. Roughly chop the crackling into small pieces to serve.

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For this and more slow cooked pulled pork recipes, please head to the Love Pork websiteThis is a sponsored post.

Review: Get Kids Creating Their Own Batman Tales With Rory’s Story Cubes

The brilliant Rory’s Story Cubes: Batman is a set of 9 custom six-sided dice, with 54 Batman icons, that you roll out and make up a story with.

I love the stories my daughter comes up with. Whether it’s Princess Leia and Cinderella teaming up to kill Jabba the Hutt (turns out Jabba was ‘The Prince’), or Peppa Pig and Mog’s misadventures in looking after George (“Don’t feed him ham!”), her inventiveness and ability to remix story elements into a brand new (and engaging) narratives always makes me smile.

We’ve discovered great way to stimulate this creativity with a deceptively simple product called Rory’s Story Cubes. We were shown them at the recent London Toy Fair, and fell in love with them straight away.

While there are a number of themes and formats to choose from, knowing our love of superheroes we were presented with the Batman cubes. These are a set of nine dice, with each face featuring a different storytelling element from Batman and action storytelling, for a total 54 different icons from characters, vehicles, locales, actions, and more.

The ‘rules’ (more on that later) are that you roll out the dice, and whatever 9 icons land face up you re-order and use as story prompts. I’ll leave the math up to others, but apparently this means there are over a MILLION story combinations.

This is similar to a long running game my daughter likes to do with our Star Wars Top Trumps, where she pulls a selection of cards out, puts them in an order, and then asks me to make up a story about them.

There are a number of nice elements about these cubes. They are solidly made, with the simple line drawn icons embossed in black on the white die; The tactile nature of handling and rolling the die add a nice physical element to the storytelling process; It encourages social interaction – whether telling one or more people the story, or taking turns in a group to add to it; and these dice use Batman iconography very well (mostly).

In terms of female characters while there is no Batgirl (boo!) there is Catwoman and Harley Quinn (yay!), as well as a gallery of Gotham icons including Commissioner Gordon, other villains including Joker, Two-Face, and Riddler, and Batman iconography such as the Batmobile, Bat signal, Batarang, Batwing, etc.

Bat sadly, while there is Robin, there is no actual Batman image (other than his fist). While I guess the assumption is that it is an unnecessary story element to include – a Batman story must have Batman in it anyway – it is a shame an image of the dark knight is missing.

My daughter is familiar with Batman via the 60s TV show and the 90s animated series, so she is well versed in the world of Batman. I applaud anything that encourages children to engage with the media they are exposed to. This takes the passive consumption of Batman stories, and inspires children to interact and create. The stated age is 6+, but my 4-year-old daughter is using these well, and I reckon she would have done so when she was 3 too. She loves us playing with them together, but is also happy sitting there alone coming up with stories.

While we have the Batman cubes, there are a number of different sets available either now or soon – including Doctor Who, Looney Tunes, Moomins, and Scooby-Doo! There are also the original non-licensed sets with themes including Action, Voyages, and many more.

The set also comes with a handy fold-out guide to all the icons, as well as a useful little plastic box to store/carry the cubes in.

A note on the ‘rules’ – there are no rules. These cubes are there to fire creativity, and while they have been designed with particular formats of play in mind, any way they promote creativity is encouraged.
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Disclosure: We were given these Rory’s Story Cubes: Batman free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Family Fever