Review: DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice

Existing somewhere between a comic and a book, DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice, is a fun way to explore the characters of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman in an all new setting.

Set in an alternative timeline, this sees a young Bruce Wayne attending the exclusive school Ducard Academy, where he befriends a certain Kansas farm boy and a foreign young woman of royal descent (Superman and Wonder Woman in case you were wondering).

But all is not right in the school, and if you’re a follower of the DC universe in either it’s comic, film, or TV forms, the names of the teachers – and the academy itself – should be a hint at what’s really going on there.

It’s written by Derek Fridolfs and illustrated by Dustin Nguyen, who were the team behind a similarly cute Li’l Gotham. While ostensibly a comic book, this also has tracts of text and graphics as part of the story – such as text messages, letters, articles, diary entires, and more. It’s a book equivalent of a multi-media story telling approach that works really well, and encourages more reading than your usual comic book.

The characterisations are spot on, and close in spirit with their comic equivalents while being a wry commentary on them. While this centres on the young dark knight detective, it’s also nice to see the bond forming (and sometimes cracking) between him and Superman & Wonder Woman.

I liked a sequence when Diane Prince (Wonder Woman) tried to go undercover and get on the cheerleading team, followed by an unsuccessful athletics try-out. There is also a nice nod to her mission in fighting war – by trying to stop Superman and Batman fighting. Plenty of other female characters from the DC universe show up too such as girls called Harley, Pamela, and Talia 😉

This is a fun little book, that’s may be of particular interest to a young reader looking for something a little more relatable to them, while still staying true to the classic characters.

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DC Comics Secret Hero Society – Study Hall of Justice

by Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen, is published by Scholastic and is available now.

Review: Thunderbirds Are Go Toys

We check out some Thunderbirds are Go toys – Thunderbird 2 (with Mini Thunderbird 4) and Thunderbird 3.

The iconic sixties puppet show has been rebooted as a CGI series on ITV. Remaining fairly faithful to the look and spirit of the original, the famed vehicles remain largely recognisable in their modern form.

The two Thunderbirds Are Go toys we received were the space rocket Thunderbird 3, and the iconic ‘plane’ Thunderbird 2 (with the mini-sub Thunderbird 4).

Unboxing took a while, as there was far too much packaging and tethers holding everything in place. While the toys look the part, they do seem a bit flimsy – made of lightweight plastic (rather than the die-cast metal of the Thunderbirds toys of my childhood). Ours remain intact, but I can’t imagine them surviving too much ‘action’ unscathed.

Thunderbird 3 has a little interactivity, with a set of pop-out grappling arms (that don’t really do very much beyond popping out). Thunderbird 2 has fold out wings, pop-out stilts, and a drop down pod containing Thunderbird 4.

Both toys supposedly have dialogue and sound effects. Thunderbird 3 has rocket sounds and dialogue. I can’t comment on Thunderbird 2’s as despite the packaging stating otherwise, there were no batteries included (it takes 3 small lithium ones).

My daughter thought they were ok, and played with them a little bit. But one thing was missing – she had never seen Thunderbirds. I showed her a couple of episodes of the new version, with plots featuring these vehicles, and after that she was re-enacting scenes of rescue she had just witnessed, and was far more engaged with them.

Overall, I don’t think these are great toys in their own right, but for fans of the show they will provide ample opportunity for imaginative play. These Thunderbirds are Go toys are recommended for young fans, and only for the right price.

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Disclosure: We received these Thunderbirds Are Go toys as part of the Toys R Us Toyologist programme. They send us toys in exchange for honest reviews. You can read the original post here.

 

Family Fever

21 Netflix Movies With a Strong Female Lead

Navigating Netflix via genres and categories is a fascinating way to explore what films are on offer. Beyond the usual Action, Rom Coms, Documentaries you can get specific with Superhero & Comicbook, Deep Sea Horror, or Korean TV Shows.

An intriguing one that popped up recently was a section for Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead, and it encompassed an eclectic bunch of movies with strong female characters.

I enjoyed browsing them. I found some movies I love, others that are renowned, and a few I had never heard of that sound awesome!

So, here are twenty one movies that stood out – the first 10 I have seen and the next 11 I want to.

21 Netflix Movies With a Strong Female Lead

1. Vera Drake (2004)
A powerful 1950’s set drama from Mike Leigh, about a woman who unbeknownst to her family helps local women abort unwanted pregnancies. Imelda Staunton gives a fantastic performance in this moving (and depressing) story.

2. Happy Go Lucky (2008)
Also from Mike Leigh, this film couldn’t be any more different than Vera Drake. Set in modern London, it stars Sally Hawkins as an irresistibly cheerful schoolteacher who remains bright and optimistic in the face of many obstacles – not least Eddie Marsan’s creepy driving instructor. Many fans of Leigh’s other work find this film slight in comparison – but I think it is irresistible.

3. Fargo (1996)
The cult Coen brother’s movie that inspired the current TV series, this sees Frances McDormand as the female police chief who tirelessly investigates a botched kidnap scam – despite being heavily pregnant and an amiable citizen. The black deadpan humour is both chilling and hilarious.

4. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before she hit the big time in X-Men and Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence starred in this powerful low budget drama about a resourceful teen who looks after her two siblings in the face of poverty and questionable parenting.

5. Precious (2009)
Somehow, this tale of an abused, obese, illiterate Harlem teenager, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is a dynamic and ultimately uplifting movie. Strong performances all round, but especially Gabourey, Mo’Nique as her mother, and surprisingly Mariah Carey as her social worker.

6. Agora (2009)
Set in 4th-century Roman Egypt (Alexandria), this historical fiction stars Rachel Weisz as a female astronomer and  philosopher, working against a backdrop of religious intolerance towards science from the growing religion of Christianity. A fascinating part of history brought to life in a dramatic and eye catching manner, also look for an early role from Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

7. Anywhere But Here (1999)
This film stars Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, as an impulsive mother and a more down to earth daughter trying to make a new life for themselves in LA. This is a slight but engaging film, with two great actresses carrying the movie.

8. Election (1999)
Reese Witherspoon in an early and much admired performance as a politically ambitious teenager, who comes up against her teacher (Mathew Broderick) who is keen to see her lose the school election. This is a smart and witty comedy from Writer/Director Alexander Payne.

9. Clueless (1995)
This nineties classic sees Jane Austen’s Emma perfectly reimagined as a Beverly Hills High School comedy, starring Alicia Silverstone as ‘Cher’. Her co-stars include Stacy Dash (now an outspoken Fox News pundit), Brittany Murphy (who passed away in 2009), and Paul Rudd (currently Marvel’s Ant-Man). The literary source material gives this story a depth of character, heart, and wit that lifts if above its genre peers.

10. Scream (1996)
A knowing homage to eighties horror flicks, directed by one of the genre’s best filmmakers (the late Wes Craven) this stars Neve Campbell as a high schooler terrorised by an unknown killer, who is picking off people she knows one by one. Tense, clever, and witty, the film co-stars Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox. There is also a Netflix Original sequel.

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Next up, here are movies with strong female characters that I haven’t seen. These are either ones I’ve wanted to for a while, or came across while browsing this section on Netflix.

11. Still Alice (2014)

Jullianne Moore is a brilliant actress, and in this film – based on a novel – she plays a college professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 50. Moore won a slew of awards for the role, including an Oscar.

12. Harold & Maude (1971)
As a film buff since I was a teen, it is pretty shameful I’ve still never seen this one. From renowned director Hal Ashby, this dark rom com stars Ruth Gordon as a 79-year-old widow who ends up in a relationship with a young man (who’s obsessed with death). The premise may sound unappealing, but this has been an acclaimed movie for as long as I can remember, so I really need to check it out.

13. The Babadook (2014)
An acclaimed movie of a different sort, this modern psychological horror has been lauded for it’s story, characters, and creepiness. The plot revolves around a mother, her son, and a mysterious children’s book. This is normally the kind of movie I unsuccessfully suggest we watch, but this time my wife was the one who wanted to see it – though we haven’t had the courage to as yet.

14. Two Days, One Night (2014)
This Belgian drama stars Marion Cotillard as a worker about to lose her job, who tries to get her colleagues to agree to a pay cut so she doesn’t get the chop. Marion has shown she is an engaging actress in her many English language roles, and I have no doubt she would be as good if not better in her native french. I also interviewed her once and she was lovely 🙂

15. White God (2014)
I had never heard of this Hungarian drama, but the premise sounds amazing – an abandoned dog musters up a pack of 250 fellow stray mongrels to rise up against their human oppressors – but also so he can be reunited with his beloved 13-year old human guardian Lili. Sounds like a must watch.

16. Dear White People (2014)
This satirical drama, set on a US college campus, that takes a swipe at US race relations, with particular reference to the notions of cultural appropriation and white privilege. The leading character is the clearly ironic Sam White, a female student who causes a stir by publicising all the racial transgressions she comes across. I’m always keen to check out a good drama about race.

17. Come Drink With Me (1966)
Another film I had never heard of, and it sounds awesome. A sixties Hong Kong martial arts movie, it stars the then 20-year-old Cheng Pei-pei (who at 69 is still working today) as Golden Swallow, the daughter of a general who is sent to rescue her brother from bandits. It is widely revered, and I love a good martial arts movie. Can’t wait to check it out.

18. Tracks (2013)
Based on a true story, this Australian film stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as a young woman who travels 1,700 miles across Australian deserts, with her dog and four camels. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) also stars, as a photographer documenting her journey.

19. God Help The Girl (2014)
This is a British musical drama film written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle and Sebastian, and that’s basically why I want to see it because they’re a great band.

20. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
I’m sorry. This film looks terrible, and yet… This is based on a sixties comic book, that became a seventies cartoon, and then a noughties movie. It stars Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie, Tara Reid as the drummer, and bassist/backup vocalist is Rosario Dawson (currently in a pair of Marvel Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones). It might well be crap, but it looks like fun.

21. Chocolat (2000)
Set in France, Juliette Binoche plays an expert chocolatier and single mother who moves to a conservative village with her six-year-old daughter. She ruffles some feathers, especially when she opens a chocolate shop at the start of lent. It’s based on the novel by Joanna Harris, who is also outspoken against gendered marketing, and follows me on Twitter – so for that reason alone I should watch this! The movie also stars Johnny Depp.

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So that’s my pick of 21. This list is based on movies available on Netflix in the UK & Ireland, but if you’re elsewhere, you can browse what Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead are available in your region.

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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.

Please head over to Netflix to check out anything mentioned here.

strong female leads, movies with a strong female lead netflix, movies with strong female characters, romance movies with strong female leads

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What do you think of this list of Netflix movies with a strong female lead? Any to add?

 

Family Fever

Star Wars and More – London Toy Fair 2016 Round Up

I had never been to a toy fair before. These are industry events where toymakers and distributors, buyers and sellers, meet to find out about the latest toys and trends. It’s a time for writers like myself to find out more too. I also thought it would be a fun place to take the kid to, so we made a day of it.

Some of the stands are very popular and secretive, none more so that LEGO. You have to make an appointment to get taken through to see what they have in store, and no photographs are allowed inside.

New LEGO sets preview

LEGO Kylo Ren BB-8 Rey
The LEGO stand was invite only. Security was tight, with some high profile sentries guarding the entrance

LEGO have pretty much a cradle to grave product – beginning with the most basic Duplo through to the adult fans of LEGO (afol) market. We were pretty excited to get a tour of what they have coming up.

Seeing the whole range, I was struck by how far they have recently progressed in terms of gender representation. So many sets now feature female figures as standard, regardless of theme.

For instance in our tour, I saw the Duplo rocket had a boy and a girl, superhero sets featured Wonder Woman, Katana, Black Widow (with Falcon), and most surprisingly Spider-Girl! This incarnation had a reddish/yellow outfit and long brown hair. Can’t wait to get our hands on that set. Their City range continued to be inclusive (as I have pointed out before).

Even their new Nexo Knights range has female characters – my daughter was lucky to get her very own Macy minifigure (who has a very cool mace as weapon).

LEGO Nexo Knight Macy minifigure
Macy, one of LEGO’s new Nexo Knights line

To me, LEGO Friends has always been problematic from this perspective, but even here there has been progress. The new LEGO Friends sets are far more activity focused than previously. They have just released an Adventure Camp set, and we were shown a very cool and interactive Amusement Park one.

We saw a great new Volcano theme that highlights the science aspects, some nice new superhero sets, such as the aforementioned female heroes, plus a tantalising glimpse at Marvel’s Doctor Strange one (his New York townhouse). There was a line based on the forthcoming Angry Birds movie, and I also spotted some Star Wars sets that I wasn’t supposed to see – so I’ll respect their wishes, and say no more about those…

A Star Wars fan’s delight

Star Wars was unsurprisingly a dominant theme of the toy fair. Thinkway Toys displayed their range of Star Wars remote controlled vehicles and drones, including a preview of their fantastic looking BB-8 remote controlled toy – which will be nearer full sized than a current rival toy.

AMERANG Lightsaber Kotobukiya chopsticks Giant Leia Kenner figure
Some of the Star Wars goodies on the Amerang stand

There were lots of cool stuff in the Amerang stand, who distribute to the adult collector market. My highlights were seeing the giant sized Leia as Boush, plus their Lightsaber chopsticks.

I was glad to stumble upon the Zeon stand. They make Star Wars homewares, and are the company who made our Death Star tea caddy (supposed to be a cookie jar) that my wife & daughter gave me for my birthday. It makes me smile every day 🙂

My daughter was entranced at the range of Star Wars cuddly toys on display at the Posh Paws stand.

Posh Paws Star Wars Toy Fair 2016
Checking out the Posh Paws Star Wars soft toys

Her Star Wars highlight was probably at Underground Toys.

cuddling BB8 Chewie
She found the Underground Toys cuddly BB-8 and Chewbacca toys irresistible

They make and distribute lots of licensed toys and homewares. While I was being shown round, my daughter kept wanting to go back and cuddle these large sized BB-8 and Chewbacca cuddly toys.

She also left with a mini talking Yoda plush toy, which she was very pleased about.

Underground also have the UK license for FUNKO collectables, and there were some great ones featuring female characters, from the Star Wars and Superhero range among others.

It wasn’t all about Star Wars

Toy Fair 2016 Playmobil Fashion Space
Playmobil’s new Fashion and Space themes

Away from Star Wars, we were shown the forthcoming sets from Playmobil.

The range of themes and sets has made this a popular toy in our house. Of the new ones, there is a cool looking new space theme (including a female astronaut), plus a fashion range that gives the dolls interchangeable clothes.

This starkly illustrates the range of play ideas on offer. My daughter liked both.

Elsewhere, it became a bit of a blur – things that caught either mine or my daughter’s eye were the the return of Stretch Armstrong (just as ridiculous now as the seventies), Tekstra robotic animals, and lots of new Peppa Pig, Ninja Turtles, and the forthcoming Finding Dory and Zootroplois tie-in toys.

The smaller toy companies hoping to make a big difference

A big highlight for us was going to the Lottie dolls stand. We love Lottie, and have featured the brand on the blog regularly, as it is exactly the kind of doll I want for my daughter – who is as happy being a superhero as a ballerina.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and check out the wonderful Lottie range at lottie.com. If you buy anything, enter the code blogambassador at check out for a 20% discount. Happy shopping!

We had an appointment at the end of the day with a smaller comany, Coiled Spring Games, and we were really taken with their Batman Story Cubes – a collection of die that have different Batman elements on them.

Roll them out, and then make a story from what icons lands face up. It’s a cool idea, and I was really glad to see they featured images of the likes of Catwoman and Harley Quinn. So was my daughter 🙂

Regrets? I have a few…

My biggest mistake in hindsight is not making the time to explore other smaller – and newer – toymakers. I have no idea what wonderful toys they may have had on show, and that is a real shame.

But on our way out, I was happy to stumble upon one such stand. We were drawn to A Girl for all Time for a very personal reason – one of the dolls has the same name as my wife (Lydia).

As I pointed this out to my daughter, the ladies on the stand started chatting to us, and the MD, Frances Cain, recognised my blog name. She explained how these dolls, beautifully made and outfitted, have a brilliantly simple but engaging theme.

They follow a matriarchal family tree, so each doll is part of a social history narrative following one family through the ages. Each doll helps illustrate the role of women at that time – from the Tudor period, right through to the latest contemporary dolls – unveiled at the toy fair – of Maya and Nisha.

Your Modern Girl Maya Nisha
Maya and Nisha are part of ‘Your Modern Girl’ – a proposed new addition to the line. They are hoping to go into production later this year.

What these two dolls also add to this social history is the racial diversity of modern Britain, as Nisha is clearly darker than her ascendents.

Children love narratives in their play, but this line is inspired by research that shows the emotional benefits of children knowing more about their family history. A Girl for all Time is to be supported by a range of books mapping out this story. It’s a premium high quality toy, and is priced accordingly, but it is the kind of toy that could become a family keepsake, the way those Steiff bears that always crop up on the Antiques Roadshow are.

What did we make of our first Toy Fair?

While long, we had a great day out. This was the day after my daughter’s 4th Birthday party, and she did incredibly well to last the 7 hour visit without any kind of meltdown.

It was ironic that in a hall with so many toys, there were so few children – so my daughter got smiles (and toys) throughout the day. Her female superhero skirt was especially popular!

While she got to see and play with lots of toys, I also had many chats and meetings (including bloggers – it was great to finally meet Tom from Diary of a Dad). This was a repeated activity that many 4-year-olds would find too boring to stand for long.

One thing that struck me in these meetings was how often – arriving at a toy stand with my daughter – I was asked if I was just interested in seeing the ‘girls’ toys. Gender categories are clearly still very entrenched within the toy industry. My answer was a (hopefully) polite “No we’d like to see everything please.”

My moment of the day? My Playmobil PR meeting concluding rather abruptly with my daughter exclaiming “Daddy, I need a poo.” Stay classy little one 🙂

Girls Long to be Princesses… and Superheroes, and Monsters, and More

This week we finally had our daughter’s 4th Birthday party. It was two and a half weeks after her actual 4th birthday because we couldn’t book our hall of choice earlier. But this had been on our minds for a while. For months, our daughter has been very specific that she wanted Hulk and Yoda cakes (she loves green). My wife, the baker of the family, did a great job with that.

The party was the same venue and format as her 3rd birthday party (free play, food, play, songs, play, cake, play…), only this time she wanted it to be fancy dress. For her own costume, she had also spent the past few months insisting she was going to dress up as a fairy, but a few days before the party she changed her mind. She wanted to go as Princess Leia.

She dressed up in the costume she got for Christmas from my parents, and as she often does with her Leia LEGO figures, a lightsaber (also from my parents – who probably can’t believe they’re still buying Star Wars toys) was an essential accessory. Green of course.

What was interesting to me were the costume choices of the other children. The only boy who came wore a pirate outfit, and none of the girls did. But there were a great range of outfits that the girls did wear – there was Tinkerbell, Gruffalo, Cinderella, a Knight, Supergirl, a fairy, Snow White, and our very own Princess Leia.

Every year, I fear that the dreaded ‘Age of the Princess Party’ will fall upon us. People speak of the ‘Princess Stage’ as if it were an actual stage of a girl’s development, as if an obsession with all the trappings of Princess culture is as inevitable as puberty.

A sub-party theme of recent years has been Frozen – which technically can’t be classed as a Princess theme because Elsa is a queen. While that film has a lot of positive things going for it, it is immensely ironic that Elsa’s plea for individuality and freedom of choice (‘Let it Go’), has inspired millions of little girls (or their parents) to dress in the same outfit.

Our daughter has a few Frozen fans among her friends, so I was surprised there were no Elsas at our party. There were also no double ups on princesses either. It was nice to see such a diversity of choices.

Speaking of diversity, of the 3 princess dress ups, while all were white characters, the girls dressing up as them were not. Of the little girls who are white, two opted either for a male character (Gruffalo) or a traditionally male dress up (knight). Another one wore a Superman outfit – but was adamant she was Supergirl. Fair enough.

What does this mean? I don’t know. I certainly wish my daughter knew more boys, but that’s probably more to do with the parents I’ve befriended than anything. But I am really happy my daughter is surrounded by such a diverse group of friends. Not only whose parents are from a variety of cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, but girls who also have such a diversity of interests – and yet they all have a great time together.

Long may it continue.