I like to mess around in Adobe Photoshop and other photo apps. Here’s a collage of my various site headers I made for Instagram. Just because.
I like to mess around in Adobe Photoshop and other photo apps. Here’s a collage of my various site headers I made for Instagram. Just because.
The best superhero movie I’ve seen. Ever.
Miles Morales is a school student trying to fit in at a new prep school. He is bitten by a radioactive spider while practising his graffiti art one night (one of the same experimental spiders that bit Peter Parker), and stumbles upon Spider-Man battling Kingpin. We’re entering spoiler territory to say more. Suffice to say there is a parallel universe motif and lots of Spider-Men/Women.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the Spider-Man movie that fans have been waiting for. Not only does it have amazing, ground breaking animation and visuals, it has a fun and engaging story with an endearing emotional core, cool characters and more comic book references than you can poke a stick at. In fact, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is the closest thing you’ll get to a living, breathing comic book—not only does the animation reflect this stylistically, with shading, onscreen sound effects, panels and narrative boxes, but it also features comic book covers, references to real comic book writers/artists and origin stories and costumes dragged straight from the source. It demonstrates how Spider-Man can be done right, and makes you wonder why Sony has continually dropped the ball with so many of its previous attempts. It also references the Sam Raimi movies very nicely, making this a spiritual successor to the original Spider-Man movie trilogy.
I only had one issue with the film: during some of the action scenes the mix of music and sound effects made some of the dialogue difficult to hear. No problem, really, as I’ll be seeing this again and buying the blu-ray.
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is a fantastic superhero movie—a must-see for comic book fans and eminently watchable for those who aren’t.
For more movie reviews, click here.
Mortal Engines is enjoyable, with nice ideas, great design and big effects, but ultimately is overly reliant on cliched plot points.
London is a futuristic steampunk city on wheels that travels the countryside consuming smaller towns for resources. Tom (Robert Sheehan) is a Londoner historian who gets mixed up in an assassination attempt on bad guy Valentine (Hugo Weaving) by Hester (Hera Hilmar). Valentine is plotting bad stuff and it’s up to Tom and Hester to save the day, travelling across the post-apocalyptic countryside and finding friends and foes as they do.
Mortal Engines is based on the young adult book series by Phillip Reeve. The script is by Peter Jackson and Phillipa Boyens, the husband and wife team that brought us The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and while they stay true to some of the first book, they diverge significantly in other areas—probably more than most fans would like. A few story elements appear to have been dumbed-down and some overtly political subtext injected. There are a number of plot cliches we’ve seen before and they stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. This doesn’t benefit the movie.
Whilst I enjoyed most of Mortal Engines, what I liked the most was Weta Workshop’s amazing design work and the prolific use of real sets. There’s lots of lovely CGI on display, of course, which, aside from some poor compositing in two scenes, is of a high standard.
Mortal Engines is not the best adaption of a YA book I’ve seen (the Harry Potter and Hunger Games movies remain the gold standard), but it’s good looking and fun. Just ignore some of the ham-fisted cliches that pepper the plot.
I looooove comic books. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and in my currently bereft and almost moneyless state I don’t get as many opportunities to buy them as I used to.
A loooong time ago, I said I was going to talk about some of my favourite comic book stories. Sorry it took so long. Here they are, in no particular order.
Watchmen – arguably the greatest comic book story ever written, and often included in all-time best novel lists. In the 80’s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons produced this seminal piece of adult literature that works on so many levels. If you never read any other comics, read this one. I have a first edition collected volume and a re-released hardcover, and bought the original issues when they came out. This comic book is the altar I pray at.
The Dark Knight Returns – This comic sits in front of that altar. Frank Miller brought an older Batman out of retirement and made this one of the greatest and most influential comics ever created.
Batman: Year One – …and then Frank and David Mazzuchelli redefined the Dark Knight’s origin in a gritty tale that has inspired TV shows and comics everywhere. And made my altar very crowded.
Superman: Red Son – Mark Millar made his mark on the Superman canon with this incredible Elseworlds story of a man of steel raised in Soviet Russia. The ending is one of the coolest ever.
Saga of the Swamp Thing – Alan Moore is my favourite writer. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s 70’s Swamp Thing is my all-time fave character, but Moore’s take took it, and his career, into the stratosphere during the 80’s and brought on a flurry of astounding work, including the aforementioned Watchmen.
Green Lantern – Geoff Johns is one of the most amazing creators in comics today. He has an understanding of the characters and the medium that raises the bar with every book he takes on. This is his ground-breaking run on titular character Hal Jordan.
Marvels – Marvel’s superheroes and seminal founding events, seen through the eyes of conventional people, by Kurt Busiek and with art by the incredible Alex Ross. If you haven’t seen Mr Ross’s lifelike painted artworks, you don’t know what you’re missing. Awesome.
JLA – Grant Morison has written some unbelievable comics, including this superb and influential run on the Justice League in the 90’s. Big moments. Big characters. Big stories. Big creativity.
Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn is a brilliant writer. This is a brilliant story. It also contains the saddest scene I’ve ever read in a comic. No contender.
Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughn (there’s that name again) puts the politics in superhero, with this amazing work with artist Tony Harris.
Sandman – The work that made Neil Gaiman BIG. Yep, even before the novel writing. Eerily good. And Dave McKean does the best covers EVER. Hands down.
That’s not all of them, of course. The list goes on and on. But that’s enough, for now…
Widows is a remake of a British TV series from some years ago, based on the book by Lynda la Plante. It’s stylishly directed, well written, brilliantly acted, but leaves you feeling somewhat flat by the end as a consequence of its dark tone and focus.
Widows is a heist movie featuring moments of great melancholy (Viola Davis’s character Veronica is mourning the loss of her son and her husband; the other widows are grieving their respective partners), incredible selfishness and greed (the local gang, alderman and pastor are corrupt and criminal) and stark contrasts (rich vs. poor, black vs. white). It doesn’t pull its punches.
Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), is a career criminal who is killed, along with his crew, after robbing a local Chicago gang of $2million. The gang leader (Brian Tyree Henry) and local alderman-to-be (Colin Farrell) are at loggerheads as they are both running for election and there’s more than a little corruption behind the scenes. The gang leader knows Harry stole the money and wants Veronica to pay it back. Veronica uses Harry’s notes to plan a heist, but needs the widows of Harry’s crew to help her.
The script is excellent, with enough twists to keep you hooked; the direction by Steve McQueen is superbly fluid; the acting is great – Viola Davis steals every scene she’s in, of course, although she’s becoming somewhat stereotyped as the ‘hard nosed b$&@$ with a soft side’.
It’s not perfect: there are a few too many coincidences holding the plot together; having so many characters sometimes detracts from the titular widows’ stories, downplayed in favour of the political and gangland dramas; the widows’ individual arcs seem a bit rushed, a consequence of editing to reduce running time, I suspect; overall, most of the characters are largely unsympathetic and don’t really grow as people by the end of the movie. This doesn’t make for a bad film, more a slightly unsatisfying one. I think it might have worked better as a mini-series.
There are few uplifting moments in this film – it mirrors the inherent darkness of modern society, at times dragging on you like an anchor. By the end you’re almost glad it’s over, but you’re still impressed by the quality of the journey.
Widows is a well-made, well-acted drama that deserves your time. Just don’t expect it to be a wholly pleasant one.
* Claire Foy is great in everything (witness her dramatic turns in First Man and The Crown), including this. A shame the script leaves her little to work with.
* Abundant cliches and criminally poor use of the Millenium series’ usually prominent supporting characters makes this movie more pedestrian than it should have been. If I have to see another movie with an all powerful device that controls all nuclear missiles (or alternatively, some other ridiculous deus ex machina device, like something that controls all of the internet or every cappuccino machine in the world), I’ll scream.
* There are a few good action sequences—the “sniping through walls” scene was tense and well done.
* The trailer gave away the main villain, something I really hate. The “family member assumed long dead is the bad guy” cliche is really overused. Any attempt to explore the more subtle and hard hitting character issues are quickly pushed aside to drive forward the average plot.
* J K Rowling demonstrates she’s a wonderful author who’s still learning how to write screenplays. Better pacing, editing and less exposition would be nice; movies are a different medium to books and need to engage the audience in other ways. This film is more world building and set up for the rest of the series, rather than a movie in itself.
* Nice to see Hogwarts again.
* Great special effects and action set pieces. Some welcome character development for Newt and the supporting characters.
* Paradoxically, I enjoyed this one more than the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It makes me want to see the next in the series, so I guess it succeeded in what it set out to do.
Rami Malek of Mr Robot fame playing Freddy Mercury? Lots of Queen hits with amazing sound? Bring it on!
I’m a Queen fan from way back. I have all their albums, and Brian May continues to be my all-time favourite rock guitarist. So, as soon as I heard Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of Freddy and the band, was being filmed, I was as good as in a seat. They had my money, no matter what.
Now I’ve seen it I can honestly say I enjoyed it. However…
I guess the biggest letdowns were the missed opportunities to see not only some of the major issues the band faced early in its career (the stoush with their first manager, for instance), the other band members getting short shrift in terms of screen time, and Freddy’s character seeming a little two dimensional, given the amount of story devoted to him. Some of the scenes dragged, especially the ones with Freddy and Mary. But a movie can only be so long, and for the benefit of story a few things needed to be cut, a few historical liberties taken. Rami Malek makes up for it with a wonderful performance as Freddy, capturing the essence of the man, if not always the presence.
Bohemian Rhapsody is an enjoyable ride, even if it’s not destined to be the best Queen movie ever made. I’m sure that’s yet to come.
First Man is, hands down, the best movie I have seen in the last five years. It’s in my top 10 movies of all time. It’s that good.
First Man is the story of America’s race to get a man on the moon before the Soviets in the 1960’s. But more than that, it’s the very personal story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) coming to terms with the loss of his daughter, and his wife (Claire Foy) facing her husband’s emotional distance and the prospect of losing him at any moment.
Armstrong is isolated and driven, and First Man brings this home in dramatically awkward fashion—he interacts with friends, workmates and family, and never connects in any real way. He’s methodical and smart, his emotionless level-headedness ideal for missions. Gosling gives a suitably understated performance, with Foy matching him in intensity.
Director Damien Chazelle has created a work of filmic art. The opening flight scene and those in space are incredibly harrowing. The ancient tech and DIY feel of the rockets makes you wonder how the astronauts got anywhere—it’s not surprising there were so many fatalities. The use of handheld video camera gives the movie a documentary feel, with many scenes filmed in intense close up, emphasising the intimacy and tension.
First Man is not for those who thought Venom was a smart film. It’s intense, painful, gripping, intelligent and moving. It’s everything good movies should be, and it needs to be seen on the big screen.
Yep. I love movies, but I’m over long movie reviews. Maybe you are, too?
Yeah, I’m lazy. But I just love seeing movies. Here’s a couple of reviews.
• Bright and colourful Singapore setting
• Conventional story with average acting
• Much of the humour falls flat
• Some great actors wasted in minor roles
• I know this movie was considered a breakthrough for Hollywood because of its all-Asian casting and storyline, but Asia and England have been making these sorts of movies for decades, and better than this
• A cartoon that often seems more for adults than kids
• Lots of movie parodies and references that many kids just won’t get
• Very funny at times, only the occasional fart jokes
• Gorgeous and bright animation
• Better than some of the live action superhero movies of the last few years
No spoilers, but does it really matter for this one?
Where do I begin? The Happytime Murders is a muddled attempt at a comedic crime drama. The big problem: it lacks humour and a by-the-numbers conventional plot leaves you wondering why someone put up the money to make it in the first place.
Puppets and humans coexist in the world of the The Happytime Murders. Puppets are inferior and downtrodden by humans. Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is a puppet PI who was the only puppet to serve on the human police force, forced out over an incident involving his then-partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and the death of an innocent bystander. Now Phil lives the life of a Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe, who is approached by Sandra, a nymphomaniac puppet who thinks someone is out to blackmail her. Phil’s investigation leads him to a number of puppet murders, linked to the syndicated Happytime show. He teams up with Edwards to solve the case.
From there it’s all downhill: puppets having sex, puppets drinking and doing drugs, puppets using the F-word a lot. It’s a one-trick pony that’s novel and amusing at first, but rapidly grows tired. Melissa McCarthy doesn’t seem to find her rhythm until the second act and even then, it’s patchy.
The Happytime Murders doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. At times it’s way too serious, at others attempting to pass off repetitious, miss-the-mark, frat-boy humour as comedy (the silent audience was telling). There are a few funny lines, but you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to them. It’s not really worth the effort.
This is the first time this year I’ve actually felt like I was cheated by a film company. If I could get my money back I would.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend The Happytime Murders to anyone.
A few months back I did some mini-reviews of Netflix shows I’d been watching (Australian Netflix – some of these series are on different networks in America and Europe). Here are some more short reviews of what I’ve been watching:
Star Trek Discovery
Great sci-fi show set in the movie universe pre-Kirk, with Spock’s adopted sister as the lead. It has a cool twist at the end of the first season.
Jane the Virgin
Romantic comedy series that parodies Latin telenovellas. Everybody is into everyone! Cool narration, too.
Time travelling to save the world from an army and a lethal virus. Really steps up its game from S2 onwards.
Excellent street-level superhero series that’s only let down by a dodgy battle in the S1 finale.
Great sci-fi show based on the books by James SA Corey. A solar system of political intrigue and imminent war, with an alien presence about to change everything.
How to Get Away With Murder
Gotta love an ongoing murder mystery set on a college campus with weekly episodic legal procedurals.
An honourable man with amazing martial arts abilities returns to his company after years missing, but they don’t want him back. The low budget really shows, but this was interesting and handled ‘The Hand’ better than S2 of the Daredevil show.
Japanese anime about immortal creatures living among humans who are captured and experimented on. What happens when they decide to fight back? Gorgeous animation, smart, violent and not for kids.
Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer who becomes a vigilante by night. Very ‘Batman’. S1 is the best of the few seasons available.
Team-up of Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist against the Hand’s loopy machinations. Drags a bit. The individual series were better.
Docudrama showing the first settlement of the Red Planet, real science commentary offsets the drama. Fascinating.
Superhero Green Arrow takes on crime with a bow and a team. Still going strong after six seasons, but running out of essential characters to kill (and bring back). Also very ‘Batman’.
The End of the Fxxxing World
Two kids on a road trip, one plans to kill the other. Definitely not a comedy (although it’s marketed that way). Mental health issues, murder and abuse. Hard hitting, but sensitive and amusing as well.
I’d heard good things about Cruise’s latest impossible mission and decided to give it a go. MI:Fallout has a reasonable story with twists I (unfortunately) saw coming a mile away and some very stoic performances. It rises to the occasion with lots of well executed and thrilling stunts, many performed by Cruise himself.
Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt, working for the IMF, a covert group that takes on impossible and deniable government spy missions. A terrorist group has gotten their hands on three Russian nuclear warheads and plan to blow up stuff. Hunt’s team has to get the warheads back. Along for the ride is a CIA hitman (Henry Cavill) to make sure they don’t screw up. He seems to screw up far more than they do, though.
I get the impression if I’d watched the previous movies I would have more attachment to the characters, as MI:Fallout assumes you’re a fan and thus provides no backstory for any of them. I felt detached as a result and so really didn’t care if they lived or died (or why they bother doing these thankless jobs in the first place). The story was full of twists (as you’d expect from an action spy thriller), but they were fairly obvious so the movie lost the element of surprise it should have had going for it. I’m so tired of hearing The Dark Knight’s much-copied plot twist: “he planned to be captured all along!”
Tom Cruise did many of his own stunts, with various scenes showing Cruise in the thick of the action—across rooftops, on a motorbike, cars, helicopters, halo jumping—he certainly earned his money. The stunts were the core of this movie and quite impressive, but without an emotional attachment to the characters the whole thing left me feeling flatter than Cruise and Cavill’s monotone performances (Cruise hasn’t really acted in a movie since Magnolia in ‘99).
MI:Fallout is one for the franchise’s fans, or for people who love action set pieces but don’t care about emotional engagement.
New Zealand humour is quirky. The accents certainly help (no offence intended, kiwi readers—I love your accents). The Breaker Upperers, the new comedy from the scripting and directorial team of Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek (also the two leads) is funny and sweet, with a bit of raunch thrown in for good measure.
Mel (Sami) and Jen (Van Beek) are two long term friends who make a living providing a service that breaks up relationships. They live by a credo of not getting attached or involved, which makes their ethically-dubious schemes easier for them to live with. It’s not until they start breaking their own rules that they realise karma has a habit of catching up, and their friendship is in the firing line.
The Breaker Upperers is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year. It manages to nail the bizarre circumstances of relationship breakdowns on the head, while at the same time teaching some valuable life lessons about true friendship. The gags are original, understated and, at times, over the top, and I couldn’t get enough. Despite this some will feel it’s not their thing, even if they do get the humour.
And everyone in this movie looks natural. Yep, there are no good looking people to be seen. How often does that happen on the big screen?
I thoroughly recommend The Breaker Upperers. If you like NZ comedies, such as Hunt for the Wilder People or Boy, you’ll love this. Oh, for those who try to avoid these things, there’s a sex scene—it’s very funny, though.
I’m a movie fan. More than that, I’m a HUGE superhero and monster fan, and a number of the announcements coming out of the San Diego Comic Con had me nerdgasming. Aquaman, Shazam! and Glass are superhero movies I’m really looking forward to next year. The next Harry Potter universe Fantastic Beasts movie premiered a new trailer, as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, sequel to the popular Godzilla movie from a few years back and set in the same universe as the Kong: Skull Island movie.
Here are the newest trailers to geek out to:
I can’t wait to see these films! In the meantime, enjoy!
Dwayne Johnson’s new movie is a cross between Die Hard and Towering Inferno. Despite the derivative premise it manages to be a successful homage to those movies and once again shows why Johnson is the world’s leading action star.
‘The Pearl’ is the world’s tallest and most technologically advanced skyscraper, built in Hong Kong by a super-rich computer tycoon. Johnson was an ex-marine and FBI agent who retired after an explosion took his leg. Now he’s an amputee who runs a security consultancy, brought in to inspect the Pearl’s safety features for the world’s biggest insurance underwriting. His wife (Neve Campbell) and kids have travelled with him and are staying in the as yet unopened residential level. Some bad guys from the tycoon’s past set the building on fire, with nefarious intentions (other than burning the building down, that is). Time for big Dwayne to step up. Along with a whole lot of duct tape.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to dislike Dwayne Johnson. Offscreen he seems like a genuine and affable guy. Onscreen he generally plays to type. What’s different this time around is Johnson plays a disabled man, making him a viable protagonist. Let’s face it, the guy’s so big it’s hard to believe the villains will give him a hard time, but having one leg evens the odds a bit and allows him to play up his disability in a number of scenes.
As a movie Skyscraper is a bit dumb, but it succeeds because it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a full-on action-come-disaster flick, ready-made for the burgeoning Chinese market, with lots of lovely views of Hong Kong and a peppering of Chinese co-stars. Neve Campbell (remember her from the Scream movies and Party of Five?) gets to kick some ass as well, keeping happy that portion of the audience tiring of guns and testosterone-fuelled blokes. Who am I kidding? They won’t go to this film.
In the end it’s all about the Rock hurting himself and others as he takes on the building and the crooks, Bruce Willis-style, but without the jokes. Yep, this is pretty serious, but hey, he’s saving his family so the tone feels right. There are plenty of tense scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat and Johnson displays just enough machismo combined with fear to pull them off.
Skyscraper is the kind of exciting and entertaining romp that you’ll secretly enjoy even if you hate action movies.
Marvel pumps out another enjoyable superhero sequel. Amusing but non-essential viewing.
Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-man) and Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne/Wasp) reprise their roles from Ant-man, along with Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) and motor-mouthed Michael Peña (Luis). Along for the ride this time are Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne.
Scott Lang has nearly completed two years of house arrest after the Civil War incident. He has a vision of Hank Pym’s wife, who was trapped in the subatomic quantum universe many years ago. Hank wants to bring his wife back but villainess the Ghost is slowly wasting away and wants Pym’s tech to save herself. So do some other bad guys. Time to save the day.
Ant-man and the Wasp is pretty funny, with Rudd and Peña assisting with the script (I’m assuming there were a few ad libbed jokes in some of the scenes). Unfortunately, I’m one of those dreary souls who prefers more drama—I love humour, but I like my superheroes a touch more serious. It would have been nice to let non-fans know that Evangeline Lilly’s character was Wasp. It’s never mentioned—as a comic book fan, I knew, but some casual viewers I spoke with didn’t make the connection.
Ant-man and the Wasp is an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, but it won’t leave you with the burning desire to discuss the bigger issues raised by the film afterward, because there are none. It’s fun, but ultimately disposable.
Hiya all! It’s been a while since I reviewed any tabletop role playing games (“What the?!” I hear you say. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check out this link here).
Without further ado:
This lovely little game was the result of a recent Kickstarter. It’s an elegant little system, based on the Apocalypse engine and some additional stuff from a few other games. It uses a simple, trait tag-based system in place of numeric characteristics, but still has traditional Armour Class and Hit Points.
The 2d6 + trait roll (with 6 or less meaning things get worse, 7-9 being a partial success, 10-12 a complete success and 13+ being a critical success), allows for lots of narrative options to push the game forward. Light on rules, but big on creativity, this is a game for more experienced game masters and players (some experience with Apocalypse World-based games or FATE is handy, if you’re only used to D&D).
The rulebook—black and white with a square layout, simple instructions, great illustrations and design—is gorgeous and easy to read. You can also use it with all those old d20 D&D modules you have laying around (if you’re old school, like me lol) with minimal conversion.
Ideal for GMs who like flexibility and less rules.
A few years back Kevin Crawford started his game-designing career writing a little Sci-Fi RPG called Stars Without Number. This is a revision of it, successfully Kickstarted not too long ago (yes, I went through a bit of a Kickstarter phase).
D&D in space? Sort of—this OSR ruleset uses d20 systems as a baseline for a science fiction game, minus the fantasy tropes and adding some nice new mechanics like character foci and backgrounds (which are not too dissimilar to feats and backgrounds in 5e), new rules for starship combat and lots of tables to support sandbox-style gaming.
The rule book is in colour, with some lovely art and Crawford’s verbose but not overbearing style (I would like it more if he used bold or italics for highlighting important rules, as all that uniform text tends to make it harder to quickly find relevant bits in a paragraph). The great thing is, even with the changes, it’s still compatible with the loads of Stars Without Number supplements Crawford has written over the years, as well as old d20/OSR adventures. The sandbox element and lack of setting may not appeal to everyone, but this is a flexible system with a wealth of roll-up tables designed to support GM creativity: use the game as you see fit. The d20 rules are recognisable to anyone who has played D&D at some point.
Well worth a look and a lot simpler (and cheaper) than Starfinder. Plus, there’s a free PDF version, too.
One of the shortest complete rulesets around, this percentile-based system uses simple mechanics that makes it ideal for beginners.
This is dungeon crawling on a budget—the monsters are straightforward and easy to run, the spells and level progression limited—but still captures the essence of old school AD&D. The handy A5-sized rulebook is concise: aside from the usual character creation and game system, it also includes tables for adventure and dungeon generation, a bestiary, magic items, rules for magic item creation, and a pocket-sized fantasy setting (Kingdoms of Keranak)—all in 80 pages.
This is a lean and mean system ideal for beginners, which experienced players will still appreciate.
That’s enough for today. Until next time!
The dinosaurs are back! The sequel to massive money-spinner Jurassic World and the earlier Jurassic Park films contains all the big action bluster you expect from a major tentpole movie, and just enough story to keep the audience engaged for the two-hour running time.
A volcano is about to erupt on Isla Nubar, home of the original Park and World movies. The second half of the John Hammond team that started the whole dino cloning thing, billionaire Benjamin Lockwood, wants to save the dinosaurs by transporting them to another island where they can roam free as nature intended. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, reprising their roles from Jurassic World, are on board to help identify and recover the dinosaurs, with a few extra cliché and forgettable characters along for the ride. Needless to say, things go awry (this is a Jurassic Park/disaster movie, after all—there’s an established template to follow).
This time around the bad guys want to weaponize the creatures. Don’t expect too much in the way of literary metaphor or social commentary—the story is almost by the numbers, but enjoyable, none the less. There are loads of nostalgic call backs to the original Jurassic Park movie (recognise the upturned car and the broken fence where the T-rex first appeared, and the crushed vehicle that fell through the tree?) and some scenes aping the original (a child escaping a raptor by hiding while the raptor brains itself on the sliding door, the shadow of the beast’s head on the wall, etc.). I can happily report there are enough interesting new developments to keep most audiences pleased, and it sets up some post-apocalyptic pretensions for a sequel.
Unfortunately, while the dinosaur special effects look great (as usual), the dinos just aren’t scary anymore. Too much of a good thing, I guess? You still gotta love ‘em, though—my son, a dino nerd, was engrossed.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a fun popcorn flick—no brains required. It took the story in a new but not unexpected direction and left me looking forward to the inevitable next instalment.
I loved The Incredibles. Made by Pixar at a time when Disney was just a distributor of Pixar movies, before Disney bought the animation studio and started focussing on the bottom line. The Incredibles has humour, heart, action, conviction, amazing music and is a wonderful homage to 1960’s spy flicks and comic-book family, the Fantastic Four. It is one of my all-time favourite movies.
Which brings me to Incredibles 2. The new film features the same characters, voiced by the original actors (Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson) and starts where the original left off—superheroes are outlawed and Mr Incredible, Elastigirl, Dash and Violet, with baby in tow, take on the Underminer. Elastigirl is recruited by a communications company as the public face of the superhero comeback and Mr Incredible has to stay home to look after the kids and deal with everyday problems and a baby with multiple superpowers.
The premise is excellent and I was sold before I saw the film. Then I actually saw it.
Incredibles 2 has a solid story and fantastic superheroic action sequences that could only be done in a cartoon (live action CGI-realism comes with certain limitations). Mr Incredible’s struggle to cope with maths, Violet’s boyfriend troubles and an uncontrollable infant nicely balance out Elastigirl’s adventure as she attempts to capture the new villain. Frozone gets more screen time, and more of Sam Jackson is never a bad thing. A bevy of new, but shallow, superpowered characters is introduced.
But all too often Incredibles 2 feels like an inferior sequel to a great movie: the humour sometimes falls flat; the villain is predictable and unmemorable; the story drags at times; the sense of connection I felt with the first film wasn’t really there. It often feels like part of the Disney conveyor belt, rather than a sequel that was made because the story demanded it (see Toy Story 2 and 3 for examples of GREAT Pixar sequels made for the right reasons).
Incredibles 2 will make lots of money for Disney. It will sell huge numbers of toys (a primary motivator for Disney nowadays—Cars and its abysmal sequels, anyone?). There will be a sequel sooner rather than later. But it can’t help but feel like another film with an opportunity to be great that fell short because of a parent company’s focus on shareholder dividends.
I read the scathing and toxic reception of fandom to Solo, a Star Wars Story, read the critics’ poor reviews and generally dismissed the movie without giving it a chance. I’m happy to report that a friend dragged me to see it, and I was not only pleasantly surprised, I got to see a movie that was as good as, if not better, then Rogue One and The Last Jedi.
Solo stars Alden Ehrenreich as the young version of the character made popular in the first three Star Wars movies by Harrison Ford. He doesn’t quite fulfil the roguishly charismatic promise of Ford, but then, that’s to be expected. He does, however, play the part well (better than reported) and works convincingly with the other stars— scene-stealing Danny Glover as Lando Calrissian, always reliable Woody Harrelson as Beckett, his distrusting mentor, and Emilia Clarke as Kira, young Han’s inscrutable ex-girlfriend.
Solo is a heist movie, and it shows some of the formative moments in Han Solo-history: how he gained his name, met Chewbacca, got the blaster, won the Millennium Falcon, completed the legendary Kessel Run in record time/distance. The action is great, especially the train set-piece. There’s a nice little link (no matter how unlikely it may seem in retrospect) to the formative Rebellion. Solo ably shows the start of Han’s journey from optimistic and unlikely hero to cynical reprobate. There’s also the promise of a sequel with Jabba the Hutt and a cool cameo from a character mired in pre-Disney extended Star Wars universe history (looks like they didn’t scrap everything after all). Let’s hope DVD and streaming sales make it happen.
I really enjoyed Solo. It’s well worth a look and certainly much better than some people might indicate.
I promised to review the last of John Green’s books left for me to read (ironically, his first). I finally finished Looking for Alaska, yesterday. You can find the other reviews at the links below this one.
Looking for Alaska, like many of John Green’s books, is a young adult book featuring a number of quirky high-school characters, a love story (unrequited love, in this case), a tragedy and a mystery. Telling you any more would ruin the story, and I want to steer clear of spoilers.
Pudge is a socially-isolated boy who is sent to boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his short but smart roommate ‘the Colonel’, part-time rapper Takumi and the love of his life: sexy, enigmatic, adorable and frustratingly annoying Alaska Young. They get up to all sorts of antics that expand Pudge’s horizons and broaden his understanding of friendship and existence.
Green likes to write from life, and most of these characters appear to be based on himself and his school classmates (right down to Green’s love of famous last words). There are a number of glaring similarities to characters from his other books, and after reading every book he’s written in a short time frame, I find that they suffer from ‘too much of a good thing’ syndrome: while I loved the book overall, the characters were a little passé. Having said all that, if I’d read this book before his others, I might not have felt this way. The ‘mystery’ of the third act was also incredibly obvious and left me wondering how bright these supposedly smart kids actually were.
If you’re a John Green fan you’ll love Looking for Alaska. Or you’ll find it a bit too similar to his other works. Either way, I love Green’s writing and look forward to his next effort.
A bunch of friends play tag for 30 years: for the month of May, they attempt to tag each other with the winner reigning supreme until the next year. One of the friends has never been tagged and he is about to retire. Time for the team to take him down! The whole idea of the game is it keeps these childhood friends in touch, even though they live in different cities and states. I guess they haven’t discovered Facebook, yet. That’s the premise of Tag, with the punchline that it’s based on a real tag game that has been going for 30 years. Yep, that’s right, a bunch of old guys actually chase each other around every year in the real world (there’s a nice video montage at the end of the movie showing the real taggers).
The ensemble cast includes Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress and Jake Johnson. This movie has a number of slapstick comedy moments, and a few awkward gags that never quite land. Jeremy Renner plays the guy who’s never been tagged, who’s so good that his mind drops into a Sherlock Holmesian-style analytical mode whenever someone attempts to tag him. John Hamm, the ultra-competitive CEO and Jake Johnson, the slacker stoner, are involved in a brief romantic triangle. Aside from that, the story is wafer thin: a number of tag scenarios with Renner escaping the others as they attempt to tag him. There are some laughs, but I guess I would have liked a bit more than pratfalling comedy.
You can forget about any real drama—those moments fall flat as well. The characters are basically far too two-dimensional to give this film any weight. And the female characters are even less developed than the males.
Tag is fun most of the time, but it’s also eminently forgettable. Like many other comedies you will see this year, it promises so much and only just delivers.
No spoilers here!
No doubt you’ve read a thousand times that Ryan Reynolds was born to play fourth wall-breaking, motormouthed mercenary superhero Deadpool, so I won’t repeat it. Oh, I just did. Sorry.
Deadpool 2 is a fun and incredibly violent movie. Yep, it’s not for the kids. It’s funnier than the first, but much of the humour often seems aimed above the average teen audience’s heads. It features the debut of X-force from the comics (umm, think second-tier X-men), lots of pop culture references, music from the 80’s, great visual gags, whiz bang action set pieces and a surprisingly emotional core tying it all together. The Terminator-style storyline is what I’d call “superhero conventional”, but the humour and action lifts it above the average.
Deadpool 2 is lots of fun. You’ll love it if you like superhero movies, Ryan Reynolds, offbeat humour and the 1980s. If you’re averse to blood and violence you may want to give it a miss.
Saw Melissa McCarthy’s new movie the other day. I’ll admit up front that I am a McCarthy fan. I like her sassy, in-your-face and inappropriate witticisms. I guess they remind me of my own big mouth. Her movies tend to be overly formulaic, though, as scriptwriters and directors stick to the McCarthy formula her core audience admires.
Life of the Party is a bit like that, but in this case, McCarthy is a recently-divorced mother who goes back to her alma mater to finish the last year of her archaeology degree. Oh, and her daughter is attending the same campus. Let the fun begin. McCarthy plays the motherly role well, limiting the language and capturing the fish-out-of-water mother mannerisms well.
Yes, the movie is funny—not overwhelmingly so, but it was enough to keep me amused for most of its running length. The story is clichéd and the characters stereotyped, but McCarthy’s likeable enough to carry it through.
Life of the Party is one for the McCarthy fans. If you’re not an admirer of her performances, you won’t be after this, but if you are you’ll have a good laugh and leave the theatre with a smile on your face. I did.
Okay, okay! I said I wasn’t going to the movies this week, but I did. Couldn’t help it.
Avengers: Infinity War is a star-studded extravaganza, the culmination of ten years of Marvel world-building. It’s one of those movies that fans will love to death— you need to have seen the previous movies to be truly invested in the backstory, the characters and their tribulations—but one that may not be very accessible to anyone who’s a casual Marvel movie-goer or first timer (read: confused if not fluent in Marvelese).
Thanos, the big bad guy intent on balancing the universe by wiping out half of every living being in existence, is well-developed and almost sympathetic at times, which makes a change from smirking on his big throne. He wants the six Infinity Stones, which were formed at the creation of the universe and represent all sorts of comic-book hokum but really just make Thanos impossibly powerful once he has them. There are lots of big battles, big action set pieces, big team ups, and decent jokes—more than enough to keep me and any other Marvel fans happy.
There are also lots of deaths. So many, in fact, that you just know the next movie in a year’s time will ‘rectify’ the situation, which left me feeling the stakes were a bit pointless. That being said, I still enjoyed the ride.
A friend of mine commented she would rather have waited for both movies on DVD so she could watch them back-to-back. I feel in the long term that will be the preferred viewing experience, however Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that looks great on the big screen and should be experienced that way.
If you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I’m no fan of the Disney corporate monstrosity, but I really enjoyed this movie and recommend it heartily for invested Marvelites. Take my money, you devil-mouse you.
No movie reviews this week, but I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix lately (Australian Netflix – some of these series are on different networks in America and Europe). I haven’t found a series on the streaming service I haven’t liked, yet.
Here’s a short sample of what I’ve been watching:
Stranger Things – 1980’s nostalgia and Stephen King homage. Kids on bikes and strange goings on in a mid-west American town. An awesome must see.
13 Reasons Why – thirteen tapes left by a suicide victim indicting the people who directly or indirectly caused her to kill herself. Gripping and confronting.
Lost in Space – remake of 1950’s TV show, updated. A family lost on another world after a space-borne attack, trying to escape before the planet or their shady companion kills them. A bit slow at times but the character development and Dr Smith make up for it.
Black Lightning – family drama centred around a high school principal who brings his superhero alter-ego out of retirement to fight crime bosses and manipulative secret government programs. Still finding its feet but lots of promise for the second season.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – quirky and out there detective story about time travel, parallel dimensions, coincidence versus determinism and friendship. Wondering what Elijah Wood’s been doing since The Hobbit?
Santa Clarita Diet – mum’s a zombie, and dad and daughter are fine with that. But the zombie virus is making life difficult… Blackly comedic and violent.
Altered Carbon – noir-style sci-fi mystery; the world’s richest man’s murder can only be solved by a reanimated terrorist. Dark, violent and deep.
Riverdale – Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead updated from the comics for the 21st century. Dark, over the top soap opera.
Ozark – a mob accountant sets up a money laundering business in the Ozarks, failing to realise just what he’s up against. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are superb in this Breaking Bad-wannabe.
An Unfortunate Series of Events – based on the Lemony Snickett books, this excellent series has an absurdist sense of humour. Neil Patrick Harris steals the show.
Jessica Jones – hard-ass alcoholic detective superhero from Marvel. Surprisingly deep.
Atypical – comedy/drama about a high functioning autistic boy, his search for a girlfriend, and his neurotypical family. Enjoyable, but a little stereotypical at times.
So, what have you been watching on Netflix lately?
You know how spoilers spoil movies? Well, there are none here to spoil stuff. Just thought you’d like to know.
Ready Player One is the Steven Spielberg-directed movie based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel of the same name. I have the book but haven’t read it yet (it’s on my ever-growing list).
Wade Watts lives in overcrowded and destitute Columbus, Ohio, in 2045. Like most people alive in the future, he escapes day-to-day life to live in the Oasis, a limitless virtual world created by James Halliday. Before Halliday died, he created an Easter Egg to give control of the Oasis to anyone who finds it—or rather, finds three keys. Naturally everyone wants control of the Oasis, including the dastardly IOI corporation, who wants to monetize it. Yeah, it’s Willy Wonka for the 21st century.
Ready Player One is a glorious CGI, video gaming and 1980’s pop culture fest. Every scene in the Oasis is packed full of characters (Batman! The Iron Giant! Gears of War! Halo! Wonder Woman! TMNT! Gundam! To name a few) and 80’s references (Atari! Dungeons and Dragons! Back to the Future! Star Wars! Just a couple) that you may miss the first time around (my son wants to buy the blu-ray later so he can freeze frame each scene like the nerdy gamer he is). Most of the movie is set in the Oasis, with about a third of it in the real world.
The special effects are fantastic, the music by Alan Silvestri is wonderfully complementary to the movies and characters referenced, and Spielberg shows he hasn’t lost any of his flair for direction in his old age. Some of the secondary characters are a bit two-dimensional, but I find most visual effects-heavy movies tend to overshadow character development.
If you’re a gamer you will geek out over Ready Player One. If you’re an 80’s pop culture nerd you will love the nostalgia. If you like a good teen-based action adventure, you’ll enjoy it. I had a great time with this movie, and my 20-year old son loved it more than I did. Check it out.
There’s no such thing as spoilers (in this review, anyway)!
Alicia Vikander is the new Tomb Raider (for those of you not familiar with the previous movie incarnation, Angelina Jolie was the titular heroine), and she ably fills the tank top—umm…role.
This is a reboot of the franchise, based heavily on the popular computer game reboot of 2013 (so many reboots…). Lara Croft (Vikander) is a girl with no direction to her life after losing her rich father (Dominic West) seven years ago. Refusing to accept that he’s dead, she hasn’t taken over the Croft fortune and title and is living a simple life as a bike messenger in inner city London. She receives a Japanese puzzle from her missing father which sets her on a quest to find him and the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai, a supposed sorceress with power over death.
I enjoyed Tomb Raider. In this origin movie Vikander is a feisty, yet vulnerable underdog, who kicks some serious ass along the way. She’s very physical in the role (Vikander did the majority of her own stunts), but at no point does this Lara Croft seem unbelievably super heroic. Some of the set pieces are over the top, but through them all you believe that Lara is scraping through, stubbornly fighting on. One thing I would have liked was more opportunities for Vikander to show her stuff—a few more action set pieces wouldn’t have gone astray.
Go see Tomb Raider if you like gritty, believable action heroines who feel pain. And bring it, as well.
Alex Garland’s new science fiction movie, Annihilation, is now available on Netflix in Australia (part of Paramount’s current risk management strategy is to recoup production and distribution costs in smaller markets by going directly to streaming).
Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a Cellular Biologist with an Army background, whose army husband Jake (Oscar Isaac) has been missing for a year. One day he turns up, but he seems like a different man. He also starts vomiting blood. On the way to hospital, the ambulance is intercepted by government vehicles. Lena awakens and discovers the government has a secret watch post overlooking an area called the ‘Shimmer’ – a hazy and colourful border of light that frames the site of an alien meteor that hit a lighthouse on the coast. The Shimmer is expanding. Several military teams have been sent in, but none have returned, and the Shimmer prevents radio communications. Lena joins a group of female scientists, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny, to attempt to get to the lighthouse and discover what’s going on. Inside the Shimmer everything is mutating—plants, animals, the environment itself. It isn’t long before the scientists find out what happened to the last team and the implications for them…
Annihilation is a slow-moving thriller, with generally subdued acting (except when things get a little crazy). The special effects are exceptional, with the Shimmer almost hallucinogenic at times. None of the characters are particularly likable, but then, this is a movie about a concept, rather than the people involved. There’s a fair bit of explicit violence as well, so be prepared.
Annihilation has been hailed by some reviewers as both revelatory and confusing. I wasn’t confused, but not because I’m particularly smart. Annihilation is a movie you need to pay attention to and some viewers just won’t get it. I don’t believe that Annihilation is as ground breaking as some think. It is, however, a well-directed, intelligent, slow burn sci-fi movie, with a great concept and a nice twist at the end.
I enjoyed Annihilation. It’s not as good as Arrival, another recent thought-provoking sci-fi movie which provided a greater emotional connection with its characters, but it’s still an enjoyable concept film.
A few minor spoilers!
Red Sparrow is a harrowing spy movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton and directed by Francis Lawrence. Why harrowing? Because it includes several excruciating scenes of graphic torture and explicit violence (there’s sex, too—surprisingly it’s kept to a minimum, but it’s generally pretty nasty as well).
Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina whose career is ended when her leg is broken. She’s about to lose her home and medical support for her disabled mother, and turns to her sleazy uncle, who works for the Russian Security Services. He places her in a situation where she witnesses a state-sanctioned murder and is forced to work for the government as a ‘Sparrow’, a spy trained in seduction. Off she goes to a dehumanising Sparrow school, where attractive women and men are taught psychological and sexual manipulation.
Lawrence is given a mission to discover a mole and encounters Edgerton’s disgraced CIA agent, who’s protecting the mole. That’s about as far as I can go without spoiling the story further.
Red Sparrow is a cat-and-mouse spy story about post-cold war politics, the incongruity of human nature, the patriarchal abuse of women and the lengths people will go to for revenge and survival. It’s better than you might think, although at times the director’s push for realism can make it a disturbing viewing experience.
John Green has rapidly become one of my favourite authors. I’ve now read four* of his young adult (YA) novels, the latest being An Abundance of Katherines (AoK).
AoK is about Colin Singleton, a young prodigy who finds himself at loose ends after being dumped by his 19th girlfriend, all of whom have been called Katherine. His best and only friend, Hassan, a less than devout Muslim who likes nothing more than sitting around the house watching Judge Judy, suggests a road trip to cheer Colin up. They arrive in a Tennessee town called Gutshot, where they meet local nerd turned popular girl Lindsey Lee Wells (with her Football hero boyfriend, Colin, or The Other Colin–TOC, as Hassan refers to him). After meeting Lindsey’s rich mother, who owns the local tampon string-making factory (the only business keeping the town alive), they gain employment conducting interviews with the town’s people for an oral history project. Colin is writing a mathematical formula to accurately predict how long relationships will last, based on his nineteen dumpings. I won’t spoil any more of this clever and imaginative book. Aside from being a story about finding true love, AoK is also about finding and being your true self.
Green has a knack for writing interesting, humorous characters and snappy dialogue. Colin, with his genius IQ, quirky anagrams and stolid bookish ways, is no exception. Hassan is his slacker comic relief, constantly supporting Colin and putting him down at the same time. Lindsey (who you just know is perfect for Colin, no spoiler there) is smartly confined within herself, wrapped up in her handsome boyfriend and a façade of happiness.
AoK is one of Green’s funniest novels. Liberally sprinkled within are smart and amusing footnotes, which add to the experience. The math behind the relationship formula is by brilliant mathematician Daniel Bliss, and can be found in an appendix at the end of the book (the math is real).
I thoroughly recommend AoK to anyone who likes quirky, romantic novels. It’s Green’s shortest book, so you’ll finish it in no time. And be better for the experience.
I’m a big fan of Guiermo Del Toro. I loved the Hellboy movies and Pan’s Labyrinth is in my Top 10. I’m also a big softie for romance movies (so sue me).
The Shape of Water is Del Toro’s homage to the monster movies of the 1950’s, a ‘beauty and the beast’ romance about a mute girl who falls in love with a South American water monster being held in a secret government facility. The creature is due to be killed and vivisected, so the girl and her gay next-door neighbour break him out to save him.
This movie has all the elements to make it something special. Del Toro’s production design and practical prosthetic creature effects are on point. The actors are good, especially Sally Hawkins, who plays mute orphan Elisa. The 1962 setting is evocative, including commentary about the harsh treatment of African-Americans and minorities, and the brittle nature of Russian/American Cold War relations. There’s even a dance/big band musical scene with all the trappings. But something’s missing. What should have been an endearing and moving love story contains some jarring elements and has a predictable plotline that prevents this from being a Del Toro classic.
This is not a movie for kids. There are scenes of female nudity, masturbation, sex, and some brutal violence. Instead of lending the film an aura of realism/believability, they detract from the romantic, fairy tale plot and seem custom-made to titillate, rather than complement the characters or story.
Michael Shannon plays the same two-dimensional bad guy he’s typecast as nowadays. The ending is not only clichéd, but lapses into ET territory (but where ET the extra-terrestrial was a wonderfully woven story that remains a classic, Del Toro’s take on it is heavy-handed, derivative and predictable).
The Shape of Water was another near miss for me. So close to being good, but still disappointing overall.
Being a poor student I don’t often buy new CDs (how times have changed—in my previous middle class existence I would buy two albums a week). Being a guitar player I (sometimes) gravitate to guitar-oriented music. Such is the case with John Mayer’s newest album, The Search for Everything. (I’m going to refrain from commenting on Mr Mayer’s purportedly douchey private life. He’s a great guitarist and song writer and I admire him for those things, rather than his tabloid exploits.)
After a few country-tinged albums, Mayer has returned to his blues-funk roots. The twelve songs showcased here are sad and remorse-filled tales of heartbreak, love, drunkenness and loneliness (hmmmm, my four favourite things, it seems). The lyrics, like most of Mayer’s other work, reflect a deep personal melancholy that obviously strike a chord with me.
Still Feel Like Your Man is the funkiest and best cut, and had me grooving out and marvelling at Mayer’s tasty and ample riff work. Other faves included the punchy Helpless, the tasty instrumental title track, funk-filled Moving On and Getting Over and poignant piano strains of You’re Gonna Live Forever In Me.
Mayer’s singing and playing is top notch throughout, and as usual he surrounds himself with top musos to back him up, including regulars Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Palladino on bass.
I know Mayer is not the mega-selling artist he used to be, but The Search for Everything demonstrates aptly that he is still an amazing song writer and musician, who struggles with his personal demons. Just like the rest of us.
I recently read two John Green books, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down. For those of you who don’t know, Green is a top-selling writer of literate young adult (YA) novels with a flair for smart, sassy characters and quirky humour.
Paper Towns features straight-laced Quentin Jacobsen (Q), who has lived most of his teenaged life next door to the high spirited and unreachable wild child Margo Roth Spiegelman. When they were nine they discovered a dead body, and although they run in different social circles now, they share a bond over that event. Margo decides to let Q to be her driver on an amazing night of payback, then promptly disappears. Whilst her parents are unconcerned, Q and his friends follow a trail of deliberate clues (including a Walt Whitman poem) attempting to find out what happened to Margo.
Paper Towns is a fast-paced mystery and road trip that touches on the reality and unreality of suburban life, the facade of personality and the lengths people go to find their real selves.
Turtles All The Way Down is Green’s latest novel. It features terminally anxious Aza and overwhelmingly exuberant Star Wars fan fic writer Daisy as two teens who decide to pursue a missing businessman on the run from police, in the hope of claiming the reward. Aza used to be friends with the businessman’s son, Davis, and reuniting with him ignites a love complicated by her anxiety issues.
Turtles All The Way Down is about friendship, loyalty, first love, the incredible difficulty of living with mental illness and coming to terms with profound loss.
Green’s books are always humorous, well written and paced. He’s a smart writer, utilising his precocious teen characters to tell love stories with deeper meanings than most average YA lit. Often (at least in the three novels I’ve read so far) his leads tend to be very similar—unusually smart, funny, quirky, well-read middle class teens with a significant issue and loving parent/s—but his stories are so engaging I can overlook it.
I love that Green’s books are short. I can knock them over quickly in between uni texts and other, more weighty tomes. He is not an ‘overwriter’ (yes, Stephen King—I love your writing but your books can drag at times) by any means.
I have another couple of Green’s books on order. I guess that makes me a fan.
It seems I can’t stop reading profoundly affecting books.
A friend of mine loaned me John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the mega-selling young adult novel about two teenagers in cancer remission who fall in love. “You’ll need some tissues,” she said, and she wasn’t wrong. This book brought me close to tears on a number of occasions.
The Fault in Our Stars is about 16-year old Hazel, a far too smart and interminably sassy girl permanently attached to an oxygen tank since her thyroid and lungs were attacked by cancer. She’s on an experimental drug which prevents her tumours from growing, but like many victims of the disease, she is somewhat cynical about life and her place in the world. Augustus Walters is a 17-year old interminably good looking ex-basketball jock who also happens to be smart and sassy, who lost his leg to cancer. The two meet at the local support group, hit it off and gradually Augustus’s positive world view starts to rub off on Hazel. They have a shared love for An Imperial Affliction, a book about a teenage cancer victim who dies abruptly leaving the ending up in the air. It was written by a retired author now living in Amsterdam and a big part of the story sees the two teens travelling to meet him to learn what happened to the book’s characters (An Imperial Affliction is a metaphor for The Fault in Our Stars’ protagonists and their yearning for something meaningful in a world that seems and often ends uncaringly).
I won’t spoil any more of this wonderfully written novel. John Green deserves the praise—this is a literary achievement, something much more than the average YA contemporary romance. It seethes with pathos. It’s sad, fast and funny. The characters are well developed and incredibly engaging. It’s a celebration of living for the here and now, because you never know how long it’s going to last. I found it hard to put down.
I guessed two of the major plot points—they weren’t telegraphed at all, but I knew they would happen (and no, I hadn’t seen the movie or read any spoilers), so I guess in some way perhaps those two elements bordered on cliché (or perhaps I’m just good at prediction). But other than that, this book was like a breath of fresh air (and that’s not a pun about Hazel’s lungs).
If you like tragic romance, you’ll love this. To paraphrase a line from the book: reading The Fault in Our Stars is “a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
Spoilers? Don’t think so.
Okay, so you saw the trailers and it looked interesting. Maybe you were interested enough to stream the original 1982 Blade Runner (actually one of the four director’s cuts, because the original with the horrible Harrison Ford voiceover is long gone). Maybe you read the fauning reviews or glanced at the positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. Director Denis Villeneuve (who previously directed the brilliant Arrival) has made a methodical, smart, and visually spectacular film. Blade Runner 2049 is a superior sequel that stands on its own as a great movie.
A lot has happened in the 30 Years since the last film, and the old school tech has evolved along with the replicants, which are now used everywhere as slave labour (previously they were only used offworld). Ryan Gosling is K, a replicant blade runner who discovers a secret while hunting an old Nexus 8 (same as the ones in the first movie), a secret that could change the balance of power in the world and leads K to question his own reality. The first act is a noir-style detective story, as K slowly puts the pieces together. And that’s about as much as I can say without spoiling the movie. And this is one film you don’t want spoiled.
Blade Runner 2049 is dark and it’s looong. It’s a thinking person’s flick with some cool action sequences, but it’s a slow burn the rest of the way.
You know from the trailers that Harrison Ford is back as Rick Deckard, giving his best performance in years. Gosling is fantastic as K, and Jared Leto is a standout as Wallace, a blind and weirdly charismatic multi-billionaire who recreated replicant technology after the original Tyrell Corporation went bust. Robin Wright is K’s hard-nosed police captain, Sylvia Hoeks is Wallace’s violent right hand. Everyone in this film is good.
The script is layered, includes lots of throwbacks to the original movie, and no knowledge of the first Blade Runner is required to understand the story. Set design and an emphasis on practical effects really help to capture the feel of the original film. The music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is coolly reminiscent of Vangelis’ original soundtrack.
Who would have thought that a sequel to an 80’s movie could be so good (even if it does drag a little in parts). If you like an intelligent sci-fi movie that poses interesting philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, rock solid performances and a great story, then Blade Runner 2049 will be right up your blood and rain-soaked alley.
Minimal spoilers. But it won’t matter much, because you know what’s gonna happen before it happens anyway.
I was dragged along to see American Assassin. My best mate paid for the ticket, and it got me out of the house, so I couldn’t complain.
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) watches his girlfriend and lots of people killed at a Spanish resort by Islamic terrorists. He dedicates the next 18 months of his life training (18 months? That’s not much. Bruce Wayne spent 12 years becoming Batman) to infiltrate and take out the terrorist cell. He’s picked up by the CIA, sent to covert ops specialist Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to be part of his assassination team. Rapp has issues with authority, is a loose cannon, blah, blah. Soon they have to stop one of Stan’s best students (oooh, didn’t see that coming. Yeah, you did) from using a nuke to take out a bunch of Americans.
American Assassin suffers from the weight of numerous clichés, from characters to story to stunts to dialogue. It’s not the worst action movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s not memorable and not a movie I would recommend—you’ve seen all of this before with better scripts and direction.
Michael Keaton, as always, is great, but his role lacks depth and so he does what he can with the material he’s given. Dylan O’Brien looks alternately depressed and angry, but doesn’t muster much in the way of leading man charisma. The bad guy (Taylor Kitsch) is just an average bad guy.
My advice is save yourself the price of a ticket and see something better. This is one to stream on Netflix or rent on DVD (can you still do that?).
A mini-series of Stephen King’s horror novel, It, was made in the late ’80’s. At the time it was considered pretty scary, but by today’s standards it’s very tame. My favourite horror movie is The Grudge and I tend to compare it to every other horror movie I see, in terms of scare-value. It is not in The Grudge‘s league, but it’s a solid viewing experience.
The new version of It focusses on the first half of King’s book: titular fear clown Pennywise terrorises and murders children in the Maine town of Derry in the late ’80s, is confronted by a motley collection of nerdy kids who dub themselves ‘the Losers’, and general creepiness and gore ensues. There’s also encounters with bullies and overbearing and abusive parents.
The direction and production values are excellent, but some of the scenes are telegraphed and less scary as a result. A cliched score doesn’t help. Despite this, It remains compelling viewing.
One of the things I took away from this movie was the stark portrait of emotional and physical abuse perpetrated by the parents of several of the child characters. In some cases this was more shocking than Pennywise the clown’s antics. More than anything else, It is an empowering coming of age tale, as the Losers overcome not only the clown, but the monsters in their own homes.
It is a good Stephen King movie adaption, and it’s not often you can say that. The already in production sequel, It Chapter 2, will cover the ‘kids grown to adulthood’ side of the novel. Based on It‘s box office performance alone, I predict a spate of King books-to-movies appearing in the next few years, riding the horror rebirth gravy train.
It is not as scary as one would have hoped, but it is a good movie, one that most horror fans will enjoy.