Review of Jupiter Asending – Just don’t bother

Drink in that picture isn’t it very pretty? Yep it’s lovely. Congratulations you’ve got the best that this film has to offer. Which film is it you ask? Why it is Jupiter Ascending of course the latest offering from the Wachkowski’s of Matrix, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas fame.

Review

Typically, I put a plot synopsis before these reviews afterall it good to give everyone an idea of the film. I’m not bothering in this case though because, the plot of this one is almost completely non-existent. No one connected with the writing of this film spent anytime looking at the script of dialogue for this one and boy oh boy does it show.

I’m a fan of the Wachowski’s and I’m a fan sci-fi who enjoys space opera. It isn’t a genre that gets put out much in blockbuster form in the cinema anymore. In fact big budget action films don’t get put out anymore unless they are a Marvel properties.

Finding myself unexpectedly with a free afternoon and finding that Ex Machina wasn’t on for hours but Jupiter Ascending in 3D was I took the plunge and stumped up for a ticket plus 3d glasses. I’m not asking for my money back but it was close.

To give the film a brief bit of praise it is visually stunning and if you are going to see it you might as well see it in 3D. The extra dimension whilst not in any way necessary does at least provide an extra veneer of entertainment and as 3D goes it is done really well.

I can’t put it off any longer lets talk about the “plot”.

The main character is a princess who gets to inherit Earth as her birthright. Far enough you think lets run with that only it isn’t that simple because, technically she is a reincarnation of the mother of this family that owns the planet Earth along with thousands of other planets. How is she a reincarnation you ask?

Well as a brief bit of dialogue tells us it is spiritual for these space humans so we wouldn’t understand it but be assured audience that the main character is an exact genetic replica of the ruling matriarch of this space royal family and therefore she can inherit. Do her children like this though? Well the daughter kind of seems to. One son wants to marry his mother so he can then kill her and get Earth (talk about mommy issues) and the other son (Eddie Redmayne) just wants mommy dearest dead.

You might be confused by all that but let me assure I’ve given it as much thought if not more than the film makers did. Theoretically, this reincarnation idea that could be interesting and the directors have certainly shown themselves willing/able to deal with complex issues in other sci-fi films they have done.

In this case though there is no explanation or thought about the plot or Lord forbid any themes. Instead I found myself wondering about incidental things such as how stupid is the dad to fight over and get killed over a telescope when the robbers are leaving? If the main character is meant to be an exact genetic replica of the mother shown in the stature then why doesn’t the statute look more like her? Or even more puzzlingly if the main character has a Russian family but has lived and worked in the USA all her life then why does her Russian/American cousin have a broad Aussie accent? When you are watching a sci-fi film with talking dinosaurs, bee-man hybrids, wolf-man hybrids and you are wondering about such things than you know the film is in deep smelly trouble without a paddle.

If the film isn’t a classic then you might hope to enjoy it either as cheesy fun or as so-bad-it’s-good fodder. Sadly, it doesn’t do either. The actor performances are all very toned down save for Eddie Redmayne who is doing some bizarre low voice thing that might be his attempt at scenery chewing camp but succeeds neither in being entertaining or making you think he is a villain of any note.

The film then lacks any interesting characters, plot or stakes. The characters kind of wonder from one event to another without ever being in any threat.

Even when Channing Tatum’s character is dumped out of an airlock there is no sense of peril. There is no hint at how he will survive but you can’t believe that the film would kill a character off or come up with a clever way for the character to live and so it doesn’t. Tatum’s wolf-man hybrid survives because he kicked off a piece of the space ship as he was ejected and this piece of spaceship apparently doubles as a space suit. So the bad guys are so incompetent that when executing someone by spacing him they leave behind a spacesuit for him to survive! WTF! If I wasn’t so bored by this point that a nap seemed interesting I might have got annoyed.

Jupiter Ascending has little to it apart from looking good. Given how they adapted Cloud Atlas to the big screen one can only presume that the Wachowski’s felt the need to do something more narratively simple as a palate cleanser. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t cleanse the palate but leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

In case you missed it the finale of BBC drama ‘The Missing’ wrapped up last night and it was a huge ratings hit bringing in 6.6 million viewers or 28.5% of the UK’s TV audience. It was such a hit that already season two is on the way. Was it actually any good though? Not really

When you are writing a missing person story like ‘The Missing’ there are two ways to go at things. Either you write a character piece where you focus on the trauma and pain of the crime. Solving the actual mystery isn’t the point. Alternatively, you write a puzzle piece, a true mystery story where each detail of the plot slots together with a clever intricate beauty.

Both stories can be great. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ does the character piece brilliantly and you don’t have to look further than Agatha Christie to see how great a pure mystery can be. Mismatches of the two however tend to end up falling between two horses. Unfortunately, ‘The Missing’ did just this and ends up getting trampled under the weight of its own ambition.

The Character Piece

Anchored by brilliant acting from James Nesbit ‘The Missing’s’ strength has been showing how characters can get trapped in the past and struggle to move on with their lives.

Understandably, Nesbit’s character Tony Hughes is unwilling to move on from the kidnapping of his son. His ex-wife tries to move on but she is also trapped by the past. The detective Baptiste is trapped by previous trauma also not only from his injured leg but also from his drug addict daughter. The pedophile Vincent Bourg is similarly trapped by his past/character and ultimate hangs himself.

You could go through pretty much every character in ‘The Missing’ and find how they are held hostage by demons that trace back in one way or another to the disappearance of Oliver Hunt.

As the series wraps up some of the characters move on from the past and others don’t. The character arks of almost every character are done well. Every character that is except the protagonist Tony Hughes.

The problem with Tony Hughes is that he is the driving force of the story the protagonist. It is Tony whose refusal to let go of the past that begins and continues the story.

Tying up the solution to the disappearance and Tony’s character are interlinked and the writers never seem to decide whether they are telling a mystery or a character piece. The end result is that they do neither and it is unsatisfying.

As the finale enters it’s third act Tony’s character starts to unravel. At first Tony seems to accept Baptiste’s maxim that he will never know the whole truth and it is time to move on. We see real personal growth for Tony.

After much soul searching, brilliantly acted soul searching, Tony Hughes decides not to tell the wife that her dying husband killed Olly he decides not to take some measure of petty vengeance. Similarly, at the wedding when the detective calls lets it go to voicemail. He is no longer chasing after every impossible clue.

The Plot

That all seems okay. What could be the problem? The problem comes with how this intersects with the plot i.e. it doesn’t. To hook the viewer into watching the episode the writers opened the finale with a cryptic scene is Russia where a lone figure is trooping through the snow and staring at children. After a minute or so the camera zooms in and we see a picture of a stick kid with big ears traced onto snowy glass. In other words it was drawn by Olly.

This scene deliberately draws you in. Doubly so since we are very deliberately not shown the face of the lone figure. WTF?

Ultimately, though it turns out that the writers have played a trick on us. After seeming to have let go of the past Tony is still hunting his son. All his character development has been tossed away in order to deliver a cheap hook to keep us watching.

If the writers want to leave Tony trapped in the past then they should never had this opening scene. They should never had given us any answers to Oliver’s disappearance.

Or even better if they want to give answers about Oliver’s disappearance then Tony should have ended up in prison for the murder of Ian Garret. Just imagine he goes to chase down a final lead that will lead him towards his son but then the police turn up to arrest him. Tony’s past, the understandable sins he committed, have caught up with him and for a kicker the police don’t believe his lead.

In the end though the writers attempt to split the difference. As a result the mystery of disappearance isn’t satisfyingly told and neither is the character journey of Tony Hughes.

‘The Missing’ then fails to deliver the ending that it promised.

Review of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (Spoiler free)

I’ve been threatening/planning to reread Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy classic series of Discworld and at last apathy has been overcome. So grab hold of the giant flying turtle, do not call the passenger next to you a monkey and, please sir, stow that suitcase away in the overhead compartment (no I don’t care if it has legs).

So ignore the throbbing pain in your shins we’re mixing metaphors and hopping aboard the Discworld express as it winds it’s way down from the Sto plains to Ankh-Morpork.

Due to some temporal confusion our first stop is not ‘The Colour of Magic’ but is in fact the ‘Hogfather’. Lets do a plot synopsis..

Hogfather – The Plot

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Hogswatch i.e. Saturnalia. Right at this moment the Hogfather should be abseiling his way down chimneys delivering presents to excited children.

There is a slight snafu though the Hogfather is not anywhere to be found and in his place DEATH has taken it upon himself to deliver presents to the world’s children, one computer and a Librarian Orangutan that you definitely shouldn’t call a monkey.

DEATH‘s granddaughter Susan De’Ath finds this, understandably, slightly troublingly and sets about to investigate. Her sleuthing takes her to a collapsing castle of bones, the Unseen University and a place where the sky doesn’t meet the ground. Along the way she meets the Oh god of Hanggovers, the Veruca Gnome, Cheefulness Fairy and a maniac assassin who looks at the world as if through a cracked mirror…

Review

The first thing I want to say is if you haven’t read any other Discworld books don’t be put off by the plot synopsis or the fact that this is the 20th in the series. To enjoy this book you don’t have to have read any of Pratchett’s other works.

The second thing I want to say is that this book is funny. There are large sections of this book with the wizard’s and Bloody Stupid Johnson, DEATH , the Ankh-Morpork Beggars and assorted others that are laugh out loud funny. The book is worth picking just for the jokes alone. It is certainly funnier than almost any sitcom, romcom or standup routine.

Thirdly, this book has a great plot, a great heroine and a brilliant villain. The plot so this book is brilliantly clever playing around with ideas of faith, ritual, tradition and well ideas. These concepts really appeal to me.

The heroine Susan De’Ath is kickass clever using a poker to beat up monsters like the boogeyman and Mister Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh)  is one of the most chillingly creepy villains I have ever come across. All great stories need a memorable villain and Mister Teatime is probably Pratchett’s best.

Unsurprisingly, the author puts it better than I ever could so here is a couple of quotes about Mister Teatime. The first from Head of the Assassins Guild Lord Downey

“We took pity on him because he lost both parents at an early age. I think, on reflection, that we should have wondered a bit more about that.”

The second “Mister Teatime had a truly brilliant, but it was brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvelous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that was broken.”

And the third upon being told some heroes have arrived on the scene to stop him ” ‘Well?’ said Teatime. ‘Just… do away with them.’ …..

Chickenwire coughed. ‘Don’t you want to find out why they’re here, sir?

‘Good heavens, no. Why should I want to do that?”

Finally, Pratchett’s writing is sublime. Without using lots of language he is able to create a vivid picture of the world and its characters. Each scene is allows the reader to inhabit the Discworld and the characters by grounding even the most fantastical stuff in human experience.

All of the Discworld books are worth a read but Hogfather is is Magnum Opus. It truly is a holiday and literary classic. So get in the holiday season early this year with Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

Review of The Night Eternal : Part 3 of The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (SPOILER KLAXON)

Plot Synopsis

“It’s been two years since the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation. There has been a mass extermination of humans orchestrated by the Master—an ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled powers. The future of humankind lies in the hands of a ragtag band of freedom fighters—Dr. Eph Goodweather, Dr. Nora Martinez, Vasiliy Fet, and Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master who is bent on revenge.”

Review

I don’t say this lightly. I can’t remember the last time I finished a series and regretted reading it but that is how I feel about ‘The Night Eternal’. After a strong first book and a so-so second book the Strain series concludes with The Night Eternal and it’s a complete stinker.

Books, films, poems, games, stories of any type really make implicit promises to the audience that things are going to unfold in certain ways. The story sets up questions that are going to be answered or at least expectations of the type of questions asked and/or the way that are being answered.

If you start off playing Mario you expect to fight Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. If the story starts with a quest to a far off mountain to destroy a magical ring the story better be about getting to the mountain and destroying said ring. If the story starts with John McCain taking his shoes off in a skyscraper then that skyscraper better be taken over by German terrorists and the fact he is shoeless needs to figure in also. You get the point.

The Night Eternal doesn’t understand this. ‘The Strain’ (Book One) set the scene about the type of story that is being told. The book starts off by putting a ‘scientific’ spin on Vampires. Rather than being mythical creatures the main character is the chief scientist for the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

When he starts investigating the outbreak he is looks at the situation in a rational, clinical way. He is doing autopsies of the infected bodies and we the audience get to see how the virus is completely taking over the host and rewriting its physiology at the most fundamental level.

This is an interesting and fresh take of the vampire myth. Given the popularity of Twilight and other vampire books that are essentially about teenage girls being able to bang impossibly hunky looking guys it is particularly refreshing. These vampires are EVIL, they want to destroy humanity and they have a plan to do it.

Now it is important to be realistic with vampire stories. We are dealing with well worn tropes here. So I’m not expecting things to completely different and I wouldn’t want them to be.

These vampires cannot cross flowing water unaided and they are hurt by silver. I’m fine with this and the vulnerability to silver is nicely explained by the Silver’s well known anti-bacterial properties. The story is fitting the tropes of vampires into the idea of vampirism as a virus that exists in the modern world. This is story that I’m expecting to be told.

In ‘The Night Eternal’ this ‘scientific’ story was completely jettisoned in what is a complete mess of a book. The book decides to give us the origins of ‘The Master’ by making the story about religion. In brief ‘The Master’ is one part of an Angel that came down to Earth when God was dealing with Sodom and Gomorrah. Stuff happens it turns evil.

Then to compound matters the climax of the story is straight up Deus Ex Machina in which it turns out that Eph is a prophet. He gets a vision from God and is miraculously given the answer. It’s really unsatisfying.

Furthermore, the series has set up a whole series of character arcs that it never takes the time to develop and then gets bored of and drops halfway through.

Annoyingly/pointlessly they decided to keep Nora’s Alzheimer suffering mother around only to have her killed off screen. Even worse they set up the relationship triangle with the Master, Eph and his son Zach only to leave it to late to do anything about the issue.

Then as a final kicker the entire story has a huge plot hole. The characters spend much of the book trying to acquire a detonator for a nuclear bomb as a nuke detonated at the right place can destroy ‘The Master’. This is fine but in passing they also decide to say that the UK has survived the vampire apocalypse in tact by flooding the channel tunnel.

It’s nice that they have saved my homeland but they didn’t think this through. The UK is a nuclear power. Its weapons are based on nuclear powered Trident submarines. Wikipedia tells me the UK has around 225 Nukes. I’m not going to go into all the permutations but one way or the other the UK is going to take care of this Vampire apocalypse/ be really really helpful. This avenue is completely ignored though and it is symptomatic of how lazy this book is.

In conclusion, this is one of the most disappointing conclusions to trilogy I’ve read. Given that the authors are really good storytellers on other projects. The Night Eternal’s laziness is inexcusable.

Book Review : Running with the Firm by James Bannon

runningwiththefirmPlot Synopsis

‘Of course I’m a f**king hooligan, you pr**k. I am a hooligan…there I’ve said it…I’m a hooligan. And, do you know why? Because that’s my f**king job. – James Bannon’s response when asked by a fellow undercover officer if he was getting too involved in the violence.

Running with the firm tells the true story of police officer James Bannon detailing his two years undercover with the football hooligans that made up the notorious Milwall firm.

Review

Some set ups for stories I find inherently interesting no matter what guise they appear in. Cops going undercover into a dangerous situation where one wrong move could result in their heads being kicked in or worse is one of those stories. Even better though in “Running With The Firm” the story is true.

“Running With The Firm” is a really enjoyable read.  James Bannon gives a warts and all, 3D portrait of himself and his work. Non-football/sports fans may not think this book is for them but I would argue strongly that this isn’t the case.

Football is really just the backdrop of Running With The Firm as the book is much more of a character study of someone under extreme pressure.

I don’t know if it is correct to call the main character in a non-fiction book the protagonist but what the hell. The protagonist in Running With The Firm is genuinely interesting.

Bannon admits that as he gets more and more involved in the life of a hooligan that there are things he enjoys about it. He talks frankly about the surges of adrenaline he gets in the moments before and during the violence. He talks frankly about liking some of the hooligans.

Bannon is open about how at times he pushes the envelope about what an undercover police officer should do. To gain the Firm’s trust he puts himself at the front of acts of violence and he is honest enough to point out the concerns some of his fellow undercovers have about this.

The book is about more than violence though. The most enthralling part of the book is the frayed relationship he enjoys with his girlfriend and the flirtation he has with the barmaid at a Milwall hooligan pub. To add some extra complications said barmaid is the sister of one of the leaders of the firm.

By laying out the temptations that assaulted him and explaining just how he made the decisions he did Bannon is able to give the reader some idea of what it must be like to serve as an undercover police officer.

As a point of comparison I read Donnie Brasko a few years ago and I didn’t come away with such a felling of what it must be like to be an undercover officer. Scared of what you are doing but also addicted to to the thrill of the danger

Political Ramifications

Perhaps the aspect that would make the book most interesting to non-football fans though is the political/moral issues that the book throws up.

Firstly, there is the issue of romantic entanglement with people whilst you are undercover. Bannon just about manages to avoid succumming to temptation. Recent revelations however have shown that undercover officers in far less dangerous positions that Bannon didn’t exercise such discretion. Bannon doesn’t pass judgement on this himself writing that such as choice must be up to the individual officers but does say that in his opinion ‘fraternisation’ should only occur when it presented the only viable way of gaining the target’s trust.

This is an interesting point though. Would it have been right for Bannon to get involved with a woman if he knew that doing so would get him in a position to get lots of intelligence on the Firm’s activities? I really don’t know but that of course is what makes Running With The Firm an interesting read. It is a book of grey rather than black and white. 

Secondly, Bannon is very honest in his criticisms of the police. He talks about travelling to a Milwall away game against Middlesbourgh (I could be wrong about the team) and how the home fans spent the entire afternoon hurling fistfuls of concrete at the Milwall fans. Meanwhile the cops did nothing. To make matters worse the police essentially join in with the home fans by wading into the crowd to beat and arrest Milwall fans for little to no reason. He is also very clear about how just generally incompetent the police forces as an organisation often were and likely are.

In light of the ongoing revelations about Hillsborough and other scandals this is particularly interesting.

The politics of it all brings me to my only reservation with the book. Since Running With The Firm is a personal memoir with a tight POV focus we never really get a sense of the wider politics of the football hooliganism. There is little sense of the larger picture of what was going on.

If, a bit like a Michael Lewis book, “Running With The Firm” had done this wider picture stuff as well as the personal stuff I would have no hesitation in declaring Running With The Firm to be a classic. As it is though it is just a very good book. I’d recommend it.

 

 

Review : Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Plot Synopsis (off goodreads because once again I’m lazy)

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

 Review – My problems with Half A King

It’s a bit odd to be reviewing Half A King because, this book isn’t aimed at me it is aimed at a young adult audience. I knew this before I read Half A King of course but didn’t give it much thought. I have really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s books and it was off that experience that I picked up his latest story.

When it comes to reviewing the book however I find myself in a cleft stick. How much should my opinion be changed by the fact that the book is aimed towards 10-14 years olds. Even when I started writing this paragraph my thought was that I should make a hefty allowance for this. However, I have changed my mind as I write. So here it is.

It think it was JK Rowling who said that to write for children you need to have a very clear idea of what it was to be like at that age. I’m not sure that Joe Abercrombie does or at least he has underestimated children and sold himself short with Half A King.

Robin Hobb’s words in her goodreads review get to the heart of my point. Hobbs writes that Half A King had “exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist” that she liked. 

I agree with her and I have no problem with a tight POV. After all I think my Harry Potter love is probably clear from my reference to JK Rowling and Harry Potter also has a tight POV focus.

What Abercrombie does in Half A King though is to allow that tightness to restrict the world building. There are hints to the world at large. For example, Yarvi’s mother is a fiscal genius but slavery seems to play its part in her success. Whilst there is a monotheism v paganism cultural war going on that is only hinted at.

Since Yarvi’s character is so book smart and clever from his time studying to become an advisor to Kings and Queens it would have been great to see Abercrombie clash Yarvi’s “book” knowledge against reality where the hoof meets the grass. Particularly in light of the hinted upon slavery. This wouldn’t need to be done by beating the reader over the head with the point. I would have just liked to have been given a broader snapshot of the world as a whole.

Ultimately, the lack of ambition in Half A King prevents a very good readable novel from being a young adult classic. The best children/young adult books stretch their readers in a way that I don’t think Half A King ever quite manages.

Abercrombie seems to have reigned himself in when he was writing Half A King when instead, to write for young adults, he should have been letting his imagination soar.

What Half A King did well

After those critical comments I feel I must temper things somewhat by saying I did enjoy Half  A King a lot. I breezed through it in less than a couple of nights of reading and I only do this when I’m enjoying a book.

Particularly, great was the depth to the characters. Everyone has real flaws and real positives. Whether they are a hero or a villian. There were no Mary Sue’s here which is more than can be said for other books.

Despite, being the protagonist Yarvi’s can be a ruthless unsentimental b***ard and the book does shy away from this. Such touches have always been Abercrombie’s biggest strength as a storyteller and their presence keeps the grimdark feel of his earlier works going strong even with the lack of r-rated material.

Conclusion

If you’re an Abercrombie fan looking for a fix or a someone who enjoys “young adult” fiction then give Half A King a go. It’s very good. With a bit more ambition though it could have been great.

 

Review of Skin Game by Jim Butcher (SPOILER KLAXON!!!)

skingameOn May 27th the entertainment event of the year (until England win the World Cup [side note I’m not delusional I know England have about as much chance of winning the World Cup as Harry Dresden does of inviting Nicodemus to his daughter’s next birthday party]) touched down onto planet Earth. I am of course referring to the latest Harry Dresden adventure thriller “Skin Game”.

In case you haven’t read it yet or are unaware of the Dresden series then things are briefly as follows. Harry Dresden is a powerful wizard/ private detective who is sucked into an increasingly dangerous, high stakes world. Skin Game is book 15 in the series. Whilst I recommend the series I would not recommend starting with Skin Game. To avoid confusion you would at least need to go back to book four or five.

The plot of “Skin Game” revolves around one very reluctant Winter Knight Harry Dresden being forced to into a heist under the leadership of the noose wearing, independent shadow having, coin collecting Nicodemus Archleone. The location of the target. The bowels of the ancient Greek underworld. The target who the Hades knows what.

It’s a great set up for a novel and Skin Game certainly deserves its place in the Pantheon of the always exciting Dresden Files. To flesh this out a bit I will briefly explain the snake-like manner in which I consumed Skin Game.

Skin Game hit my Kindle at one minute past midnight on the 27th and I had finished it by around 3pm the next day. I took my time in getting the review up however, because I felt I needed to continue my reread of the earlier Dresden Files and then read Skin Game again in order to offer an opinion that moved behind it’s great.

You see as much as I enjoyed Skin Game I feel it’s parts don’t quite hang together structurally. Butcher doesn’t quite pull off the perfect heist. For starters it is painfully obvious that Harry has set the trap up in the opening hours of the novel. As such Butcher never managed to convince me that Harry was in real danger in the way he has in the past. Although to give Butcher his due I didn’t work out what Harry’s ace in the hole was.

The problem then is that the heist idea and the emotional character stuff don’t suit each other. I thought the way that the crew broke into Baron Marcone’s vault was a bit too simple. Instead of using the equivalent of a frontal charge to break in it would have been better if they had been forced to creep in via stealthy means. This could have really ratcheted up the tension and played off the very justifiable lack of trust that the heist crew have with each other. However, this set up would have made doing the necessary character stuff near impossible narratively speaking.

The heist plot then wasn’t as tight and taut as it could have been. To prove my point here is a spoilerific list of some of the important stuff that occurred in Skin Game (in no particular order. Oh SPOILER WARNING).

A new Knight of the Cross was found, a holy sword was broken and then lightsaberised, Harry became a proper dad, Karrin and Harry admitted their love, the “parasite” turned out to be a spirit of intellect conceived by Harry and the shadow Lash (which meant Harry was pregnant), Harry took a holy sword back into his safekeeping, Harry picked up four incredibly power holy weapons/artifacts, worryingly Nicomedius got the Holy Grail, the corruption of elements of the church was all but confirmed, it was revealed that Harry is able to hold conversations with the prisoners in Demonreach and Mouse is learning stuff in school.

I think it is fair to say that Skin Game moved important pieces to where they need to be for the series conclusion. Whether it was wise to do this whilst running a complex heist plot is open to question and for me the answer is that it was not the best choice.

Plus I’m now very worried for the safety and happiness of all of Harry’s friends. I know things have been rough for the last few books but everything seems to be coming together too early for a happy ending.

These criticisms/worries aside I really enjoyed Skin Game. The emotional character payoffs were done brilliantly. The Karim duel against Nicky in particular was exceptional. There were also some great one liners like Harry saying “come with me if you want to live” and Hades revealing that Socrates punishment/fate is that people question him in the Underworld (I kind of feel he deserves it but then so did the ancient Athenians).

Overall, then Skin Game was good to very good but it didn’t scale new heights for the series in the way that I felt it had the potential to do. Still the best book of the year though.

Five Movies/TV Shows that are great when you edit chunks out

The Mummy (1999)

mummy1999I have a soft spot for the first Mummy film. I recognise that it is a poor film but I caught it at the right age to enjoy it as mindless fun.

In 10 year old me’s defence the taped off tv copy I had was missing the first 35 minutes or so of the film. This means that the film is pretty much action all the way through and it barrels along at just the right pace to make you not question things to closely. Also, and this is crucially important, the titular Mummy makes an appearance about 20 minutes into the running time.

In the actual cinematic cut The Mummy doesn’t show up for the best part of an hour. I’d take my ‘missed the start whilst taping it’ cut any day.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

lady vanishesThe plot takes place on a train journey through Germany. It centres around a old lady who the central character has seen after waking up hung over. No body else on the train remembers or will admit to seeing her why is this?

It is a good set up for a film. It is also the best movie on this list by far. If you haven’t seen this film. It is a great film. It is perfect to kill an afternoon or a lazy Sunday.

There’s a caveat to this however (and I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Hitchcock film). This film is better if you skip the first 27 minutes of the film.

I first caught ‘The Lady Vanishes’ from the point the heroine wakes up on the train with the delightfully caring old Grannie sitting opposite her.

This was really fortunate because, it adds entire layers to the film i.e. is the main character reliable? If you see the first 27 minutes of the film however, this question completely disappears.

The 1979 remake with Cybill Shepherd and Elliot Gould also has a beginning out should miss but that one only lasts 15 minutes. It must be the only time in auteur Anthony Page’s career that his editing was better than the Master of Suspense’s.

Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions

matric reloadedI like to call this the ‘Stay in the Matrix cut’. Fast forward your way through the super boring bits in Zion that no body cares about. Such as the new Operator (whose name I cannot be bothered to find) talking to his wife, the orgy scene in the bowels of hell, Morpheus’ religious sermons, the Council of Zion and the fight scene ripped from Aliens.

Remember however, to stop in at ,or just remember, the bit showing that Agent Smith

I make sure I  see this guy as little as possible

I make sure I see this guy as little as possible

is now in Zion also. That bit is the only bit of the Zion sequences important to the plot.

All in all this carves a lot, but sadly not all, the fat off these sequels. It makes them infinitely better to watch.

Prison Break

prisonbreakPrison Break had the sort of insane premise that I can totally buy into. Lincoln Burrows’ is on death row for a crime he didn’t commit and his brother Michael Scofield decides to break him out.

How you ask? By tattooing all the prison plans and escape details onto his body and then getting sent to the same prison himself.

Stop it there and I am completely on board with you. The writer’s just couldn’t stop themselves however. Instead of just having Lincoln framed by corrupt cops or gang members or an enemy he has made they decided to make Lincoln Burrows as the patsy for an all seeing shadowy cabal that controls the world.

There was no need for this. Prison Break has a high concept enough concept already. If you are going to sell this then you shouldn’t dump a tonne of stupid on top of it. There is no need to add a conspiracy dimension to your cops and robbers conspiracy movie.

When it first came out on TV I ignored those bits and I did the same when I rewatched it again on netflix. It’s much more fun that way.

Lincoln

lincolnThis one makes the list for knocking an entire star and ruining the end of an almost perfect film. I am of course taking about the last 12 minutes of Lincoln.

Spielberg’s Lincoln was fantastic. It was beautifully shot and brilliantly acted. Plus it was basically an extended version of West Wing, a show that I love. Lincoln dealt with hugely important historical events and gave a sense of the politics of that time.

It showed just how difficult the decisions were that Lincoln had to make. It created in the movie character Lincoln (I don’t know enough about real life Lincoln) a believable politician who also did the right thing. He was flawed but basically saint.

By the end of the film you have created basically a figure who is mythical within his own time frame.

I’m watching this and I feel that Spielberg understands this. He knows where Lincoln is going. The audience knows where Lincoln is going. The whole set up is note for note perfect.

Lincoln is reminded of the hour and goes to leave saying “I suppose it is time to go. Though I would rather say”.

The iconic silhouette of Lincoln with his hat walks down the corridor in the White House and camera shows the Butler as if he also feel the weight of this moment of time. The music plays poignantly and Lincoln exits stage right.

Just cut there that’s the movie. That’s perfection.

Instead it continues for 10 more minutes of utterly pointless footage. He may have been competing against this film at the Oscars but that doesn’t mean Samuel Jackson wasn’t right.

Lord of the Rings : Return of the King (extended cut)

returnofthekingIt’s an obvious one but sure but that doesn’t make it any less true. There is no need for the last half an hour of this film.

Not only is it unsatisfying story telling to keep doing what are essentially extended post-credit sequences but within the narrative of the movie it makes no sense at all either.

Peter Jackson killed off Saruman back at the start of the film some 14 hours ago. So (spoiler alert) Saruman is not around to make a final appearance as a bad guy like he does in the book. There is no need to keep the film going.

The only one of these scenes that is remotely acceptable after the coronation is Frodo and the elves sailing away from Middle-Earth and that should come after the credits.

THE END

THE END

Thoughts on Day of the Doctor

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I was going to share my thoughts on the Doctor Who special ‘Day of the Doctor’. I mean it was probably over a month since the special aired and its was well received.

This time lapse is partly why I titled this ‘Thoughts’ rather than ‘Review’.

To start off with I enjoyed the Day of the Doctor. It had a lot of that which is best about Doctor Who. Fun zany time travel. I’m all on board with Queen Elizabeth being in love with the Doctor. This sort of ‘secret history’ is always welcome in my eyes. I also enjoyed the idea of being able to step through paintings. On top of all this David Tennant featured strongly in the special and he is just fantastic as an actor.

I even enjoyed the plot of the episode for the most part but now we get to the reason why I thought long and hard about writing this. You see I am not a big fan of Doctor Who.

In the period when I was growing up Doctor Who had been consigned to limbo by BBC big wig Michael Grade so when it came back on TV a few years ago I had no childhood nostalgia with which to fall back on I judged it as I found it. For the most part with its reliance on sonic screwdrivers to solve plots deus ex machina I wasn’t in love.

One thing that I really did like about the Doctor was the darkness thatwas kept within him. Faced with an impossible decision. The Doctor made the right moral choice even though this put the blood on millions on his hands. This type of choice is the same reason why Harry Dresden is so awesome for some of the choices he has to make (I am deliberately avoiding spoilers).

For TV executives and writers who see the Doctor as a cash cow that is now exported worldwide I imagine this is not a fact which they particularly like. This is why they crafted an end to the ‘Day of the Doctor’ that completely removes this character depth/awesomeness from the timeline. Doctor Who’s final step to becoming a show for pre-teens. How very disappointing.

My top five Christmas Stories

Its that time of year again; saturnalia. With this in mind I this in mind I thought I’d give you a list of my top five Christmas books, films and or characters. So without any further ado….

Five – Evil Robot Santa from Futurama.

Blasting through the steel reinforced windows of the awclarehugh blog command centre is the evil santa from Futurama. Every time I catch one of these episodes it is laugh out loud funny. Here’s hoping he doesn’t pay me a visit after only placing him at five.

Four – Home Alone 1 & 2

Duck Joe Peschi! Duck!

Ouch! He didn’t duck.

At times there is nothing like some cartoonish violence to make one’s heart feel warm and snuggly. I could watch Home Alone 1 & 2 time and time again. I’m watching these films to see actors get hurt by blowtorches, nails and BB guns. Wow, when you put it like that I sound like a bit of a physco.

Oh well, can’t do anything about that now. For your amusment and interest I’d like to direct you to these two links. You’ll never look at Kevin McCallaster in the same way again :-

1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTo6yvJ5SCM

2) http://theweek.com/article/index/238037/diagnosing-the-home-alone-burglars-injuries-a-professional-weighs-in

Three : Die Hard

Possibly the best action movie ever made. So good it keeps me liking Bruce Willis after Die Hard: A Good day to die hard, Red, Red 2 and the other countless awful films that Bruce Willis seems to be making at the moment. Seriously Bruce read the scripts before you accept!

Best of all it takes place during Christmas so its a Christmas film. So blasting its way in a three with Hans Gruber’s missing detonators is Die Hard.

Two : Its a Wonderful Life

A really heart warming story. That is watchable no matter how many times you have seen it before. Plus its interesting to see how the economic message of a 1947 film can still be so relevant today.

Merry Christmas You old building & loan!!

One : The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett has written some really good books but for my money this is  his best. Its funny, it has a great plot and it has great ideas.

I mean Death has to become Santa because, a manically insane assassin has killed Father Christmas. This is the best/ most absurd high concept premise ever and it has great characters like Susan D’eath, Death of rats, Death himself, the wizards, Mister Teatime, the eater of socks and the god of hangovers. It is simply brilliant.

Best. Christmas. Story. Ever!