The Clockwork Scarab | Colleen Gleason

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Young society women don’t just go missing, and when a couple of them are found dead Irene Adler (for it is she) summons the Misses Stoker and Holmes to assist her in getting to the bottom of this mystery, all at the behest of HRH The Princess of Wales. After all, without this patronage how could any respectable young lady afford to get mixed up in this sort of business?

Not that these two are entirely respectable. Evaline has inherited the family mantle of vampire hunter, albeit not terribly successfully so far, and Mina wants to follow in her uncle’s footsteps given that Mycroft Holmes, her father, is rarely around and her mother is out of the picture, so she is very much left up to her own devices.

This is the background to a fun young adult novel set in an alternate Victorian London where electricity is banned for being dangerous and everything operates on steam and clockwork, and where a cult based on the worship of ancient Egyptian gods seems to be enticing debs away from the social whirl. There may even be an inadvertent time-traveller hanging around.

I will confess that I set this book aside about a third of the way in because I just wasn’t in the mood for the story of two young women who don’t get along being forced to work together surrounded by male persons expressing varying degrees of disapproval and disdain. But I wanted to know how the story developed, so picked it up again after a few weeks and I’m glad I did because it was very enjoyable once it got going. There is definitely more than a hint of romance – there is much blushing and fluttering of hearts – which isn’t normally my thing but in this context it works for me, and the developing realtionship between Evaline & Mina is well done.

The Clockwork Scarab is the first in a sequence of five novels which develop the relationship between these two young women, and I’m looking forward to reading them at some point soon.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Or as I originally typed Fantastic BEATS, which would have been a very different film…..

As always I turned to IMDb for a quick summary of the plot and they let me down:

The second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts series featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.

That is a prime example of the desire not to give anything away veering hard towards being wilfully obscure.

So basically the film starts with a lengthy escape sequence where Grindelwald gets out, as we all probably thought he would, and heads off to Paris to plot mayhem and havoc. The Ministry of Magic wants Newt to help them but he doesn’t want to work with their team despite the urging of his big brother. Dumbledore then persuades Newt to hunt down and help Credence (who has survived the first film) and in the process face Grindelwald because he (Dumbledore) can’t do so.

Then it all kicks off.

Everyone who survived the first film turns up in Paris and although the story does move things forward a fair bit we are clearly being set up for the next instalment.

The good stuff:

  • the creature design is stunning as always
  • Jude Law makes a dashing Dumbledore
  • I’m still very fond of Newt and I like his brother Theseus also

The meh stuff:

  • whatever you may think of the casting of Mr Depp, he is fine in the part I guess
  • maybe too many characters, several of whom did not have enough to do

The stuff I did not like:

  • oh boy, some Choices were definitely made, including one that doesn’t really make sense
  • Tina being sniffy
  • and the thing I HATED – Queenie is absolutely my favourite character and I am not at all happy with the direction they have sent her in. Not. At. All.

But despite my feelings veering towards this being a bit messy as a film, I will be watching the next instalment. Of course, I will. That is how they all make their money.

Dazzling details: directed by David Yates, FB: TCOG is 2hrs 11 long and rated 12A for moderate fantasy threat (and questionable plot developments IMHO)

Slowly We Die

Slowly We Die by Emilie Schepp is just the latest in a long(ish) line of Scandinavian crime novels that I am seemingly unable to resist. I have mixed feelings about this one, but before we get into that…… to the plot!

A tragic incident on the operating table leaves a patient damaged for life and leads a young surgeon to abandon his profession as a physician… Now, years later, a series of senseless, gruesome murders are rocking the same medical community.

I picked up this book following a recommendation on Twitter, I think, though I can’t remember from whom (sorry for that – I really do have to get better at recording where I find out about books to read) and started to read it when I hit a bit of a slump in my #20booksofsummer reading list. I have found in the past that crime fiction will almost certainly help me get my reading mojo back.

So, as the quote above says, we have the Swedish medical profession represented mainly by an ambulance crew who unfortunately keep on turning up at the scene of horribly gruesome murders. We have the police who are investigating the cases while also looking for a dangerous criminal who escaped from hospital. And last but not least we have Jana Berzelius, the investigating prosecutor with her own set of secrets. But why are these people being killed?

I do enjoy a good medical thriller and this seemed promising but, for some reason, I stalled about a third of the way through and set it aside for several weeks. Looking back I think it was mainly because I finally twigged that this was actually the third book in a series featuring Berzelius, which explained why some of it didn’t quite make sense.

Some reviewers have suggested that you don’t need to have read the previous books to enjoy this one to the fullest, but sadly that wasn’t my experience; the significant subplot involving Jana kept getting in the way of my working out what was going on.

And it was the desire to find out the solution that took me back to the book. It was an interesting story and I failed to work out who the killer was so that’s par for the course.

In one sense I wish I had read the previous books as those would have added some useful context, but as I didn’t actually like Jana very much I can’t see me searching them out.

Not at all a bad book, just not for me.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I can be ambivalent towards (about?) Quentin Tarantino especially after his last movie, but I won’t deny that I was desperate to see his take on late 60s Hollywood and all that entails, so unusually for me I insisted on going to see it on opening night. So glad I did.

A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles

I managed to avoid any spoilers about this film before going to see it and fully intend to make sure not to include any here. So although I knew it was mostly about the two male leads as embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) and Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth), I assumed that the story of Sharon Tate and the awful Manson business would loom large. And it did, but not quite in the way that I expected, making it all the better. I say that as someone who has been deeply interested in the whole Manson thing for a very long time, and this film has got me ready to do a deep dive back into the story of that dreadful man and his followers.

But I digress.

There is something that happens earlyish in the movie which had me in my standard “but that never happened in real life” position which has spoiled movies for me before, but as the film went on I realised that the event was deliberately wrong and set the stage for what was going to happen later. I know that’s probably unnecessarily cryptic but see reference to spoilers above.

Some of the very best bits involve delving into the collected works of Leo’s character, including short clips from various films and TV series he’s worked on in the past and the amazing posters produced to support that conceit, any of which I’d be thrilled to have on my walls. Leo & Brad (for so I shall refer to them) make a really cool double act, complementing each other in their portrayals of the two friends. There are also some lovely scenes about spaghetti westerns which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Margot Robbie is wonderful as Sharon Tate, giving life to a person who sadly is almost always referred to as a victim of a horrible crime as if that summed up her whole life. Emile Hirsch also deserves a shout-out as Jay Sebring.

There are some amazing cameos from some big names, but my favourites were:

  • Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen – I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it
  • Luke Perry as an actor in a TV western – I think this may have been his last role before his untimely death
  • Julia Butters as a child actress in the same western – I think it’s still a cameo even if you’re not famous, but to be honest I don’t care as she is going to be famous soon enough.

Can you tell that I loved it? Recommended.

Dazzling details: directed by (of course) Tarantino, OUATIH is 2h 42m long and rated 18 for strong bloody violence.

Ralph Breaks the Internet – a mini review

Six years after the events of the first film, Ralph and Vanellope, now friends, discover a wi-fi router in their arcade leading them into a new adventure.

Sort of.

The console machine thingy on which Vanellope’s game is played has been damaged and they need to get a new one from eBay so they head off into the Interwebs to find it and adventures ensue.

The film is bright and shiny and you will spend loads of time looking at the background to see all of the riffs on famous corporate names. By far the best bit features all (more or less) of the Disney princesses together with some little digs at the Mouse House.

The story is of course about the nature of friendship and the fact you don’t need to be together all of the time to be close, and that people grow and move on at different speeds. All that jazz.

Being about 45 years older than the top end of the target audience I found it to be fun and surprisingly sweet. Think I preferred the first one though…..

Dazzling details: directed by Rich Moore & Phil Johnson, Ralph is 1h 52m long and rated PG for mild threat and rude humour.

Destroyer

A police detective reconnects with people from an undercover assignment in her distant past in order to make peace.

But making peace with what, or whom?

Actually, I suspect she is making peace with herself and the choices she has made because here we have lovely Nicole transformed into what Hollywood thinks an alcoholic female cop with serious issues looks like. They may not be wrong but it does take a bit of getting used to, though Nicole’s acting is superb and you do become involved in her story pretty quickly.

So, as IMDb has helpfully pointed it, there is reconnecting taking place in the sense that the bad guy (Toby Kebbell) from the undercover op which went horribly wrong for Nicole and her partner (played by Sebastian Stan) is back in town having previously escaped justice and she wants to bring him down. In order to find out where he might be, she goes off the grid and starts hunting down other former members of the gang of bank robbers as well as anyone else who might have a clue. Those anyone elses include Bradley Whitford in another one of those borderline sleazy cameos that he does so well.

I love Bradley Whitford wholeheartedly.

Anyway, the story bowls along with regular flashbacks to what happened undercover and we see why Nicole might feel she wants redemption. There is a side plot with her daughter which doesn’t add much, to be honest, and there are some excellent action scenes. A couple of other reviewers have noted the influence of Michael Mann’s Heat which I think is fair.

It’s a solid revenge story which has some neat structural tricks that I didn’t see coming, though I probably should have, but I’m not cross about that. It has made me want to see more of Kusama’s work and that’s no bad thing – I really should be actively seeking out more women directors.

Watch this for Nicole’s performance.

Dazzling Details: Destroyer is directed by Karen Kusama, is one minute over 2 hours long and rated 15 for very strong language, strong violence and sex. There is also some drug use.

Midsommar

A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled midsummer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.


But everyone’s so nice…..

So we have Dani, a young woman (played by the excellent Florence Pugh) whose wobbly relationship with her boyfriend Christian continues only because of an appalling tragedy which leaves her completely alone. She tags along on the trip Christian has planned with his mates to their friend Pelle’s home village in Sweden for the reasons mention in the blurb.

It’s beautiful and sunny and everyone in the village is welcoming. It’s clear that many of the returning younger folk have brought friends with them, and as time goes on we realise that this is no accident; these guests are here for A Purpose. The community is maintaining itself through the sacrifice of its older members and those outsiders brought along to take part in something that I think is supposed to have been vaguely explained to them but for which they are just not prepared.

I mean, who would be?

It’s not a frightening film, and anyone who has dabbled in this sort of story before will have no trouble in working out what the endgame is, though it’s how we get there that provides the interest. It’s very disturbing and I experienced a strong feeling of dread while watching it in the cinema – on my own as no-one wanted to come with me. I am very brave 😀

It has to be said that Florence Pugh is amazing. I really didn’t know her until I watched the BBC adaptation of John le Carre’s Little Drummer Girl where she played the lead, but I will be looking out for more of her work. I understand she is brilliant in Lady Macbeth which is now in my streaming queue.

I left the screening with lots of questions but they were of the “I want to know more” rather than the “WTF was that?” variety.

Such an unsettling film with obvious references The Wicker Man (an old favourite of mine; to be clear, the 1973 version not the Nicolas Cage monstrosity) but very much its own thing. I loved it. Well worth watching if you don’t mind the gore. And the creepiness of smiley folk with flower crowns.

Dazzling details: Midsommar is directed by Ari Aster (see my thoughts on Hereditary here), is 2h 27 long and rated (unsurprisingly) 18 for strong, gory images.