More Friday Night Movies

The Vast of Night

We are in New Mexico towards the end of the 1950s, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. Most of the town is off watching the local high school taking part in a basketball game, but over the course of the night Fay, a young woman working on the town switchboard, and local DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency and decide to investigate.

Among other things they find out that there have been suspicions goings-on over their town for some time, though nobody really noticed (or if they did they decided not to / were warned off from reporting it). Also, in response to a request for any information from listeners, a caller to the radio station at which Everett works makes it clear that the US government has been using African American soldiers to work on Top Secret Stuff because if they ever talked about, no-one would believe them. Fay & Everett end up involved in something they could not have imagined.

I knew nothing about this film before it came out, but I’m really glad I watched it. There is a real low budget Twilight Zone/Outer Limits vibe to it that is lots of fun, and although it’s undoubtedly low budget, the first time director has made a clever and enjoyable sci-f thriller.

Dazzling details: directed by Andrew Paterson, Vast of Night is 1h 29 long and rated 12 for infrequent strong language and brief moderate threat.


Motherless Brooklyn

Also set in the 1950s but this time in New York, where Edward Norton is a private eye, a proper gumshoe type, who is afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome and finds himself investigating the murder of his boss, mentor and friend. Cue political shenanigans, wheels within wheels, stabs in the back and a resolution which is more or less satisfying.

Although it has an excellent supporting cast, the film lives or dies by what you think of Norton’s performance. In other hands the portrayal of Tourette’s could be very gimmicky, but I think he manages to toe the line between showing what living with the condition can be like and causing offence.

I thought it was well done; nothing groundbreaking but good and solid.

Dazzling details: directed by its star, Motherless Brooklyn was based on a novel by Jonathan Lethem, is 2h 24 long and rated 15 for strong language, violence and drug misuse.

NB: Drug misuse is an interesting phrase. I know they mean drug use, but it gives the impression that the certification board is looking at what’s happening on screen and thinking to themselves that everyone’s doing it wrong……


The Old Guard

A different take on the superhero movie, based on a series of comics and reportedly sticking closely to the original material, which pleases me.

So, we have a team of near-immortals, led by Andy (Charlize Theron) who has just about had enough. Although not stated explicitly, it looks like she has been around since at least Ancient Greece so she is understandably tired of all of the violence, plus it looks like her team is about to be discovered and for the first time in ages a new immortal has popped up.

Cue a story of redemption (not sure if that’s the right word but it will do), finding your place when your whole world has been turned upside down, the impact of living ostensibly forever and watching all of those you love die, and reinforcing that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I really enjoyed this. The fight scenes are really excellently done, it’s a female director, Action Charlize is as always the best Charlize, and it doesn’t try to explain how or why these people are the way they are (or why their condition stops when it does), we are just asked to accept it.

They are a heroic bunch, but it takes almost being destroyed to show them the good that they have done hidden underneath all of the destruction.

Also, I knew that Dursley boy was going to turn out to be no good 😀

Really enjoyable and I hope they make more.

Dazzling details: directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is 2h 5m long and rated 15 for violence and language

20 Books Report Card | 1-3

Quick thoughts on the first three books I read in this summer’s challenge.

These go way back to June, and I’m not even sorry.

The Deep by Nick Cutter

So, a plague (similar to dementia I think) is destroying the world’s population – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? – but a potential “miracle cure” might have been found in the deep ocean. Hence the title. Our hero – OK, so I’ve forgotten his name and I’m too lazy to look it up – anyway, our hero’s brother is one of the scientists in an ocean floor base studying what has become known as ambrosia. Contact with the base has been lost, because of course it has, but the last message received was from the brother asking for Our Hero. This is strange because they don’t get on at all (again, of course they don’t) and Hero is reluctant to go but does so, and heads down to the base with Kickass Female Sidekick to find out what’s going on. Of course it does not go well.

I’m kind of making fun of the tropes here, but this is a well-written horror novel with a creepy colour out of space vibe, using the feeling of being trapped and afraid of whatever is around the next corner for its scares, although there is still a solid amount of gruesomeness for us horror fans.


Transcription by Kate Atkinson

It is 1940 and Juliet Armstrong (I paid attention to names in this one, aren’t you proud of me?) is 17 years old when she is recruited by MI5 to assist with the war effort. She is assigned to a team responsible for monitoring what British Fascist sympathisers are up to but the work is fairly boring – she is manually transcribing the conversations an undercover agent is having with said sympathisers in the flat next door. She then gets the opportunity to go undercover herself, which leads to a series of events which deeply affect her. Leap ahead to 1950 and Juliet is a radio producer at the BBC when she spots a figure from her spy days who clearly and deliberately fails to recognise her, and she starts to investigate, shedding light on her past.

I loved this book. It is so good, beautifully written with a wonderful nested structure and I spent my time alternating between marking up (far too many) passages which I had enjoyed and speculating on the real-life counterparts for some of the characters. An unexpected revelation towards the end of the book tickled me greatly, but I know some readers have found that difficult to accept. I thought it made a lot of sense, personally.

This is one of my favourite reads of the year so far and I would highly recommend it.


Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The Emperor needs necromancers. The Ninth necromancer needs a swordswoman. Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines and no more time for undead nonsense.

The Lady of the Ninth House stood before the drill shaft wearing black and sneering. Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus had pretty much cornered the market on wearing black and sneering. It comprised 100% of her personality. Gideon marvelled that someone could live in the universe only seventeen years and yet wear black and sneer with such ancient self-assurance.

That’s kind of all you need to know really.

Oh, OK then.

There are necromancers with their accompanying swords-people. There is an ancient building and a puzzle to be solved. Things do not work out as anticipated.

It’s awesome – a strong story with great characters, a lot of snark and some real horrors, and it’s the first in a trilogy to boot. Very little is better than that.

How can it be September already?

Way back on August 2nd I let you all know that I was taking the month off from blogging and would see you all in September, and what do you know that’s, um, now!

It’s been feeling quite autumnal in my little part of London over the past day or so, if by autumnal you mean grey, damp and chill. This is also going to be a big month for book publishing; a shame as I’m launching into a low spend for the rest of 2020.

The Kibble Palace in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. I used to live near there when I was a student and it always makes me think of Autumn and the start of a new year at Uni.
Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

But setting aside all of that, July & August were both good reading months; here are the stats to prove it:

  • Books read = 8 in July, 7 in August
  • Number of pages = over the two months I read 5180 pages
  • Progress against Goodreads = 85% of my target, 11 books ahead of schedule

Very pleased with that.

In terms of the Twenty Books of Summer challenge, which ran between 1 June and 1 September, I did read 20 books but only 7 were from the booklist I announced.

I’m still going to count that as a win and I dare any of you to question that!

I mentioned a low spend earlier and that’s because I have made a lot of impulse purchases over the past few months, so I’m trying to stick to what I have pre-ordered and shove everything else onto my wish list.

Speaking of pre-orders, here is what I have on the slate for September

  • The Trials of Koli by MR Carey
  • Written in Bone by Sue Black
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
  • Sweet Harmony by Claire North

I’ll write more about those in my Sunday Salon posts as the books arrive. I’ll also be doing some round-up posts so that you can find out a little about what I read, so keep your eyes open over the next few weeks.

I hope you all had a good summer and look forward to a good reading month!

Catching Up | Friday Night Movies Part 2

EXTRACTION

Tyler Rake, a fearless black market mercenary embarks on the most deadly extraction of his career when he’s enlisted to rescue the kidnapped son of an imprisoned international crime lord

The Greater Hemsworth – and let’s face it, he’s the main reason I watched this – and the kid playing the kidnapped boy carry what is otherwise a Big Dumb Movie. Character development is limited to exactly what you would expect (cynical guy rediscovers his humanity through interaction with a young person who comes to worship him) but it gets extra points for a villain with exotic dress sense and unfeasibly good hair, and then loses them again with an irritatingly ambiguous ending.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a good ambiguous ending – I refer you of course to the masterpiece that is Inception – but this one felt gratuitous and undermined whatever closure had been provided to the audience.But it was fine as a means of passing the evening and is by all accounts extremely popular.

Dazzling details: directed by Sam Hargrave, Extraction is 1h 56m long and is rated 18 for strong bloody violence, injury detail and language.


21 BRIDGES

An embattled NYPD detective is thrust into a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers after uncovering a massive and unexpected conspiracy

But but but that’s not how it went down! Unless the person who wrote this quote was watching a totally different movie (or was under the influence because, let’s face it, that is always a possibility) then this should read embattled etc. uncovers a massive and unexpected conspiracy during a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers. That’s the film I saw.

This is a really solid police procedural with strong performance all round, especially Chadwick Boseman in the lead, and a very cool cameo from the former Dr Bashir (a shout out to all DS9 fans). I spotted the bad guy at a hundred paces but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This was a neat thriller which I thoroughly enjoyed and would watch again.

Dazzling details: directed by Brian Kirk, 21 Bridges is 1h 39m long and is rated 15 for strong violence and language


CREEP

A young videographer answers an online ad for a one day job in a remote town to record the last messages of a dying man. When he notices the man’s odd behaviour, he starts to question his intentions

Creep has been on my radar for a while, but an interesting article (by Edward Tew in the Guardian in early June; apologies, I’ve lost the link) about why this is a film we should be watching during lockdown really caught my interest. So I watched it. By myself. I’m brave, me.

It’s sort of a found footage movie but given that our protagonist films videos for a living it’s plausibly much better quality than you might expect. Anyhow, the guy who has hired him is vaguely unsettling but not in an obvious way. He’s not threatening so much as he is someone who oversteps boundaries, and rather than shouting at the hero not to do the thing he’s about to do, you can understand how easily he gets drawn into this creepy situation by degrees simply by wanting to be polite.

The film is all about atmosphere and mind games and goes off in an unexpected direction (to me at least) about halfway through. I loved it – especially the ending which wasn’t strictly necessary (there is an earlier point where it could have finished and been just as complete) but it is undoubtedly satisfying.

The guys who made this brought out a second movie called, astonishingly, Creep 2 and I’m definitely going to give that a shot.

Dazzling details: directed by Patrick Brice Creep is 1h 17m long and is rated 15 for strong violence and references to sexual violence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I personally would have given it an 18 for the disturbing portrayal of practical jokes as an acceptable means of human interaction.

Sunday Salon | 5 July

[Take Two – I wrote this post earlier and somehow managed to completely lose it, so here we go again!]


This has been a really good reading week, I mean, really good. I managed to finish four, count them, FOUR novels; two were complete cover to cover reads, and the rest were left over from June (if not earlier).

I feel this is a great achievement for me after several lacklustre weeks.

So, I finished:

The I-5 Killer by Ann Rule – not one of her best books in my opinion; it could have been shorter and still got all of the information across, but I was in the mood for some true crime and this caught my eye first.

Reviews of the last three will follow soon which is why I haven’t said very much about them here.

Currently reading…….

I haven’t picked my next book yet, but it will definitely be from my 20 Books of Summer reading list (which you can find here if you’re interested)

New books this week:

The Son and Heir by Alexander Munninghoff – full disclosure, this was a free ebook as I’m an Amazon Prime customer. What can a son say upon discovering that his father wore a Nazi uniform? Reporter Alexander Münninghoff was only four when he found this mortifying relic from his father’s recent past in his attic. This shameful memento came to symbolize not only his father’s tragically misguided allegiance but also a shattered marriage and ultimately the unconscionable separation of a mother and son.

The Truants by Kate Weinberger – this has been likened to one of my all time favourites The Secret History, so it was inevitable that I would succumb sooner rather than later. Starting out under the flat grey skies of an east Anglian university campus and ending up on an idyllic Mediterranean island, The Truants is about a group of clever and eccentric misfits who yearn to break the rules.

Relic by Preston and Child – I saw the movie version of this donkey’s years ago and though it would be fun to try out the series of novels featuring Agent Prendergast. As I am that person, I will of course start at volume 1 🙂 – Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human… 

Let’s hope this coming week will be just as productive! Stay safe everyone!

Catching Up | Friday Night Movies

During these strange times we’ve started trying to watch a film together once a week to make up for how much we miss visiting our local cinema and I thought I’d pull together a post I was originally going to call Big Dumb Movies but as (a) not all of them are the same scale of bigness and (b) not all of them are particularly dumb, that idea was quickly set aside 🙂

Hobbs & Shaw

(or as we must call it Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw – I felt there should be a “presents” in there instead of a colon, and lo I find that was the original title!)

Lawman Luke Hobbs and outcast Deckard Shaw form an unlikely alliance when a cyber genetically enhanced villain threatens the future of humanity

I have to admit to only having seen the first Fast & Furious film though I understand each sequel has only raised the stakes in stunts, loudness and presumably silliness in the many years since, but I really wanted to watch this one because of Jason Statham. I think he’s great.

Don’t get me wrong, I also love Dwayne Johnson but this was all about The Stath for me!

The plot is just on the right side of utter ridiculousness, the stunts are totally over the top and there is insufficient Ryan Reynolds (but when is there ever sufficient Ryan, I ask you) but it was an absolute hoot and gets bonus points for villainous Idris Elba. Enjoyed it very much.

Dazzling details: directed by David Leitch, F&F: H&S is 2h 17m long and rated 12A for moderate violence and infrequent strong language


2036: Origin Unknown

After a failed mission to Mars, AI/ARTI is now used for the 2036 mission with a few human supervisors. A monolith of unknown origin is found there. It will have a big effect on Earth.

So we misread the Netflix description and thought that this was going to be a series and by the time we realised it was a feature we were committed and decided to see it through.

This was fairly disappointing to be honest. It started off well before getting a bit bogged down and then morphed into a wannabe 2001: A Space Odyssey for the final act., complete with philosophical gibberish and all the psychedelia you might require. A shame. Katee Sackhoff deserves better.

Dazzling details: directed by Hasraf Dulull, 2036:OU is 1h 54m long and rated 12 for moderate injury detail, threat


The Wandering Earth [liu lang di qui]

As the sun is dying out people all around the world build giant planet thrusters to move Earth out of its orbit and sail to a new star system. Yet the 2500 year journey comes with unexpected dangers and in order to save humanity a group of young people in this age of a wandering earth fight hard for the survival of humankind

Based on a series of (I believe) linked short stories by the author Liu Cixin which apparently I have had on my Kindle app for ages but totally forgot about, this is the biggest and most expensive sci-fi film to come out of China.

The special effects are great and I was pleased to spot some standard elements that I recognise from other Chines films I have seen (exaggerated comic relief being one of them).

It was a tad too long for my taste but the references to 2001 in this film were much more successful and on the whole, it was very impressive.

Dazzling details: directed by Frant Gwo, The Wandering Earth is 2h 15m long and rated 15 for strong language, threat, injury detail, intense action scenes.

Catching Up | Rocketman

A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years

I have absolutely no idea why I waited so long to see this movie given that I’ve been a fan since Crocodile Rock back in the day, but I’m very glad that I eventually got to it because Rocketman is so much fun. Of course, it deals with some difficult subjects but it does so in a very imaginative way and is just glorious.

The casting is excellent. Taron Egerton does a great job of portraying Elton without slipping into impersonation or caricature. Jamie Bell is just lovely and what can I say about my fellow Scot Richard Madden? It is so nice to see him in a role where he gets to smile instead of being dour and driven (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones & Bodyguard).

It’s inevitable I suppose that comparisons were made between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody (which I also loved – my review is here) but it seems to me that the difference in approach is down to an acknowledgment that the fates of Elton and Freddie were so different. Freddie had such a sad end, and that is better served by a more traditional biopic, whereas Elton made it through and continues to be happy and successful (as fas as we can tell anyway). Both approaches are valid and the comparison seems unfair to me for that reason.

As Empire said in its review, Rocketman is:

a sequin encrusted delight

I approve this message!

Dazzling details: directed by Dexter Fletcher, Rocketman is 2h 1m long and rated 15 for drug misuse, sex and very strong language.

Catching Up | Scary Movie Round-up

I’ve been dipping into scary movies lately, intending to have an afternoon set aside each week to work my way through my horror film collection. Of course, in these times, I find sticking to intentions of any sort really difficult, so you can work out how well that went.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on what I’ve been watching.

Ghost Stories

Sceptical professor Philip Goodman embarks on a trip to the terrifying after being given a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions

Not sure what to make of this. It was pretty creepy and there were some nice jump scares and if it was about being unsettled and confused then it definitely worked. But I’m not sure I understood why all of this stuff was happening even if I understood the WHAT; for example, what did all of Philip’s family stuff have to do with it all? Would having seen the theatrical version made a difference. Performances were all strong though. Vaguely disappointing.

Dazzling details: Directed by Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman, Ghost Stories is 1h 38 long and is rated 15 for strong horror, language

The Cabin in the Woods

This was a re-watch for me, and it still holds up IMHO. If you want to know what I thought about this the first time around you can find my original review here. My love for Bradley Whitford is still strong 😀

Unfriended

A group of online chat room friends find themselves haunted by a mysterious supernatural force using the account of their dead friend

This was very, very silly but really entertaining for a Saturday afternoon watch during quarantine. Not remotely frightening and not even any really good jump scares. Good to see a bunch of entitled youngsters getting their comeuppance if you like that sort of thing I suppose. All very hysterical, in all senses of the word.

Dazzling details: Directed by Levan Gabriadze, Unfriended is 1h 23 long and rated 15 for very strong language, strong violence, threat, sex, suicide themes

Read but not Reviewed | April Edition

Sometimes you just have to accept that you are not going to get around to clearing that backlog of book reviews even if you are sufficiently motivated to give it a try. What to do?

That’s what round-up posts are for.

So here are the books that I read in April which may have been mentioned in passing but didn’t get a review. Anything from the Before Times may be lost to those who will follow but you never know, one or two titles may pop up elsewhere.

But onwards backwards to April!

Pet Sounds by Quinn Cummings

Quinn is a former actor, writer and all-round funny person who is consistent in her ability to make me laugh to the extent that I follow her on Twitter and support her on Patreon. This is the last of her three books that I have read and it’s so good. If you have ever had a pet of any kind you will recognise much of what’s in here. I may now be scared of testosterone-fuelled bunny rabbits.

Mists of the Miskatonic V1 & 2 by AL Halsey

“It wasn’t personal” she coughed. Blood dripped from her teeth stained crimson”

But why not her crimson-stained teeth? Just one example of what irritated me as I was reading these two collections of short stories. I’m possibly being unfair as the premise – using individual stories by HP Lovecraft as a starting point – is not bad but it’s all undermined by annoying repetition and far too much research being shoved onto the page. Yes, we understand that you know what the Latin for that piece of Roman military kit is but you only needed to say it once (if at all…) All of that took me out of the stories. A shame. I believe volume 3 may be on the way. Will I read it? Who knows…

The Adventures of Roderick Langham by Rafe McGregor

A collection of short stories about the titular Mr Langham, described as a retired soldier, a disgraced police detective and someone who becomes involved in investigating the occult. The stories are set in the same world that contains Holmes, Watson and Moriarty. There are nine stories and, as a collection, really enjoyable with a nice sense of place and atmosphere. Can definitely see myself dipping into these again. Great fun.

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

What if you survived something horrible, in the horror movie sense of horrible, like being partially eaten by cannibals or defeating monsters or having messages carved on your bones which (of course) you can’t read. How do you cope? Well, if invited, you might join a therapy group along with a potential mass-murdering arsonist and someone who never takes his sunglasses off. That’s the thrust of this novella which is so compelling and well-written I just couldn’t put it down. I liked the characters, I thought the premise was excellent and very well executed. I highly recommend this if you like good genre fiction.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

So, there’s this family, the Barretts living in New England where the older of their two daughters stars to exhibit signs of mental illness. Or does she? Her behaviour, which looks to many to be similar to possession, causes immense stress on the family but somehow they find themselves taking part in a reality TV show which seems to think its the Exorcist. Things do not go well – surprise, surprise! It reminded me of Amityville and an episode of Hammer House of Horror from 1980 (The House that Bled to Death) but is very much its own thing. This is my second Tremblay novel and I think I prefer it slightly to The Cabin at the End of the World, though it is equally dark.

True Crime Addict by James Renner

As a young boy, the author became obsessed with a local girl who had gone missing, developing over time into an overwhelming interest in true crime, which he turned into a journalism career, a couple of successful books, and which left him with PTSD. In 2011 he started to look into the case of Maura Murray who disappeared after a car crash, and once again his interest became obsessive as he delves into the details of the case, not looking after himself, and allowing it to intrude into his personal relationships. The book focuses almost equally on both aspects of the story, for me more successfully in Renner’s personal story as it isn’t even definite that Maura has been the victim of any crime. She is still missing.

And with May’s reading so far covered in my recent post (which you can read here) I am up to date!