Book Review – F*O*B*B*I*T by David Abrams

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This is a book about the absurdity of war, focusing on the men who sit behind the lines in the office.

Yeah, I was hoping I would like F*O*B*B*I*T because I generally like war comedies, and obviously a lot of inspiration here comes from M*A*S*H. But the book just didn’t do anything for me. The chapters changed between different characters but I never felt connected with any of them and the book was severely lacking in humor. There were a couple of parts that made me chuckle but that was about it, and since the novel didn’t speak to my sense of humor the actual incidents weren’t enough to interest me.

Can’t recommend this one. Pass.

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Movie Review – John Dies at the End (2012)

Director: Don Coscarelli

Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Doug Jones, Glynn Turman, Fabianne Therese

There’s a drug on the market called Soy Sauce which allows you to shift between dimensions. The world is being invaded by beings from another dimension. The world needs heroes. It has Dave and John…

John Dies at the End is a surreal film that starts off feeling unique and fresh with some good humour and it had me laughing loudly a lot. Then, as the story gets going it just falls down and loses itself. I don’t know exactly what it is about it but it just sags and doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere past the first act. Maybe it’s better if you have experience of hallucinogenic drugs. I don’t.

For a film that’s about the end of the world it doesn’t feel like anything is at stake, and this apathetic feeling doesn’t do anything to endear me to the film or the characters. It feels like the director just had an idea for a lot of surreal, funny vignettes and tried to stitch them together with a plot, but  it doesn’t really work and this is one that, while the surreal nature of it will speak to some people, ultimately it’s going to fall flat for the majority.

Movie Review – Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci

Bond is back! After the events of Skyfall there has been an inquest into the 00 program. Denby (Scott) is trying to set up a global surveillance network that will make the 00 program obsolete. M has to battle with these politics while Bond is on a personal mission, uncovering the layers of a secret organization called Spectre, and the sinister man that leads it.

People are crazy for Bond. I went to go to a 1930 showing and that was sold out.  The next three showings only had a handful of seats left, so me and my friend had to wait until the 915 one, which was only put on because they cancelled a showing of The Last Witch  Hunter (sorry Vin Diesel). So it’s pretty safe to say that this film is going to make a lot of money. But is it any good?

I liked it but I didn’t love it, but I think every Bond fan is going to enjoy it because there are a lot of elements that speak to past Bond films, and in some ways this feels like a love letter to them, with many references popping up here and there (but don’t worry, they don’t feel gratuitous and don’t get in the way of the plot).

It is the longest Bond film to date but I didn’t feel that it dragged in any places, although I’m not sure if that will be the case upon any repeat viewings. The theme of the film is basically asking if there’s a place for Bond in the world now, and also touches on the dangers of complete surveillance. But there’s plenty of action, and all the set-pieces and explosions are epic, and the close combat scenes are intense. The acting is good across the board although I feel that there could have been some flashbacks to deepen Waltz’s character, although of course this would have meant sacrificing some other parts of the film. I was also disappointed that Bautista’s role was as a silent henchmen because he showed in Guardians of the Galaxy that he could bring more depth to a role than just simply being a brute.

I do like how these films have a string of continuity between them, although I’m wondering if Craig is done with the role whether they will continue to have that continuity or just begin something anew.

So yeah, Spectre is a good film with a lot of elements that Bond fans will enjoy, but it’s just lacking that extra spark to really push it onto greatness.

Movie Review – Don’t Stop Believin’ : Everyman’s Journey (2012)

Director: Ramona S. Diaz

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey is about Arnel Pineda, who was plucked from obscurity to be the frontman for the legendary band Journey.

I wasn’t actually aware of this story before I came across the documentary on Netflix and at first glance it sounds ridiculous. This man in the Philippines was singing covers and his friend was uploading the videos to YouTube, which a member of the band saw, and flew him out for auditions. It sounds unbelievable, yet it happened, and the film follows the journey (pun not intended) and how Arnel adjusted to the new life that was thrust upon him.

The content of the film works in multiple levels. It goes behind the scenes as the band goes on tour, it offers biographical details about the history of the band and Arnel, how their paths intertwined, and it shows the impact that Arnel’s arrival had on the band and its fans. It was good to see the injection that Arnel gave them, and how he quickly won over the fanbase but also even increased the band’s standing in the world and expanded their fanbase. But I also liked how it showed the struggles that Arnel went through, the doubts and fears, and the temptations that came with his new fame. He came across as really grounded and humble,  and it showed that there’s more to the lifestyle than just partying all the time.

It was also interesting to see the things that Journey had been through over the years and how they had changed with the times, and how they worked with their new frontman. It’s really a great story and one that makes for a good documentary. If you love rock n’ roll fairytales then this is definitely one that you should check out.

Movie Review – The Lunchbox (2013)

Director: Ritesh Batra

Stars: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui

A mix-up in Mumbai’s lunchbox delivery system mean’s that one woman’s lunch is not going to her husband. They end up exchanging letters, and find themselves drawn to each other even though they have ever met.

The Lunchbox is a pleasant film that follows the form of the short story. Ila (Kaur) is a young housewife who feels ignored by her husband, who barely even touches her anymore. And he doesn’t even notice that he’s not getting her lunches. Saajan (Khan) is a widower who is detached from life, and just goes through the motions. But through their letters  they each affect each other in surprising ways, and Sajaan finds himself becoming more involved in the world again. This is shown through his friendship with a colleague, and many of the humorous moments in the film come from this friendship.

But the theme of the film is love, and how it can impact lives in strange ways. Sajaan struggles with his age, and almost can’t believe it when his letters with Ila become more intimate. For most of the film she is the pursuer and he is more reticent, but this shifts towards the end and that leads us to…

The ending, which will be divisive among people as it leaves unresolved an ambiguous. Often this can seem like a copout from the filmmaker as it shows a lack of confidence in his convictions, putting the burden on the audience to come to their own conclusions. However, in this film the ending has actually grown on me the more I think about it. I don’t think that love needs to be an absolute thing, and sometimes it can just come into your life like a flicker of a flame, illuminating something briefly, then disappearing. And sometimes it can grow and bloom and envelop your entire existence, but mostly you don’t know how long it’s going to last, and The Lunchbox reflects this.

Movie Review – Crimson Peak (2015)

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) runs from a family tragedy into the arms of Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), and returns with him to his house, where he lives with his sister Lucille (Chastain). But the houses walls are bleeding and the house is alive with secrets.

Whatever you may think of Del Toro, there’s no denying that his films are always visually interesting and Crimson Peak is no exception. He plays with colour in a really interesting way. Edith is a picture of innocence and she enters a house that has a stark contrast between the white world outside and the dark interior. The walls are literally bleeding as red clay seeps through the floorboards and the walls, and it gives the setting an evocative atmosphere.

Now I think this film has been marketed as a horror film but that’s not strictly true. There is some meta-commentary in the film as Edith is working on a ghost story that has to include love, and this film is a love story that happens to include ghosts. It’s more of a thriller than anything, and there’s plenty of suspense and tension. Speaking of the ghosts, they’re spindly and unnatural and eerie, just as they should be.

I found the plot interesting and the actors all did good jobs, especially Chastain as Lucille. It’s an absorbing gothic tale with amazing visuals, and I haven’t even mentioned the use of sound yet! Del Toro uses all the tools at his disposal to create a fantastic experience.

Movie Review – Pan (2015)

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Director: Joe Wright

Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Noomi Rapace, Adeel Akhtar, Nonso Anozie, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Lewis MacDougall

Pan is the latest in the line of untold stories that predate classic tales about classic characters. So far I think on the whole they’ve been unsuccessful, and I tend to groan whenever I hear something along the lines of, “The part of the story you were never told,” in a trailer, and although I have always been attracted to the story of Peter Pan I wasn’t that fussed about seeing this.

However, I was wrong, and if you are feeling the same way then you’re wrong too. This film is so much fun and has the spirit of a classic adventure movie. It’s colourful and feels so vibrant and alive. The music is bombastic, the action is thrilling and its a film that’s going to be fun for all the family.

That’s not to say it’s perfect though, and now I’ll talk a bit about a few missteps the film makes. First of all, and this is pretty jarring, the crowds on Neverland sing to modern songs. The first one is Smells Like Teen Spirit. Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad choice, but it is an odd one and it served to take me out of the film. I don’t usually mind mashing up things like this, I love Moulin Rouge for example, but in that film the whole thing was about using modern songs in different contexts. Here it’s not the focus of the movie and I think there are perhaps three songs, and it’s not like the rest of the film is a musical so…like I said. An odd choice.

The other biggest problem I had was with Blackbeard. Jackman chewed the scenery well but basically he boils down to a pantomime villain. There’s not really any motivation given, and although there is a hint at an interesting backstory, it’s just never fleshed out.

And now perhaps the reason why I think this film isn’t doing well with reviews. I went in with the assumption that it would tell the story of how Peter got to Neverland and how he met Hook, and how their relationship descended into being bitter enemies. That’s not what this film is about and if you’re expecting that, and that’s the film you really want to see, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. I have a feeling the people behind the film had half an eye on sequels, so figured they’d save that for a later film, but really I think they should have just done it in this one because looking at it, it doesn’t look like Pan is going to get a sequel.

Which is a shame really because like I said it is a lot of fun. It’s not perfect, and it seems like every other line Hook is saying ‘kid’, which got old real fast (sadly lame jokes do  get old in Neverland), and there are some missteps. But the action is superb. It feels like a classic swashbuckling movie. Miller is great as Peter, and feels like he is the Pan of the stories I am familiar with. Overall I really enjoyed it and I’d urge everyone to dispel your doubts and go see it while you can!

Book Review – Dare Me by Megan Abbott

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Addy and Beth are on a cheerleading squad and very close friends. Then a new coach comes to their school and she and Beth are instantly at loggerheads. Soon enough Addy finds herself torn between the two of them, between adulthood and adolescence.

You can go check out a review of Abbotts previous book The End of Everything if you’re interested that. I really enjoyed this one but I had a little trepidation when I read the blurb for Dare Me because it seemed like it was treading over the same ground. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I just hoped that it wasn’t a simple re-tread of the first novel.

Thankfully my fears were quickly allayed and in fact this is a better book. Where I felt The End of Everything sagged in the middle, Dare Me is relentless and I found it difficult to put down. The writing is sharp with a staccato-like rhythm, giving the sense that everything is about to fall apart. There’s a real sense of finality and doom here, and Abbott manages to perfectly capture the melodrama and intensity of these teenage feelings, where every day feels like it could be the end of the world.

The bond between the girls is interesting because they’re really close, and have to basically trust each other with their lives, and yet there’s an inherent competitiveness as well as they’re competing to be the top. I also liked the fact that this was a book about cheerleaders that has them front and centre rather than as a sideshow to football, and indeed the football team is only mention incidentally.

Abbott maintains the suspense and this is a fantastic read. I highly recommend it. There’s also a nice end section that has an interview with the author and a few other bits and pieces, which I think all books should include as I find them fun and interesting.

Movie Review – Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah

Beasts of No Nation follows the journey of a child soldier, who ends up joining a rebel army after his family is killed. He fears his commander and the men around him, as well as the idea that he will never be the same again.

This film has been getting a lot of buzz since it was released on Netflix, and rightly so, but not everyone is going to like it because it is raw and visceral. The country in the film is unnamed, and sadly the circumstances and events in the film can be applied to more than one country. The film starts off with a light tone, even humorous, but it quickly devolves into a brutal examination of childhood and what it means to grow up in an army.

Given the subject matter there are some harrowing scenes and it’s not going to be for everyone, although there is some obvious editing in some places where you see the seams of the film. Other than the direction is good. It keeps the focus on Agu, but it does delve a little bit into the politics of the war, in as much as Agu would be aware of it anyway. It’s a compelling film to watch this young boy learn how to be a soldier, how his idea of adulthood and masculinity is framed by those around him.

It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s deserving of the plaudits it has been getting.

Book Review – Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

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Monza Murcatto is a deadly soldier with many kills to her name. But when her employer gets wind of a plot to overthrow him, he enlists the aid of six men to kill her and her brother, Benna. But Monza doesn’t die and she in turn forms a band of cutthroats to gain vengeance.

The cover is cool, right? And while the plot isn’t original I do tend to like revenge stories as they usually have a lot of action and some melodrama in them as well. And the universe in which it is set is kind of Game of Thrones-ish quasi-medieval thing, which again is interesting and when I started reading it I really enjoyed it. It’s written well and each chapter is kinda sorta told from the viewpoint of different characters. It’s not told from a first-person perspective though but the author does alter his writing style in a subtle manner for each character.

The action is frenetic and evocative and the plot unfolds in a way that makes the story much less about revenge and more about the changing landscape of politics. There are also flashbacks as well that provide some insight into Benna, which make him more of a fleshed out character than just a plot device to get the story rolling. There are some memorable characters as well, like Morveer the poisoner.  And, like in Game of Thrones this world is dirty and grimy. People get stabbed in the back, the sex is fast and hard, and the people are rough without much hope or humour.

And yet for all the good in the book I found my interest waning around the halfway mark. The novel is almost 700 pages and while I’m not averse to longer books this feels like it is longer than it should be, and I just couldn’t remained interested. I tried, I really did, but for such a simple plot as revenge it just kept going and going and all I wanted was for it to end. The other problem is that I found the supporting characters much more interesting than Monza, so as the book continued I found myself not really caring about the main plot but that’s probably because most of the time spent with her becomes repetitive.

Now, I hadn’t read any of the First Law trilogy, and Best Served Cold is set in that universe so I can’t speak to any crossovers there. But reading this book just became an exercise in monotony and it didn’t have the legs to keep me entertained. That being said, I think some people are going to really like this it’s just not for me.