Film Review: The Lego Movie

I actually saw this a while ago and planned to review it sooner, but it kept getting pushed back for different reasons, but I wanted to get the review in before the end of 2014 and the yearly Top 10 movies list.

There have been a couple of games based on toys and most have been lacklustre (I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but the sequels were woeful and Battleship was just terrible), luckily there’s this movie to stand as the best example of the genre. It’s quite fitting that a movie based on Lego, a toy all about creativity and possibilities should provide a movie that crackles with imagination.

lego movie pos

The basic plot of a regular Joe having to realize their potential is standard fare, but it’s where the movie goes with it that shows genuine imagination, wit and ambition.

The movie follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a cheerful, dim-witted Lego man who lives a normal day-to-day life following the instructions that he’s provided with and never really thinking for himself. All seems good for Emmet, but one night he gets sucked into a rebel plan who don’t like that President Business (Will Ferrell), plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to stop the Lego world being different and inventive.

Emmet

Emmet

Emmet touches the “Piece of Resistance” a brick that grants the owner, the prophesied “the Special”, the power to stop the Kragle. The Piece was hunted by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), an ass-kicking master builder who works for Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who made the prophecy.

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle is frustrated by Emmet’s stupidity and lack of imagination, and they doubt whether he is actually the Special. Aided by Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett) they travel across different Lego worlds and try to figure out how they can stop Lord Business from his evil plan, building to a climactic showdown.

I totally dug this movie, which is jam packed with wonderful graphics and a wealth of gags throughout. It’s a kids movie that truly works on two levels, with younger viewers loving the story and the visuals, but lots of jokes that might go over their head, the best example of this being the decision to have Will Arnett’s Batman being a bit of a douche, and the scene where he plays his band’s demo is a delight.

lego movie batman

The voice cast across the board are fantastic, especially Chris Pratt as the clueless Emmet, with this and Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and Jursassic World coming soon, Pratt seems to have arrived in a big way, and here he is on sensational form, with his vocal skills really bringing Emmet to life.

Morgan Freeman does his usual voice of wisdom thing as Vitruvius, and they have fun with this, especially when he makes his opening prophecy.

Freeman as Vitruvius

Freeman as Vitruvius

The movie makes little jokes about Lego’s history, with cameos from Lego’s Star Wars line and the plot having a slight dig at those Lego fans who just build once and keep them pristine, thanks to the live action section (also featuring Will Ferrell). The live action sequence is a bit cliche, but by that time the movie had built up such a feeling of good will in me I went for it.

From the start to the finish I was utterly charmed and it had me chuckling consistently, especially at daft gags like Liam Neeson’s split personality character Bad Cop/Good Cop. It’s a cheerful, vibrant and engaging movie that will work for all ages and is an utter gem.

Bad Cop/Good Cop

Bad Cop/Good Cop

One word of warning though, the cheesy song “Everything Is Awesome” from the movie will lodge in your head for a long time after, and recur frequently.

Verdict: An utter delight of a movie, filled to the brim with quality gags and strong vocal performances. It’s a fast based, fun and inventive movie and easily one of the better animated movies of recent years. Delightful. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Warning! Some spoilers ahead.

Of all of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies this is the one that drags the least, yes, some of the fight sequences go on a bit too long, but it hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up until the finale.

hobbit 3

When we last left Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and most of his dwarf mates they’d just taken back the Lonely Mountain, having evicted the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was flying towards Laketown in a bad mood.

In Laketown were the rest of the party, along with elf maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the family of Bard (Luke Evans), who’d been locked up by the corrupt Master (Stephen Fry). With the dragon on the way everyone decides it’s a good time to get out of town, with Tauriel and the dwarves trying to get the kids to safety while the Master and his assistant Alfred (Ryan Gage) try to haul ass with as much gold as they can.

The only person willing to hang around is Bard, who breaks free, grabs his bow and heads up the bell tower to try and take out the fire-breathing enemy. Which he does, slaying the beast with his final shot.

The survivors of Laketown want Bard as their leader, but he is reluctant. Tauriel reluctantly leaves Kili (Aidan Turner), the dwarf she is falling for as she learns of her banishment from her home. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tells the bearer of this message that he will stay with Tauriel, and they set off to see what the orcs are up to.

Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being held captive by the necromancer and is weakened. Luckily for him his friends are on the way and soon Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) rock up to bust him loose. They face off against the ghostly nine kings and finally free their friend, although the spirit of Sauron appears. Galadriel banishes him back to Mordor and Elrond wants to pursue, but Saruman advises him to care for Galadriel and leave it to him. Which if you’ve seen Lord of the Rings doesn’t work out too well.

At the mountain, Bilbo begins to worry for Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s changed since getting his gold back. Suffering from “Dragon sickness” he becomes increasingly greedy and paranoid, obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and beginning to suspect and doubt his friends. Bilbo actually has the Arkenstone, but fears that giving it to Thorin will only make things worse.

Bard and the survivors camp in the ruined city of Dale, and Bard plans to get the gold Thorin promised Laketown so they can rebuild. Also arriving are the elvish army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), who have come for some gems in the mountain and seem to be keen for war. Bard wants peace and goes to speak to Thorin about his promise and the gems, only to find the King Under the Mountain refuses to honour his word, even though he only has 13 fighters.

Gandalf arrives to warn them that a massive orc army is coming, led by Azog (Manu Bennett) and that dwarves, elves and men must unite, but Thranduil doubts him, especially as there is no sign of the army.

Bilbo sees a chance for peace, taking the Arkenstone to Dale, and telling Bard and Thranduil to offer it in exchange for what they want from the horde in the mountain. Gandalf, impressed by his cleverness and bravery advises him to leave but Bilbo defies him, sneaking back into the mountain to stand along his dwarf friends.

And so battle approaches, with elves and men facing off against the dwarves, who receive reinforcements in the form of Thorin’s cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, who’s recognizable as soon as he speaks from a distance) but then gets distracted by the orcs rocking up.

I really dug this movie because as I said, it starts strong. The sequence where Smaug torches Laketown is done magnificently, with genuine terror and destruction gripping the town. Jackson never loses touch of the human side, with the different reactions of the residents and there’s even comedy in the form of Fry and Gage’s greedy fleeing characters.

It’s hear that Luke Evans really takes command as the heroic, noble Bard. In a film with this many characters it’s hard to stand out, but for me Evans’ Bard is one of the strongest. He’s quite an old school hero, uncomfortable with power and extremely honourable, and Evans makes him a convincing badass, and the kind of man others would rally to.

Evans as Bard

Evans as Bard

The rest of the cast are all on fine form, even if some are underused. Blanchett, Lee and Weaving rock up at the start, kick ass like some kind of prog band fused with the Justice League and then leave the proceedings. Ian McKellen is still impressive and likable as Gandalf, but even he is sidelined for much of the movie.

The main focus seems to be the growing bromance between Bilbo and Throin, with the simple hobbit helping the King have brief flashes of the dwarf he was before the dragon sickness took hold. Armitage should be applauded for conveying this decline in a relatively understated way, the only slightly hammy moment being a sequence where he hallucinates.

Martin Freeman is still likable enough as the fussy, still slightly cowardly Bilbo, although he shows increasing reserves of courage when needed and proves to be quite useful. I also liked that true to the books they have him get knocked cold for most of the climactic fight.

Which brings me to one of the major issues I had with the film, the eponymous battle. While it kicks off with some epic scenes and a few nice touches (the dazed battering-ram troll made me chuckle), it gets a little repetitive after a while and you lose track of the major players in the main battle.

Bard, Thranduil and Dain all get little moments of glory, but Jackson then splits onto two fronts, with Thorin, Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili and another dwarf going after Azog, and ignoring much of what goes on below aside for a few moments with Bard and his family.

I’m not saying we needed to see every one of the dwarves in action, because quite frankly there are too many. Aside from Thorin, Fili and Kili the only one I can name is Balin (Ken Stott), the kindly one who looks after Bilbo the most, these aside the only one I was invested in was James Nesbitt’s character (Wikipedia says it’s Bofur), and that’s only because it’s James Nesbitt.

In fact I was a little disappointed that one of the dwarves survived, as he’d been annoying me since the first movie. It was this fella, Ori (Adam Brown):

Urgh.

Urgh.

The problem is that while the major battle rages below we’re treated to a smaller skirmish on the hill- Bilbo and a dwarf vs some orcs, Bolg (John Tui) vs Kili, Tauriel and Legolas and the main event Throin vs Azog. Thorin and Azog’s showdown on the ice is rather well done, but the Bolg vs everyone scrap goes on far too long. Bolg beats down everyone basically, killing one, wounding another before Legolas finally takes him out.

The fight has a few moments, but there’s a moment where Legolas runs up falling boulders like he’s Mario or something and at that point it lost me. I get that it’s a fantasy, but we’ve already seen that Middle Earth has gravity so it’s utterly stupid.

Also, I never fully bought into the Kili and Tauriel love story, as it felt like it developed far too quickly and never resonated right with me. The actors involved do well, and as the fight plays out it does pack an emotional whallop, but for me a death elsewhere was more powerful.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

These minor niggles aside it’s still a very enjoyable movie and does whip along at a good pace, it didn’t feel like I’d been there for almost two and a half hours.

Special praise should also be reserved for Ryan Gage as the cowardly, mono-browed Alfred, who gets a lot of laughs from the creeping, cringing character.

Peter Jackson has done fantastic work bringing Tolkien’s work to the big screen, and even though you feel The Hobbit could have been done in one, maybe two films, the journey from start to finish has still been a fun one and well worth it.

It’s been reported that due to rights issues this may be Jackson’s last foray into Middle Earth, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not a massive Tolkien fan (I enjoyed The Hobbit, but never finished the LotR books) but even the fans I do know admit that the two pieces Jackson’s adapted are the best, and a few have even confessed to struggling with his other writings.

Jackson has made two strong trilogies, which are gripping, entertaining and clearly lovingly crafted fantasy epics, and any filmmaker should be happy with that.

Verdict: The most action packed of the series and a satisfying conclusion to the story. Some of the flaws are still there, but once you go with it this is a fun, exciting epic and captivated me fully. In an ensemble cast some fade into the background, but everyone acquits themselves well. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s a brave move to make a movie where your protagonist is a total douche and doesn’t have a redemptive story arc, as you’re asking the audience to buy come along for a ride with someone they dislike, and may actually want to get busted. Martin Scorsese has often focused on flawed characters who do terrible things (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas) and here he tackles a greedy, unrepentant crook in the form of stockbroker Jordan Belfort.

wolf of wall pos

Belfort began his career as a junior trader and was wiped out by Black Monday, the 1987 stock market crash. Starting from the bottom selling penny stocks, he proceeds to build his own company Stratton Oakmont, quickly getting rich thanks to dodgy dealing, fraud and a bunch of economics stuff I don’t fully understand. At the same time Belfort and his underlings descend into extreme debauchery, fueled by a cocktail of drugs they jet around the world in a whirl of strippers, hookers and excess.

Before long he attracts the attention of the FBI and the net begins to tighten due to a combination of errors, stupidity and bad luck.

One of the best moves Scorsese pulls is by making the story into a jet-black comedy as opposed to a serious drama. A serious drama could work, but would require some kind of character development and judging from recent interviews the real Belfort is more sorry that he got caught than for his actions. For a drama it lacks a final act finish that satisfies, Belfort goes to prison but uses his money to live a cushy life behind bars and then continues to make a living with “I can make you rich” seminars.

But as a jet black comedy it works a treat, with the farcical elements cranked up to 11 in places and some fast paced, profane dialogue providing plenty of laughs.

The best thing Scorsese does however is put Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. DiCaprio has developed into one of the best actors of his generation and his performance here is magnetic, he manages to capture the smooth talking charisma that gets people to go along with Belfort and his rallying speeches to his cash-hungry minions are well done and commanding, even if they provide an uncomfortable look into the heart of greed.

DiCaprio in commanding form as Belfort

DiCaprio in commanding form as Belfort

DiCaprio holds the audience’s attention and is a captivating, if infuriating protagonist giving swaggering narration for the audience and oozing a sense of entitlement and ruthless ambition. It’s a strong performance as he manages to capture Belfort’s flaws and anger, and strives to make him human for the audience. The problem is that the script, based on Belfort’s own book paints him as an insufferable character, and it’s too DiCaprio’s credit that he sometimes gets you to sympathize with this man.

He also shows a fantastic knack for comedy, reveling in the excess of Belfort’s life and some good physical skills. A sequence where Belfort is so out of his gourd on Qualudes that he has to drag himself, slurring across the floor and down a flight of stairs is a work of genius.

The supporting cast are on fine form, particularly Jonah Hill as one of Belfort’s associates (and I suspect the main reason MWG went to see this movie at the cinema). I’d not seen Hill tackle a role like this before, it’s still broadly a comedy but it’s a bit darker than his usual fair and to be fair he takes to it well, although his fake white teeth are distracting.

Jonah Hill

Jonah Hill

The rest of the cast do well too, but it’s DiCaprio’s movie and he dominates it totally.

Scorsese shoots Belfort’s story with an admirable level of moral ambiguity, and the film is never massively judgmental of it’s protagonist, just setting things out as the way they are. I’m sure some audiences will find something appealing in Belfort’s life, but for me the scenes of excess and debauchery grew stale after a while and there was a certain desperation behind the partying.

I think the problem for me is that unlike Goodfellas, the other Scorsese film this reminded me of, Belfort’s motivations are even shakier than Henry Hill’s, who’d drawn into the mob by the glamour and success but finds a real bond and camaraderie with his fellow gangsters, even if this is built on shaky foundations, here Belfort seems to be out for himself from day one and sees everyone, even his supposed friends as stepping stones to his own success.

There’s only one glimpse of decency, where he warns a friend that he’s wearing a wire so they don’t incriminate themselves, but even this is soured by the suspicion that this is just so Belfort can safeguard his future earnings while appearing to cooperate with the law. The gangsters of Goodfellas may have been hypocritical and turned on each other, but there was at least some genuine loyalty to betray, Belfort doesn’t care about anyone else, although he expects others to remain loyal.

Jon Bernthal as Brodnick, one of Belfort's associates and owner of impressive facial hair

Jon Bernthal as Brodnick, one of Belfort’s associates and owner of impressive facial hair

All in all it’s an entertaining flick, with lots of black comedy throughout. I did struggle to get over my dislike for the main characters and their greedy actions, but DiCaprio is impressive in the lead and a magnetic presence on screen. Scorsese’s direction is fantastic, but the movie left me cold after the laughter stopped. Although judging by the final scene, where Belfort looks out on a sea of money hungry faces, I suspect this is intentional.

Verdict: Outrageously funny and boasting a fine lead performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who manages to stop his unlikable character from being utterly loathsome, although I struggled to fully shake my distaste for Belfort and his worldview. Still a strong, engaging movie as you’d expect from Scorsese. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


The future’s not so bright

I got a text message today that delivered bad news.

Orange Wednesdays will be stopping in February.

For those unfamiliar with OWs, its a deal that the Orange mobile phone network has run for years, whereby you text them and they send you a code that gets you two-for-one cinema tickets on, you guessed it, Wednesdays.

It’s a pretty ace idea, and in full disclosure one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Orange over the years. It’s a simple idea to give their customers the feeling of an exclusive perk and only costs them whatever they work out with the cinemas to cover the free tickets, although the cinemas probably still see a good result because more people are turning up, even if only half are paying.

Going to the cinema on Wednesdays is therefore cheaper, and become something of a ritual for some people, with the midweek showings being rammed. I’ve used it a few times and think the cinema probably still came out up on the deal because having split a single ticket with a friend I’m more inclined to waste vast sums on overpriced cinema snacks (my personal weakness are the hot dogs).

It would seem to be a winning deal for everyone- Orange, the cinemas and the customers, so the reason to end it is a surprise. I’m sure there’s probably some data out there that shows Orange have been leaking money over it or something, but I can’t be bothered to read all that stuff, seriously, talk of profit margins and whatnot is guaranteed to make me zone out (which is why Freakonomics was such a pleasant surprise) and I’m sure they could have worked something out with the cinemas to sort it out.

I’m assured I’ll be updated on an “exclusive new offer” they’re launching, but it’s hard to think what they can offer on a regular basis that’s an improvement on free cinema tickets and/or free pizza (there’s a deal with Pizza Express thrown in). A free cinema ticket was quite a nice touch because it felt like a treat, especially as prices have risen, and it was a cool sociable thing that got people heading to their local cinema.

Wednesday the 25th of February will be the final Orange Wednesday, so I guess before then I should try and get in as many visits with MWG in as possible. And maybe finally take advantage of the Pizza Express thing too.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

When it was announced that the X-Men’s next onscreen adventure was to be based on the Days of Future Past storyline from the comics there was a bit of a geek meltdown. DoFP is one of the most famous X-stories out there, and featured a dystopian future where many of the Marvel heroes had been killed by mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. Startling bleak in it’s depiction of the nightmarish future the plot hinged on Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) having her mind sent back in time to her younger body, where she had to stop events which would lead to her hellish future.

It was a great storyline and worked because of the dark tone, and the fact that Kitty Pryde was the group’s sweet, innocent youngster but could/would become this battle hardened woman who would witness most of her friends die. It was a great idea for a movie and would also feature a crossover between the casts of the original X-trilogy and the prequel X-Men: First Class.

Changes would have to be made, in the movies Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page was only a minor character, could she carry a movie for the fans? And also, to reach the First Class cast was tricky as Kitty wouldn’t have been around. And so, the decision was made to make the focus of the movie be Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine.

x-men days pos

I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this online, with many people complaining that Wolverine has been the main focus for all the movies (First Class aside), it’s not exactly untrue but it misses the point- Wolverine is a big fan-favourite, probably the most popular X-Man and Hugh Jackman’s work in the role has been superb, with him putting in charismatic performances even when the movies have been lacking (see X-Men: Origins: Wolverine).

Also, it makes sense to have Wolverine go back in time to his younger self, as he is one of only a few characters to legitimately cover both time periods. The movie also plays a trump card in suggesting that Wolverine is the ideal candidate as his healing factor means he will survive the trip better.

The movie starts in the future where the Sentinels have hunted and killed many mutants, and a small band survive underground. Kitty and a group of Professor Xavier’s former students survive by staying one step ahead, when the Sentinels attack Kitty transports Bishop’s (Omar Sy) mind back a few days so they can get out in time.
Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) meets them accompanied by Wolverine, Storm (Halle Berry) and former advesary Magneto (Ian McKellen). They plan to send someone back to 1973 where they hope to stop shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ally of both Xavier and Magneto, from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who invented the Sentinels.

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

Kitty Pryde (Page) showing off her time travel skills

 

Trask’s death fuels anti-mutant feeling and the captured Mystique’s DNA is what enables the Sentinels to adapt, making them able to counteract mutant powers and be even more effective killing machines.

The problem is that to convince Mystique to stop in her assassination will prove difficult as she had become increasingly militant and embittered, and Xavier alone would not be able to convince her, they need Magneto’s help too. However, in ’73, Magneto and Xavier are enemies and convincing them to work together will prove challenging.
Wolverine goes back and finds the young Xavier (James McAvoy) a very different man, stripped of his powers, afraid and self-hating. Convincing him proves a challenge, and he is less help than anticipated, but Magneto (Michael Fassbender) represents a greater challenge, being locked up in a high-security prison.

Meanwhile, in the future the Sentinels plan to launch a massive attack on the remaining X-Men, who can’t flee while Kitty is holding Wolverine’s mind in the past.

Can they hold the line in the future long enough for Wolverine to succeed in the past? And if Wolverine, Xavier and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) do break Magneto out will they be able to get him onside? Will that be enough to stop Mystique in her quest for revenge?

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

The 1973 X-Men- Wolverine (Jackman), Xavier (McAvoy) and Beast (Hoult)

I really dug this movie, and thought that it worked. The X-Men movies have never fully succeeded in my book, being rather fun and well done, but often flawed thanks to changes to the characters and casting (Halle Berry continues to disappoint and lack the gravitas and power to be a good Storm, and Hoult’s Beast is nowhere near as funny or lovable as the comic book version)

However here the cast are one of the greatest strengths, with Jackman still proving charismatic as the clawed Canadian, and playing it just right. The tone of the movie is such that there are some nice character moments and plenty of humour amidst the superheroics. Jackman’s Wolverine differs from his comic counterpart, and has always lacked the underlying edge that made the character so popular, but he’s managed to create a compelling onscreen character and has great presence.

Also impressive are McAvoy and Fassbender as the younger Xavier and Magneto. McAvoy has the harder job as the whining, self-loathing Charles is less than sympathetic, but he does a good job in showing us the reasons why and a glimmer of the decency which will help him become the Xavier of the future, and he also displays fantastic comic timing, getting several of the film’s biggest laughs. Fassbender meanwhile is tremendous, capturing the fire of Magneto along with the easy, commanding presence that McKellen bought to the role, but with more youthful vigour and an impulsive, angry nature.

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

Angry young mutant- Fassbender as the young Magneto

 

McKellen and Stewart do their roles with ease and capture the sense of two friends who have set aside all disagreements for the greater good and convey that there is genuine affection there.

Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Mystique, despite not being on screen as much as I’d like. She manages to capture the character’s icy determination, while also managing to convince that there is a fragile, damaged young woman beneath it who has turned to violence out of desparation and disillusionment.

Lawrence as Mystique

Lawrence as Mystique

The future X-Men are a little underdeveloped, and even Ellen Page doesn’t get much to do. They have cool powers, and as a Bishop fan it was cool to see him on screen, but I never found myself that invested in any of them.
Hoult and Berry continue to struggle with watered down versions of their characters, and while Hoult has some chemistry, Berry continues to be woefully lacklustre as Storm, one of my favourite comic book heroines.

Representing the non-mutants and impressing throughout is Peter Dinklage as Trask, in a powerful, commanding performance. Dinklage has great on screen presence and the film should be applauded for not making him a textbook nutjob. Trask believes himself to be the good guy and Dinklage does well in making it clear that the nightmarish future is not what the man wanted, and that he saw the war on mutants as a way to unite mankind and bring about lasting peace.

He’s misguided and short-sighted, and there is a nasty side to him, mixed with rampant egotism, but Dinklage ensures that he remains human and believable throughout. In the middle of a vast ensemble cast Dinklage, and his impressive ’70s ‘tache is one of the standouts.

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality 'tache

Impressive- Dinklage as Trask, rocking a quality ‘tache

The plot works well as long as you go with it, and it zips along at a decent pace that kept me engaged throughout. There’s also a nice vein of humour running throughout the movie and the movie thankfully avoids just making tons of ’70s jokes. The plot is simple enough to follow and the cutting between past and future works well, especially as climactic fights kick off in both time frames. (The denouement is a little cheesy and didn’t work for me).

For an Marvel fan this is a solid movie, providing a lot of the action you require from a blockbuster, but grounding it in compelling characters, strong performances and a sense of humour. Not all of it works, but for the most part it’s a success and it’s great to finally see the Sentinels on the big screen, and they do make for an impressive, terrifying threat (even if the design does seem rather similar to the Destroyer from Thor).

Sentinels

Sentinels

Verdict: It’s not perfect, but it’s an immensely enjoyable and successful big screen version of an iconic X-Men storyline. Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Dinklage are the standouts, as many of the supporting players get lost in the crowd. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Post-credits sting: A tantalizing glimpse of one of the most powerful and impressive X-villains.


Book Review: Odessa Dreams by Shaun Walker

This is the last book I’ll have as part of my Kindle unlimited deal, having cancelled it. On balance it’s a good deal if you want lots of quick reads to pass the time, and you get through a few a month. But my reading rate has been slower recently and quite a few of the books I want to read aren’t included on the Unlimited offer.

As it goes this was quite a good book to finish on, as it’s a short, but fascinating read.

Shaun Walker is a reporter who notices something when he’s in the Ukraine, there are lots of dates going on between younger Ukrainian women and older, foreign men, with interpreters accompanying them. Looking into it he discovers there is a thriving business in Ukraine and Russia where men from countries like the US and the UK seek Ukrainian brides.

Walker manages to get a place on a trip arranged by a website set up to connect foreigners with Ukrainian women looking for husbands. The trip will consist of “socials” where the guys are introduced to girls and can then arrange dates for later in the trip. Many of the men have been chatting to women online (for a price) and are keen to meet them in the flesh.

Unfortunately as the trip progresses there are a high number of no-shows from these women and the dates prove costly. Walker begins to suspect that there is something fishy about the whole business.

odessa dreams

Meeting and talking to the men and the women they meet on the trip Walker delves into the reasons both parties take part and how the whole system works, and can be abused.

Walker’s writing style is pretty relaxed, and he writes with a great eye for detail and conveys his own feelings without letting them overpower the story he’s following.

The women involved seem rather tragic, many actively hoping for a better life but when confronted with the boorish tourists they embrace the mercenary possibilities. There are some cases where the women are actively trying to fleece their would-be suitors.

But this is not a case of the men being victims, as their intentions are often questionable. There is repeated talk of wanting a Ukrainian bride as they are more “family orientated” or “old fashioned”, which seems to be code that the women do what they’re told and will stay at home. In fact, one of the men is looking for his second Ukrainian bride after the first was “corrupted” by America, by getting a job and not doing enough chores. It’s depressing and at times the way the men talk is so misogynistic it makes the blood boil.

Some of the men do seem to genuinely want companionship, but there’s a seedy undertone throughout that is never fully shaken off, despite the organizers’ best efforts to make it cheerful and friendly. Some of them are sad stories, alone and uncomfortable seeking dates back home, intimidated by the women at home or too shy to approach, others are constantly tricked and conned. Walker warns one to be careful, but the guy seems smitten, buying into the dream the tour peddles.

It’s an interesting insight into a world I hadn’t thought about before and paints a rather sad image of men and women looking for something, each side attempting to take advantage. The men are sexist, patronizing and slightly creepy, while the women are at times greedy and duplicitous. The situation seems doomed to failure, with language barriers and age gaps causing problems without the attitudes involved.

Walker is insightful and digs into the back story of those involved, reserving judgement although at times his distaste bubbles to the surface. It’s a little bleak in places and won’t do wonders for your faith in humanity, but it’s a quick, fascinating read and definitely worth checking out.

Verdict: Interesting if slightly grim and unsavory. Walker is a talented and engaging writer. A quality quick read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


On the first day of Christmas, Josie gave to me, the news I was a daddy: Josie Cunningham: The Final Chapter

Long time followers of this blog will know that I have long been interested in the tabloid saga that is Josie Cunningham’s life (click the tag for more). Since gaining notoriety as the “NHS boob job girl”, Josie has been a regular feature in the tabloids, her life becoming a soap opera that has seen her vilified in the press, subjected to online abuse and dubbed “Britain’s most hated woman”, although that is contested.

The latest appearance came as Josie announced her plans regarding how she planned to let the father of her child know her kid was his.

There are 3 possible daddies: The guy who catfished her pretending to be a professional footballer, a surgeon who was a customer when she was escorting and a friend’s boyfriend.

Josie is having paternity tests and on Christmas Eve is getting a friend to drop off cards to the three blokes’ houses with their results. It’s kinda smart and Josie’s idea to sever ties with the non-dads sounds good (none of them sounding like winners).

The problem is that yet again Josie decided to go public in a big way. This was a bad idea, as the reaction was general outrage and more abuse. Had she just done it on the quiet then that would have been alright (not the best way to tell a guy he’s the daddy, but I guess it beats going on Jeremy Kyle) but blabbing to the press just made Josie the target for more outrage and abuse.

But the problem is that Josie is doomed to continue to live her soap opera life in the spotlight. This is partly because she seems to have become hooked on the notoriety she has garnered, the closest to celebrity she can get. Like many people in our celeb-obsessed culture, fame must have seemed like a dream, a get out for Josie, and unable to get the real thing she’s settled for this.

I’ve said since day one that Josie would probably be better off out of the public eye, that her introduction to the world as the “NHS boob girl” meant she would be doomed to be a tabloid villain. And sadly, not being the savviest operator Josie has been unable to turn the tide. In fact she’s given the press plenty of ammo to continue demonizing her due to a knack for saying/tweeting controversial things.

Like in this instance.

The problem is that I’ve realized that I’m not helping this situation. As long as people keep talking about her antics the longer she’ll stay, for lack of a better word, “newsworthy”. I honestly think Josie would be better off fading away, becoming a half-remembered item from the papers.

So I need to act appropriately, and while my blogs are just a drop in the ocean of comments and discussion of Miss Cunningham (and far less vicious than most) they are still part of the problem.

Barring the fact that she does something truly remarkable (e.g. being the first person on Mars, headbutting the Pope or discovering the cure for cancer) or actively impacts my life (if I meet her, for example) this will be the last time I write about Josie on this blog, it’s an early start for a 2015 resolution, I guess.

I’ve always felt that Josie was something of a victim of the press’ desire to create hate figures to distract us from the real problems of the world (the first boob job cost under £5k, and the UK government has wasted much more on much worse), and her own desire to be famous, seemingly at any cost and without regard for how she achieves that fame or how it manifests.

This is the 14th post I’ve written about Josie Cunningham and over that time she’s intrigued and frustrated me. There have been times when she’s said nasty or stupid things I’ve disagreed with, or times when she’s gone after other celebrities in a way I don’t feel was called for and which just seemed nasty and vindictive, especially from someone who knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. She’s no saint, and I’m far from a fan of what she’s done.

But I genuinely believe that Josie doesn’t deserve most of the abuse she receives and that much of it is utterly vile and unnecessary. Her major crimes appear to have been lack of thought before speaking/tweeting and a heightened desire for fame, which is hardly something she’s alone in possessing as evidenced by the fact that Big Brother can still fill a house every year. Neither of these justify the level of vitriol that gets thrown at her online.

This is a young woman who came to our attention because she received a boob job on the NHS, which stemmed from her insecurities around her body and the bullying of others. The public reaction to a clearly insecure person has been disgusting, and shows a depressing lack of compassion or attempt at understanding, and exhibits an ugly side of online communication where people just pile on to send hate and threats to somebody they don’t even know. For me, the trolls are worse than Josie.

I wish her well for the future, and hope that she can find someway to be happy, although I suspect that would involve sacrificing her current “fame”, which is how she makes money and which she seems hooked on.

Goodbye, Josie.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Josie on one of her television appearances, which is how she makes her living and continues to fuel her “fame”

 


Book Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Continuing to use my Kindle Unlimited deal (due to lapse imminently) I checked this book out, I’d heard of it and knew there’d been a movie adaptation and as titles go it’s quite attention grabbing.

the hundred year old man

The plot starts with Allan Karlsson who has just turned 100, and decides he doesn’t want to hang around for the party which is being thrown for him at his old people’s home, and so Allan climbs out the window and makes good his escape. While waiting for a bus he is left in charge of a suitcase belonging to a rude young man, and on a whim he chooses to steal the suitcase.

The case transpires to be full of money and the young man a member of a gang, and so he pursues Allan. Meanwhile the police, alerted by the old people’s home are also on his trail. Allan then embarks on a journey which sees him meet a parade of interesting, colourful characters and managing, despite his slow pace, to stay ahead of the criminals and cops on his tail. A few twists of fate along the way dispatch those in pursuit, and has the police starting to view him more as suspect than victim.

Along the way the story jumps back to recap Allan’s life thus far, including several chance encounters with key historical figures from the 20th century and how Allan inadvertently effected history throughout his life.

The movie is quite good fun, with an easy, gentle pace and light hearted tone, although there are moments of dark comedy throughout. Allan makes for a reasonably likable protagonist as he shuffles into various scrapes, building friendships and evading justice.

The sections set in the past have a sort of Forrest Gump quality to them, with the anti-politics Allan meeting dictators, presidents and scientists and shaping history for both sides of the Cold War. It’s not a book that’s grounded in realism or in being believable, but it’s rather good fun and passes the time well enough.

The end of the book fizzles though slightly, with the denouement going on a bit too long and feeling unnecessary, and the tone doesn’t work for all of it, at times the easy lightness just feels glib and while it engages enough to keep you reading the characters are never truly explored, meaning they’re not the most rounded.

It’s a good, simple read and has a few nice touches, but too many contrivances of plot and shallow characterization stop it from being anything more.

Verdict: Light, easy and fun, it doesn’t quite work completely but it’s still a decent enough read and raises a few smiles. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Spoilers

Having no Sky TV I’ve learnt to be wary of online spoilers, and keep my Tumblr and Twitter usage to a minimum after a major US show airs. The gap is smaller than it was when I was a teen, possibly because of spoilers and/or piracy (probably more because of piracy).
Admittedly I’m only really invested in two series where spoilers are a big deal, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
GoT isn’t such a big deal, as having read the books I kinda know where it’s going.
But The Walking Dead is a different ballgame, as I have no idea where it’s going. Unfortunately a few things have been revealed before I’ve watched them.
I only just finished season 4 so I’ve been avoiding anything related to the show as I’m quite a few episodes adrift.
But today I was unable to avoid having a massive spoiler dropped on me.
I went to Tesco to buy some food for MWG and myself. Two of the geekier staff members (I recognise my own kind) were chatting as I neared and TWD was the topic. All cool, one of the dudes commented that he was a little behind at which point his friend said something like:
“I just watched the one where BLANK dies”
In the last episode I watched BLANK was still alive, or had been last time we saw them. I uttered an annoyed “Dude! Spoilers!” And the guy had the decency to look a little sheepish.
I get that after seeing a good show you want to chat about it, how it made you feel and how awesome it was when that thing happened, but if you’re doing it in public keep your voice down, because you might be spoiling it for someone else.
I need to catch up sharpish before more spoilers hit me, but now I’m going to watch those episodes waiting for one character to pop their clogs in every scene, which means if its a shock death it’s been ruined for me.
I am relieved that I haven’t heard more of what happens to Daryl Dixon, my favourite character on the show and something of a man crush. If Daryl dies, I might quit the show, or at least need a break to cry it out.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


No kinky sex, please, we’re British

Mum, if the title wasn’t enough of a clue, this post ain’t for you.

Tuesday was a bad day for British smut fans as new guidelines set out by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) set out some strong rules for what isn’t going to be allowed in UK made adult movies.

porn ban

Bearing in mind these are all films made for consenting adults by consenting adults, but apparently we can’t be allowed to see the following:

Spanking, caning, aggressive whipping (prompting one tweeter to ask if “non-aggressive whipping” is even possible), verbal/physical abuse (again this is simulated by adults, so is abuse in all films out now?), humiliation (see abuse), strangulation, fisting, facesitting and watersports (or urolagnia, to give it its classier name).

There’s also to be no penetration by objects “associated with violence” so I guess that’s, what? Gun sex (I’m too worried to even Google that phrase, though it would make a good band name).

There’s only one thing I sort of understand, a ban on roleplaying as non-adults, which is a dodgy area, to say the least.

The most bizarre ban is on female ejaculation. This seems not to be grounded in any sort of objection regarding potential injury, in fact it’s hard to see why this isn’t going to be allowed. It just seems to come from a personal objection based on squeamishness or frigidity.

Banning female ejaculation is basically the powers that be saying that there’s something icky or perverse about female pleasure. It displays an outdated and sexist view of sex where the male orgasm is prioritized, there’s no ban on male ejaculation and in most porn the “money shot” is the finale of the scene, further enhancing this sense that it’s all about the dude getting his rocks off.

Similarly facesitting is banned yet there’s no mention of stopping deepthroating or positions where the man is on top and in charge during oral sex. It just seems as though practices where female performers are in charge have been targeted, which is a shame as it means porn may become increasingly male-focused and stop porn where the female role is the one in power.

MWG and I have watched porn together a few times, and both enjoyed it before we got together, and some of the porn we liked featured some of the now banned practices (I won’t specify which ones), and that’s fine, different strokes for different folks. If it isn’t your bag, then don’t watch it. There’s a world of smut out there, and if chains and whips don’t excite you then move along and find what does work for you.

The new regulations won’t stop kinky porn, or people engaging in kinky activities. It only applies to homegrown smut and you’ll still be able to get all your spanking and whipping preferences met thanks to the internet and foreign filth (I suspect that phrase is going to misdirect a few Daily Mail readers to my blog). So, why has the BBFC bought these new rules in?

It just seems as though it’s a list made by a bunch of dudes who have just collected what they themselves aren’t into. It would be like putting me in charge and letting me ban the stuff which doesn’t do it for me, like porn parodies of movies which aren’t remotely sexual in the first place.

There's a Spongebob porn parody, who even came up with that?

There’s a Spongebob porn parody, who even came up with that?

It just seems to me that the ban isn’t based on anything more than what a bunch of people are uncomfortable with, and that’s not how the BBFC should work. Porn should be easier to regulate than regular movies, and the rules should be simple-

  1. Everyone involved has to be an adult.
  2. Everyone has to have consented to their participation, and what the scene will entail (if a performer has signed up for some BDSM stuff then it’s all cool, if it’s just a vanilla porn and suddenly someone starts getting a little rough, that’s not cool).
  3. There should be some kind of “Our performers are professional and experts were on hand” warning advising people that they can try out what they see but to do so carefully and with thought.

That’s it, really. Everyone knows what’s going to happen and is okay with what’s going to happen, and have made those decisions as adults.

I can’t see any upside to this ban, in fact it’s just going to weaken the UK porn industry, which is going to hurt people economically. The internet has democratized porn, and allowed people to cater to different tastes, and there are lots of self-employed smut peddlers out there who run their own websites and sell their own DVDs.

For British performers and producers, who have found their niche in the world of female domination or femdom, the new regulations seriously hinder what they can do on DVD. Sure, there’s still going to be femdom stuff out there, but a massive section of the UK porn industry, who make money, employ people and presumably pay taxes have taken a big hit. Porn is all about taste, and for some folks seeing a British woman in charge is what they like, and a performer from the US, Germany or wherever won’t tick the same box.

A psychiatrist could probably point to it being tied in with some female authority figure in that viewer’s life, a teacher or something. Personally, I just kinda dig a take charge woman, and I’ve known that for years, probably starting with the way I was oddly attracted to Ann Robinson on The Weakest Link as a young man.

Ann Robinson really did it for early teens Chris.

Ann Robinson really did it for early teens Chris.

The final flaw with this new legislation regards the pesky female ejaculation issue. A few years ago I read a letter to a problem page about a girl who experienced this, I think during foreplay with a boyfriend. It hadn’t happened before and neither of them had seen or heard of it before, so were a little bit freaked out, and her boyfriend thought it was pee (either way, she wouldn’t be able to do it on film now).

People talk about porn being hurtful for people’s sexuality or attitudes towards sex don’t get that for some it can reassure them, they can see that there are other folks who respond or look the same way (I’m talking here of lower level, grass roots porn which gives a broader view of the shapes and sizes that us humans come in and not perfect body the media puts forth). If that girl had seen a porn film where the female performer ejaculated she’d know what was up, and neither of them would have freaked out. It can also reassure you that you’re not a massive freak, because guess what, there are other cats out there who are into the same things.

And also, sometimes porn just introduces you to stuff you want to try, and as long as your partner’s down with it, then crack on, have fun.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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