Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Unlike the myths of Greece, I don’t know much about the gods of the vikings. What I do know I mainly got from Marvel’s Thor comics. In his introduction to this book, Neil Gaiman explains that these served as his own introduction too.

Gaiman would go on to delve deeper into the mythology and in this book he tells some of the tales of Asgard and its residents. A couple of the myths were vaguely familiar to me, while others are completely new to me.

What they all share is that they are retold here with plenty of wit, with Gaiman capturing the characters brilliantly and adding humour to proceedings. It’s this that makes the legends come alive, Gaiman’s knack for making the gods flawed and believable. There’s the heroic, if dim and rather arrogant, Thor and Loki, a sly trickster who is often very pleased with himself.

Like many myths there are stories that explain natural phenomena as well as some which just recount the misadventures of the Asgardians. The stories are short but reveal a whole world of gods and monsters, a landscape dominated by giants and magic. They’re magnificently entertaining and you can see their influence on writings which would follow (hello, Tolkien).

Gaiman is a writer I’ve long admired and here his skills breathe fresh life into old, half forgotten tales. I’d love to see him tackle more myths and recommend this as an introduction to the gods of the vikings.

Verdict: A witty and charming read, Gaiman’s clever writing makes the legends fresh and fun. A gem of a book. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Deadpool 2

The first Deadpool was a blast, a crude, rude romp of OTT violence, winks to camera and gags. Could they capture lightning in a bottle twice? I was hopeful, but apprehensive. Thankfully a few minutes in and the line “Hit it, Dolly!” settled my nerves. We were back and this was gonna be a whole lotta fun too.

Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth is easily one of the best castings in comic book movie history (along with Patrick Stewart as Prof X, RDJ as Tony Stark and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian), and he’s on fine form here in a fast paced, foul mouthed adventure.

After a mistake leads to personal tragedy Deadpool finds himself at a low ebb and seeking redemption, leading him to join the X-Men as a trainee. On his first mission he deals with an angry teen mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) who wants vengeance on the people who run the centre he lives at and takes the name Fire Fist. After trying to talk him down Wade has to use force to subdue him but realizes Russell is being abused, prompting him to kill one of the staff, causing the anger of new teammates Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Stefan Kapicic and Briana Hildebrand, respectively). Russell and Wade are taken into custody, their powers negated, meaning that Wade is slowly dying from cancer which his healing factor was keeping at bay.

Wade brushes off Russell’s attempts to create a partnership and advises him to find other prisoners to protect him. However, when the prison is attacked, Wade defends him and fights the attacker, Cable (Josh Brolin). It transpires that Cable is from the future where Russell has become a mass murderer, including killing Cable’s family. Cable plans to kill Russell in order to stop these events.

Russell hears Wade say he doesn’t care and seeks out a dangerous inmate for an ally, while Wade realises saving Russell may be the purpose he needs. To achieve this he puts a team together to save the kid and stop Cable, dubbing the team X-Force.

Can Wade find purpose? Will he be able to stop Cable and can he set Russell on a different path? And is he really cut out to lead a superhero team?

I loved this movie, which had me crying with laughter in places and is relentlessly entertaining. The action is bloody and wince inducing in places, but much of it is played for laughs. Also the story of redemption, destiny and “being better” is handled well without being preachy.

The relationship between the characters is handled quite well, particularly the wise cracking Wade having to deal with the stoic Cable, played with deadpan badassery by Brolin, who does well with the part.

It’s not going to be for everyone given the crude nature of many of the gags, the gore and the tone, but for me it works. The new characters who are introduced are an interesting bunch and a poorly used character from the X-movies gets a second chance to impress.

There are a few gags that probably won’t age well, but most work fine and Reynolds is charismatic as the lead, and seems utterly at home here. Here’s hoping we get more adventures.

A blast.

Verdict: Manages to match the original and keeps the laughs and action flowing. It misdirects the audience nicely a few times and there are several nice touches. Reynolds impresses again. Bloody, crass and delightfully postmodern this is a great ride. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Binman Chronicles by Neville Southall

Everton and Wales goalkeeping legend Neville Southall’s career was winding down when I started watching football. I can remember him doing a decent job for an uninspiring Everton side and playing for Wales quite a few times. But it would only be later that I came to appreciate how successful his career between the posts had been.

Southall is Wales’ most capped player and won several trophies at Everton, becoming their most decorated player. This book charts his career and life after football, and is a decent read throughout.

He’s quite direct and open in his analysis of his career, acknowledging that the discipline and dedication which made him so successful also contributed to problems in his personal life, due to his selfish focus.

Southall talks about the players, managers and coaches he worked with, at times with unflinching honesty. He lifts the lid on behind the scenes politics and changing room rifts, as well as the unprofessional chaos of the Wales set up.

He’s also not shy in offering his opinions on problems in the sport. When discussing the banning of English clubs from European competition in the ’80s there is an anger which remains fresh, anger at the impact this had on the careers of a generation. And it’s hard to dismiss that UEFA’s frustration at English dominance may have had a part in the decision.

Throughout this book Southall is a down to earth narrator and seems a decent bloke, if a bit curmudgeonly. And it provides an insight into the drive needed to be a top athlete and the challenges faced, particularly with regards injury and navigating a world of big characters and egos.

And it shows the cutthroat world of football as various players and managers are cast aside unsentimentally. In fact reading about the end of Big Nev’s time at Everton after 17 years provides a sad example of how, despite a player’s contributions and history, clubs are quick to move on and replace players.

A good read for football fans, and Southall had a good life after football, using his experience to teach and help disadvantaged youths.

Verdict: An honest and direct read from a man who opens up about his career and peers. Southall is a likeable writer and provides a detailed look into what was going on in the teams he played for. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Life of the Party

This was WoM’s pick as she’s a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, and I didn’t mind going as McCarthy has made some decent flicks, although the premise of a middle aged mother going back to university wasn’t that appealing.

Thankfully, the film is relentlessly funny and has a big heart. On the day that Deanna (McCarthy) drops off her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at the start of her third year at university, her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) announces he wants a divorce and is in love with someone else.

Left reeling, especially as Dan plans to sell their house which is solely in his name, Deanna visits her parents where she decides to finish the degree Dan convinced her to drop out of when she got pregnant with Maddie. Maddie is happy with this decision but less so when she discovers it means her mother will be living on campus.

Back in school Deanna becomes friendly with some of Maddie’s sorority sisters and excels in class, increasing her confidence. Maddie’s initial misgivings abate as she starts seeing the positive effects and encourages her mother to go out and enjoy her life.

While the story of the daughter embracing and helping her mother have fun is a nice touch and avoids the conflict that seemed the easier route. But it does make for some rather odd scenes where the dialogue doesn’t feel like how a mother and daughter would talk, especially when things get a little raunchier, especially as Deanna is introduced as a rather quiet, old fashioned housewife.

This is a minor quibble in a film that gets a lot right, especially in terms of feelgood story. McCarthy is massively likeable as the cheerful, relentlessly optimistic Deanna and does a good job of looking after her new younger friends as they experience insecurity. The problem is that some of this bonding feels rushed and there’s a sense of subplots which have been dropped.

The ending as well falls flat, with no real sense of where Deanna is going next. It’s not the sort of movie that needs a sequel, so it’s disappointing that it doesn’t tell us how Deanna plans to use her new degree. Just

There are some big laughs and hilarious moments, mainly thanks to McCarthy but also in supporting roles like Maya Rudolph as her best friend. There’s also a nice twist halfway through which sets up one of the best scenes.

The poor ending and nagging sense of there being more depth on the cutting room floor. There’s a good thread of encouraging women to pursue their goals, stand up for themselves and not yield to insecurities, but it feels watered down. Maybe a secondary plot would have fleshed it out.

Verdict: Carried by McCarthy’s charm and comic skills this is a rather sweet comedy that delivers plenty of laughs. A shame it ends in such an unsatisfactory manner and the supporting players remain two dimensional and underdeveloped. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hurricane Heist

Earlier this week I praised Rampage for being dumb fun that delivered on it’s ridiculous premise. This movie, however, doesn’t.

A heist during a hurricane? A trio of plucky heroes against a gang of thugs? This should be a fun action romp, but the whole thing falls apart. Firstly, the leads played by Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell are painfully dull. The attempts at bonding fall flat and the third and potentially most interesting of the heroic trio, Ryan Kwanten’s drunk slacker ex-marine disappears for a long stretch.

It doesn’t help that the villains are lacklustre too. You kinda need a charismatic antagonist in a movie like this, but what we get here is a bit of a damp squib. The only interesting part is that one of the henchmen is played by Rhino from Gladiators. And his physicality goes underused.

Urgh. This film was way too dull given the potential of it’s premise. I suggest missing it completely and instead checking out Hard Rain, a massively underrated ’90s action movie which does much better with the “robbery during a storm” idea.

Verdict: Commits the cardinal sin for an action movie by being painfully dull. The leads lack charisma, it’s devoid of tension and the action feels flat. Avoid. 1/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Rampage

The Rock. A giant gorilla. I was in from that point.

WoM was less sure about it but taking advantage of our new Odeon Limitless memberships she agreed to take a chance on it. She wasn’t impressed, dismissing it as “stupid”. Me? Well, I love a big, dumb fun movie and this ticked all the boxes.

Dwayne Johnson plays Davis, a soldier turned primatoligist who works with George an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers. All is good until George is exposed to a gas contained in a pod which crashes into his enclosure. As a result he begins to grow ever larger and becomes more aggressive.

The gas is actually a weapon which genetically edits animals to turn them into weapons. The experiments were conducted aboard a space station but when a test subject gets loose the base is destroyed and the samples crash to earth. As well as George, a wolf and alligator are infected becoming vicious giants.

Davis is joined by Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the scientist who worked on genetic editing but was disgusted by how it was corrupted and used for weapons by the Wyden siblings, Claire and Brett (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, respectively). The Wyden’s want samples and lure the beasties to Chicago.

Can Davis and Kate stop the creatures before the army blow away half of the Windy City? Can Davis get through to George and stop his, um, rampage? Can our heroes trust the swaggering but secretive government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)?

I really dug this film because it’s got no pretensions or anything, just accepts it’s ludicrous premise and runs with it. The action is overblown and over the top, with very little basis in reality.

Johnson’s charisma carries the film and his friendship with George is handled well and engaging enough that you care. Johnson is so easily likeable and charming that the audience is on board with him pretty much right off the bat.

The Rock with a new tag team partner

It’s to his credit then that Jeffrey Dean Morgan more than holds his own as the cocky cowboy like Agent Russell. Oozing charisma and keeping the audience guessing as to whether he’s a good guy or not. JDM is one of my long term faves and always a winner.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, with a special nod to Akerman who resists hamming it up too much as the uberbitch Claire.

Of course, this isn’t a character piece, and a blockbuster. And in that role it achieves, there are a few laughs, some big action sequences and it’s wonderfully, witlessly entertaining in places.

Sure, it’s daft, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Verdict: A loud, dumb action movie which does what it sets out to- entertain. The Rock is his usual charismatic self and the action is well done and engaging. Great fun. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Fall of the Governor Part One by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

This is a spin off from the comic book series The Walking Dead, and the fourth in a series written which sheds a little light on some supporting characters. Mainly the villainous Governor of Woodbury, who is one of the series’ main antagonists.

In the comics we meet him from the perspective of the heroes, outsiders who arrive at Woodbury and quickly discover the leader to be a sadistic, psychotic individual. The rest of Woodbury’s residents are either thuggish goons or survivors caught up in the ensuing war, their feelings on the Governor never fully explored until he goes too far.

In this book one of the main characters is Lilly, a Woodbury resident who has her own issues with the Governor and how he runs his little kingdom. There are mentions of earlier clashes but she does begin to wonder if maybe they are safer with the Governor, perhaps they need a tough, vicious leader in a tough, vicious world.

As with the comic books and the show, the zombies (known here as walkers or biters) are an ever present threat, lurking beyond defences or hiding in the trees and ruins. But the real threat to the human survivors are each other and their fight for resources.

As I’ve read the comics many of the events here don’t come as a surprise, with all the major beats repeates. But what makes it interesting to see these from a different view. To see the actions of Rick and his allies not as heroic but as the actions of an outside, possibly malevolent, group.

Lilly’s story is interesting as she struggles to deal with the horrors she’s witnessed and starts a tentative romance with another survivor. She’s an everywoman character in many ways, who has learnt to survive and for safety has to join a group she doesn’t fully trust. Yet despite her misgivings she has no real choice, as leaving the relative safety of Woodbury would see her left outside alone, scraping around for food and constantly at risk of zombie attack.

Circumstances then make her situation harder as Woodbury teeters on going to war with Rick’s group.

This is quite a gripping, tense read with some solid character works but I had forgotten just how dark and unpleasant the Governor was as a character and there are some violent sequences which are tough going.

I’m also not sure why this was split in two parts as this is a fairly short book and might have worked better as one longer story.

Verdict: As a spin off that occurs alongside events from the comics there are very few surprises. However, seeing the same events play out from a different angle is quite interesting and I found the character of Lilly relatable and likeable. I’m keen to read more, hopefully as the darkest, most unpleasant parts of the story is done now. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: April Update: Fail

April has been a pretty shit month, with a lot going on that has been pretty rough. As a result of this I’ve spent a lot of this month stuck in the house, either bored stupid or stressing out.

And like the stereotypical fat man, I respond to both boredom and stress by overeating.

For an extended period I was stuck in the house and so instead of stocking up with proper food was just going to the shop around the corner and gettting quick, easy food.

So, when I finally got back on the scale, I wasn’t confident. Unfortunately it was a lot worse than I’d feared.

I’d put back on pretty much all the weight I’ve lost this year. This is terrible news as it undoes a solid start.

I’m not feeling great about myself right now.

This means that I’ve really got to knuckle down and get back on track. Which means more exercise and less taking the easy option. I’m also going to keep less snack stuff in the house to stop me munching them just because I can’t think of anything else to do.

Gotta sort my head out and not be so dumb in future.

Any thoughts?;You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War

In 2008 when Robert Downey Jr made his debut as Tony Stark in Iron Man, I don’t think anyone could predict just how successful the Marvel Cinematic Universe would become. Several cracking movies later, the main event arrives, the arrival of Thanos (Josh Brolin) which unites all the various strands into one story.

The movie kicks off with Thanos having attacked the Asgardian refugees (see Thor: Ragnarok). Here he defeats Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The Hulk is transported to Earth, while Thanos having got his hands on the Space Stone destroys the ship.

This leaves Thanos with two of the six infinity stones he needs to gain supreme powers. The other four are scattered throughout the universe- the Mind Stone and Time Stone are on Earth, the Mind being part of the Vision (Paul Bettany), the synthetic Avenger while sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) posses the Time Stone. The Reality Stone is in the possesion of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) on the planet Knowhere. The final one, the Soul Stone is missing.

Thanos’ minions head out to retrieve the stones. Thor, cast adrift is found by the Guardians of the Galaxy, who agree to help stop Thanos. The team splits into two- Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) join Thor to go and get a weapon powerful enough to kill Thanos. Meanwhile, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) leads the others to Knowhere. Before they leave Gamora (Zoe Saldana) reveals she has important information and that Peter must kill her if Thanos is about to take her captive.

Meanwhile, on Earth the two individuals with the stones are attacked. Doctor Strange, having been warned by the Hulk contacts Iron Man, who tells him to run. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) joins the fight, but they are unable to stop Strange from being captured. Iron Man and Spider-Man stow away aboard the space ship and attempt to rescue the Doctor as they head for Thanos’ homeworld Titan.

The Vision is attacked while with Scarlet Witch (Emma Olsen), but they are helped by Captain America (Chris Evans) and his teammates Black Widow and Falcon (Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie). They defeat the attackers and after linking up with War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Hulk they decide to remove the stone from Vision, as he may survive without it. For help they travel to Wakanda, kingdom of the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Can they protect all the stones against a powerful foe and his army? Will they stop Thanos’ quest to restore balance to the universe by killing half of the population.

Thanos’ quest is of course utter madness, but it’s root is from a place of coldly logical thought and Brolin does well in the role, which has unexpected vulnerability and humanity. He’s still a fanatic, obsessed with his mission, but we do see he has real feelings and connections. He’s almost sympathetic at times while never stopping being the villain we want to see defeated.

With so many heroes in one film the film could have become muddled and rushed, but to the filmmakers’ credit the story unfolds at a decent pace and the idea to split up our heroes and having them fight on different fronts works very well. It adds a sense of scale and keeps the storylines separate, and allows different teams to form.

All the different characters have chances shine and the action sequences are impressive. There’s a real “event” feel to proceedings and the crossover works brilliantly.

Hugely entertaining and with high stakes this also packs an emotional punch. With such a formidable foe deaths are on the cards and I’ve been dodging spoilers, and will avoud them here.

There are a fair few bodies dropping in this movie and most land emotionally. Even after the first couple they don’t lose their edge and one of the last ones is the one that cut me deepest.

There’s a school of thought that dismisses the MCU as being too lighthearted, but for me the quips and gags have always been deliberate attempts by characters to mask fear or pain. It’s telling here that as the movie moves towards an Empire Strikes Back style of downbeat ending there is a stop to the jokes. In fact, dialogue stops all together as our heroes deal with the fallout.

After teases and hype Thanos finally hits the MCU and does so like a freight train. He delivers on all the threats and references, leaving our heroes reeling and damaged. And for the first time the villain is still standing at the end, and still a threat.

But you can’t keep a good hero or franchise down, and the post credits scene hints at a new player entering the fray. This isn’t the end for the MCU but does feel like a new chapter. And part of me dreads what comes next, especially as contracts run out.

For a young comic book fan the big universe shaking events were always a big deal (although partly because they were rarer then) and this movie manages to capture that excitement and scale, and gives most of the characters a chance to shine.

Marvel knocked this out of the park.

Verdict: A big blockbuster that actually feels big. All the planning plays off and with a legitimately threatening villain this has genuine peril. Amazinly it delivers on the hype and is a superhero epic. 9.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall by Spike Milligan

What an absolute gem of a book. This is the first part of Milligan’s war memoirs and I will definitely be continuing with the series.

The book charts Milligan’s life from the start of the war through his enlistment and time as a signaller. The book goes right up to his arrival in Algiers with the prospect of real combat looming.

Milligan’s writing is simply marvellous, delivering a steady stream of gags in a breathless fashion that makes this a hard book to put down. The stories of shirking, scheming, drinking and disorder are hugely entertaining, with Milligan mocking pompous authority figures. The war is largely a distant thing, with the odd moment where it starts to intrude on his life.

The book had me laughing aloud repeatedly and smiling almost continuously. Milligan’s humour and individuality leaps off the page and the result is a book you wish was longer. Thoroughly recommend.

Verdict: Just wonderful, a masterpiece of hilarity. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.