Film Review: Shazam!

For me, the DCEU stumbled with a few movies which just didn’t work for me (Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League) but they’ve started to pull it back with a couple  of decent movies, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This movie, however, surpasses all of them and is easily my favourite DCEU movie thus far.

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What makes this movie work is that it has a great sense of humour and a solid emotional core running through. There are big battles, monsters and superheroics along the way, but this is really a store about family and finding your place in the world. The hero and villain are given the same choice, but the hero prevails because he’s less selfish and receives support from others.

Our hero is fourteen year old Billy Baston (Asher Angel), who lives in the foster system having getting lost as a small child. Billy has been struggling with his placements, frequently running off as he attempts to track down his mother. After his most recent attempt he is sent to a group home and finds himself in a rundown and crowded house, run by two former foster kids, Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews, respectively). Billy is a little overwhelmed by the rest of the kids, and tries to keep himself to himself, however, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a geeky boy around the same age, who is obsessed with superheroes attempts to befriend him.

After standing up to two of Freddy’s bullies, Billy legs it and is transported magically to the cave that is home of Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), a wizard. Shazam chooses Billy as his champion and he is transformed into a fully grown superhero played by Zachary Levi. While he now has superstrength, flight and other powers, he remains Billy inside his new body and alongside Freddy relishes his new abilities, becoming a viral sensation as they test his abilities and skip school.

However, trouble looms in the form of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a child was offered the chance to become Shazam’s champion but failed to resist temptation and was judged not to be pure of heart. Sivana has obsessively attempted to track down Shazam, and when he does, he unleashes the monstrous Seven Deadly Sins, who take up residence within his body and who render him equally powerful to Billy. The sins want him to steal Billy’s powers, enabling them to grow even more powerful and wreak havoc.

Can Billy step up as a hero? Can he find his real mother, and if he does, what will he find? Can Silvana be stopped?

There’s a lot of humour mined from the “kid in an adult’s body” plot device and there’s a lovely nod to Big. Like the Hanks classic this film shows that while this originally seems like a dream and lots of fun there are soon more serious consequences, and the superpowers just heighten this. Billy goofs off with his powers, blundering through his first attempts at heroism and enjoying the fun side of it. This causes conflict with Freddy, who while supportive also wants to exploit his new powers and is somewhat jealous and overzealous about it all.

From there on it’s all about Billy having to learn responsibility and courage, as well as addressing how he has been acting. Part of this is related to his new foster family and his feelings of abandonment and insecurities following losing his mother and ending up in foster care. This is why Silvana is a a great choice as villain, because he seems a dark mirror of Billy. Growing up in a cold and distant family where he never felt good enough, the rejection from Shazam has twisted him into an obsessive maniac, determined to get what he felt was unfairly denied him and gain powers to elevate himself.

Now superpowered, Silvana wreaks havoc and is blind to the fact that the Sins may be using him. His powers allow him to indulge all his darker impulses, to give into his lust for power and revenge, and Billy is shown to struggle to resist his less noble temptations now that he is Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. Billy, however, has the help of Freddy and his new family, and has an inner decency that pushes him to do better.

Zachary Levi is a delight as the adult Billy, looking every inch the hero but never losing the confused, scared and overwhelmed teenager within. He carries himself in such a way that makes him look awkward and unsure, and his attempts to swagger and show off remind you of every teenage boy who tries to look cool. There are plenty of laughs wrung from the disconnect, and his youthful glee at his powers.

Levi is superb, and the the cast around him are great. All the young actors do great work, especially Angel and Glazer, who have great chemistry and capture the slowly developing friendship between Billy and Freddy. Glazer’s Freddy, a snarky, geeky outsider is really funny and steals several scenes.

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Mark Strong can do a decent villain in his sleep, and he’s on exceptional form here, capturing the rage and bitterness of Silvana wonderfully, and also conveying the brutal glee he takes in his new powers, a dark reflection of how Billy enjoys his own powers.

The Seven Deadly Sins, his monstrous associates are impressive foes and the climactic smackdown includes Billy pulling some clever moves and tricks out of his hat, and had a nice twist. It sets up a wonderfully satisfying battle which sees Billy use his wits, heart and powers to tip the scales and realise his destiny as a hero.

The superheroics have a real fun, smashmouth style to them, with airborne brawls and some nice send ups of genre conventions, but what gives it the edge is the human story. I genuinely cared about Billy and Freddy, and the way it sets up their new family was done in a fun and sensitive way, successfully avoiding becoming too cheesy. Their growing friendship and Billy’s shift in outlook give the movie a really warm heart and that’s what the DCEU has missed in a lot of it’s movies.

This movie is a whole lot of fun, with wonderful characters, a tongue firmly in it’s cheek and an involving and entertaining story. I came out with a big, dumb grin on my face and a good feeling I carried for the rest of the day. An utter gem of a movie.

9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Florida 2019: Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s space exploration, particularly during the Cold War Space Race is a period that holds endless fascination. An era where scientific boundaries were being pushed, invention was running wild and brave figures were putting themselves at risk in experimental machines.

Astronauts became heroes, they pushed the frontiers of where man had been, they gambled on their technology to keep them safe as they ventured into one of the most dangerous places.

It’s hard to imagine that you could take space exploration and make it rather dull and uninspiring, but fair play to the Kennedy Space Center, they manage it.

There’s the dull film sections, which often go so heavy on the cheese that they should probably warn lactose intolerant people not to visit. There’s the way the displays are slow and ponderous, that to get to see the Saturn rocket you have to sit through a recreation of the 3 minutes leading up to launch. Three minutes! That’s a whole lot of people saying “check”, you could cut out two and a half minutes and it would be a lot better.

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I was massively disappointed by the experience. There were a few interesting bits and pieces, and seeing the rockets was cool, but far too much felt flat and lifeless. There’s a film advertised as being narrated by Patrick Stewart, but he barely features and much of the voiceover is provided by a trio of astronauts who are remarkably dull. It kinda ruins the image of them as courageous space heroes. Less Flash Gordon and more Gordon Brown.

Oh, and the “Moon rock” you can touch is absolutely tiny.

It was pretty cool to see some of the ships they used, especially as it highlighted just how uncomfortable and dangerous they were. The Gemini 9A capsule looked tiny and imagining spending a couple of days in it, with another person, sounds like a nightmare. How the astronauts could put up with it and not constantly think about how they were a few inches from the cold, deadly vacuum of space is beyond me. I guess I don’t have the right stuff.

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There are interesting things at the Center, and some interesting stories, but they’re not relayed or displayed in an entertaining or particularly captivating way.

I just felt it was all a bit of a let down.

One of the highlights was that on the drive back I finally got to see some wild gators.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Bucket List #60: Fire a Gun

My thoughts on guns are massively contradictory.

Born in the UK, my experience with guns is limited and I remember being terrified after the Dunblane shooting and relieved that our government brought in stricter gun laws. Similarly, I view the US’ gun situation as being crazy and dangerous.

However, I’m also part of a society where guns and gunplay are a massive part of popular culture. I grew up watching Westerns, action movies and reading comics like The Punisher, where guns are frequently used and shown in a cool way. Think about lobby scene in The Matrix, or the bullet ballet of John Woo movies and you’ll see what I mean.

In real life the only time I’d ever seen guns were when they were attached to soldiers or police officers. And even those are rare sightings.

But I wanted to live out my action hero fantasies, and I wanted to see what it’s like to use a machine built expressly to kill. And so, firing a gun went on the bucket list.

And so, in Florida, I got the opportunity and went to Machine Gun America, a gun range which seems to cater to the tourists who visit the Orlando area. Upon arrival I signed up for the fire three option and selected my guns:

  • An uzi- because I know what one is and they’re used in several action movies
  • A gun named L’il Ass Kicker- which WoM picked
  • An AK-47- probably the most famous gun in the world

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I waited for my range officer to come walk me through and started to feel a bit nervous. I was about to hold something which through misuse or mistake could easily kill me or those around me. I can be clumsy at times and fears of accidentally shooting myself in the foot or losing control of the gun filled my head.

Steve, my minder for the experience, was a pretty chilled guy, talked me through the safety points and told me everything was gonna be cool. Then we entered onto the range and he got my guns and ammo. I would get 25 rounds for each gun.

First up was the Uzi, and it was surprisingly light in my hand. I used up most of my rounds in the first burst, but managed to control it into a few shorter bursts of fire.

It felt weird, there was less kick than I anticipated, and it felt extremely easy. A small squeeze of my finger and I could unleash hell.

L’il Ass Kicker was a different beast. Even through ear protectors it was louder and there was an impressive muzzle flare when I fired. It kicked a little bit more, but was easy enough to control and it did give me a bit of a buzz to shoot it. I can see why folks like guns, it makes you feel powerful and I imagine trying to get better and more accurate could become addictive.

Last up was the AK-47, which was louder again and felt even more powerful. I kept my bursts short and like with the others hit the target with the majority of my shots, even if my grouping wasn’t the best.

I can’t deny that I didn’t enjoy the experience, like I said, there was an odd sense of power and a definite buzz from firing the weapons. There was a thrill in doing something which had the potential to be extremely dangerous. And a definite buzz out of being in charge and in control of that danger, of wielding that kind of power.

At the same time, the ease of it all was terrifying. One simple finger movement and you were blasting away. In a few minutes you could send 25 bullets flying out, each potentially lethal. It’s the kind of thing you could easily do by mistake, or too quickly in a state of fear or rage.

I enjoyed my experience, and the folks at Machine Gun America were great. Their place felt safe and the help I got was fantastic.

But I’m still glad that guns are extremely rare here, because it just taught me how powerful these dangerous machines are and exactly how easy they are to use.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Last year I wrote about why I wasn’t looking forward to this movie, so I need to be honest here and admit that I was wrong, and this movie worked rather well. It’s probably the Tim Burton movie I’ve enjoyed most in years, landing with me in a way that many of his other films haven’t with me.

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The original movie, is Disney’s shortest animated movie, and so there’s a lot that has been added to this version. Set in 1919, we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returning from the war, it’s been a rough few years, with Holt’s wife passing away while he was in Europe and him having lost an arm during the fighting. He discovers that his old job at the circus isn’t waiting for him, as the horses he performed stunts on have been sold by his boss Max Medici (Danny DeVito).

Holt struggles to connect with his kids, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, respectively) as he finds it hard to be emotional and is trying to find a practical way to survive. Max gives him a new job tending to the elephants, including Mrs Jumbo, his latest acquisition who is due to give birth soon.

The baby is born with unnaturally large ears and is mocked by audiences, who dub him Dumbo. The mockery, and cruel treatment by one of the elephant handlers, leads Mrs Jumbo to rush to her calf’s aid, creating havoc and inadvertently killing the handler. Max sells Mrs Jumbo to get away from the bad publicity and decides to put Dumbo with the clowns. The kids are devastated by this, and angry that Holt can’t do anything to stop it.

Milly and Joe form an attachment to Dumbo, and discover that his ears enable him to fly and glide. They realise that this will allow him to become a success and if they earn enough money they can buy Mrs Jumbo back. Dumbo flies and the crowd are amazed.

At this point V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who runs an amusement park in New York takes an interest and approaches Medici with an offer, he will pay for Dumbo and the entire troupe to perform at his park, with Max as his partner. Max agrees and they relocate, but Vandevere announces that Dumbo will fly with his star performer, French trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green).

Can Dumbo perform under pressure? Is Vandevere on the up-and-up? Will Dumbo be reunited with his mother? Can Holt salvage a relationship with his children and build a new life for them?

I really liked that the movie introduced a more human element, and did away with the talking animals, which helps ground the fantasy in reality a little bit.

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Of course, there’s plenty of magic along the way and the flying elephant is done rather well, with real lightness and a sense of joy. The animation of Dumbo also makes him emotive and extremely cute.

The human side of the story is carried by Colin Farrell, who gives a quiet, understated performance as a wounded, vulnerable man who is struggling to adapt to his new life. It’s not showy in any way and Farrell does well, especially as at times the script lets him down. Likewise, the two child performers are solid and avoid  being irritating, especially Parker as Milly, a clever and strongwilled character who works a lot of things out and who stands up for what’s right. Her clashing with her father is one of the major themes in the movie, the distance between them and Holt’s struggles, but they’re never fully developed.

The movie has just enough heart and charm to pull off the fantastical plot, and there are some great moments of wonder and adventure along the way. Unfortunately, there are a few flaws too.

One of the major ones is that there feels like there are a few story beats missing along the way. Characters come out in support of Dumbo with very little build up, and the Farrier family make up without a really satisfying moment to cap it off. You get the feeling that maybe one or two more scenes between father and children would have solidified the story a bit more. In fact, while there is a happy ending to it all, it feels a little thrown together and quick, with some of the resolutions being unsatisfying due to a lack of build up.

The supporting cast have very little to do, but handle their roles well enough- Danny DeVito is predictably great, Michael Keaton does the baddie well and Green does a good job with a fairly underwritten part. The rest of the troupe are an engaging band of misfits, but don’t get much development.

When the film hits the mark it becomes an entertaining and rather sweet treat, but some of the emotional elements don’t quite ring true and there are a few cheesy parts.

Burton reins in most of his excesses, which is good, but it seems the writers felt they had to get in as many nods to the original as they could and some feel painfully shoehorned in.

The human part of the story grounds the narrative in reality, but the film fumbles this slightly, not giving the characters enough room to breathe or a truly satisfying and convincing conclusion. Luckily, however, Dumbo’s own story has a wonderful ending, an improvement on the original and produces a moment of genuine joy and warmth.

It’s a bit hit and miss, but there’s just enough charm for it to work, and Dumbo himself is adorable enough to get you on side. For me, it’s better than the original, even if it’s still far from Disney’s best.

Verdict: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Murder in the Valleys by Pippa McCathie

I picked this up because I quite like a murder mystery, and I was quite interested to read one set in Wales. The plot follows Fabia Havard, an ex-detective who left the force under a cloud and now works as an artist.

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However, she’s drawn back into crime and intrigue when she discovers the body of a young woman who has been killed in her small Welsh town. It’s harder for Fabia because the victim is someone she knows, and the officer in charge of the investigation is a former colleague she used to be friends with before they fell out, torn apart by secrets to do with her resignation.

The book jumps between Fabia, who can’t resist getting involved and her old friend, Matt Lambert, who’s investigation proceeds. There are a few suspects in the running, and plenty of secrets to uncover.

The plot is engaging enough, and McCathie does well in slowly revealing the reasons for Fabia leaving the force, even though some of the problems between Matt and Fabia could easily have been sorted out a lot earlier if they just talked. There are reasons why they don’t but it’s all somewhat flimsy and doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. And even at the end the characters lack depth, with the writer telling us rather than showing us a bit too much.

The murder plot unfolds in a better way, with plenty of suspects and fleshed out backstories. I kind of twigged who the killer was, but not until a good portion of the way into the book, and until then there were a couple of people I was leaning towards. There are a few plot points which are easy to see coming, but McCathie keeps just enough mystery to not make it too obvious.

The writing is a bit flat in places, and the climax feels a little rushed and a bit too neat. But it passes the time well enough, it’s sort of the literary equivalent of Midsomer Murders or similar shows, a bit formulaic and unexceptional, but not entirely unsatisfying.

Verdict: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Florida 2019: Universal Studios Top 5

A friend described Universal Studios as Walt Disney World’s poor cousin and the park definitely falls a little flat having been to WDW. The problem is that Disney do their parks brilliantly, with a real attention to detail and finesse that unfortunately their neighbours can’t quite match. That’s not to say the place is terrible, but a lot of the park feels rather dated.

The Marvel section features a lot of the big name characters, but in their ’90s incarnations, which makes it feel like it needs a revamping. Similarly, Toon Lagoon is filled with retro characters like The Phantom and Flash Gordon, which seems a bit out of touch, I love those characters, but do kids know who they are?

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The only real new part of the park is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which didn’t really appeal to me as I’m not massively fussed on the movies. And most of the Potter stuff is made up of shops, so it seems more like an extended gift shop. WoM, being a huge Potterhead, loved it.

Anyway, there were quite a few things I did like, so here’s my top 5 list:

5. The Big Pink

Okay, so number 5 is food related, and fully embracing the idea of being on holiday and not being rigid on the diet, WoM got one of the giant donuts on offer in The Simpsons section of the park. It was pretty tasty, and gave me a sugar high that powered me through the rest of the day.

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4. Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts

As I said, I’m not the biggest Potter fan, but I was impressed by the light show they have in the evening. The projected images onto the Hogwarts Castle model is visually stunning and well done. It’s a real spectacle and despite the queue for it, well worth checking out.

3. The Jurassic Park River Adventure

So, the Jurassic Park section of Universal was easily my favourite part because I love those movies, and it had some cool stuff.

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The centre piece of the area is this ride, which allows you to take a boat ride through the park. There are some cool dinosaur effects and some good jumps, and it climaxes with this big drop.

Now, WoM isn’t great with heights and neither of us are huge fans of big drops (probably why it’s the slower rides at Disney which are our favourites), so convincing her to go on the ride was no mean feat. Our friends, who had ridden it before, reassured us that the drop wasn’t too big, steep or fast, and after watching a couple of boats got through, she agreed to go on. I was very proud of her for doing this, as she is very good at confronting things she’s scared of and giving them ago.

Unfortunately, our friends had lied and when we reached the drop it was indeed steeper, faster and bigger than we had been lead to expect. It’s one of those things where you go up and then down quickly, so it makes your stomach go a bit funny. Afterwards I had a bit of a buzz, but as we looked down the ramp I definitely had an “oh, crap!” moment.

WoM and I agreed that having done it once, there was no need for us to do it again. Ever.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man

A very fun 3D ride where you ride in the Daily Bugle’s SCOOP vehicle and get thrown around as Spidey does battle with the Sinister Syndicate (Doctor Octopus, Electro, Hobgoblin, Scream, Hydro-Man). The vehicle you’re in doesn’t move around that much, but the 3D effects are so well done it makes you feel like you’re being thrown about the place.

The design is really well done, with a good story and a fun vibe. It also includes a tribute to and cameo from Stan Lee, which I really liked.

1. Skull Island: Reign of Kong

My favourite ride was the one inspired by the awful 2005 King Kong remake, and is another 3D ride where you board an expedition truck across Skull Island. You get to see some giant bats, oversized bugs and then the main event when Kong throws down with some dinosaurs. The effects are jaw dropping and the vertigo inducing spills are quite thrilling. I really dug this ride and enjoyed the little story it tells along the way.

It’s a damn sight more fun than the movie.

So, that was Universal Studios, which was a good day out and had some decent stuff, but it suffers in comparison to Walt Disney World. Still got the cool globe going for it though.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Fat Boy on a Diet: March 2019 Update: You don’t weigh on holiday

Okay, so I know it’s not the end of the month yet, but the March update of my weight loss attempt is going up now because I’m away the end of the month on holiday and I’m not going to weigh while I’m away. It just seems daft to spoil what should be a relaxing time by worrying about what the scales are going to say.

It doesn’t help that I’ll be spending my holiday in Florida, with a few days in Walt Disney World and other parks, so eating healthy is going to be very difficult. I’m hoping that walking about a lot and some self control can stop it being a total disaster and the first April weigh in won’t be too bad. I’m kinda expecting to gain a little over the fortnight I’m away, but I’m determined not to let it derail what has been pretty good progress so far. Just chalk it up as a lapse and get right back on it.

The first half of March went quite well, and weigh ins on the 7th and the 14th showed some consistent losses. I cancelled out the poor finish to February and kept on moving down the scales.

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The walk for Comic Relief and the effort towards Race at Your Pace has helped, and I’ve been doing a lot better in resisting temptation and making some healthier choices around food. There have been a few treats, but they’ve been smaller and less frequent. And I’ve stopped trying to make myself feel better with food.

Doing the Comic Relief walk and raising the money for it made me feel a lot better about myself, and passing the 2 stone loss mark also provided a real feel good moment and sense of achievement.

It means that in 2019 I’m about a stone lighter, and while I haven’t quite kept up with the vague goal of dropping half a stone every month I think it’s a solid showing for the first quarter of the year. If I can keep this up for the rest of the year I’ll be in much better shape.

And I’ve already got some  plans in the works which should make the weight loss easier and help me start to feel healthier and more positive mentally.

See you in April to see just how badly the holiday effects my efforts.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #45: Home on the Range

It’s kinda surprising that it took this long for Disney, an American institution, to tackle the most American of genres the Western in a full length story. There’s the Pecos Bill story in Melody Time, but that’s pretty much it in the animated movies.

Unfortunately the wait isn’t entirely worth it as this is a patchy affair that never really connected with me. That’s not to say it’s without charm, but it’s a distinctly middling movie, not awful, but definitely far from being a great.

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The plot deals with three cows who live on an idyllic dairy farm named Little Patch of Heaven. Two of the cows, Mrs Calloway and Grace (Judi Dench and Jennifer Tilly), have lived there a long time, while the third is a newcomer, brash show cow Maggie (Roseanne Barr), who arrives after her former home was forced to be sold after the rest of the herd was stolen by notorious bandit Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid).

The farm is in trouble when the bank calls in their debts, and unless the cash can be raised in a few days the farm will be auctioned, as several others have been, many bought by the mysterious Yancy O’Dell. The money needed is exactly the same as the bounty offered for Slim, so the cows decide to go after him and see if they can bring him in.

Also after the outlaw is Rico (Charles Dennis) a famously tough bounty hunter who borrows the local sheriff’s horse Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr), an ambitious, adventure craving individual who dreams of being a hero. Buck dismisses the cows’ idea as foolish, but finds them hard to shake and dogged in their pursuit.

The plot is all kinds of daft, and the bounty hunting cows aren’t even the silliest part. Some of the silliness is quite entertaining like Lucky Jack, a rabbit who constantly suffers misfortune, his luck gone with his missing foot.

I did really like the villain, with Randy Quaid doing a great job of making Alameda a hotheaded, arrogant buffoon who spends half of his time struggling to control his temper or strutting about. His anger that people dismiss his yodelling as mere singing is a nice character touch and the fact that he hypnotises the cows he steals with his yodels is pretty clever, especially as they set up Grace to be immune due to being tone deaf.

The problem is that the good moments are scattered out and in between it struggled to hold my attention. The art is serviceable but lacks that wow factor you expect from Disney, and the music is disappointingly average and forgettable.

Worse still, the major characters of Buck and Maggie are both incredibly irritating. While Buck is comic relief, and does have some funny scenes, Maggie is our protagonist and is a bit too brash for my liking. Also, the joke about her udders at the start jars with the tone of the movie and would puzzle younger viewers.

The ’00s appear to have been a bit of a hit and miss period for Disney, and this one goes in the miss pile.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Doll by Ed McBain

This is a pretty dark and twisted entry to the 87th Precinct series, although the crime at the centre of it all is standard fare for Detective Steve Carella and his fellow officers. A successful model is murdered brutally, while her young daughter plays in the next room. Carella heads up the investigation, and soon comes to learn that the model’s perfect life may be marred by dark secrets.

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Lieutenant Peter Byrnes, is at the end of his tether with Bert Kling, the young detective who has been left embittered and jaded by the death of his fiancee (in Lady, Lady I Did It!). With Kling having a negative effect on the squad, losing his temper and  rubbing people the wrong way he wants him gone, but Carella asks to work with Kling, hoping to help the younger officer.

Unfortunately, Kling’s edginess hinders the investigation and Carella pursues a lead alone, placing himself in grave danger. Can Carella survive walking into the sadistic clutches of the villain? Will the rest of the 87th Precinct be able to retrace his steps and find out what happened to him? Can Kling overcome his grief and continue as part of the team?

I really enjoyed this book, even if it gets pretty dark in places. It helps that McBain is on top form with the writing, capturing the mindset of the different characters and writing several moving sections involving Carella’s deaf-mute wife Teddy. The case unfolds in interesting ways and given that it came out in 1965 there’s a surprising compassion and understanding to McBain’s writing on subjects like drug addiction.

The finale provides a pivotal moment in the series and it’s a testament to McBain’s skill as a writer that twenty books into the series he’s still crafting stories which go to new places and challenge our heroes. The writing contains his usual mix of insight into humanity, dark humour and a great ear for fast flowing, believable dialogue. Some of the links are explained a bit too quickly and easily, and the young witness is sidelined pretty early on, leaving me curious as to what became of her.

Verdict: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Half Time by Nigel Owens

For those who don’t know the name, Nigel Owens is a rugby referee who has gained quite a following due to him being quite funny both on and off the field. Refs in rugby wear microphones so television audiences have been treated to Nigel telling off hulking rugby players with some funny, jokey comments.

Owens came out as gay in 2007, and this book opens with him recounting a suicide attempt in the mid ’90s. Unhappy and unable to accept his homosexuality, hooked on steroids and suffering with bulimia, Owens was in a very dark place and he starts the story here before jumping forward to how his life has improved. “It gets better” gets an unfair rap from some, but Owens shows that there is a way to get out from under your problems and that life is better if you accept who you are and don’t try to hide things.

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This emotional impact at the start, and Owens’ later discussion of his sexuality and personal struggles, are the stand out sections of the book, with Owens reflecting on how his mental distress clouded his view of the world and his relief in having made through it. Owens is very open about it, and talks about it in an open, simple way that the average person will understand.

Unfortunately, while Owens is an interesting and amiable bloke, and there are some nice anecdotes along the way, the book suffers in places due to him being too nice. He seems determined to make sure he thanks and references all the people who are important to him, which is a nice thing to do, but means there are times when he just lists names that mean nothing to the general reader, although I’m sure to those mentioned it’s a treat to see your name in a book. It just doesn’t add much.

Similarly, there are no big revelations and aside from a few refereeing stories, you don’t get much of a deep look into the game. It’s probably because Owens is still active and will have to cross paths with many of the figures again, perhaps when he finishes his career he can right a more open book and spill the tea. The title is already there for it.

That’s not to say it’s not amusing and interesting enough to pass the time, it just feels like Owens is holding back in places, that he doesn’t want to ruffle too many feathers and so it never really connects.

Owens comes across well, and his simple, no frills writing makes this an easy read, but there are too many places where it feels a bit too shallow and restrained. It’s good though to see a book which offers hope to people who might be going through a rough time and to hear that the macho world of rugby has accepted Owens into their hearts with very few difficulties.

Decent, but a little lifeless in places.

Verdict: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.