Book Review: The Panther in my Kitchen by Brian Blessed

Brian Blessed is a true national treasure in my eyes. The bearded, booming actor is full of life, humour and eccentricity, and the world is a better place for having him in it.

This view would no doubt be shared by the many animals the man has befriended, loved and cared for over the years. From a legion of dogs and an army of cats, to a collection of wild animals he hosted in the ’60s, Blessed has lived a life as a keen animal lover and this memoir is all about his furry friends.

The writing is laid back and conversational, complete with jokey asides and exclamations it’s hard not to hear in the loud memorable tones of the writer. The stories don’t flow in order, and he disappears on tangents, but the book doesn’t suffer for it. It’s like a favourite uncle telling you stories over a cup of tea and some sandwiches. 

The stories are amusing and told with verve, and there are moving moments. Blessed’s clear love and enthusiasm is infectious and it made me appreciate my own little menagerie more.

It helped pass the time on a couple of night shifts and is just a lovely, charming read. It gives a snapshot of one man’s love of animals and hints at the odd, crazy life Blessed has led. I will have to seek out some of his other books now.

Verdict: Full of character and humour, this is a charming quick read with Blessed a likeable and vibrant narrator. A real gem of a book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Football’s Strangest Matches by Andrew Ward

Cliche tells us that football is a “funny old game” and there are plenty of odd occurences, strange coincidences and memorable moments throughout it’s history. This book decides to collect several of these oddities.

While the book is diverting enough and there are some interesting tales it fell far short of my expectations. The problem is Ward’s rather dry writing style, which just offers a rather bland retelling of events when a punchier style might have worked.

Similarly some incidents don’t deserve a full entry and might have been better servrd by being dotted throughout as bullet points. There are far too many games that share a theme- ridiculous scores, bizarre reasons for cancellations and extensive replays, which robs this book of being truly involving.

It passes the time but it is nowhere near as entertaining or strange as a reader might hope. 

Verdict: Disappointing. Although there are interesting stories the book on a whole is repetitive and let down by lacklustre writing which seems to get bogged down in stats and facts. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Bucket List #30: Ride an elephant

In my naivety I’d somehow gotten into my head that elephants were like dogs or horses, and that after centuries of living alongside man were kinda happy with their role. I imagined that for a creature as large as an elephant, a person on their back wouldn’t be a big deal. 

And so, as part of a Tarzan style fantasy I added riding an elephant to my bucket list.

How I imagined it going

Of course, this turned out not to be the case and reading about the elephant riding industry in Asia made for depressing reading (more). With all this new info I couldn’t in good conscience hop aboard Jumbo or Nelly and have a ride.

But crossing something off the bucket list without having done it seemed to be a cop out. I could just delete stuff if they became too tricky to achieve, and for me part of the idea of the list was to stretch myself.

No, it would have to stay. And to cross it off I would have to get creative.

And so, back in the Autumn I worked out how I could do it without any animals suffering. Where could offer such a solution? Disney World of course. 

Yes, high on my list of things to do in the happiest place on Earth was jump aboard the Dumbo ride. And so, I succeeded in riding an elephant.

And before anyone says this was the easy way out, they’ve obviously never suffered the suspicious stares you get as a lone adult male queuing for what is essentially a children’s ride.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The original Jumanji is a much loved film to kids who grew up in the ’90s. Starring the late, great Robin Williams it’s an anarchic adventure which sees the jungle come to suburbia through a cursed board game. Announcement of a reboot/sequel was met with much millenial anxiety, although for me as soon as Dwayne Johnson was announced my worries eased.

The update changes things up by having the board game get found by a teenager in the ’90s, who casts it aside with the dismissive comment “who plays board games?”. The game transforms to a video game and starts it’s mischief once more.

Twenty years later it is discovered by four high school students on detention. Neurotic nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) is punished for having written essays for football player and former friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who joins him in the punishment. Alongside them are Bethany (Madison Iseman), a shallow, image obsessed popular girl caught using her phone in class and Martha (Morgan Turner), who Spencer saw arguing against pointless physical education lessons and accidentally insulting her teacher.

The kids

Tasked with sorting old magazines they are distracted by the game and begin to play, choosing their characters. They are then sucked into the game where they become their avatars. 

Hulking jock Fridge finds himself as the diminutive side kick Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), having misread his nickname “Mouse” as “Moose”. Bethany is middle aged scientist Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) and Martha is the scantily clad, kung fu dighting Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Spencer is transformed into the group’s leader, muscular adventure Smolder Bravestone (The Rock).

Spencer adjusts to his new body

They work out that to get home they must use their characters’ strengths and their own wits to return a gemstone to it’s statue to complete the game and free themselves from the curse. However they must deal with their issues with each other and overcome their flaws.

Can they do it? And can they do it without using up all three of their lives?

I really enjoyed this movie which manages to pack in a heap of action while mining plenty of humour from the body swap aspect. While all four leads are good, I have to single out Jack Black for special praise as he manages to percectly capture the disgusted teen girl within. A scene where he coaches Ruby Roundhouse in seduction is hilarious, and throughout he maintains the character perfectly. After a period of duds, this is Black back on form.

Kevin Hart also delivers plenty of laughs and his chemistry with Johnson is a driving force as the duo bicker and their characters deal with their role reversal. It’s a testament to Johnson’s skill that he manages to deliver the big action moments while also allowing the nerdy teen to show through. 

It’s a strong comedic performace which most action stars couldn’t handle, but he holds his own alongside Hart and Black.

The plot is daft but rattles along well and their are some nice touches like the inclusion of Nick Jonas’ character “Seaplane” McDonough, the fifth character. They realise he is the missing kid from the ’90s and this scene, where his slang alerts them is handled well, as is how they adopt him to the group.

The plot, of the teens realising their inner strengths and unknown depths, is standard fare but carried off with no shortage of charm and a sense of fun. The gentle flirtation between Spencer and Martha is pitched at the right level and the whole film left me with a big dumb grin on my face.

Verdict: Great performances across the board and a clever premise and spin on the original pays off with a massively entertaining adventure. Great fun. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes

I’ve been a fan of Acaster’s for a little while now, he’s a regular on Mock the Week and his quirky, awkward humour and delivery works for me. One of his knacks is for telling stories of awkwardness, etiquette and things going quickly wrong. This book is essentially a bunch of those stories.

I read this during a night shift and it helped pass the time brilliantly. The stories are consistently amusing with some genuinely laugh out loud funny. They capture Acaster’s on screen persona and the sense of a man who blunders into scrapes remarkably easily. 

Acaster’s writing is easy and affable, and there’s insight into his own foibles and flaws. He seems aware that many of the scrapes could have been avoided with some thought or choosing a different approach.

But as bizarre as some events are there are other scrapes you can relate to, knowing that you wouldn’t know how to act in some situations.

It’s great fun and probably a book you can dip in and out of, if you don’t fancy burning through it in one night. 

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #18: The Sword in the Stone

I’ve always regarded this as a second tier Disney movie. It never clicked for me and I felt it wasn’t as fun or memorable as many of their other films. It wasn’t quite down at the same level as Pinocchio which I actively disliked, but it didn’t leap off the shelf when we were looking for a video to put on.

I think part of the problem was that as a British kid I was aware of the King Arthur legends from a young age, and this version didn’t sit with the one in my head. Arthur was a sword swinging badass, not an annoying kid. And who was this bumbling mad professor type bloke? Merlin was a powerful wizard, an intimidating figure who could bend reality. 

Watching the film it starts rather well, with the set up of the sword in the stone myth. It arrives and whoever pulls it is the new King. Neat and tidy, even if it is no basis for a system of government.

From there, however, it loses me. Merlin decides to teach the annoying kid who would be king, to ensure he is smart and does something with his life. Bear in mind Merlin can travel through time, so he already knows Art is on course for big things.

Merlin’s lessons are fairly nonsensical. He turns Arthur into a fish in order for him to learn that sometimes brains triumph over brawn, and also physics? Similarly, when turned into a squirrel Arthur learns about gravity and also to look before you leap. 

 That’s it really. Arthur doesn’t achieve things, or grow into a decent candidate for King, he just had three episodic transformations. They’re amusing enough, but it’s a weak story. On his third lesson he meets Madam Mim and this does pick the movie up a bit as Mim and Merlin have a wizard duel.

This sees them transform into different creatures to try and gain victory over the other. It’s visually entertaining and adds energy to the movie, and the deliberately nasty Mim is a treat.

After that Arthur heads to London, grabs the sword to help out the knight he squires for and is crowned king. If that feels rushed, well it unfolds screen pretty damn quickly too.

The new King Arthur is scared he’s can’t handle the gig but Merlin returns and reassures him that he will go down in history as a great king. Which reassures the lad, although it might have been helpful had Merlin told him to watch out for a bloke Lancelot who would steal his girl.

The flaws that drove me from this as a kid are still there- the plot is weak, it’s a rather dull version of the King Arthur myth and it fails to live up to Disney’s high standards.

That being said there are a few fun moments and cute touches, like the lovestruck squirrel who falls for Arthur. And, as mentioned, the demented Mim is a great character and the wizard duel, especially the finishing move, is very well done.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 2017

If you listen to Twitter 2017 has been awful and nobody can wait to leave it behind. The problem with this narrative is that whether a year has been bad or good is subjective. For some 2017 sucked, but for others it was probably a good year. 

You can point at the negative news stories, the attacks and tragedies, but we have those every year, and honestly, is that how you remember the years as time goes by? Or do you remember them for the personal reasons?

It’s the personal ones, obviously. And for me 2017 has been mainly good.

There were bad points, in April I lost my grandfather, and the stress and hassle of organising a wedding pushed me to the limit. There were days when I got stressed, when I was angry, when dragging myself out of bed was a real effort. I watched as friends struggled with things, and discovered that even after decades a friendship can die and be cast aside.

But this isn’t Nottingham, and the ups outnumber the downs. Those ups were, in no order;

Getting married. While the planning drove me bonkers, the actual day was great. There were no dramas and at the end of a brilliant, fun day surrounded by loved ones, I went home with my new wife. I felt luckier and happier than ever.

After this came two great weeks in Florida where I thoroughly enjoyed Walt Disney World, far more than I expected.
Elsewhere I got to spend time with my friends and family, reconnecting with them and seeing as their lives developed and grew.

I welcomed the arrival of my niece, one of the cheeriest babies I’ve ever met and got to see my nephew’s personality develop.

My little family grew too as WoM and I got a dog, Ozzy. While he can be a pain in the arse at times, I wouldn’t change him for the world.

So, all in all, 2017 was a good year for me and I enter 2018 feeling happy, optimistic and eager to see what the future holds.

I hope this year has been kind to my readers, and if it hasn’t that they have at least learned from it and emerge stronger and wiser to face the new one. I wish all of you the best for 2018.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


10 Favourite Books of 2017

My annual tradition of listing my favourites of the books I read this year.

Observant readers will have noticed there haven’t been as many book reviews recently. With the wedding and honeymoon in the Autumn I was reading less and I had decided to go back and reread The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I’ve been loving reading them all over again, and am almost done so new reviews should start again early in the New Year.

Anyway, this is about books I read for the first time in 2017, and we’re gonna kick off with the fiction books.

5. The Princess and the Queen by George R. R. Martin

Part of the reason I went back to the ASOIAF series was that I read and loved this novella by Martin. While it lacks the depth of his other works, it still manages to create a realistic, layered world and the story of treachery and war is gripping. Review here.

4. Conclave by Robert Harris 

Harris seizes on the interesting idea of what happens behind closed doors as the Vatican chooses a new pope to weave a web of scandal and schemeing. It includes one too many scandals, stretching credulity at places, but it’s a quick, gripping read. Full review. 

3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
Lagercrantz takes over the story of Lisbeth Salander and crafts a gritty, involving thriller. Review.

2. 87th Precinct by Ed McBain

I continue to work my way through McBain’s series and I read three this year. The standout was See Them Die, where he creates a tense sunny day as gang members plot murder and the police engage in a stand off. Other entries Lady, Lady, I Did It! And The Empty Hours are solid thrillers too.

1. Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook 
I continued to read this series and as it progresses, it goes from strength to strength. The diary story telling device works very well, and Adrian’s narration is involving. Philbrook also uses other side stories to develop a wider world picture of the zombie apocalypse and provides background to why it’s happening which takes the story in a new, interesting direction. Eager to read more. Check out my reviews of parts twothree and four.

Alright, onto nonfiction books.

5. Strange Places, Questionable People by John Simpson

BBC journalist Simpson recounts his eventful career. It documents some of the major events of the late twentieth century and makes a fascinating read. In places he can be rather pompous, but for the most part he is an entertaining and likeable narrator. Review.

4. Books vs Cigarettes/Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.

Two collections of essays by George Orwell, am becoming a fan of his clever, insightful writing and will keep my eye out for more of his nonfiction stuff. The review of Books… is here while you can find my thoughts on English Murder here.


3. Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
Jon Ronson collects writings on various topics which serves up an entertaining read. He brings his usual warmth and keen observation to a mix of criminals, conspiracy theorists and oddballs. My review

2. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold and Other Essays by Gay Talese

Picked up after an offhand mention in another book this turned out to be a gem. Talese writes with a vivid style and keen eye for nuance and subtle tells in his subjects. The Sinatra piece is great but the essay about broken former boxing champ Floyd Patterson is just as impressive and painfully moving. Review.

1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

An autobiography of a rock legend which proves to be just as well written as his music. The insight, warmth and openness that make the Boss’ songs so involving is on show here and it is cracking read pleasingly light on ego. Here I am gushing about it.


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Top 10 Films of 2017

As ever this is my personal ranking of the movies I saw this year.

10. Baywatch

Carried by the easy charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, nobody could call this movie smart but it kept the laughs coming with an OTT plot and some nice touches. Read my full review here.

9. Kong: Skull Island

Glorious on the IMAX screen, this succeeded where Godzilla failed in succeding as a fun movie. The monster throwdowns are entertaining and the 1970s setting works. Sure, I didn’t quite buy Tom Hiddleston as an SAS badass, but other than that a solid blockbuster. Review here.

8. Wonder Woman

The strongest DC movie so far this gives us the background of Diana (Gal Gadot) coming to the world of men. 

It’s a decent movie, but WW only gets a handful of fights with enemies equal to her own abilities and there is way too much slo-mo. Also, in a film which repeatedly talks about how wrong violence is, the Amazons fighting are clearly supposed to look cool. A decent movie, but I think some reviews were a bit hyperbolic. My own response is more measured.

7. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright produces a fun, fast paced action musical loaded with killer songs and a great cast. Slick and in touch with its genre roots. Here’s my quick review.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming

The first Spidey movie that for me truly got the character right with Tom Holland excelling inside and outside of the suit. It captures the struggles of Peter Parker both as a regular teen and with his new powers and responsibilities. Having Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark as a mentor figure is a nice touch and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a cracking villain, with layers the character has lacked.


Hugely entertaining, with some great action sequences and quality gags this was like a Spider-Man book come to life. I gush even more here.
5. Beauty and the Beast

Disney manage to give a live action spin to one of their best animated films. It works because it captures the original magic while also deepening and strengthening the story. I loved it.

4. Logan

Hugh Jackman has been playing everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant for almost two decades. This his ninth outing is the perfect way to hang up the role. With an end of the line feel this grim, gritty tale sees an aging, failing Wolverine looking after a dementia struck Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Content to hide out and lay low, he is forced back into action when a young girl very much like him crosses his path.


The dark tone works well, and the higher rating allows Logan to finally cut loose on screen, proving that he is the best he is at what he does, and it ain’t pretty. A great send off for Jackman and the character and the best X-movie of them all? I think so.
3. Thor: Ragnarok

Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian Avenger is his best. Just fun from the jump with familiar faces alongside some cool new characters. I wrote about it here.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Marvel’s misfits return for a second adventure which matches their arrival. The wisecracking anti-heroes explore Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past and evade numerous foes. Hugely entertaining, it also packs an emotional punch near the end and having rewatched on telly my admiration only growns. One of Marvel’s best, you can read my original thoughts here.


1. Dunkirk 

Christopher Nolan delivers a war movie which is amazingly tense and in many ways understated. There are no gung ho heroics, just regular men desperately trying to survive. The cast is superb and the chronological shuffling heightens the tension and allows us to see different aspects. It’s not fun, as it’s far too intense for that but it is excellent filmmaking. Review.


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok

I saw this back while we were in Florida but I just haven’t got round to writing a review until now.

Ever since I got into comics as a teen one of the Marvel characters I’ve always loved has been Thor, the hammer swinging God of Thunder. He was different to the other heroes and I loved the fantasy vibe and that his dialogue was in a different font. Of course, with the winged helmet and style of talking I knew bringing him to the big screen was risky, but the MCU delivered and Chris Hemsworth has been great.

But while the first Thor movie was an entertaining origin story, the sequel was one of Marvel’s weaker efforts. Still fun, but a bit meh.

With Thor missing from Civil War I was keen to see where he was and this the third outing didn’t disappoint.

As arguably the strongest Avenger, this movie works because they strip Thor of several of his allies and weapons, force him into a role of greater responsibility and have him face off against a dangerous foe who appears too strong for him to defeat.

Our hero is cast adrift in a strange world, broken and grieving. Kudos here to Hemsworth who captures this sense of loss and struggle with subtle pain, while still carrying himself with a swagger which appears to be a mask. In short order he learns of his evil, destructive sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, loses his father and in his first showdown with Hela is easily beaten, his mystical hammer Mjolnir destroyed.

Despite this Thor is deternined to return to Asgard to protect his people and stop Hela. It’s this that makes him a hero along with the way he adopts the role of Adgardian leader depite his self doubts.

The movie is fast paced and despite the high stakes there is plenty of humour. Pairing Thor with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki works well, with their differing views leading to confluct and the actors have great chemistry together. Similarly characters lile Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Skurge, played by Karl Urban, have comedic moments, but there is enough shade beneath.

The cast is uniformly good, with Jeff Goldblum and Cate Blanchett impressing as newcomers. And Mark Ruffalo continues to impress as Bruce Banner/The Hulk and his interactions with Thor, in both forms are wonderful. 

Criticisms of it as lightweight or too comedic didn’t hold water with me. While it is consistently funny, Hela is a legitimate threat and the stakes feel real. Yes, a few deaths are swept aside a tad too easily for me, but I felt it married the darkness and light well.

All the cast are on fine form and it leaves the characters in an interesting place going forward. It’s also good for the MCU as a whole because Thor is peefectly placed to link three aspects of the universe- the magic of Doctor Strange, the superheroics of the Avengers and the intergalactic adventures of the Guardians.

A great blockbuster that shakes up the world of a major character, and advances their character. Easily Thor’s best outing so far and one of the MCU’s best films.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.