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.

Advertisements

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.


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.


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. 


Film Review: Baby Driver

Since Spaced I’ve been a fan of Edgar Wright as a director and his big screen work has been of a pretty high standard, with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World all being firm favourites of mine. Two of his hallmarks are skilled, clever editing and his use of music, and his latest effort is largely based around this.

The film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort) an extremely talented and skilled getaway driver who works for underworld figure Doc (Kevin Spacey), in order to pay back a debt incurred when he stole a car full of drugs by mistake.

Doc puts together different teams for different jobs, the only constant being Baby at the wheel, his “lucky charm”. But Baby has almost paid off his debt and having fallen for waitress Deborah (Lily James) is thinking of a life away from crime. Will it be that easy?

The music aspect comes to the fore as Baby’s ears are damaged as a child and he uses music to rid him of distractions and also to perfectly time his runs. This means that the car chases are all set to music and turns this into a kind of action musical. The perfectly choreographed chaos is glorious and great fun.

The movie has its roots in genre movies and this is shown in the dialogue which for me called to mind the unnatural cool back and forth of old action movies. The film is extremely stylised in all aspects, but it works in its favour and makes it stand out. 

There’s no great depth here, and it’s a case of style over substance, but what style. And it never presents itself as anything other than a fun thrill ride. And there’s something charming about the light tone and joyous execution.

Also Elgort is likeable as the lead, winning you over with his cheery energy and almost naive, dreamy way of moving through life.

The supporting players are fine across the board, with Spacey downplaying Doc throughout. There’s something decidely everyday and unflashy about his performance, and it’s testimony to his skill that Spacey still manages to convey a quiet menace and command the screen alongside flashier performances.

These include Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays Bats, a loud, dangerous figure with a leaning toward violence and fraying mental stability. Hamm is the suave Buddy, who bonds with Baby over Queen and who has a cool swagger about him.

The plot is fairly simple and familiar, but unfolds well and presented with flair. Hugely entertaining, bursting with action and powered by some cracking tunes this is a step away from Wright’s comedy roots but is an accomplished action movie.

One of the most fun, flashy films of the year.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

You don’t watch a Pirates of the Caribbean movie expecting fine art, but you usually expect a fun diversion. Unfortunately, despite having rather enjoyed the fourth film the wheels come off here.

It all feels so lazy and half arsed. They’ve thrown in a bunch of familiar features- OTT stunts, some kind of magic, shifty British officers and various double crosses but it feels flat.

Javier Bardem hams it up as the villain, but the sound and fury can’t cover up that his character is woefully underwritten. He hates pirates, and wants to break the curse, but unlike Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa in the first movie he’s utterly unsympathetic. He’s shown in flashback to be a d**k and while he’s a villain you still need to care.

The design hampers the crew too, while Bardem’s hair, which bobs about as though underwater, is a nice touch the idea to have the cursed sailors miss parts but act as though they still have them is daft. A hand floating in mid air just looks silly.

The rest of the cast aren’t much better. Returning players seem to be going through the motions and the new ones are woeful. Brenton Thwaites is utterly bland as the young hero and Kaya Scodelario is given a character who clearly is meant to be a strong female but who just walks around telling everyone how smart she is.

And finally there’s Johnny Depp, who still raises a few smiles as Jack Sparrow. But is that good enough? It feels like Depp is happy to stay in his comfort zone and Jack has become a one note character, a living cartoon who like Wiley Coyote manages to walk away from whatever catastrophe befalls him.

Lazy, loud and uninvolving this seems like the right time to call it a day on the series.

Verdict: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kung Fu Trip by Benjamin Zephaniah

There are very few living poets I could name and even less I could recognise. In fact other than Zephaniah, I can’t think of any.

Having been impressed by an interview he did with Russell Howard I decided to check out some of his stuff and found this quick read. It follows him on a trip to China to train with Kung Fu masters.

Zephaniah writes with warmth and humour, a keen observer of the people he meets and captures the sense of place wonderfully. He writes with enthusiasm about his love of martial arts and what he gets from it.

The journey includes odd characters and bizarre events like the writer being mistaken for the long dead Bob Marley.

It’s a short book, but an entertaining one and a good one to read on the go. 

Verdict: Zephaniah is a charming, fun and likeable writer and this short trip is an interesting one to join him on. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a gem of a movie which married the fun excess of old spy movies with OTT violence and foul language. Can they pull off the same trick twice?

Well, the answer is almost. 

This second adventure finds Eggsy AKA Galahad (Taron Egerton) still in action as an agent of Kingsman, a private spy agency. But when he’s attacked by a familiar face, it appears the agency is in the sights of a resourceful and ruthless foe. A foe who quickly takes out the agency, leaving Eggsy the only survivor other than tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong).

Following their “doomsday protocol” the two discover a bottle of bourbon branded Statesman and travel to Kentucky to investigate. There they find their American equivalent, posing as an alcoholic manufacturer. After a brief run in with Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), they realise they are on the same side and unite. 

Their common enemy is Poppy (Julianne Moore), head of a global drug cartel and robotics genius. She has poisoned all of her drugs with a lethal disease, and promises the cure if all drugs are legalized, allowing her to enjoy her success and come out of hiding.

Unfortunately the US President (Bruce Greenwood) has no qualms about letting all the drug users die as it will mean he is remembered as the President who won the war on drugs and Poppy will be blamed.

Affected by the virus are Eggsy’s girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), Tequila and the President’s chief of staff, who objects to his plan but is sent away.

Eggsy investigates with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who survived being shot in the first film but temporarily lost his memory and is not yet back to his best.

Can Eggsy stop Poppy’s scheme? How much can he trust Statesman or Harry? Will he find the antidote in time?

First things first, here’s what works- the action sequences retain the gloriously gory and overblown touches of the original, and while it lacks anything as madly brilliant as the original’s “Freebird” sequence there are some great scraps here. There’s also a nice little gag that plays on one of the first film’s major scenes.

The returning cast are all on form, with Egerton being allowed to let Eggsy’s chavvy enthusiasm to pop up at times. Firth is excellent again especially as he has to play both the badass Harry and the softer, damaged version who can’t remember who he is.

Mark Strong is good in everything he does and here he gets more to do as Merlin.

I also liked that they kept the Princess from the first movie as the love interest, and this relationship, while fleeting in terms of screen time  is handled well enough. Also good that they brought back Edward Holcroft’s obnoxious toff Charlie as Poppy’s cybernetically enhanced goon as it added to his vendetta against Eggsy. 

The newcomers are decent, although Tatum plays less of a role than trailers suggest. Pascal’s swaggering cowboy Whiskey is pretty badass and as their boss Champagne, Jeff Bridges is his usual charming self. The surprise was Halle Berry who is better here than I’ve seen her in a while. 

Whiskey in action

Julianne Moore is clearly enjoying her campy, flamboyant villain turn but it’s less fun for the audience and it can’t match Samuel L. Jackson in the first flick. She’s not bad, and quite fun, but her reasons are flimsy.

But Poppy’s plan is pretty smart and the twist of having a callous President was smart.

There are a few flaws, some characters from the first film are written out rather cheaply and there is a sense of it sticking to formula. But the formula does work and it delivers plenty of laughs and fun along the way. 

There’s also quite a nice extended cameo from Elton John playing himself, Poppy’s hostage and keying up “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” to soundtrack a shoot out.

Harry and Eggsy together again

In fact the music throughout is playful and clever.

I really enjoyed it but MWF and I both felt this is probably where we should leave Eggsy as a third outing might stretch it too far.

Verdict: It can’t match the first movie but this is still a fun, frantic romp. OTT in the best way and with its tongue firmly in cheek this kept me entertained throughout. 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: I Can Make You Hate by Charlie Brooker

I’ve long been a fan of Charlie Brooker, who previously wrote a beautifully scathing television column for The Guardian. And have read a few of his collections before, and this captures the end of his Screen Burn column.

The pieces cover 2009-12 and so it’s a little out of date, although it is quite nice to look back at various controversies, news stories and events with hindsight. Brooker attacks a variety of topics with his usual jet black humour and surreal, grotesque hyperbole. It had me laughing out loud and smiling repeatedly, and I found that Brooker is on the money quite frequently. 

There are times when he goes for lazy gags, but it’s evident he knows this himself. And they are off set when he takes unique views on topics and shows real insight.

What is most interesting is Brooker’s frank assessment of his own role, his own writing style and his changing character. Brooker addresses the fact he is mellowing, that he can’t muster the same anger for trivial reality TV. There’s even a sense of guilt over previous punching down. Some might regard this as going soft or even some form of “selling out” but it makes sense. It shows a maturing writer, and his open acknowledgment of this makes sense. The shift isn’t glaring as Brooker can still fire himself up and throw barbs, but the targets have changed.

It’s a very entertaining read and one you can dip in and out of.

Verdict: Sarky, dark and biting, Brooker is an entertaining and fiery writer. But these are not just rants they are tempered with insight, awareness and humour. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.