Film Review: Venom

I didn’t have high hopes going into this movie, despite being a fan of Tom Hardy and the Marvel character he was playing. The reasons for my doubts were that this movie had been mauled by the critics and the idea of making a film about Venom that is separate from Spider-Man doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given the history of the character. Hell, his whole look is based on the wallcrawler, so how would they explain that here.

The answer is, they don’t and, frankly, it doesn’t come up as they ditch the spider on his chest and so the only real Spidey influence is the eyes.

venom pos

The film is fun, with a lot of decent action sequences and plenty of humour wrung out of the internal bickering between Hardy’s Eddie Brock and the symbiote which infects him. The bloodthirsty alien clashing with Brock’s morality is handled well, with the two slowly starting to warm to each other and eventually becoming more like one entity. It’s almost a buddy movie played out within one body, and props to Hardy for making it entertaining while also giving a sense of Brock’s panic and unease.

Plot wise the film keeps things simple, dodgy science guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) is looking for ways to save mankind from the world they have bled dry and overpopulated. His idea is space, where he looks for possible new homes, and on one of his missions his team retrieve some symbiotes, alien beings that need hosts to live. Unfortunately, one gets loose and causes a crash on re-entry, possessing the sole survivor before moving on to another host and deciding to track down Drake’s Life Foundation in San Francisco.

Needing to do damage limitation on the accident Drake decides to do an interview with investigative reporter Eddie Brock. However, Brock discovers some dodgy human testing information which he only knows about because he snoops on his fiance Anne’s (Michelle Williams) computer. Anne working as a lawyer for the Life Foundation. When Brock raises this allegation at the interview it throws his life into chaos. He is fired and blacklisted, and Anne, hurt by the betrayal, dumps him.

Six months pass and Brock is struggling, but one of the scientists who works for Drake approaches him, no longer able to keep quiet on the human trials they are doing which kill the hosts. Brock investigates and discovers a homeless woman he knows as one of the test subjects, letting her out he is then attacked and the symbiote transfers to him.

Unlike other subjects, Brock and the symbiote, named Venom, bond successfully and flourish. Drake is interested in finding out more and sends goons after Brock, but the symbiote grants him new powers which help him to evade capture, although the symbiote’s fighting style is extremely vicious, which Brock is horrified by.

Can they stay out of Drake’s clutches? Will Brock be able to curtail Venom’s aggression? Or will the symbiote gain the upper hand? What is the plan of the other symbiote that is making it’s way to San Francisco? How much can Brock trust the alien within and what is it doing to his body?

Like I said at the top, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie, which I think injected some much needed dark humour to proceedings and didn’t water down Venom’s darker aspects. That being said, I felt the 15 rating was a bit harsh, while it was definitely too creepy for younger audiences and there were a few swears, the violence is surprisingly bloodless and I’ve definitely seen more at this level.

Hardy is, as ever, superb in the lead role, making Brock a likeable loser type, who’s own obsession ruins him and leaves him a broken man. There’s humour in the portrayal, especially in the panicky, bewildered way Hardy plays some of the scenes and his disbelief at what’s going on.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, although Ahmed’s Drake is a little bit bland as a villain. His coldness works, but there’s just something missing from taking him to that next level.

The action sequences are pretty cool and the way the symbiote moves and shifts shape during combat is impressive, as is the final reveal when Eddie goes full Venom.

It’s not brilliant, and it lacks a major emotional punch, but it’s perfectly fine viewing, even if it does make you regret that they didn’t introduce this character into the MCU as there doesn’t seem to be any real threat for Venom to face off against here. Potential sequels may change this, but it’s hard to see how they’ll manage this without it seeming shoehorned in.

Also, there’s the villain problem. Ahmed’s performance is solid, but the character is bloodless and the other symbiote, while impressive, doesn’t quite work. The film also suffers from the fact that it and Venom look too similar, meaning during their big showdown it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Enough of it works to make it fun, but this is definitely a lower tier comic book movie.

Verdict: Fun if a bit average. Hardy is good as the lead, but he’s good in everything. The supporting cast are underwritten and it could do with a better villain, but these quibbles aside it has a few laughs, solid action and some pretty cool effects. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

This isn’t the kind of book I would usually go for, but I’d heard good things and it’s cropped up on a few “books you should read” lists, so when I found myself on a book buying binge at Waterstone’s this ended up in my bag with a few others.

Well, this book proves that you shouldn’t be afraid to enter new realms of reading, because I loved this book.

divingbell

The book is a collection of short vignettes that Bauby from his hospital bed where he was confined following a stroke which left him suffering from “locked in” syndrome. Unable to move apart from small head movements and blinking his left eye, the fact that he wrote this book at all is a massive achievement. The book was written thanks to a clever system devised by his care team, whereby they would go through an adapted French alphabet (letters arranged by usage) and Bauby would blink when they struck upon the right letter. Through this slow system this whole book was written, with Bauby planning and writing the entries in his head before his assistant arrived.

While this would have served to make the book interesting as a novelty, what really helps is that Bauby’s writing is fantastic. Each section is only a handful of pages long but in each he creates detailed, elegant episodes revolving around his memories, daydreams and experiences at the hospital. He captures the emotions of different visitors, the tedium and discomfort of time on the ward, and a painful sense of loss, longing and regret as he reflects not only on the things in his past he will never be able to do but also the possible futures which have now been denied to him.

Bauby’s writing covers a plethora of emotions and caused all sort of responses in me as I read. There are heartbreaking moments, such as the visits he has from family or moments where he dives deep into the loneliness and isolation of his condition. But there are funny moments, with Bauby capturing a sense of the characters he meets and showcasing a wit which at times is jet black.

Most of all there’s this oddly life affirming aspect. Despite all that his body has gone through and all the things he is unable to do, Bauby’s spirit endures. His intelligence, humour, passions remain. It’s comforting to know that the human spirit is so hardy, that it can endure all these things and keep going.

This is a superb read, emotionally powerful and evocative, filled with charm and character that makes Bauby a figure you’re happy to spend time with. His writing has moments of intense poetic imagery, but avoids pretension. I can’t recommend giving this a go enough, even if it doesn’t sound like your kind of book. It’s just wonderful.

Verdict: A fabulous book. Bauby shows such talent and personality here that I found myself regretting that he didn’t write more. Magnificent. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: Cassie by Chris Philbrook

WARNING! HERE BE SPOILERS!

I’ve really enjoyed the Adrian’s Undead Diary series and this is final part. Well, kinda, but we’ll get to that.

The story picks up right from the seventh book, The Trinity. Adrian, our foul mouthed hero has met up with the other parts of the Trinity, three individuals important to saving mankind from judgement. As far as they can tell it all hinges on Adrian, if he fails, mankind fails. But what will be the final test.

philbrook cassie aud

When Philbrook introduced the supernatural aspect of his zombie tale, he slowly started to reveal the plans that Good and Evil had and give clues to what the final test would be. This becoming more obvious in book 7, where we learned that Adrian’s girlfriend, Cassie was being held back by the Evil forces. Unable to appear in people’s dreams, or for Adrian to find in the astral plane, something was definitely afoot. Here it’s revealed that Cassie is majorly important to Adrian’s trial and that his guilt over not attempting to rescue her as the world fell apart is a big part of this.

Adrian therefore has to make peace with his lost love, even if this means going into the city which is crawling with the undead. It’s here that Philbrook succeeds in making his crude, violent protagonist a likeable hero, as through his diary entries we see Adrian struggle with this decision and the guilt he feels for putting others in danger for what he fears is a selfish quest.

As ever, Philbrook excels in creating a brutal, tense world of survival and horror, and builds to the climactic showdown well. His use of flashbacks to different characters means that he can flesh out some of the gaps that Adrian doesn’t know about and create some extra tension, cluing the reader into dangers that our heroes remain unaware of. The final showdown is handled well, even if it feels slightly quick given that we’ve had seven books building up to it, but it’s nicely done and there’s some nice closure for some of the supporting players too.

And there’s still plenty of humour from our vulgar narrator along the way too.

What’s kinda irritating is that right at the end Philbrook changes the rules. Throughout the series we’re told of the importance of the Trinity, but right at the end he adds new information that in a way diminishes their role. It does leave the story open to continue, and there are more stories to come, which is cool, but at the same time it feels a bit of a letdown. The whole premise is thrown out.

I’ll still check out the following parts in the series, because I’m fully engaged with Adrian and Co. now and also because I’m interested to see how Philbrook handles the large scale changes to the world he’s built. From now on the undead aren’t the major threat and the focus I presume will shift to how mankind rebuilds from here on.

Verdict: Philbrook’s writing, especially in the diary entries, impresses and he builds the tension well. His handling of the non-diary parts isn’t quite as strong, but he does the job well, even if the final showdown seems slightly rushed. The fact that this isn’t the big finale it was promised to be is a little bit frustrating, but if it means more adventures, then I’m not that bothered. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell

I first became aware of Durrell through My Family and Other Animals, his memoir about his childhood living in Greece. The hilarious book is filled with the misadventures of the Durrell clan but also captures young Gerald’s growing fascination and love for nature. In adult life he would go on to work with animals, including collecting wild animals for British zoos and became a popular writer and television presenter on the subject. He also campaigned for conservation and established his own charity to aid with this.

This book collects a selection of Durrell’s writings, where he discusses various animals and their habits. From riding with gauchos in the pampas of South America to climbing to the treetops in African jungles, this is the kind of book that really makes you yearn to set off on an adventure in far flung countries.

durrell encounters

Durrell writes with amazing warmth and humour, and his passion for wildlife leaps off the page. There’s an anthropomorphic aspect to his style, and he gives all the creatures he meets individual characters and personalities. This is miles away from cold science, and the way he writes draws the reader in, charming them as he slowly reveals various unusual animal habits.

The book is made up of a series of radio talks that Durrell made for the BBC back in the day, and were among the first mainstream nature programmes for British audiences, and it’s easy to see his legacy in the natural history films that the BBC still excels at.

Durrell’s enthusiasm and knowledge, coupled with his ability to deliver it in a simple and humorous manner is probably responsible for passing the nature loving bug on to many, and after reading this I found myself with even greater love and interest in nature. Durrell’s other books have gone right into my “to read” list and I can’t recommend this enough for anyone who has a passing interest in animals.

Simply marvellous.

Verdict: Durrell writes with such easy charm that this book entertains as it educates. The humour is wonderful, and his love for nature is irresistible. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two Other Stories by Agatha Christie

Having recently been won over by Agatha Christie, I decided to tackle my least favourite of her characters, Miss Marple. I’ve seen TV adaptations of some of the books and while Christie herself favoured Marple, I’m not a fan. She just seems like a bit of a stuck up busybody, and any murderer she was closing in on could easily just shove her down the stairs. I know the idea is that she deliberately makes herself appear less of a threat, but Columbo did it better, and if I have to follow the adventures of an older lady sleuth, I’ll pick Jessica Fletcher anytime.

jessica fletcher

But I saw this at a charity book stall and thought I’d give it a go. The six stories dealing with Miss Marple are all rather good fun, with her tackling a variety of cases and the stories showcasing a variety of different styles. The mysteries range from small scale thefts all the way up to murder, and Marple is almost annoyingly perfect in her deductions. At least with Poirot we see the little grey cells being pushed into action, Marple just knows things right off the bat.

christie finalcases

That being said, she is a bit more likeable than I remember from the TV, with a sarky side and some humour in how she deals with the cases. Some of the cases are a little flimsy and based on massive coincidences or hunches, but they’re diverting enough and rather good fun.

The final two stories are very different, both dealing with supernatural themes of ghosts, visions of the future and a seemingly possessed doll. Neither is a massive success, and Christie doesn’t handle them with the ease she writes crime fiction. I hate dolls and dummies anyway, but the doll story is quite creepy but lacks any major incident and has a weak ending.

It’s a decent enough collection of quick reads, but it lacks the fun of Tommy and Tuppence, and I still prefer Poirot. Diverting, but lightweight.

Verdict: Six entertaining and brief mysteries are good fun, but the supernatural stories add little. Christie’s knack of creating curious mysteries is on show, but the solutions feel a tad easy in places. Fun but flimsy. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: Ten Plus One by Ed McBain

It’s been a while since I visited the officers of the 87th Precinct, but I’m glad I did as this book is easily one of my favourites of the series so far.

mcbain tenplusone

On a sunny day a businessman is gunned down in the middle of the street, and Detectives Carella and Meyer have a new case. When a second body drops, followed quickly by a third the detectives have to face the fact that the killings could be random. Unless they can discover some kind of connection between the quickly growing list of victims.

When they finally uncover the link the case is more baffling, why are people being killed because of a decade old connection, and with no apparent reason? Slowly, Carella and Meyer start to make progress, partly because the list of suspects is dwindling, and partly through good old fashioned police work. Can they find the killer before all the names are crossed off their list? Or before only one remains, at least?

I loved this book, which features a compelling mystery at the centre, which keeps the reader engaged and unfolds in a well paced, entertaining manner.

As ever, the strongest asset is McBain’s writing which manages to strike a variety of tones across the novel. There are funny moments, particularly in the fast paced, bantering dialogue of the detectives and the wry, sardonic tone of some of the narration. But there are other moments where the writing is almost poetic before shifting to cold, grim realism.

It’s also elevated by the fact that McBain fleshes out all the characters, from the detectives and the victims all the way through to the witnesses and minor figures. There’s one sequence where the cops talk to the son of a victim, and it’s genuinely moving, the way that McBain quickly, but fully, captures the sense of a man shattered by grief.

This book serves as an example of all the things that the 87th Precinct series does so well, and rises right to the top of the pile.

Verdict: A wonderfully written yarn that shows McBain at his best. One of the best instalments so far. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Trinity by Chris Philbrook

This is the seventh and penultimate instalment in Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series, which follows our narrator as he attempts to survive after the dead rise. Unlike a lot of zombie stories, Philbrook has added a supernatural element to proceedings, with Adrian Ring, the ex-marine who keeps a journal being one of the key players in deciding whether mankind will be saved or not. His actions, along with the other two members of the trinity will be judged and mankind’s fate depends on how they do.

It’s been a while since I read book six in the series, so at the start I couldn’t quite remember where this picks up the story. Thankfully, Adrian’s diaries quickly brought me back up to speed. We see Adrian have to deal with a rival group of hostile survivors, and also with more weirdness.

philbrook trinity

The book fills in the blanks and adds more clues as to where all this is headed, but for the large part Adrian is still merely trying to survive and keep his people safe. His diary entries are still filled with profanity and dumb jokes, but there’s something endearing about this regular guy forced into a position of responsibility and command due to strange events.

Philbrook ties the different story strands together quite well, and ensures the plot moves along nicely. There are new threats and twists along the way and the introduction of new problems and characters. There’s also a growing sense that as the pieces in the game gather that the endgame is due to start soon. What this final judgement will be is still a mystery at this point, but the final part of this series is high on my “to read” list now.

The action is quick and the diary entry continues to be a handy tool for building tension, leaving the reader wondering what has gone down when there are lengthy gaps between entries and leaving threads hanging. Adrian’s conversational tone ensures that it remains entertaining and engaging, and the humour undercuts some of the more grim moments.

I was hooked throughout and loved that seven books in this story still moves in new directions I didn’t see coming, and the supernatural side of the story adds more mystery to the novel. This whole series has been hugely enjoyable and I hope the ending keeps the streak going.

Verdict: Philbrook develops the world he’s created and there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. His vulgar narrator continues to be a likeable character, and easy to sympathise with. It builds the suspense and tension well, and the sense of the approaching ending ensured that I ploughed through this quickly, eager to see where this is all going. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Final Score

During an interview with Jonathan Ross I heard this movie compared to Die Hard, which is fair enough given that this has a similar plot of a lone hero going up against a gang of terrorists. But really the film that this is most like is the Jean Claude Van Damme flick Sudden Death, the only difference being that instead of taking place during an ice hockey match, this is during a football game.

final score pos

Dave Bautista plays Mike Knox, an ex-soldier who comes to London to visit the family of a fallen comrade, who he was good friends with. He is an uncle figure to the man’s teenage daughter, Danni (Lara Peake), who he surprises with tickets to go see West Ham in the European Cup semi final (one of the more far fetched parts of the movie). While there he starts to suspect that something isn’t right and stumbles across a bunch of Eastern European bad guys.

Unfortunately, he also loses Danni, who sneaks off to see her boyfriend who is sitting elsewhere in the ground. Incidentally, the boyfriend is one of the worst written characters in recent memory, I get that he’s meant to be a douche, but you’ve got to show at least some charm that explains why Danni is into him, but here he’s just a turboknob in every scene.

With the stadium cut off from the outside world by the terrorists, and the police not believing him, Mike has to find a way to stop the villains and find Danni.

The problem with this movie is that a lot of it feels very familiar, as it lifts wholesale from other movies. There’s a fight in the kitchen which reminded me of Sudden Death and Under Siege 2, and Mike gets the attention of the cops by dropping a body off the roof just like John McClaine did. And one of the goons he takes out as a vengeance seeking loved one in the crew, like the brothers in Die Hard.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t fun, the action sequences are pretty good, particularly a motorbike chase and the kitchen fight which features two inventive ways to kill a bad guy. Bautista is a decent enough lead, although due to his massive size the “everyman” aspect of the scenario is hurt a bit, and the dialogue he’s given is pretty generic. He’s likeable enough in the role, but he definitely lacks the charisma of many other action stars.

final score bautista

The film does deserve praise for the set up actually making sense, with the crew led by Ray Stevenson’s Arkady attacking the stadium during a match because they’re actually looking for one particular person, his brother, the former leader of their revolution who faked his death and relocated due to the bloodshed that was happening in his name. Aware that he lives in London and will be attending the game, they spring into action. It’s a clever, neat set up and gives them a believable motive.

Pierce Brosnan plays the brother, Dimitri, and is criminally underused in a dull role. It’s especially galling as this is supposed to be the figurehead for a revolution, so you would expect him to be quite a charismatic figure, but Brosnan plays it very dry. This robs the movie of the point of having a big name in a supporting role, as you feel any middle aged actor could have played the role. At least he doesn’t sing, I guess.

final score brosnan

However, this is undercut by the fact that Ray Stevenson’s villain is unforgivably dull. While he’s shown to have a ruthless streak and military background that make him a legitimate threat, he gets no unique traits or flourishes to engage the audience. I miss when villains were more colourful.

In a way, he serves to illustrate the movie’s major flaw- it’s fine, and does the job, but in an extremely workmanlike fashion. There’s very little flair or charm to elevate this above the standard action fare you got in the early ’90s. It’s a decent enough popcorn movie, the kind of thing to pass the time of an evening, but it’s miles off the Die Hard level.

Verdict: A distinctly average action flick which is let down by a lifeless script and characters who don’t jump off the screen. Does the job, but without any flash. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: 14 by Peter Clines

I’ve really enjoyed Peter Clines’ “Ex” books, which pit a group of superheroes against the hordes of the undead in a hugely entertaining and inventive series. I knew he’d written a few other books, and after some recommendations on Twitter, I decided to check this one out.

I may have found my favourite fiction book of the year.

clines 14

Nate Tucker works a dull data entry job and needs to find a new place to live in Los Angeles. A co-worker recommends he check out the Kavach Building, an old apartment block with cheap rents. Nate moves in and soon discovers the building has plenty of odd quirks and general weirdness. Neighbour Veek soon introduces him to even more mysteries, and they decide to snoop around and see if they can discover the building’s secrets.

What they discover is far more bizarre than what they suspected and could threaten all of mankind. And they’re not the only ones interested in the building. Will they be able to find the truth and keep the world safe? Or will the dark forces known only as The Family find what they seek and cause chaos?

What I loved about this book was that it genuinely surprised me, as the zombie books I’ve read by Clines have been fairly light, with a couple of dark moments. This, however, is a very different proposition, with a great sense of building tension and creepiness. Clines does a great job of slowly building the weirdness of the building, adding to it piece by piece and creating a sense that something bigger is going on.

Some of the revelations are genuinely surprising, and the final reveal is brilliantly handled. There is one twist that is easy to spot, but even that doesn’t stop this from being one of those great books that absorbs you completely, making you reluctant to put it down and keeping you utterly hooked as the plot unfolds.

I really enjoyed it, Clines balances humour in the dialogue and the regular everyday stuff with the growing sense of unease. It’s marvellously written and I loved every page, keen to get to the end but regretting that there wasn’t more. Confirms that Clines is a talented and smart writer, and I’m definitely going to check out even more of his stuff.

Verdict: A gripping, suspenseful science fiction thriller which ratchets up the tension and oddities nicely, and goes in interesting directions. Clines’ dialogue is great as is his ability to keep the reader fascinated. 9/10. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: I’m Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling by Jim Smallman

Jim Smallman explains his choice of title near the start of this book, explaining that he chose the words delivered by Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV, not only for their importance in the world of wrestling, but because they serve as his own words for a passion which for years he kept hidden or denied.

smallman sorryloveyou

Smallman would later become a more outspoken fan, talking about it in his stand up and even setting up his own wrestling company, PROGRESS Wrestling. And now he turns his hand to writing about the history of the business.

The book charts the course professional wrestling has taken, going from being a real sporting contest to the sports entertainment we have today. Smallman focuses largely on US wrestling, but does take time to discuss the history in Japan, Mexico and the UK.

For wrestling fans some of this will be familiar territory- Vince McMahon’s vision in expanding and growing the WWF he took over from his family, the Monday Night Wars, the rise and fall of ECW and the Montreal Screwjob. But there is some stuff I didn’t know about, the formation of the NWA and a lot of the early years of the sport were fresh to me.

Smallman’s writing is free of pretension and conversational in tone, making this an easy read that delivers the information, along with interesting asides and informed opinion, in a way that avoids becoming dry or dull. It’s not a complete history, but Smallman never sets out to do that, instead capturing a sense of how wrestling has evolved and changed over the decades.

It benefits from Smallman’s fandom, and also his inside knowledge of the business, and he often uses this perspective to offer explanations for some of the more controversial decisions made by some promoters. I also liked that he includes various top ten lists throughout the book, explaining his choices briefly and introducing me to some new names.

It’s a good read, even if has left me with a whole list of matches and wrestlers to seek out. It might not go into great depth on the whole history, but for most fans this will give a good overview and is a good place to start learning more about the background.

Verdict: A good, short history of the professional wrestling business told in an easy, engaging way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.