The title piece of this collection was mentioned in The Girl in the Spider’s Web and after a quick Google I decided to check out Talese’s writing. And I’m glad I did so.
Talese is a fantastic writer with a great eye for detail and small, quiet moments. His writing is engaging, warm and filled with clever observation. He was one of the front runners of “New Journalism” which was more subjective, literary and informal than what had come before.
Talese puts you right in the heart of his stories and the focus of his pieces is informed by his attitudes and feelings. He writes about boxer Floyd Patterson languishing in misery and embarrassment after a loss to Sonny Liston, a melancholy portrait reflecting his habit of empathy for the defeated.
The pieces are collected from over thirty years and so a theme is hard to pin down. What does appear in several is fragile or damaged masculinity. Most evident in Patterson hiding out after a loss it appears elsewhere; Joe Louis is shown in middle age, his prime years before, Frank Sinatra’s talent, his voice, is shaken by illness and this throws him off. Similarly in an article from the ’90s we see two enemies of the American establishment in the ’60s, Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro, meet as ageing men both with poor health.
Sinatra demands to be in charge, is shown to be a man who hates disrespect and being made to look foolish. Patterson has a fake beard in his dressing room so he can sneak out should he lose. Talese homes in on these insecurities, on male proud it’s even in the story he tells of his father where a wily tailor tricks a mafioso using the man’s vanity and fear of looking stupid to win the day.
While many pieces feature famous faces there are other examples where Talese turns his focus on less well known subjects. He writes about the offices of Vogue in a wry piece where he steals the language of the magazine to describe it’s workers. There is an article about the dedicated, grim work of an obituary writer at a major newspaper as well as personal essays about his father in Italy or how he became a writer.
Despite the time he wrote in Talese seems liberal and even handed. His portraits of black boxers avoids racist stereotyping or condescension, which can mar other articles from this era. The one misstep is that during the Sinatra piece he refers to Ali by his former name Clay, which many sportswriters were guilty of, but it’s hard to see any malice here, perhaps ignorance or the insistence of an editor?
Talese’s writing and the empathy, insight and understanding that resonates through it show that he was a student and lover of human nature, and a keen observer. Each portrait is engrossing and detailed, providing a real sense of all who feature.
A great read and I shall be checking out more of his writing in future.
Verdict: A talented nonfiction writer Talese produces essays which are involving and insightful. He captures the small, quiet moments that reveal the bigger characters and deeper stories. A delight. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.
The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.
Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.
Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.
Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.
Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?
This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.
Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.
But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.
She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.
The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.
One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…
These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.
Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.
However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.
Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.
But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.
Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.
As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.
All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.
It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.
Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.
One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?
This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.
The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.
We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.
Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.
Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.
They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.
Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.
Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.
Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.
Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.
Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.
Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?
Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.
This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.
It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.
Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.
Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.
But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.
The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.
The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.
This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.
The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.
It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.
I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.
A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.
Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.
Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.
Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.
The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.
Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.
Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.
A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.
Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?
I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.
Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.
It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.
The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.
It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.
But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.
The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.
The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.
The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.
The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.
As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.
Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.
Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was a massive fan of The Lego Movie and one of the many good things about it was the treatment of Batman (Will Arnett), who they transformed into a cocky, self absorbed show off. When it was announced that he’d be getting a solo run out, it instantly joined the list of movies I was looking forward to and yesterday MWF and I went along with a friend to check it out.
The film kicks off with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) leading a team of Gotham’s villains in a daring attempt to seize control of the city by threatening with a gigantic bomb. Unfortunately for the Clown Prince of Crime, Batman arrives just in time and makes short work of his associates. As the duo face off the Joker is hurt to discover that Batman doesn’t regard him as special or his archenemy, announcing he doesn’t care.
Batman saves the day and all is good, however, it is revealed that when he returns to Wayne Manor he is lonely and bored. His trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is concerned that he has no life beyond Batman, but he refuses to acknowledge this. Bruce—0s0A\\\ attends the retirement party of Jim Gordon, where his replacement is to be announced. The replacement is Jim’s daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who Bruce is attracted to. Distracted by Barbara’s beauty Bruce agrees to adopt nerdy orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
Barbara announces a bold new plan for Gotham and her desire for Batman to work with the police, and highlighting that despite his efforts Gotham is still the worst city for crime. Joker and Co. attack but Joker then surrenders, much to the suspicion of Batman and Barbara. Joker and the other villains are imprisoned, and the city celebrates.
With nothing to do Batman is bored and sad, resisting Alfred’s urging to spend time with Dick and act as his father figure. Batman continues to spy on Joker and decides that the only way to be safe is to send Joker to the Phantom Zone, where the universe’s worst villains are imprisoned. Recruiting Dick as his sidekick, and giving him an old colourful costume the duo steal a device to send people to the Phantom Zone from Superman (Channing Tatum), who Batman discovers is throwing a party for all the superheroes that he was not invited to.
They send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara imprisons them. Unfortunately, this has played into the Joker’s plans and he breaks out with several other villains to get revenge on Batman and Gotham.
Batman reluctantly agrees to allow Barbara, Dick and Alfred to help him, but can they triumph and can he resist his urge to go it alone? And will he be able to admit to himself that his insistence on working alone comes from his fear of losing people again?
This is an incredibly daft and fun movie which works because of the central character, with Batman continuing to be a swaggering, boastful jerk who has to face up to his failings and feelings. It’s a big twist on the traditional way the Dark Knight is portrayed and the egomaniac is hugely entertaining, especially when he is repeatedly outwitted or out of his depth.
This happens often with Barbara who is a clever, confident woman who has his number from the jump and provides sensible advice he routinely ignores. As the movie unfolds he is forced to accept that teamwork is key and slowly acknowledges the help the others provide him with.
The other supporting players work well, especially the irritatingly cheery Dick Grayson who slowly breaks down Batman’s stern exterior.
The storyline of the Joker’s rejection and his relationship with Batman is quite well done, playing it as almost a warped romance, with Joker believing it was a deeper connection and Batman brushing it off saying that he “likes to fight around”. The Joker’s plan is pretty clever and allows a whole host of cameos from different villains in the final act, with King Kong, Voldemort, Daleks, Gremlins and the Wicked Witch of the West among others.
The action is fact paced and largely comical, with characters making the sounds of the guns they use and the Lego world allowing for inventive chaos. Batman, as a master builder, continues to build massive, crazy contraptions and visually it is stunning.
It’s also a delight for geeks as it’s rammed with little gags and references. The beginning and end poke fun at the seriousness of some superhero movies, and there are nods to the many different incarnations of the characters (including a brief clip of Adam West in action). The Joker’s posse includes a host of Gotham’s villains including lesser, dafter enemies and there are nods to the comic book conventions, especially how inept the Gotham police are and one hostage’s relaxed response to being confronted by the Joker. It’s quite clever and funny, but I did wonder how well it would play for kids as a lot of it is very ironic and pokes fun at the character and the world.
Plot wise it’s quite straight forward, and the issues of teamwork, family and Batman accepting help from others and letting people in hardly groundbreaking. It’s not quite as good as The Lego Movie in terms of sheer manic energy, but it’s still a very solid comedy adventure and keeps moving at a decent pace. But it feels like this is a good place to leave the block Batman, as any more would overplay the joke.
Verdict: Consistently funny and loaded with injokes, this is an extremely entertaining movie. Daft in places it, it works well as a fast paced romp. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This was a very late birthday present from MWF, and a decent pick for us as both are big fans of Perkins and I had read the memoir which formed the basis of the show, which I reviewed here.
As with the book this is a warm and funny look back over her life with Perkins casting a wry, self deprecating eye over her past and family. It’s hugely entertaining and aided by the use of a large screen which allows her to deliver visual punchlines and poke gentle fun at old family photos.
She has an easy on stage presence and is utterly charming throughout, and talks about her career, life and opinions in a light, breezy way. Some of the stories are familiar to those who have read the book, but are given fresh life through the telling.
I particularly enjoyed that she included a brief Q&A session at the end, which gave her a chance to play off the crowd and share some new stories. The whole show is a quick, fun affair and ends strongly with Perkins playing us out with a song. It’s a thoroughly pleasant evening in the theatre and confirms that Perkins is an extremely likeable and funny performer.
MWF and I loved it and throughout recommend catching her if she comes to your town.
Verdict: A very funny show with Perkins on top form, delivering an amusing and charming series of stories. And her skills at playing off the crowd are wonderful. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Cards on the table time, I’m not a massive Didier Drogba fan. This is probably because despite being a skilled footballer I felt he was too prone to diving and he played for Chelsea during an era when I severely disliked the team (mainly because of the tag team of tools that was Ashley Cole and John Terry).
But I received this book as a Christmas present from my big sis, who likes Drogba a lot because of his Christian beliefs and charity work. To be fair to the guy, he does seem to do a lot of good work and has donated a lot of his sponsorship cash to worthy causes.
This book details some of this work, and the reasons behind his charitable work as well as his personal life. Born in Ivory Coast he moved to France as a young boy where he moved frequently as he lived with his journeyman footballer uncle. A lover of the beautiful game from a young age he wished to follow in his uncle’s footsteps.
Missing out on academy football he was late in making it compared to his peers, but soon made up for this with a knack for scoring goals. This is what most of the book is devoted to, with the story divided by specific sections of his career.
For non football fans it might be a bit of a struggle as it’s mainly about how he did every year, the goals, injuries, triumphs and failures along the way. The sections about family and charity are separate, and feel tacked on.
Drogba comes across well enough and it does give a little bit of background to the dressing room atmosphere and his explosions on the field. But the insights are rather limited and the writing is thoroughly pedestrian.
Maybe it’s because of the language barrier, but there’s a genuine lack of humour or depth. It’s an easy read, but uninspiring. But as I used it to help pass time on night shifts this actually turned out to be a positive- just about interesting to keep you going and easy enough for a sleep deprived mind.
An okay read if you’re a huge Chelsea or Drogba fan, but for others might be a bore.
Verdict: It passes the time, but is rather dull and lacks the humour, scandal or insight to make it a great autobiography. 5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Whenever a Pope does the process for choosing his successor is the same; Cardinals from all over the world travel to the Vatican where they are locked in until a new Pope is chosen. This is the conclave. There have been two during my lifetime, and I’m fascinated by the whole thing.
The idea is that through prayer and meditation the Holy Spirit guides the Cardinals to the new leader. But a cynical view is that the lock in is essentially where the politics of the papacy plays out. Either way, the whole system is shrouded in mystery.
Clearly the idea intrigues Robert Harris too and he has written a smart, involving thriller which follows the Cardinals within the walls.
When the current, unnamed Pope passes away, the ball is in motion and as Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Lomeli is in charge of the show. There are several contenders and as the voting begins factions are forming.
Lomeli, aging and experiencing a crisis of faith, watches as the political machinations start up. Secrets and scandals bubble to the surface, and ambition muddies the water. Lomeli becomes increasingly suspicious of some of the frontrunners and investigates rumours and whispers. He wants to maintain the church’s reputation and avoid scandal, but it becomes apparent that there are lots of skeletons in the closets.
Does Lomeli have the strength of will to see it through? And as he does expose the corruption is he unwillingly moving himself up the pecking order? Leaving others questioning his motives.
This is a cracking read, with the twists and turns playing out in a well paced and involving manner. Lomeli is a decent hero, riddled with doubts and fear, but ultimately commited to doing the right thing. As the process wears on he becomes more proactive in ensuring the best man gets the big job.
Harris layers in the intrigue and uses the claustrophobic setting to his advantage, the isolated cardinals are sealed off from the outside world, meaning that Lomeli’s investigations are hindered and some information is revealed too late in a surprise ending which is impossible to see coming.
A fantastic read which hooked me in early and entertained me throughout.
Verdict: A very well written and involving thriller, Harris has a great knack for letting the story unfold at a decent pace and slowly allowing his characters to reveal themselves. There’s not much action but the political schemes are gripping. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Since my teens I’ve been fascinated by the Vietnam War and have read several books about it. This one, a memoir of one man’s war is unique in that it deals with a man who was drafted but refused to carry a weapon.
Sherman requested to be listed as a conscientious objector, as his personal beliefs meant that while he was happy to serve his country he wasn’t willing to kill for it. His objections are overruled and he is sent to basic training, where he refuses to pick up a rifle. After a brief spell as a military prisoner he is transferred to become a medic and ships out to the war.
I admire Sherman for his courage in sticking with his beliefs and also for the honesty in his writing. He describes simply but effectively the horrors he witnesses and his emotions throughout. He repeatedly opens up about his fears and doubts.
His war is slightly shorter than the average tour but not without incident. Originally placed at the morgue he then moves on to his posting where he medics rotate through three jobs- surgery aboard a ship, combat medic on the ground with the troops and then on helicopters for medevac missions.
During one mission and under fire, he falls from the chopper and is listed KIA. Dazed, wounded and alone, Sherman is haunted by ghosts of dead friends and drifts in anspd out of consciousness, terrified of what might be hiding in the jungle. It turns out he isn’t alone, his only companion being a deranged officer. Nicknamed Captain Buttshot because he has been shot three times by his own men, he makes poor company and Sherman worries for his safety.
Luckily a fellow medic comes out to rescue him, and he returns to base where he discovers that his colleague Smitty has been looking out for him for longer than he thought and hides him from the front until he recovers.
It’s a short book but well written and engaging, with Sherman being a no frills writer who delves into his memories of his time in Vietnam. As a medic he saw the horrors of war up close and experienced the tension of waiting for attack and the terror of combat.
It’s refreshingly low key and as a conscientious objector he isn’t going hi but admits to not having been one of the protestors. In a way he highlights the middle ground, the disinterested youth who were sucked into this war. And his return to the world means he discovers what has been going on and how divisive the war is.
Sherman provides a unique and atypical war story, and it’s admirable that he doesn’t try to avoid service but stays true to his belief. His war shows the odd mix of bureaucracy and chaos that was his life in the army. The impression is one of young men thrown into a mad, confused conflict with only ten days of medic training to help him deal with the carnage he would be faced with.
Verdict: An interesting and well done memoir of one man’s war and principles. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
It’s been over four years since I read the final novel by Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but the trilogy about the tough, mesmerising Lisbeth Salander stuck with me. There was talk that Larsson had begun work on a fourth before his death in 2004, but it appears that this is a separate story following a bitter argument between those Larsson left behind. Those who hold the rights chose David Lagercrantz to continue the series.
It picks up around a year after the events of the last book where Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, vicious hacker brought down her father’s criminal empire and the government figures who protected him. In this she was aided by investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who wrote about it in his magazine Millennium earning great praise, but since the magazine, and Blomkvist, have struggled and the two have lost contact.
Salander continues to chase down and break the ruins of her father’s empire which leads her to hack the NSA, searching for information on the criminals she wants. This group named the Spider Society have been hard at work in the areas of industrial espionage and computer genius Frans Balder has discovered they stole some of his work and are after his pioneering AI work. He leaves Silicon Valley and returns to Sweden where he takes custody of his autistic son, August.
The Swedish government are trying to protect him while Balder debates what to do next. Meanwhile, the NSA are trying to find out who hacked them. Blomkvist is approached by an associate of Balder who tips him off to what may be an interesting story, but Blomkvist is unsure, but Balder contacts him personally and he goes to visit the scientist. Unfortunately, the Spider Society have decided to make their move and Balder is killed, the assassin sparing August, who he dismissed as “a retard”.
Blomkvist starts to dig deeper and discovers the Spiders are quite ruthless and vicious, headed by a mysterious figure nicknamed Thanos after the Marvel Comics character. When August’s gift of photographic memory is discovered he could provide a clue to the killer’s identity.
The Spiders decide to get rid of him, but Salander works out their plan and rushes to his aid, managing to get him to a safe place thanks to Blomkvist and his colleagues. As Salander hides out with the boy she tries to get him to draw what he saw and attempts to crack the NSA file she stole.
Meanwhile, Blomkvist and the police investigate. Blomkvist makes big strides and discovers a link between Salander and Thanos, which surprised him and explains the hostility between them.
What secrets were the NSA hiding and can Salander uncover them? Will Blomkvist be able to save his magazine by working out this story? And can Salander really protect the boy from an intelligent and skilled criminal gang?
I must say I really enjoyed this book, which while being gritty and filled with unsavoury characters softens the brutal, sometimes overdone darkness of Larsson’s writing. Lagercrantz manages to nail a similar style, but gives more humanity to the supporting players.
Salander and Blomkvist remain a decent central pair, the uncompromising, aggressive hacker and the world weary, more personable writer. They are separated for much of the work, but communicate through computer messages, and Lagercrantz shows their respect and affection through their responses to hearing from the other.
The plot unfolds at a good pace and there are some tense, gripping moments. It’s a well handled thriller and introduces a new, and interesting villain. It doesn’t quite match the first book in the series but it’s a solid continuation and an entertaining read.
Verdict: Lagercrantz seems to hold a less bleak worldview than Larsson which results in an exciting thriller which avoids the nastiness of the previous installments. An engaging, entertaining thriller. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.